Work Log for Field work undertaken by LoughAllenBasin.com during 2013. Press Home to go to Main Site

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 LABlog 2013

a new year for the Biodiversity Log
[Wildlife records from Lough Allen 2013. Last years records and accounts can now be found HERE.
All water issues are in the WaterLog]

This Log is being maintained by Frances. We would be very glad to receive any Wildlife records
regarding Lough Allen. Can you please forward them to her by eMail HERE. Other Contact details are on Home Page. 

Note: please do not send Campaigning, Lobbying, or Forwarded documents, or any material other than personal observations. Thank you!

We use this file to log sightings and observations as we get them. (It's too easy to forget!) This file is in chronological order with the newest records at the top.

This will become a long file and its function is mainly that of record. You can search records by Name of Species, or Location (if you know the Lake).

 

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year

Thanks to all those who took an interest in our work in the last year, especially those who took the trouble to visit us (some from far away) to see our Orchids.

Lets hope that 2014 is a good year for the Wildlife of Lough Allen, and that the water stays clean and sparkling!


45. Some odd-bods in Lough Allens Biodiversity!

28th. December 2013.

With little field work to do at this time of year, here are a collection of pictures of beautiful Insects taken during the year and shown just to remind us of what Summer is like!

Our main focus in Lough Allens Biodiversity has concentrated on those elements that are easy to photograph and attractive subjects, like Flowers and Birds. But there is much more to Lough Allens Biodiversity that we havent featured. However, a very wide cross section of our biota does turn up in various parts of this website and are viewed and requested by people around the world (who sometimes even come to join us). e.g.  Pellia sp (Liverwort),  Nostoc pruniforme, the mighty Spiranthes romanzoffiana; even the bacteria that grows on pink walls turned up in our pink water study in our WaterLog (WL24) as an indicator of the presence of phosphate.  Other small members of the Biodiversity include the insects, spiders and other invertebrates that we come across are equally fascinating and attractive; its just where to fit them in in a Site that is very theme-driven and concerned with monitoring populations of important species like Spiranthes orchids and Daubenton Bats.

They are not really Odd-bods, but being so small, are often overlooked. For example, while taking a close-up photograph of a newly flowering Spiranthes or Blue-eyed Grass, a Grasshopper (or Leaf Bug or Frog hopper)  may appear in the undergrowth. If it stays still for long enough, we also photograph these small creatures, and file the photographs away for another day. Perhaps its time to feature these invertebrates more, and this log is just a taster of the common, but very important, smaller animals around Lough Allen.

The 7-spotted Ladybird, Coccinella 7-punctata, a familiar sight, and a very useful insect!

 

 

 

LEFT: Mayfly emerging in early June (maybe May was too cold?)
You can see these in their hundreds on or around, the lake in early Summer. Feeding time for fish, and Fishermans Joy!

 

 

 

RIGHT: A Common green ShieldBug (Palomina prasina)
This is at the 4th instar stage; it has one more stage
 of development before it becomes an adult

 

BELOW RIGHT: Common Green Grasshopper
(Omocestus viridulus
) in a Bog Myrtle bush

 

 

 

There are many attractive insects around Lough Allen and some little known species have been found here. Two species of Abia (Sawflies) were recorded in 2011. Marsh Fritillary are found in a few locations and breed here. This is a species of some concern in Europe. May Fly, of course, are very important and Bees and Carder Bees are essential for fertilising rare plants such as the Irish Ladys Tresses, Small White Orchids and Blue-eyed Grass. Also the flashy Silver-washed Fritillary can be abundant in sunny conditions and the Moroccan Painted Lady migrates through Lough Allen in huge numbers in the Spring.

Moths as a group have been reported HERE and there are many more species to be seen and recorded. We always mean to bring together our collection of Dragon/Damsel Fly pictures and study the distribution and occurrence of the various species as these may be a valuable bio-indicator of changing water quality in Lough Allen. Certainly they are abundant in the sort of warm inlet which we have recently seen polluted. In this instance Mussels provided the sign that all was not well with the water along with the very obvious Cyanobloom! (See WaterLog WL25)

Comment:

This is the end of the 2013 Log! We love to hear from people who observe their favourite plants and animals and let us know where they found them (either around Lough Allen or elsewhere). Thanks to those who contacted us throughout this year, and hope to liaise with others in 2014. And a Happy new Year to all of you.

 

2013 has been a mixed year; some interesting and surprising events and some disappointing. The long, cold Spring may have affected the breeding of some birds including, disappointingly, Mergansers, however the hot summer brought better news. It was exciting to see Common Terns breeding successfully on Lough Allen, the first time we have seen this. Lapwings also bred successfully this year and we saw at least three young Lapwings on the east shore in August. Two Little Egrets the first record of them, as far as we know, in Co. Leitrim arrived in June and spent a day fishing in a bay on the east shore. Perhaps next year they will return to Lough Allen, and maybe they might breed here? All these events area very positive signs for the Biodiversity of Lough Allen.

The long cold spell in the Spring, at a time when birds should have been nesting and breeding. did seem to have an effect, particularly on the Mergansers. they arrived at the usual time, in late March, but no signs of breeding were seen in the following months. In the hot summer weather, when they should have been rearing young, we saw Mergansers cruising around in pairs or groups, but no sign of young ones. It was as if they had decided, after the cold start to the season, that they were taking the year off? Lets hope that 2014 brings better Spring weather and that the Mergansers get back on track!


44. Implementing a Spiranthes Protection Scheme

By Spiranthes we mean Spiranthes romanzoffiana, or, Irish Ladys Tresses, an exceedingly rare orchid found around Lough Allen and a few other sites around Ireland

OFFICE WORK.

15th December 2013

Today, we were inspired to work on developing a protection plan for the many clusters of Spiranthes romanzoffiana that occur around the east and north shore of Lough Allen. At this point in time, we know of only one plant on the western shores of the lake. The Spiranthes came up in several diverse sites but were rapidly damaged by onshore grazing in most areas. This is an unusual phenomenon and in the last six years that we have been studying Spiranthes, we have never seen so much destruction within a day or two of their emergence. It was unfortunate, and we know that all landowners that we have talked to are in favour of protecting this listed species but in many cases did not know of its occurrence on their land.

LoughAllenBasin.com have been working on a plan to conserve one specific area around the lake and we hope hope to succeed in this in one form or another. Plans have been produced and discussions have been held with National Parks and Wildlife and the Botanic Gardens, who are broadly supportive, and with two landowners to date, who are very supportive. In order to implement a pilot project, we need to broaden this base, so even if Spiranthes choose not to come up in one particular area, other populations will still be protected. It is very important that all populations of Spiranthes are protected throughout Ireland as it is in a very marginal position throughout the island of Ireland, and its only other stronghold in Europe is Scotland.

Protection methods would involve defining population areas, making sure they are closely grazed, and then excluding grazing for a period of 3 to 4 months in high summer. This is a burden on local farmers, and we very much appreciate the commitments we have been given. We feel that the loss of earnings and out of pocket expenses should be appropriately compensated, but are doubtful that the responsible authorities can readily find such funding. We are investigating such options as a Fodder For Grazing Swap, or other methodologies that will sustain many protected areas without incurring large cash payments. ]

We have made much progress along these lines today, our policy document has been finalised, and we will soon be able to launch a webpage specifically on the topic of conserving Irish Ladys Tresses. We would be delighted to hear from any other landowners who are  interested in helping us with this work.

 

43. December Wildlife

Location:  Druminalass, Kilgarriff and Annagh, 3rd December 11-1pm, Shoreline north of Drumshanbo, 4th December 2013, 2-4pm.

Weather: Calm, clear and some sun both days. Air temperature 8C

Water: Fairly calm, rippled, water temperature not taken, Lock level 2.0 m.

Intro:

This report includes wildlife records from two days; the first being a morning trip on the 3rd December to the northern part of the lake (Druminalass and Kilgarriff) where we have been keeping an eye on water quality and the effect on freshwater Mussels there (See Waterlog 25, and LabLog  41), and the second trip was on the 4th Dec to the shoreline north of Drumshanbo. Small numbers of Wildfowl were seen in all areas visited, and a large amount of two different types of Pondweed was stranded on the beach at Kilgarriff due to low water levels. Some broken open Mussel shells were found on the shoreline north of Drumshanbo, indicating presence of Otters? For this time of year, the water level was extremely low with large areas of shoreline, mud and rocks exposed. This should provide a larger feeding area for wildfowl, though only small numbers of these were seen on these two days.

 

LEFT. Shoreline north of Drumshanbo. Water level is normally up as far as the large boulders to left of picture.

Wildfowl species:

Druminalass/Annagh 3rd Dec. 2 Wigeon, 5 Teal, 2 Great Crested Grebe.

North of Drumshanbo, 4th Dec. 8 Wigeon and 11 Teal, 8 Lapwing, 2 Great crested Grebe, 3 Common Snipe.

Pondweed species.

Large bunches of Pondweed on the shore, stranded by the unusually low water level. This is most probably the Curled Pondweed, Potamogeton crispus (not an invasive species, though a related species, Laragosiphon, is invasive.) The second species found was a smaller plant, possibly 6-stamened Waterwort, which is possibly an introduced species, said to be locally common in the north west.This to be confirmed...


42. Amazing Spiranthes!

Location: Shoreline north of Drumshanbo, 3rd December 2013, 1.45-4pm

Weather: Calm, some sunny spells, some misty rain. Air temperature 8C down to 5 C at 4pm

Water: Fairly calm, water temperature not taken, Lock level 2.0 m.

Intro:

We have been monitoring the Spiranthes and their lateral buds from the time we first discovered them in September, and throughout October. Up to today, the most recent visit to this Study patch was on November 1st, when one of the plants was covered by c. 3cm of water. Other events took over for a time during November (see Waterlog and recent LabLogs), and today we visited the Study area again. Its not clear whether other naturalists have studied Lateral buds much during the Winter, so it was not clear what we would find. It was very satisfying to see all four plants with healthy Lateral buds, and quite easily found (we know the area so well now!).

The lake level has been steadily dropping from the beginning of November. Then, it was c. 2.9m, today it was only 2.0m, and a huge expanse of shoreline has appeared all around the lake, exposing mudflats, large areas of Shoreweed for ducks to feed on, and new shallow lagoons in places where they have not been seen since the Big Freeze Winter of 2010 when lake levels were extremely low due to the cold weather, and were followed by a drought in that Spring. The low water level in Lough Allen at the moment means that there is no danger (for the time being) of the Spiranthes plants being flooded. and we can carry on studying these hardy little plants which will, we hope, produce new flowering spikes next Summer?

Though we refer to them as Plants sometimes, the Lateral Buds of Spiranthes are not, apparently quite the same structure as the adult plant. They are mainly a food collecting stage of the plant and the carbohydrates built up by photosynthesis are supposedly stored in the underground tubers or rhizomes of the plant. This build up and storage of food during the time when the growing plant the aerial part that we see during the summer months has withered and died, is a way of providing for future flowering plants. Seed production in Spiranthes in Ireland does not appear to occur very often so Lateral buds (and vegetative reproduction from small pieces of underground tuber?) are important.

 

Spiranthes Study plant 1

Spiranthes Study plant 2

Spiranthes Study plant 3

 

 

 

The Lateral buds on the three specimens pictured above are in a healthy state, despite the fact that it is now December! However, there has been no frost to date and daytime temperatures are still very mild (rarely below 6 or 7C). Study Plant 1 was flooded for a time in early November (but was readily visible under the water). It it well dried out now and appears to have suffered no ill effects. This plant is the most susceptible of the four Study Plants, as it is on a shore where winter high water levels would normally cover it.

The other three Study Plants are higher up on the shore, above a small bank among grass and rushes. In the 6 years we have been studying this area, we have never seen the Winter water level rise above this bank.

Previously, we have only studied Spiranthes in the flowering season, but hope to extend this study period, and also include more plants, in 2014. Numbers of Spiranthes have been decreasing since 2008, and this is a worrying trend. Spiranthes habitats need to be grazed, but not in the flowering season; disturbance to habitat also affects them severely and we dont know if areas that have been disturbed will produce Spiranthes in future years?

LEFT. Study Plant 4

 

 

This plant has twin Lateral Buds, a feature seen less commonly in Spiranthes. Will it produce twin flowering plants, or non-flowering plants next year, the year following or when? Some researchers suggest that Spiranthes may only produce a flowering spike every few years (producing an aerial plant but no flower in other years) ... we shall see!

... new lateral buds in S. romanzoffiana are produced in the summer months and develop slowly through the autumn and winter months, to produce medium-sized plants in spring and full-sized plants in summer (Gulliver & Gulliver, 2004)... climate change at any season is likely to affect the species.

The number of Lateral Buds produced by a single plant was also studied by Gulliver and Sydes in 2003 on Coll, Inner Hebrides. They found that the new twin buds were only produced in about 2-4% of the plants studied, and of these, sometimes one of the twin buds died off in the Autumn.

 


41. Swan Mussels and clean water!

Location: Yellow River area, Druminalass, Drummans Island and Derrintober. 25th November - 3rd December

Weather: Mild, calm, some sunny bright spells, slight breezes. Air temperature 8C

Water: Quite calm or small waves, water temperature not taken, Lock level still dropping slowly from 2.15 m. to 2.0 m.

Intro:

Around Lough Allen, and in small adjoining lakes and ponds one often sees occasional Mussels shells. They seem to particularly like small backwaters where they can safely hide from predators. The Swam Mussel (Anodonta cygnus) is a very specialized Mollusc which has a vital role in an environment. It is a very useful indicator of environmental quality as, being a filter feeder, it will absorb whatever is in the water be it food or toxins! LoughAllenBasin has recently been recording a significant outbreak of pollution in an inlet on the north east coast of Lough Allen. Swam Mussels play a very important part in that story.

In this Log we wish to observe the Mussel and its habitat and lifestyle in as much as we know it. We compare four separate locations where this species occurs, one polluted (temporarily) and the other three, clean. We feature many of the details and the fascinating physiology of the Mussel and the way it adapts to its changing environment and avoids its normal enemies. It is quite versatile under normal conditions but is very susceptible to contamination in the water because of the large amounts of water each Mussel pumps through its system.

Images and Information on the Species:

Drummans Bay with Corry in the distance and Drummans Island on the right.

This is one of the clean sites for Mussels. Mussels probable occur all around the lake and probably in good numbers. We see little evidence of them a lot of the time with Otter predation normally more visible in terms of fish scales deposited on the shores. It is more common to see empty shells around small ponds. It is probably safe to say that Swan Mussels are not normally the main food of higher predators. The site shown above holds a number of Mussels most of which are well hidden. At this time, early December 2013, Lough Allen is going through a cyclical stage of low water levels unlikely to last long in this season.

Most of the Mussels in this bay remain hidden but some are actively feeding and others are moving away from the shore to avoid being stranded by falling water. No Mussels were found victims of predators such as the Otter. This area would have good Shoreweed beds and is much used by ducks such as Wigeon for grazing on the exposed mudflats.

Habitat and Life of Swan Mussels.

LEFT:

Typical habitat for Swan Mussel at Drummans Bay. The ripples and the sandy colour might indicate that this is a sandier substrate than they usually. This healthy Mussel in shallow water was busily feding very close to the surface. A prime target for any predator but they seem to be scarce in this location.

At the bottom of the picture is a typical track created by Mussels as they drag themselves across the ground. Two significant features of this animal is the muscular foot that extrudes at one end and the filtration mechanism at the top of the shell at the other end.

 

RIGHT:

Inlet and outlet systems. Water is taken in through the interlocking tentacles at the front of the shell and pumped out through the unrestricted outlet at the top. A very practical system whereby all food and dirt is screened before entering the system so the pumping mechanism is kept clear. However, this will nort save the Mussel should small harmful particles be in the suspension or, worse still, if there is toxin ni the waters. A healthy Mussel population suddenly dying is an indicator of water pollution.

LEFT:

Spaghetti Junction? These tracks are very like the tracks left when Mussels move from one location to another. There was a lot of movement at this location at Drummans but not all that many Mussels either visible or killed by predators. In fact, we noted no broken shells on the shore line. This would seem to indicate a healthy population of Mussels in clean unpolluted waters moving into deepr water as the lake level drops.

RIGHT:

A stonier rougher habitat for Mussels, normally in deeper water but cut off from the Lake today. If falling water levels persist (unlikely) this Mussel might become isolated and dried up. It seems unlike that they can migrate across dry sand?

LEFT:

DRUMINALASS: A much muddier and a polluted environment. This Mussel was stranded on a bare shore where a Blue-green Algal bloom had occurred and then the water had dropped leaving this specimen stranded and possibly poisoned. However it was still alive and trying to move down the shore and back into the water, using its foot emerging from the lower edge of its shell. Numerous Mussels had been killed and eaten by Otters in this location up to the end of November.

RIGHT:

A different substrate further out in the bay at Drummans and more prone to waves. This ground was much stonier and must have been hard to bury itself in. But the water here was very clean and this specimen was happily filtering away.

Death of Mussels at Druminalass.

LEFT:

Mussels being brought to high ground to be consumed and the cleaned out shells left at the feeding station. Hundreds of similarly eaten shells littered the north shore of this inlet.

RIGHT:

A collection of killed Mussels arranged to show the similar method the predator had gained entrance to a rather nourishing meal. This must be Otters! Otter droppings and otter footprints were seen in the area.

LEFT:

The same shore on the 25th of November when we first noticed a Cyanobloom in the area. (A bloom of toxin producing Cyanophyceae.) This was undoubtedly a threat to Mussels and a rapidly dropping water level quickly exposed them to the blloom and any toxins it contained. We believe that this exposure to contaminated killed or impaired Mussels to such an extent that they were harvested in huge numbers by the local Otters. If the Mussels contained cyanotoxins then this could have been past on to the Otters!

