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.
In 2015 I recorded the first plant of the year, a Daisy (Bellis perennis) just before 1 o’ clock in the morning. This year I managed to be even quicker off the mark (with the help of my recording partner Mairéad) by recording Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium) and White Clover (Trifolium repens) just after the clock struck midnight!
The next morning myself and Mairéad set out around my local area – Argary, to find what was in flower. I had done a quick reccy of the circuit the week before so I knew exactly where to look for most of the species, which meant I could keep my eyes peeled for new species. The weather in Donegal (as with the rest of the country) has been incredibly wet and windy and a few of the plants which I had noted from the week before didn’t survive the storms. Daisy (Bellis perennis), Ivy (Hedera helix) and Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) were some of the first species on our list. Both Daisy and Herb-Robert are usual suspects for the plant hunt as they seem to happily grow throughout the entire year. Much of the Ivy had gone over, but some pockets of flowers remained and I’m sure the pollinators of the area appreciated it during the Winter. A very fresh looking Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) was next on the list and wasn’t far away from a rather sorry and battered looking Nipplewort (Lapsana communis).
One of the surprises of the day was Red Campion (Silene dioica) and this was only found in one location throughout the whole day, in fact there was only 1 flower still hanging on.
Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium) was in flower throughout most of the area, along with some other usual suspects, Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), Gorse (Ulex europaeus), Annual Meadow Grass (Poa annua) and Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.),while others only occurred in one spot throughout the area Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) Bramble (Rubus fruiticosus agg.) and White Clover (Trifolium repens).
Overall the amount of species was fairly good as many of the hedges had been cut in previous weeks and being the most North-West county also doesn’t give you any great advantages!
The complete and compiled list for the area looks like this –
Overall, 2015 has been a relatively good year for myself. The same can’t really be said for many of the things I spend my time looking for while I’m out and about. I’ve decided to write this “Year in Review” for myself to look back on and of course for any of my interested followers on Twitter and elsewhere, it’ll include the activities I’ve been taking part in, species I’ve come across and other bits of relevant natural world information.
I’ll start where every good year (and the bad ones) starts, in January.
It didn’t take me very long to get back into the natural world in 2015, in fact it took less than an hour as I was the first person to a record a plant for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) in their New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH). The plant was a daisy (Bellis perennis) and the time was 00:53, not a bad way to start the year. The next few days were spent testing out my new camera (which I had just received over Christmas) and looking for plants which were in flower. On the 3rd of January I was accompanied in this mission by botanical mentor (a mentor to me in all things within the natural world) and friend Ralph Sheppard (BSBI VCR H35). We visited a number of sites, which you can read about here. On the 4th I spent the day again searching for plants, this time however with my family, even to the point that I was making notes of what was flowering in urban areas when stopped at traffic lights, in fact I really didn’t switch off looking for things in flower until the day after. Apart from the botanising early on and a small bit of birdwatching, January was relatively quiet.
February was also quite a quiet month, but a great time to get up close and personal with trees. At that time of year, when there is still relatively little about you can learn off how to identify trees by their twigs and buds. Many of the common species have quite distinctive buds which makes identification easy. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) with its beckoning black buds, Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) with its distinct green and of course Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) with it’s large, red-brown sticky ones [All pictured below]. Mosses and lichens are also quite interesting to study in the first few months of the year and are groups which I am constantly willing myself to get into.
Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
Sycamore (Acer psuedoplantanus)
March is when things start properly kicking off again. The usual suspects start flowering and suddenly there is life and colour in a lot more places. Roadside verges and even wasteground came to life with yellow from Colts-foot and Lesser Celandine. Mosses along the woodland floor were joined by Golden Opposite Leaved Saxifrage. Queen bumblebees started to emerge in earnest with many Buff-tailed and White-tailed Bumblebee feeding and collecting provisions for their nests. I noticed a nice amount of these queens visiting the heather near my home back in Donegal.
