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

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 there.

[ LINK to Log15 Monthly Index5 ]

A) 23rd July, 2015

(Apologies for the long delay; weather and other factors. But we have some
interesting observations to report now.)

Spiranthes are emerging along east shore!

Specimens of Irish Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) are just starting to appear on the east and north shores of Lough Allen. This is about on time and cold and wet weather has not delayed their emergence and their flowering. However, continuing cold weather with high water levels will damage them. Habitats are in good condition with moderate height grass and no disturbance. All 3 sites visited today were not being grazed and this exotic Lough Allen rarity was growing fast. A total of just 6 was seen, one popular site (Rossmore) not having any yet.

PLEASE STUDY THESE PICTURES... and if you see any of these anywhere on Lough Allen do record their location and let us know. This is Lough Allen’s rarest plant and one which has been suffering a decline, probably due to regular Summer flooding of their favourite sites — just as is happening now.

A very fine photograph (Frances Farrell) of a new bud starting to open.

Irish Lady’s Tresses can be spectacular at all stages — when they are struggling with months of flooding, when they wait as tiny plant above ground, when the rush comes on to flower, and when  in ideal conditions they produce a spike 7cm. long!

A tall specimen emerging on a flooded shore...


The plants can emerge from water and be very slender and tall with a colour very similar to the background. However they will have a bud and this has a quite distinctive shape which can be noticed if you look ahead as well as down. Bright white twisted rows of flowers will be opening soon, especially if we get any hot weather.

Knowing their habitat is a good help in finding these plants. In Ireland they are always associated with lake shores and normally very close to the water’s edge. This, of course is a problem in Lough Allen where the water level fluctuates with Summer rains and the Shannon exit being controlled by sluices at its southern end.

A small bud opens in bright sunshine...


Specimens prefer south west facing shores. They formerly occurred on the western shore in good numbers but these numbers have dropped markedly in recent years mostly due to changing conditions. In one spot, however, they have been damaged by alteration to the shore and driving of vehicles onto the shore for fishing!

The plant on the Right is associated with Self-Heal which commonly grows on Spiranthes shores.

Habitats can include flooded field margins, often associated with small Alders, as shown in the big picture below. Also, disturbed stony ground with jumbles of rocks and stunted alders provide them with good shelter. They will grow both in waterlogged marshy edges with dense vegetation as well as on exposed sands and shingles with little protection. The common factor seems to be exposure to the open lake and we suspect that some seeds may fall on open water and then be washed up in tidy lines on the shore margin at whatever level this may be at the time! But this is a species which can lie dormant in the soil for many years and then re-emerge.


One of the habitats this species loves...


Why Conserve Spiranthes romanzoffiana?

The picture (LEFT) shows a lush flora rich habitat based on a dryish shore with mostly silt and sand and many small boulders and stunted Alders. This was one of their most successful sites for many years but unexpected grazing 3 years ago wiped out the population which has not yet recovered. Plants associated with Spiranthes (and showing in this photograph) are Blue-eyed Grass (another rare plant), Creeping Jenny. Also in this area is the beautiful Bog Pimpernel. This is a wet loving plant. The Creeping Jenny (shown in the bottom right of the picture) by contrast loves stony areas and will grow intensely over small boulders in totally dry locations. It’s large yellow bell shaped flowers are very conspicuous at this time of year and it can be associated with Spiranthes romanzoffiana

It is part of our natural environment.

It’s continuing presence reflects a clean and diverse environment.

It provides an interest for specialist visitors.

Ireland (and Scotland) are its sole repositories in Europe.

Because of its complex Irish, Russian and American history.

Many landowners are keen to have rare plants on their property.

Support for protecting Biodiversity can be obtained through the GLAS scheme (Dept of Agriculture).




Other Wildlife:

This was a walking trip and the only other species of interest were Herons. In previous reports we have recorded their seeming absence and no clear sign of breeding. Today they were commoner and active in forestry on the north side of the entrance to Kilgarriff Bay (shown Below). We will investigate and see how they are prospering in their new location.

Kilgarrrif: more Spiranthes country at the north end of Lough Allen...formerly abundant in foreground, now scattered along far shore!

B) 25th July, 2015

More rare orchids found and stunning birds!

Adult Black-headed Gulls on the water and large numbers of young leaving The Spit to seek protection on the open water!


This is The Spit, a long shoal of rocks west of Cormongan. It is a major breeding site for Gulls and Terns are now increasing in numbers. Today we have some interesting observations of the behaviour of one particular species, the Black-headed Gull. Unfortunately, for weather and other reasons we haven’t been able to get out here for about a month. At that time, The Spit was recovering from a chilly Spring and Black-headed and Common Gulls had just moved into colonise the site which was starting to dry out. The Black-headed Gulls knew the time was right and were feeding actively around the southern end of the lake (as reported last month).

