January 25th marks the Birthday of Robert Burns (1759-1796), an iconic Scottish figure and one of the world’s most famous poets. Admired for his poems, love songs and cheeky character, Robert Burns created works which are still well known today, such as Auld Lang Syne, one of the most popular songs in the English language. Since Burns’ early death over 200 years ago, people have gathered together every year to commemorate his life and work. Burns Night is one of the most celebrated events in Scottish culture, and the occasion is recognised all over the world. Typically, a supper is held on or around January 25th, which includes a traditional Scottish meal, Scotch whisky, music, speeches and recitation of Robert Burns’ work. In memory of Robert Burns, we thought we’d delve into the ARKive collection and celebrate all things Scottish!
Legend has it the Scottish army were alerted to the onset of Viking intruders after one of them stood on a thistle barefooted and cried out in pain. The thistle has been the national emblem of Scotland for centuries, and the earliest record of it being used as a royal symbol is on coins issued by James III in 1470. Although the actual species of thistle is disputed, some believe that the spear thistle is most likely to be the true ‘Scotch thistle’, as it is abundant and native to Scotland.
Britain’s largest land mammal, the red deer is widespread throughout Scotland, with an estimated population of 300,000. In winter, the red deer tend to move from the hills and remote glens to lower areas with shelter and a more abundant food supply. In winter the coat is brown or grey, but it changes to a reddish-brown in the summer.
In April, puffins begin arriving around the Scottish coast to breed. Almost one million puffins choose to breed in Scotland, and most are concentrated in just a few colonies in the north and west. Puffins nest in burrows or in rocky crevices, and normally lay a single egg in May. The best time to see puffins in Scotland is in mid-July, when the adults are busy collecting sand eels to feed the pufflings.
It is thought that fewer than 400 ‘genetically pure’ wildcats remain in Scotland today. This is because wildcats breed with domestic cats, creating hybrids which are diluting the population. The wildcat is solitary and usually hunts at night. It catches rabbits, hares, voles and mice, but it may also feed on small birds, frogs and even insects.
Ospreys arrive in Scotland to breed in late April to early May after an amazing journey from western Africa, which takes about 20 flying days. There are around 200 breeding osprey pairs in Scotland, and the best places to see them include Loch Garten and Loch of the Lowes. Ospreys return to their wintering grounds in West Africa in late August to mid-September. If you can’t make it to Scotland this summer, why not watch this fantastic osprey video – it’s the most popular one on ARKive!
The Scots pine is native to Scotland and is a dominant tree in the Caledonian Forest, which is also made up of birch, aspen, rowan, oak and juniper. Although pinewood forests were once spread over most of the Highlands, only 1% of the original forest remains, split into smaller, fragmented pockets. The oldest scientifically dated Scots pine in Scotland is Glen Loyne, which was estimated to be 550 years old in the late 1990s.
Bottlenose dolphins inhabit the waters around the Scottish coast throughout the year, but they are easiest to spot during the spring and summer. The Moray Firth is home to the most northerly resident bottlenose dolphin population in the world, and is one of the best places to watch dolphins in Scotland. Compared to bottlenose dolphins in warmer climates, such as Florida, the Moray Firth dolphins are larger and fatter to insulate them from the colder water.
Between May 2009 and September 2010, 16 Eurasian beavers were released into the wild in Knapdale Forest, Mid-Argyll, as part of a monitored trial. The first beaver kit (named Barney) was born in spring 2010, making him the first to be born in the wild in Scotland for over 400 years! At the end of the trial, decisions will be made about the future of beavers in Knapdale Forest and other possible reintroduction sites in Scotland. You can see some videos of the introduced beavers on the Scottish Beaver Trial blog.
Let us know if your favourite Scottish species is missing from our blog! How are you planning to celebrate Burns Night?