RIGHT: Another clean Mussel Bed.

This pictures shows the bay south of the Yellow River. It has become very shallow in recent days and Goldeneye have moved in. These, too, predate on Mussels but Mussels here are OK, plenty of tracks, few feeding, and no dead specimens found.

 

 

 

Consequences of Swan Mussels dying:

It is a shame to se a wild animal being poisoned like this. If it were Summer and many people were out on the water then the Cyanobloom could have had much more serious consequences. The Mussels are giving us a warning and that warning is... that Lough Allen again is suffering from contamination and artificial detergents and other phosphate containing waste needs to be kept out of the water. See the WaterLog for more on this topic.

CONCLUSION:

Otters are recovering  in Ireland and seem to be doing well in Lough Allen but they, too, could be affected by this incident. Eating large numbers of contaminated shellfish could kill them! The bloom at Druminalass seemed to originate at the river entrance at the east end of the north shore and then spread westwards over a few days to cover the whole shore and even spread outside the inlet entrance into Lough Allen. It was prevalent at the east end first and that is where we first found numerous eaten Mussels. On the 3rd December we noted that from the western edge of the north shore to roughly the centre point 44 Mussels shells were on the shore along with much Cyan tinted (formerly bloom covered) vegetation, 25 of these were closed and unharmed. Of the closed Mussels exposed on the shore we know 4 were alive and the probability is that most of them were alive. They may have been too sick to move but why werent they eaten and why wasnt there the same disproportionate number of bitten and eaten shells. We are sure that the vast majority of shells on the first infected part of the shore had been broken open and eaten. Had the Otters been sickened or just moved on? A disturbing possibility?

Hope this introduction to a wonderful species has not been too depressing and we expect to report a final end to the bloom shortly.

 

40. Goldeneye and Jack Snipe

Location: Yellow River area, Fahy, Thursday 28th and Saturday 30th November, midday trips

Weather: Mild, calm, some sunny bright spells, slight breezes. Air temperature 8C

Water: Quite calm or small waves, water temperature not taken, Lock level still dropping slowly from 2.1m on Thursday to 2.06m on Saturday

A small group of Goldeneye taking off near the Yellow River, November 29th

 

Goldeneye and Jack Snipe:

Two striking birds that we have recorded in recent days around Lough Allen. The Jack Snipe is an extremely attractive bird, a little smaller and less noisy than the Common Snipe, with much stronger golden stripes on the back. Their beak is shorter than that of the Common Snipe. Jack Snipe can be found around Lough Allen where it is quiet, muddy and marshy with some vegetation for cover. We have seen them near Yellow River and also near Drumshanbo, sometimes along with Common Snipe. They are almost impossible to see before they rise up very suddenly, almost from under your feet, and fly very quietly away. In one area, 26 were flushed from one small muddy and grassy patch. In other areas, one or two were seen along with Common Snipe. They occur here as Winter visitors usually between September and March. Jack Snipe that overwinter in Ireland breed in Scandinavia and Russia. The bird books say that they are usually seen singly, but we have seen them in a group of 26?

Goldeneye are also welcome Winter visitors to Lough Allen, arriving in just recently and should be around until February or March, when they leave for breeding grounds in Scandinavia. However, one pair was reported to have bred in Lough Neagh in 2000 and breeding is reported to be increasing in Scotland where nest boxes were provided in the ducks wintering areas. Breeding numbers increased from one pair in 1970 to 95 pairs in 1990.


LEFT: A Jack Snipe, such as the ones we have seen recently around Lough Allen. Unfortunately, we werent able to get photographs of them yet (they move so fast!) so we have used this very nice one by Tony Hisgett (sourced on Wikipedia Commons). Keep an eye out for these lovely Winter visitors!

 

 

 

RIGHT: Pair of Goldeneye quietly swimming on the lake. The males are quite easy to spot as they appear so white, and have rather large heads with very distinctive white cheek patches. The females have smaller heads and a more demure grey colouration. with white markings on the wings.

 

Jack Snipe, Lymnocryptes minimus

 

Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

LEFT: Three Goldeneye (the female in front) flying off when disturbed near the Yellow River.

 

It was good to see these ducks in The Yellow River area over the past two days. There were two males and one female so far. Goldeneye have occurred in some local lakes (like Lough Meelagh) in good numbers in other years, but the numbers in Lough Allen are usually very small. Perhaps the smaller, shallower lakes suit them better as there would be better feeding? They feed on invertebrates mostly crustaceans but they also take molluscs and insect larvae and occasionally small fish.

Invertebrates are plentiful in the muddy shallow waters near the Yellow River where the Goldeneye have been spotted in the past few days. They have also been seen in a small sheltered inlet on Lough Allen near Fahy, which appears to support huge numbers of Swan mussels. Hundreds of Mussel shells were found on the muddy edges of this inlet in the past few days (water levels have been dropping and Mussels that have been stranded  appear to have been eaten by Otters. Goldeneye would have good feeding areas in this sheltered inlet also...

 

 


39. A little bit of Ecology...

Location: The whole east shore and parts of the west shore, Saturday 23rd, Monday 25th and Wednesday 27th November, all midday trips

Weather: Saturday cold and calm; other days milder, calm, misty very slight breezes. Air temperature 5C Sat to 9C on Wednesday

Water: Quite calm or small waves, water temperature 8 - 8.8C and lock level gently dropping to 2.14m. on Wednesday

 

Observations on Wildfowl in Lough Allen:

During the past few days (Sat 23rd to Wed 27th) we have been looking for wildfowl around Lough Allen and observations some of their habits. The species observed are mainly Wigeon and Teal, which can be found in sheltered and secluded bays and inlets all around the lake. It is possible to see them from the shore, but they are quite wild still, and move off quickly. It is much more efficient to search for them by boat, and we covered the north section of the lake this way on Monday 25th, and the south end two days later. The weather was fairly fine, however photography was difficult for much of the time as it was quite overcast and dark.

The water level on the lake is very low (2.14m as measured at Drumshanbo Lock) and this has meant that large areas of one of our favourite plants of Lough Allen, the Shoreweed, are showing on the foreshore. There is a relative of the Shoreweed called Mudwort a tiny plant which occurs in a few locations in Lough Allen and is quite rare. However, we are much more interested in the very common Shoreweed, as it plays such an vital and important part in the ecology of the lake. It forms extensive carpets of green rather like a grassy lawn at the edge of the shore, in among the boulders and stones and mud. It is in such places that you will find evidence of ducks or other birds resting and feeding, and where the Shoreweed is disturbed, flattened and with many discarded feathers. However, it is in the wintertime, when ducks such as Wigeon and Teal return to the lake, that it really comes into its own.

This is the situation that we have observed over the past few days. In a number of areas around the lake we have come across large flocks of Wigeon on a shoreline that is covered with Shoreweed. The area is muddy and trampled by many little feet and the ducks have been feeding extensively on the Shoreweed. On the ground, and even in the shallow water (Shoreweed is quite happy to grow here also) there are huge numbers of uprooted plants, with most of the green part nibbled off. Since the ducks dont seem to eat the roots (see pictures below), its quite probable that these plants will settle and grow again.

Teal are also found in these Shoreweed meadows, though it is not so obvious if they are feeding there, or just resting. Most of the feathers we have seen in these areas are Wigeon feathers, but large flocks of Teal (up to 40) have been seen in these areas as well as the Wigeon. There are a couple of areas around the lake where the Shoreweed stretch is quite extensive, but there are hundreds of smaller patches all along the shoreline and on the islands. It is a very important feeding place for Wildfowl, and probably other species as well. That is our reason for having such a high regard for this plant... though small, it has an important part in the ecology of Lough Allen!

Shoreweed Meadow.

This is the fertile area at Drummans in the north end of the lake  that provides rich pickings for our Ducks on low water Winter days. They just love Shoreweed (Yes, it is the name of a plant) and will feed on it exclusively when it is available.

On the right, a single Shoreweed plant uprooted, showing the root intact but most of the upper part eaten away. Just one green frond remains. The picture below right shows many chewed and pulled up remnants of Shoreweed in the same area, largely the work of Wigeon though Teal also feed in this habitat.

 

 

 

Wigeon in Flight.

A small flock of female Wigeon (left) taking off at the southern end of the lake. These had been feeding enthusiastically on exposed Shoreweed beds. A large flock of Teal were also present in this area.  Much foam was present along the shoreline which could have been exacerbated by this frenzied feeding activity but looked as if it had a synthetic component?

 

Main Species found during this survey...

Wigeon

93

Drummans, Rossmore, Druminalass, Mountallen and Corlough

Wigeon well distributed around the lake in secluded and sheltered areas where the Shoreweed flourishes.

Teal

124

Rossmore, Druminalass,Mountallen, Corlough

Teal in large flocks but very wild and easily spooked.

Lapwing

5

All seen on The Spit, and flew south

Havent seen Lapwings for some time around the lake are these migrants?

Curlew

8

Fahy and around Spiranthes Islands.

Small numbers of Curlew for this time of year?

Jack Snipe

26

Most (25) were in one small area at Fahy. One at Corlough

An unusually large number of Jack Snipe!

Common Snipe

3

The Spit

 

Whooper Swans

17

Holly Island and Inishfale

 

Great Crested Grebe

11

Rossmore, Derrintober, Drumshanbo

 

Kingfisher

1

Holly Island shore

A welcome sight! We rarely see a Kingfisher these days.


38. October 2013

Research & Development:

This month we have been busy planning a project for next year, Our aim is to try and protect the Spiranthes in one particular area on the south side of the lake by excluding grazing animals for 3 or four months of the year. This is being planned with the help of the landowner, who is interested and helpful with our plans. We have also got much help and advice from others, including the NPWS and the Orchid specialist in the Botanic Gardens. The idea is to erect a fence in an area where Spiranthes is known to occur (and where many plants flowered this year). The area inside the fence, as well as the rest of the land, would be grazed throughout the Winter, Spring and early Summer. Short vegetation is essential for growth of Spiranthes and many other orchids. At the critical growth period, that is, around the middle of July when the earliest Spiranthes plants will be starting to show above ground, the gate to this Spiranthes Study area will be closed and grazing animals excluded for a period of 3 to 4 months. This would allow the orchid to flower without being grazed or trampled on, and could, potentially, allow the plant to go on to develop seed capsules, which have rarely been seen in Ireland. We are making headway with this project and one of the next tasks will be to find funding.

In addition to the Project planning, we are monitoring a small number of Spiranthes plants, in the proposed Study area, which have developed lateral buds. These lateral buds are doing well (see previous Lab Logs nos. 36 and 35). It will be interesting to see to see how long these lateral buds will continue to grow, and if new Spiranthes plants will develop exactly at the same spot as these buds next year. Spiranthes plants have not been monitored in this way throughout the Autumn and Winter before as far as we know and it is not clear if a flowering plant will appear in the same spot the in following year, in two years, or even longer. Spiranthes is said to be able to survive underground for many years.

It wasnt all office and project planning, however. During the month we have made regular trips to the lake shore to assess the proposed Study area, to keep an eye on on any wildfowl present around the lake and to take photographs for our Autumn page (see HERE). During October the weather was pleasantly warm, for the most part, with good Autumn sun. The water quality appeared to be very good. Wildfowl seen during the month included:-

Wigeon: Small numbers, maximum of 8 on 24/10. Whoopers: 8, making a lot of noise!  6/11. Great Crested Grebe: One seen most days in south end of lake. Teal: Maximum of 15 birds seen on 4/11, small numbers other days. Curlew: 4 near Kilgarriff on 24/10. Snipe: Up to 8 seen most days between Drumshanbo and Cormongan. This is quite a small number for Lough Allen, however, mnay sheltered bays favoured by these wildfowl are only reachable by boat. Hopefully, on a calm November or December day we will be able to survey more of the lake!

Autumn in Pictures
More Autumn images HERE


Just a couple of attractive seasonal images to highlight the decaying beauty of October.

LEFT (Tree Planting for Butterflies.)

The beautiful Alder Buckthorn, not common but very well suited to Leitrim. It thrives in wet ground, fruits over a long period and is the food species for the Brimstone Butterfly which is scarce here. These are trees we planted a few years ago and now are a very attractive little forest in our garden.

RIGHT

 Buff Tip Moth Caterpillar busily feeding on Hornbeam leaves.

 

 

 

 


37. A late Merganser

Location: Boat trip around southern end of lake. 2 - 5pm October 8th

Weather: Wind NW F3 at first reducing in evening. Mostly overcast. 14C.

Water: Quite choppy at launch but calm on return. Water temp. 15.6C. 2.5m at Drumshanbo Lock

Intro:

Main intent of this trip was to seek Autumn waterfowl and to confirm the pattern of improving water quality. Happily, water was in superb condition, quite rough at first but calming down as we headed south from Cormongan. Off Inishfail wind was channeled (maybe with a strong water flow) leading to a smooth low swell pushing the boat along. Despite these conditions, and this location, no large permanent bubbles were left behind the boat. Equally, no foam was seen on south east shores facing the wind or, indeed, anywhere. There was a good sprinkling of Ducks around, with one surprising record.

Waterfowl:

First thing to catch our attention as we passed The Spit was this Merganser sheltering in the channel inside the reef...

We really must apologise for this photo. We would not publish it except that this is the latest we have seen any Mergansers in Lough Allen. We believe it is a female but the bird was very wary and took flight much earlier than Mergansers do during the breeding season. Is this a late Summer visitor still here, or could it be a passage migrant heading south and stopping in Lough Allen to rest and feed? We do not know of such migratory behaviour but we do know that many waders such as Curlew, Whimbrel, Redshank, Greenshank pass over the lake both in Spring and Autumn.

Other Ducks present were c. 40 Mallard, and about 15 Teal between Spiranthes Islands and Mountallen Bay. 1 Wigeon was also sheltering in the inlet north of Drumshanbo. Its unusual to see Wigeon alone but we failed to locate anymore despite careful search south of Inishfail and scouring both the east and west shore up as far as Arigna and Cormongan. All ducks, including Mallard were very wild and scattered around most of the area covered. Hopefully many more Wigeon and Teal will occur this Winter and maybe some other species as well.

Comment:

Good to have the water clear, if a bit wild, and very interesting to see a Merganser back on the lake. As reported earlier we made valiant efforts to check breeding this year but never saw a flock of young such as we saw last Autumn. It would be very interesting to see further Mergansers at this time of the year. Anyone seeing them, do please Contact Me! A good photograph would be a bonus?

 

36. Pioneering work on Spiranthes

Location: Shoreline north of Drumshanbo, 2-4pm 1st October 2013

Weather: Misty with heavy rain later and a stiff Easterly breeze. (First rain for about 10 days).  Air temperature c. 14C

Water: Quite choppy, water temperature and lock level not taken today.

Intro:

As we had been away on an Autumn break for 2 weeks, we were anxious to check the Spiranthes Study Site to see if the plants were still surviving and, more importantly, whether any seed had been set and if the lateral buds (seen on the last visit) were still growing. The water level in the lake has not changed much since our last visit on September 14th (Log 35) and there appears to be no danger of flooding (yet) where the Spiranthes plants are. Some improvement work is being done on this farmland; however the Spiranthes area near the shore is not being disturbed which is great. There are a few cattle on this land but none were seen in the Spiranthes area and there appears to be little grazing near the Study Site.

Spiranthes:

All four plants were just about visible though in a very withered condition. The flowers were brown and shrivelled, and none, disappointingly, showed any further sign of capsule development and seed production. One plant had become detached from the soil and was lying on the grass where it had fallen. Its possible that this plant was knocked over by cattle or some other animal, however, all the plants are quite old and the stems are quite thin. It could just as easily have been blown over in the wind as it is the one surviving plant that is the most exposed, being close to the bank above the shore with very little, apart from grass and rushes, to protect it. The other surviving plants are either near small trees, or are in a more sheltered position away from the bank.

These 4 photographs show a now dead flower head and Buds from 3 specimens. The fourth specimen was in a similar condition.

In all four study plants the lateral buds at the base of the stems were healthy and strong. These showed quite clearly the emergent orchid leaf shape and form, with a slightly curled tip. Three of the plants had one lateral bud, the fourth had two. (See pictures below). All these lateral buds were a much darker green compared to when they were first seen 16 days ago, indicating a good level of photosynthesis and is a good sign for success of plants here in future years. We will continue to monitor these plants for as long as we can see any sign of bud growth.

ABOVE: Single Lateral Bud of Spiranthes, flower stalk just to the right  (1/10/2013)

LEFT: Well developed single Lateral Bud of Spiranthes, old flower stalk to the left of Bud (1/10/2013)

 

 

The lateral buds photosynthesise and the carbohydrate produced is stored in the underground portions of the plant. There are a lot of questions to be answered here. Will the presence of a lateral bud in the Autumn result in a new plant at the exact same spot next year, or will it be two years or more? If a plant does not produce lateral buds at the end of the flowering season, does this mean that the plant may not appear the following year? We dont know if lateral buds were produced in Lough Allen Spiranthes in other years (especially in the good Summers); there is very little in the literature about this feature of Spiranthes and this Autumn was the first time we knew of the existence of lateral buds. A long-term study of this feature of Spiranthes at this Study Site could throw up interesting facts about its life cycle.

LEFT: Twin Lateral Buds of Spiranthes, the pale brown plant stalk showing clearly just to the left (1/10/2013)

RIGHT: Withered Flower head and stalk of Spiranthes, showing no sign of capsules (1/10/2013)

Comment

It was a real Autumn day, misty but not cold. The mild weather means that the Lateral Buds in Spiranthes can continue to photosynthesise and store food for next, and following years. Though rain is forecast for much of the rest of this week, the Study Site is fairly safe from flooding as it is fairly high up on the shore and easily accessible. Around the Site there was a modest number of birds; about 30 Mallard, 15 Teal, some Curlews and Black-headed Gulls and 4 or 5 Snipe. All were seen or heard along this stretch of sheltered lake shore. But the main task of the day was Spiranthes, and we will continue to study this Site, weather permitting, and to work on possible Conservation measures during the Winter months.


