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(from July to December 2014)
LABLog14 (January to June 2014) is available HERE


New Format: LABlog:14 now includes both Biodiversity and Environment Quality reports for all of 2014!

Locations: The Location Maps are as before and are copied here:

This year for practical reasons (workload and worrying ongoing signs of water quality issues) the daily Log for 2014 incorporates both Biodiversity and Water Quality issues in the same Log. The WaterLog kept for the last year and a half is discontinued. That Log remains on site and can be viewed HERE. There is a huge amount of material in that file that may be linked from this Log — hopefully as Lough Allen gets cleaner and certain issues are addressed and remedied.

Recording Water Quality issues: We are incorporating the handy Yellow / Orange / Red warning scheme in a banner that will appear at the top of any day’s Log entry where there have been Environment Quality concerns.


Environment Issue

YELLOW Alert: Unsightly

ORANGE: Potential Risk to Habitat

RED Alert: Real risk to Animals and People

A Red warning would relate to such issues as CyanoBlooms (‘blue-green algal blooms’) which may necessitate a Swimming Ban and special care for Dogs and other animals. Hopefully these will not recur this year but we need to be prepared in light of problems in November 2013. Orange Warnings will probably relate to contamination where there appears little possibility of harm or health problems but where a condition may be damaging to wildlife in the area or limit the amenity value of the Lake. Yellow warnings will solely describe situations which may be unsightly and which should be eliminated. We anticipate there may be several Yellow Bars in the Logs below during 2014!

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the second volume of the Log for 2014. It covers the months of July to December, 2014.
The first 6 months can be read...  HERE.

38. Water Issues and Environment

Annagh Lake, a good place for Mergansers, Goldeneye, Otters, Spiranthes... looking its best in Winter sunshine

Further environmental observations today whilst biodiversity changes from Summer to Winter species. This article contrasts the beauty of the Lough Allen environment with the perhaps careless use and abuse it gets. The abiotic environment of soil, rock and water is vital to all we do whether it be farming, development, or conservation. The photo above, taken from afar, presents a pristine picture of this particular part of Lough Allen. However, today we saw clear signs of harm being done. This is low-level pollution. No dead fish, but a continuous process of allowing waste material seep into the ecosystem — which though not toxic in itself does seem to contribute to possibly poisonous Blooms taking over these remote places.

The Irish Water Authority.

Ireland is going through a great debate regarding the management of one of its most important assets... water. We had great hopes that the new body, Irish Water, would manage our waters, both drinking waters and waste waters, in as professional a way as other much larger countries manage their water resources. We had gone out today looking for pollution and, in the sense of a bloom, there was none to be found. But the building blocks for a bloom are there and becoming increasingly prevalent. This ‘clear’ stretch of water (above) has evident pollution at either end. At the upper end (at left of picture) a small river enters and this is often burdened with artificially generated foam. This has lead to small blooms in that location. At the other end of the lake is Druminalass where we have often found large scale blooms in early Winter — a strange time for them to occur. These have been fatal to Mussels and dead mussels were heavily fed on by Otters!

Unsavoury rows over water charges and bonuses and who-pays-what have diluted the apparent professionalism of Irish Water and it is less easy to see how they may come to terms with increasing contamination of inland waterways, such as Lough Allen, in a way that the Local Authorities and the EPA have failed to do. There is no major ‘poison’ entering Lough Allen — in our opinion — just a continuous trickle of overused detergent, water treatment chemicals, and Spa and grooming products, making the lake more and more foamy every year. Many other lakes and waterways are similarly affected and the tell-tale necklace of dense white foam can regularly be seen lining a shore as you travel through this country by car or by train. It usen’t be so; we date the main decline to c. 2008 in regard to Lough Allen anyway.

Sources of contamination can be regional (the Shannon) or local, as above. The stream entering Annagh Lake quickly divides into three smaller streams and all of these contain foam and significant levels of phosphate. These may be from point sources like faulty septic tanks, or badly designed septic tanks. Today we look at these sources and also present a few images of the R. Shannon in moderate flood and carrying much contamination. This input from the Shannon is often encountered in Lough Allen in the main deep water flow channels that go through the Lake and exit at the sluices south of Inishfail. Areas such as west of the Cormongan Islands and the sound passing east of Inishfail are often areas of significantly altered water quality with a lowered surface tension increasing the propensity to form and hold large bubbles when disturbed. This we think is due to rapid shelving of the lake bottom as it approaches the southern end forcing flood water to the surface and bringing with it any surfactants gathered on its journey from the surrounding hills.

Cleaning up this mess is a big job but other bigger economies seem to see the value in protecting their special places. Hopefully the effort and resources now being put into cleaner water will ensure the Lake’s health and its amenity value for years to come and get rid of the abomination of ‘No Swim’ signs and regular algal blooms destroying the amenity and safety of Lough Allen’s water. That and clean fresh drinking water, unprocessed by chemicals, would be a prize worth paying for?

Date and Times: 9th November 2014 : 1400 - 1630

Locations/Conditions: Annagh Lake, Druminalass and R. Shannon south of Dowra. Wind: Still. Temp: 10.5°C. Water: largely calm.

Summary/Purpose: Seeking examples of local and regional sources of pollution or bloom formation.

Point Source Pollution:



Druminalass Today:

No sign of contaminants or any bloom. Some interesting Biodiversity but lake was still very quiet (probably due to mild weather). These are Whooper Swans with one Mute Swan in the background. The two adult Whoopers seem to have 4 young with them which is a good breeding result from far away in Iceland!


Annagh Lake:


This is the north end of Annagh Lake. The feed stream enters on the far side of the row of posts in the water. From this photo it looks clean; in fact the scene is idyllic!


Except the stream on close inspection is carrying blobs of foam into the lake and the Donkeys, while traditional to this sort of image, love nothing more than eating the delicate flowers of the rare orchid, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, that grows along the water’s edge.


We all have different beliefs but keeping our water and places safe for future generations surely must be top of the list of priorities?




Sheltered Stream:

Further up the stream under bushes and where the water was running more rapidly larger patches of foam can be seen clinging to rocks and the fine cohesive nature of the foam can be seen in the large patches floating by. These are the hallmarks of artificial foaming agents... or surfactants!

Annagh Stream:


This is what was to be found on closer examination. A steady flow of blobs of foam issuing into the lake and remaining visibly intact for quite a time and a distance. This material is known to generate Cyanoblooms. (Blue green blooms of species of Cyanophyceae!).


The result is predictable; the source is not. We have followed this stream up to three of its branches which rapidly become very small but still contain evidence of foam and detectable levels of phosphate. No obvious source of this material was seen. Tracing this would be a tedious job. It is not dramatic pollution but it seems persistent and it needs to be managed so as to keep all the lakes clear.


Regional Source Pollution:



These two pictures show Ireland’s largest river where it is still quite small. These images are taken just south of Dowra. The Shannon here drains a large network of substantial rivers such as the Shannon, The Black River and the Owenmore. Together these rivers and their own tributaries drain a very large area of northwest Cavan.

The Shannon enters Lough Allen at a large shallow estuary on the mid north shore of Lough Allen and flows from there more or less straight down the middle of the lake. It can be deep or near the surface and its presence is often detected by swirls of foam or occasionally blooms or by large leaden bubbles forming behind a boat in areas of water with a lowered surface tension.

This bubbling was first noted at Inishfail in 2011 but such bubble patterns are now generated in many parts of the lake in reasonably calm conditions. Mid lake south of the Shannon estuary is a notable area, as is Corry Bay which has the Diffagher river entering it — a  much cleaner river than the Shannon. Contamination at Corry, which is common, may in fact be due to Shannon contaminants being blown north by southerly winds heading towards Corry. Unfortunately this beach is becoming one of the most polluted areas of Lough Allen and it is also one of its most popular amenity areas!

Children, Pets and swimmers do not mix well with this sort of contaminated water and the possible associated Blooms it may bring. Heed warning signs is the only good advice!


A short distance south of Dowra the Shannon makes a sharp turn westwards.


This is shallow bouldery water where Pollan are reputed to breed. Today the Shannon was seen to be carrying very large amounts of foam.


This photo shows the west bank of the river forming a continuous mass of foam.


By contrast this is the Shannon Estuary last Spring on a particularly calm day with perfectly clean water. The fallen Alders are natural and due to frequent changes of water level combined with Winter storms undermining the roots of these mature trees. Perhaps a changing climate is making these conditions worse or else this is a normal 20 year cycle where trees colonise a habitat and then later are overcome?

SOURCES of SURFACTANTS (Foam creating agents.)

Domestic Cleaning from Detergents, Hand Washing, to Spa products.

Septic Tanks where washing water enters tank and drains.

Industrial Cleaning from Car Washing to Yard Brushing.

Agriculture/Forestry run off and Water Treatment Chemicals


Close up of further blobs and areas of foam on the east side of the river. This was a Sunday and it was adjacent to a town and a cattle market!


