The Findhorn Valley – Ray Colliers Wildlife in the North

wild goats findhorn valleyThe upper Findhorn valley looked desolate and there was no sound of any wildlife to be heard or seen. It was as if it was waiting for events to happen but it will be a few weeks yet before the strath echoes to the sounds of curlew, oystercatcher and lapwing. Common sandpipers will be trilling away from the river side where they nest whilst, in contrast, the early nesting dippers may already have eggs in the nest. The dippers’ nest is normally on a ledge under a bridge and they are amongst the earliest of breeding birds. In recent years artificial nestboxes have been erected under an increasing number of bridges and they have been successful. Any new bridges or refurbished ones now automatically have a nestbox placed underneath which is a major step forward. Dippers will also build their nest under waterfalls and such is the case in the Fairy Glen, an RSPB Reserve near Rosemarkie on the Black Isle.

Then amidst the silence in the Findhorn valley it was broken by the harsh, guttural notes of a pair of ravens. The birds were high, above the snowline, and even from a distance you could see the long wedge-shaped tail. These are the largest of the crow family and, remarkably, larger than a buzzard. The two birds were displaying and then pandemonium as they were joined by four other ravens. Their acrobatic displays were very impressive and I wondered why such a group was together at this time of the year. Ravens, like dippers, are very early breeding birds so could it be that they were a family group? Perhaps the birds that were reared last year were trying to muscle in on the territory of the parents and were being seen off. The pair were soon left on their own and continued to display over the snow and rocks. The collective term for ravens is a very unusual one as it is an “unkindness” although the origin seems obscure Perhaps, it is the fact that it is a bird of ill-omen and, supposedly, an harbinger of death! Like magpies there is a rhyme over seeing them. “To see one raven is lucky, ‘tis true, But its certain misfortune to light upon two / And meeting with three is the devil”.

Then the wildlife I had mainly come to see, as there on a steep slope, just below the snowline, were some wild goats and I wondered if I would see a kid. Despite what the weather may bring wild goats have their kids at this time of the year. There were seven goats, all nannies, and all feeding on what looked like grassland although they are very catholic in their taste. They were the usual mixture of colours with one a creamy white and one piebald. The others were mainly dark shading from grey to black and then following one was a very small kid. It seemed so out of place at this time of the year but it seemed lively enough as it pranced around close to a nanny. The billies would be elsewhere on the hillside and later I did see three of them and again they were just on the edge of the snowline. What trauma would face that kid from what the weather would be like in the next few weeks to the attention of golden eagles that would prey on kids. No doubt some of the kids were still to be born and judging by the size of one nanny such an event was imminent.