It made the Summer seem very short to revisit the site and find large numbers of hatched Black-headed chicks active on the shoal and in the water. Gulls, like most wading birds have very active young who will leave the nest, the breeding grounds and, even, their island when danger threatens. We had approached the shoal quietly and were puzzled to see groups of dark feathered chicks out in the water with a coterie of adults, meant to be protecting them, but engaging in endless squabble with their neighbours. Like all animals, these birds can easily recognise and protect their own, even when removed from a nest situation.

Mixed group of young Gulls with adults squabbling to protect them, even diving on them! Note open beaks and aggressive postures.

From a distance  it seemed as if a flock of Gulls was attacking and trying to eat the smaller blackish birds which at first almost looked like young ducklings. But, they were only trying to watch over their own and maintain family and territorial integrity. So much like humans. It is from the study of animals (ethology) that so much of our understanding of human behaviour comes.


There were many different species sharing a passion to reproduce despite difficult conditions today. What effect the increasingly ‘unusual’ weather patterns are having on a place like Lough Allen is a question for much concern. Perhaps one of the most tangible signs is that of Irish Lady’s Tresses emerging from under water and flowering when above water. A resourceful species but probably in a desperate battle to survive difficult conditions. But survival is the name of the game — just existing or establishing roots so that in future (kinder) years they may flourish. Are they trying to survive our ecological recession?

Black-headed Gulls




Adult on patrol. This species was late arriving only establishing at its main breeding colony in late June. Now that site, The Spit, is still as flooded as ever but they still managed to raise 57 young — our best count of the numbers seen evacuating the shoal as we approached. This is a good achievement as the maximum numbers we have seen have been around 70 (i.e. 35 pairs). But, they do lay 3 eggs!



Whilst most young left the shelter of rocks and vegetation, this fairly mature young gull was sitting tight and unflinching. This and one very young chick were, however, the only ones to remain on the island.

Black-headed Gull adult on patrol.


One chick decided to stay home when all others had gone!


Very many dead Black-headed Gull eggs were abandoned all over The Spit. They were everywhere and we presume greater in number than the fledged chicks, i.e. a 50% loss rate? But they are still producing a good crop of young to keep the species alive!

Red-breasted Merganser: RIGHT

Unfortunately this species, so far, has not adapted so well. This bird was seen flying away from Long Island after initially being spotted sitting tight in the bushes at the south end of that island. This looked like a good spot to sequester young. Her behaviour also hinted at this. After taking flight she circled a couple of times around the island before heading off west. What was attracting her to that spot. No young have so far been seen anywhere on Lough Allen this year. Mergansers tend to wait for warm calm good fishing conditions before they start to nest. Such conditions did not arrive until min June — perhaps a bit too late for this species?

Many eggs did not survive, swamped by unseasonable rain.


Female Merganser flies away alone.

Common Tern

There were 8 Common Terns on The Spit this morning, the greatest collection we have so far seen. Common Terns will nest solitarily but also in colonies. Floating rafts are the normal form of encouragement required and these seem to have a high rate of occupancy.

The Spit is a difficult site for Terns as it is shallow and easily totally swamped by rising Summer floods. The other island where Common Terns are known to nest on Lough Allen is the small rock off Gubsrabbragan on the west shore. This is a rocky outcrop and parts of it always remains above water level.


When young are hatched Common Terns can be seen regularly travelling from fishing grounds back into the nesting area. But, a gift of a fish is often seen as an ‘engagement’ present within a courting couple. We suspect that this bird is carrying a present for his partner and we assume it is a male as we are not sure if female birds ever present a trophy like this... though that is an interesting thought?


The beautiful Common Tern on watch.

A portrait of one of the many individuals on The Spit this morning. This is a very attractive species which sours its territory from a height of about 6 - 10m. before diving down to catch some fish. Attractive, nimble, and fiercely protective of its territory always driving away much bigger gulls from any area it claims as its own.


Male Tern bearing gift?

Many species of birds will offer presents as a precursor to mating. If she likes him and she accepts his present then it is part of the process of pair forming completed.

Family responsibility is widely different in different species of birds. Both sexes may mind eggs. Merganser, however, seem to leave egg hatching to the females; nor is there any evidence of the females being fed while incubating? The males will often stay offshore on ‘guard duty’ and are a useful guide to where an occupied site me lie.