35. Great News: Spiranthes thriving!

Location:  1: North east Lough Allen from Corry to Fahy, including the islands, shoals and bays,10am-2pm. 2: Drumshanbo 4-6pm. 14th September 2013

Weather: Sunny and clear with very light breeze. Occasional short squall. No rain. Air temperature 10.5-15.5C

Water: Smooth and clear, slight ripples. Temperature 15.4-17.2C. Level at Lock 2.5m

Spiranthes:

Today we checked out the surviving 4 Spiranthes specimens near Drumshanbo. The flowers may be withered but in other ways they are thriving, and this bodes well for the survival of the plants in Lough Allen, but particularly in our Study Site. Big thanks to the farmer who is helping us with this study! Spiranthes needs a site that is grazed for much of the year, but ungrazed (or only lightly grazed) during their growing season, mid July to early Autumn. This year is a good time to try and conserve these important plants both in Ireland and in Northern Ireland and to study how they adapt to our changing weather and especially our changing summers. Today, we saw two extremely positive signs of the plants reproductive survival; namely the development of lateral buds in all 4 surviving specimens, and, early capsule (which forms the seed) development in one of the plants.

Intro:

Before the Spiranthes trip in the afternoon, we surveyed the north end of the lake by boat to check for possible signs of young Mergansers, as we had seen no young at all this year.  Visited the islands and bays along the north-east shore of Lough Allen, from Corry to Rossmore to Druminalass and Fahy. Details of species seen are listed below the Spiranthes photographs....

Early seed capsule formation on one Spiranthes plant. If these go on to develop seed, they will be dispersed by the wind and allow Spiranthes to spread.

Lateral bud developing at the base of Spiranthes. These will photosynthesise and build up reserves for the tuber, and are the basis for next years plants...

All four study plants were found to have lateral buds!

Other species:

It was a beautiful Autumn day, calm and sunny, and the lake was looking clear and clean and beautiful. It was good to get out and about and do our housekeeping in advance of our Annual 2 week break at the end of the season! In particular, we were pleased to see a group of Black-headed Gulls on Corry Shoal seemingly quite settled and attached to this tiny outcrop. They didnt breed here; this was Lesser Black-backed Gull breeding territory! But the Lesser Black-backs have dispersed with their small numbers of this years young, and the Black-headed Gulls have taken over for the time being. There were 15 on the Shoal this morning; 9 adults and 6 young ones. They shared the territory with two Greater Black-backed Gulls, one was a young one. One other interesting species was the sighting of a Little Grebe near the Fahy shoreline. We have seen only about four or five Little Grebes in Lough Allen in the past five years? No Mergansers seen, though this was not unexpected? Other birds seen included 2 Great crested Grebes, 5 Herons,  5 Cormorants, 10 Snipe, 4 Common Gulls, 20+ Mallard.

Comment:

Spiranthes were the real highlight today, and we are very encouraged by the reproductive health of the plants remaining around Lough Allen. We will continue to study these specimen plants for as long as we can, and, throughout the Winter and Spring, work on a 5 year Conservation plan...


34. Daubentons Survey 2

Location: Shannon River from Galley Bridge at Mahanagh to The Sluices, 9.13pm-10.40pm, 30th August 2013

Weather: Slightly cloudy at first, then very clear and starry. Very light breeze at first, then calm. No rain. Air temperature c. 12C

Water: Clear, no foam

The second stage of the annual Daubentons Bat Survey was done tonight. Conditions were excellent, weather was quite mild, water very clean and calm. There was some cloud cover at the start but it cleared about halfway through our survey to become a starry night, a slight mist appearing on the river at just one site site 6. Numbers seen were good especially at The Sluices, where we normally get large numbers. But tonight was a record, with 114 being counted in 4 minutes! We have sent our results to Bat Conservation Ireland, and our results for 2013 are given in brief below.

National Daubenton's Bat Surveys have been organised by Bat Conservation Ireland for many years and are carried out by volunteers on waterways all over Ireland on two separate nights in August. Our survey area is a stretch of the Shannon River near Drumshanbo, from Galley Bridge  on the R280 (SITE 1) to the Sluices (SITE 10) at Lough Allen and this is the eighth year we have surveyed this site. This year the two surveys were done on 10th and 30th of August. The surveys are carried out at night, starting 40 mins after sunset as Daubenton's bats fly from dusk and feed solely over water. On a river stretch the procedure is to count the number of Daubentons flying up and down. It involves recording the number times a bat passes an observation point over a period of 4 minutes at each site (using a Bat Detector tuned to 35MHertz to localise the bats) then see them as they pass through a torch beam. Ten locations are evenly spaced along a 1km survey stretch. Sometimes it can be awkward moving from one site to the next if we have to pass along a mucky patch by the river (in the dark!) but most places especially this year it was dry and easy to proceed.

The numbers were up quite a bit on recent years, which is great to see. The conditions were ideal with water level being fairly low, and no pollution seen.  Pollution has been a worrying trend around Lough Allen in the past few years, and we had been concerned that foam and pollution might inhibit the feeding of Daubentons Bats. However this year, thankfully, water quality appears to have improved markedly and no foam patches or clumps were seen in the river.

Table LABDB.7B   Daubenton Bats Numbers* at Survey Sites on Shannon River, 2013

 

SITE No:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

10th August 2013

20

11

8

7

20

33

15

10

9

65

30th August 2013

50

14

15

19

33

47

16

22

18

114

 * These are total numbers including small numbers of individuals only detected audibly.

Total Daubentons seen (in all 10 sites) for Survey 1: 198 Daubentons.

Total Daubentons  seen (in all 10 sites) for Survey 2: 318 Daubentons.

Total Daubentons Bats seen in both Surveys, 1 & 2: 516 Daubentons.

These Daubentons numbers are good; we havent seen total numbers this high since 2010. Especially since the weather was so cold up to May and even early June and this could have affected the bats breeding success, and the availability of food for adults and young. But the excellent weather in July and the good weather even up to this week, made up for the early cold conditions and provided plenty of insect food for these bats. At some sites on this second survey, the bats often came quite close to where we sat on the bank, one even coming within a few feet of us to catch a particularly large moth! At site 10 on the second survey (always the best site, just below the Sluices) the bats were so busy flying around and feeding that it was very hard to record the numbers there were so many passing by!  The number seen here on Survey 2 was 114 Daubentons  the highest we have ever seen in eight years of recording.

For more information... Bat Conservation Ireland SURVEYS... Arkive BIO_INFO... Lough Allen Basin STUDY


 

 

33. Summer flying away...

Wildlife flying away from L. Allen. Its a symbol of the lake emptying of natural riches that we use this elegant shot
of a common species, the Mute Swan, taking off in the centre of the lake. Not much else left to photograph!

Location: Cormongan, Termon, Derrintober, 2.45pm-6.15pm 26th August 2013

Weather: Fine but cloudy, no wind. Air temperature 16.2-17.5C

Water: Rippled but pretty calm, temperature 18C, level at lock 2.6m.

 

Intro:

How the Summer has flown? There have been some high points... the breeding of Lapwings near Yellow River and Common Terns on the other side of the Lake, the survival of Spiranthes orchids near Drumshanbo and the visitors who came from Britain and Europe to see them. The need and possibility of a new conservation initiative in their interest. But for other species it has been a year of fighting the elements, a cold Spring and high water levels deterred Gulls and Mergansers from nesting in their usual places.

Today we made a few final checks for 2013. Firstly, to see if there was any sign of the Common Terns and their young in the Termon area, and also if there were any Mergansers adult or young to be seen around the south end of the lake.  Traveling from Cormongan northwards for about 2 miles to where the Terns had been nesting. Then checking the western shore as far south as Inishfail, especially in among the flooded Alders, for signs of Mergansers. From here across to Derrintober to see if there were any Spiranthes still remaining, and if so, had they set seed.

 

Species:

Common Tern.

No sign of the Terns at their nest site, either adults or young. On our last visit to this site (4th August see HERE) the adult Terns were quite active and there was (at least) one well-grown chick half-hidden in the vegetation close to the nest. Today, we landed at the nest site and searched all around the site but there was no sign of recent occupation or indeed no sign that there had been any chick fatalities! Is it possible that all three eggs hatched and were successfully reared though we only have photographs of one? In any case, it is a very positive result for the Common Terns, which (as far as we know) have failed to rear young on Lough Allen in the past few years.

Mergansers.

No sign of Mergansers off Cormongan, or in mid-lake (where, because of the calmness of the water, they would have been easy to see from a distance). None either on the western shore or Inishfail. A very disappointing year for Mergansers as it appears that they were not successful in breeding.

Spiranthes.

Checked the shoreline at Derrintober (south of the Spiranthes islands) but no Spiranthes were seen. The grass was quite recently grazed and quite short. However, in the new area on higher ground, three of the original group of seven Spiranthes plants were located. The original GPS location was marked, then a search made in a 3m circle around this spot. The Spiranthes flowers were withered and brown, and the plants themselves quite frail and difficult to find! From the photographs taken, it doesnt look like they have set seed. We are now planning steps to conserve this valuable species with help from local farmers and Landowners. More about this later.

Other Species: 8 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (including 3 of this years chicks); 10 Black-headed Gulls (4 adult, 6 young ones); 3 Herons; 3 Cormorants; About 35 Mallard around Spiranthes Islands; 6 Mute Swans and one Little Grebe (not often seen around Lough Allen).

 


 

32. Late Summer on Lough Allen

 

Location: Fahy, on the east shore of Lough Allen, 2.30-4.30pm 23rd August 2013

Weather: Fine, no wind, some sun. Air temperature c.17C

Water: Ruffled, temperature not taken, water level at lock 2.6m.

Intro:

A late Summer check of the Fahy area, covering the beaches to the north and south of the Yellow River, and the Yellow River estuary itself. Our goal was to see what birds were around; there have been no sightings of Mergansers for some time, also there was a possibility that the young Lapwings might be still around.

Wagtails found in Ireland are Motacilla alba yarrelli (with a Black back) The White Wagtail is Motacilla alba alba, with a grey back.

Left, Juvenile Pied Wagtail

Right, Adult Pied Wagtail

 

 

 

 

Species:

Curlew (5), Snipe (13), and numerous Pied Wagtails with some juveniles, all busy feeding along the shoreline.

Wagtails are found in Ireland all year round, but they also occur as passage migrants. Icelandic birds (of the alba subspecies) are often found in Britain and Ireland from August through October. Perhaps some of these birds came from the far north and were just taking advantage of the warm day and insects on the shoreline at Fahy?

No sign of Mergansers or Lapwings, however.

 

Left, Marsh Cudweed, Gnaphalium uliginosum

Right, Changing Forget-me-not, Myosotis versicolor


 

31. Final Report for Spiranthes romanzoffiana in 2013

Final count:

A final check of sites around Lough Allen for Spiranthes has been completed  as of August 13th 2013. Locations where Spiranthes occurred this year, or have been seen in previous years, were all surveyed again and no further plants were found. In addition, a few new areas at the north end of the lake, where the vegetation appears suitable, were surveyed but none were found.

The total count for Lough Allen in 2013 was 34 plants, a slight increase on last year (30) but down from 2011 (69) and 2010 (85).

We also looked for Spiranthes in a few other locations in counties Mayo and Galway. Ten were found at Lough Cullin, one at Levally Lough, and three at Lough Corrib. (Thanks to Sorcha at Grasshopper Cottage for showing us these Co. Galway Spiranthes)

Comment:

This was a mixed year for Spiranthes. On the one hand, numbers at the north end of the lake which are normally good were disappointing this year, or were grazed. However, the site at Derrintober, where Spiranthes had not been seen between 2008 and 2012, made up in some way for this. This, also, was a year when we had many visitors coming to Ireland and to Lough Allen, to see Spiranthes and we were glad that the Derrintober site, and the Spiranthes, were in perfect condition for all these visiting botanists! Thanks to all of them for visiting and complementing our work, and hope that next year will be a better one for these beautiful orchids.

For more information on our visiting botanists this year, see Operation Spiranthes 2013

 

 

 

30. Daubentons Survey

Location: Shannon River from Railway bridge Mahanagh to The Sluices, 9.55pm-11.59pm, 10th August 2013

Weather: Cloudy at first, then very clear and starry. No breeze, no rain. Air temperature c. 12C

Water: Clear, no foam

First stage of the annual Daubentons Bat Survey was done tonight. Conditions were excellent, reasonably mild, water very clean and calm. A fair amount of cloud cover at the start but very clear at the end. Numbers seen were okay, good in places, especially at The Sluices where we normally get large numbers. Full details will be given when the second survey is completed and we have reported to Bat Conservation Ireland.

For more information... Bat Conservation Ireland SURVEYS... Arkive BIO_INFO... Lough Allen Basin STUDY

 

Daubentons Bat (Myotis daubentonii) resting on a Pine tree in Finland.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Rauno Kalda.
(Many thanks for the excellent service)

 

 


 

29. Covering the ground; Spiranthes update

Location: South end of Lough Allen, east and west shore and the islands. 9am--3pm, 7th August 2013

Weather: NW breeze F1/2, Cloudy, some sun. Air temperature c. 18C

Water: Ruffled, water temperature 18.3-19.1C, level at Drumshanbo lock 2.68m

 

Intro:

There were a number of areas around the south end of the lake where we hadnt checked for Spiranthes this year, but where none had been found in the past. Today, we covered most of the gaps along the eastern shore, including an area where we first found Spiranthes in 2008, and an area on the western shoreline. We had to be sure that we covered the ground, in case we had missed some Spiranthes?

Spiranthes.

No new plants found, either in new areas, or existing sites. We checked the eastern shore at Corlough, which is just south of Derrintober the best Spiranthes area around Lough Allen this year. The shoreline at Corlough has been grazed in the recent past and the vegetation cover is quite short and suitable. Plenty of Pennywort and some Creeping Jenny present; plants which often are found in association with Spiranthes, but no Spiranthes were found. No new plants at the Derrintober site, though the old plants are still hanging on.

Landed on The Spit, a place where we found our very first Spiranthes plants in 2008. The water level here was quite high, with most of the vegetation under water, apart from a few piles of stone and vegetation which was clear of the water. No Spiranthes found, but even if the water level had not been high, we dont think that the Spiranthes would have appeared?

We checked some of the western shore of the lake, especially in the bay north of Inishfail, where the shore had been grazed recently and the vegetation height was suitable but no Spiranthes were found here either.

As we havent had any more records from our contacts on the western shore, apart from the one Spiranthes found on Holly Island about ten days ago, our tally for Spiranthes for 2013 remains at 34.

Flooding at The Spit, south Lough Allen; Round Island and Long Island in the background.
 

Other species.

No Mergansers seen today around the south end of the lake, either adult or young.  This was very disappointing; it looks like they may have had a failed breeding season because of the cold and rainy weather earlier in the season? Saw 13 Curlews around Spiranthes Islands, moving back and forth between here and Corlough shore. One Great Crested Grebe, about 14 Malland (3 of them young ones), 2 Cormorants, about 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 2 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Herons on The Spit and 3 Snipe on the western shore near Inishfail.

On Corlough shore, noticed a patch of very small streaks of Blue Green algae. This was in shallow water, and some of the streaks were resting on top of clumps of decaying Green Algae. Took a sample of this Blue-green algae and later examined it under the microscope. Anabaena was present, but at a low concentration. Very few Heterocysts were seen in this sample, which might indicate that the blue-green algae were not very active? In addition, these Anabaena were in simple chains, some very short (perhaps 10 cells long) others lightly coiled with up to 30 or 40 cells. No colonies were seen that resembled the tightly packed colonies with hundreds of cells, seen during the Bloom of 2012. We dont believe there is any risk of a bloom with these small concentrations of Anabaena.

ADDENDUM:

Annagh Lake was thoroughly checked for Spiranthes again on August 8th, but no plants were found.

Comment:

It looks as if the Spiranthes season is coming to a close, as no new plants have been found in the last 5 days. On many of the existing plants there are brown, withering flowers at the bottom of the flowering spike; however, on one specimen (which had 30+ flowers on the flowering spike on August 2nd) a couple of new flowers have opened at the tip of the spike, while the lower ones are withering. (Seen from photographs taken of it on August 2nd and again on the 7th).

Thanks to the people who came to see and appreciate Spiranthes in Lough Allen last week; hope we can keep up contact (delighted to have some feedback and/or photographs from you!) Perhaps we can  forge links with other Spiranthes enthusiasts in the future?


 

28. Biodiversity, north end of lake

Location: Corry, Drummans and the islands and inlets on the north shore. 12noon-5.30pm, 4th August 2013

Weather: SW breeze, Warm and mostly sunny. Air temperature c. 19C

Water: Very light swell, water temperature 19.7-20.4C, level at Drumshanbo lock 2.66m

Intro:

Today we covered a large area around the north end of the lake, including Drummans Island, the west shore as far as Tarmon, then across the lake to the Yellow River area. Checked Fahy Island and Shoal, Druminalass lake, Rossmore, Gull Islands and Corry Shoal. One of our goals today was to see if the Terns on the north end of the lake had bred successfully (When the nest was discovered on July 8th (see Log 21) it contained three eggs and was in a very secluded location.) Checked a few locations for possible Spiranthes that we hadnt got around to yet.

Species:

Common Tern.

A pair, with at least one fat chick! As we neared the nest site, we noticed an adult very close to the nest site which flew off, screaming and calling. Watching with binoculars, we eventually saw a slight movement in the vegetation close to the water; one well-fed Tern chick, keeping very still and holding its head high amongst the grass. We could only see one chick; there could possibly have been another one or two behind it in the grass?  Took some photographs (see below) taking care not to get too close. Meanwhile, the other adult arrived back, with a fish in its mouth! The two adults spent a little time harassing a Lesser Black-backed Gull that happened to fly above the nest, and we moved away to leave them to it. A brilliant sight to see Common Terns successfully breeding on Lough Allen at last!

Spiranthes.

Checked Drummans Island and some of the shore south of there for Spiranthes, but none were found. Druminalass Lake had a few small specimens in 2008, but there were none there today. In Rossmore, no new plants were found many of the plants found two weeks ago have been grazed, but two still remain on a rocky part of the shore that is not grazed.

Other species.

Merganser.

Two females were seen flying from Fahy Shoal towards Church Island, landed just off the southern tip of the island. Checked in this area a few hours later but no further sign of them. These were the only Mergansers we saw today

 

 Amphibious Bistort, a beautiful floating plant on Lough Allen

Lapwing.

The Lapwing sightings for today are covered in an Addendum to Log 26! 

Heron.

Possibly 9+. One group of 7, at Rossmore. This is probably the largest group we have seen on Lough Allen in recent years. The heronry at Church Island may have been abandoned, and these may Herons may have set up elsewhere? The other 2, or possibly 3, were seen at Druminalass Lake.

Lesser Black-backed Gull.

About 11 around the north end of Lough Allen. Two adults plus 2 young ones flying offshore near Church Island. Single adult and one young off Gull Island, further adult and one young off Little Gull Island. On Corry Shoal (their present breeding colony in the north end of the lake) there were three adult Gulls.

Cormorant.

3 in all. Two near the Shannon Estuary, One on Fahy Shoal.

Kingfisher.

One, on Termon shoreline. We dont see these beautiful birds much around the lake...

Adult Tern keeping an eye on the nest below. Apologies for the Photo; these Terns were staying very high, not bombing us, and using a special alarm call, different from the attack call they use on Gulls, to warn their young (1 or more) to keep still!

 

Young Common Tern keeping very quiet... we were curious to know if the other 2 eggs had successfully hatched but thought it best not to disturb them!

 

 

 

Comment:

A great sight to see these Terns today, and especially following the sighting of young Lapwings the other day. Two brilliant examples of Lough Allens Biodiversity!


 

27. Distinguished botanical visitors to Lough Allen...

We have had a busy weekend, with welcome visitors from Ireland, England and the Czech Republic coming to Lough Allen especially to see Irish Ladys Tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana! More about this later, when we catch up on our other work! See Operation Spiranthes HERE!


26. Lapwings at Lough Allen!

Location: Yellow River area,   9am-11.30am 2nd August 2013

Weather: Strong SW wind (c. F4). Warm, very little rain, some sun

Water: Very choppy and rough, Water level not taken, but has been rising

Lapwings near the Yellow River, east Lough Allen

Intro:

The purpose of this trip was to check an area near the Yellow River on the east shore of the lake, for Spiranthes. They havent been found here before but the habitat appears to be suitable with many of the plants associated with Spiranthes occurring here. There is a mixture of stony and sandy/muddy shore, and as the area has been grazed up to recently, the grass is short in between the patches of rushes.

Species.

Spiranthes.

No Spiranthes were found today despite a good search along the shoreline. However, there was some consolation in the other species we found today...

Lapwing.

5 adult Lapwings and 3 young ones! This was brilliant to see. We had seen the 5 adults hanging around here during the Summer but assumed that they were not breeding! Now it appears they were late opportunistic breeders. The young Lapwings were cautious and inclined to hide in the rushes or on the shingle bank while two adults called and wheeled overhead. The young ones were well developed and able to fly fairly well when needed. But these were very young birds and the wind was so strong that one poor lad ended up landing in a gorse bush. No harm done, thankfully! These are the first young Lapwings that we have seen on Lough Allen, though adult birds have been seen in small numbers over the past few months.

Other Species.

In addition, 10 Curlew were present on the shore, 1 Sparrowhawk, about 8 Snipe (very common around the lake lately), 1 Sandpiper these havent been seen much in the past couple of weeks; perhaps many have already migrated?

Comment:

The sighting of young Lapwings is a very important one; there have been a few reports in recent years of failed nesting further south (chicks attacked by Grey Crows), and we have seen Lapwings displaying on The Spit and in the Yellow River area in the Spring and early Summer in recent years. But we do not know of successful breeding by Lapwings in recent years. This is a really important record as Lapwings are in decline all over Europe. It would be spectacular if they re-established breeding in Lough Allen and added to the already important species that occur here.

ADDENDUM:

The following pictures were obtained two days later and we add them here for the sake of clarity. A total of 6 adults and 5 young now seem to be present at the location...

 

 

These 4 photographs show two adults (or the same adult) and 2 images of the same young Lapwing (Below).

 

 On this day 6 adults were found with 5 young. In two days (since our last visit) the party of 3 young had become more accomplished flyers and were accompanying the adults on trips out over the lake. When these 5 adults and 3 young flew away, another adult (the one photographed above) hung around the shore in an excited manner.

The two images here are of a young bird that rose and joined the adult, flying low, and then headed north across the Yellow River. Just as they left a second young bird rose from the reeds at the back of the bay, headed out towards the lake and then flew north on its own.

 

 

 

 

 


25. No new Spiranthes found

Location: Cormongan, Spiranthes Islands, Murhaun shore, Holly Island, Gubcormongan, 26th July 10.15am-12.30pm

Weather: Warm and dry (c. 22C) with light SE breeze

Water: Clean in most areas, (but see WaterLog) Water temp. 21-22.8C. Level at Lock 2.46m

From Alder cover on Spiranthes Island looking north east, showing mainland shore where Spiranthes plants ARE emerging.

Intro:

The purpose of this trip was to check for Spiranthes in two specific areas, Spiranthes Islands and Gubcormongan, both of which had considerable populations many years ago. At Spiranthes Islands (two small islands in the sheltered water north of Drumshanbo) Spiranthes have not been seen since 2008 when 8 were found. Similarly, 20 specimens were seen at Gubcormongan in 2008.

 

 

PHOTOS:

LEFT. Two female Mergansers, apparently on their own.

 

BOTTOM LEFT: Just an atmospheric shot of a common plant (Purple Loosestrife) reflecting the conditions of this day.

BOTTOM RIGHT: A pair of Green-veined White butterflies mating while the male keeps on feeding himself! The seeds on the right are from Birdsfoot Trefoil.

 

 

 

 

Todays trip was to check these sites and other areas around the south of the lake, for occurrence of Spiranthes.

Conditions.

As indicated by the photographs this was a beautiful day, our heatwave continuing though somewhat abated. The main photographs here show up the landscape and plant beauty to be found in the area. Unfortunately, the Spiranthes hunt was unsuccessful today, and also, there are some very small water quality issues, elaborated in the WaterLog for this date.

Species:

Spiranthes. None found at either location.

The vegetation was fairly high in both locations. In 2008, when the Spiranthes were found on Spiranthes Island, there was some grazing along the shore. Possibly due to high water levels and reduced numbers or absent horses, this shore has not been grazed this year. At Gubcormongan shore, vegetation was also high and cattle were absent.

Other species.

Two female Mergansers were seen at Round Island, these flew south and returned 5 minutes later. Immature Greater Black-backed Gull on the floating pontoon near the Sluices, Sparrowhawk on Holly Island, Mallard with 2 young on Spiranthes Island and one Snipe. On The Spit, 2 Black-headed Gulls with 2 young ones and one Curlew. 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull with 1 young just off Round Island.

Comment:

Lough Allen is looking beautiful but its rich biodiversity remains impaired by adverse conditions earlier in the year, particularly at this southern end. It remains to be seen whether species such as the Merganser can yet be more successful at the northern end of the Lake

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

24. Finding Irish Ladys Tresses: 2013

Location: Rossmore and Kilgarriff 22nd July, Derrintober shore 23rd July, Holly Island and Annagh Lake 24th July

Weather: Warm and dry (c. 22C) with light breezes on 22nd and 23rd, Cloudy with heavy rain later on 24th, SE wind F4

Water: Clean in all areas except near Drumshanbo on 23rd where there was scum and some foam onshore south of Spiranthes Island. This is probably due to the high number of visitors to the town this week as the foam had a distinct soapy smell which we have not noticed before. Level at Lock 2.46m

Intro:

This Log combines 3 days as we have had little time to catch up and as we are concerned mainly with one species the Irish Ladys Tresses. They are back! It was encouraging to see them re-appearing as we did not know what effect the bad Spring would have had on them? Numbers are small at the moment. The plants seen were possibly 3 or 6 days old. Spiranthes were seen at Rossmore (this is an area which usually has up to 75 plants, but it is early days yet), Kilgarriff and Derrintober shore. None were found at Holly Island or Annagh Lake.

Typical Habitat at Rossmore. One Spiranthes can be seen on left in among short grass, Creeping Jenny, Bog Pimpernel and Alder.

Spiranthes:

Seven Spiranthes plants at Rossmore, most with just a few flowers open. Two plants at Kilgarriff, an area where they have not been seen for a couple of years. Eleven at Derrintober (the shoreline north and south of Spiranthes Islands). A total of 20. Disappointing that there were none (yet) at Annagh lake, but they may appear in the next few days? The former Spiranthes site at Holly Island (which was disturbed 2 years ago) now looks suitable with vegetation grown back. There appears to be little disruption on the shoreline from cars now, due to the new gates put in by Fisheries. If it stays this way then maybe, the Spiranthes will return?

Specimen Photographs:

 

This is the first specimen we found this year.

It was quite tall and merged very well with the background. Most other specimens seen that day (22nd) had some flowers fully open. This one was still entirely green and merged with the background.

If you are looking for early stage plants keep an eye out for the distinctive spiral pattern which makes this plant stand out from other plants before it even has its cool white flowers.

This specimen was quite tall (c. 25cm) but, because of the tight nature of the bud, we estimate it may have only been 3 days old!

SPECIMEN: Rossmore upper shore, Monday afternoon, warm overcast. Grassy habitat associated with Blue-eyed Grass.

Only two so far found at this site at Kilgarriff but this was a fine specimen!

A very nice sturdy Spiranthes with many rounds of flowers well opened and clearly spirally arranged. (The name Spiranthes refers to their spiral flowers.)

The habitat at Kilgarriff is the edge of a small stony field which lies directly behind a small sandy beach. The lower beach was flat and traditionally covered with rich grass and Alders. Grassy ground under Alders is one of this species favourite Habitats in Lough Allen. Many specimens used to occur here several years ago but farm improvement work led to many of the Alders being removed and parts of the sward in which the Spiranthes grew being uplifted.

However, this strong specimen and the amount of suitable habitat now available (when it settles down), encourages us to feel that numbers may recover here.

SPECIMEN: Kilgarriff upper shore near scraped earth and broken trees, grazed, only 2 specimens present on 22nd July.

Two of the best specimens so far. These two examples are from Derrintober at the south east end of the Lake.

 This coastline was good for Orchids in 2008 but then declined. It started a comeback last year. This year the area has not been recently grazed and is possibly too overgrown for Spiranthes in many parts.

Again, because of the freshness of the flowers, the absence of dead material and the strong stems of both specimens, we estimate that these two plants are probably less than a week old. Orchids can grow at an incredible rate once they emerge.

SPECIMEN: Most northerly specimen on this stretch of coastline. Upper shore and somewhat removed from normal area of occurrence. Alder clearing and flattened grass may have been factors.

The largest flowering spike this year.

This fine plant with a curved but very robust stem was found at the southern end of this piece of Spiranthes coast.

Huge spikes are rare in Lough Allen as, in recent years, we have been enduring a lot of late Summer rainfall and flooding.

The largest spike to date was c. 7cm. This one was about 5 cm (total height of plant c. 25cm) at the time of this photograph (23rd July) but judging by the number of buds it could potentially go on to become a classic Spiranthes bloom, if it gets enough sunshine and warmth?

SPECIMEN: In a sheltered bay, near rocks and Alder clumps but on upper shore and in among tall grasses.

 

 

 

Comment:

There are a number of further sites along the east shore (and two sites on the west shore) where Spiranthes have appeared in other years (not recently) and these will all be searched. Also, there are a few areas where the habitat looks very suitable for them, but none have been found as of yet!

It may prove practical to keep all reports for Spiranthes for this year in one page, rather than repeated entries for different days in this Log. If so a LINK will be provided in this entry or in subsequent entries. Anyone seeing these plants, or wanting to see them, is very welcome to CONTACT me.

23. Irish Ladys Tresses search...

Location: Annagh Lake,11th July 6.15-7.45pm,, Kilgarriff and Rossmore, 13th July 9.30am-12.00 noon

Weather: Hot (c. 25C) and  no wind on the 11th, Cooler in the morning of the 13th (17-18.5C) with light NW breeze F 1/2.

Water: Very calm  but clean at Annagh lake on 11th. Water temp. on 13th 20.6 C. and water clean. Level at Lock 2.54m

 

Intro:

Annagh, Kilgarrif and Rossmore (all in the northern end of the lake) are the main areas for Irish Ladys Tresses (Spiranthes) around Lough Allen, especially in recent years. The shore in each of these areas, just above the water line and back about 10-15m, was searched for signs of these orchids appearing.  None were found on the 11th and 13th, but it is still fairly early days. In previous years,  Spiranthes plants have emerged at dates from July 9th (very early) to July 23rd. In Rossmore yesterday, a Soil temperature was taken (at 250mm) and was 20.7C. This was taken right in the centre of a good Spiranthes patch, where up to 10 plants have been seen flowering in other years.

Comment.

It is still early enough for Spiranthes, but they should be out in the next ten days hopefully they will be out in good numbers this year? Despite the bad weather earlier in the year, all plants are catching up and Spiranthes could do well in this dry weather? However, the water level is still quite high in the lake, despite the high temperatures; it may be held back at the Sluices for Navigation reasons?

 If anyone notices this lovely orchid around Lough Allen in the next week or 10 days, PLEASE do let us know! (You can contact us HERE).They may spring up in an area where they have been absent, or present in very low numbers, in the past few years (These areas would include Derrintober and Holly Island). See the picture on the RIGHT of this rare Orchid that is one of Lough Allens very special plants!

 

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22. Black-headed Gulls relocate!

Location: Cormongan and the south end of the lake as far as Drumshanbo. 10th July 2013, 8am-12.30pm

Weather: Mist over lake at first with an early air temperature of only 14C. Then hot and sunny, no wind, air temp. 22.4-27C

Water: Slight northerly swell at first, calming down by midday with gentle ripples and some limpid stretches. Water temp. 20 - 24.8C. Level at Lock 2.58m

Spiranthes Islands, off Derrintober shoreline, north of Drumshanbo

Intro:

Starting from Cormongan, we headed out via Long Island across the lake to Mountallen shore, and south to Inishfail, Holly Island and Wynnes Bay and as far as Drumshanbo Lock. Then back along the east shoreline to The Spit,  Long Island, and home.

This was the third day of our temperature survey of Lough Allen. Todays trip covered the lower end of the lake. The water temperature relates to water quality and possible development of harmful blooms as reviewed in the Water Log. From a Biodiversity point of view two surprising finds; firstly, a small colony of Black-headed Gulls, with young, near Drumshanbo. This was an encouraging observation as very few Black-headed Gulls have been seen around the lake this year. Following last years flooding of The Spit during the breeding season, the Black-headed Gulls abandoned their nests there and have not returned. Today we saw the start of a small alternative breeding site.

Second surprise was a pair of Terns. We assume they are a different pair to the pair found breeding a couple of days ago. The pair today didnt seem to be breeding; another consequence of the mixed up year we are having?

A good day... The visibility was great and the lake looked beautiful (though it was dirty in certain spots). We came across some scum and foam in a long patch in the centre of the lake where samples were taken. Many other areas had patches of foam or scum onshore to mar the otherwise peaceful and clean-looking waters. The photo (LEFT) shows Spiranthes Islands giving an impression of how clear the air was. We named these small islands after the elusive orchid, Irish Ladys Tresses, which was found here for a couple of years. This area was also surveyed for this species but none up yet!

 

Species:

6 or 7 Black-headed Gulls were seen feeding close to the west shore opposite the Hotel, with five young. In previous years this species has bred well in Lough Allen. But these were the first chicks we have seen this year. Black-headed Gulls are one of Lough Allens characteristic species and have had a busy and noisey colony on The Spit for many years. There are possibly 30 or 40 Black-headed Gulls around Lough Allen this year, down from a high count of c. 130 two years ago. Today, we saw about 10 Black-headed Gull adults, and 5 young in this area.

The high water levels last year and this year, coupled with very cold weather in the Spring and early summer, have forced many Gull species on the lake to shift breeding areas and become scattered. The peaceful and sheltered shoreline, quite close to Drumshanbo, may suit the Black-headed Gulls well, and there seems to be plenty of food here for them. It is a relief to see these Gulls being successful even in a small way in a new area?

A pair of Common Terns was seen near Holly Island. They then moved down towards Drumshanbo, and were seen again around the Black-headed Gull colony. One young Black-headed Gull seemed to be a target for the Terns for some reason (perhaps the boulder he was on was one they favoured to rest on?). They dived down and harassed it each time they circled around on their fishing forays. The young Gull just ducked its head down as the Terns bombed it, but eventually flew off to a nearby boulder and was left alone.

Seeing a second pair of Terns in as many days on Lough Allen, is an encouraging sight. It may be late in the season, but is there a possibility that this new southern pair might yet breed? No... maybe next year!

Common Tern annoying young Black-headed Gull!

 

Other Species:

The lake was fairly quiet, just one female Merganser flew off the west side of Long Island and was not seen again on our return. 1 Sandpiper on Long Island; 2 Great Crested Grebes in a secluded backwater near the Sluices. There was an empty Grebes nest here. 1 Heron seen also in this area. 7 Lesser Black-backed Gulls in total, 2 on a Pontoon near the Hotel, plus one immature;  2 on Sandpiper Shoal and 2 around The Spit. A Snipe was heard calling around the Millrace where it enters Lough Allen another interesting possibility. 11 Curlew were spotted flying west off Spiranthes Island and a further 1 seen on the Spit on our return journey. 18 Mallard adults with 8 chicks in total. 16 adults in Wynnes Bay plus a female with 3 chicks. A further Mallard family were spotted heading for Jennys island, adult with 5 chicks.

Comment:

The good weather seems to be encouraging birds to feed actively but the breeding success for all species is way below normal. We still hope to see Merganser chicks on the lake and the behaviour of the one bird seen today was like that of a mother sitting on eggs. They can be very secretive and very alone, often being abandoned by the males.

 

 

21. What a Special Place

Location: Corry and the middle section of lake, 8th July 2013, 4.00pm - 8pm

Weather: Hot and sunny, no wind, Air temp. 22-26.5C

Water: Mainly limpid water with very gently rippled areas (as shown in Above photo). Water temp.  19 - 25.5C. Level at Lock 2.58m

Intro:

The best day we have had so far this year for the Environment and Weather of Lough Allen. Everywhere we went we could hear the peaceful sound of people chatting and playing in the brown clear water. Exceptionally hot water too, reaching 25.5C in Corry Bay as we returned in the evening. This was a bonus day. We went out to do a particular chore and were surprised by the peace, tranquillity, purity and sheer beauty of the place. This is the way it should be! Unfortunately, we were one of only three boats out on the lake, as far as we could see!

This trip covered a wide area of the centre of the Lake, where we dont often travel, from Cormongan diagonally towards Cartron Point then due North for a short distance before returning along the west shore checking all bays and sheltered areas for Mergansers and chicks! Eventually returning to Cormongan via an easterly course from Arigna to The Spit.

LEFT

Common Tern in flight over Tarmon Point...

BELOW LEFT

Female, presumably, sitting on nest while partner guards site overhead.

BELOW RIGHT

First successful breeding attempt in Lough Allen in recent years. Hopefully they will hatch and the young will be fledged. We are keeping this exact location quiet for the time being.

 

 

Species:

A very quiet day Biodiversity wise. Because of the heat and calmness it was possible to observe wildlife over a considerable distance. Never have we seen the visibility so clear. From end to end the distant shores seemed very close. Unfortunately, probably due to the hot weather and the poor Spring, wildlife was very scarce. No Mergansers were seen despite looking in all the right places. We have yet to see young Mergansers and we do know that breeding attempts have been delayed. But we were hoping that they might make a late start. But these things are controlled hormonally as well as by the weather, so it may be just too late for this year?

However, towards the end of our cruise, we did encounter a the scene depicted on the Left... a pair of Common Terns breeding in Lough Allen! This was unexpected and very good to see. The male bird was initially seen feeding up and down the shore in a very determined manner, frequently diving from a considerable height to try and stab some innocent fish?

Feeding was also done by both birds skimming along the surface with their beaks in the water. This is the behaviour of a large American tern called the Skimmer but we have not seen it in Common Terns before. Perhaps this was an adaptation to the very calm water and the presence of a small number of Mayfly in the water close to the shore.

Unfortunately, we did not see any spectacular conclusion to this fishing. Neither bird was seen carrying fish but the male did seem to be fishing harder than normal. Was he fishing for two?

The other bird was sitting very tight on a nest and we were chuffed to see that she had 3 eggs. Another pair sat tight on a nest at The Spit two years ago but we never knew if they had laid. The presumption is she had but they did not go on to rear young. The Spit, that year, was a much wilder place with a lot of predators around and their chance of hatching may have been much impaired.

However, this new pair definitely have 3 eggs (shown Left) and we will discreetly monitor their progress.

 

Other Species:

Little to be said here. The Lake was extraordinarily quiet beautiful and still, but quiet! No Mergansers were seen. 1 young Lesser Black-backed Gull seems to have survived at The Spit. Both the Black-headed and Common Gulls abandoned any attempt to breed there this year. The Spit was largely submerged at critical times! Lapwing have not been seen here (though present at Yellow River) for a considerable time, nor Curlew. Breeding of either of these species in Lough Allen this year seems unlikely.

Comment:

Great to prove breeding in the Terns; sad not to be able to do the same for the Mergansers. More importantly is News that will be fully reported in the Water Log, the water of Lough Allen was hot but clear and clean. We have made our views known that, if warm calm weather did settle, we had fears for onset of a blue-green algal bloom. No sign of this in open water in the major part of the Lake that we have surveyed in the past two days. The water has been uniformly dark and smooth and calm with no visible deleterious plankton to be seen anywhere. A clean bill of health and we have surveyed widely and thoroughly!

20. Hot Weather arrives...

Location: Corry and the North end of lake, 7th July 2013,4.30pm-9pm

Weather: Weather: Hot and sunny, no wind, Air temp. 22-19C

Water: Very gentle ripples with many limpid areas. Water temp. 18.9-21.1C. Level at Lock 2.58m

Intro:

this was our first boat trip for some time; our excuse being that though the weather has been  fine, the wind prevented us from safely doing a survey on the lake since 26th June! However, David has been busy with the WaterLog (see HERE) as the warm weather could bring a blue-green algal bloom. Water tests were done both in shallow areas and mid Lake (these are reported in the WaterLog) and samples collected from Rossmore, where blue green algal streaks were visible in the shallow water on Spiranthes/Blue-eyed grass shore.

Launched from Corry Strand, and surveyed Corry Shoal, landed at Gull Island, Rossmore and Druminalass (checked Annagh lake from here). Checked Church and Fahy Islands for Mergansers and any other bird life then headed across the lake to the west shore. Mergansers were a bit scare, though we did see some, and also found Merganser egg shells on Gull Island. The lake was quite calm, and any birds present on the lake were visible from a long distance.

Skullcap

Meadow Vetchling

Species:

Four Red-breasted Merganser were seen in all. A pair on Corry Shoal which stayed around while we came close and took photographs. Female was resting on a boulder, the male was swimming close by. They didnt seen concerned by our presence. Further pair were seen a few hours later on open water, near to the west shore, south of Spencer Harbour. These were heading east across the lake, fishing. On Gull Island, no Mergansers were seen, but remains of fresh egg shells were found close to an abandoned Canada Goose nest. No sign of a Merganser nest was found.

Blue-eyed Grass (RIGHT) is out in profusion in Rossmore but no Spiranthes up yet!

Other Species:

17 Lesser Black-backed Gull in total,  13 on Corry Shoal, (one an immature bird) and 4 on Fahy island. 14 Common Gulls, a pair on Corry Shoal, 4 on Gull Island (though not on the tree nests), 6 on Fahy Island and further 2 on Fahy Shoal. One Black-headed Gull was seen on Fahy Shoal the first one we have seen in the north of the lake for some time. They are quite scarce around the lake this year mostly seen fishing near Drumshanbo Lock. A single Cormorant seen off Gull Island and later at Lecarrow. Only one Heron in the Shannon estuary; the small breeding colony on Church Island seems abandoned. Two attractive plant species, Skullcap and Meadow Vetchling were both flowering beautifully on Gull Island, probably, benefitting from the absence of breeding birds

Blue-green algae were seen at Rossmore along the shoreline in shallow water and are a very worrying sign.

Comment:

A fairly quiet time on the lake, and a little disappointing that we didnt see any young birds (Mergansers, Sandpipers or Gulls). But the main concern today was for the water quality and the forecast for hot weather for the next few days.

 

19. Lack of Biodiversity at the South end of Lake?

Location: Cormongan and the islands, South end of Lough Allen. 26th June 2013, 6.50 am to 12 noon

Weather: Cloudy with some mist at first, some sun later. NW breeze, F 1/2. Air temp. 7.5-15C

Water: Slight swell in places, some ripples, limpid patches in places. Water temp. 14.8-15.2C. Level at Lock 2.5m

Intro:

Launched from Cormongan and surveyed the islands and shores down to Drumshanbo, and also surveyed The Sluices, Holly Island, Inishfail, Mountallen Bay, Srabraggan and the old Power Station at Arigna. There was a very striking difference between the Biodiversity here, in the south part of the lake, compared with the Biodiversity seen in recent trips to the north end of Lough Allen. (See Log for June 3rd, and June 25th).

Today, we came across a number of calm and limpid patches of water which contained streaks of foam, debris and algae. In a few places these foam stretches were quite extensive (see picture below). A number of water (Bubble) tests were done and these are reported in the Waterlog. Water samples were also taken mid-lake and in areas where there was foam and will be tested for plankton and Blue-green Algae. Bird life was very sparse; is the deterioration in water quality, especially in the south end of the lake, affecting our Biodiversity?

Species:

Red-breasted Merganser.

6 in total. One male flew north from The Spit; Three Mergansers (not sexed) followed by a male and female, flew out from Srabraggan shore. Most went south towards Derrintober; one flew north.

Sandpipers.

8 in all. One at Round Island, two at Long Island, 2 on Jennys Island, 2 on Holly Island (displaying), one at Srabraggan Bay.

Lesser Black-backed Gull.

6 seen. Two over The Spit, very agitated and calling (theres a nest here, or possibly young chicks at this stage?), Two around the Pontoon near the Sluices, and a pair on Long Island, also agitated at our presence.

Great Crested Grebe.

One, seen off Holly Island.

Large area of foam, mid-lake, just north of Inishfail. Water limpid in this area.

Comment:

It is a shame to see so many areas in the South part of Lough Allen that are almost empty of birds. The Spit, in particular, looks desolate; just a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls nested here this year. In previous years, this part of the lake was buzzing with birds. The Spit was an important Common Gull and Black-headed Gull breeding colony and a pair of Terns nested (unsuccessfully) here in 2011. Lapwing and Curlew were often seen here in summer; they are now more often to be seen in the north end of the lake.

The Irish Ladys Tresses orchid, previously found in great numbers at three sites just north of Drumshanbo, has also declined. Could this be due to increased nutrification of the lake in this area? The orchid appears to be moving northwards on the lake... along with the Gulls.

Its not clear why the south part of Lough Allen seems to be lower in Biodiversity than in recent years (and lower than the North end of the lake) but is there a link between this and the increasing levels of pollution we have seen in the past four or five years, which is particularly evident in the south of the lake?

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18. Lough Allen and the Northern Islands

Location: Corry Strand and north end of Lough Allen, 25th June2013, 7am-12 noon (also short trip to Fahy June 24th)

Weather: Cloudy, fine, SW breeze F 1/2, strengthening later to c. F3. Air temp 9.5-15C

Water: Slight swell, fairly calm at first, little choppier later in morning. Water temp. 14.5-15C. Level at Lock 2.5m

Mute Swans with young, Annagh lake

Intro:

A long day but a good one! We launched from Corry Strand, and surveyed Corry Shoal, the Gull Islands, Druminalass and Annagh lakes, Fahy Island and Shoal, Rossmore, Kilgarrif, Church Island and Drummans Island. Merganser numbers today were good, and the Gulls (both Common and Lesser Black-backed) appear to be managing their breeding season quite well despite the bad weather earlier in the year, and the fairly high water levels. However,  the main surprise today was seeing three predator species, an Otter , a Sparrowhawk and a male Hen Harrier, both within a small area of Lough Allen!

We have seen evidence of Otters around Lough Allen many times, particularly the tidy piles of fish and fish scales on some of the many old Bog tree trunks scattered around the lake shore. But weve have never spotted one swimming until today, at Annagh Lake. It swam out from the reeds, and spent the next half hour or so fishing in the lake, while we watched from the hill overlooking the lake. A very exciting sight! Unfortunately (for us) the Otter never remained above the surface of the water for more than about a second; not enough time to get photographs! He was moving around quite a bit; one minute near the reeds, a few minutes later out in deeper water. He could even have snuck ashore to eat whatever fish he had caught in some small bay out of our sight, or among the reeds.

A Sparrowhawk was spotted flying over the trees next to Annagh Lake, though these are fairly common. Then, coming out of Druminalass Lake, a male Hen Harrier appeared, flying over the trees to the north! These are not often seen around Lough Allen and are a spectacular bird, especially the males.

Species:

Red-breasted Merganser.

15 in total; a very good number. One male was on Corry Shoal, and flew towards Rossbeg. Then two males were seen swimming close to Gull Island and these flew towards the Shannon Estuary shore, where a group of six, then another two, were swimming together. These dispersed towards Church Island. On our return a few hours later, a group of seven (presumably the same ones we had seen earlier) were on the west side of Church Island, four males and three females. When they flew off, one female returned almost immediately to Church island perhaps she has a nest there? Finally, there were two pairs between Drummans Island and the mainland shore. Our best estimate is that we saw 15 Mergansers in total, in the north area of the lake.

Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Total seen c. 20. There were 18 on Corry Shoal and Gull Island, and a further pair on Fahy Island. They are nesting on Corry Shoal (despite the small size due to water levels), and Gull Island. There are at least three nests on Corry Shoal; the Gulls were quite visible from the boat, sitting tight on their nests. On Gull Island, we had previously seen 3 nests (each with 3 eggs) on 3rd June. (Picture HERE)  Today, we didnt land on Gull Island, but could see three tiny Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks in the water of Gull Island. The adults were quite noisy and territorial, a few even diving towards the boat (but not getting too close). There is quite a lot of movement of Gulls between Gull island and Corry Shoal, but between the two islands, 18 is a fairly definite count.

Common Gull.

Total seen 12. Three pairs on Gull Island (on high nests in the trees); 2 pairs on Fahy Island (nesting on rocks) and a further pair on Fahy Shoal. The nest here is on a tree stump which is about 0.5m above the water; this was seen (and photographed) on June 3rd (see Log 15) when the water level was lower.

Sandpiper.

5 in all. Two at Gull Island, one at Church Island and two at Rossbeg.

Heron

2 in total. One near Kilgarrif, one in Rossmore.Their numbers this year are quite low?

Curlew.

2, on Corry Shoal. Seen at the start of the trip when they flew south, but seen again a few hours later between Kilgarrif and Druminalass.

Mute Swan.

A pair with 2 young at Annagh, another pair on Druminalass lake.

Other Species.

Otter at Annagh lake, male Hen Harrier near Kilgarrif, Sparrowhawk at Annagh lake.. (see Intro above). Two Cormorants seen, one on Gull Island, one on Fahy Shoal. Also, the Blue-eyed Grass is out at Rossmore, but flowers arent open, probably due to the cloudy weather.  Lesser Butterfly, Common Spotted, and Heath Spotted Orchid (See picture above) were present in good numbers and appear to be flourishing this year, although a bit later than usual.

Short trip on June 24th

Visited Yellow River area, Fahy on June 24th, on foot. Temperature was 15C, Westerly breeze F 2/3. Saw 6 Lapwings, displaying. This is a very good count for Lapwings in summer on Lough Allen. Could they be breeding around here?  Also 2 Sandpipers, 3 Greater Black-backed Gulls (one immature), 2 Common Gulls (one on nest on gravel spit, other on nest on grassy shoreline). 

Comment:

A good day today; no rain, little sun (good for photography!) and some interesting species! Merganser numbers continue to hold up, and hopefully some of them will breed successfully. This time in 2012 (end June) one Merganser in the north of the lake had hatched out 7 chicks. But the weather has delayed things a bit this year perhaps?

The water data for today will be included the latest Waterlog.

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17. Lake and Orchid trips

Location: South end of Lough Allen, 7-10am, and also hills above Dowra (Cavan) 5-7pm, 9th June 2013 (2 trips)

Weather: Lough Allen: Sunny, SE breeze force 1 to 2 (c.5.5 knots). Air Temp 15-18C. At Dowra site: Sunny and breezy, temp 20C

Water: Ripples on Lough Allen, occasional limpid patches with floating small debris. Water temp. 16.6-20C. Water level at Drumshanbo 2.26m

Small White Orchid, Pseudorchis albida from hills above Dowra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lichen, Lobaria sp, from Round Island. This type
of lichen is indicative of a clean environment

Intro:

A boat trip and later, an orchid trip to the Cavan hills, on a beautiful sunny day. In the early morning, there were few birds on the lake, and we were mainly concerned with water tests (for foam, surface tension etc .see WaterLog) as the water temperature was quite high (max recorded 20C) and some floating small debris was found in a smooth, limpid patch of water. Water samples were taken at four locations. Landed on Round Island to check for nest sites.

Species:

An immature Greater Black-backed Gull, 2 Lapwings, 4 Mergansers (All male; 2 immature, one brownhead, and one adult with full plumage) were seen.  On Round Island, a very attractive foliose lichen (Lobaria sp.) was seen growing on a boulder in the middle of the island, but not seen in any other part of the island. No nests found.

Orchid Trip:

The second trip today was to hillside fields above Dowra (in the Lough Allen Basin area) to see the Small White Orchid (Pseudorchis albida). They are just out this year and the aim of this afternoons trip was to photograph and roughly count the numbers in the two fields nearest the road. We were joined on this trip by a visiting botanist, anxious to see and photograph the orchids of the area. We had, earlier in the afternoon, photographed Birdsnest and Marsh Orchids with him, but unfortunately, these were at Drumharlow Lake not Lough Allen!

The Small White Orchids were growing on low ditches in hilly fields north of Dowra. They appear to prefer the ditches to the grassy field itself; the drainage is good here, and the field appears to have been fairly wet until recently. Also, the poorer soil conditions on the ditches may suit them better as the fields have been fertilised in the last year or so. Today, only one Small White was found growing in the grass. (More were found growing in the grass last year.) For a detailed description of this lovely Orchid and its habitat see HERE.

