The area around Tayvallich is a rich one for wildlife at all times of year.
In spring the ancient oak woods at Taynish National Nature Reserve ring with the song of willow and wood warblers. In the wetter places there are rare marsh fritillary butterflies and on the floor of the wood in many places there are carpets of bluebells.
At the end of the walk through the wood are the tidal rapids where the current hardly ever stops flowing. The moving water carries plenty of food to a colourful underwater garden of sponges and anenomes. From the shore, especially on a low tide you see so many thin-armed starfish called brittlestars writhing about they look like a moving carpet. These rapids and the shores of Taynish on the Loch Sween and Linnhe Mhurich sides are great places to look for otters at any time of year though in summer it’s best to look early or late in the day. Carsaig bay is another good place to look for them and they’ve even been seen running through the village and from the windows of the Tayvallich Inn.
To have the best chance of seeing them, find a quiet place, near a rocky point and some weedy shallows and sit for an hour or two. If there are young otters around you might hear their shrill ‘peeping’ before you see them – they sound more like birds than mammals.
If you are driving please be careful of frogs and toads crossing the road especially on wet nights. The otters eat frogs when they gather to spawn in ditches in March so there may be an otter crossing the road behind the frogs!
The summer starts with masses of yellow flag irises coming into flower and the roadsides are full of small birds like meadow pipits, whitethroats and stonechats. There are not as many nesting seabirds here as there used to be because introduced mink kill their young but still some eider ducks and red breasted mergansers manage to rear their ducklings without being found. On Loch Sween you can sometimes see red throated divers diving for fish to take back to their young on the high moorland lochans. If you have use of a boat there are always seabirds in the sound of Jura, gannets from distant Ailsa Craig making their spectacular dives for fish, shags and kittiwakes hurrying to places where sandeels are gathering near the surface; there’s even the odd Artic skua. On still days later in the summer you can hear guillemots calling. There are usually harbour porpoises in the Sound – their noise of their quick breaths carries a long way when there’s no wind and you can often glimpse the brief rise and fall of their black backs and small fins. More rarely groups of bottlenosed dolphins pass along the coast, Loch Crinan is a good place to look for them when the salmon are running, and minke whales pass by the Carsaig islands. Very occasionally killer whales spend a few days between Carsaig and Jura.. At night you might see badgers trotting down the road or glimpse a wildcat in your headlights.
In the autumn the barnacle and Greenland whitefronted geese return to feed on grass fields down towards Coshandroichaid. It’s a good time to look for hen harriers quartering the wet margins, hoping to catch a twite or pipit. There are often rows of young herons fishing below the road near Scottnish. The very low tides near the equinox (Sept 21st and the spring equinox on March 21st) give an unrivalled chance to look for interesting animals on the shore. Under any clump of weed you might find slippery butterfish, pipefish or hermit crabs.
In winter there may be good numbers of divers in sheltered waters, like Loch na Cille, especially during rough weather. The great northern divers stay until mid May by which time they are looking superb in their summer plumage. There are dashing merlins and peregrines around at this time of year. It’s the best time to look for otters which have less daylight to hunt, at this time of year they sometimes catch octopuses which turn from a reddish colour to completely white in panic. In 1999 a real rarity, a loggerhead turtle, was seen near Crinan which shows that with the sea so close you can never take anything for granted.