It’s spring on the River Dee...

Dee Beat - dipper.
Dee Beat - dipper.

With longer days and the warm temperatures experienced last week, it feels as if spring has finally arrived on the River Dee. Spring is a time when everything is bursting into life and growing; birds are singing, leaves are unfolding and butterflies are starting to flutter. Nature is at its most busy in spring and for many species finding a mate and successfully breeding is top priority.

In the River Dee, spring salmon are entering the river. The numbers of these fish have declined historically between 1960 and 2000, as less and less survive their journey at sea, but numbers are now stabilising. These fish are termed ‘Springer’s’ by fishermen due to the time when they enter the river but in fact a Springer is defined as a fish which returns from the sea into the river whilst in its winter phase of little feeding and slow growth. Results from the River Dee Trust’s research has illustrated that Springer’s can enter the river from late autumn until as late as June, but typically between February and May. These iconic fish are what some would say makes the River Dee the best Spring fishery in the world, and people travel from far afield to fish for them, bringing a vital boost to the local economy at a time when tourism is typically low

Water voles are now thinking about what most rodents do best: multiplying. Having spent the winter in their burrows eating roots and shoots under the snow, they are now out and about looking for food and most importantly a mate. Water voles live in discrete patches of suitable habitat often with only a few individuals in a colony. Research by the University of Aberdeen has found that water voles will travel several kilometres in search of a mate. After the snow melt their winter nests and burrows will become more visible and easier to spot.

Bats are coming out of hibernation and are in need of a good feed to get their strength back. Pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats are most common but Daubenton’s bats use the river the most. They hunt by skimming low over water, catching insects close to the water surface. The best time to see bats is when they are out feeding at dusk, but as bats can fit inside a matchbox and weigh less than a 2p coin, all you may see is a black shadow darting over the river.

Squirrels do not hibernate but they spend much of the winter tucked up in their drey using their bushy tail as a blanket and who can blame them! At this time of year they are out and about more looking for food. If you see any red or grey squirrels, remember to report it to Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels to help them build up a picture of distribution. Reporting either species can be done via their website and takes a few minutes.

Spring Wildlife To Look For

Frogs and toads on the move – one of the first signs of spring are frogs and toads spawning. Toads can travel long distances to find suitable ponds to breed in, often travelling at night when it’s cooler and damper. Look for masses of jelly-like frog spawn in local ponds and ditches.

Migrant birds - chiffchaffs are usually one of the first migrant birds to appear in March, singing their names in a repetitive ‘chiff chaff’ song from the tops of trees. Sand martins and wheatears also arrive in March while swallows, house martins and warblers fly in during April. 

You can also look for queen bumblebees  on warm days in March. These will be the larger queens which have successfully survived the winter and are now seeking nectar and pollen from spring flowers.

Tell Us About It

We are always on the lookout for good photographs of the Dee to use on the River Dee website and Twitter page. Email your photos to or find us on Twitter @RiverDeeTeam. You may see your photo used on our website or Twitter page sometime in the future.

The Dee Catchment Outreach Officer is funded by: Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeen Harbour Board, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland, MacRobert Trust, Marr Area Committee, River Dee 
Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage.