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LABLog 2015(Field Trips and Observations — Water Quality and Biodiversity reports: January to December 2015)

2015: April

This is the 10th year of Lough Allen biological surveys. This year’s surveys are collected together in Monthly Pages (starting with March)

<--- Main Locations and Names are shown Left and Right --->

Recording Water Quality issues:

The Yellow / Orange / Red warning scheme initiated last year is retained as 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 and 2014.
Orange Warnings relate to contamination where there appears little possibility of harm or health risk 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 2015!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Water/Weather conditions for each report are located in a Table at the bottom of this page.:

April, 2015
[ BACK to Log15 Month by Month Index. ]

A) Sunday 5th April 2015

Corry Strand to Spencer Harbour, across to Fahy Island and back via all the inlets and islands.

A pleasant day with the Wildlife starting with an impressive flock of Whooper Swans and then some close up contact with some wannabe Lapwing breeders. Conditions were gentle and peaceful with variable water quality. This was studied in a direct course (70°, 4.63km) to Fahy Island from south of Corry Island. This course was chosen so as to traverse the Shannon Channel and observe water conditions in altering calm and rippled parts of the water. Calm stretches were obviously affected by wind, by water depth/currents (reflecting flow of water) and the implication of surfactant material in different quantities in different locations. These variables are so complex. We observed that where calm passages were entered persistent bubbles were larger than in rippled water. There are many explanations for this but it has not been possible to keep analysing themin any quantifiable way. However, it is clear that the water is remaining somewhat altered (articicially?) and may be prone to further blooms. Persistent boat bubbles are now widespread particularly in area where the main water flow goes through the lake.

The Wildlife:

22 Teal were present mostly in the Rossmore area. 26 very wild Whoopers in Corry Bay and 4 Lapwings were encountered resting on a remote shoal but near potential breeding land. 3 Mergansers (2 males) have arrived. 4 Herons were seen scouting around their old breeding haunt (Church Island) but being chased away by Ravens. 7 Cormorants in various places and 4 Canada Geese looking for nesting sites on Gull Island. This species we would regard as invasive as they will impact negatively on L. Allen’s environment. The usual Gulls were present but also 2 Greater Black-backed Gulls in among the Lesser Black-backed Gulls on Corry Shoal. 1 Little Grebe off Rossbeg

All about Whoopers!


Whooper Swan

Cygnus cygnus





Whooper Swans mingle with our native Mute Swan during the Winter. Nationally, they are widespread and frequently observed in the right habitat.

But Whoopers don’t breed in Ireland and are only on Lough Allen from October to April. This is the month they depart! Breeding occurs in northern Latitudes including Scandinavia and Iceland.

However, during the few months we have them these Swans are a joyous bird to observe and hear. Far from being mute they ‘whoop’ when they are nervous or excited or when moving from one lake to another.


Lough Allen normally has a few well dispersed small (family) groups of Whoopers hiding away in small inlets and backwaters. The Whooper, unlike the Mute Swan, is a rather shy bird. The first indication of them being alarmed is an intense honking spreading through the flock. This can be quite impressive with a large flock especially at times of arrival or departure. It seems appropriate to describe them as excited on these occasions, as they were today.

The population occurring in Ireland breed in Iceland and Ireland would have a good proportion of this breeding population. So, while not under evident threat it is important that the wintering stock in Ireland should survive in good numbers.

In April birds gather together into larger pre-migration groups and become even more shy and aloof. While frequently moving from lake to lake they don’t travel far in the Winter but today might be the last we will see of these birds in L. Allen this year.


Today was a cool slightyly misty morning with the Swans only vaguely seen at first. All these photographs were taken from a considerable distance and their haunting honking could be heard over all of northern L. Allen.

We thought we might be able to gently approach the flock but they sprung up early. Instead of heading across the lake as flocks have been doing for the rest of the Winter, they turned north and proceeded to climb steeply to clear the trees lining the north shore of Corry strand. They looked like birds keen to move on!

Migration takes place at night and on clear nights so they can navigate. Fascinating information on how they make this journey is reported on the Sligo Birding Super Whooper project. Also a collection of Images from Google showing their migration paths can be found HERE.

