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Slieve League, Co. Donegal
WildWest.ie
An exploration of wild & interesting places in Ireland and their western European/American flora and fauna…
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WildWest BLOG

One of a series of reports — loosely called a BLOG — which we use to share shorter accounts of the wildlife and landscape that we enjoy in our place be it Ireland, the West of Ireland, or just our home place. These are essentially day logs where we want to share something with you or reproduce a significant picture.
Contacting US: We would be delighted to hear from you with contributions or comments or your own observations. Please just use the Contact Us tab in the Banner above… (NOTE: This Log will be replacing the Records and Research tab.)
Blog No: 2017/b	“Summer Snowflake”	2nd April
Co. Roscommon. Boyle River entering Lough Key just west of the N4 Unfortunately mainly an introduced species spreading westwards across Ireland as a garden escape. It may be a native of the Thames Valley and France but is abundant locally in Ireland. However this is an extraordinarily beautiful plant that literally stopped us in our tracks. We were heading down the Boyle River for Lough Key when these bright flowers bursting into bloom, on an unoccupied island on the north side of the channel, caught our eye. These are unpredictable in their location but often seem to thrive on river edges and expand their distribution downstream. A member of the Daffodil family it shares the graceful nodding habit of that group. It is a big plant growing up to 60cm high on this watery site beside the main channel of the Boyle River. One suspects it may have established itself here by floating down the river from some garden upstream. But it is a welcome addition to our flora as it is an exquisite delicate but luxurious plant; a striking addition to our biodiversity and one which does no harm!
Blog No: 2017/a	“Toothworth”	21st March  Details: This is the Common Toothwort. Specimens were found today on a Sycamore in the southern Beech/Ash wood in Lough Key Forest Park. Photos: 1500-1600, 21 March 2017 overcast and dark woodland conditions, so flash was used. The Plant: Toothworts are among a group of saprophytes, or parasites/epiphytes, often found in mature or dying Beech or mixed woods. These plants do not have chlorophyll. They lack green colour and are totally dependent on an association with rotting trees or a fungal partner to enable them to produce these magnificent flowering heads. They have a delicious soft pink ‘complexion’ on their petals. This shows up the small but strikingly yellow tips on the styles. These plants are open all day. (The darkness of the background is caused by the use of flash to obtain fine detail in the plant structure.) Like a lot of plants that derive their nutrients from the ground rather than the sun, these plants emerge quickly and have a short life being eaten and trodden on very quickly. The flowers are gently curved and are all on one side of the stem leading to an attractive drooping appearance. Fertilisation is by Bumble Bees and the female styles shown prominently (on RIGHT) are designed to attract these bees. Sometime seen as rare this plant is widespread but often hidden due to its secretive underground existence with only a short period when the flowers burst above ground. This is supported by a network of connected underground rhizomes and underground scaly leaves.  Food is obtained by attaching special ‘suckers’ on the tips of the roots to the root system of a host plant. So this is a true parasitic plant! But, seemingly, one that likes to feed on trees that are already rotting? Number and Distribution: Approximately 200 specimens were found in three groups close to one another. Further away from this cluster no plants were seen but they may be yet to emerge. Common Scoter   The West of Ireland is home to some species of ducks not found elsewhere in Ireland or species that are even infrequent breeders in Britain. It is good to have them and important not to harm them or their habitats.  Scoter Up to 5 pairs of Common Scoter have been known to breed in this lake in North Roscommon for many years. Photos were taken from a boat and the birds seemed tame and largely un-bothered by our presence. So far we have seen 4 birds together at some distance actively displaying and courting. So probably 2 pairs? The birds shown in the picture have obviously bonded as they were very ‘close’ and no other Scoter were present at this location.        	Blog No: 2017/c	“Some Rare Ducks”	29th May Are they breeding? Probably not yet; the location they were found in could not be described as suitable habitat being basically the unsheltered edge of a large field with shallow water offshore and many reed beds. When approached the birds seemed to be resting and were very tame. However, the female bird soon led the pair past the front of our boat and, as we withdrew, started actively feeding in the shallow water.  We were curious to determine the nature of the food as there were large beds of Zebra Mussels and much tall submerged water weed (species to be identified) in the area. She dived very regularly and stayed down for about 30 seconds each time. No food was seen in her mouth when she re-surfaced. The male was largely impassive and stayed on the surface. The males leave the inland breeding ground after mating and migrate some distance before their moult renders them flightless. Females and young follow in September. Breeding grounds are open waters not surrounded by tall woods or steep hills. Very large rafts of wintering birds (1,000’s) have been observed off Murvagh Beach in Donegal Bay in past Winters. This may be the source of Irish breeding stock. Diet is mainly of molluscs. (For more information on all of this check the IUCN Red List where this species is rated ‘least concern’.) The National Parks and Wildlife service has published a report on their status in Ireland (HERE). Monitoring is infrequent and we hope that our observations may help track and conserve this species. Clean water… The Banded Demoiselle  is found all over Ireland. It is an indicator of very clean water and is very sensitive to pollution. It seeks out slow moving mud bottomed canals and streams. They need healthy water and lush emergent plants to perch on in between their dancing bouncing courtship flights. Hard to photograph with all their activity and wind and sun coming and going! These photos were taken on the banks of the Boyle Canal, Co. Roscommon.  They are somewhat larger than the Common Blue Damselflies and have a totally different action. The female (LEFT) is a bronzy/green with yellowish wings and no black spots. The males, however, have a striking blue or green body with a very distinctive dark patch on both fore and hind wings which can be iridescent. Colour Transformation. The two pictures on RIGHT are of the same individual male showing off  its beautiful metallic green colouration. Ooops… it changed to blue when the sun emerged! The smaller picture taken about a minute later, as the sun came out, shows that its body colour has changed to a metallic blue! Same damselfly, same position, same photographer, but a different apparent colour! This colour change was also visible to the eye and happened immediately the light changed.       	Blog No: 2017/d	“Demoiselles ”	7th June Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens  Camera was on auto and as sun returned exposure went from 1/640 sec to 1/2000 sec. Note shadow on leaf below wing in small picture. This made little difference to vegetation but the demoiselle’s whole body showed a different sheen? Wing detail of another male showing blue veins and blackish spot. Blog No: 2017/f	“Great Crested Grebe”	9th July +
Click image where you see this symbol to get a larger view

Association between Orchids and Fungi.

All orchids need a fungal (mycorrhizal) association at some stage in their lives. Birdsnest Orchids need this for all their lives; green orchids only need it at the seed germination stage.  “ It is currently debated if green orchids depend on specific mycobionts or may be equally promoted by a broad spectrum of mycorrhizal fungi… (Suárez and Kottke: Main fungal partners… of orchid mycorrhizae)
Blog No: 2017/f	“A mysterious Orchid”	16th June

Birdsnest Orchid

Neottia nidus-avis

These ghostly orchids grow in dark places deriving their food from rotting wood not photosynthesis. This plant has no green parts and does not have chlorophyll! Samples were photographed in Lough Key Forest Park in early June. There are several colonies of this species in the Park but normally only with a few specimens. A traditional site has been almost removed by the fall of its associated Beech tree.

Habitats:

This species is inevitably linked to woods (often beech) as they have shallow roots and bare forest floors. The Neottia typically occur in rings around an old dying Beech tree (A), or associated with a rotten logs lying on the ground (B). See image BELOW. These groups may survive for many years but this year has proved a good year. Other members of the Neottia genus are the Twayblades; these are green chlorophyllic plants.
Beechwood habitat at Drummans, Lough Key, Co. Roscommon. 41 plants have been found at this small site
A B

(RIGHT)

Large Colony

Recently a good friend, came across a very large population (100’s) of Birdsnest Orchids near Cahir, Co. Tipperary. (© Jackie O’Connell)
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Summer Snowflake

