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HOME Page www.LoughAllenBasin.com
LABLog 2015(Field Trips and Observations — Water Quality and Biodiversity reports: January to December 2015)
[ LINK to Log15 Monthly Index5 ]

IMPORTANT NOTE: Water/Weather conditions for each report are located in a Table at the bottom of this page. Locations Maps and Water Commentaries also now there.

A) 6th. August

Shannon Daubenton Bat Survey (for Bat Conservation Ireland)

This evening was the first part of the 2 part August survey of the Daubenton Bat population. Daubenton Bats, also known as water bats, have a very specialised feeding methodology flying over bodies of water at a very consistent height of c. 30cm. They are white bellied, fly very straight and level, and have a very distinctive pattern of clicking on their specific frequency on a Bat Detector.

Daubenton Bats:

This is the 10th year of our survey on one particular stretch of water. With periodic changes of location and numbers, the Bat population is still keeping up on our designated stretch of water, the Shannon River as it exits Lough Allen at The Sluices to Galley Bridge on the Drumshanbo to Drumkeeran Road. 10 sites are monitored over this 1 km of river. The river channel is straight for this stretch heading roughly south west. River is mainly wide, calm, and deep with faster flowing stretches both at The Sluices and at Galley Bridge. Galley Bridge is now the site of a roost as most numbers are found here. Formerly, and for many years, the greatest numbers of ‘sightings’ was always at The Sluices. However following a long period of building work and night time disturbance on the sluices themselves the number of records of Daubentons Bats near this structure has declined to almost nil.


Today’s total of Daubentons detected was 222. This was in ten 4 minute surveys counting the number of Bats seen or heard as they passed by our positions at each of the survey points.

More Information:

Bat Conservation Ireland.

Our previous observations and  results.

B) 12th August

Rossmore & Kilgarriff by foot.

Survey work for Spiranthes romanzoffiana continues... [TOTAL now = 53]





Rossmore is the only place on Lough Allen where two rare and beautiful plants grow together. The second one, visible here in the form of its fruiting capsules in front of the Spiranthes, is the Blue-eyed Grass. An enigmatic plant, also from America, that is found in 3 shoreline fields along the east shore of Rossmore inlet — along with the Irish Lady’s Tresses. The Blue-eyed Grass is  more localised than the Spiranthes but occurring in huge numbers. For more details on this species look HERE.


Further along the shore a good group of orchids were seen either in the water or very close to it. These are doing very well with warmer weather and receding water levels and have not been grazed yet this year.






Here, we show three of the specimens first recorded on 23rd July emerging under flooded conditions on the fringes of the beach at the back of this bay. They seem to have enjoyed a good spurt of growth following their emergence above water level and are now among the tallest and best flowering specimens we have recorded around Lough Allen this year.

Kilgarriff and Rossmore are the best areas for this species this year. Despite, or maybe because of it, damage to emerging plants has been reduced this year.

Areas of shoreline, such of these, would be ideal ‘reserves’ for this species if procedures could be worked out for managing these strips of land to preserve our rare native plants and at the same time facilitate farmers and landowners involved. These plants have possibly been here since before we were; their survival is a sign of an environment that is natural and not too altered, despite evident problems of rising water levels deriving from clear signs of global changes in our climate.

C) 13th and 17th August

Cormongan Islands, Derrintobber, Gubcormongan and Mountallen.

Spiranthes observations at the southern end of the Lake: [TOTAL now = 57]

Two days. Firstly, a boat trip from Cormongan towards Drumshanbo investigating shores and island. Then a visit to Mountallen on the 17th.  specifically to record the recovery of Spiranthes romanzoffiana at a formerly very significant site.




This area of south east Lough Allen has been a prolific site for Spiranthes since it was first explored in 2008. This was the first year we at LoughAllenBasin.com observed and mapped this orchid in considerable detail. Indeed, the first ever specimen we saw was on The Spit, a site noted for birds, which is not too far across the water from the north end of Derrintober site.

Unfortunately despite best efforts from all involved to protect this site, the plants in this area regularly suffer damage during the flowering season.

This is the area where we did our over wintering study [MORE] which showed that plants that have flowered will remain over ground right through the following Winter. They will produce future buds and these, if damaged, will lead to the demise of that specimen either for the next year or indefinitely?

This year the numbers are much reduced and the specimen shown in both these photographs is the best specimen we have found despite extended searches of the whole area and the offshore islands, called Spiranthes Islands following their success with this species in 2008

This habitat would, along with Rossmore, make ideal locations for a Nature Reserve aimed specifically at conserving this extremely rare European plant!


