Small Blue

The Small Blue butterfly is the smallest species of butterfly in Ireland and also has quite a restricted range, only being found in certain areas across the country.

Can you see it? The Small Blue certainly is tiny, so even if you are in an area where it’s found you might not spot it straight away – Oisín Duffy

As mentioned above, the Small Blue is Ireland’s smallest butterfly species, with a wingspan range of only 20-30mm. Its small size is one of the key identification features as even though the other species of blue butterfly are not large, then are much bigger than the Small Blue. Unlike the name suggests, the Small Blue is not so much blue but a silvery to grey to charcoal ombre appearance (there will however be a slight blue appearance) with a distinctive white border.

The topside of the Small Blue, the blue colour is most concentrated nearest the body and grows to a deep grey, dark silver colouration, the white fringing around the wings is very noticeable in the above picture – Oisín Duffy

The underside of the species is also rather silvery in colour, ranging from a light grey to a very pale blue. Black markings are present throughout the underwing, but similarly to the Holly Blue there are no orange markings anywhere on the wing.

Blue colour is most prominent on near the body on the underside also, with the colour changing to a light grey or silver, black markings are present, but notice how there is no orange markings like the Common Blue – Oisín Duffy

The species is not common and is only found in certain areas throughout the country, mainly associated with coastal grassland, but is also found in a few inland sites and of course the Burren, Co. Clare.

Head on shot of a Small Blue, its dark colour and white fringing are once again very noticeable here, and the surrounding grains of sand and strands of vegetation give a good sense of scale – Oisín Duffy

The larval foodplant of the Small Blue is Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulenaria) which is a member of the pea family. This species is distinctive with multiple yellow flowering heads packed into one plant, the leaves of the plant also have a unique downy silvery appearance. This species is very easy to find in coastal locations.

Kindey Vetch (Anthyllis vulenaria) the foodplant of the Small Blue – Oisín Duffy
Small Blue on its larval foodplant Kidney Vetch – Oisín Duffy

Cheat Sheet – (TLDR Version):

Name: Small Blue (Cupido minimus)

Larval Foodplant: Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)

Distribution: Restricted range throughout the country, few inland sites, more often found in coastal locations and the Burren.  (This is a species you will probably have to travel to see and even then, due to its small size, could be hard to find).

When: From May to June.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about butterflies why not take part in the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, the national scheme for recording and monitoring butterfly species in Ireland.

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestions regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through Twitter.

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Holly Blue

The Holly Blue is a beautiful and delicate species of butterfly, it is not as common as the Common Blue Butterfly, but is also a high flying species, which may contribute to a lack of records.

The beautiful and highflying Holly Blue – Oisín Duffy

The Holly Blue is another small species (35mm wing span) and is quite similar to the Common Blue, although in my experience Holly Blues have a habit of being slightly smaller. The species has a beautiful blue colouration on the topside of the wings and distinctive black wing tips, the female of the species has much more prominent black wing tips, while the males are very subtle, almost an edging.

Topside of the Holly Blue – Oisín Duffy

The underside of the Holly Blue is a powdery baby blue colour, almost ranging into silver and has a number of black spots. The main difference between the Holly Blue and the Common Blue comes from the underside. While the Common Blue has elaborate orange marking along the wing margin, the Holly Blue has no orange at all. If you’re lucky enough to get the species to sit, then this should be very noticeable. It’s also very worthwhile looking up (above head height) as this is the preferred flying area for the Holly Blue.

Underside of the Holly Blue, notice how there’s no orange markings, which is a distinguishing feature in comparison to the Common Blue – Oisín Duffy

The distribution of the Holly Blue has a slight south easterly leaning. It is however also found in Clare and Galway and many other counties. Lack of habitat may be one of the reasons why the distribution appears so limited or perhaps the elusive nature of the butterfly means that it is under recorded. It can be found in woodlands, hedgerows and sometimes even gardens.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) – Oisín Duffy

The larval foodplant of the Holly Blue is split between two plant species, Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Ivy (Hedera helix), other plants can also be used. In Spring, Holly is chosen and by the time the next brood comes to lay eggs they will be looking for Ivy. This can explain why they are flying noticeably higher than some of our other native species of butterflies. If your larval foodplant is up high you’ll need to fly high to lay eggs and find potential mates.