Male Mergansers also leave Lough Allen earlier than females and this may be an end to any hope of breeding by the time mid Summer has passed. They migrate to specific sites for moulting and any young are further cared for by the females, in Lough Allen anyway.


Tufted Ducks


A new find... breeding Tufted Duck! This female was spotted today with her 3 ducklings, initially at Jenny’s Island and then later off Long Island. They sure can get around, all by swimming too! This is the first time we have seen them breeding here.

A very curious common species but which is rarely seen on Lough Allen. This is a familiar duck now joining Mallard as a duck species you may often see in a town park. They are more common around Leitrim as a Winter species when the jolly Black and White drake with a noticeable tuft is seen with the ducks in large flocks in many lakes.

But even in Winter this species is very rare in Lough Allen. We can only recall one sighting of a small flock in Rossbeg some winters ago during a Winter duck count. Perhaps some have been missed but it appears as if Lough Allen with a lot of deep water may not be ideal for this species. It feeds by diving for molluscs and insects but seems to prefer areas of shallower water and is not so adapted for shellfish as the Goldeneye, a rare duck that seems commoner on Lough Allen!

Tufted Duck. A lone female?

More Spiranthes romanzoffiana

Later emerging with 3 young.

There are 3 known locations for this species in the south eastern corner of the Lake. All disappeared for a while but two have come back. Individual plants have occurred on The Spit. This was not checked today for fear of disturbing nesting birds.

The other area is in Derrintobber where a sprinkling of specimens are starting to emerge. A total of 7 were now recorded over a widespread part of this varied site.

This location has had very large numbers in the past, as has Mountallen on the opposite side of the lake, where 5 specimens are now also reported.

The Derrintobber habitat seems to have all of the popular niches for this orchid, dry sloping largely bare gritty shorelines, rocks and alder tussocks, and medium height wet grassy pastures. Today’s finds were distributed neatly in all areas making us feel that the species is not so habitat specific but will grow in any soil in which it lands as long as mycorrhizal fungal associates can be found and as long as the shore is free from disturbance. Most Spiranthes sites on Lough Allen suffer from varying degrees of disturbance!

Should we not have a Lough Allen reserve for this European rarity. Really, without Britain and Ireland, this would not even be a European species!

Today our photographs are both of the same specimen, different angles and different cameras. We are looking to show the development of the individual flowers and display the complex but typically orchid structure of the flower.

These flowers are very tubular until they burst open and bracts and buds look similar on young flowering heads. The tubes are made up of the petals with two forming the roof whilst the third petal is extensively modified and protrudes from the tube as a labellum which acts like a bait for bees and other pollinating insects.

Beautiful Spiranthes getting established...


... in one of their best areas at SE corner of L. Allen

Lapwing: Sadly, and as a sign of the times, we heard 1 Lapwing today. This is the first recorded since 1st May after an early Spring with many specimens about. The Lapwing and Curlew are disappearing from Lough Allen and its environs.

Sandpipers: Also missing?

Female Tufted duck flies away to distract from young.


C) 30th July, 2015

More rare orchids found and interesting/worrying bird observations!


This was another day concentrated on the biodiversity of Lough Allen, specifically Irish Lady’s Tresses and Red-breasted Mergansers. This was a boat trip so it was possible to visit remote areas hard to reach by foot in our search for both species. We were still expecting further Spiranthes to emerge and were increasingly concerned about the status of the Mergansers — no males having been seen for quite a while.

Irish Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana)

Today’s trip was a revisit to the Rossmore and Kilgarriff areas. This has been a prolific area for these orchids in the past. Thankfully, this year the shore has remained ungrazed and numbers recorded are improving on recent years. This species shows a great ability to recover and repopulate areas which remain suitable for it. Always a species of concern when reviewing Lough Allen’s biodiversity, it is a species which can return to an area after many years of absence as long as a certain stock is available in the area!

Dryish Habitat Spiranthes

These specimens are from the drier mid shore ‘beach’ type habitat at Rossmore.


Top 3 photographs are from the rocky dry low growth shore on the east side of Rossmore. This is a habitat with several other striking species like Blue-eyed Grass (not a grass but an Iris and not found anywhere else in Lough Allen), the beautiful Bog Pimpernel, and the striking commoner Creeping Jenny.

These are typical associated species found in location where Spiranthes romanzoffiana also occurs. Plant associations are often a good clue to finding where the rarest of them all — the Spiranthes — is hiding.



Noticeable this year at this site were the number of specimens growing together in two’s and three’s. Nice to see and, possibly, an indication that these specimens were newly growing from seed rather than from an old root latent in the ground?


