Red Deer - (fiadh; daimh/stag, eilid/hind) - Cervus elaphus
Red deer are among the more obvious upland mammals and are only likely to be confused with sika deer. If you came to Strathy by the Forsinard road then there is a strong possibility that you would have seen some. There is also a herd on the Thurso road around the Caithness/Sutherland border. Both red and sika deer have similar antlers, but sika are slightly smaller, and during the summer, have white spots arranged roughly in rows; these are absent from the winter coat.
Field Vole - (luch-fheoir) - Microtus agrestis
The greyish-brown field vole is markedly smaller than its aquatic relative, and is approximately mousesized with a short, inconspicuous tail. Field voles are active by both day and night, using regular runways that form tunnels as the vegetation grows over them. These are typically up to 5cm wide and are usually most visible in rough grassland, where they form complex, partially concealed networks, punctuated by occasional roughly circular entrances to underground burrow systems.
Buzzard - (clamhan) - Buteo buteo
Buzzards are dark, compact, medium-sized birds of prey. In contrast to eagles, buzzards have short heads, thick necks and short rounded tails. The wings also look relatively short and rounded and thei rear edge is convex in silhouette. A buzzard's underwing usually has dark areas along the trailing edge, and at the tip and "elbow". Buzzards call frequently (a mewing 'pee-yah'), hover readily, often perch on telegraph poles or in fields, and regularly allow a close approach. Click play on the sound clip below to hear a buzzard calling.
Red Grouse - (male: coileach-fraoich, female: cearc-fhraoich) - Lagopus lagopus
Red grouse are medium-sized, stocky reddish-brown birds and look essentially the same throughout theyear. The males are somewhat darker and have distinctive red combs above each eye, which are particularly obvious when the birds are in mating season. Most vocal in the early morning and in late winter and spring the crowing cocks are hard to miss as they boldly proclaim their territory. At other times, activity tends to die down and the birds are more likely to flush up from underfoot and skim away low over the heather on downcurved wings, giving their guttural alarm call, a rattling 'ak ar-ar-ar ak-ak-ak'. Click play on the sound clip below to hear a grouse calling.
Sheep Tick - (mial-chaorach) - Lxodes ricinus
Some 18 species of 'hard tick', which have a rigid chitin dorsal shield, have been recorded in Britain. The sheep tick is abundant in upland areas, including woodland, moorland, rough grassland and areas dominated by bracken. An adult sheep tick, with its mouth parts embedded in the skin and its abdomen sticking up in the air, is al too easy to recognise, especially if engorged with blood, when it can reach the size of a small pea. Ticks can be found on or near the top of plants such as grasses, bracken and small shrubs, where they wait in ambush for a passing mammal or bird, to which they transfer once contact is made. Ticks are inactive in cold temperatures and are vulnerable to drying out, but thrive in warm moist conditions. They are particularily abundant where coarse vegetation with associated leaf litter, ground flora and humus provide a humid micro-climate for most of the year, and good populations of mammals and birds on which to feed.
Highland Midge - (meanbh-chuileag) - Culicoides impunctatus
34 species of biting midge (Cullicoides) have been recorded in Scotland, though only four or five attack humans. Most of these species are rare or uncommon, and the most widespread and familiar species of Scottish upland areas is Culicoides impunctatus. This fly is tiny, with a wingspan of about 1.4 mm, a feature highlighted in its Gaelic name, which means tiny fly. There are six or seven dark botches on the wings, and their pattern differentiates this species from others. This is not visible with the naked eye, so the species cannot be distinguished by sight alone. Adults of the Highland midge first emerge during May, with most of the early hatching being males, which do not bite and therefore can go unnoticed. Subsequently the biting females start flying and persist throughout the summer and into September. Although midges are generally associated with warm humid weather, cloud cover is the principal factor which determines their activity levels. They are sensitive to light and are prevalent in cloudy conditions, when sunlight is obscured, and during evenings when the sun is starting to set. The other environmental factor that restricts their activity is wind; when this exceeds about 5mph, they find shelter amongst vegetation.