The large solid lumps of foam may represent areas of settled foam or foam that has built up behind rocks and then broken free.


This type of foam is very persistent and quite resilient and blocks of it will stay together for a long period. This is different to normal lake foam where the bubbles will burst soon after forming.

37. Water Flow and Blooms in Lough Allen

Date and Times: 23rd October, 2012 : 1300 - 1700

Locations/Conditions: Druminalass Wind: SW Force 5. Temp: 12°C. Water: Rough in L. Allen, slightly rippled inside Druminalass.

Summary/Purpose: This was a follow up trip to see if the CyanoBloom reported as an Environment Issue in the previous Log, still persisted. Conditions had changed with much heavy rain and raised water level since that visit 11 days previously. Thankfully the Blue/Green bloom was nowhere to be seen and shores where it typically occurred last week, and about the same time last year, were well flooded. However a particular set of weather conditions provided the basis for a study on how and why Cyanoblooms occur in the latter part of the year in these secluded inlets of north east Lough Allen.

Looking south west as a strong wind forces water into the channel from L. Allen to Druminalass.

Weather Conditions:

This is the bay outside the entrance to Druminalass. It is normally quite shallow apart from the dredged channel shown on the left of the picture. The breaking waves and foam are on a sandy spit that formerly used to block the inlet. This area is attractive to Mergansers and the general area has had good numbers of Irish Lady’s Tresses in the past. Today there was very little biodiversity to be seen and it was the wind and water which was of interest.

Wind and Water flows.


Interpretation and Conclusion.

Druminalass Inlet.

View in the opposite direction from roughly the same point as the photo above..

This shows a large portion of the Druminalass inlet with the north shore, where blooms have occurred, to the left of the image. The main source of water from the land comes into this corner after travelling through Annagh Fishing Lake. A large reed bed and scattered ‘bog oak’ can block this channel meaning that Annagh is sometimes higher than Druminalass — but not in these flood conditions!

The white line is a band of surface pollution. This was periodically streaming into this inlet powered by a strong wind from the ideal direction.

The stick with plastic shows the direction the wind was blowing.

We have often wondered why Blooms occur when and where they do. They are becoming very regular in Lough Allen and can be dangerous and toxic and unsafe to swim near. Their main needs are well understood:

pre-existing organisms (to seed the bloom)

nutrients (to help them multiply)

calm water (to enable colonies to build)

warm and sunny conditions (increases risk of toxin production)

It seems that Lough Allen is steadily becoming enriched with nutrients. Strangely, in the past few Summers, even when it has been very warm and calm (2013), blooms and foams have not been a major problem in the middle of the lake. It seems as if dry warm weather, while ideal for growth, may mean that the bloom organisms are short of nutrients from incoming water. The Summer of 2014 while quite warm was also frequently windy and this would have inhibited the development of large blooms in open water.

These late Autumn blooms are associated with the east and north east side of the lake, often in shallow bays or inlets, and always associated with foam deposits or bands.

Because in normal dry conditions there is a net flow of water from Annagh Lake into Druminalass we had assumed that the cause of the bloom lay in waters coming from further inland. However today the water level was high and the two bodies seemed to be at exactly the same level. Indeed foam was seen moving up from Druminalass into Annagh Lake.

In November 2013 water conditions were very different. The level was much lower than today and there was no possibility of Lough Allen water entering Annagh Lake at that time.  The north shore beach with its Mussels was exposed. Also foam was present in a stream entering at the north end of Annagh Lake and was also seen in a stream dropping (i.e. changing level) into Druminalass from Annagh. In fact this was one of the areas where white flow crescents rapidly changed into green crescents of bloom!

The only conclusion is that the foam is a vital marker. We must assume that where foam flows or foam is deposited, blue/green blooms may also develop. The link between this ‘new synthetic foam’ and the increasing prevalence of blooms is now clear. It is dirty water!


Dirty water:

As far as we know both persistent fringes of dense white bubbles on shores facing the wind and CyanoBlooms (aka ‘blue/green algal blooms), were largely unknown in Lough Allen prior to 2008 when we first started photographing it. Traditional storm based foams did occur, and were washed ashore, but they rapidly broke up or were blown away in the wind as they were not based on persistent surfactant containing detergent type materials.

Hopefully Ireland’s new water authority, Irish Water, can earn their keep and control and limit widespread low-level pollution occurring on our lakes and rivers! People living with Septic Tanks can ensure that effluent from these tanks does not enter water courses even if this is specified. It is better to drain tanks way from ditches and into an area of abundant water tolerant vegetation. Willow and Alder groves are perfect! These will absorb any unwanted nutrients and help keep the ground dry in even the wettest of conditions.

This is the same channel with the full width visible. Note that there is no white band. This pattern of foam entering and then stopping was repeated many times during the period we were searching for any signs of the recent CyanoBloom. 

The object in the water is a half filled bottle we were using to assess which way water, as opposed to wind, was moving at this time. All our tests showed that, even when foam was moving inwards, there was always a sustained flow of water out of the lake.

This was interesting as the cause of the regular, persistent and harmful blooms in this area is not known. This foam is clearly of artificial source and will presumably contain both surfactant material and phosphate compounds (from detergent or water softening chemicals).

Previous studies in this area have shown that in calmer conditions foamy water entering lakes or inlets will form a smooth white curve as the water slows down in still water. This white crescent then changes into a green crescent as the microbes feed on the nutrients in the foam and start to bloom.

What a Spectacle!

The bottle was somewhat unsatisfactory as the top was always sticking out and catching the wind. A kids abandoned toy pair of Spectacles came to our help. Made of plastic this was easy to see and floated just below the surface of the water. It conclusively showed that there was a steady flow of water out of the inlet (at c. 0.18kph) into the main lake even though wind borne material was being carried in on the surface of the water.

We call this a ‘Bloom Pump’. Pollutants are being carried in in the foam and bloom organisms are then being pumped back out into the main lake using the natural flow caused by streams entering the inlet and adjoining lake.

This is very interesting as it means that bloom creating nutrients can be blown readily across the surface of the lake and typically end up on downwind shores, visible as banks of foam, but more harmful in enabling Cyanophyceae to multiply with possible toxic consequences!

Environment Issue!

Persistent Bubbles evident in many areas travelled especially in calm water. Bubbles of medium size, not bursting and visible for at least 100m. behind boat.

CyanoBloom at Druminalass. Significant extent and density of colonies. Contains toxic species and multiplying fast. [MORE]

36. Water and Weather!

Date and Times: October 12th, 2014 : Times 1030 - 1430

Locations/Conditions: North and north east corner of Lough Allen. Wind: Calm at first, Easterly breeze in afternoon. Force 1-2. Temp: 8 - 14°C. Water: Calm and silky at first, slighly rippled later. Temp: 14 - 15°C Level: 2.1m.

Summary/Purpose: Routine survey for Birds, other fauna, and water conditions.

Stunning weather feature seen north of Corry Strand at 2pm on our way home!


The weather was almost continuously calm all day but otherwise very changeable. Pockets of fog occurred at the southern end but evaporated as we drove north. The area we travelled through had many long periods of clear skies and warm sunshine. However, for most of the day intensely dark caps of cloud lay over Slieve an Iarann and Corry Mountain. At lower levels these were white, then grey, and then a striking intense black over the hills.

Forecast was for no rain and the weather features did seem to be local. It was as if mist was rising from the lake, condensing as it reached colder levels and then forming dense black supersaturated cloud strata on the mountains. It was beautiful, and still no rain at all? Finally at the end of the day the awesome feature (sorry) appeared over Corry and persisted for about half an hour. It looked like a tornado but there was no wind and we assumed it must be a dense pocket of wet cloud descending towards the ground.

Other suggestions welcomed!




Why Water and Weather?

At this time of year Lough Allen, in many ways, appears to go to sleep. Its Summer biodiversity has either bloomed or flown away and more esoteric and elusive species, like the Pollan, are very hard to study. That would be a project in itself!

So we expected little by way of Biodiversity and feared some issues regarding water quality — unfortunately too accurately! However the weather did make up for it. After a period of wild weather this weekend promised some cold nights and calm misty mornings. So we started off in a fog but quickly drove into sunshine, and this was the pattern for the rest of the day with many stunning cloudscapes on all the mountains around the north end of Lough Allen. The photograph above was typical, but probably the most dramatic weather we saw today.


On leaving Corry Strand this morning it became evident that there were water issues to be addressed. This has been our first boat trip in 3 weeks. During the Summer, no major blooms were seen but regularly occurrences of persistent bubble trails was a feature. These were originally detected off Inishfail several years ago; now they are evident in many parts of the Lake when conditions are calm enough to record them. We have been inclined to neglect these observations, consider the water as improving, and get on with more positive Natural History studies.


Features such as unnaturally bubbly water (due to reduced surface tension due to surfactants being added to the water), and CyanoBlooms (due probably to Phosphate enrichment of the water from detergents or other phosphate containing materials), have become too common in Lough Allen.