Right Click with your mouse on this image to open a new Tab or Window and get a much larger view of this specimen. The frosty appearance of this flower has been exaggerated somewhat by greatly reducing the image size shown left. This is one of the best specimens so far recorded this year





Three strong young buds side by side at the same location as the specimens above.


RIGHT: Kilgarriff

East of Rossmore on the north coast is a slightly different habitat with six Spiranthes found growing in water. This has been a phenomenon of this year — plants emerging from underwater! In previous years we have become used to seeing plants flower first and get flooded later! This is, of course, very unhelpful to any hope of producing seed and re-populating the area.

Spiranthes romanzoffiana is a late flowering orchid which really needs a dry September and October if seeds are to be produced and dispersed — not to mention a sunny August to facilitate fertilisation!

Interestingly most of the specimens we have seen emerging from water are now growing well and producing very handsome flowers. This fine tall specimen from Kilgarriff emerged in mid July and has grown well since. It is now well above the water level and could possibly set seed if not eaten in the meantime?


Wet Habitat Spiranthes

These two specimens (left and right) are from the grassier wetter part of Kilgarriff Bay, growing among rushes and grass and small Alder bushes. They show remarkable resilience in emerging at a time of high water level and pushing their flowering stems up through the water. They are now flowering well in warmer weather with reducing water levels.


Another ‘amphibious’ specimen from Kilgarriff.

Apart from these examples the once flourishing stock of Spiranthes at Kilgarriff has declined due to changes made to the habitat through uprooting shelter trees and removing the important marshy/silty soil covering the rocks and sand at this beach.




Red-breasted Merganser — a tale of weather and specialisation!

Last records for Mergansers relate only to females. This was compounded when a lively flock of 6 mature females were seen again today, dispersed and actively flying around the north end of the lake from Rossbeg to Church Island to Shannon Estuary and then to Gull Island.

This is significant Merganser behaviour which, unfortunately, probably indicates a failure to breed in Lough Allen this year. Mergansers arrive in Lough Allen mainly in April and are very active fishing and flying and displaying and competing with one another. This is courtship behaviour prior to breeding. Breeding should commence in May but if the weather is very cold we have seen birds forming quieter groups and ‘loitering’ about. We suspect this may be due to insecurity of food supply (fish) or possibly hormonal changes in response to unseasonably cold or dark weather putting the females off nesting. In past years with cold Springs a late resurgence in breeding behaviour, as better weather returned, has enabled these ducks to successfully reproduce in Lough Allen — probably 2 or 3 broods most years.

Only Female Mergansers were seen on the lake today! No young or males have been seen this month. This is a sad outcome but one which is almost certainly attributable to unseasonable weather throughout the Spring and into early June. Male Mergansers tend to leave breeding grounds at a certain stage and move to moulting areas at sea. If there are young the females are always seen escorting and fussing over them until they are flying. At this stage she will also migrate into wintering grounds (Sligo or Donegal Bay, perhaps)  and flocks of fully grown young birds will be left alone to form small bands mainly at the north end of the lake. These flocks can be up to 16 in number and are very active and have been seen around the lake into September. Their absence this year is quite noticeable. Hopefully, this failure to breed (if such has been the case) will not impinge on Lough Allen’s breeding population of this species in future years?

Unfortunately, due to the liveliness of this party of female Mergansers, no photos were obtained of them today.

Wildlife Future for Lough Allen.

Today’s report has concentrated on difficulties of two species. One other, the Common Sandpiper, also seemed to give up on Lough Allen this Summer. These effects clearly point towards a bigger problem — global warming and climate change. Two other waders were either never seen on their breeding sites (Curlew), or left their traditional nesting areas early this year (Lapwings). This is 5 of our famous dozen special species that have not bred here this year as far as we can tell.

To protect Lough Allen’s habitat and to conserve these key species we should also look to local factors which may be impinging on them. Firstly, water problems with the phosphate and Cyanobloom scourges still proceeding apace. We had hoped better control of water and waste would lead to a reduction of the level of foam and scum and ‘blue-green algal’ blooms around the lake. Not yet! if anything water quality is getting worse and both unnatural bubbling/scum and blooms are getting more widespread. Phosphate levels entering the lake must be curbed.


MONTH’s Data Sheet: July 2015













Air Temp. °C

Wind (Dir/F.)


Temp. °C

Level m.

Quality (Bubbles)



23rd, 1845-2130

clear sunny






No Data: not boat based

25th, 1100-1530

bright or sunny









30th, 0745-1215

sunny then grey


calm - NE/1-2

calm then rippled






Locations, Maps and Water Observations:


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.