Ivy (Hedera helix) – Oisín Duffy

Cheat Sheet – (TLDR Version):

Name: Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus)

Larval Foodplant: Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Ivy (Hedera helix)

Distribution: Scattered distribution throughout the country, slightly more common in south and east of the country (but does occur elsewhere), may be under recorded due to its highflying nature.

When: From April to May and then again from July to September.

If you’re interested in learning more about butterflies why not take part in the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, the national scheme for recording and monitoring butterfly species in Ireland.

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestions regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through Twitter.

Common Blue

Ireland has three blue butterfly species, the Common Blue (which we’ll be looking at in this post) the Holly Blue and Ireland’s smallest butterfly the aptly named Small Blue.

These species are quite distinctive, once you get your eye in, however if you see them in flight or even flick through an ID book you may be thinking that they all look rather alike. Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering the other two blue species, but this will be mainly focused on the Common Blue.

Male Common Blue sharing Fleabane with a hoverfly – Oisín Duffy

The Common Blue is a beautiful and small butterfly (35mm wing span). This notably is smaller than any of the other species we have looked at so far. The names for this particular set of blue butterflies is actually quite useful, as the common blue (in my experience) is the most common of the species, the others require looking up and visiting particular sites (I’ll get to those in future weeks).

Male Common Blue showing beautiful blue colouration on the top side of the wings – Oisín Duffy

There a great difference between the male and female in this species, the male being blue on the topside, while the female is much more brown in appearance (a small bit of blue is generally present close to the body), but the majority of the wings are brown with orange markings near the edges of the wings. This difference is more subtle on the underside, but the female does appear more brown compared to the silvery/grey of the male.

Underside of a Male Common Blue, this one has a slight tear on the hindwing, but the silvery/grey colouration is very noticeable – Oisín Duffy
Underside of a Female Common Blue, compared to the picture of the male above, this underside is much darker and brown in colour – Oisín Duffy

The underside is festooned with markings, some white, some black with white margins and distinctive orange blotches curved around the hind wing, this also extends onto the forewing also, but is very subtle in the male and very strong in the female.

If you see orange marking on the underside of the blue butterfly you’re looking at (in Ireland) then you can be confident it is a Common Blue – Oisín Duffy

The species is generally found in grasslands, but can also turn up in parklands and even wasteground. The larval foodplant of the species is Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) a common plant in the pea family. Bird’s Foot Trefoil is also a foodplant for a number of other butterfly species as well as being an excellent food source for other pollinators.

Common Blue on its larval foodplant Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) – Oisín Duffy

Cheat Sheet (TLDR Version):

Name: Common Blue (Polyommatus Icarus)

Larval Foodplant: Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Distribution: Throughout most of the country, although there are some gaps (Central North of the country).

When: From May all the way through September.

Painted Lady

The Painted Lady is a migrant species of butterfly that travels from as far away as Morocco. On some occasions we can get a great influx of the species, with it being found throughout the country, while other years you may be lucky to see one or two, if any. The number that we see is generally linked to conditions in the country of origin, amount of foodplants available, winds etc.

It certainly is a rather attractive butterfly and while at rest does not look much like any of our other species, and can sometimes be mistaken for others in flight. The species is relatively large, noticeably larger than a Small Tortoiseshell, but again when some of these species are flying past and you only get a glance, it can be difficult to be certain of your sighting.

Painted Lady – From Tory Island, Co. Donegal. Showing the topside of the wing, you can clearly see the black wing tips with white mottling. Oisín Duffy
Painted Lady – From Tory Island, Co. Donegal. Showing the topside of the wing, you can clearly see the black wing tips with white mottling. Oisín Duffy

Waiting till the species is nectaring or basking, can take patience, but is a good method for getting a closer look. Of course you can also choose to catch the butterfly in a net and then identify it, if you need a better look at the species you can always put it in a container (a small amount of toilet paper in the container will mean that the species will “walk” rather than “fly” around it). The benefit to placing toilet paper in is that it will allow you to get a better look at the species and also keep the individual from battering it’s wing scales all off the sides of the container (butterflies, along with moths, make up a family called lepidoptera, which comes from Greek meaning something along the lines of “wings of scales” or “scaled wings”. This is why if you have ever picked up or moved a dead butterfly or moth you will notice a “dusting” on your hands or fingers, this is in fact numerous scales from their wings).

Painted Lady nectaring on Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) – Oisín Duffy
Painted Lady nectaring on Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) – Oisín Duffy

The species itself is mainly orange with black markings and distinctive black wing tips with white mottling. Unlike the last few species we’ve covered, the Painted Lady actually has a conventionally interesting underside. Chequered and mottled with beautiful sandy browns and white, with subtle eyespots along the underside of the hindwing. This underside can make it difficult to see on stone as it blends in quite well.

Close-up of the underside of a Painted Lady, this particular individual was very hard to see from a distance and taking the picture involved lying prone on an old railway track – Oisín Duffy
Close-up of the underside of a Painted Lady, this particular individual was very hard to see from a distance and taking the picture involved lying prone on an old railway track – Oisín Duffy

The Painted Lady can be found in a number of habitats, it is a migratory species making a journey from as far away as Morocco. The South-East and East Coast of Ireland seem like good spots to get your first glimpse during a Painted Lady year but luckily they don’t stop there, the species will travel throughout the country from these locations. I even spotted a number of Painted Lady’s on Tory Island this Summer during Ireland’s Island BioBlitz.

The Painted Lady does not overwinter in Ireland, but the main foodplants for this species are Thistles. It’s another case of beautiful butterfly species coming from rather humble roots, Thistles and Nettles (foodplants for the last three species we covered) aren’t often highly thought of by gardeners or homeowners, but are great for pollinator species.

 

Cheat Sheet (TLDR Version):

Name: Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui)

Larval Foodplant: Thistles – But does not overwinter in Ireland.

Distribution: Common and widespread – during Painted Lady years.

When: Generally start from the end of May / early June and can be seen on the wing all the way till the end of September into early October.

 

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestions regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through Twitter.

Peacock

The Peacock Butterfly is one of our most distinctive butterfly species, it is large and brightly coloured and once seen, it is not easily forgotten. This species follows on from the last two in that they are all in the Vanessids family.

The Peacock can be found in a wide range of habitats, from gardens, meadows and parkland, woodland rides and even wasteground.

A beautifully posed Peacock butterfly showing those distinctive eyespots, this particular individual looks very fresh and is in pristine condition – Oisín Duffy
A beautifully posed Peacock butterfly showing those distinctive eyespots, this particular individual looks very fresh and is in pristine condition – Oisín Duffy

The species is large and very colourful, one of the most noticeable things about the Peacock are the large eyespots on its wings. These are used as a defence mechanism against predators, as the eyes are quite large they serve the purpose of putting off would-be threats, especially when the wings are opened at the last minute. The eyespots are iridescent blue in colour on the hindwing, while the blue slowly fades to a reddish yellow colour on the forewing. The overall colour of the species is a deep red.

The underside of the species is rather unremarkable, however there is a good reason for this. Having a dull underside colour, like that of a dead leaf, means that hibernating as an adult throughout the winter is a lot less risky (as you can blend in much better).

The rather uninteresting underside of the Peacock, nectaring on a white form of Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) – Oisín Duffy
The rather uninteresting underside of the Peacock, nectaring on a white form of Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) – Oisín Duffy

There is no other species in Ireland which looks quite like a Peacock butterfly and once you get your eye in, you’ll never forget it.

The foodplant for this species, like the Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral is Nettle (Urtica diocia). This once again brings up the importance of so-called “weeds”. Larval foodplants may not always be the most conventionally pretty plants, but their function is so much more important than their form. The caterpillars are small, black and spiny and have a number of white spots as they mature.

Close up of the Peacock, a small bit of the forewing are visible along with the closest underside wing. The eyes of this species are spectacular also – Oisín Duffy
Close up of the Peacock, a small bit of the forewing are visible along with the closest underside wing. The eyes of this species are spectacular also. – Oisín Duffy

Cheat Sheet (TLDR Version):

Name: Peacock (Inachis io)

Laraval Foodplant: Nettle (Urtica diocia)

Distribution: Common and Widespread

When: Generally from April right through the season till September. (Since this species overwinters in Ireland, you may even come across it earlier or later in the year than listed above).

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestions regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through Twitter.

Red Admiral

The Red Admiral butterfly is perhaps one of the best known species, even if people haven’t seen the species, most will recognise the name. The species also follows on nicely from our last profile on the Small Tortoiseshell, both of these species (and others which will be mentioned in the coming weeks/months) are part of the Vannesids family.

A beautiful fresh example of a Red Admiral, showing that the undersides of butterflies can be even more interesting than the top – Oisín Duffy
A beautiful fresh example of a Red Admiral, showing that the undersides of butterflies can be even more interesting than the top – Oisín Duffy

The Red Admiral can be found in a wide range of habitats from woodlands to gardens and even wastegrounds. It is a migrant species, but within the last five years it has been found to overwinter in Ireland. Identification for this species in Ireland is relatively simple as the only species which could possibly cause confusion is the Painted Lady (another member of the Vannesids and another migratory species, but generally rarer).

The butterfly has dark brown velvet like wings with orange banding. On the topside of the forewing the wings darken from brown (closest to the body, up until the orange banding) to a black with minor white marking (small bands and dots). The top side of the hindwings are generally a more uniformed brown colour and are fringed with a thick orange band (with black dots).

Topside of the Red Admiral, showing black wing tips with white markings or mottling. Orange markings on both forewings and hindwings are usually very noticeable – Oisín Duffy
Topside of the Red Admiral, showing black wing tips with white markings or mottling. Orange markings on both forewings and hindwings are usually very noticeable – Oisín Duffy

The underside of the species is also quite beautiful and interesting, I find the orange band tends to appear more of a red colour on the underside and there is also hints of a velvety blue colour which are close to the body.  The white marks on the forewing again appear very distinctive as they contrast with the general dark coloured underside.

A slightly worn Red Admiral, but still showing an interesting underside and one which is very distinctive when seen at rest – Oisín Duffy
A slightly worn Red Admiral, but still showing an interesting underside and one which is very distinctive when seen at rest – Oisín Duffy

The Red Admiral, similarly to the Small Tortoiseshell has Nettle (Urtica diocia) as its main larval foodplant. This species also creates a web like tent for protection while feeding and can at times appear somewhat similar to larva of the Small Tortoiseshell. Red Admiral larva generally go through a number of colour changes from black to pale green.

Cheat Sheet (TLDR Version):

Name: Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Laraval Foodplant: Nettle (Urtica diocia)

Distribution: Common and Widespread

When: Generally from May right through the season till September. (Since this species has now been found to overwinter in Ireland, you may even come across it earlier or later in the year than listed above).

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestions regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through Twitter.

Small Tortoiseshell

There are over 30 species of butterfly found in Ireland, some which carry out their full life cycle here and others which migrate. As with many other taxonomic groups there are some species which have restricted ranges, others which occur at lower densities and then some that are quite elusive.

The Small Tortoiseshell is a common and widespread species of butterfly in Ireland and can be found in a range of habitats, including gardens, parklands and even wasteground. Identification is generally rather easy in Ireland as there are no confusion species. The forewings and hindwings both orange in colour with mottled black markings, which occur along the top fringe and middle portion on the forewing and spreading out from the main body in the hindwings. A black fringing interjected with blue marking is also a characteristic feature and this also occurs on both forewing and hindwing. The blue markings are extremely distinctive when the individual is fresh. The underside of the species is rather dull and is mainly a brown/black colour and if not basking can easily be mistaken for a leaf.

The blue dotted fringe is a distinctive and characteristic feature of the Small Tortoiseshell – Oisín Duffy
The blue dotted fringe is a distinctive and characteristic feature of the Small Tortoiseshell – Oisín Duffy
You can see in the above picture that the dull colours of the underwing would allow it to blend in with dead leaves and twigs – Oisín Duffy
You can see in the above picture that the dull colours of the underwing would allow it to blend in with dead leaves and twigs – Oisín Duffy

The larval foodplant (the plant in which eggs are laid and then eaten by the hatched caterpillars) is Nettle (Urtica diocia). The caterpillars of this species have developed a defence mechanism to allow for a better chance of survival, this includes weaving a silken like web or tent to stop or at least hinder predation. The caterpillars are small and black when first hatched but eventually grow larger, without too much other change to their outward appearance.

How small is small? – Two butterflies Small Copper (Left) and Small Tortoiseshell (Right) both feeding on Ragwort – Oisín Duffy
How small is small? – Two butterflies Small Copper (Left) and Small Tortoiseshell (Right) both feeding on Ragwort – Oisín Duffy

The species can be commonly seen in a variety of different habitats and areas across the country but can also be encountered nearer to winter, when it may fly into houses as a means to find a suitable hibernation spot. Unfortunately hibernating in a house is not the greatest idea as there can be great fluctuations in temperature (just think of how much heating and cooling goes on in a house during that period). If you come across a hibernating butterfly in house (which is likely to be a small tortoiseshell) you can move it to an outside shed/garage (if you have one) or even keep it in a shoebox and put it in a cold room. The temperature here will be much more constant than in your house and the butterfly will be able to hibernate properly rather than waking up and moving around when there is a dramatic temperature change in your house.

Small Tortoiseshell getting its fill, you can see the proboscis relatively clearly in this picture – Oisín Duffy
Small Tortoiseshell getting its fill, you can see the proboscis relatively clearly in this picture – Oisín Duffy

Cheat Sheet (TLDR Version):

Name: Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) – Scientific names can often give a lot of information about the species you are looking at, for the small tortoiseshell Aglais refers to its overall genus while urticae pertains to its foodplant.

Larval Foodplant: Nettle (Urtica diocia).

Distribution: Common and Widespread.

When: Generally from April to September (although as mentioned above you may find one in your house over the winter).

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestion regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through Twitter.

New Year Plant Hunt 2017

From the first to the fourth of January I have been taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH), an initiative by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) to get people out recording during the first four days of the New Year to see what’s in flower between Ireland and Britain.

donegal-2017
Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

As is normal for all my adventures in biological recording (and everything really) I was joined by the wonderful Mairéad Crawford (the other Vice-County Recorder for East Donegal). This was my third year participating in the NYPH, having recorded in Donegal, Tyrone, Derry and Armagh in previous years.


The first plant I recorded in 2017 and the first of the New Year Plant Hunt, White Clover (Trifolium repens) taken just after midnight – Oisín Duffy

My first botanical interaction of 2017 came just after midnight when I recorded a rather beautiful White Clover (Trifolium repens) which was growing relatively near my house. I was informed that for the third year in a row I had logged the first record of the NYPH event. Darkness and extremely wet ground dissuaded me from pushing my luck any further. The next morning was rather bright and chilly (a common occurrence in Donegal) and we decided to record along both of our local areas (particular around Argery and Raphoe). With one plant down on the list, it wasn’t long before we started seeing an abundance of Dandelions (Taraxacum), Daisy (Bellis perennis) and the lovely grass Poa annua. These species repeated on the list for quite a while and quite a while of time was spent looking for Ivy in flower, the majority of which had gone to berry. Eventually after walking a stretch of road, we came across a few extremely tatty Ivy (Hedera helix) flowers.


Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was one of the great constants throughout the plant hunt – Oisín Duffy

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was another reliable plant and was in flower throughout the local area. Disturbed ground near the entrance of fields, gates and houses had great numbers of daisies and also one new species for the list Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris). While recording around Raphoe Town and the nearby environs of Mongorry we came across, a rather tattered Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), Lolium perenne and the much maligned Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).


Views from Mongorry – Oisín Duffy

The last stop on our first day of the plant hunt was to check out a site for White Butterbur (Petasites albus), which doesn’t appear to be all that common and seems to be confined to Ulster within Ireland. We found numerous plants, but only a few were actually in flower, but I’d imagine it will be an impressive display in a short time.


Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) still in flower in Convoy, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy.

On the way back to the car we noticed Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) in flower and many others not far off it and while checking nearby stonewalls, we spotted Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) which had numerous flowers (not all of which were in good shape, but it was certainly nice to have a little bit of colour for the end of the day).


Our starting point on Day two of the New Year Plant Hunt – Oisín Duffy

Day two seen us travelling further North, we again set off after 12:00 as the mornings were quite frosty and road conditions less than favourable. Our first stop for the day was Inch Wildfowl Reserve, a beautiful part of the county and a favoured spot for birdwatchers. While the bird life, views and weather was gorgeous, there was very little in flower and the usual suspects were recorded (Daisy, Dandelion, Poa annua and Ivy). One thing which was found in numerous parts of the county (but we didn’t get recording at every location) was Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans). This non-native plant has a tendency to carpet the ground with its large horseshoe-shaped leaves and sweet smelling flowers (the scent is something similar to vanilla or aniseed). This was taking up patches of roadsides through from Raphoe all the way to Buncrana and can outcompete or block other native plants from growing in that area.


Just before setting off around Swan Park – Oisín Duffy

Even though the temperatures were barely above 6 degrees, it felt like great weather, refreshing breezes and plenty of sunshine, the only thing that was missing was flowering plants. With this in mind we decided to take a trip to Swan Park in Buncrana. The park which has a nice range of mini habitats also has the beautiful Crana River running through it, which on this occasion looked more like glass or silk than water.


More glorious weather at Swan Park, but unfortunately not much in flower – Oisín Duffy

Before finishing for the evening we paid a visit to the amazing hillfort of Grianan of Aileach. While there was virtually nothing in flower here the views over the surrounding countryside were spectacular and well worth the visit if you happen to find yourself in the area.


Grianan of Aileach, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

Even though the walks and weather was glorious, we hadn’t much luck in finding any new species. So we enjoyed the rest of the January sunshine and made our way back home with the hope that tomorrow would once again be more fruitful.


Amazing views from Grianan of Aileach – Oisín Duffy

Day three seen us going West and into the neighbouring Vice-County of West Donegal (H35), where Glenveagh National Park was the main target for the day. We arrived just in time for light showers of rain but a rather peaceful park. The remnants of many gone over plants dotted the sides of paths and long grass, but once again we were spotting very little in flower.


Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

Beautiful purple buds of Alder added colour to a somewhat grey day, but before long the sun was battling against the grey clouds and putting up a valiant fight against the rain. More of the usual suspects again, with only one new species to the list being Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens). Even though the views were stunning the lack of plants and incoming heavy rain persuaded us to try elsewhere for additional flowering plants.


Donegal Roads, plenty of miles where put in travelling from site to site, not that it did much for our species list – Oisín Duffy

Ards Friary was the next location on our journey and while once again the views and scenery were amazing we actually managed to find a few extra species to add to our list.


Ards Friary, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

We managed to come across Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata) in amazingly good condition, reminiscent of plants we seen during the Summer while surveying. The dainty Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus) was also recorded as well as Nipplewort (Lapsana communis). Unfortunately with another setting sun, we made tracks back home to plan for the final day of recording of the New Year Plant Hunt.


Setting Sun at Ards Friary – Oisín Duffy

If you’ve made it this far you’ll have noticed that we had a day’s recording in the East, West and North Donegal, so there’s no prize for guessing where we decided to spend day four of the plant hunt and that was in South Donegal. One of favourite spots (and location of our BSBI field-outing this year) is Murvagh, a beautiful and diverse coastal habitat with quite a few rarities.


Nice weather and plants, just not that many in flower – Oisín Duffy

Murvagh is generally a treat to anyone interested in nature, but unfortunately for us, very little was in flower. We did however see a few “gone over good finds” which captured our attention for quite a while.


Round-Leaved Wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia ssp. maritima) – Oisín Duffy

This was really the common trend of the four days, only the hardiest of plants where still about and flowering, a series of hard frosts in mid/late December finished off a number of plants which I had recorded in late November.


Skies above Murvagh just before – Oisín Duffy

However we still managed to record 18 species over the 4 days (not the best total in world) but for being at the North-Western limit of the New Year Plant Hunt and to have bad frosts and rather cold conditions, it wasn’t that bad and of course the main thing was that we had immense fun, travelling our home county, seeing amazing scenery, shaking off any botanical recording rust that set in over the Winter period and I can’t think of too many better ways to spend the first four days of the New Year than being in and recording nature with Mairéad.

Below is the full list of plants which we recorded over the four days:

White Clover (Trifolium repens) – 1st of the New Year Plant Hunt
Ivy (Hedera helix)
Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.)
Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
Annual Meadow Grass (Poa annua)
Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)
Perennial Rye Grass (Lolium perenne)
Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans)
White Butterbur (Petasites albus)
Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)
Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)
Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata)
Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus)
Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)

BSBI South Donegal – Outing

South Donegal Field Meeting – East Donegal (H34)

A two day field-outing was held in the southern half of the East Donegal (H34) vice county over the 6th-7th of August. The aim of this field-outing was to collect records for Atlas 2020 and to also showcase some of the botanical rarities of H34. The weather was mixed over the weekend, with warm temperatures on the Saturday to a very windy morning on the Sunday. In fact the weather deteriorated so quickly on Sunday that we ended up cancelling the second part of the day.