Water Quality is an important issue in a healthy environment, one that we can enjoys in our leisure or sell to tourists from within Ireland or Overseas. Unfortunately, whilst this enrichment may not be directly killing biodiversity (it kills dogs!) it is making the area visually unattractive to holidaymakers and scientists. We cannot show interested people some of the rarities of Lough Allen without contamination of the water often be readily visible. Neither can we advise people to swim in the water or walk their dogs.

Of recent years one of the characteristic sights of Lough Allen has been children playing at Corry Strand — leaving visible tracks of bubbles behind them where they have run up to an hour previously!

We do not regard this as trivial, nor do we see it as improving as we had wishfully thought. We will follow up these recent instances of toxic pollution and update this Log. However it does seem time to make a complaint to Europe, as the Irish EPA is not effective in addressing these concerns!

Water Remains an Issue!

A significant CyanoBloom (aka ‘blue-green algae’) was encountered in Druminalass on the north east corner of Lough Allen.

This was exactly where a similar bloom was found in November last year. A cool Autumn day is not the time you would expect a bloom. These blooms need certain level of nutrients, are associated with warm weather but, most of all they need calm water in which to multiply and coalesce as large aggregations which become all too visible as areas of sharply discoloured water... pea soup, both in colour and texture!

Reoccurrence in the the same area, on exactly the same shore as last year is worrying. It implies that there is a stock cells of the various Cyanophyceae species that contribute to the blooms. All of these may be toxic, some more than others. Last year many Mussels were killed by the bloom and Otters feeding on these Mussels may have been affected.

This occurrence has been reported in more detail HERE and the Leitrim County Council has been informed.

What to do about Water Quality in Lough Allen?

We are angry... very angry!

This should not be happening in a large deep lake, in an area with copious rainfall and large flushing of clear water through the lake, especially in Autumn.

Persistent signs of pollution are becoming common in Lough Allen. Blooms are not yet common and tend to occur in isolated inlets where, perhaps, the movement of water is limited and the surface of the water tends to be calmer for longer periods. Also, the shallow areas may allow bloom cells to move down into the mud and survive there during the winter. A benign member of the Cyanophyceae group, Nostoc pruniforme, occurs here and is know to migrate to the surface in warm calm weather and then sink down out of sight for the rest of the year.

The deteriorating condition of Lough Allen’s water is harmful to us all leading to poor quality of drinking water, reduced or denied amenity value, death of dogs and harm to other animals, injury and discomfort to children. It breaks our heart to hear local people lamenting that they cannot use the lake as they used to; it drives us mad to have to divert our energies to monitoring a problem that is difficult to resolve on a voluntary basis.


As expected little biodiversity to record. However, this month is almost the anniversary of a day the Boyle Camera Club joined LoughAllenBasin for a FotoFest of Autumn landscapes (October 2010). Today’s weather was very similar to that day, perhaps with more dramatic cloud features, and some of the images we gathered are very similar to images collected then. Those Images can be seen HERE!)

This is Church Island (Inishmagrath) from the east with stunning Autumn colours especially on the little bushy Goat Willow on the shore. Fishermen, who like us started in the grey mist were enjoying a break ashore as we went by.

Church Island used to have a Heron colony, now moved to the shore, but Heron numbers were good around the lake today. Other obvious species was Teal scattered in small numbers (20) along shores of the north coast. Probably local birds as no other wintering wildfowl or waders were seen today. Cool clear nights facilitate migration and migrating birds might well not stop at Lough Allen unless they encountered adverse conditions.

NOTE: It’s Holiday Time for loughallenbasin.com. Things are now getting rather quiet biodiversity wise and there won’t be much happening until
Winter Ducks arrive. Here’s hoping for a bright sunny Winter. We’ll be back in early October! 16th September 2014

35. Golden Plover.

Date and Times: 9th. September 2014 : 1500 - 1700

Locations/Conditions: A walking trip to Yellow River. Wind: Calm Temp: 20°C. Weather Bright sunshine Water: Very small waves. Temp: n/a Level: 2.4m.

Summary/Purpose: Looking for Wading Birds at Yellow River and in the large grassy bay immediately top the south of it. This is the area where Jack Snipe were seen in good numbers last year but it was too warm and bright for many migrants to lingers. Birds moving through Lough Allen in clear nights such as preceding this day, will tend to keep on flying as long as they can see well enough to navigate.

New Visitor to Lough Allen!

Unlikely to be a ‘new’ record but a species we have not managed to pick up before!

Golden Plover.

These two images are of a Golden Plover, a cousin of the Lapwing (aka Green Plover). This bird was very wary and, apparently, on its own — though it seemed as if it was calling to another bird which was not seen.

Golden Plovers breed on Boleybrack and could possibly do so on other heather covered hills such as Slieve an Iarainn. This bird could be from local breeding stock or else could be on a longer southerly migration from further north.

It was nice to see this species still showing some of the gold of its Summer plumage. They also have a striking black belly in Summer but this was largely gone.

(Apologies for the images; this bird was very wild and we only came upon it by surprise. But, they are not a frequent species around Lough Allen so it seemd worth recording — perhaps we will see more later in the Autumn?)

34. Cormongan Islands to Drumshanbo Spiranthes site

Environment Issue

ORANGE: Potential Risk to Habitat. A large area of static foam was building up north of Inishfail in calm conditions early this morning. This was very extensive but was not associated with any CyanoBloom. However a small confined but dense patch of Cyanophyceae bloom was seen in, and on the lake side, of Drumshanbo Lock as we were reading the water level. [MORE]

Date and Times: 8th September 2014 : 0730 - 1100

Locations/Conditions: Mid lake west of Cormongan and then south to Inishfail and Derrintobber and back via Jenny’s Island, Round Island, Long Island and The Spit.  Wind: North or North by West Force 1-2. Temp: 4 - 10°C. Weather: Cool, clear, mostly grey with short patches of sunshine. Water: Calm in mid lake and north of Inishfail at first. Slight ripples elsewhere and everywhere later. Temp: 16.5°C Level: 2.4m.

Summary/Purpose: Two goals. Firstly to check population of young Mergansers and get that ‘ideal’ photograph; then to visit the Spiranthes Conservation area at Derrintobber and see how the three surviving plants were adjusting to the Autumn. Water quality also became an issue as the day wore on!

Red-breasted Mergansers:

None were seen at the early stages of this trip. It seems as if they were waiting for the day to brighten up or warm up? It was only on our return from the narrow part of the lake south of Inishfail that this group materialised. It is quite likely that they were roosting in the dense Alder growth or small sheltered cutting south of Cormongan on the east side of the lake.

Number present was 8 but all these birds were this years young... no adults present. These birds were still very wild and didn’t stay long.


First glimpse of smaller group of young Mergansers.



Another view, slightly closer. These are all young birds!


Spiranthes romanzoffiana:

The Derintobber area north of Drumshanbo and east of Holly Island still contains 3 specimens of Irish Lady’s Tresses marked by special protective devices to facilitate a mulit-year study of the biology of this species. They were tracked (with one other which was not so well protected) right through from the 2013 flowering season. (You can see the results HERE.)

Two specimens are shown here. Two of last year’s specimens flowered, Rocky and Banksy. The first one was not protected as well and got eaten. Image (CENTRE) shows the remains of the flower on one of the 3 surviving plants on the raised bank north of Derrintobber Bay. (We call this one Banksy,) The flower is dried up andd shrivelled up and shows no sign of seeds. One other plant had disappeared and the remaining one, Twin, is now starting to prepare for the 2015 season — its third year on this earth!

Twin was named as it was the only plant of the four to produce twin buds last year. It is doing the same this year. These buds are shown RIGHT. Both of the buds from last year went on to produce plants, neither of which flowered. But each of those stems then died back and withered but in each case with one new bud forming to replace them. These new growing buds are shown in this image.

Other Observations:

Lough Allen was cold and rather quiet today. Other species observed were Teal (5) starting to arrive early for Winter. A single Sparrow Hawk. Miscellaneous Gulls. Two Snipe at Derrintobber and just 1 Curlew. Curlew numbers seem to be seriously down this Summer and Autumn.


A water alert is attached to this Log. In some ways water quality does seem better with much less fine foam clogging the shores. But open water water surface tension is lower (ie. its ability to sustain bubbles) over many areas of the lake. Today a large area of stagnant foam covered water was encountered in calm conditions near Inishfail. This will be discussed and illustrated in the attached file.


33. Total number Red-breasted Merganser ducklings, 2014

Date and Times: 4th September 2014 : 1500 - 1830

Locations/Conditions: Leaving Cormongan heading north west across the lake to Spencer Harbour and then south close to the west shore as far as Srabraggan. Back east to Jenny’s Island and then visiting all the small islands off Cormongan.  Wind: South - SSW Force 1 - 3.  Temp: 17 - 21°C. Weather: Calm, warm mostly overcast with occasional alternating sunny spells and slight squalls. Water: mostly limpid, occasional small waves under heavier cloud cover. Water quality spectacularly good on the west shore, occasionally patches of water generating persistent bubbles elsewhere. These were very restricted. (See note at bottom of this Log.) Temp: 17.8°C Level: 2.48m.

