So far, our last sighting of our lovely record breaking bottlenose dolphins here at the Scottish Dolphin Centre was on March 15th and quite a few of us here are getting itchy feet anticipating their return. The weather has finally given us a few nice days allowing the team to do lots of Shorewatches (10 minute watches from land) and increase our chances of spotting them.
However, it is not just dolphins that make an appearance here at Spey Bay: there is a breadth of wildlife waiting to be discovered. My highlight of the week so far was spotting a harbour seal just mulling around in the River Spey. We watched him for about an hour just swimming up and down the river and occasionally checking us out to see what we were doing. The UK holds about one tenth of the world’s population of harbour seals with about 85% of them being here in Scotland. These animals are perfectly adapted to life in the water with thick insulating blubber (particularly important for the chilly seas around here) and have the ability to dive to depths of 10 to 150m for around 30 minutes.
Harbour Seal – © Aimee Burrows
Out on the estuary there is a wealth of bird life and I am finding I am beginning to be able to identify more and more of them each day. Yesterday alone I saw greater black backed gulls, goldeneye, mallards, goosanders, wigeons and oystercatchers. Oystercatchers are one of the easiest birds on the estuary to identify, mainly because you can hear them before you see them! They are normally seen in pairs as they mate for life and can quite often be seen far inland too. Contrary to their name they don’t actually eat oysters instead they prefer mussels. If you are lucky enough to see them up close you may see that some have different bill shapes to others. This is because certain individuals have different feeding techniques. If the bill is thin and ends in a sharp point, they use their bill to pry open the mussels and if their bill is stocky and blunt, they use their bill to bash the mussels open.
Oystercatcher – © Charlie Phillips
Estuarine birds are not the only visitors to the centre we are widely anticipating the return the ospreys who have started to arrive back to Scotland after their long trip from Africa. I have yet to see one but hopefully I will soon. Outside the centre is alive with noise from all the different birds beginning to call; spring is on its way! There have been black birds, house sparrows, jackdaws, carrion crows, rooks, robins, chaffinches, pied wagtails, great tits and blue tits. Whilst I was doing a shorewatch on Wednesday morning I also heard my first ever yellowhammer. You can often hear this species singing when it is perched on top of a hedge or a bush. If you listen to its song carefully you can hear it singing, ‘a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeeesse’.
Yellowhammer -© WDC
Spring is definitely in the air here with the birds singing and there are shoots of new plants emerging everywhere. Dog’s mercury, cow parsley and butterbur can be seen sprouting out of the ground, along with this, the trees are beginning to produce lots of buds. One in particular is the alder tree. This particular species flourishes in damp areas such as wet woodlands and on the banks of streams. In the past the wood from the alder tree was said to be used to make clogs and that if alder leaves were placed in them before a journey it would prevent your feet from swelling up. However, my favourite past uses of the alder is entwined with the tale of Robin Hood. It is suggested that the green dye from the flowers of the tree were used to dye people’s clothes. This created a type of camouflage clothing which was worn by outlaws such as Robin Hood and his merry men.
Alder tree- © Aimee Burrows
With the centre opening full time from Saturday why not take a look at what you can discover here and if you sit on the beach for long enough who knows, the dolphins may even make an appearance!
Waiting for dolphins – ©Aimee Burrows