We visited this site 4 days ago (on the 5th June) to see if the orchids were out, and 3 very fresh specimens were found on that day. Today (9th) there were around 40 plants between two fields. Some of these were very tiny, around 2.5cm high, whereas there were half a dozen plants of around 14cm, with fully developed flowers.

In this site last year, Lesser Butterfly Orchids were growing at the same time as we saw the Small White Orchids. Today, no Butterfly Orchids were to be seen, and the Heath Spotted Orchids were only just coming into flower. Because of the cold weather earlier in the year, plants are only catching up now!

Comment:

Water samples tested on 9th June, but no sign of Blue-green algae. Samples mainly contained very tiny pieces of plant debris.

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16. Surprising & Beautiful Lough Allen!

The first ever Little Egret we have seen in Lough Allen

... and he had a Partner too!

Location: Cormongan and the East shore as far as Yellow River. 6.45am-10am, June 6th 2013

Weather: Fine, clear and sunny. Easterly breeze, force 1 or 2. Air Temperature c. 14-16.5 C .

Water: Gentle ripples. Water temperature quite constant, 14.5-14.8C  Water level at Drumshanbo Lock 2.3m.

Intro:

Launching from Cormongan, the east shoreline was surveyed up to Yellow River. Interesting Biodiversity was encountered at Yellow River and the large bay south of it. Water samples were taken at five locations. The shoreline everywhere was clean with a minimum amount of plastic litter that could easily be removed.

What a wonderful day on Lough Allen! The sun was out; the weather was clear and calm with a steady breeze (c. 7 knots). On a day like this it seems that everything was right with the world and it did not let us down! This was the first day in a long while that we have gone out and spent hours on the Lake and been amazed by only positive findings. The water was sparkling and clear everywhere we went. It makes one hopeful that conditions may be returning to normal for this lovely lake. We had another great wildlife day on Lough Allen on June 3rd. (reported below), but this ended in disappointment and concern for the water quality as pollution became evident in some small areas.

Today was a wonderful day, also, because of the surprising birds seen 2 Little Egrets a species not seen before (to our knowledge) on Lough Allen but looking remarkably at home in a sheltered bay near Yellow River. A fine record for a fine day! In the same area as the Egrets, Lapwings were seen the first ones seen on the lake this year. It was a delight to see them especially in an area which might just be suitable for breeding?

Species:

Little Egret.

A new species for Lough Allen! They are seen very regularly along the Sligo coastline, but as far as we know, they have never been seen in Co. Leitrim before? At a sheltered beach near Yellow River, there was one Egret feeding on the shoreline very close to a Heron. We could hardly believe our eyes! This is a sheltered place (favoured by Lapwings in other years apart from last year) with a shingle spit creating a warm, sheltered shallow lagoon behind it. The substrate in the lagoon is shingle, sand and mud, and is probably rich in food for the birds. It is quite an isolated place. Took a a number of photographs of the Egret, and watched it stabbing small fish in the shallows. The Heron flew up to chase away a Common Gull nearby, and this spooked the Little Egret and it flew off across the trees. However, after we explored the shoreline north of the beach and across the Yellow River, on our return to the beach the Egret had returned... with another one. Both fished for a few minutes before flying off again. It was great to see them; they are very striking looking, quite large (around Heron size) sparkling white with a jaunty crest and black legs with yellow feet. Will they start to breed in Lough Allen?

Lapwing.

A group of 4. First records of Lapwing in Lough Allen this year; we were almost giving up on them! These were at Yellow River beach, where we have seen them often in the past (apart from last year, when the weather was so bad). The open fields around this area (Yellow River beach up to Fahy graveyard) would be good for Lapwings to breed; they need wide open spaces to watch out for predators (especially Grey Crows) as they are ground-nesters, and the nests and chicks would be very vulnerable to attack. But as yet, we have no records of them breeding around here.

Sandpiper.

Possibly 6, all around the Yellow River area. One heard at the south end of the beach, a further two, very agitated, between the beach and Yellow River, and two on the shingle spit on the outside of the bay. Best count for Sandpipers in one area around the lake!

Ringed Plover.

One, on a shingle spit between Yellow River beach and the River itself. A slightly unusual visitor to Lough Allen; but we have seen one in this area before, in summer 2011.

Common Gull.

4 in the Yellow River area. One was sitting on a nest... which was built on a washed up large tree lying flat on the shore! The roots of the tree were about 1m in height, and on top of the twisted roots, the Gull was sitting on its nest. A quick look when she flew off revealed three eggs. She returned within a few minutes to the nest so no harm done...

Heron.

2 seen at Yellow River beach. same one (probably) later seen with another Heron on Yellow River.

Great Crested Grebe.

Two, fishing in Wynnes Bay in Drumshanbo (seen while taking the water level at the Lock).

Red-breasted Merganser.

A good count for this species; probably 5 in total. One male flew out from near the shore between Gubcormongan and Cleighranmore at 7.20am. Following it with binoculars, it reached Long Island at 7.22am; a good distance in 2 minutes! They really are fast flyers. A further four Mergansers were spotted just off Cleighraunmore Bay (outside the pontoons). Here, there were three males and one female; the males showing off and displaying for her benefit, especially with speed-swimming displays creating a wake like a boat, and splashing water. These flew off towards Fahy. Later, at Yellow River, one of the male Mergansers flew in a very determined way right up the river : its possible that the female had a nest up there somewhere?

Male Merganser heading straight up Yellow River on a mission?

Comment:

A really satisfying day; it is great to see the lake looking so well and to see the birds making the best of the weather. The Yellow River general area is a very special and interesting one; worthy of a Special Places page of its own. The Egrets were an unexpected find but the Lapwings, in a way, were a more welcome sight as there have been so few around in the last couple of years. The Common Gull behaviour is interesting; is there a pattern emerging of Common Gulls nesting higher above the ground in order to avoid the nest getting flooded by high water levels? This is the fourth nest (in the space of a week) weve seen that has been in an unusual location. The last Log (no. 15) has a picture of a Common Gulls nest on a rotten tree stump about .5m above ground. There are two Common Gull nest on Gull Island which are c. 6m high in trees (possibly old nests, taken over by the Gulls), and then, the nest today which was c. 1m above ground on the roots of a dead tree onshore. Its good that Mergansers are active on the east shore, possibly even with a nest up along the Yellow River? The weather remains fine and warm (and the forecast is good), but the lake, thankfully, appears to be clean. We will be keeping our eyes open for further positive developments and sightings!

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15. Super Diversity on North Shore

Location: Corry Strand and east and south as far as Fahy. 9.30am - 5pm June 3rd, 2013

Weather: Fine, clear and warm all day. Force 1 -2 westerly breeze. Air Temperature c. 17 - 19 C .

Water: Calm or gentle ripples. Water temperature 15.3 - 16.2C (17.6C in the sheltered Rossmore inlet). Water level 2.32m.

Intro:

Today we had the pleasure of the company of Fona Wheeldon (our daughter) and it was a day rich in biodiversity. Stops were made at Corry Shoal, at Rossmore, at Rossbeg Special habitat, at Druminalass and Annagh Lake, at Lough Yugan, and ending up at Gull Islands before returning to Corry. Unfortunately some slight signs of pollution were detected at Rossbeg and Yugan with slightly more serious contamination at Corry Strand in the afternoon where people were enjoying their leisure time. These incidents, maybe small, but worrying at a time of increasing temperature, will be reported in a Water Log for this date. The variety of Nature seen today is shown below, reproduced in the order in which we visited sites. many thanks to Fona for her company, her knowledge, and her photographs!

Species and Places:

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Encountered at the beginning and end of the trip. This is on Corry Shoal where they established a breeding colony in the last few years only to be largely washed away last year.

Looks like they may be preparing to nest again. And, Yes, that is a Whimbrel in the background!

Total of 11 counted today!

Whimbrel

A migratory bird in Lough Allen normally passing through in Spring. These ones must have been long delayed to be here on the 3rd. June?

Always a nice bird to see and can be heard traveling at night time when they give a distinctive 7 note whistle.

2 present.

Common Terns

We have seen these infrequently at the north end of the Lake. This pair were in Rossmore actively feeding and displaying to one another.

A pair (or two) have colonised The Spit near Cormongan in past years and it was hoped they might breed. But there are none there so far this year.

Total present = 2

Spying a Fish?

This bird was quite excited by our presence and having his mate with him! But in this nice photo (courtesy of Fona Wheeldon), this male seems more relaxed and, maybe, thinking of going fishing again.

This pair were actively feeding for most of the  20 minutes we spent in Rossmore!

Tufa Water Habitat

These weird structures are heavily mineralised strands of moss hanging down from a low cliff at our study area at Rossbeg.

Apparently these habitats forming either stalactite like rock encrusted vegetation or flat scaly deposits at the bottom of mineral bearing waterfalls, are important areas for unusual liverworts and mosses.

Specialised Mosses

This is a typical moss found on tufa covered wet areas. Species yet to be identified but it has a short very yellowy green texture and distinctive spores as showm here.

This picture is not sideways; they are ghrowing on a vertical face covered with tufa and permanent water.

(Photo by Fona Wheeldon)

Mink feast?

Along the edge of Lough Yugan we found these massacres of Rudd.

Very little of the flesh had been eaten and it looked as if this hunting was for sport. Possibly by Mink?

Common Gull

Found breeding in many small lakes in the west of Ireland. Lough Allen often has a significant breeding colony of this species on The Spit down near Cormongan.

So far this year, that colony has not got going and even with this better weather there seems little signs of them getting going. Has Summer delayed so long that the mood has gone off them?

11 altogether in northern part of Lake today.

Common Gull nest

Common Gulls like to nest in trees but this was ridiculous. This stump was about 50cm above water with a very small hollow in the top of a broken trunk. If she had laid 3 eggs perhaps she would have had to get a new house?

We know of only about 4 active Common Gull nests on the whole northern shore. This is a big drop in numbers from last year.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

These gulls are ground nesters and have been changing nesting site a lot in recent years. 5 years ago they were mainly on Round Island off Cormongan with feeding forages to the much bigger Common/Black-headed Gull colony nearby on the Spit. They then moved to Corry Shoal in good numbers but with limited success. Now they are laying on Gull Island and seem to be settling down to breed at last unlike the Common and Black-headed Gulls.

Red-breasted Merganser

This group of 4 were seen near Gull Island on our way back to Corry Starand after a long day. They were very active, washing and displaying. The group consisted of two pairs but there seemed little rivalry between them. Normal breeding behaviour where the female would sit on eggs in a very secretive location and the male would go off and do his own thing, does not seem to have happened so far this year. It seems that the long cold Spring has put the thought of breeding out of their head, but time enough yet?

Another gropu of 4 Mergansers was found in Annagh lake. This consisted of 2 pairs again but it is unlikely that they were the same birds as they seemed very settled in Annagh and we would probably have seen them flying high to get out of there. This is a larger number than we have seen before in this area and there may be some suitable breeding habitat, with less changes in water level, at the south end of Annagh Lake

Total Numbers seen at the north end of the Lake today = 9

 

Mergansers fishing

Eartlier in the day, 2 pairs of Merganser were seen actively feeding close to the shore with their heads under water and only diving when they spied a tasty morsel. This is shown in Fonas photo on the right.

It is not common to see Mergansers feeding in this manner. It is like the way Goosanders feed in shallow water. In Lough Allen during a successful breeding year single birds are often seen diving in deep water in the middle of the Lake.

 

Comment:

This was an enjoyable day with some unexpected discoveries and the important Mergansers present and active in good numbers, but are they breeding? Other species present were the Common Sandpipers (7) It remains a difficult year fro plants and animals. Hopefully Lough Allens special plants such as the Orchids and Blue-eyed grass will get going soon. Some pollen pollution and associated occurrences of Cyanophyceae in dispersed small colonies along with Dinoflagellates was worrying but it was only in Corry in the afternoon that it was disturbing to see children generating persistent foam and bubbles simply by playing in the water! We are preparing a report of this issue for the Water Log. Hopefully the weather will remain good enough to support the Biodiversity but not hot enough to create a cyanobloom!

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14. South end of Lough Allen

Location: Srabraggan and the islands at the South end of Lough Allen. 5pm-8.30pm May 30th 2013

Weather: Fine, clear, wind NW force 2 or 3. Temperature c. 15 C at start of trip

Water: Little choppy in places. Water temperature 15.6 C down to 14.3C (start and end of trip). Level at lock 2.44m. Water samples taken

Intro:

Started from Srabraggan beach, and headed across the lake towards Jennys Island and The Spit (much more dry land available here since last trip). Surveyed the shorelines of Inishafail, Derrintober, Holly Island and Spiranthes Islands and down to Murhaun Bay just north of Drumshanbo. On our return, checked the shallow Inishfail and Mountallen Bays for birds. Did not cover Long and Round Island on this trip as this area was a bit exposed to the wind. 

Species:

Sandpipers (4 in all) seen at Srabraggan and Jennys Island. About 10 Mallard in total (2 at Srabraggan, 6 at Spiranthes Island and further two at Wigeon Bay). On The Spit, there were 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, one on nest on central circle of boulders. On the floating Pontoon between Inishfail and the Sluices, there were 2 Common Gulls. About 10 Black-headed Gulls were actively fishing in Murhaun Bay just north of Drumshanbo. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were seen here also, in among the reeds just south-east of Spiranthes Island. They were courting and displaying, and had a half-finished nest among the reeds. A further single Great Crested Grebe spotted fishing in Mountallen bay, flew east.

Mergansers.

Just one pair seen just off Inishfail; a mature male and female which flew north towards Jennys Island.

Comment:

It was good to see the Great Crested Grebes making a go of it! Perhaps it may not be too late for some Gulls species to breed, even though it is a little late? The water level is coming down slowly and warm weather is forecast for the next week.

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13. A quiet place for Birds

Location: North shore of the lake, 6.30-10.30am May 25th 2013

Weather: Sunny mostly, SW wind force 2 or 3, temperature 12.5C

Water: Temperature 10.8, level at lock 2.56m

Intro:

The forecast was for fairly calm weather early in the day, however the wind arrived earlier than expected and the lake was a little choppy. Launching the boat at Corry Strand, we headed out towards Drummans Island and the northwest shore, went south as far as Tarmon Point and then a bumpy ride across the Lake to Church Island and visited all sites in that area except for Rossmore as the lake was getting significantly rough at this stage..

Species:

A Kingfisher seen at the small river at Lecarrow. Between Corry Island and the mainland shore, a lone male Merganser was swimming. We checked the trees and undergrowth on Corry Island around where the Merganser was, but found no sign of a nest or a mate. He may have been a sole male trying to attract a female?

Checked out the shoreline from Spencer Harbour down as far as the old Fish Farm bay, but no further Mergansers seen. We then surveyed the northeast corner and disappointingly small number of birds seen here. 14 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on two locations with no sign of nesting. 1 pair of Common Gulls near a nest on Gull Island. 4 Canada Geese here also. These are becoming a bit of a pest around the Lake. 1 Cormorant at Shannon and 2 Sandpiper at Church Island (1 also seen at Drummans Isl.) 4 Herons here also with 2 landing on separate nests.

One area did really stand out today, and that was Annagh lake, which was reached on foot from Druminalass. The south end of Annagh lake is connected by a small stream to Druminalass lake, and the lake and stream area are filled with reeds. The hills are covered with scrubby Goat Willow and Hawthorn trees, and a ground cover of high Gorse. This area was filled with many species of small birds particularly Warblers. Species present included 2 Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds and low bushes, a Blackcap could be heard among the hawthorn trees, and Willow Warblers and ChiffChaffs were common. A pair of Reed Buntings were around as well, but the most entertaining birds were the Dunnocks! These are a common Irish species but not often obvious. Normally a quiet, unassuming little bird which skulks in the undergrowth, these were flying around excitedly, calling and displaying. Even perching high on the tip of a Hawthorn tree long enough for us to photograph them! They are a very attractive species seen close up. They belong to a specisal gropu of birds and are the only one of their kind found in the British Isles.

Mergansers.

7 or 8 in total. The one at Drummans, 4 between Church Island and Rossbeg Pt. and 2 on the shore at Deadmans Pt. south west of Kilgarriff. 1 male was also present at Corry Strand on our return but this could easily have been the individual from Corry Island. Other individuals could well have been present and missed because of rough weather.

On the ground, the plants found included Marsh Violets (they are everywhere around Lough Allen this year!), Marsh Lousewort, and Yellow Pimpernel (pictured).

Comment:

It was lovely to see the Passerines (perching birds) enjoying Spring. Weather was warm when the Sun was out. It was cold when we started but pleasant later on apart from a worrying south westerly swell that made it uncomfortable passing the exposed Corry Shoal. The early cold and the choppy conditions seem to have been keeping most water birds subdued apart from the noisy Canada Geese which, of course, are not native species!

 

 

12. High Water levels on Lough Allen

Location: Cormongan and the islands, Srabraggan and Mountallen Bay, May 19th, 6.30-8.30pm

Weather: Grey with dark sky, calm, temperature 11 (down to 8.5 C at end of trip)

Water: Very high water levels, water surface flat calm.

The Spit, almost under water with no space for nesting...

Intro:

This evenings boat trip was to check out where the Mergansers were (as we had not been out on the lake since May 10th) and to check for other breeding birds. However, the water level on the lake was extremely high; this could seriously affect the Gulls and other birds ability to nest and breed this year. The bad Spring has already delayed growth and the water, which was high a month ago, is now even higher, to the extent that The Spit is almost completely flooded.