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Murvagh, Co. Donegal

On Saturday the 6th a group of 11 recorders set out to the botanical hotspot of Murvagh (GRID REF). We had not left the car park more than five minutes before coming across the first rarity of the day Pyrola rotundifolia ssp. maritima (Round-leaved Wintergreen) a sub-species which is only found in two locations in the country, Murvagh in Co. Donegal and the Raven in Co. Wexford.

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Pyrola rotundifolia ssp. maritima (Round-leave Wintergreen)

The first hollow to be investigated turned up other interesting plants, Parnassia palustris (Grass-of-Parnassus) was a common sight, while Epipactis palustris (Marsh Helleborine) and Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine) were also quite frequent.

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Parnassia palustris (Grass-of-Parnassus)

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Epipactis palustris (Marsh Helleborine)

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Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine)

We travelled along the path passing swathes of Campanula rotundifolia (Harebell), Galium verum (Lady’s Bedstraw), Linum catharticum (Fairy Flax) and of course Euphrasia (Eyebright sp.).

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Noticed these quite cute little 6-spot Burnet Moths sharing a Harebell between them

In fact Mairéad and myself managed to take some samples of the Euphrasias found at Murvagh for keying out and confirmation at workshop with BSBI Eyebright referee Chris Metherell later in the year.

The next area we reach had equally nice species, at this stage Parnassia palustris and Epipactis helleborine were no longer captivating the crowds, however it wasn’t long till we came across Ophioglossum vulgatum (Adder’s Tongue) a prostrate form of Equisetum variegatum (Variegated Horsetail) and Monotropa hypopitys (Yellow Bird’s-Nest).

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Ophioglossum vulgatum (Adder’s Tongue)

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Equisetum variegatum (Variegated Horsetail)

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Monotropa hypopitys (Yellow Bird’s-Nest)

Myself and Mairéad had come across the Ophioglossum at the site before, but it was our first time seeing the Monotropa and I think a first time for many in attendance. After these major finds were awed at, we set about filling out the rest of the card.

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Botanists taking a closer look at a plant

Next on our recording itinerary was Turloughs even further South in the country near Ballyshannon. We came across a host of wetland species such as Veronica anagallis-aquatica (Blue Water-Speedwell), Triglochin palustre (Marsh Arrowgrass) and Comarum palustre (Marsh cinquefoil) but our next Turlough visit was halted by cattle. Diverted but not deterred we decided to record along an old laneway which led to an abandoned house. We found a number of interesting plants at this location, including two Alchemillas (Lady’s Mantle), Alchemilla xanthochlora and Alchemilla filicaulis subsp. vestita. We also recorded Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyradmidal Orchid) Polygonum arenastrum (Equal-Leaved Knotgrass) and Epipactis helleborine (Broad-Leaved Helleborine) which only reinforced the point further in my head that you do not need to be somewhere that looks interesting to find things of interest.

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Botanists getting ready for another day of recording.

On Sunday the 7th we headed for one of Donegal’s best known beaches, Rossnowlagh. Rossnowlagh is also well known for its strong winds, and while this was good for the many kite surfers in attendance it kicked up quite a bit of a sandstorm for wide eyed botanists. As with many of the BSBI trips that I’ve been on the rather uninspiring carpark turned out to be of some interest and a nice amount of time was spent scouring its perimeter. This proved to be very useful as within two minutes of recording we came across Erodium cicutarium (Common Stork’s-Bill), Saponaria officinalis (Soapwort) and the minute Sherardia arvensis (Field Madder) Once the car park had be suitably recorded we headed along the beach to our intended grassland site.

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Erodium cicutarium (Common Stork’s-Bill)

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Sherardia  arvensis (Field Madder)

The grassland site we recorded within was relatively small, it had hordes of Lotus pedunculatus (Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil), with even a small number of very hardy Bumblebees out feeding and Potentilla anserina (Silverweed). The strong winds created an ever changing picture of green and silver between the two plant species.

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Beautiful scenes at a rough and windy Rossnowlagh

We finished up our recording for the day in a wet grassland sites and were able to add a few new species to our list, the most interesting being Baldellia ranunculoides (Lesser Water-Plantain), Potamogeton polygonifolius (Bog Pondweed) and Samolus valerandi (Brookweed).

