The River near Perth
In spring and summer, the Tay is home to Sand Martins which nest in holes in the walls of the riverbank, busily darting around in search of insects. Grey Wagtails can be glimpsed on the riverbank. Dippers are small dumpy birds, with a characteristic bobbing movement, commonly seen around the ladeside at Perth.
Moorhens, with their black bodies and red beaks, rear their young along the river and on the lade in the spring. Several species of ducks, geese and swans inhabit the river and its islands. Most conspicuous is the flock of feral geese, which seem to have escaped from captivity and have lived near Friarton Bridge since the 1990s. They are related to the true wild Greylag, which is thought to be the ancestor of today’s domestic geese. There are also feral ducks on the Tay at Perth, probably crosses between escaped domestic ducks and true wild Mallards, which are abundant here. Many ducks nest on Stanner’s Island, or even in gardens along the riverbank. Goosanders and Mergansers are large saw-billed ducks, which are often glimpsed diving in the area between the bridges at Perth. In winter, Goldeneye ducks may be seen diving off Tay Street, Perth, and are the inspiration for David Annand’s bronze sculpture adjacent to the Queen’s Bridge. The elegant swans, which are often seen, are Mute Swans. They are so-called because apart from the creaking noise their wings make when they fly they make no sound. Occasionally, the vocal Whooper Swans visit in winter, sometimes congregating downriver at Sleepless Inches. Black-headed Gulls and Herring Gulls can often be seen swooping for small fish in the river. Cormorants, large glossy greeny-black birds, are more commonly seen on seashore rocks, but are equally at home fishing on fresh water rivers and lochs. Herons are striking large grey and black water birds, occasionally seen standing motionless in shallow water, particularly around the Tay islands, waiting to stab fish and frogs with their long pointed bills.
The RSPB Birds A-Z Guide will help you to identify those you see on the Tay.
The most striking mammal to be seen here is the Common Seal, usually in winter, pursuing salmon on a high tide. If you are lucky, you may even see an Otter, another mammal which enjoys salmon. In the vaults, which cover the Lade at Perth, there are Daubenton’s Bats, which roost there during the daytime. Beavers currently inhabit the Tay in the stretch from the city itself down to Friarton Bridge. They were reintroduced earlier this century and appear to be flourishing in what was after all their native habitat before man drove them out.
Fish & Pearls
The heaviest salmon ever caught by rod in Britain, weighing 64lb, was landed by Georgina Ballantyne at Caputh Bridge in 1922. An early depiction of the salmon dating to the Pictish period can be seen in Perth Museum and Art Gallery on the famous Inchyra carved stone. In Celtic mythology, the salmon was the symbol of wisdom, and those who ate the flesh of the first salmon of the year were blessed with this gift. Today, further upriver at Kenmore, the first day of the salmon season is still marked with ceremony: a quaich of whisky is poured as a libation over the prow of the first boat, while the pipes skirl. Once common, but now endangered and protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Freshwater Pearl Mussel may still be found on the river bed. As its name suggests, it is the source of freshwater pearls. The largest Tay pearl, weighing 33 grains (nearly 2 grams) was found by Bill Abernethy in 1967.
Most noticeable are the Marsh Marigolds, the vibrant yellow flowers blooming along the banks in spring. On Moncrieffe Island, there are Wild Garlic (Ramsons), Bluebells, the aptly named sweet-smelling Sweet Cicely, Broom and Dog Violets.
Many non-native species have spread along the river course: Himalayan Balsam (with pinkish flowers), Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed, Rudbeckia (coneflower) and Mimulus (monkeyflower) have all been introduced from other countries.
Amongst the trees growing on the riverbank are water-tolerating Alders and several species of Willow. Planted on Tay Street is an avenue of Italian Alders and Lime trees, replacing the old trees removed during Perth’s flood prevention works. Set into the flood wall are sculptures by Gillian Forbes on local themes, one honouring the eminent 19th-century Perthshire explorer and botanist David Douglas. A few kilometres downriver from Perth are the famous Tay Reedbeds. Probably planted in the mid 18th century, these reeds are harvested annually at Errol and are in great demand for thatching roofs. Thatched cottages can still be seen in the Carse, for example at Cottown and Longforgan.
Moorhen – Annette Meyer, Pixabay
Common Seal – Noutch, Pixabay
Marsh Marigold – Mabel Amber, Pixabay
Georgina Ballantine – Illustrated London News
Feature image – Taymara