The Islands


No Spiranthes on The Spit, just a large number of young Black-headed Gulls on the wing. This site has been flooded for much of the Summer and these birds arrived late (June) and were lucky to be able to squeeze in a rather successful breeding season but one with many eggs washed out and many young gulls perching on rocks to stay above the water.




This is the success story of the southern end of Lough Allen, with 7 Spiranthes returning here and many signs that proper and persistent management techniques are now paying dividends. This location had no Spiranthes between 2009 and 2013

This is a magnificent specimen that the landowner protected last year as it flowered. It has been able to establish itself over the past 1 or 2 Winters and is now a very sturdy specimen with a large flowering spire.

Fortunately the other newer specimens are nearby and the owner now has plans to establish a protection zone for them. We are very optimistic that this may be the way forward — total exclusion of all grazing from known areas of shoreline. This seems to lead to most specimens that appear one year surviving onto the next year. At this site, and at Derrintober, we have evidence of individual plants re-emerging for up to 3 years. These perennial Spiranthes are essential for the species and it does not seem that, with changing weather patterns, we can rely on further supplies of seed from faraway sources blowing in and settling on Lough Allen.

Mountallen is a large site and it is conceivable that these clusters of specimens might spread over a greater area of it... great for conservation, a lot of work and loss of grazing for the farmer involved.

Some steps must be put in place to make it feasible for this work to be carried on by Landowners and Botanists. We had thought that the GLAS scheme, with its talk of conserving Flora Protected List species, was the answer but now marginal sites such as this seem to be being excluded from any form of farm support. This anomaly needs to be corrected for the sake of our Natural Heritage and for Farm Livelihood!




Two specimens recorded in the above area have been damaged by wind or strong rain, whilst flowering. This has led to the flower dying but, interestingly, both of these specimens are now developing next generation buds.



The plant with a withered stalk and a dead flower (out of view). The young side shoot can now be seen in among the ground litter.


The bud in close up. It is vibrant and growing rapidly and we would expect this to reach 2 or 3 cm. by the end of the Autumn. If this were to be damaged that probably means the end to this specimen.

D) 18th August

The beautiful enigmatic Amphibious Bistort grows in about a metre of water in small clusters in a few specific areas of the lake.

All Lake north of Spencer Harbour - Yellow River!

Water and Wildlife:

In many areas of mid lake small specks of Cyanophyceae (AKA ‘blue-green algae) were seen. These coalesced into streaks
and, eventually, a small bloom was seen off the entrance to Spencer Harbour. (Amber Warning). Organisms are now widespread and may explode in ideal conditions!




One of the best days of Summer!

What a beautiful morning and early morning. This day was to yield mixed results. A coolish night led to a tranquil misty morning with thick bands of mist alternating with bright sunshine as we left Corry Strand to start a long morning’s work covering nearly all areas of the northern third of Lough Allen.

Launching the boat we’d noted that the water was clear at Corry strand, no foam to be seen and hardly any persistent (soapy) bubbles. However these did materialise as we moved out into Corry Bay. The water was limpid and conditions were flat calm — both factors that can lead to a large visible bubble train behind the boat when (commonly) the area of water being travelled contains high levels of surfactants.

Worse (i.e. blooms) was to follow...

Just off Corry shoal we tried to catch this moody image which summed up Lough Allen this morning — a Cormorant sitting on top of a red navigation marker with the silky water merging into an almost invisible horizon and the mountains towering over a thick band of fog on the far shore.

The GOOD News:

Conditions were superb and the lake, initially, looked beautiful. Some attractive biodiversity and some rare biodiversity (like the Spiranthes shown right) were thriving and were undisturbed so far leading to Lough Allen having the largest number of this plant for 4 years! [MORE]

The BAD News:

Despite present good conditions, the wildlife of Lough Allen seems to have suffered from previously adverse conditions up to as late as July.

This seems to have stopped Mergansers breeding! One of our goals for today was to search out proof of breeding for this species that is very important to Lough Allen’s status as a base for rare plants and animals. None were seen! The males left in July, the females have now disappeared and we have been unable to find any young Mergansers anywhere on the lake. They should be still around if any had been produced?

We’d love someone to prove us wrong but it looks like the Red-breasted Merganser did not breed this year, despite good numbers present in the Spring.

