Home alone today so I took advantage of the weather to go and have a look at the middle reaches of the Dulnain. The River Dulnain is one of the main spawning tributaries of the Spey with a huge area of accessible habitat.
I started below Sluggan where the river is highly mobile. The middle Dulnain is largely natural with very few modifications. As there are no levees or flood banks the river is free to meander across a wide flood plain.
The river here was first class with a diverse range of habitat. I only had my wee compact camera today as daughter #2 had commandeered my Fuij for her art project but most of the shots turned out okay. It was a beautiful morning and every turn in the river revealed another fine view.
Further upstream I met a gentleman walking his dogs. He visits the area twice a week, taking a great interest in the river. He reported seeing lots of spawning salmon in that area in the backend. Our electrofishing monitoring this year found salmon fry at every site in the mainstem of the Dulnain, including at 2000′ altitude, making them some of the highest spawning salmon in Scotland. However the highest numbers were found in the lower reaches below Carrbridge with declining numbers upstream.
The photo below shows three birch trees in various stages of falling into the river. The top one is already lying in the water where it will provide cover and shelter for parr. This is known as coarse or large woody debris by biologists and although more important for trout it can provide a refuge for salmon parr from predators such as goosander, two large broods of which I saw today.
Apparently deer numbers have been reduced severely in the area and there is now a great deal of tree regeneration going on. The photo below shows young alders growing along the channel edge.
The dog walker also commented that he never saw any salmon in the middle Dulnain before Oct/Nov. Most of the habitat would be considered prime mixed juvenile habitat although there was the odd deeper pool where a salmon could lie up during the summer prior to spawning. His observations do confirm what I have heard from others, that the salmon tend not to run the Dulnain in numbers until late in the year.
Further upstream the broadleaves thinned out and Scots pine became more dominant.
Eroding banks are common on the Dulnain. In the view below on one side of the river the mature pines were falling in but on the opposite bank there was tremendous regeneration of young pines.
There is no shortage of spawning habitat in the Dulnain. Some of the best spawning beds were in the Dalnahaitnach area.
Above Dalnahaitnach the gradient increased and the habitat became more bouldery although spawning areas were still present.
By this time I was several miles above the end of the road so I turned back. It was a great day out and my knowledge of another part of the Spey catchment had increased significantly. It is clear that the Dulnain provides miles of fantastic juvenile habitat but doubts have been cast on the density of fish it supports, particularly in the middle reaches. From what I saw today there didn’t appear to be any bottlenecks. We intend to do some redd counting in the Dulnain this winter to try and establish how many fish are spawning across the entire stretch so if anyone wants to help out let me know as assistance will be greatly appreciated.