The weather was distinctly unpromising this morning but we headed up river to count redds in the upper Spey and Mashie Burn. The light rain didn’t look too serious but the mild weather would have shifted the snow lying on the hills, maybe river levels would be too high? At first sight the upper Spey looked quite big but most of the water was coming down the Feith Talagain, above Garva Bridge water levels were fine. We had already identified stretches of river to count, we just don’t have the resources to try and count everywhere nowadays and indentifiable stretches on the main tributaries would provide an index of spawning numbers. We planned to count two sections in the upper Spey, from Allt a’Chaorainn down to the upper end of the lower plantation and from Sherramore to Loch Spey.
The lower section was out due to the volume of water from the Feith Talagain but we managed to count the upper section. Right where we started we found what appeared to be two redds in a wide riffle where there was a perfect grade of gravel. Recent redds often reveal themselves from the distance as glassy areas in riffles. The photo below shows two such areas just to the left of centre
After that initial find it was at least 1.5km before Steve came across another small redd on the inside of a bend.
Those were the only redds seen, no fish either. Three redds in 3.5km is nowhere near enough to saturate the habitat available.
As the lower Spey section was too high we walked the Mashie Burn. Before today I had only seen the Mashie at top and bottom of the 4km section between the A86 and the Spey confluence. What we saw in the entire middle part was quite different to expectations. The Mashie has a regulated flow, i.e. much of the flow is abstracted above the A86 by Rio Tinto, leaving a relatively stable residual flow. That combined with the extensive dredging that had been inflicted left the Mashie in a sorry state.
The bottom in most of the dug out section was covered either with extensive weed growth or sand, see photo below.
We had found two trout redds near the confluence but for the next 2km there were none, the habitat was totally unsuitable for spawning. A bit further upstream the gradient increased slightly and we started to find a few more trout redds in amongst the weed growth, where gravel had started to appear.
Up nearer the road the burn started to flow more naturally with a fine gravel/cobble bed. Below a watergate across a cattle drinking point we at last found what looked like a salmon redd. We have an electrofishing site just below the A86 and we find salmon there every survey, although not always fry. The only suitable salmon spawning habitat is in the short stretch below the A86 so I can only surmise that one or two pairs of salmon pass through the uninspiring middle reaches to spawn in the better habitat above. Seven trout redds and one salmon redd in 4km of burn was not good. Our old spawning books show that up to 44 redds were recorded in the Mashie at one time……. there would appear to be considerable scope for a restoration project here.
On the banks of the Mashie I came across slime mould colonies. Not sure what species this is but it looks just like melting snow. I used to see this often in Ayrshire at this time of year but this is the first I have seen of it in Speyside. Weird stuff slime mould, it is neither plant nor animal and used to be classed as a fungi. Now it is considered to be some sort of protoplasm or similar. I heard on the radio a while back that a colony had once travelled the length of a cricket pitch overnight. I haven’t a clue how far that is!