Feeding in L. Allen is very much based on water plant roots and they will actively seek out small marshy ponds with extensive beds of Bog Bean at their muddy edges. Nothing they like as much as getting their necks dirty pulling up the rubbery tail-like roots this plant uses to spread. For all the world these look like long green oxtails — a favourite diet for vegetarian Swans!





Waiting Lapwings.

A Special Project for
Local Farmers:

Unlike some other species reducing in numbers, the traditional and much loved Lapwing is still appearing at sites where (presumably) it used to breed.

Numbers are small and the birds are under pressure from various forms of natural and human disturbance.

Would you like to see these back breeding on your farm?

Well we certainly would and, like other wading birds, they are a species listed for conservation under the terms of the new GLAS Agricultural Conservation scheme.

Have a look at that and see how you can help. (Closes April 2015)

Lapwing Conservation

Basically, Lapwings like flat or gently rolling meadows with short grass. They lay their eggs out in the open and consequently are very vulnerable to trampling by livestock, though Lapwings are often seen sitting tight on eggs in the middle of a field with grazing cattle.

Lapwings have 360° vision, so they like a wide open site where they can watch out for danger. If danger arises they will leave the nest and feign injury in an attempt to draw the fox (or other predator) away. In Lough Allen, Grey Crows would seem to be one of their biggest threats. Crows seem to be increasing and will perch on trees watching out for any exposed eggs, be they gull eggs, Lapwing eggs, or whatever. That is why Lapwings seek security in numbers and the most successful colonies are now large ones. But still we can hope to rear a few Lapwing chicks in the Lough Allen area in years to come?

Lapwing Haunts

We see Lapwings in small groups at many different locations around L. Allen at this time of year. These are clearly interim refuges as they are typically locations NOT suitable for breeding.

What do Lapwings need?

Lapwings are another very attractive bird that is declining in an alarming fashion throughout western Europe due to intensification of farming.

Major land management policies have been advocated but in Lough Allen the local Lapwings seem to set their eyes on modest parcels of land and have successfully bred in less than ideal conditions. So, if we could guarantee their security at such locations this species shows all the signs of returning to breed. However, it must be emphasised that we are talking about a very fragile Summer population that could easily totally disappear if they are thwarted from breeding for much longer.

Problems for Breeding.

Natural problems for Lapwings would include predation by Crows, lush vegetation on formerly sparse shores, possible disturbance by other resurgent species such as Canada Geese (a rather large pest) and, in Lough Allen, the ever present problem of widely fluctuating water levels!

New agriculture threats would come from the ever increasing level of onshore grazing. However, this also affects flora and may ‘dirty the water’. Undertaking agriculture with a view to protecting the water resource (anothe GLAS goal) would also protect Lapwings.



What are the prospects?

One of a party of 4 Lapwings seen today at Fahy Island...


Also known as ‘green plover’ the Lapwing has strange
iridescences on wing feathers that show colour in certain lights.

We are impressed by their tenacity. Every year small numbers of Lapwing gather at Yellow River (and bred  in 2013), The Spit and nearby fields, Mountallen, Derrintobber and occasionally elsewhere. They probably bred regularly in some of these areas in the past and may readily be encouraged to do so again if we can eliminate those adverse factors that can be controlled

Fluctuating water levels are a problem for their current preferred location, Yellow River, but there are suitable higher fields adjoining it. Lapwing chicks are active from birth but whether they could outrun rising water levels is debatable?




Mergansers: It is good to see the Mergansers back but they were very wild and it was barely possible to see them, let alone photograph the. One pair and one lone male were spotted. Numbers should increase rapidly and courtship/breeding should commence given some warm weather and good fishing!


B) Monday 6th April 2015

Cormongan to Cleighran Bay, then south to Inishfale and Derrintober and Cormongan Islands

Pike, Spiranthes... and Canada Geese!

Another stunning Spring morning on Lough Allen starting off with a trip north in search of Lapwings. The above ‘landscape’ image actually shows some characteristic L. Allen biodiversity that we don’t often allude to. This is where Stony River enters the lake and the tall trees just budding on the spit are Black Poplars, a tree that particularly thrives on the stony shores of Lough Allen. It has a very distinctive silhouhette and is typically found near water on promontories such as this...