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Botanists showing the interesting species which can be found in a car park!

Unfortunately that was the last site that we managed to visit on the Sunday, due to an oncoming deluge. However over the one and a half days, we managed to gather a total of 432 records for Atlas 2020.

New Year Plant Hunt – Armagh

It’s that time of year again to dust off the wet gear and boots and head out searching for plants. The New Year Plant Hunt is a recording initiative run by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) with an aim to record any plants which are in flower from the 1st -4th of January.

You can read up about my first day of fun, botanising in my home area of Donegal . The next trip on the list took myself and Mairéad across the border and into (eventually) Co. Armagh, where we would join up with BSBI President John Faulkner. We had great local knowledge on hand from those who turned up and learned some interesting facts about the sites we visited.

First on the list was the very wet Victoria Lock, most of the cars we met on this road were straddling the white line as the roads were quite flooded. When the recording started it was quite mild, very calm and not even raining, as can be seen by the picture below along the Newry canal.

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One of those images you could have upside down and not many would notice – Oisín Duffy

Hedgerows, cracks in pavement and small bits of disturbed ground where fencing had been put up were the best places to look in this location. The list for the area went as follows –

  • Annual Meadow Grass (Poa annua)
  • Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
  • Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
  • Bramble (Rubus fruiticosus agg)
  • Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
  • Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)
  • Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
  • Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium)
  • Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa)
  • Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum agg)
  • Daisy (Bellis perennis)
  • Lesser Swine-cress (Coronopus didymus)

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BSBI President John Faulkner (with hand lens) – showing the group Lesser Swine-cress (Coronopus didymus) – Oisín Duffy

The next area on our list was a woodland site at Daisy Hill, it was here that we finally managed to get Ivy (Hedera helix) marked off the list. In Victoria Lock it had all gone over, but here there was still some nice displays of flowers.

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Ivy (Hedera helix) – Oisín Duffy

One of the highlights of the day (at least for me) was Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens), it was the first I had come across the species and it was quite a pretty little plant.

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Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) – Oisín Duffy

The list for Daisy Hill ended up like this –

  • Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
  • Annual Meadow Grass (Poa annua)
  • Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
  • Bramble (Rubus fruiticosus agg)
  • Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
  • Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)
  • Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa)
  • Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
  • Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum agg)
  • Laurel
  • Cotoneaster sp
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
  • Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)
  • Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium)
  • Broom (Cytisus scoparius)
  • Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)
  • Wild Turnip (Brassica rapa)
  • Smooth Hawksbeard (Crepis capillaris)
  • Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)
  • Ivy (Hedera helix)

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Bramble (Rubus fruiticosus agg.) – In flower at Daisy Hill – Oisín Duffy

Derrymore House added Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) to the list, while the beautiful Camlough added another 4 species, 3 grasses, Cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata) Perennial Rye Grass (Lolium perenne) and Italian Rye Grass (Lolium multiflorum) and one flower Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea).

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The beautifully calm Camlough, Co. Armagh – Oisín Duffy

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Some of the group looking at the differences between the two loliums. – Oisín Duffy

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Italian Rye Grass (Lolium multiflorum) – Oisín Duffy

While on the way to finish the evening at Slieve Gullion we stopped for a few moments at an old quarry. This turned out to be a great decision as we added Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), Western Gorse (Ulex gallii), Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) and one of my other favourites of the day Scentless Mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum).

While the Mayweed may have been scentless, the area certainly wasn’t as there was a group of feral goats clambering up the steep slopes.

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The quarry goats (doesn’t sound like a bad name for a band actually) – Oisín Duffy

We ended the day, slightly wet but extremely happy that we managed to record 38 plants in flower throughout the 3 hours of recording. It was great to do some cross border botany, especially in a county where I haven’t spent a great amount of time. Looking forward to revisiting some of these sites during the year if time allows.

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Some of the crowd from the our day botanising in Armagh. Myself (Centre and grinning manically) Therese from the Ring of Gullion (to my right) Mairéad (2nd from right) and BSBI President John Faulkner (far right).

I may get another post out during the week for any other plants myself and Mairéad record on the 4th (weather permitting).

Again, you can keep up to date with all my latest botanical finds by following me on twitter @OshDuffy

 

Biodiversity and Conservation in Ireland