The area around Strathy has a diverse range of both flora and fauna. Here are just some of the species we have seen so far from the heathland, you can also visit the Strath, Seaside and walk pages. The names of the species are in English, then Scot's Gaelic in brackets and finally latin.
Red Deer - (fiadh; daimh/stag, eilid/hind) - Cervus elaphus
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.
Purple Orchid - (Mogairlean Mòintich) - Dactylorhiza maculata subsp ericetorum
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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.
Heather - (Biadh na Circe-fraoich, Fraoch a' Bhadain) - Calluna vulgaris
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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
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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
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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.