By April I was properly back into the swing of things, the camera never leaving my side and lots of common and familiar plants coming back into flower. Butterflies, bees, wasp and ladybirds were also all seen on a regular basis. It’s quite fascinating to record all the species you observe especially noting firsts of the year, as there can be a great deal of fluctuation and it’s something I’m hoping to pay more attention to in the coming year. Willow and dandelions were still the real stars of the show when it came to finding bumblebees feeding. In fact by April we already had a county first for Waterford in the form of the Mountain Bumblebee (Bombus monticola). The bee has a restricted range in Ireland and is only found in a few counties, so finding it in Waterford (it’s most southern record to date) and away from its usual habitat was quite unusual.
This was also the month when myself and my partner (in everything) Mairéad were asked to talk at the BSBI Irish members conference about our experiences recording in East Donegal (H34) and any challenges we had faced in the previous months. The talk appeared to be a success and we were approached by a number of people who said that we perfectly summed how they felt about the daunting task of entering the field of recording. When putting together our talk, it was nice to reflect on how much we had both progressed during the last few years. For myself this went from virtually knowing only the most basic plants to becoming way too excited about identifying orchid hybrids (August). I also got to showcase a collection of my photos at the BSBI conference, but unfortunately I didn’t think to take any photos on the day of the display, but thankfully I did take this shot before we left.
By the time May came around I was already adding to my species list and had also visited another of Ireland’s National Parks – Glendalough.
The Holly Blue butterfly which had eluded me the previous year was now a common sight and there was tonnes of activity from some of the more common species.
I have to admit during May there aren’t too many Cuckoo Flowers/Lady’s Smocks that I don’t check for Orange-Tip eggs. The tiny orange egg is laid just beneath the flower and is an absolutely amazing sight, from there you really get the idea of nature being cyclical. On one such occasion while botanising in my home area I noticed a gathering of about 8 orange-tips, male and female fluttering together, landing on their foodplant in the wet grassland, just low enough to be obscured by the surrounding vegetation. Roughly a half hour later I noticed one just between a track and ditch in a conifer plantation.
This nosey little hoverfly (Rhingia campestris) was also there, getting his fix!
Myself and Mairéad started filling in a few recording gaps around our home areas a mix of small town and countryside mostly dominated by agriculture.
Old field/football pitch near Gortinreagh/Shercloon which is now a damp meadow.
June was a great for recording, but perhaps the highlight of the month was the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting which was based out of Coleraine this year and visited sites in counties Antrim and Derry. You can read my full account of the weekend of recording here and here . To sum it up briefly though, it was a fantastic weekend of field-outings to Garry Bog and White Park Bay in Co. Antrim and the Umbra and Binevenagh in Co. Derry. I recorded some, actually many new species that weekend and visited parts of the country I hadn’t been properly in for quite some time.
July was marked by many trips over to one of my favourite places for recording, the Raven Nature Reserve, Co. Wexford. The Raven is located along the south east coast of Ireland and is a great spot to see some nice species. It has a mix of habitats, from dunes to woodland and you’d be hard pressed not to find something interesting.
On our first visit there it took us about 45 minutes to make it more than 200m into the reserve, as the butterfly numbers were out in force. The Raven is known for being a stronghold for some of the rarer species of butterfly found in Ireland. The site often turns up the beautiful Moss carder bee (Bombus muscorum), which feeds very happily on the large amounts of Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) which brings me to the small blue butterfly.
Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)
Small Blue Butterfly
The small blue really lives up to its name, being the smallest butterfly in Ireland, although I’d consider it more of a grey colour than the true blue of the holly or common blue. Perhaps my favourite find from there this year was a solitary bee (Megachile willughbiella) a group which I hope to delve further into next year.
August similarly to June was great for recording, but again a BSBI event turned out to be the highlight of the month. Similarly you can read my account of the weekend of recording in Inishowen here. Again, to sum it up briefly, we tackled a number of areas in Inishowen (which is located in North Donegal) as these were either lacking recording or had an interesting old recording attached to the sites, so our hopes were to re-find some unusual species and bulk up squares for Atlas 2020. The weekend was a great success and the highlight came on the last day when Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) was re-found at Glengad Head. It had been last found in that area by Hart (Flora of Donegal) over 100 years ago.
