By WDC Volunteer Eilidh
Bleary-eyed WDC’s Cath Bain and I stood on Shorewatch Hill awaiting our attendees for our first ‘Early Morning Wildlife Photography Walk’ of the season. We couldn’t have asked for better weather… the sun poking through the clouds, calm mirror-like sea and very minimal wind (which if you have ever visited Spey Bay is a rarity in itself!)
As someone who is not normally up and wandering at 7am I was suppressing yawns and gulping down tea to get that quick caffeine hit. Turns out the latter was not necessary as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins soon broke the surface of the glassy water providing me with a burst of energy and optimism for the walk to come.
Once our group of keen wildlife watchers gathered, Cath explained the route we would take and what wildlife we had the chance to see. Of course, stressing the word *chance*. After spending a few moments enjoying the ever-magical dolphins we began our walk where the grass meets the shingle stealing a last look at the sea before joining the river path. That final scan of the sea was just enough for an eagle-eyed group member to spot a fin approximately 300m from shore. Binoculars raised we stood patiently waiting for the mystery animal to surface again. We didn’t have to wait long and to our amazement we found ourselves watching a Minke Whale which very kindly surfaced several times. Now, Minke Whales are pretty common in the Moray Firth during the summer months but it isn’t very often we are lucky enough to spy them at Spey Bay especially with the naked eye. So, this sighting seemed like a pretty good omen.
We meandered along the wild path hugging the shingle and crossed the wee wooden bridge where we paused to take our first look at the wildlife on the river. Sandy islands are dotted along the river and occupying one were several Swans catching some Zzz’s – I don’t blame them! A Heron could be seen on the far shore; it soon took flight treating our attendees to a fantastic photo opportunity.
Before setting off from this viewpoint Cath explained that the next section of our walk was our best bet to see the ever-elusive Otter. Though worthwhile to note Cath has only seen them herself once in 18 months… Otters have a fantastic sense of smell and hearing and their eyesight is tuned in to spotting movement so it is best to minimize moving as much as possible. It is advised that while they are on the surface of the water it is best to stand as still as a statue and when duck underwater you have approximately five seconds to get in position and have your camera at the ready.
Hoping for the best and expecting… well nothing, we slowly made our way along the path trying to scan the river through the overgrown foliage. We paused where the path bends away from the river towards the fields and a series of boulders make up the riverbank. The group had their eyes on the river while I looked out towards the fields. A brown smudge broke up the sea of barley which, as my binoculars focused, took on the shape of a doe. She calmly sat staring back at us standing her ground. However, it wasn’t long before a pair of noisy and aggressive circling gulls disturbed the doe who turned and bounced away from us, white fluffy bottom peaking over the barley heads, a fawn in toe doing its best to keep up with its mother.
Deer now of sight we turned our attention back to the river. A brown head suddenly popped out the water on the far side of the river but we held our breath as seals are often found playing up the Spey River. As the animal resurfaced a murmur of excitement rippled through the group – an otter!!! The feeling of awe almost instantaneously doubled as it was joined by another otter. They were far enough away that they weren’t disturbed by any movement we made but close enough that our binoculars gave us a spectacular view of them playing in the fast stream of water. Cameras poised, none of could take our eyes off the magical sight of them diving and interacting with each other. A buck passed behind them on the far bank pulling our attention from the young otters for a brief moment.
We stood in amazement at our sheer luck watching them for maybe 15 minutes, none of us wanting to move and break the spell. As we turned to make a decision – to stay or to continue – a young buck broke through the forest foliage on our side of the river, I assume to seek out a drink. He didn’t stay long as he soon got spooked after spotting the various onlookers and departed quickly back into the trees. Our final moments witnessing the playful otters was done to the sounds of the impressive roaring of bucks from the woods.
As we continued along the path, we kept our eyes peeled for any more deer movement in the fields. As the weather gets warmer we have seen an increase in the number of butterflies around Spey Bay so we decided therefore to spend some time searching for the smaller but equally exquisite wildlife. Among the green leafy trees, the brown and orange fluttering wings of a Red Admiral caught our eye.
We didn’t manage to get very far with our walk due to all the incredible wildlife we were rewarded with, and it was soon time to return to the Centre so Cath and I could clock on back at the office… not so exciting! Greedily we hoped that we would see an Osprey on the walk back – it would be the cherry on the cake however, what a delicious cake we had, had already!!! Myself and another trailing member of the group kept hearing a Woodpecker but despite our best efforts we didn’t manage to spot him. A Tree Creeper quickly flitted up a nearby tree and out of sight.
As we neared the Centre we paused by the wetland to listen to the chatter of a Sedge Warbler. We didn’t manage to locate him, but we did spy a beautiful Reed Bunting posing for us in the vegetation. And what a perfect sighting to end an unbelievable wildlife walk!!!
Now, we aren’t always this lucky but please get in contact to find out when our next Wildlife Walk is.