Summary/Purpose: To confirm breeding success of Lough Allen’s Red-breasted Merganser population. This was the second recent trip where hours of work yielded nothing only to find what we wanted at the end! Young Mergansers are present in good numbers but are wild and secretive. Numbers are better than last year and may yet prove much better!


First sighting after hours looking... they were hiding on us!



Young Mergansers have turned up in Numbers!

Today was a strange day, strange in weather and strange in biodiversity. Nothing stunning for a long time, and then something stunning to end with! Photo above is the scene that we encountered as the day ended and light was getting low.

After a day searching for Mergansers we finally came upon a pack of them, very close to where we had started and were to finish! A flock of 11 all in a line just north of The Spit. Two photos are presented as at the distance they were observed it is not entirely clear what status these ducks were. They were very wild and as our boat approached they initially swam strongly north and eventually took off flying north into the sunset!

These may all be young. Earlier in the afternoon only 1 other was seen, on the west coast near Cartron, and this was an adult female on her own. It seems that these ducks ‘separate’ abruptly. First the males leave the females and, then, the young drift apart from the mother and form groups around the lake. There were 11 in this group. It could possibly be one brood but we feel it is more likely to be made up of two separate broods. When young are seen together with their mother, in Lough Allen, it is unusual to see more than 7 chicks. Also, a week ago a sighting of 1 female with 6 ducklings was seen in mid lake off Inishfail.

Finally 4 chicks and 1 female have been seen off Church Island. This would suggest 3 successful broods with 15 young — not a bad total! And there could be more? The young at the north end of the lake on the 2nd September were disinclined to fly. This group seen today were powerful swimmers but eventually took off and headed north around Gubcormongan. Young Mergansers are strong and enthusiastic flyers at this time of year often flying very fast for a considerable distance. We may yet see a bigger flock or a bigger total of young birds in Lough Allen this Autumn.

This will be a good result as for much of the Summer low water and windy weather made it hard to keep track of this species — but they had started off well with many males holding territories in different sites around the lake.

Water and Weather...

Some of the conditions on Lough Allen today were impressive. Water often calm with a silken quality. Weather sometimes sunny but more often dull and overcast with spectacular shadows and light.

Upper LEFT: This reflects the conditions around 6pm when the Mergansers were encountered. There was always slight movement in the water but when undisturbed it reflected well and enabled ducks to be seen over a long distance.

LEFT: This is a Bubble Test in progress. In a reversal of earlier policy we are including this in the main log, largely because no clear or significant problem was encountered. All afternoon occasional sustained patches of persistent bubbles occurred behind our boat, or even from Mallard swimming and Cormorants taking off!

There is something unnatural and uncanny about watching a pair of Mallard swim across clear water and leave a distinct trail of persistent bubbles for 10 minutes after they have passed. However this was very localised and in may ways the water looked very good. Also no foam was seen on shores or scum in calm sheltered areas out on the lake.

Bubble test measures the persistent bubbles coming off our hull at 5 knots, the size they are, and how long they last. It yields a score of 0 - 4 with ‘4’ in our view indicating severe contamination. The sample shown left would Score 1. (For Scoring System check HERE.) Of twelve tests taken today, three showed a a Score of 1. A few others were marginal but at least half of the tests indicated absolutely pristine conditions with no persistent bubbling being detected. All sites along the west shore rated clear! Possible problem areas seemed to be associated with the deep water channel (where the Shannon flows) west of the Cormongan Islands, east of Spencer Harbour, and in confined areas such as Inishfail channel.



A parting shot of a bunch of contented young Mergansers!


32. A Bird from the open ocean...

Environment Issue

YELLOW Alert: Some persistent bubbling was seen behind our wake in the Corry Bay area indicating the presence of surfactants. Also a very diffuse Cyanobloon was seen in previously affected area at Druminalass. [NO FURTHER DETAILS.]

An amazing spectacle today on Lough Allen. It was a day aimed at confirming the breeding success of Red-breasted Mergansers in the area this year. But first we came across this amazing creature which flew quietly past us, and totally unexpectedly, as we were undertaking some water quality tests relating to the concerns noted in Yellow Warning at left....

Date and Times: 2nd September 2014 : 0900 - 1300

Locations/Conditions: North and north east shore and centre of lake level of Corry Island.  Wind: Southerly to SSW Force 1-3. Temp: 12.5 - 14.5°C. Mild, dry but dull and overcast. Water: Smooth at first but gentle waves in steady breeze around midday. Temp: 16.8°C Level: 2.52m.

Summary/Purpose: To confirm if Mergansers had successfully bred in the north end of the lake — they had!


On leaving Corry Strand it immediately became apparent that large persistent bubbles were forming in many areas behind our boat. This is a sign of contamination of the water and,disappointingly, it seemed necessary to undertake water quality tests.

As this work was being conducted a dark, quiet, somewhat gull like bird swooped by. This was not a bird one would expect in Lough Allen; it is not even a bird of freshwater!

Arctic Skua
Stercorarius parasiticus

The bird shown in these pictures is an Arctic Skua, breeding in Scotland, far north and west of Ireland and then northern and arctic Europe. It is a bird of wild isolated moorlands and islands and though superficially resembling a gull does belong to a different group of seabirds.

These birds are hardly ever seen inland, feed in the North Sea and Atlantic, and nest on isolated islands or undisturbed mainland cliff tops. Whereas most gulls (though not all) are shore birds, or even lake birds, the Skuas are very much birds of the northern oceans spending their winters at sea and breeding in northwest Europe and the Arctic coast.

An Arctic species comes to Lough Allen!

This is probably not an example of routine migration. Arctic Skuas are known to occur inland after storms. Whereas today was calm there was a period of stronger winds around the end of August. Could these have caused this Skua to fly inland? Whatever the reason, this bird was tired, flying lazily, allowing very close approach by our boat, only flying short distances at a time, and yawning a lot!




Study of our visitor at rest in the centre of Lough Allen and on a line between Corry Island and Yellow River.



Note the sturdiness of this species. About the same size and wingspan of a Common Gull, the Arctic Skua seems to have a much deeper body and flies with wings stretched out straighter — more power and speed for its chosen method of feeding?

The Skua flies away low and steady. Note its dangling legs and straight and steeply curved wings as this bird builds up momentum. This and the round chest shown in main picture seem to give this bird an energy not found in Gulls.

Why? Well the clue is in the scientific name (‘parasiticus’). Skuas feed by robbing other sea birds, either forcing them to drop food they may be carrying or else hassling them so much that they disgorge food from their stomachs, which the wily Skua then swoops down and collects.

These are the predators of the sea shore and ocean. Living largely on persecuting gulls and terns, auks, etc., until they give up whatever food they may have caught. They also catch fish themselves and eat insects. Whether there is enough in Lough Allen at this time of year to sustain such a species would be doubtful. We will report any further sightings of this specimen!

Other Birds:

The Skua (above) was exciting... and a great surprise. It is the end of the breeding season and that bird may have been a lost young Arctic Skua, to judge by its plumage. One of the bonuses of this time of year is that many exotic birds that don’t (or rarely) breed in Ireland seem to pass through, or fly over, Lough Allen. Some with recognisable calls can often be heard migrating high up in the sky on starry nights. The Greenshank is an example of this with its very recognisable ‘choo... choo... choo...’ call. As is the Whimbrel with its staccato precise seven whistles one after another. Both these species will land and feed on Lough Allen but, if the weather is good for migration, they may also pass high overhead without stopping.

The rest of the birds shown below are residents, apart from the Greater Black-backed Gull!

Red-breasted Mergansers: (Now 2 broods found!)

We had been getting worried about failure to see young Mergansers earlier in the year and today they proved very elusive only turning up after we had searched every bay and island. The two birds (shown LEFT) were part of a group of 4 youngsters who were very actively diving in the Church Island/Shannon Estuary area.

They did not fly but dived for 30 seconds and then surfaced for 3, making it impossible to photograph them all together. The female was not with them as they explored the mainland shore but later showed up at the north east corner of Church Island, where breeding of Mergansers had been proven in earlier years. She seemed to be keeping an eye on them from a distance.

The behaviour of the young birds seemed at first to be experimental fishing but rapidly changed into a game of cat-and mouse as they tried to avoid our camera! They just didn’t seem to think of flying; possibly they were not yet experienced flyers?