Missing Sandpipers: We have noticed the absence of this species but today just one Common Sandpiper was seen on the small rocky island off Gull Island. This is the first bird we have seen in 6 weeks and it, too, must signify, that cold early Summer weather also hindered this species from breeding and that the breeding population has left the area early.

a  Cormorant surveys a grey and watery domain!


a fine Spiranthes thrives on a watery shore at Rossbeg

Grey Heron

Herons have been through the wars! Squabbling and later evicted by Ravens on Church Island, they seemed homeless for a while and much reduced in numbers around Lough Allen. This led to concern that there were being affected by the often frequent bed of foam on all shores. These are shore and shallow water feeding birds! However the noisy sound of a breeding colony had been heard near Kilgarriff and more individuals including at least 1 young was seen today near Drummans Island!

Floating Bur-reed.

Sparganium angustifolium


Another attractive submarine (like the Amphibious Bistort shown above) that emerges to flower in peaty peaceful backwaters at this time of year.

Throughout the rest of the year its very long floating leaves emerging from waters typically about 1m. deep are an indicator of this species presence. It can be a nuisance in canals but in Lough Allen it is an interesting oddity often providing the useful function of indicating how deep the water is!

But a very attractive part of the ‘normal’ biodiversity of Lough Allen with its pattern of bright leaves on dark water and its interesting male (green) and female (white) flowers.





Water problems:

Toxic blooms may be back!

Today the organisms responsible were widely present and this may lead to larger blooms and toxins being produced. Beware!

Hopefully our poor Summer conditions may mitigate this widespread microbe exploding into a dangerous bloom.

Today’s boat trip was from Corry Strand westwards to Drummans Island and then southwards to Corry Island. Initially calm, a gentle breeze was developing and rippling the flat calm water found at Corry Strand.

Approaching Spencer Harbour we noticed this calm band of water and muttered to ourselves.. ‘surfactants!’ Both currents and water softening agents calm flatten rippled water. This time, as suspected, it was a sign of pollution and we were soon in Cyanophyceae laden waters! (Cyanophyceae are a Class of life with similarities to both bacteria and plants but they are NOT algae)

ABOVE: Cyanophyceae building a bloom!

Water calmed by surfactants with phophate needed for Blooms!

LEFT and RIGHT: Another part of a healthy biodiversity...

Grey Wagtail

Motacilla cinerea


A less rare but equally attractive part of our natural heritage. This is a cousin of the familiar Pied Wagtail but tends to be found even more closely associated with water. This female (as indicated by this bird’s white throat and green rump) was bathing as we drifted by and provided a pleasant reminder of how beautiful nature can be!

A common breeder, this bird has another cousin called the Yellow Wagtail which breeds everywhere else in Europe but only rarly in Ireland. This would be a good species to spot. It has an olive green back and it may occur as a passage migrant but mainly on the east coast of Ireland.


C) 30th August

The Viability of S. romanzoffiana in Lough Allen.


Viability of Spiranthes Populations and Plants.

Today’s work involved the establishment of a technique for assessing the viability of a typical population of Irish Lady’s Tresses on Lough Allen. By viability we mean the ability to replicate itself and reproduce the species over many years. People argue about how long this species has been present in Ireland, or Europe? What we are concerned with today is... how long the species may survive into the future?


An unviable population is one that has no means to survive. Spiranthes has proved itself to be very viable and has persisted as a tenuous but durable population on the fringes of Europe. In the specifically Lough Allen situation we can see many threats to the viability and survival of the species. These can be listed as:


Threats to viability of Spiranthes romanzoffiana in Lough Allen (and elsewhere in Ireland)


Extreme fluctuation in water level in Lough Allen. Spiranthes is a shoreline species and if this shoreline keeps changing position plants will be displaced and may not survive.


Increased loss of growing space mainly due to the above (the shore is becoming narrower) but also to changing husbandry practices bringing more stock onto the foreshore.


Colder and wetter Summers impacting on this plant particularly due to its late Summer flowering season. These plants need warm pollination time (August) followed by many dry weeks if they are to produce seed.


Increased pollution of Lough Allen and more land improvement either on or adjoining the shore. Both are harmful to this and many other wild flower species.


Lack of fertilisation and seed production in local population means the existing population must reproduce vegetatively or else by seed coming from elsewhere.


Cutting or Grazing or machinery on shoreline... at any time of year not just Summer as formerly thought!


So, if the environment is changing in unpredictable ways the consequences of which are uncertain, how can we assess the existintg stock of plants with a view to ensuring the population continues in some way. What are the qualities of an individual plant in its particular location that make one community constant and another group of plants come and go! In the table below we record Frances’s work in checking the intrinsic health and prospects of 17 specimens from this shoreline.

Viability Assessment of sample of Rossmore population of Irish Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana)




Shore location

Plant Status (e.g, flowering, dead, etc

Lateral Bud(s)
number / height cms.