Yellow Gorse / Whin - (onn) - Ulex europaeus
Gorse is closely related to Broom, and like them, has green stems and very small leaves and adapts to dry growing conditions, but differs in its extreme spininess, with the leaves being modified into 1-4 cm long spines. All the species have yellow flowers, some with a very long flowering season. They are both mebers of the pea family. Gorse provides excellent food for horses and sheep and it is said increases the milk yield of cattle. It has been utilised as a yellow dye, its roots for basket weaving, chimney sweeping, green manure, fuel, roofing. The ashes were used to make lye for cleaning linen. You can download a recipie for gorse wine here.
Heather - (Biadh na Circe-fraoich, Fraoch a' Bhadain) - Calluna vulgaris
Heather or ling is the most abundant dwarf shrub of the Scottish hills. Individual plants live for about 30 years but begin to lose vigour after 15 years. Heather has found itself in a variety of uses. It has been used as the foundation for wattle-and-daub walls, roof thatch, sweep floors, a fuel, knife handles from roots and bedding. Its flowering tops make a yellow dye. These also supply the raw ingredients for Heather Honey, Heather Ale, Heather Wine or Heather Tea. There is even a company making jewellery from heather stems.
Sphagnum Moss - (coinneach dhearg) - Sphagnum
Sphagnum mosses often form large patches or hummocks, and are easily recognised by their symmetrically radiating branches and the small cap of densely clustered shoots which crowns each stem. The hollw cell structure of the moss plays host to a wide variety of animals; including at least 145 species of Protozoa. The use of Sphagnum moss as a wound dressing has been known for centuries but it has also been used as bedding and sound proofing in walls.
Crowberry - (lus-na-fionnag) - Empetrum nigrum
Deep green, glossy mats of crowberry are very common in heather-dominated moorland and blanket bog. The black berry is edible, although slightly bitter. The berry is a source of vitamin C and has been used to make jelly. The berries have also been utilised to create a purplish-blue dye and its roots used to create ropes. You can download a crowberry tart recipe here.
Purple Orchid - (Mogairlean Mòintich) - Dactylorhiza maculata subsp ericetorum
The purple orchid is a perennial with narrow oblong and usually blotched purple-blackish leaves. It has purple or sometimes white/pink-purple flowers. It is now illegal to dig them up but in times past the roots or tubulars were prized as a source of starch. Due to suggestive shape of the tubulars these were also smuggled into your intended lover's food as an aid to catching them.
Common frog - (losgann) - Rana temporaria
Frogs can grow up to 11cm long but are usually smaller, and females are larger than males. They are very variable in colour, being typically brown with black markings, but can also be yellowish, beige, greenish or reddish. Frogs are readily distinguishable from toads by their smooth, most skin; toad skin is warty and relatively dry.
Large black slug - (seilcheag mhor dhubh) - Arion ater
This widespread and generally common slug is the largest British species, and occurs in a wide variety of habitats including woodland, grassland and moorland. Slugs need to avoid desiccation, are mostly nocturnal and during dry periods remain amongst vegetation or even burrow deep into the soil.
Craneflies - (Corra-bhainne) - Tipulidae Craneflies
Daddy-long-legs, are a familiar group of two-winged flies occurring in most habitats. The greatest variety of species is associated with damp or wet habitats. Adults have one pair of narrow membranous wings attached to the thorax, with club-shaped balancers behind, prominent long dangling legs which break off easily if handled and in most species a slender body.
Snipe - (budagochd) - Gallinago gallinago
Snipe are medium sized, skulking wading birds with short legs and long straight bills. Both sexes are mottled brown above, with paler buff stripes on the back, dark streaks on the chest and pale under parts. Click play on the sound clip below to hear a snipe calling.
Strathy Strangler - Squamanita pearsonii
Only three localities of this parasitic fungus have been recorded in 1950 and 2004 (in Strathy) and 2007 in Wales. It parasitizes other fungus by strangling it.
Birdsfoot Trefoil - Lotus corniculatus
It is a perennial herbaceous plant, similar in appearance to some clovers. The flowers develop into small pea-like pods. The name 'bird's foot' refers to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk. There are five leaflets, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name trefoil. It has been used as hay, the source for yellow dye and for the treating of styes around the eyes.