Leucojum aestivum

Toothwort Lathraea squamaria

Today on Lough Arrow was a day of variable weather, cold — almost wet, then fine and calm with hot sunshine. Wind was consistently from the south west, f4 at first and them almost calm by 8pm. We were struck by this pattern of clouds bubbling up to the West (right) then joining to form am arc over the lake. Perhaps mountains to the west were cooling water laden air from the Atlantic…
Great Crested Grebe. Podiceps cristatis Lough Arrow is noted for some unusual breeding water birds like the Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter. We have reported in this Blog on the Common Scoter — none were seen today. However, today, another water bird (but not a duck) was catching our attention. These photographs are of the Great-Crested Grebe, a common bird in Ireland but always worth observing. This family group were seen in the middle of the lake with the female carrying one of her young on her back for most of the time. These young are well able to swim and dive  at this age but they seem slightly vulnerable out in a wild lake with some rough waves building up in the squalls. The male was in attendance but the chicks were not seen to climb on his back! Grebes for some reason often have small litters compared to ducks. They do nest on floating nests often attached to reeds so may be vulnerable to rough weather or changing water levels. A very common species in Lough Arrow Great Crested Grebes are attractive birds well known for their exotic frills and mating displays. The male in particular (in background on RIGHT) are quite spectacular during the mating s–eason [MORE]. Outside of this season these fish eaters are dispersed and are never seen in large flocks that ducks such as Tufted Ducks may form on Lough Allen. The Grebes occur both in small ponds, large lakes and the open sea during the Winter
(ABOVE) Young Grebe seeks shelter on mother’s back.
Hope this photograph shows up as strikingly as it appeared out on the lake. These were fast moving clouds which looked if they were emerging from a mountain cauldron to the west, moving fast over Inishmoire with Hollybrook to the right and Ballynary to the left. This is a composite of 4 images stitched together.
Blog No: 2017/e	“A rare mountain Orchid”	9th June

Small White Orchid

Pseudoorchis albida

Not only does it grow in hilly isolated places but this plant is also isolated botanically. It is the only member of its genus, Pseudorchis. Most groups within the Orchid family have many members. However this species is widespread from Iceland, Scandinavia, Russia, much of Europe and is also found in Greenland and eastern North America. We are curious about the name but have no idea of its derivation. Why is it called pseudo? Perhaps it is because they were deemed similar but different from an other Orchid genus, Orchis, represented in Ireland by the Early Purple Orchid is very clearly a true orchid but with certain distinguishing characteristics.
One of our more attractive orchids — which ones are not — but this one has to be sought in quiet places on the side of mountains. It is described as very rare and is, thankfully, protected by the Flora Protection Order. (It cannot be picked.)
In Ireland we know this species from Cavan, Leitrim and Sligo. It typically grows on gently sloping foothills on the periphery of higher mountains. It is very intolerant of improved land and if a site is fertilised and management this may mark the end of this species in that location. However, it is tolerant of disturbance and is often found in fields with cattle —so small they miis it?

The Pictures

The images above are recent pictures from Co. Sligo in, an area of upland west of Boyle. We came across this site late last year when the plants were dying and only counted 8. This year by widening our search area we were pleased to establish 21 records. Plants were associated with the 300m contour which is higher than we have found them in other counties. The middle picture is from 9th June when the plants are maturing, the other are shortly after the flowers started to emerge in late May. They are really tiny and insignificant at this stage but can become impressive and almost 30cm high later. As sown (RIGHT) they favour rough hilly pasture (without too much fertiliser) and grazed periodically so there is a low sward for seeds produced to settle in. If grass become too lush this will block the plants reproducing.

Abundance

Because of its inconspicuous size for most of the time and its fondness for isolated places this plant is probably widely under-recorded. For many years we struggled to find it around Lough Allen where there is a good colony in nearby Dowra. It is very much a species of defined conditions. Once you find those conditions other unknown colonies of the plant may be found. It is important to find these and record them as this species can be very vulnerable to progress and intensification of farming. In the Cavan site it is now normally found on low walls rather than in fields. Our other pictures were from the highest pastures which have moderate and regulated grazing — perfect conditions for the survival of this protected species

Europe

Photograph on LEFT was taken on July 1st which probably reflects a much higher altitude than our specimens occur at. This photograph was taken by Bernd Haynold at Zillertaler Alpen on the Austrian/Italian border where mountain passes exceed 3,000 m. Many thanks to him and to WikiSpecies for providing this wonderful image.

Flora Protection Order

This Order is very beneficial to protecting rare natural Irish Heritage. Also, in recent years, it has become beneficial to Farmers in terms of the GLAS scheme granting automatic qualification to landowners with this species on their property. The Order stipulates that, for a list of species, one is not permitted to harm or destroy these plants, nor is it permissible to damage their habitat. The intent of this policy is to reduce the loss of species in Ireland. A former protected species (Green-winged Orchid) has been removed from the list and is now disappearing as its specific habitat needs are being altered mainly through intensive fertilisation. Another species in Co. Mayo, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, has suffered serious damage recently where cattle broke into wild unoccupied land and did much damage to a huge resource of this species. Elsewhere illegal shoreline development wiped out an important habitat for some of this species. The latest version of the Order (2015), with a species list, can be found HERE. (Apologies we are having problem with links from grouped objects; hope to fix it soon.) Hover over the link and you will see full detailed address at bottom of your screen.
Blog No: 2017/g	“Roadside Flower Environment”	6th July
Suffolk County Council in England have a wonderful policy of Roadside Habitat Listing. You can search for a particular plant that you have not yet identified and they will show you where it is known to occur (if it occurs in Sufflok) and you can simply drive carefully to the place where the designated zone will be marked on the road. Typically these are very small roads and you may not be able to park nearby; another site was a roundabout on a busy Motorway junction! Unfortunately no such facility is yet available in Ireland but Roscommon County Council is taking great care of some very attractive plants on the N4 between Carrick-on-Shannon and Boyle.

Wildlife on Roadside verges

Isn't it wonderful how in the midst of all the traffic on a warm Summer's day a little haven of wildlife can flourish? Within a few metres of these noisy trucks and cars is a patch of wild orchids. Parking up on a side road, we made our way through the wide grassy strip on the N4 where 100’s of Common Spotted orchids in many shades of pink flourished. Scattered in between, were some 15 spectacular specimens of the exotic Bee Orchid. This area is a natural wildlife habitat and it’s great to see Local Authorities leaving these roadside verges uncut for a while. And the cherry on the cake (nearly literally) were the juicy wild raspberries growing in the hedges behind the orchids... Many verges are cut by local Councils up to March, and then again at the end of August. This allows time for birds to nest and wildflowers to get to the stage where they produce seed. If cut during the summer, many plant populations could be lost. In many locations there are large areas which are safe enough to be left uncut. Orchids, Wild roses, native trees such as Guelder Rose, Elder... all of these are a delight to see on the verges or in the hedgerows.

Why are roadside verges so prolific for wildlife?

Firstly, roadside verges are not fertilised as happens with most fields.  Thus they have a natural unimproved habitat which allows the native wild flowers to grow. Secondly, these main road verges do not have cattle grazing on them — as happened in country areas years ago when the 'long  acre' was often used to complement grazing for a smallholding. Finally, the limestone often used in road making is a good substrate for wildflowers — especially lime-loving orchids such as the Bee Orchids and the Common Spotted Orchids.

Conservation and Biodiversity

This controlled cutting and avoidance of fertilisers and weed-killing in effect creates natural linear ‘wildlife parks'. This idea of conservation of hedgerows and roadsides is gaining ground in Ireland. For example, Wexford has its 'Life lives on the Edge' policy of encouraging Biodiversity in a number of pilot areas along National roads in the county, where no cutting takes places from March to September. Like this stretch of the N4 a project in Meath is encouraging biodiversity along the N52. More sensitive ways of cutting herbage at the start and end of the season is the essence of these projects and reduced use of heavy machinery on the actual verges. Many other County Councils are implementing Biodiversity plans which encourage retentions of hedgerows, and some appear to have a positive view on retention of 'natural wildlife areas’ on roadside verges that are large enough to do so safely. Obviously some verges around Ireland are too narrow and the need for safety on the road requires that visibility be maintained. Perhaps other vacant sites at junctions or near bridges or in the middle of roundabouts and islands can be left unfertilised and untrammelled. It is sad to look over the fence at one of these many orchid ribbons and find monotonous species-poor grassland occupying every field.
Bee Orchids beside the road!
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For more information on flowers of the Ophrys genus go HERE