Species:

In previous years, by the end of May The Spit would be packed with nesting Gulls of three different species, with occasional visiting Curlew, Lapwing, Sandpiper and others. Today, there were up to ten Black-headed Gulls perching on boulders just above the water; but there was no dry land available for them to nest on. These Gulls were spotted fishing actively further south on the lake, returning to The Spit to roost on the rocks. There was just one very small area of The Spit above the water; this was a ring of large boulders, in which a Lesser Black-backed Gull was sitting on a nest (a pair also nested in this spot last year the highest point on The Spit). There was no sign of Common Gulls or Common Terns. It was quite a depressing sight. Large flocks of Grey Crows were flying around; their nesting colony on Long Island is increasing and they could pose another threat to Gulls or other breeding birds this year?

Mergansers.

However, we did see some Mergansers 5 in all. Hopefully they will nest and breed despite the high water levels? One pair were spotted between the mainland and Jennys island, and flew towards Long Island. Later, another pair flew out from Inishfail, and onto the south shore of Jennys island. Both of these pairs were mature adults. Lastly, a single immature Merganser was spotted just off the east shore of Long Island.

Other birds.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls, one pair, on The Spit, on nest. Also on The Spit, a pair of Greater Black-backed Gulls and up to 10 Black-headed Gulls, all on resting on boulders barely above the water. On Jennys Island, a Canada Goose was sitting on a nest with five eggs; its partner swimming a short way offshore. Though these Canada geese have been on the lake for two years or so, breeding hasnt been recorded up to now. Sandpipers were present on most of the islands, though perhaps not as many as in other years? Three Great Crested Grebes were spotted off Srabraggan shore, actively fishing.

 

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11. Marsh Violets

 

Location: Annagh Lake, May 10th 2013, 3pm-4.30pm

Weather: Some rain, otherwise sunny, SW breeze, temperature 11C

Water: Temperature not taken, level at lock 2.76m

Intro:

Todays work related to a study of one of the northern inlets, Annagh Lake. Lough Allen was much too open and windy for a safe boat survey.

Species:

Mergansers.

No Mergansers present at Cormongan. However, shortly after arriving at Annagh, 5 were seen moving out from the eastern shore a few hundred metres from the car park, in a suspicious manner.  No Mergansers have been known to breed here and the shoreline is not that suitable. Interesting to see them here. They could have just been avoiding the rough outer lake though they would be well adapted to this. Or were they prospecting for nest sites on the shore? Least we know there are good populations of Mergansers on Lough Allen; maybe they are expanding their breeding areas?

Other Birds.

Only other species of note was a Common Sandpiper in Annagh Lake. These are dispersed all around the lake but seem very flighty and may not have settled down to breeding yet due to the sustained poor weather.

Marsh Violet.

Though this was a good start to the afternoons trip, the next was an unexpected surprise. Marsh Violets! These were growing near the shore, in an area where water is flowing or seeping down from sloping fields above. These are uncommon enough in the north midlands and are very local. The only other place we have seen them around Lough Allen is near the Yellow River.

This picture (right) shows this most charming little plant (Viola palustris) quite different to the Early Wood, or the Common Violet being  of a much paler colour and an unusual lilac shade with very dark purple markings on the petals. The leaves (seen here on the bottom of the picture) are quite rounded and coiled up like a little funnel.

This Violet likes fairly open places that are poor in calcium and moderately poor in nutrients. They also thrive in soils that are acidic, boggy or a bit sandy. Many specimens were encountered in a 50m. square in the southeast corner of Annagh, particularly favouring wet flushes and soggy areas with moss, Sneezewort and often favouring elevated clumps of moss near Alder trees typical acid conditions though the underlying geology may have been alkaline. The occurrence of these plants followed the water flow right down to the shore where we have found the Irish Ladys Tresses Orchid another acid loving plant in past Summers. These Violets produce surface root suckers which, if they break off, can be carried to new place by flowing water.

Upwards of 90 plants were found within this 50 sq m plot but the numbers decreased and seemed to disappear as we walked northwards back to the car park, perhaps through slightly drier more grass covered fields. The typical conditions of occurrence of this elusive species is shown in the photograph at the top of the page.

The second picture on the Right shows a close up of the flower of the Marsh Violet. The differences between it and the more common Violets (Early Wood, and Common Dog Violet) are more evident at this magnification. It is quite a small, delicate plant, with a single slender flower stalk, and few leaves. It does not grow in clumps like the Common Dog Violet but there can be multiple specimens in the right place. On its own it would be quite easy to miss, though the flower is bright and the colour very unusual. This is really a most attractive plant. Not only rare but different. It is the only Violet to have rounded petals (other Violets have narrow petals).

The Marsh Violet is very strict regarding habitat, being present in one field and absent in the next. It loves spots where thick moss, much water, and rushes are growing. In other areas within the 50 sq m Plot where there was less moss growth and more stones, fewer of these Violets were seen. The Common Dog Violet was also abundant here but occurring in slightly different niches. This latter species, an alkaline loving plant, was also thriving here with stunning cobalt blue flowers and shiny green leaves but it was in shaded areas on banks and walls with a westerly aspect and not common in the open ground where the Marsh Violets were. An interesting example of micro-habitats side by side!

Viola palustris apparently likes the cold and the wet so it should feel at home in Leitrim! In Ireland generally it is found in the north, south and west, with few occurrences in central Ireland and the East

 

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10. A windy Spring!

Location: Various sites around Lough Allen, April 28th to May 7th 2013

Weather: Often grey and misty, some sun but breezy most of the time, temperature varied from about 8 to 14 C.

Water: Clear for the most part, level at lock not taken since April 27th (2.64m)

 Fen area close to the Shannon at the north end of Lough Allen, showing Myrtle bushes in flower; Slieve an Iarainn background right, Playbank left

Intro:

Since our last boat trip on 27th April, there have been few opportunities to get out on the lake to check the Mergansers and other wildlife. The weather has been unsuitable; either too grey and misty/rainy, or else the wind was too strong for a safe trip around the lake. Depending on the wind direction, it can be difficult to launch or to safely get the boat back out of the water.

So for the last ten days or so, trips have been to particular spots around the lake that can be reached on foot; Galley Bog near Drumshanbo and Srabraggan, Spencer Harbour and Termon stream, Corry Strand and Butterbur shore, Rossmore, Annagh lake and the Fen area close to the Shannon at the north end of the lake (Royal Fern patch) and lastly, Cormongan. In many cases (depending on the weather) the visits were quite quick, checking what birds were around the shoreline or on islands. However, more time was spent at Galley bog (a breezy but sunny day) Spencer Harbour and the Royal Fern patch. (Royal ferns have been featured on this website before, see link to Tala 12 HERE)

Soecies:

Mergansers have not been seen since our last boat trip (though we received a report that a pair were present near Spencer Harbour, a place where they appear to breed most years). Very little sign of breeding Gulls. The water level is still quite high and half of The Spit is still flooded, though some Gulls could be seen (from Cormongan) on The Spit. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were seen on the rocky island off Srabraggan, and may be nesting there. Other birds seen included many pairs of Sandpipers; at Spencer Harbour, Corry Strand, Annagh Lake and Srabraggan.

Growth, up to this week ( May 6th) has been very restricted. As an example, the Fen area which we refer to as the Royal Fern patch, is very bare, brown and rushy, with the Royal Fern plants only just beginning to uncurl; maximum height of these shoots on May 6th was c.12cm. For comparison, when photographs of the Royal Fern (for the Tala 12 feature) were taken on 22nd April 2011, these plants were growing extremely well, up to a height of 3m, with fertile fronds fresh and green.

Bogbean, a typical plant of this area, was not seen at all here on May 6th and the only flowers recorded were Marsh Marigold and some Ladys Smock. Hairy Cap Mosses were growing well here, and the Myrtle bushes were flowering. Many of the usual Fen Spring flowers were not seen It has been a cold, windy and late Spring this year!

Royal Fern shoots, early stage of development on May 6th 2013; these were seen growing up through burnt
tussocks of last years Ferns. (Tussocks just seen in the foreground of landscape picture, top of page)

 

Another place visited (May 1st) was Galley Bog, just north of Drumshanbo. This is quite an important and interesting area, and one which has been featured before (see HERE). It has a wide and healthy variety of bog species.

A few Skylarks were seen over the bog; Sand Martins were plentiful (perhaps sixty in number) although they dont appear to have started nesting yet in the turf banks. One Marsh Fritillary was seen, very actively flying around; it is quite early for them! However, it was quite a sunny day, temperature 14 C, and a few other butterflies were also seen (Green-veined White and Tortoiseshell).

There was no sign of Curlews on the bog; (in 2011 a nest was discovered, with four eggs, about this time of year). However, it was a pleasure to find the delicate and attractive Bog Rosemary in flower, in good numbers. (Picture on right.)

Another colourful addition to the bog flora are the Lichens, with a couple of different types shown in the picture on the left. These are both Cladonia species, which is a huge group. The bushy one is probably Reindeer lichen, the other a Cup lichen.

At Spencer Harbour, Early Wood Violets were fading, being taken over by the later flowering Common Dog Violet; Marsh Marigolds were very plentiful near the stream, and Field Speedwell were common in the grassy areas. Normally, in early May, there would be many more Spring flowers around this area.

Liverworts (probably Conocephalum, which has a high cone-shaped spore head) were fairly common on the shady banks at the back of the shore at Spencer Harbour, but were in abundance at the edge of the Termon stream (near the Church at Termon). Further details on Liverworts later on in the season!

 

 

 

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9. Merganser population in Lough Allen

Location: Corry Strand and the islands, North and North-eastern Lough Allen, April 27th 2013, 9am-2.15pm

Weather: Sunny, northerly wind, light breeze, 7-12 C

Water: Smooth but with slight ripples. Water temperature 8.3 C. No foam onshore or in water. Level at lock 2.64m

Based on todays work and the work done 4 days ago (reported below), it now seems that there are 16 or 18 Mergansers on Lough Allen, comprising females, immature males and mature males. Todays trip covered the north and north eastern shore of Lough Allen, visiting all the popular breeding locations for Mergansers. Good numbers were found. Other species studied would include the Heron and the Common Sandpiper.

Intro:

Todays trip left Corry Strand at 9am and returned there at 2.15pm, covering the shores and islands from Corry Point, Corry Shoal, Gull Island, Rossmore, Shannon estuary, up the Shannon for about a kilometre; over to Kilgarrif and Druminalass (and covering Annagh lake on foot), down to Fahy Island and Shoal and finally landing at Church Island for lunch. Then returning via Gull Island and Corry Shoal where the Lesser Black-backed Gulls are starting to colonise. Weather varied from bright, calm sunny weather to occasional  overcast, slightly squally conditions with the wind gusting up to force 3 or 4. Water conditions were nearly always either flat or very slightly rippled. Water quality was good throughout and it was a very pleasant day to be out on the lake.

Species:

Red-breasted Merganser.

Possibly 10 individuals were seen, but seen at different locations at different times so there may have been duplications. The first pair were seen in Rossmore. These were a mature male and female who quickly flew out and landed on Rossbeg Point in the outer bay.  One immature male seen at Annagh lake, and remained there. Two immature males were seen a short time later at the southern end of Druminalass lake; these flew off towards Rossmore. A further five birds were seen just off the southern tip of Church Island. This group comprised 3 mature males and 2 females. They flew off in a group and landed on Gull Island. Its possible that one pair in this group was the same pair sighted earlier in Rossmore and flew to Rossbeg (not far from Church Island), which would put the tally at 8.

Common Gull Pair on Fahy Island

 

Heron.

Church Island has a small Heron colony; it was visited in February and seemed more active then than it was today (7 birds seen on nests then). Only one nest seemed occupied today and this may have been recent rather than current. Four birds were in attendance, occasionally flying over the island, and occasionally roosting on tall trees on the mainland at the north side of the Shannon estuary. Whether this apparent poor breeding result is due to weather conditions or fishing conditions we dont know. It would be interesting to see if the Herons return later.

Common Sandpiper.

Birds were seen or heard (mostly heard) at five locations. One at Rossmore, at Kilgarrif, on Druminalass lake,  Gull Island and Corry Strand. These were almost entirely single birds; probably newly arrived, busily flying about claiming territory and presumably looking for a mate.

Other species seen.

11 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were counted on Corry Shoal. Though there is very little space due to high water levels, they appear to be colonising this shoal again this year. The group included 2 young, 1st year gulls. Approximately 27 Common Gulls were seen in different locations, namely Druminalass lake, on the Shannon River, and on Fahy Island. A pair of Magpies seem to be breeding on Church Island which is unusual; Three  Ravens were also seen on Church Island; Swallows and House Martins were seen in reasonable numbers, fishing mostly over the northern part of the lake. Cormorants, 3 birds seen.

Picture on left... One adult and two young Lesser Black backed Gulls on Corry Shoal. Last year, after heavy rain almost submerged this shoal while the Gulls were still on nests, only three very young chicks were seen, on the few boulders remaining over water. Are these young Gulls two of those chicks that survived last year?

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8. A late start to Spring!

Location: North shore, April 22nd, and Cormongan and the islands,  April 23rd 2013, 7-10am

Weather on 22nd: Choppy, with a stiff westerly breeze occasionally squalling to Force 4, cool.

Weather on 23rd: Grey and misty at first, then sunny for a while. Fairly calm with a light to moderate breeze, air temperature 8-10 C

Water: fairly clear, temperature both days 8.5 C, level at lock 2.72m

Two adult males and one adult female Merganser, near Cormongan, April 23rd 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intro:

We took two trips this weekend by boat; the first from Corry Strand, and the second the following day in the south end of the lake. The trip to the north end was short and no significant wildlife was seen. The Mergansers and other birds, if present, may have been taking shelter. The following day was totally different; we headed out very early from Cormongan. At last there were signs of Spring and breeding birds establishing themselves in the area. A very long Winter and Spring may be coming to an end?

Species:

Red-breasted Merganser.

8 in total. A group of 5 at the edge of Round Island; these quickly split into two groups. A pair, male and female, moved off towards Long Island, while the second group, comprising 2 males and one female, stayed long enough for us to take photographs of them. These were all mature adults. Later, we spotted a group of 3 on the west side of Jennys island. Here, there were two brownhead males (immature) and one female. The males were very attentive to the female, who climbed onto a rock and showed off her sturdy build. Later again, as we were heading back to Cormongan, we spotted a pair of Mergansers on the east side of Long Island. These were presumably the same pair as we spotted a few hours earlier. Because of the beauty of these birds, their obvious animation, and the many interesting poses and activities we saw, we have prepared a special report. (See link HERE for all Merganser pictures from this day.)

Common Gull.

Probably 15 or so in total. 10 on The Spit (5 pairs), displaying. The water level is quite high, and the available nesting area on The Spit is very small. All of these Gulls were on boulders in the highest parts of the island. In other years there have been much larger numbers on The Spit at this time of year (Up to 50 individuals) We saw probably 5 or so more around Holly Island and the pontoon near Inishfail.

Black-headed Gull.

3 in total. These were seen on The Spit, on our return journey. Last year (April 22nd 2012) we counted 4 Black-headed Gulls on The Spit. They appear to start breeding a little later than the Common Gulls. Though this year, they will have very litttle room to nest unless the water levels go down?

Lesser Black-backed Gull.

 8 seen in total. 2 were hanging around Long Island, later on, there were 5 on Round island, flying and calling but not moving away from the island. They appeared to be planning to stay there this year? Also, one individual at The Spit.

Sandpiper.

The Sandpipers have arrived! In 2012, they we recorded them on April 22nd, so they are very punctual! Two were seen on Holly Island, very flighty and excited, displaying and chasing one another all along the shoreline. We didnt see any other Sandpipers on any of the other islands this morning, but hopefully they will arrive in the next day or so. They are one of Lough Allens very special birds and we love to hear their piping call as we explore the lake in the Spring and Summer time.

Mallard.

c.15 in all. Pairs at Round Island, Long island and The Spit. 5 at Jennys Island and 4 around Spiranthes Islands.

Other species seen included 1 Cormorant and 2 Curlews at Spiranthes Islands. It was good to see the Curlews as they have been scarce all Winter and could possibly breed in the area. (Any news on this, please CONTACT us.) No Lapwing were found thought they may be in the area. There seem to be more Great-crested Grebes on the lake than in previous years with 3 pairs being seen today. Grey Crows are colonising the islands with 4 nests on Jennys Island and 8 nests on Long Island. These could be a future threat to rarer species attempting to breed in these areas.

Comment:

A hopeful day with a significant number of Mergansers in a small area and other Summer visitors such as the Gulls, the Grebes and the Curlews also present. A significant pollution event occurred south of Inishfail and is reported in WaterLog 8

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7. Butterbur shore

Location: Corry shoreline, North eastern Lough Allen,  April 21st 2013, 3.30-5pm

Weather: Some sunshine, NE wind, temperature c. 11 C

Water: Clear, temperature and level at lock not taken.

Landscape from Butterbur shore. No green leaves on the trees yet

Intro:

Butterbur is a not uncommon plant of wet ground but we only know of one site where it occurs in L. Allen, near Corry. These are interesting plants that flower before any leaves appear. The opening flowers just thrust up from the sand before any other part of the plant is visible. This feature they share with Coltsfoot.  As this is the only place (so far) that we have seen these plants growing around Lough Allen, we have nicknamed it Butterbur shore. On a very brief visit here about about three weeks ago, there were about seven plants in flower. Today, there were 33!

Butterbur, and the plants associated with it on this shoreline, will be the topic for a new TALA (Trips around Lough Allen) page shortly.

We havent forgotten our breeding birds and especially the Mergansers... but the weather has been so bad (the strong winds particularly) and water levels so high, we have concentrated on occasional shore surveys until the weather improves. Very little bird life to be seen on the lake though; the Mergansers and Gulls must be keeping a very low profile and staying in sheltered bays and shores!