Purple Oxytropis - Oxytropis halleri
A small, rare, alpine flower that makes Strathy standout as an important area in terms of vegetation. Flowering in the summer with blue-purple flowers and grows to 6-8 inches high and 10 inches wide. Both leaves and stalks are covered in fine silver hairs. Scots
Primrose - (sobhrach) - Primula scotica
Primula scotica is easily distinguished from other Primula by its bluish purple flowers. It flowers in May and often has a second flowering in July. It is endemic to the north coast of Scotland and Orkney. Its close relative the yellow primrose can also be found in the area and have been used as food, candied and made into wine.
Spring Squill - (Lear-uinnean) - Scilla subsp
Verna Spring squill likes cliff-tops and maritime heaths, with short grass. This wildflower is a member of the lily family and grows from a bulb. The grassy leaves of spring squill come out in early spring followed soon by it's pale violet-blue star-like flowers. (Very occasionally the flowers are white) The plant grows to about 15cm or 6 inches tall. Spring squill has blue anthers, these are the parts on the ends of the stamens which carry the pollen grains. This wildflower flowers April - June.
Nettle - (Deanntag) - Urtica dioica
Stinging nettles are a common sight all over the north of Scotland. They have stinging hairs and while the nature of the toxin is still under debate the hairs contain formic acid, serotonin and histamine. A common treatment for the sting is to cruch up some dock leaves (Rumex obtusifolius) and apply this to the affected area. Nettles have been eaten as they contain moderately high levels of calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and vitamins A and C. They were a welcome replacement to spinach in the second World War. Nettles have also been used to trate rheumatism and extracts can be found in current day body building products.
Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale
Dandelions are tap-rooted or perennial herbaceous plants and are common in temperate regions. The leaves are 5-25cm long and as they grow out they push down the surrounding vegetation, cutting sunlight, and resulting bare patches beneath the leaves. The bright yellow flower head is open in the daytime but closes in the evening. Dandilions have been used in salads, teas and as coffee substitutes (roots). They have also been used for stomach and liver disorders or the flowers were infused to help with colds.
Rowan - (luis) - Sorbus aucuparia
Leaves are grouped into fronds which are typically 10-20cm long, with individual leaflets that are typically 3-6cm long. Recognitiion is especially easy in September when the tree produces bright red berries. Its wood is hard and heavy and was used to make wheels, flooring, ladders, bows or oars. Its bark was used in the tanning of animal hides. Rowan was often planted near to homes as it was believed to confer protection against witchcraft. It was tied to cows tails to ward of fairies and grown in graveyards to discourage the dead from rising. Rowan berries make a delicious dark orange jelly, with a sharp marmalade flavour, that goes well with game and lamb. You can download a recipe here. They were also used as bait to catch songbirds and provided red dye. The sap of the Rowan tree was used to flavour ales and higher spirits.
Porpoise – (peilig) – Phocoena phocoena
The Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is one of six species of porpoise. It is one of the smallest ocean mammals in the sea. As its name implies, it stays close to coastal areas or river estuaries and as such is the most familiar porpoise. It is about 67-85 cm (26-33 in) long at birth. Both sexes grow up to be 1.4 m to 1.9 m (4.6-6.2 ft). The females are correspondingly heavier, with a maximum weight of around 76 kg (167 pounds) compared with the males' 61 kg (134 pounds). The body is robust and the animal is at its maximum girth just in front of its triangular dorsal fin. The beak is poorly demarcated. The flippers, dorsal fin, tail fin and back are a dark grey. The sides are a slightly speckled lighter grey. The underside is much whiter, though there are usually grey stripes running along the throat from the underside of the mouth to the flippers. Harbour Porpoises can live up to 25 years.
Mussel - (feusgan)
Mussel is a loose and inaccurate term, but it has historically been applied to those families of clams where the shell is longer than it is wide, being wedge-shaped or asymmetrical-looking, and where the external color of the shell is dark blue or brown, as opposed to the more globular lighter-colored families of bivalves. Mussels can be smoked, boiled, steamed or fried in batter. As for all shellfish, mussels should be alive just before they are cooked because they quickly become toxic after they die.
