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Scottish Mountain Wildlife with our expert: Andy Bateman

scottish wildlife - fungi

The false morel – do not eat!

Scottish Wildlife – a fungal lowlight: The False Morel

For me, the arrival of the false Morel is the first notable event in the fungal calendar. This is one fungi which can easily be overlooked. It might seem odd to include the fungi kingdom in a scottish wildlife feature but the fungi in the woodlands are a vital part of the ecosystem. Here in the Cairngorms they can’t be ignored.

At a glance the False Morel might appear as some nasty dog mess at the side of the hiking trail. However, with further investigation they are an interesting mushroom. Usually appearing sometime in April they often occur in pine woods, on sandy soil. Much of the Cairngorms National park is covered in woodland on sandy soil so they can be quite a common sight. Unlike other edible Morels with their honeycomb structure, the False Morel has a highly convoluted cap. This can vary from yellow brown to dark reddish brown with its stalk being an off white colour.

Scottish Wildlife – deadly fungi effects

The False Morel has been described as the “puffer fish” of the fungal world and one most definitely to avoid, that is, unless you’re very brave. This is why. Gyromitrin, a chemical in the fungi, reacts with the stomach acid to form mono methyl-hydrazine, other wise known as rocket fuel! The symptoms of poisoning follow the same protracted path as those of ingesting the Death Cap, the most toxic of all fungi. The first stage is a 6 to 12 hour latent period. This is followed by up to 6 days of unpleasant “gastrointestinal disturbances” which can also be accompanied by seizures.

Next comes an apparent period of recovery but by this time liver damage has occurred. In serious cases this is followed by delirium, coma and possibly death. There are large variations in the way individuals react to the toxin which seem to be down to genetic makeup. Despite this, it is still regarded as a delicacy. In some European countries, especially Bulgaria, it is still collected in quantity. Repeated parboiling in fresh water is the tradition way of dealing with the toxins but this doesn’t completely do the job. Should you be preparing any quantity of them, beware of the vapours. Your kitchen could fill up with rocket fuel vapour! Not surprisingly an increased number of countries are banning its sale.

So as not to be confused, we’ve added below an example of an edible morel mushroom.

scottish wildlife - fungi

An edible morel mushroom – highly prized in the foraging community

Scottish wildlife – fungi: further information

Fortunately the false morel fruits outside the main shrooming period in the Highlands. Most foragers come from July onwards. They search the woods of chanterelle and cep mushrooms. Bounty beyond belief can be found in the woods. You must always be aware of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and pay close attention to the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code

For an introduction to safe and responsible foraging contact us for details of our Fruits of the Forest weekends (September and October).

Walking, whisky and wildlife


Birdwatching near Aviemore:

High  Mountain Wildlife : The Wheatear


birdwatching near Aviemore

The Wheatear

Photo credit: Andy Morffew


If you go birdwatching near Aviemore, you’re bound to want to head up into the mountains. There are several species of bird you won’t find in your back garden which you’ll be on the lookout for. The Wheatear is probably one of them. 

With the eyes on the ground and the mind on the conversation, the little Wheatear ahead of you flitting from one boulder to another can easily be missed. Take a closer look and it will reveal itself as a most striking little bird. A little bigger than a Robin, the most obvious feature of this bird is its white rump and tail. Its name has nothing to do with neither “wheat” nor “ears” but is a corruption of the words “White” and “Arse” by embarrassed Victorian’s. The male’s breast is of soft pastel tones of pink and bluff. The wings are black and its back sports a smart cape of grey. This is all topped of with a striking bandit like black eye stripe

The Wheatear’s journey

It is one of the first to arrive in our mountains having completed a huge journey. The wheatear travels from sub Saharan Africa, across the Sahara, over the Atlas Mountains, the Mediterranean and up through Spain and France. It finally arrives in our mountains in April. On it’s migration it can cover up to 500 miles in a day. Not bad for a one ounce bird!!  Some birds make a journey of 30 000km (18640 miles) – one of the longest migrating flights known.

They have one of the most extensive breeding ranges of any bird being found from Alaska to Iran. In Scotland they are often found on unimproved grassland between 300 and 800m up but have been found to be breeding on the highest ground in the Cairngorms at up to 1200m.

At one time in Sussex they were regarded as a delicacy and were trapped by shepherds for the restaurant tables of Lewes, Brighton and Eastbourne. Few birds now inhabit these parts due to loss of habitat but this is certainly not the case for the Scottish Highlands where the breeding population is estimated to be between 35 000 – 95 000 breeding pairs. They are one of our most common upland birds and one you are likely spot on your mountain journey.

Other species to watch out for in the Cairngorms area:

Dotterel, Capercaillie, Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Red and Black throated divers,

For details of private guiding for birdwatching opportunities try this page on our website.

If you would like to join a hiking group interested in wildlife watching opportunities try this itinerary in the Cairngorms National park.



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