The furry, four-legged creatures of the Park's forests can be more difficult to spot than birds, although they leave a range of tell-tale signs, such as chewed cones, stripped bark or foot prints.
Some of the events at The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, include sessions where Rangers will show you how to detect wildlife by finding their signs and tracks. Others focus on particular species, such as the Bat Watch and Deer Rut days. For more information on these events visit http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk.
If you go exploring independently, your best chance of mammal sightings will be around dawn or dusk. Many animals – such as otter, fox, badger and hedgehog – are largely nocturnal and lay low during the daytime.
Otters are found in freshwater lochs and rivers, but also in the coastal locations of the National Park. Coastal habitats provide an excellent opportunity to watch otters as they tend to be more active during the day compared to their nocturnal freshwater cousins. Look for their feeding remains like crab shells, fish bones and their droppings or 'spraints' which are sweet smelling and left in prominent places as scent markers. Look closely for their footprints which have five visible toes compared to a dog which has four. You may even be lucky enough to see the webbing between the toes!
Red squirrels are particularly active during the breeding season and when courting may be seen making mad chases around the trees. More normally, you might notice them when they scuttle up a tree or make an angry chatting sound from a high branch. If you spot a red squirrel report sightings at http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk.
Argyll Forest Park is a real stronghold for red squirrels. Hides for watching them can be found in Glenbranter Forest and Clunie Wood at Ardentinny. Both red and grey squirrels can also be seen in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. There is a good chance of seeing reds on woodland walks around Strathyre, Achray Forest and Loch Ard. At The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre there is both a viewing hide and live CCTV footage of red squirrels and pine marten.
Red, roe and fallow deer are also widely distributed through the National Park, using the forests for shelter and food. If you go quietly you may spot them before they hear or smell you. The best place to spot red deer is on the open hill during good weather, where you will see them feeding, resting and chewing the cud. In autumn listen out for the distinctive call of the stags during the breeding season or 'rut'. Areas where you might spot deer are on the slopes of The Cobbler near Arrochar, Glen Finglas Forest, Glengyle at Loch Katrine, the Rest & Be Thankful viewpoint at Glen Croe and Glen Ample near Ben Vorlich.
For more information of events at Forestry Commission Scotland centres and places to go to spot wildlife in the woods, visit www.forestry.gov.uk or contact:
- The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Near Aberfoyle, Tel: 0300 067 6615
- Ardgartan Visitor Centre, Argyll Forest Park, Arrochar, Tel:01301 702432