Limpet – (bàirneach)
Limpet is a common name used for many kinds of saltwater or freshwater snails, specifically those that have a simple shell which is more or less broadly conical in shape, and which is either not coiled, or appears not to be coiled, in the adult snail. The word "limpet" is a very inexact name which is fairly frequently encountered as part of the common name of a wide variety of different marine and freshwater gastropod species, some of which have gills and some of which have a lung. Limpets have flattened, cone-shaped shells, and the majority of species are commonly found adhering strongly to rocks or other hard substrates, looking like little bumps on the surface. In life, many limpet shells are often covered in microscopic growths of green marine algae, which can make them even harder to see, as they can closely resemble the rock surface itself. The majority of limpet species have shells that are less than 3 in (8 cm) in maximum length and many are much smaller than that. You can download a recipe for limpet stovies here.
Common Gull – (faoileag) – Larus canus
Gulls are not soley birds of the coast and a surprising number are found in the uplands. The common gull has a pale grey back and a white head, with a plain face and gentle expression. Click play on the sound clip below to hear gulls calling.
Sea lettuce - Ulva lactuca
Ulva lactuca is a thin flat green alga growing from a discoid holdfast. The margin is somewhat ruffled and often torn. It may reach 18 cm or more long though generally much less and up to 30 cm across. The membrane is two cells thick, soft and translucent, and grows attached, without a stipe, to rock via a small disc-shaped holdfast. It is one of the more pleasant seaweeds served raw, especially chopped, and served Japanese style, with soy sauce and rice vinegar. It has also been used to dress burn wounds.
Bladder Wrack – Fucus vesiculosus
Fucus vesiculosus is a very variable alga. It can grow to 100 cm or more and is easily recognised by the small gas–filled vesicles which occur in pairs on either side of a central midrib running along the centre of the strap–like frond. It was the original source of iodine, discovered in 1811, and was extensively used to treat goitre, a swelling of the thyroid gland, related to iodine deficiency. It has also been used to treat "rheumatic of the knee". Bladder wrack could be thrown onto the open peat fire only to explode and wake a sleeping grandparent. This species can be washed, simmered in a little water and served as a green vegetable. It has been added to chicken feed to prodce thicker eggshells and yellower yolks. Recently it has been made into an ale but has also been produced as tea, fodder, manure and soap.
Dulse - Palmaria palmata
Dulse grows attached by its discoid holdfast to the stipes of Laminaria or to rocks. It has a short stipe, the fronds are very variable and vary in colour from deep-rose to reddish-purple and are rather leathery in texture. The flat foliose blade gradually expands and divides into broad segments ranging in size to 50 cm long and 30 - 8 cm in width which can bear flat wedge-shaped proliferations from the edge. It can be eaten raw as a good source of vitamins and minerals but is often grazed by sheep and cattle. It was commonly eaten with oatmeal in the form of a thick broth (càl duilisg) or simply boiled and served with pepper and butter. It can be roasted in a fire and then smothered in vinegar. Dried it could be chewed like tobacco. It was applied to wounds like plasters, used to expel intestinal worms, a fever remedy, for expelling afterbirth, for sprains, a cure–all for both humans and animals.
Purple Laver / Sloke –(slabhagan) – Porphyra umbilicalis
Purple laver has broad, tough, thin irregular purple fronds approximately 20cm across. It is greenish when young and becomes purplish red. Purple laver can be reduced in boiling water until it becomes a paste. It can then be used as an accompaniment for lamb. It is easily digestible due to its low cellulose content and is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B, amino acids and minerals. It would be turned to jelly with leeks and onions and eaten alone or with oatcakes or bannocks. You can download a recipe for Seaweed soup here. Sloke was utilised in the treatment of sprains and to cure constipation.
Cowslip - Primula veris
Cowslip is a low growing herbaceous perennial plant with deep yellow flowers being produced in the spring. They have been used in brewing ale, flavouring vinegar, salads and sugared as sweets. It has also been used as a diuretic and for the treatment of headaches, whooping cough and other conditions.