D + F

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6. All quiet on Lough Allen

Location: Cormongan and the islands, Lough Allen April 4th 2013, 11.30-12.30

Weather: Grey, bit choppy, NE breeze, temperature c. 7 C

Water: Clear, temperature 4.5 C, level at lock 2.38m.

A very bare-looking Spit, with Long Island in the middle background (and Round Island to the left)

Intro:

Launched the boat from Cormongan to survey the islands and The Spit. However, the sky was very grey and the NE breeze (occasionally squalls) made the lake look rather inhospitable. In particular The Spit (see above) was very bare, no birds present, and the water level was still quite high. In other years there would have been Common and Black-headed Gulls starting to congregate around The Spit. Similarly, very few birds were seen off the other islands.

Birds seen: One male Merganser was spotted on the west (sheltered) side of Jennys Island; later seen again on the west side of Long Island. No other Mergansers seen. Could this be the same Merganser we saw on March 18th on Annagh Lake?

A lone Lesser Black-backed Gull was seen between The Spit and the mainland shore; a pair of Grey Crows were busy in a nest on Long Island (they dont appear to be affected by the weather unfortunately!). Pair of Mallard seen off Long Island and also off Jennys Island. No Curlews, Lapwings, Common Gulls or Black-headed Gulls to be seen on or around the islands.

At Drumshanbo Lock, there were two Tufted Duck, one Great Crested Grebe, and eight Black-headed Gulls.

D + F

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5. A Merganser weekend!

Location: Sligo Bay March 16th and Lough Allen March 18th

Weather: Sunny and calm on 16th 8 C, Some sun, slight breeze on 18th

Water: Fairly clear in Lough Allen, temperature not taken.

Intro:

This weekend, two trips were undertaken; one around Sligo Bay to see if the Mergansers were still around in their wintering area, and the second to Lough Allen to see had they arrived yet for the breeding season! At this time of year (usually around the end of March), Mergansers start to arrive at Lough Allen. The earliest date they have been seen there was March 26th (this was in 2012). But this isnt to say that they hadnt snuck in before that date!

And they were there in Sligo Bay... not in large numbers, but a pair here and there, busily feeding in the sun. And in one area, they were happily sharing the sea with a dozen or so Seals, who were quite curious about us, and kept pace with us as we walked along the shoreline. The Mergansers were in fine condition with bright colourful plumage, and looking plump and ready for the breeding season ahead.

This Merganser (see picture on right) was one of a pair at Finned Point, Drumcliff Bay. They were fishing among the Seals (see male Merganser in picture right). They swim quite fast (this one has built up quite a wake beside him!) as they search for fish with their heads underwater; then they dive to grab their prey. Occasionally we are lucky enough to see this behaviour on open water on  Lough Allen when the surface is still and calm. One other pair of Mergansers was seen a short distance away.

Three Mergansers (two female, one male) were spotted from the Rosses Point side of the Bay, again they were busy feeding, and one further pair of Mergansers were in a quiet backwater near Beltra, on the south side of Ballisodare Bay.

 

Left... A fine adult female Merganser, with jaunty crest, at Drumcliff Bay

The second visit, on March 18th, took in many areas around Lough Allen, including Annagh and Druminalass lake, Kilgarriff, Corry Strand and Srabraggan. At Annagh lake, near the southern end, we were surprised and delighted to see a male Merganser flying out from the reeds, where we had been watching a small flock of Wigeon. It flew up the lake towards the car park area. The first record for Mergansers on Lough Allen for 2013! Its quite early as well; though maybe in other years we havent looked hard enough.  It is quite possible that our Mergansers fly in from Ballisodare or Drumcliff Bay, we like to think so! But was this male one of the ones we had seen two days ago on the sea?

Other species seen: At Sligo Bay, Wigeon, Teal, Great Northern Diver, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Snipe, Brent Geese, Long-tailed Duck. At Lough Allen, six Wigeon, seven Teal, two Cormorants, three Black-headed Gulls (displaying), 14 Whooper swans (flying down the lake and onto the shore north of Arigna Power Station).

Comment:

It was great to see that Mergansers are on the move, and looking so healthy. Lets hope that this breeding season will be a good one for them... and that it starts soon! At Finned point (where these photographs were taken) we have seen up to ten Mergansers at one time on occasional winter visits. The numbers on Saturday were small.. possibly some of them had already flown to their breeding sites. A very satisfactory weekend, and the sighting of Lough Allens special bird returning to the lake on Monday was the perfect finish!

 

D + F 

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4. Spring Flowers and a Surprise! 

 

Location: Bay west of Rossbeg, north Lough Allen, March 12th 1.30-4.30pm

Weather: Cold, some sunshine, light breeze. Air temperature 3.5 to 6 C

Water: Temperature was 6C,  water level not taken.

Intro:

This was a day of surprises. Firstly, we expected to find Butterbur (Petastites hybridus), but it was only barely found. This is a perennial, native plant whose purplish-pink flowers appear in early Spring. It grows in damp ground often beside rivers or lakes and likes sandy areas, edges of cliffs and woodlands exactly the habitat we found it in. Its an unusual plant in that the flowering spike emerges from the sand before any leaves, however it is not a Saprophyte and does photosynthesise, with large round leaves appearing later in the Summer.

These are presumably male specimens as this species has separate male and female plants a phenomenon rare in flowering plants but found in some trees. The female Butterbur is almost unknown in Ireland. The specimens seen at Rossbeg are assumed to reproduce vegetatively by rhizomes. 

It was good to see it flowering today in the bay west of Rossbeg, where two plants were seen in 2011, but missed in 2012. Its close relative, the Winter Heliotrope, is not a native, but is commonly on roadsides around Lough Allen. The Butterbur, however, is a native plant, found in most of Ireland except the extreme west and south-west.

The location it was seen in today is an interesting one; it has the highest cliffs seen around Lough Allen (c. 20 metres high). These cliffs are mainly Sandstone, with a thin band of shale running through it. The shale band is also seen along the bed of the stream which empties onto the shore and this could possibly be a reason why the Butterbur, and some of the other species mentioned below, occur here?

Our second surprise was a fantastic curtain of icicles on the cliff! (see picture on right). The cold weather in recent days had created a large sheet of these dripping down from overhanging beds of moss near the bottom of the cliff. Though the temperature on the beach had reached about 6C by mid-afternoon, the area under the cliff was dark, and still quite cold. This provided some stunning pictures and is a reminder that Lough Allen indeed is a special place,  one which never ceases to surprise, and is so worthy of protection from contamination!

 

Gollums Grotto; Icicles hanging down from a bed of moss on an overhanging cliff

Species:

Butterbur: Petastites hybridus. This was emerging from the sandy soil close to a small stream and quite difficult to see at first. This plant has has creeping rhizomes, and the three plants seen today were all very close to one another, which perhaps indicates that it reproduced vegetatively. The purplish spikes around the flower head are not leaves but bracts; the leaves (which can be up to 1m across and 1.5m tall) only appear after the flower have matured. It is a rather unusual-looking, but very striking, plant.

Other species seen:

Early Dog Violet, also known as Wood Dog Violet (Viola reichenbachiana) which differs from the common Dog Violet by having a purple, non-dimpled spur at the back of the flower (Dog Violet has a creamy white, dimpled spur); Marsh Marigold (Calthra palustris); Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) a member of the Daisy family, which, like Butterbur, produces flowers before it produces leaves; Sun Spurge, (Euphorbia helioscopia); Primrose (Primula vulgaris); Barren Strawberry (Potentilla sterilis); All of these were just barely in flower.

Comment

This area is quite an interesting habitat, and one deserving of more study. It has the unique feature (for Lough Allen) in having a stretch of cliffs, and visible bedrock. Also, a narrow band of shale is quite visible near the stream entry and forms part of the bed of the stream running onto the shore. There are only a few places around the lake where bedrock is seen (Fossil Strand, near Corry and a small stretch of shoreline near Termon Abbey). The plants associated with this habitat may well be quite different to other areas around the lake.

Unfortunately this area, especially just around the small stream,  has an increasing growth of Himalayan Balsam, an invasive species which is spreading rapidly around Lough Allen, and could have the potential of affecting our native, and important, plant species. Though it does not appear until later in the Spring, it does grow quite tall and can overshadow other plants. It needs to be destroyed at an early stage of growth. This is a species we do NOT want!

 

 

Butterbur plant just emerging from the sand

 

 

D + F 

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3. Early Breeders and late Wintering birds!

Location: Corry Strand and the North eastern part of Lough Allen, March 1st, 2.30pm-5.30pm

Weather: Calm, fairly clear but some haze on western shore. Temperature c.7 C, down to 4.5 C in late evening.

Water: Temperature was 6.1C,  level at Lock 2.3m.

Shoreline at Fahy, near Lough Yugan

Intro:

The aim of this trip was to survey the north eastern part of Lough Allen, including the islands, for wintering wildfowl and other birds. This afternoon was a time of magical landscapes, still clear water, and a mixture of warm sunshine and striking chills when the sun was obscured. Included in the survey were Lough Yugan (no duck) and Druminalass lake, as well as Rossmore. As the water level has been going down steadily, the islands were becoming a more popular place to find birds. Corry Shoal, so long almost under water since last Summer, held a good sized flock of Teal, which were spotted again in other parts of the lake. The good weather, and the stillness of the water, again made it much easier to spot birds on the water, and to follow their flight path. Herons were back in their Heronry on Church Island with much activity around three nests all in one tree.

 

Species:

Teal. 24 were at Corry Shoal. These flew off towards Fahy and were seen again later on Druminalass lake. About half of the flock flew over the hill into Annagh lake, the remainder headed out of Druminalass in the direction of Fahy shore. They seemed to be quite wild and flighty, like they were preparing to depart like the Wigeon observed  a couple of days ago. Mallard. c. 20 in total. Six at Druminalass lake, four off Church Island and ten more (seen in pairs) in the Rossmore/Gull island area. At least 8 Heron. were seen. One at Church Island, one in Rossmore, and a further one on the north shore of Shannon inflow.  the lake. Six were seen later on a high tree on Church Island in the Heronry area. There appeared to be three nests on this tree; two Herons were in one (central) nest, while the nests on either side of this had one Heron. Two further Herons flew in and landed close to these nests. This Heronry has seen mixed success in previous years; in 2012, one dead adult Heron was found below the trees, and some smashed Herons eggs. Cormorant. Probably 5 in total. Two were seen flying off Corry Shoal which is always a favourite spot for them and later, a group of five flew past Church Island in the direction of Corry Shoal. In other years, five Cormorants was the maximum number seen in the northern part of the lake.

Gull species. Five Common Gulls (two at Corry Point, one on Little Gull Island and one in the Shannon Estuary), One Lesser Black-backed Gull on Gull Island. No Black-headed Gulls were seen on the lake; however, on returning from the trip, a flock of about 15 of these Gulls flew across the main road from the Galley bog towards the lake shore. Other species. One Curlew in Rossbeg, one Great Crested Grebe, also at Rossbeg which spent most of its time underwater. fishing, and the three Farmyard Geese from Drummans in the reeds at Rossmore!

The entrance channel to Druminalass lake

 

 

Comment:

A good afternoons work; probably longer than anticipated as it seemed a shame not to visit as many places as possible in such clear, calm conditions. Still awaiting the arrival of the Gulls to their breeding sites; the Teal and Wigeon will probably be leaving the lake fairly soon but it is always possible Teal could breed. If you see any of the species mentioned in these logs over the next week or so (or any other wildlife around Lough Allen) do please let us know by email HERE. No further boat or shore trip, unfortunately, until the 11th March!

D + F 

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2. A Lake of two halves...

Location: Cormongan, the islands and southern part of Lough Allen. February 26th. Time: 9.15am - 12.30pm

Weather: Calm, clear and cold. Sunny north of Inishfail, Freezing fog south of this! Temperature -0.5C to 4.5 C

Water: Temperature was 6C in the sunny area, and 4.5C in the foggy part of lake. Level at Lock 2.4m.

 Intro:

The purpose of this boat trip was to survey the southern part of the lake and the islands, checking for wintering birds and other wildlife. Launching the boat at Cormongan, the area covered included the west shore from Srabraggan south to Holly Island, and the east shore from Cormongan as far south as Corlough, close to Drumshanbo. The islands were surveyed from the boat but not landed upon. A good flock of Wigeon was seen and a smaller flock of Teal, along with Great Crested Grebes and a sole Curlew.

The micro climate on the lake was quite marked; north of Inishfail and all the way across the lake, the water was flat calm, the sun was out, though it was fairly cold (4.5C). These incredibly clear and calm conditions (not seen in Lough Allen for a long time) enabled us to see Wigeon and other birds on the lake very clearly, and at quite a distance. The lake south of Inishfail, however, was shrouded in a freezing fog. As the boat entered this part of the lake, the temperature dropped close to zero, and the wind arose to give quite a chop to the water surface. A small group of Whoopers were sighted, along with a few other species. The freezing temperatures meant a fairly rapid visit to the usual sites in this part of the lake before heading back northwards into the sun.

 

A flock of Wigeon on Lough Allen shore

 

Species:

Wigeon. A flock of 39 was actively moving around the sunny part of the lake between Cormongan and Srabraggan. Though they are a common wintering duck, they were hard to throughout this winter on Lough Allen because of bad weather and high water levels. These Wigeon flew off into the centre of the lake and, some time later, we were able to confirm our count total by spotting two separate flocks, one of 26 (near Cormongan) and one of 13 (in mid lake west of Round Island). Mallard. These tended to come in twos today (see pic on left) as befits the oncoming breeding season! Pairs were seen at Long Island, Round Island, Jennys Island and Holly Island. Five were spotted around Spiranthes Island, six in Srabraggan bay, and four just off Cormongan. A total of 23 in all. 22 Teal were seen north of Inishfail.

Gull species. Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls on The Spit (perhaps hoping to breed there again this year among the Black-headed Gulls?); Four Common Gulls, (1 at Spiranthes Island, 2 at Holly Island, 1 at Srabraggan). One lone Black-headed Gull, in summer plumage, at Derrintober.Great Crested Grebe. A pair was spotted fishing actively around Sandpiper Shoal, also a single bird between Holly Island and the Sluices, and a further pair fishing in Mountallen Bay. Five in total. Four Whooper Swans on Derrintober shore, which flew off and were seen later in Mountallen Bay. A pair of Mute Swans were in the channel leading to the Sluices.

Other Species. A single Curlew was at Srabraggan shoreline, two Redwings were seen flying round Jennys Island, and one Cormorant was at The Spit.

A pair of Mallard flying in the sunshine

 

 

 

Comment:

It was a good to see Wigeon and Teal in fairly good  numbers (for Lough Allen) as they have not been seen much around the lake this winter. (This has been remarked upon by some local people who live close to the lake.) However, it was disappointing not to see more Curlew; Lapwing, too, were noticeable by their absence. But overall, a good days survey for the first boat trip of 2013.

D + F 

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1. Spring returns to Lough Allen!

The weather in the early part of 2013 has been extremely wet with little opportunities for field work on Lough Allen. The birds, too, seem to have been in hiding (as opposed to the cold winter of 2010). However for the past week or so (from mid February) the weather has been dry, often very cold at night, but often sunny by day. The level of water in the lake has gone down considerably and many birds are out and about on the lake.

Location: Drummans, Corry, Annagh & Cormongan. February 25th. Time: 10am - 1.30pm 

Weather: Calm, clear and sunny. Temperature 1C at 10am, 4.5 C at 1.30

Water: Clean for the most part. Ice on the edges of the lake. Level at Lock 2.42m. Pollution: Slight (see WaterLog)

Intro: This was the best day in a long time. The north end of the lake was surveyed by foot looking mainly for wintering wildlife as it is still much too early for most Spring flowers. Feral species seemed to come in 3s like an updated version of the Ark? Three Feral Goats, three semi-domesticated Canada Geese (six more in Annagh), and three escaped farmyard Geese at Drummans Island. These are recorded as they do cause some confusion and the Goats, in particular, are a possible threat to valuable native species. So far, however, they have not been seen in sensitive areas such as where the Irish Ladys Tresses are found in the Summer.

The most exciting feature of todays study was the large numbers of finches and other small birds on the move. They were especially abundant along the shore west of the Diffagher River. Here a large party of Long-talied Tits, Siskins and Redpolls were actively feeding on Alder catkins. Both of the latter species were seen to regularly drop down to the water edge and they appeared to be both taking water and also picking up some food from the shore. These are both forest species and, at many times of the year, can be very difficult to see.. If you are near the lake shore and among Alders at this time, do look out for little green or red headed finches!

Waterfowl were scarce here and in the adjoining backwater but six Mallard and eight Wigeon were found in the Drummans Island - Corry shore area. In Annagh Lake six more Canada Geese occurred and two Whooper Swans

 At Cormongan the shoreline was clear, no sign of foam, but no sign of any birds either. The vegetation on Long Island was quite sparse, much of the island having been under water for the winter. Underneath the trees on the island there appears to be a large amount of new shingle and sand deposited. This could be a factor for nesting Mergansers, Common Sandpipers, and other birds?

SISKIN

One of several species feeding on the rich source of food in Alder catkins abundant at this time of year all around L. Allen

 

REDPOLL

A common widespread species but often hidden in the forests. It was unusual to see a small flock alighting on the beach and foraging in between the boulders

Comment: Hopefully, the current dry, calm, spell will continue so that the lake water will be at a low level for Mergansers and other breeding birds, enabling them to have a successful breeding season this year. The Mergansers should be leaving the coast and arriving at the lake around the end of March; the Gulls should be congregating on their breeding colonies also, and the Sandpiper another bird whose breeding can be affected by high water levels should be seen from late April. A low level of water would also be great for Irish Ladys Tresses, which were present only in moderate numbers in 2012.

D + F 

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