Time and Tide
The River Spey forms in Scotland’s Central Highlands and flows 107 miles towards the coast, eventually meeting the sea at Spey Bay. It is one of the longest rivers in Scotland and has played a key part in the country’s history, being important for timber production and shipbuilding. Over the years, it has become less industrial and the river is now a key habitat for salmon, making it popular among fisherman. It even gives its name to the traditional Speycast – one of the most widely used casts among salmon fishing.
Spey Bay itself is a scenic reserve that is home to the Scottish Dolphin Centre – a free visitor attraction that offers daily tours, walks and exhibits. The bay boasts a range of habitats such as grassland, salt-marsh and areas of wet woodland. Wildlife is present all year-round but is particularly common during spring and summer, when the plant life is rich in foliage. Wildflowers are abundant at this time of year and this can make a visit to Spey Bay a wonderfully colourful experience, especially on a sunny day.
Riding the Waves
Some of the most charismatic residents of Spey Bay are the dolphins. Known for their playful behaviour and intelligence, these marine mammals are common in Scotland’s waters and sightings can be one of the best ways to brighten your day. Two species that are regular visitors to the north-east coast are the Harbour Porpoise and the Bottlenose Dolphin. You are more likely to see Harbour Porpoises, as this species likes to reside in shallower waters and often sticks close to coastal areas and river estuaries. They are even known to swim upriver in search of fish, so a dorsal fin breaking the surface near the river’s mouth is a good sign that a Harbour Porpoise is in the vicinity. While this species occasionally hunts in pods, it will usually be seen on its own.
In contrast, Bottlenose Dolphins are highly social animals and live in groups of around 5 – 15 individuals. Sometimes these groups merge together and pods containing up to 1000 dolphins have been seen before, although this is rare. At Spey Bay, they will often be seen in smaller groups, either moving along the coast or hunting for food. Fish make up the majority of their diet and they will sometimes work as a team to herd shoals of fish into shallower waters. This can make for a fantastic sight. Top tip for spotting dolphins at Spey Bay: visit on a calm day, when it’s easier to see dorsal fins breaking the water.
A Diversity of Wildlife
While the dolphins might steal the show, there is much more wildlife to see in and around the River Spey and on a good day you’ll be spoilt for choice. If you’re scanning the seas for marine life, watch out for the heads of Grey Seals popping up in the shallows. Seals are very curious animals and they might be checking you out at the same time. There are also occasional sightings of Minke Whales in the area, usually in the summer months.
Seabirds are common and you can expect to see waders and terns in abundance. Spring and summer represent the breeding season for these birds and most will be raising chicks. Keep this in mind if venturing off the beaten track, it’s best not to disturb them, especially as terns are known to defend their nests aggressively (this can be a painful experience if you’re not wearing a hat). The eastern car park on the reserve has an area known as Birdwatcher’s Corner, which provides a great vantage point for viewing wildfowl. If you’re lucky, you might spot an Osprey gliding across the water.
Spey Bay has a host of terrestrial wildlife on offer too. The wildflowers that bloom during the summer are a magnet for ladybirds and butterflies such as Red Admirals. The woodland areas are perfect for rodents and deer, and a visit early in the morning might be rewarded with a view of an otter frolicking in the river. With so much to see, a trip to Spey Bay can be a great day out and is perfect for walkers and wildlife watchers alike.