Julia Gabbert

I was introduced to Scottish Highland Cows (“coos”) last semester when, in one of my classes, we took a field trip to a sustainable farm not too far from St. Louis. The farm had goats, chickens, a few rescued llamas, and several of the enamoring cows. It took just one look at the long bangs covering their eyes before the Highland Cows stole my heart.

When I got to Scotland, I was bursting at the seams to see a coo in real life. But along with my overly furry friends, I discovered a few other animals we don’t have back home. (Side note: I am a total nerd when it comes to local wildlife in St. Louis, and I get a real sense of accomplishment when I can accurately identify a species of bird/amphibian/mammal/whatever. So that might be a bit of a clue as to why I’m interested in this particular topic.)

The first Scottish animal I learned of, as the blog title suggests, lives in Isle of Arran infamy: the midge fly. These are stupid little bloodsuckers, like mosquitoes only the size of gnats. I didn’t notice them until walking around the High Dougarie estate. Whenever I stopped to take a photo of the landscape, I lowered my camera and found that I was surrounded by the little bugs. Not just a few, either—they travel in massive groups. Groups so massive that I could feel myself inhaling them whenever I took a breath. It was disgusting. All in all, I got bit a few times, but the midges didn’t bother me as badly as they bother other people.

Another avian animal I noticed is a pheasant. Pheasants almost look like quails, but bigger. I saw a couple pecking around a field one day and was baffled until Linda, our instructor, told me what they were. There is also a grouse. I don’t know the scientific relation between a pheasant and a grouse, but they look to be about the same size and shape, only grouses are brightly colored in some places. We saw one in the middle of the road one day, just obliviously waddling across while Linda had to slam on the brakes to avoid killing it.

Of course, there are the agricultural animals: sheep (covering almost every hillside), Highland Cows, horses, and regular cows. We got the closest to the sheep, because they were surrounding our house on the Isle of Arran. I wish we had been surrounded by coos.

In the wild, Scotland has deer and red squirrels scurrying around the forests. Red squirrels are really cute, too. They’re red in color (surprise!), but they have these funny tufts on the tops of their ears, pretty much like elves. I only saw one squirrel running across the road. I learned that the red squirrels are threatened today, partly because American grey squirrels are an invasive species in Scotland and are beating out the natives. I found it strange that Scotland doesn’t have any coyotes, bears, wolves, or any predators higher up on the food chain, but apparently the deer population was once in bad shape and is now recovering.

I get a sense that Scots, at least on the Isle of Arran, have a profound respect for wildlife and nature. For example, the distillery on the island worked construction of the building around the nesting of a pair of golden eagles. The eagles still live in the mountains surrounding the distillery today. You go, Arran whisky producers!

Now that we’re in Edinburgh, the animal sightings have dwindled. The only animals I’ve seen in the city are seagulls, which have a creepy way of sounding like a maniacal woman laughing in the dead of night—no, thank you. There are, however, lots of snails. I have a weird fondness for snails, too.

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