The rest of my time in August was spent surveying Daubenton’s bat for Bat Conservation Ireland, between Donegal and Waterford. It was also the last trip we had to do for the Car Bat survey, which involves driving around a pre-selected route while a time expansion detector is mounted to the rear passenger window. It was great fun and now only did we find bats but also, foxes, owls and deer.
September was off to a great start as we joined VCR for Westmeath Con Breen on an outing near Streamstown.
We got to see a nice variety of habitats and some unusual species, including a paper algal area surrounding a lake which was truly fascinating.
As with all the BSBI trips I’ve been on, I usually come across a few new species and this was no different. These were some of the highlights of the trip.
Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis)
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
Hop Trefoil (Trifolium campestre)
Water Forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides)
Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris)
Marsh Arrowgrass (Triglochin palustris)
The BSBI AGM was also this month and had some very interesting talks from a number of records and botanists, topics included Praegar and Alien Species to look out for when recording for Atlas 2020. Perhaps the highlight of this month was partaking for the second year running in the Intervarsity BioBlitz and recording for NUI Galway. The BioBlitz was a success for NUIG again and they retained their title thanks to a great effort by all recorders. These events are a great chance to branch into other fields natural history and I ended recording plants/inverts/birds/rusts and galls/mammals and basically anything else I could see that didn’t take more than 24hrs to identify.
By October things were starting to cool down, in terms of recording anyway! A number of hardy plants continued to flower even though the temperatures were well below double figures. Myself and Mairéad continued to teach the next generation about plants and animals and everything in between. This was also the last month that I recorded any bumblebees, generally I’ve been lucky with finding them feeding during the winter in more urban areas, but not no avail this year! I was however pleasantly surprised as one day I finally got a chance to properly photograph a butterfly species which had escaped by camera for quite a while, the Comma. Spending time down at Woodstown Strand with Mairéad and the Comma was definitely the highlight of that month
There’s nothing quite as relaxing and good for the health as losing yourself in Nature.
November was a relatively quiet, botanical recording at this time of year can be quite fun, just to observe what is in flower, but it generally gets low yields, compared to earlier in the year. This month was spent mainly birdwatching, assisting in counts in Donegal and carrying out vantage point surveys.
I’m still relatively new to birdwatching but have thoroughly enjoyed it every time I’ve been out. It can be quite a relaxing experience to sit on the top of a hill while keeping watch for any and all birds, of course it’s much more of a positive experience when there’s not hail, sleet and snow coming at you from every direction, which is exactly what happened to me on a few occasions.
The highlight of this month though had to be the release of the latest identification guide by the National Biodiversity Data Centre on the Trees and Shrubs of Ireland. I had been working on this project throughout the year gathering photographs and developing keys and so I was delighted to see my name listed as “Photographer and Co-Author”. The finished product looks amazing and if you want to see for yourself why not check it out here
December is always an odd time, there’s a slow feel to the month, as the days are so short, but there’s also a busy atmosphere as people are trying to get projects finished before the end of the year. As I’m writing this, we’re into mid-December and I’m starting to look forward to a few events which are already marked in my calendar for the coming year. First thing on the agenda is the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt and this year I’ll even be leaving the confines of my home county to lead a walk with Mairéad and new BSBI President John Faulker in his county of Armagh. More information about this can be found here it’s promising to be a great few hours of recording so please do come along if you’re interested, hopefully the weather will behave itself!
If the weather is acting nicely at the start of the year then I may also take a trip into West Donegal, Derry and Tyrone! There’s BSBI workshops/conferences and field outings all to look forward to also and I’m particularly looking forward to hosting a trip to south Donegal with Mairéad in August of 2016!
Other highlights for next year include the return of Ireland’s BioBlitz which for 2016 is focusing its efforts on islands off the coast of mainland Ireland. There’s also a number of recording schemes which will obviously be starting back up again in Spring, along with I imagine a great selection of workshops by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. December may be a dark month, but the future is look very bright and I for one am looking forward to another year spent in nature!
The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland recently (14-16th August) held an outing in Inishowen, which is part of the East Donegal vice-county (H34). Myself and Mairéad have been recording in East Donegal for just over a year and it’s been a fantastic learning experience.
