Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Owls and the Pussycat

From Stirling Castle, we drove north to the Cairngorm Mountains. Cairngorm means green or blue hill. But in fact, at least this time of year, these "hills" appeared more pink than blue or green. I think the color comes from the dried bracken (a large coarse fern) that grows everywhere. You can see it more clearly in the picture below. 

We could hardly have picked a more beautiful time to visit the highlands, with the trees just beginning to turn and the landscape a rich tapestry of green and gold and rust.   
I wish I'd taken more pictures, but I was "on a mission" and it was a long drive to our destination, the Highland Wildlife Park, where I hoped to see one of the most elusive and threatened creatures in the British Isles (if not Europe), the Scottish wildcat.

 Since they think there are less than 800 left the wild, I knew this zoo park would be my only opportunity to glimpse this rare creature. And glimpse is about all we could do, as the two cats we saw moved almost constantly, pacing rapidly through the maze of branches and "catwalks" in their pen.
They look much like domestic cats (or "moggies" as the British refer to them), except for their unique markings, that are somehow more wild looking than the typical tabby stripes. 
 These markings are especially distinctive on their faces. The other thing that distinguishes them from domestic cats is their gorgeous, plush tails.

Besides the wildcat, we saw all sorts of wonderful creatures, like these two owls.
 This is great gray owl. They are truly "great", as in huge. This a close-up from about 20 feet.
 European wolves. They look bigger than American wolves.
                                                            A lynx family. This is dad.
 A wolverine. They are extinct in Europe, although there are hopes of reintroducing them, and they are rare in the U.S. They move with the strangest loping gait. This one didn't seem fierce at all, but I've heard that they are formidable fighters and will even take on a grizzly bear if there's food
 The always adorable red panda.
                                                       The very odd-looking Pallas cat.
And two polar bears that their keeper called for their feeding by yelling, "Here lads! Here lads!" (Love it!)
The Park was only indeed our only chance to see the fauna of Scotland, at least alive. While driving we saw a great deal of roadkill, including two small deer (sad) and literally dozens of birds, many of them pheasants. We found out why when we spotted a pheasant in the middle of the road. We pulled up right next to it, and it didn't move. Unlike the game birds I've seen along the roads in the U.S., the pheasants of Scotland have apparently been bred for hunting for so long that they've had the common sense (Get out of the road, stupid bird!) bred right out of them!
A car was coming behind me, or I would have taken a picture of the pheasant. But he looked much like this.
 BTW, wouldn't "Scottish Roadkill" be a great name for a rock band! We saw some amazing bands on the streets of Glasgow and Dublin. But that comes later. Our next stop after the Cairgorms was the Isle of Skye. Coming soon.


  1. What a wonderful set of photos. Thanks for sharing.

  2. OMG! Love the photos. I'm going back to Scotland next spring and the Cairngorm Mountains are now on my list of "To see". :D
    Kelly Ann Scott