Risk level
level / nature

Viability Index (Buds divided by Risk)






1 (2cm)

1 (=Shore Loc. at Rossmore)







1 (2cm)








1 (1cm)








1 (1cm)







1 (flower damaged)

1 (2cm)







3 (very large spike)

1 (1cm)(small LB due to flowering?)








1 (0.5cm)


66% (small bud)






1 (0.5cm)








1 (0.5cm)








1 (1cm)








1 (0.5cm)







no flower seen

1 (2.5cm)








1 (2cm)








1 (2cm)








1 (2.5cm)








1 (2cm)








2 (2, 1.5cms)








1 (2.5cm)






Shore location (0 - 4): Refers to location on the shore above the waterline. 0 =In water at time of this survey (Water Level Drumshanbo - 2.68m), 1 = lower shore, 4= above 95% of flooding.
Plant/flower Status (0 - 4): 4 = full flower at time of survey, 2 = half flower dying, 0 = flower completely withered
Risk Level (0 -4): An assessment of the known risks, grazing, flooding, etc. 4 = high risk, 0 = no perceived risk (nigh impossible)
Viability: Simplified percentiles (9 = 90 - 100%, 0 = 0 - 10%) shew chance of plant surviving to next year based on Status and Buds v Risks and Vulbnerabilities


The table above must be described as highly speculative. All plants at this location were producing lateral buds — the precursor of future flowering spikes. This was a revelation as it had been assumed that some plants would not ensure their survival in this manner. Lateral buds are more the norm than the exception. On this basis we have concluded that the presence of one or more lateral buds will lead to one or more new shoots. The viability therefore depends on these buds surviving and not being destroyed by damage or flooding. Flooding has been shown (Overwintering Study 2013) to not be harmful to the wintering new buds or to new flowers emanating from them (this years observations reported here and in the July Log)

So, if plants are protected from damage they have a very good chance of surviving. Damage may take the form of grazing of the habitat at any time of the year, development work on the shoreline, REPs removing Alders in sensitive area, vehicles driving on the shore, etc. The answer is to protect important sites securely and throughout the year. This is akin to the work LoughAllenBasin.com did by placing strong pole and fence Teepees over individual plants in 2014, except that it does tie up much larger areas of land on a semi-permanent basis. However, some landowners think this is worthwhile and progress is being made along these lines.

Specimens v Populations:

Inevitably in fencing of a population of S. romanzoffiana one will close off a large area of land that may not produce plants in the short term. But this protected land may already have stock in the ground which have either not emerged in past years or have been missed — or it may yield new plants as if by magic! How Spiranthes specimens can re-emerge in an area where they have not been seen for many years is a major debate. They are known to be able to survive underground for many years. It is thought that new seeds may take up to 5 years to develop underground. It is clear that lateral buds destroyed in the Autumn will not produce spikes in the following Summer, but maybe the root may generate new buds in the year after that. So no land that has had Spiranthes can be regarded as now barren. And no suitable shore anywhere in Lough Allen can be ruled out as a location for new plants developing from wind or water borne seed.

New Conservation Strategy:

(This will be discussed in the next entry of this Log following plans for the Mountallen area discussed on 31st August. These are awaiting reporting.)

Routine Biodiversity Observations.

How Spiranthes romanzoffiana survives from one year to the next.

Studies of three different vegetative reproduction patterns:

In this series of photos taken today at Rossmore some of the plants recorded in the Table above have been closely examined (under Licence) as to how they are preparing to reappear next year. This is vegetative reproduction, not breeding new plants from seed. i.e. the root remains the same but new stems and buds are produced from the old stems every year. All 18 specimens examined were producing lateral buds, the number and vigour did vary from specimen to specimen, perhaps in inverse correlation to that plant’s success in flowering. The plants with the biggest flowers were less advanced in their lateral buds but this may be compensated for when those flowers eventually wither.

Images of two of our ‘pet’ plants recorded from Rossmore today are shown here. These are part of the biggest surviving group of this Orchid around Lough Allen. They are growing in an area that has had a much larger colony (up to 60 specimens) in the past but which was suddenly and seriously damaged by unusual on-shore grazing in 2013. The plants are still recovering.


LEFT: ‘Spiky’

A large flowering specimen only just starting to wither today but with just 1 rather short lateral bud.

Nearly all these plants are in or very close to the rather high water level at the moment. Larger areas of the shore above this were populated in the past but, following heavy grazing over a short period, this area does not now have a population of Spiranthes romanzoffiana.



RIGHT ‘Myrtle’ group

This is the ‘Myrtle group’ of 3 plants growing very close to one another. These plants are presumed to be growing from 3 separate roots! Each of these stems was developing a single lateral bud as shown RIGHT.