The Biodiversity:

The 4 same Lapwings were indeed found on another isolated shoal off Yellow River. It is likely that these are the same birds as recorded yesterday and they are probably viewing the wet pasture/shore at Cleighran Bay for another breeding attempt. Also present in the same area were 3 Goldeneye. Following this diversion north we went out to mid lake and made a long steam south straight to Inishfail. This was a water quality check. On the Derrintober shore one surviving plant of Spiranthes romanzoffiana was found and some interesting time was spent trying to photograph Pike. 2 Curlews were seen in Derrintober. Curlews are very scarce this Spring. On returning to Cormongan an unhealthy number of Canada Geese were seen on The Spit. Only 1 Lapwing present there; scared away by the Geese perhaps?

Three amazing Species... and one pest!

A pair of Goldeneye at Yellow River!

We have regularly seen these 3 Goldeneye in this area or in Druminalass or south of Church area. It is remarkable how long they have stayed as this species normally leaves wintering quarters very early. It is common to see them displaying in February in Lough Meelagh (Co. Roscommon) but not in April. They do breed in Scotland and it would be lovely to see then settling in Lough Allen!


Pike Photographs:

These images (RIGHT) of Pike breeding were all taken in the shallow water in the Derrintober area. This is an area famous for the presence of Irish Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana). Indeed, we had come to the area to look for the unseasonal presence of this species.

The Pike were busily laying eggs in very shallow water (c. 20cm) and were cruising around in groups, often showing above the water and sometimes seeming to get stuck and having to struggle to get into clear water again.

This was a bright sunny and warm day. Unfortunately, a very strong glare made these photographs difficult... a perfect situation for a Polarising filter to remove the glare!





Spiranthes monitoring:

Frances meticulously goes through a small patch of ground seeking these rare Orchids. Unfortunately, none were found in these three Tipis we put up to protect them. They did survive for 3 years and it helped us establish much about the lifestyle of this species (another GLAS candidate) and its conservation needs. A series of photographs of this species through a full calendar year is available HERE.


Mating Groups:

All the Pike we saw, and the area was full of them, seemed to be in groups of 3 or more. This is common in other species. e.g. there is a biological basis for that favourite ornament, 3 flying Mallard.

We assume that the large fish in the middle is female and she is being escorted by two males who will fertilise the eggs as she lays them.

All large Pike are female and the egg mass may make up to 20% of the body weight. Females remain in deep water until conditions are suitable in adjoining shallow water for them to move in and lay their eggs — typically in March or April in warm calm conditions!





...but not all lost!

One intrepid plant did indeed survive. This specimen was just protected by a ring of stones. Indeed a horse got a tasty meal of it in 2014 by eating the flower as soon as it emerged!

This healthy bud is the 4th year that ‘Rocky’ has emerged showing that the presence of this species in an area may depend to a large extent on plants surviving from year to year ungrazed and unharmed.


Unwelcome Visitors:

Not the idyllic scene you may first think. These are Canada Geese and they are on The Spit with Round Island (Left) and Long Island in the background.

This is the largest concentration of Canada Geese we have seen in Lough Allen. Typically there might have been 1 or 2 pairs north and south of the lake in previous years. However, they have shown prodigious ability to explode in numbers and are now a major problem in many British Parks. They are big aggressive Geese, obviously non-native, very heavy grazers that can quickly cover and area with their droppings.

This site, The Spit, is an important one for wintering waders and ducks, for breeding gulls and it frequently attracts Common Terns to nest though they have not yet bred here. All this will be damaged if a large colony of Canada Geese becomes established in Lough Allen. For many years the population has been very tiny but there are a lot on the lake this year. They have all arrived with the Spring and clearly have expanded into new territory from some other population to the east of here.




The happy Threesome!


C) Thursday 16th April 2015

Cormongan to the Spit, Inishfail to Srabraggan and back via Jenny’s, Long, and Round islands.


A sight of Summer. The Mergansers have arrived.


It seemed quiet at first but then some of our more attractive species turned up... along with a new annoying one! 7 Mergansers were seen, the group of 3 males and 1 female (above) found near Srabraggan and a group of 1 male and 2 females seen off Long Island. Pairs and small flocks of Mallard were seen scattered around all areas of the lake covered with breeding detected on Long Island. 6 Teal in total were found in Mountallen Bay. This would be the total remaining of the winter flocks found in that area. Small numbers of Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were establishing themselves on Arigna Rocks, Srabraggan Rock, Round Island and The Spit. The larger colonies particularly of Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls often found on The Spit have yet to establish themselves there. 2 Lapwings were seen displaying on The Spit. However, the large flock of Canada Geese established there last week has now broken up but pairs are starting to breed on other tree covered islands nearby.



