Hebridean Coastline
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Learning Zone

On the machair area in the Western Isles, it’s very likely that you will get to see some wildlife in their home territory. It would be useful to know a bit about these animals before you visited the coast, so you know where to find them and so you don’t disturb them too much.

Animal Information

Corncrakes Corncrake

Corncrakes are from the same family of birds as moorhens and coots, but a bit different from the others because corncrakes like to live on dry land. They are not the easiest birds to see because they spend a lot of time hiding in long grass, but they give away their hiding place by their rasping bird call. When they are flying, they are easy to spot because of their chestnut wings and trailing legs. The best place to see them in the RSPB reserve at Balranald in North Uist, but they can also be seen on machair land all over the Western Isles. They come to the Western Isles around April and stay for the whole summer, leaving again in August or September. (pic. courtesy of Wikimedia)Lapwing


Some people call the Lapwing the ‘peewit’ because it sounds like the bird’s call. The bird is actually named after the way it flies, because it wavers in the air. It’s fairly easy to spot, because of its black and white colour, and when they are flying, they have a round winged shape. These birds can be spotted on the machair areas of the Western Isles and can be seen all year round.

Grey Seals

Grey seals are a common sight on rocky areas of the coastline, where they can often be seen in bays, relaxing on top of rocks. The male grey seals are much larger than the females and have broad shoulders, a long snout and a heavy muzzle. The females have a thinner snout and a less rounded profile. They vary in colour from dark brown to grey or black with blotches, and females tend to be paler than the males. 

Common Shore Crabs

Crabs can be found in almost all coastal areas, especially in rocky shallow places. They use their strong claws to crack shells, and for fighting. Crabs can be very aggressive and are often seen fighting other crabs. Because of this, about 5% of crabs in one area only have one claw. 


Dolphins are commonly seen around the islands, as they enjoy swimming along beside boats and ferries in the area. They have a prominent dorsal fin, and a short, well-developed snout. They also have a very flexible neck, and have between 28 and 26 pairs of sharp, conical teeth in each side of its jaw. 

Beach activities


While at the beach you could do a little bit to help the environment by doing a clean-up. You could get your friends involved or clear a small area every time you go to the beach, every little bit helps to keep the beach a nice place for everyone; locals, tourists, and the wildlife

Oyster Catchers


Examine the bird footprints left in the sand and try and identify what type of bird has left them from their shape.

Beach Geology

Use a magnifying glass to investigate the sand and shells you find at the beach. Compare dry sand grains with wet and explore the various lines and small creatures that may be on your shells. Collect a variety of shells and have fun sorting, matching, and comparing the shells.