The presence of these lateral buds indicates good prospects for the 2016 flowering season. This orchid may produce more than 1 lateral bud per plant but, in this case, this is an example of 3 separate stems each producing one new lateral bud each.





RIGHT: ‘Myrtle’ close up.

This is an enlargement of the ground area of the 3 plants growing closely together in the Myrtle group. Spiranthes romanzoffiana as far as is know does not produce multiple stems from the one root so this group is 3 separate plants with 3 separate roots.

Each plant/stem is now producing 1 lateral bud. As can be seen from the photograph each bud is doing well though of slightly different size. All of these plants were flowering.


LEFT ‘Cluster4A’ and ‘Cluster4B’

The Cluster refers to a group of 12 Orchids growing in a loose cluster on the lower shore within a radius of 2 meters of one another. Some were separate; others (labelled a’s or b’s) were growing together.

Interestingly two ‘plants’ are shown in this photograph but only one plant had emerged this year. The plant on the left flowered; the other plant was only represented by two withered leaves which were only discovered when investigating Cluster4A. 4B had not flowered this year and there was no sign of any stem but the dead leaves present are typical of leaves left over from a previous years stem. What is significant is that this plant, having missed out by not producing a stem in 2015, was now ensuring its future by producing a strong vibrant lateral bud presumably from the same stock as the old leaves.





The uniquely wonderful Blue-eyed Grass and its peculiar habits!




This image shows the Stamen with the Anthers at the top producing pollen. Inside this ring the Stigma can be seen. This is the female organ receptive to pollen from other plants.



The beautiful Blue-eyed Grass...

It is a very strange phenomenon that two quite rare plants, both typically Holarctic (American), both occur in the shore section of 3 small fields on the north coast of Lough Allen. Spiranthes is the rarest and less numerous of the species, BUT it does occur in 5 sites around the lake — formerly more. The Blue-eyed Grass has only ever (to our knowledge) been found in Lough Allen at this site — but it is abundant in these 3 fields

The anatomy and reproductive behaviour of this plant is fascinating. If you look at the bud on the right, it is closed and the pointed tips at the end of each petal are curled back into the flower and may be touching the stamen.

These plants are almost invisible on a dull day but when the sun shines from May - September they open their wonderful blue and yellow flowers. Today was mixed weather and some flowers were open and some stayed shut. An Irish solution to Irish weather?

Evolution and Adaption...


Are these plants cleverly designed to get pollen from another?

Not many wild flowers open and close during daylight hours depending on the strength of the sun. Some may close at night and some plants in other regions of the world will be more quick to react but in Ireland such behaviour is infrequent.

It is very important to try and monitor the rare production of seed in Spiranthes. As you get into one species you begin to notice more about other species. Blue-eyed Grass, for example, has no problem in producing seed in this climate; it produces them all Summer! They are in the spherical capsules behind the flowers in these photographs.

Look at the pointed tips of the petals on the image at the LEFT. Pollen is caught on hairs all along these tips! This pollen can come from two sources. Either through contact with the stamen (the yellow male structure in the centre) or from the abdomen or legs of bees or other insects. By curling and uncurling these tips with the changing light this plant has developed a wonderful way of collecting and dispersing pollen to other of its kind?

Pollen dispersal.

Most plants are not self fertile. They may be either male or female plants or have both genders designed to develop one after the other. Both mechanisms ensure that one plant has to be fertilised by another specimen. Both the Spiranthes and the Blue-eyed Grass have elaborate mechanisms to attract fertilising insects. Indeed one of Darwin’s fascinations was in the fertilisation method of Orchids and his work can still be seen at the Darwin Homestead in Down in Kent. Read all about the Darwin Family Home.

“In my examination of Orchids, hardly any fact has so much struck me as the endless diversity of structure...for gaining the very same end, namely, the fertilisation of one flower by the pollen of another.” 

Charles Darwin, On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, 1862




MONTH’s Data Sheet: August 2015













Air Temp. °C

Wind (Dir/F.)


Temp. °C

Level m.

Quality (Bubbles)



6th, 2200-2350

Calm and Starry



High and fast



BAT SURVEY: Shannon full and foamy in places.

12th, 1030-1330

Grey and Calm






n/a (shore trip)



13th, 0800-1230










18th, 0830-1500

Calm and Sunny


Calm - S/2

calm - med waves




in mid lake

small bloom

30th, 1100-1330

Grey then Sunny






n/a (shore trip)













Locations, Maps and Water Observations:

2015: MONTH

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!


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