Changing Biodiversity






Here is a very welcome native plant maybe adapting to a new place, but welcome nonetheless. It will not damage or take over this habitat. This is the delicate Woodrush often associated with mountains and Oak Woodlands. The photograph was taken on Jenny’s Island and we have not noticed it in such profusion here before. But it is a plant quite in tune with this lake island habitat drifting there on high water levels.


Deteriorating water quality is definitely not welcome in a wilderness area with many significant plants and animals. This photograph (taken in March) shows a bubble trail being left behind the boat. We think that this is due to reduced surface tension in the water resulting from increasing amounts of unnatural surfactant type chemicals (cleaning agents) entering the lake particularly from the R. Shannon. This has been an unwanted feature of the lake for 5 or more years and is now widespread in many parts of the lake. It is an indicator! Scum and foam and Cyanoblooms (blooms of ‘blue-green algae’) are the much more serious consequence of increasing pollution.



This is one of those traditional breeders, the so-called Common Gull which is not actually that common. But it is a regular breeder on inland waters and small mountain lakes particularly in the Northwest. It is a gentle gull and often poses in a very picturesque fashion. They seem content! The Spit is probably one of the biggest breeding areas for this species in the region but their numbers there are threatened by Summer rains washing out their nests and, now, by a large number of very heavy geese taking over the site.


Last week we lamented the sight of a big party of Canada Geese occupying The Spit and taking over the territory of some significant Lough Allen traditional breeders. Here we see part of the flock flying off as our boat approaches, like a bunch of big fat invaders coming between the puzzled and marginalised Gulls shown on either side of the flock of Canada Geese in this picture.


The Mergansers have arrived... Every year these wonderful birds resort to Lough Allen to raise their young. They are stunning and exciting fish-eating birds and anyone who is lucky enough to get close to them will surely appreciate this. Red-breasted Mergansers breed in small numbers (2 or 3 broods in all the lake) most years. They are both sensitive to conditions and adaptable to change. They seem particularly fond of Lough Allen probably because of its abundant Alder carr lining the shores and the islands and the presence of clear deep fishing water close to these nesting locations. The biggest problem they face is sudden rising water levels in early Summer swamping their nests.


Must unwanted invader, the Canada Goose. These have been present in very small numbers for several years but are showing a big increase this year. In previous years abandoned nests were encountered but no succesfully hatched young seen! In the previous Log (above) we have accounted for a single large flock found on The Spit. This week this group has broken up into smaller groups with a pair at Jenny’s Island and Round Island and 2 pairs on Long Island.


Native breeders. These are Mallard eggs. This small nest and an adjoining one with 10 eggs were recently found in deep vegetation on Long Island. At  this time of year the common Mallard is dispersed in small numbers all around the lake and big flocks will not be seen until these chicks are reared and merge with other families.


This is the nest belonging to the pair of Canada Geese shown above. Some conservationists regard this species as a pest taking over parks and water and destroying habitat. They will clearly do considerable damage to some of L. Allen’s delicate habitats if they multiply out of control as they have done elsewhere. However their preferred habitat of short cropped grass is missing around Lough Allen and this may limit their explosion.





East side of Long Island looking north where Canada Geese are now vying with Sandpipers, Mallard and Mergansers.

Water Quality:

We cannot afford much time to analyse this. Scum and Foam levels were low but both present south and west of Long Island in the deep water channel of the Shannon, and down towards Inishfail. Persistent bubbling was also significantly encountered when crossing this channel but elsewhere bubbles were small and quick to disperse. So, not a bad picture, but could be better!


MONTH’s Data Sheet: April 2015













Air Temp. °C

Wind (Dir/F.)


Temp. °C

Level m.

Quality (Bubbles)



5th, 1100-1500

Grey to Sunny


0 later SW 2

Flat then rippled

9.2 (8.9 mid lake)





6th, 1200-1700

Bright then Grey


SW/W 1-2







16th, 0900-1200

Bright then sunny


SE 1-2 then Calm

small N swell/calm






Other dates...

Not boat based








This is one month’s record of our work on Lough Allen in 2015. Other months are Linked through the Monthly Blog Index.