Cormorants: (LEFT)

There seem to be more Cormorants on the lake this year. A party of 6 were busy flying around the north end of the lake today. The strange looking bird shown, on the LEFT, is a Cormorant wearing a Dinner Jacket! No, this is actually an immature Cormorant and the large white belly is quite normal though not seen when they are swimming. There is no record of Cormorants breeding in Lough Allen. Not present in numbers sufficient to cause concern, or even breeding here, Cormorants could become competitors to other fish eating birds such as Terns and the Mergansers!



An attractive and quite young Lesser Black-backed Gull in flight around its colony on Corry Shoal. 6 were present here today. Note the pink legs as opposed to the yellow legs of the adult.






A group of Black Poplars, another iconic Lough Allen tree,on the north east shore.


Mixed Gulls. (LEFT)

This group of adult Gulls was seen resting on the shore at Rossbeg.


But, they are 2 different species! Yes, they look very similar with almost identical plumage. However if you look closely you will see that the one on the bottom left of the picture is longer and sturdier than the other two, with a very large head and a mean looking beak! Plus, it has pink legs; this makes it a Greater Black-backed Gull as opposed to the yellow legged Lesser Blacked-backed Gulls it is accompanying.

Formerly a strictly coastal species, the Greater Black-backed Gull is now seen regularly in Lough Allen. Both species migrate, however, so it may just be passing through. Will it breed here someday?

This was an exciting day with our first record of a Skua from Lough Allen, though we believe it has been seen here before, also apparently migrating. It was great to see and to find it so tame (or exhausted) as to allow our boat to approach it closely on a couple of occasions. Skuas are very wild birds of the north west Atlantic coasts and normally only seen at a distance. It was great to prove the existence of another family of Mergansers, four wild youngsters with their mother watching over them. Male Mergansers leave the breeding ground before the females.

31. Daubenton Bat survey completed.

(Awaiting writing up of Report!)


30. Merganser brood found.

Date and Times: 29th August 2014 : 1030 -1330

Locations/Conditions: A survey by car of the West and North shores. Wind: SW Force 3 - 4.  Temp: 16 - 17°C. Weather: Overcast and dry. Water: Choppy and clean. (No evidence of foaming as might have been expected in these conditions) Temp: n/a Level: 2.46m.

Summary/Purpose: A survey for breeding and migrating birds.


At this time of year Lough Allen’s biodiversity is reduced. Also, for a variety of reasons (including low water levels making boat launch difficult at the north end of the lake, and persistent strong winds making water based survey work difficult, we have not been able to check how Mergansers were faring this Summer.


Red-breasted Merganser:

At last a mother with young brood was seen east of Srabraggan in the middle of the lake. It was too far to secure good photos but photography did help us discern that it was indeed 1 female with 7 young. This is great to see and we hope to investigate the north end of Louh Allen soon, weather permitting. Last year a pattern of 1 brood at the south end and 1 brood at the north end successfully rearing young, with the two broods then joining to form a big flock of young birds in the Autumn.

Mergansers are an important element of Lough Allen’s fauna and were present in good numbers in the early part of the season. (See Log 16 in part A of 2014 Logs.) However, the widespread territorial males soon reduced in numbers and no signs of successful breeding were observed up to the beginning of July. The young birds seen today were strong but not yet fully grown. Probably less than a month old? This would be late for this species to breed and one wonders why breeding was delayed this year. Water levels were consistently fairly low but there was not much fluctuation of levels to damage any eggs that might have been laid at a low level — as one would expect if early flooding of the lake had occurred. But it didn’t and it’s only now that Lough Allen’s water level is starting to rise again.

The photograpg on the right is attached to show the techniques we apply in surveying elusive species. It is a very distant photograph but from looking at the original image we are sure this is a mother Merganser at right with 6 young Mergansers in front of her. The way a brood is marshalled by the mother is very characteristic as is the eager explorative curiosity of the ducklings. With a brood of this age (probably still not flying) Mergansers are very wary and tend to stay out in the centre of the lake when they are disturbed.

Unfortunately, this was the high point of this trip with only 5 Curlews seen at Yellow River.

29. Seeking the Impossible!

Date and Times: 21st August 2014 : 1400 - 1700

Locations/Conditions: West slope of Slieve and Iarann.  Wind: Squally Force 1 - 3 NNW.  Temp: 14°C. Weather: Squally showers interspersed with calmer sunny periods.

Summary/Purpose: A preliminary search for a plant we have never found around Lough Allen, the Bog Orchid Hammarbya paludosa. Many eminent botanists believe this species should be present and various expeditions have been mounted to find it!

There is another orchid, perhaps Ireland’s most elusive, called the Bog Orchid. Many people havbe sought it and none has been found in Co. Leitrim as yet. The habitat shown on Left is the sort of ground they may occur in. We have studies this plant in Co. Dublin and are trying to apply search experience and knowledge of their distribution and behaviour acquired there to the Lough Allen environment. But, it is going to be difficult to record this species.

None were found today but some ground was covered. For further details on this interesting very small orchid please go HERE. We are just logging our so far failed attempt here so others may seen what it looks out and perhaps come across it in the mountains and hills of Leitrim or Cavan or Roscommon. Have a look at that Link and let us know if you see them anywhere. Likely habitat and places are described in that page (TALA21: Searching for the elusive Bog Orchid).


28. Terns Breed!

Date and Times: 4th August, 2014 : 1030 - 1330

Locations/Conditions: West shore from Srabraggan to Corry Island. Wind: WSW Force 2-3. Temp: 14-16.5°C. Fresh dry and bright. Water: Small chop most of the day with very clean and uncontaminated water. Temp: 18.6 - 18.9°C Level: 2.28m.

Summary/Purpose: Today it was intended to try and establish Merganser breeding success. This was a boat trip from Srabraggan to Spencer Harbour checking all the west shore bays and the fish farm raft offshore!

Cartron Bay: No Spiranthes but beautiful clean water and stunning environment in almost calm conditions.


Biodiversity was scarce today. We have noted a scarcity of Mergansers over the past several boat trips and no young birds have been seen. This is disappointing as good numbers of birds were present in the Spring and water levels and weather conditions have been good, with much dry weather and reasonably constant but fairly low water levels. This low water has made launching the boat difficult at our northern base, Corry Strand, so Merganser activity may have been missed there. However, this is an area we covered extensively (from shore) in looking for Irish Lady’s Tresses. So unless there are broods skulking in the islands at the northern end of the lake, it looks as if 2014 has not been a successful year for the Red-breasted Merganser!

Only 1 Merganser was seen today, that being a female flying north from Cartron Bay.

Terns: A pair of Terns with two flying young were observed near the old raft off the fish farm at Tarmon Abbey south of Spencer Harbour. This is where they bred last year and it can be assumed that they bred here again this year. The Common Tern seems to be establishing a base here with two pairs resident in the area, one at The Spit (non-breeding) and the other at the raft. A pair are seen around Gull Island and Rossmore early in the Summer but it is thought this may be the pair that later breed on the raft. The provision of suitable nesting rafts might help increase this species.

Spiranthes: All the shore was scanned for these orchids. A detailed survey of Cartron Bay was conducted by foot. Ground conditions were suitable and grazing was light and some time previously. This area faces north and may be unsuitable for an occasional population of Irish Lady’s Tresses. None were found today. This probably concludes the survey work for Spiranthes but any further records, especially from the west coast would be very welcome. Only two specimens are known, the one reported in the previous Log and one reported to us, again, by Tommy Early, for Holly Island.

The Daubenton Bat Survey was conducted this evening (2200 - 2345) on behalf of Bat Conservation Ireland. The simplified returns are presented below:

Daubenton Bat numbers on Shannon from Lough Allen Sluices to Galley Bridge (Site 1), 4th August 2014





















Conditions were bright with a 3/4 moon and still clear coolish conditions. A variable mist was present on several sections of the River. Bats seemed to be avoiding areas of mist that were illuminated by our torch. i.e Bats were heard nearby but did not pass the observation point. However, turning off the torch for most of the observation period did not improve numbers passing to any noticeable extent. Numbers overall were much lower than previous years. This may have been due to the bright conditions with a strong moon shining straight up the river for all the survey. Also it was quite cool by the end of the survey.

27. Return to old haunts...

Date and Times: 1st August, 2014 : 1215 - 1345

Locations/Conditions: Mountallen. Wind: NE Force 2.  Temp: 17°C. Dry with sunny spells Water: Small waves. Level: 2.14m.

Summary/Purpose: To record presence of 1 Spiranthes romanzoffiana in it’s old habitat at Mountallen


Mountallen Habitat.

This is the shore at Mountallen at the south west corner of Lough Allen. It is an expansive, largely flat, north west facing, water meadow. It can cover a large area during Summer droughts or be entirely flooded during the Winter.

It has been a very important area for Irish Lady’s Tresses for several years. However, since 2008, none have been found there. The owner has made great efforts to maintain the ground in suitable condition specifically for Spiranthes but, until today, without any rewards. Work has entailed grazing management, mowing of the area in early Spring (when possible), and this year scraping and scratching the surface in an attempt to remove a mat of vegetation that has covered the soil.

