Wildlife in Strathnairn
by Ray Collier
The wildlife in the strath has always been rich and varied and this is partly because of the wide range of habitats. The River Nairn supports grey wagtails and dippers and otters are regularly seen along its banks. The moorland has red grouse, mountain hare and red deer whilst the lochs have nesting Slavonian grebes and feeding ospreys. Lapwings, common snipe and curlews breed on the rough grassland and stonechats call from the gorse and juniper bushes. There have been changes over the years but perhaps the most significant has been the birds and mammals in the woodland. The woodland in the strath varies from the remnants of old Caledonian pine forest to the stands of almost pure birch. A dominant aspect of the woodlands in the strath is the extensive conifer plantations many of which have now reached the age that they support crops of cones. Cone seed on such non native trees are sought out by the specialist feeders such as red squirrel and birds such as the crossbill, lesser redpoll and siskin.
Spring is one of the best times of the year to see the woodland birds and mammals as all are busy bringing up their young and for some their change in feeding habits have been significant. The changes in the life style of the siskin and the red squirrel have come about because of the changes in our own attitudes. A few years ago feeding wildlife in the garden was restricted to the winter months as we were told that in the summer birds had enough natural food. There was also the ill founded rumour that if adults fed whole peanuts to their chicks the young would choke on them. Then the story was different and, with the caveat that peanuts had to be in holders so that only pieces were fed to chicks, food was put out all year round.
The effect on siskins was amazing as more and more came into the nuts and for the new nyjer feed that became available. In the spring the adult siskins bring their youngsters to the feeders and then the females disappear again to lay their second clutch of eggs and hatch another brood. Red squirrels have followed the route that the siskins have taken and many gardens in the strath have these delightful mammals coming to special feeders. These feeders are wooden boxes with a hinged lid that the animal soon knows how to open either with its head or paws. Gardens now play an important part in supporting bird species and the red squirrels all the year round.
Some mammals have been lost from the strath such as the polecat and there is doubt as to whether there are any true wildcats left as they have long since bred with feral cats. Some birds have gone such as the capercaillie and possibly the black grouse but there have been compensations such as the red kite that was re-introduced. The osprey is a welcome sight in the strath but it came back naturally to the Highlands.