Feshie at last

Eighteen months into the job and there are still several areas of the catchment that I haven’t seen. The lower Feshie had been visited before but at long last yesterday I was taken on a tour of the whole tributary by Duncan. In the middle reaches lie the famous Feshie braids, one of the most studied river stretches in Scotland. In the wide flat floodplain at the foot of the Cairngorms where all the sediment is dumped lie the Feshie braids. Here the river bed is up to 150m wide with numerous braided, ever changing, channels. There is an abundance of spawning habitat although I suppose some redds will be lost after a big flood in such a dynamic part of the river.

Google Earth image of the Feshie Braids upstream of Glen Feshie Lodge

Google Earth image of the Feshie Braids upstream of Glen Feshie Lodge. I love to see habitat such as this, at one time much of the Spey would have been like this although now it is only the extreme lower reaches on the mainstem which remain untameable.

Roadside view of the braids

Roadside view of the braids

GlenFeshie is famous for its old Scots pine trees, some of which will be hundreds of years old.

An old "granny" pine, blown over in a northerly gale.

An old “granny” pine, blown over in a northerly gale.

The objective was to have a look at the upper reaches mainly to investigate access for redd counting and electrofishing next summer. Duncan drove us in his invincible Toyota to the end of the road, then it was shank’s pony for the next couple miles.

The Feshie varies so much in character as you progress upstream. Above the braids the channel narrows as if flows through a steep gorge section.

Deep holding pool in gorge.

Deep holding pool in gorge.

Gradually the trees thin and the gradient flattens out slightly. The substrate still consists of a lot of bedrock although there are better areas of spawning and juvenile habitat.

Typical view of the upper middle reaches of the Feshie, rocky cascades with gravelly sections between.

Typical view of the upper middle reaches of the Feshie, cascades with bouldery sections between.

There were several waterfalls like this in the upper reaches. They look like difficult obstacles but salmon get over these, or maybe truer to say Feshie salmon get over these! One adaption for life up here is the ability to surmount many obstacles like this.

There were several waterfalls like this in the upper reaches. They look like difficult obstacles but salmon get over these, or maybe truer to say Feshie salmon get over these! One adaption for life up here is the ability to surmount many obstacles like this.

I have a real affection for Aspen trees; the fluttering and rustling of the leaves in the breeze has a certain therapeutic quality. This fine specimen was one of the last along the banks for the Feshie.

I have a real affection for Aspen trees; the fluttering and rustling of the leaves in the breeze has a certain therapeutic quality. This fine specimen was one of the last along the banks for the Feshie.

 

On the walk up we saw the eagle, flying as always just above the ridge. A few others birds were seen in the upper reaches, a dipper, and I’m sure a pair of Ring Ouzels, although it was a fleeting distant view. More surprising were 3 goosanders! Two can be seen in the photo below.

Two goosanders in the pool in the distance.

Two goosanders in the pool in the distance. This pool was at about 1850′ altitude. Their presence proves one thing at least, there must be fish.

At this point the Feshie is joined by its main tributary, the Eidart, in fact it probably has a larger flow than the Feshie. The Eidart is only accessible for a few hundred metres as far upstream as a large waterfall. When we were discussing impassable waterfalls in the catchment last year and the Eidart was suggested as the largest naturally inaccessible tributary in the Spey and it lies at over 1800′.

Eidart waterfall, Duncan assures me he has seen salmon at this point, bbut never above! It is 30-40' high.

Eidart waterfall, Duncan assures me he has seen salmon at this point, but never above! It is 30-40′ high.

Eidart/Feshie Junction, Feshie on the right

Eidart/Feshie Junction, Feshie on the right

At this point we turned back and headed back to the vehicle, descended the hill then took another hill road up to a nice spot for lunch, or so Duncan assured me. The lunch spot turned out to be a hill top at 2780′ altitude from where all you could see were mountains in every direction, what a panoramic view. We were above the headwaters of the Feshie at this point but we could see in the distance that it looked like a fine gravelly meandering burn in its upper reaches.

The high lunch spot, there is nowhere the Toyota can't go? The Feshie headwater are in the distance. To salmon go that far up? We will find out next summer, or even this autumn with the redd counts.

High altitude lunch spot, is there nowhere the Toyota can’t go? The Feshie headwaters are in the distance. Do salmon go that far up? We will find out next summer, or even this autumn with the redd counts.

Turning back down hill we came across a covey of grouse. There were 7 or 8 chicks, not a bad brood considering the late spring.

How many grouse in this photo?

How many grouse in this photo?

On the way home I collected an invertebrate sample from the lower Feshie. It will be interesting to see how it compares with those from the mainstem of the Spey. I’ll find out tomorrow as Michael was sorting and counting today.

In the 1980s the Feshie was a spring river in its own right with good catches as early as April. It is not quite the same now,  the fish run later but one thing is for sure this is a spawning tributary for the spring and summer fish only. We will be surveying the Feshie intensively next summer and it will be interesting to see how juvenile densities compare with previous surveys. Glen Feshie is owned by Wildland Limited, their principle philosophy is the restoration of wildland via native tree regeneration and the development of montane scrubland; all of which can only be good for the salmon population. I also hear they have much grander environmental restoration schemes in mind, more on that later hopefully.

 

 

 

 

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