Formerly this area was a muddy or sandy area with much bare surface. It has rapidly developed a much richer plant cover and this may be hindering Spiranthes. The reason for this growth is not known, perhaps much wetter Summers or more nutrients in flood water?

Unexpected Discovery!

Today (1st August 2014) we were contacted by Tommy Early from Mountallen on the west shore of Lough Allen. This is on the Roscommon part of Lough Allen but more importantly, it is a large grassy shoaling shoreline where large numbers of Spiranthes romanzoffiana were recorded up to 2008, when about 60 were recorded in a small area. (This is similar to the number we found at Rossmore, at the north end of the lake, in 2010 and 2011). Since 2008 none have been found at Mountallen and we were all getting worried about their survival having been absent for 6 years — until this morning when 1 solitary specimen was found!

Benefits and problems of this Site.

There are some quandaries regarding Spiranthes occurring here. Firstly, it was probably one of the biggest colonies on Lough Allen for several years. It motivated us to undertake survey work on the east shore directly opposite this location. This led to many other locations being found for this species on Lough Allen, but, apart from Rossmore,  none of them ever as big as Mountallen. Work on the east shore has shown us that Spiranthes MAY originate from seed. i.e. there is a consistent pattern of plants being found at almost the exact height that Lough Allen water reaches at particular times. With a south westerly wind this would allow seeds to land on Lough Allen and then drift onto the nearby eastern shore. This does raise a query as to how such a big colony could have become established at Mountallen, and may also answers the question as to why they have disappeared for so long?

The Find!

Tommy Early was rewarded today for his vigilance in seeking out this plant when the more impatient of us thought it was gone from this location! The specimen (shown LEFT) was a fair size with a good flower indicating it was probably up for more than 10 days. Despite 3 of us covering the ground intensively, no further specimens were recorded. Tommy is intent on protecting this specimen. This is very worthwhile in view of its nature and uniqueness.

Frances Farrell (of LoughAllenBasin.com) has studied the specimen (using our Licence under the Flora Protection Order, 1999) and that work revealed that this specimen was already developing new leaves around the existing stem. These are leaves, not buds; we have watched them on our study plants over a whole year. They can survive the coming Winter and some may go on to produce a flowering bud next year. So this specimen is already planning a life for 2015! Also, interestingly, Frances is convinced that one of the leaves present on this plant dated from last year. This was determined by its dry and shrivelled condition, totally analogous with plants we have observed from Summer 2013. So we may be looking at a 3 year life span here?

We now know (due to Frances's pioneering studies) that established plants can re-grow and flower for several years from the one root stock. This could explain their presence in similar numbers at Mountallen for 3 or more years. Also the shore there, at present, seems a difficult habitat for seeds to become established in, with high vegetation and a dense impenetrable mat of organic material covering the ground. However, this has only developed over the past 5 years or so, and Tommy is doing trojan work to clear it. (This may even have led to this single orchid reappearing this year?) Even if ground was bare sand or silty, there is no adjoining large body of water to the south west enabling windblown seed to be concentrated and washed ashore. Spiranthes plants may have a limited life span, or can be eroded, grazed or damaged by weather over many years. Without new plants from seed the stock will die out? They could be grazed before they are ever seen and recorded — and the loss of a flowering stem is a major setback to their future reappearance...




A ‘scrape’ formed on the shore last Winter to facilitate
any emerging Spiranthes specimens.

Habitat and Management.

This habitat is bordered to the south by the Arigna River which does impact on the nature of the shoreline. It can contain a lot of calcareous shaley sand but the large flat water plain to the north of the river has many dips and hollows which can hold water depending on lake level and weather conditions. Gathered around these pools was a popular location for Spiranthes plants in the past. This area is not directly open to a west or south-westerly wind but it is possible that such winds could swirl through the gap afforded by the Arigna River and drop any windborne seed by way of eddies onto the exposed shore. We emphasise the importance of a south west exposure as most of the other sites on Lough Allen have faced that direction, as have sites in Lough Conn and Lough Cullin in Co. Mayo. Spiranthes romanzoffiana, however, can grow in any location with a bare shore and adjacent water.

The management being undertaken at Mountallen involves harrowing and scraping to remove surface vegetation and expose bare sediment at various heights on the shore so as to increase the area of 'typical Spiranthes habitat' available to new specimens however they may arrive. As done it seems to provide an ideal base. We are concerned, however, that the availability of a stock of seed coming from the East, the direction the shore at Mountallen faces, may be very limited and easterly winds are much rarer. So the lack of south westerly exposure may be the significant factor in this habitat.


Another cleared area right down to the shore, now
demarcated by rushes at either side. Rapid re-growth of
Birds Foot Trefoil may now be too dense for emerging Spiranthes?

Some Botanical Research:
(Photo on LEFT)

To establish the provenance of this specimen, Frances undertook some harmless examination of this specimen. (It is important not to harm these plants or their habitat!) Based on her examination of 4 specimes during last Winter we are now confident that this specimen is starting to produce new leaves on the left hand side. These will grow a bit more, overwinter, and start to grow rapidly from about May 2015. They may, or may not, produce flowering buds again next year!

Spectacularly, this plant also has one of these old leaves from last year still attached.  It is not entirely clear in the photograph but was on the day. It is the brown dried up leaf moving out of focus to the left. We know this from observations made on specimens that survived last Winter; their leaves all ended up like this. It, more or less, proves that this plant emerged last year but may not have flowered. It is very hard to see a non flowering specimen in high vegetation!.


The presence of Spiranthes romanzoffiana again at Mountallen, along with another Flora Protection Order species (the Mudwort), qualifies the site as an area whose habitat should be protected and we are in contact with the Agri-Environment Unit of the Dept. of Agriculture in Wexford regarding listing these species and their locations around Lough Allen with a view to including them in any future GLAS scheme.


Just one plant, but a brilliant and fascinating discovery. We hope this specimen can over-winter but even as we write (3 days later) Lough Allen has suffered cold weather with intense rainfall which may well mean that many of our Orchids will soon be flooded. However, this has been shown in the past 12 months not to unduly hinder the plants. Of course, it will inhibit seed forming and being dispersed. However, such seed formation has rarely been seen on the eastern side of Lough Allen and dry seed pods, ready for dispersal, have never been found in September or October when they would probably ripen. This makes us suspect that our stock of Spiranthes is coming from outside Ireland... Its behaviour here is much different from its behaviour in America where it has a hotter longer growing season. But, we have seen here how it puts on a burst of growth when we get a warm spell (such as at the end of this July). Definitely, climate change is affecting Lough Allen and colder wetter Summers/Autumns do not suit this species!

26. Birds moving on!

Date and Times: 24th July 2014 : 0700 - 1000

Locations/Conditions: Islands and shaol off Cormongan on the east side of Lough Allen.  Wind: NW Force 2-3 then easing. Temp: 18°C. Clear dry overcast weather becoming calm as the morning wore on. Water: Small chop at first and later becoming calm. Temp: 19.2°C Level: 2.14m.

Summary/Purpose: This was a quick tour around the eastern group of islands in the general Cormongan area. We specifically wanted to check The Spit for the presence of Spiranthes as two were seen there many years ago (2008) and not since. But first of all some birds proved interesting.

Migrating Birds on The Spit:

The Spit is a long low ridge of boulders south of Cormongan. It has been an important Gull breeding colony in past years with also Lapwings showing interest but not breeding. This year no Black-headed Gulls bred and only 15 pairs of Common Gulls, with 3 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. One pair of Common Terns is still attached to the site but evidently not breeding.

Dunlin (LEFT) and a Ringed Plover on The Spit today!

Several Wading Birds on The Spit:

Autumn seems to come early for migrating birds. They fly through L. Allen on their way to breeding locations in Ireland, Scotland or further north, breed there, and start to return south in August or late July. Several species of what can often be called seabirds were seen on The Spit today. The two birds featured are a Dunlin (black belly) and a Ringed Plover. We have encountered the Ringed Plover in the Spring but not on Autumn migration.

The Dunlin was nice to see as it is a quintessentially sea shore bird. However, many such birds can be seen, or heard, migrating over Lough Allen especially on a clear night. One of these, the Redshank was also present on The Spit today along with 2 Snipe and 2 Curlew. These may have bred locally as, undoubtedly, did the 2 Common Sandpipers seen, one looking suspiciously like a young bird.

3 female Mergansers were seen moving between the islands.

1 solitary Spiranthes plant on The Spit.

Two were seen here in 2008; none in between.


Spiranthes returns:

This habitat, as shown LEFT, is quite suitable for Irish Lady’s Tress. It is grazed (when water is low enough for cattle to wander out) but it is grazed only lightly and the northern end particularly has a fair height of grass and good protection for any Spiranthes in the form of rocks or stumpy Alder bushes.

And that is where we found one solitary specimen. Despite attentive searching, no others were found. At this time of the year they are easy to detect and this one could be seen from 20m. away. It is strange the way these plants can either appear in groups or as very isolated specimens.

In ideal conditions they may show up as colonies but Lough Allen’s habitats may well be marginal for this species, with problems of changing water level, heavy Summer rains or cold weather, and (particularly in recent years) much onshore grazing. But they are surviving and numbers this year are up on last year.

25. Mudwort and Irish Lady’s Tresses

Date and Times: 21st July, 2014 : Times: 1900 - 2100

Locations/Conditions: Derrintober.  Wind: SW Force 2. Temp: 18°C. Water: Rippled. Temp: N/A. Level: 2.14m.

Summary/Purpose: Spiranthes survey

Two very rare plants of Lough Allen, one beautiful, the other less so, sometimes coexist in this location when the water is low. We are aware of Mudwort but often forget it as it is a very small and unimpressive flowering plant that appears when water levels are very low in places with soft fine black mud. Today, the object was to check up on the Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) in their site north of Drumshanbo. It was an exhaustive survey, taking advantage of L. Allens present very low water level to walk around the two small Spiranthes Islands in the channel opposite Holly Island. Unexpectedly we came across  a bed of Mudwort (Limosella aquatica) in the flooded bay between these islands and the shore at Derintobber.

Mudwort. (Limosella aquatica)

Another Rare Plant:

This (Above) is part of a large bed of Mudwort recently found in newly exposed mud at the south end of Lough Allen. Though small and apparently insignificant this species has an almost global distribution in temperate and wet climates, wherever mud is found. It is aptly named. It loves mud and is adapted to occupy a temporary habitat and quickly exploit it reproducing and spreading both by seed and by stolons (Strawberry like runners). In the past we have only seen it in small groups or as individual plants. Today there were beds of it, probably recently grown and already flowering.


What are they?

A strangely small but curious plant with possibly growing records in Britain, only found in two sites in Northern Ireland and probably under-recorded in Lough Alen and the rest of the Republic.

It is a flowering plant but very specialised for temporary opportunities. Dry seeds do not seem to last the years that Spiranthes seeds may do but it can very quickly produce new plants by shooting ‘runners’ through the mud.

RIGHT: A single plant with a new smaller plant developing from a runner barely visible in the mud.

FAR RIGHT: Buds and their small white flowers emerging on seperate stems directly from the root. Mudwort can be identified from its typical location and the paddle like ends to its leaves.


Mudwort, Like Spiranthes is a species protected (funnily enough) by the Flora Protection Order (1999). Possibly this could be some relevance, some time in the future, but it seems unlikely that this species is under any threat in Lough Allen apart from the overall effect of Global Warming, i.e. higher water levels in Lough Allen during Summer.

Summer flooding will prevent this plant appearing and developing. It is found at very low levels and normally will be seen underwater. However, this crop was well above water, but in very wet mud, and was thriving.

It is said to like fine dark acidic mud and may benefit from stirring up by livestock — exactly the conditions we found it in.

A very old Engraving:

Here (RIGHT) is a rather charming picture of this plant by John Curtis from 1839. The old Naturalists are the best ones! John Curtis was an entomologist and we have no idea why he drew a Mudwort, but it is an elegant pleasing image. John Curtis was a talented illustrator as well as scientist and his picture collections are now held in the British Natural History Museum.

His work, British Entomology - being illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland, is held as one of the pioneering ‘Insect’ books. This picture of Mudwort appears under one of his insects — we know not why.

At the bottom of the biographical note (linked above), Wikipedia make the intriguing claim that... John Curtis’s insect collection is divided between the Natural History Museum, Dublin and Victoria Museum in Melbourne, Australia. We haven’t been able to confirm this.

Spiranthes observations

Todays work was to monitor the Irish Lady’s Tresses. 8 more were found. This species is emerging in good numbers but is being damaged by large numbers of wild horses on the site. Onshore grazing is a problem for Spiranthes in all locations around Lough Allen. Hopefully, new enlightened habitat and species protection schemes for agriculture, planned for 2015, will make it feasible to compensate the removal of onshore grazing facilities in sensitive areas.

RIGHT: One of the plants monitored over Winter (‘Twin’) that did not go on to produce a flowering bud, is now producing strong new leaves around the old stem, just as it did last year. How long can these plants live for?

FAR RIGHT: Banksy, the soul remaining flowering specimen from the 4 study plants continues to flower without blemish. This opened in early July and many ‘wild’ flowers from that time now have brown lower flowers. Is the protection also preventing this flower from ageing... or just keeping marauding animals from hitting it. It’s a bit curious...


Environment Issue

ORANGE: Potential Risk to Habitat.

A virulent but localised Blue/Green Bloom was detected today, in a sheltered inlet away from public access! [MORE]

24. Rossmore Habitat

Date and Times: 15th July 2014 : 1000 - 1300

Locations/Conditions: Kilgarriff, Rossmore and Corry. Wind: SW Force 3. Air Temp: 17°C. Water: Calm in inlets and slight chop on open water. Temp: 19°C Level: 2.16m.

Summary/Purpose: A walking trip looking for more Spiranthes and monitoring their habitats.

This tripp focussed more on the environment of certain shoreline sites in NE Lough Allen with a view to defining suitable conditions to attract Spiranthes. Unfortunately it did lead us to discovering a small but nasty algal bloom which is shown below and will be described further in an Environmental Report.

Spiranthes Habitat: We have been researching the ideal conditions for this rare orchid to grow both in Lough Allen and other western lakes. This has involved examining satellite images for suitable shoreline and looking at Geological Datasets to identify underlying rocks which would not be totally alkaline (i.e. not Limestone). It is fascinating work and it is not clear how dependent Spiranthes is on poor undernourished slightly acid conditions such as we have at Lough Allen. But it does seem clear that we can fine tune search parameters for finding new sites for Spiranthes romanzoffiana and indeed have applied such research to north east shores of other lakes with some success. (Many colonies of this species occur on north east shores — facing into the prevailing SW wind — both in Lough Allen and in major Mayo lakes.)

Below, plant associations of Spiranthes are discussed; it’s an excuse to use some pretty pictures. Spiranthes remain scarce around Lough Allen but they did emerge here very early, much earlier than specimens we have seen in Lough Conn. Early flowering seems to be associated with existing plants overwintering?

Plant species associated with Spiranthes romanzoffiana at the Rossmore Shore habitat:


This is the gorgeous Creeping Jenny. A member of the Primrose family but belonging to the Loosestrife grouping along with Yellow Loosestrife and Yellow Pimpernel. Bog Pimpernel belongs to a slightly different group. All of these plants are good neighbours to Spiranthes especially where it grows on stony shores. Creeping Jenny grows for up to 60cm along the ground producing a host of gorgeous bell-shaped yellow flowers at this time of year.


Not such a common associate, this is the Blue-eyed Grass which we know of only from the Rossmore area of Lough Allen. This small patch of shoreline has two very rare plants growing together, both of them with American connections! The Blue-eyed Grass is doing well but is inconspicuous except in bright Summer sunshine when its beautiful blue flowers open up to track the sun. Even when not blooming it can be spotted by the distinctive small fruits that appear on the top of what looks like a grass but are in fact small Irises.





Birds Foot Trefoil along with Self-Heal (Prunella laciniata) is a widespread plant of wettish rough pastures that have not been improved. As such it can be an indicator of Spiranthes habitat but is widely present elsewhere, sometimes in beautiful lilac and white variants.


Lesser Water-Plantain (unrelated to other Plantains) is a common species of the wetter parts of this habitat. It is widespread, small and stands out on bare muddy ground or even in shallow water, where its creamy 3-petalled white flowers contrast with the dark surroundings. It showed up well where the algal bloom was growing in calm dark water in one very limited part of this site.

Other species associated with S. romanzoffiana are described below and elsewhere. In Lough Cullen and Conn, Marsh Orchids often grow very close to Spiranthes but these are not widely present at Lough Allen.




One more Irish Lady’s Tresses:

Following the indicators, guess what was found! This is only the 3rd. specimen found to date at Rossmore. It is in a new area near the entrance to this inlet. This looks like a mature specimen that may also have flowered last year but was missed. It was on its own in an isolated part of the habitat.

Rossmore has been a valuable source for these rare specimens, often accounting for half the Lough Allen population. The main area where they occur has been protected this year but may have suffered from the effects of heavy grazing last year. Our research over the past 12 months indicates that specimens that flowered last year and were not damaged may re-flower this year much earlier than newly emerging specimens. Many newly emerging plants in Mayo are now only becoming clearly visible whereas the mature established plants we know of from Lough Allen have been flowering from the beginning of July.

Throughout Ireland grazing pressure on marginal lakeshore habitats has reduced the biodiversity there and it can indeed be very limited especially where more intensive management of the shores has taken place, e.g. fertilisation. This has the effect of producing more grass but almost instantly eliminating orchids and other varied plant species. No such intensification has taken place at Rossmore and we hope it may be possible to recover this population to its former numbers.

The association between Irish Lady’s Tresses and Blue-eyed Grass in this area is exceptional, very surprising considering the rarity of both species, and very interesting.

(Grateful acknowledgement to the farmers involved for keeping cattle out at the peak period and for allowing us access.)

Blue-green algal bloom:

Sadly, in studying this habit we came across the most significant Cyanobloom we have encountered since last November (in Druminalass).

It can be easy to miss with a glare on the water but is painfully obvious when viewed from above. Photo bloom was taken using a polarising filter to remove glare and show the extent of the bloom (c. 50m.) This seems quite a virulent bloom and was associated with small white foam. The rest of the shore was clean and there seems to be no onbvious source of pollution within the inlet so the triggering material for this bloom must have come from the main part of Lough Allen.

This incident is further reported in an Environmental Report — the first we have had to write in many months!


23. Conservation Project

Eventually we get to report on the Spiranthes Conservation Project at Drumshanbo, and it is good News. One flowering, another that had a bud damaged outside a BioTipi and two other specimens monitored since last Summer doing well but not flowering this year. No Spiranthes have so far been founded outside protected spots?

LEFT: Last years flower happily growing away inside a protective structure in the conservation project based north of Drumshanbo.


Date and Times: 9th July 2014: 0800-1200

Locations/Conditions: Cormongan,  the islands and Spit, down as far as the Spiranthes Islands.  Wind: NW Force 2. Temp: 12-15 °C. Water: Slight swell, with increasing chop. Temp: 18.6 °C Level: 2.16m Metres

Summary/Purpose: This was a boat trip around the southern portion of the lake down as far as Spiranthes Islands. It was urgent to study the condition of the 4 Spiranthes specimens being monitored there sine last Summer!



Other birds present, apart from those featured below,  included 2 Curlews (early migration?), 8 Black-headed Gulls (3 young) in various locations apart from The Spit. A pair of Sandpipers was associated with each island and 5 birds were seen on Jenny’s Island (young?). No Lapwing were seen and only the pair of female Mergansers mentioned below — but they may have been breeding!

Water quality was broadly OK but with some localised signs of changed water tension. But foam was absent and water surface was never smooth enough to allow proper tests. However western shores of the longer islands, Long Island and Jenny’s Island, were spectacularly clean where these in the past had often accumulated foam during westerly winds.



Other Species:

After a somewhat slow start some spectacular birds were breeding... and fighting for territory!

Lesser Black-backed Gull.

These have done well in the southern part of the lake with many sturdy chocolate brown young birds now flying around The Spit.

They are a dominant presence here and are quite aggressive towards passing boats, especially when young birds are in the water.

A total of 12 adults and 6 young were seen. Their presence here on this reef seems to have affected other Gull species with no Black-headed Gulls breeding here this year.

Common Gull. (LEFT)

Also with young grown and flying. This pair posed near their young were protective in a much gentler fashion. Numbers on The Spit are also much down this year. 19+ adults and at least 3 chicks


Red-breasted Merganser. (RIGHT)

Both times we passed Long Island this Merganser and one other female were present. On approach one bird took off and flew repeatedly around the island, even over the centre of it, and then landed quite close to us and the other female. This was erpeated as we returned north at the end of the morning.

It is, surely, indicative of young ducklings being present — though these were not seen! No other Mergansers were seen.

Irish Lady’s Tresses. (Spiranthes romanzoffiana)

The main work of the day was to land at Derrintober and see how the 4 plants being monitored under the Spiranthes Conservation Project were doing.


Unfortunately, the first specimen (‘Rocky’) had succumbed to Horses eventually. The flowering stem had been neatly nicked in the bud. This was not unexpected as it had been impossible to protect this specimen with a BioTipi due to high water levels in Winter and very rocky ground. It had survived largely submerged until the Spring and was one of two to have produced a flowering bud — from the same point as last year.

Two other specimens (RIGHT and LOWER RIGHT) are surviving well but without flowering. These are in protective structures which have proved effective against persistent horses, albeit with much ‘pretend’ electric fencing around them!

Our star specimen. (LEFT)

This shows a small flowering Spiratnhes inside its ‘cage’. This is one of two to bud and the only one to successfully flower.

It is interesting on two fronts. Firstly, it is almost identical, in size and appearance to a specimen now growing at Rossmore. No other specimens have been found either there or at the Drumshanbo site, suggesting to us that this similarity implies that the Rossmore specimen may also have survived the Winter overground and is in a condition to flower early (like winter Barley?). Hopefully, ‘new’ fresh specimens may emerge to replace any damaged specimens and, thus, continue the species in Lough Allen. It is, presently, emerging in very good numbers in Lough Cullen, Co. Mayo.

Also, it seems clear that, whilst the species ideally needs low level of foliage to flower and be seen, this is not critical. What is critical is that the plants not be eaten! The specimen from Rossmore (shown in Log below), though not protected, is in an area where there has been no grazing since last Summer.

22. First Irish Lady’s Tresses of 2014

Date and Times: 6th July 2014 : 1500 - 1700

Locations/Conditions: Rossmore, by foot.  Wind: Westerly Force 3. Temp: 18°C. Water: Calm and clean in the inlet. Temp: N/A Level: 2.26m

Summary/Purpose: A quick visit in passing to view conditions in grazing managed plot in anticipation of the emergence and flowering of Spiranthes in this area again this year.

First Specimen of the Year!

It was very pleasing to see the first Spiranthes romanzoffiana emerging today. Or was this one emerging? It could have been present undisturbed here all Winter like the 4 study specimens we have been recording from the south end of the lake? This specimen is from the north end in a secluded location where local farmers are supporting conservation work by managing cattle grazing.

The specimen on the Left was a good size, with a mature bud just about opening, and it was the only specimen on the whole shore. This is also the earliest record of this species for Lough Allen. (They often don’t appear until the 3rd. week of July.) Is this a factor of this year’s weather, or is it because they may have over-wintered above ground and were not subsequently impeded by severe weather.

Further conclusions on the reason for early flowering Spiranthes and their very survival in lands with differing management regimes may become apparent when we get time to re-survey the Drumshanbo study site. The specimens there may also be in flower though, at last recording, only two had visible buds.

By reducing the ground cover on this shore we hope to facilitate any emerging Spiranthes and help maintain stocks of this rare species in the Lough Allen area. It is not yet known what the effect of grazing by cattle on Spiranthes is. It is beneficial in reducing dense foliage. But, does occasional actual damage impair that same plant flowering the following year as the specimen will have had no time to store nutrients that may be required for the future. Are they like Daffodils that go on to produce large amounts of lush leaves after their flowering season end and is this needed for Spiranthes plants to survive. Of course, other ‘tubers’ or plants that didn’t flower last year may emerge this year!

ABOVE: The habitat of the flowering specimen.

This shore has two sections, one ungrazed with long vegetation where few flowered last year and another section, with many plants last year, which has been recently grazed and has a very low sward which this plant likes. The cattle are now removed!

Managing shoreline for its Natural Heritage is an interesting concept. It allows the plant or animal to survive and it can reward the farmers’ efforts through various grant initiatives such as GLAS. Spiranthes is, of course a Flora Protection Order species.


Associated other plants.

LEFT: The lovely Bog Pimpernel.

This very attractive ground loving wet habitat plant is very often associated with Spiranthes romanzoffiana, no place more so than here. It is a special plant in its own right and often hard to see but always a delight to come across. There were large areas of this plant on the cleared grazed area and this may well indicate suitable growing conditions for the Orchid.


This is the Bottle Sedge (Carex rostrata). Part of the area grazed has an extensive coverage of this sedge. It occurs in significant stands on the edges of lakes, streams and ditches and near Alder or Willow carr. It usually grows in oligotrophic or mesotrophic, acidic waters like Lough Allen. And, like Spiranthes, it can tolerate calcareous conditions with poor nutrient levels. Never a great spot for the Spiranthes in the past, we note that the cattle seem to have grazed this area ‘high’. Maybe they find the sedge rough and unappetising?

Managing shoreline for Irish Lady’s Tresses.


The area on the right is at the southern end of the east shore of Rossmore. It has recently been managed to meet the interests of this uniquely rare Orchid which has been present for many years around Lough Allen, but now may be in decline?

This orchid thrives on wet meadows close to water. It can be crowded out if grass, sedges, or other vegetation becomes very high. Cattle were let into this area at the end of June and have done a great job in lowering the existing rather lush vegetation of the area. In previous years Spiranthes grew in good numbers all along the area shown with a fairly even distribution from shore to tree line. More common in the foreground and around the small Alder bushes in the middle and not common further away where heavy growth of reeds and Bottle Sedge dominates the habitat.





You have reached the end of this Log.

For records 1 - 21 of 2014 (Jan - June) please go to first Volume of this years Log.

LAbLog2014 1st part