During this weekend West Galway VC recorder and Inishowen native John Conaghan led us to some fantastic spots across the peninsula in order to record for Atlas 2020 and to re-find some rare species.
Friday 14th of August (Straghill Beach and Crummies Bay)
The weekend of recording kicked off at Straghill beach where we came across a lovely site with a few rarities, most noticeably Ivy Broomrape (Orobanche hederae) and Hoary Whitlowgrass (Draba incana), both of which were new to my species list. We also came across a lot of the usual suspects, such as Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) and Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum).
Our next site of the day was Crummies Bay, which was in close proximity to Fort Dunree, which has stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
The walk down to the bay was interjected with a host of different butterfly species, while not botanical, it was very nice to finally see a good number of butterflies as their numbers appear to be down this year. One of the first real noteworthy plants we came across was Field Gentian (Gentianella campestris) and it wasn’t long before a white variation of Wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus) was found (which I found particularly exciting as I do have quite a liking for colour variations and other aberrations). The scenery at this site was fantastic and we had the bay completely to ourselves. Before leaving the site we also came across a number of Frog Orchids (Dactylorhiza viride) and Fragrant Orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea) which turned out to have all three sub-species.
On route to the finishing spot for the day we were shown a real rarity in Donegal, Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna). Irish Spurge has a very obvious SW distribution in Ireland (there are a few records in the North of Ireland and one in Galway also) and to find it in East Donegal was a real treat. We were quite fortunate to have someone point out the location of the species as it would have been easily missed growing along the roadside. Amazingly though, that wasn’t the end of the nice finds for the day and when we entered a patch of wasteground we came across the very beautiful Yellow Bartsia (Parentucellia viscosa) which is not the most common species in Ireland.
Satuday 15th of August (Lough Fád and Isle of Doagh
On Saturday with our botanical muscles very much limbered up we headed to Lough Fád (roughly halfway between Buncrana and Carndonagh) a lovely area of lake shore and bog which turned up some orchids and the Isle of Doagh, a beautiful site which was teeming with plant and animal life. It was very nice to revisit the area of Lough Fád and although we were there a bit later in the year than our previous trip, a few orchids were still on show, most noticeably Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata) Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella) and Dactylorhiza purpurella x maculata.
The Isle of Doagh proved to be a wonderful site and even before we had left the car park we had a card filled. The nicest find in this location was Large-flowered Hemp-Nettle (Galeopsis speciose) a plant which was new to my species listing, but one I’ll certainly be keep an eye out for in the future as it is extremely distinctive. That wasn’t the end of species which were new to my list as soon after we found Sea Fern-Grass (Catapodium marinum) a beautiful little species. Moving onwards we found Sea Aster (Aster tripolium) and this amazing Juniper (Juniperus communis) which was laden with berries. Myself and Mairéad also came across a petal-less form of Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea var. flosculosus) which had been shown to us a few weeks previous in Co. Wexford by BSBI VCR for Wexford/Waterford and BSBI Stalwart Paul Green. On sites as beautiful as the Isle of Doagh, it’s always worth getting to higher ground to truly appreciate the few, which is exactly what I did!
Sunday 16th of August (Culdaff Beach and Glengad Head)
Sunday was the final day of the Field-outing and thankfully the weather was glorious from start to finish. We started at Culdaff a beautiful area with views looking out to Inishtrahull Island (Ireland’s most northern point). We traversed rocks near the shore line and went up the side of hills but the rarest and best find from Culdaff was easily found.
Scot’s Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) has a very northern distribution in Ireland and doesn’t occur outside of the province of Ulster. I had been looking forward to seeing this plant for quite a while and thankfully there was still a small amount in flower although the vast majority had gone to seed (it was much more noticeable in this form though).
The highlight of the entire weekend was found in Glengad Head, our final recording spot of the day. Along our route we came across some nice bog species, in particular Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) and Pale Butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica).
Again Inishtrahull was sitting out in the distance and we eventually came to a gully thanks to John’s previous readings and excellent map work and it didn’t take long Antrim VCR David McNeil to explore and find Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia). We started noticing it in a few more places and finally found a clump which was amazingly still in flower (and for some, still waiting to flower). Inishowen already has a well-known site for Purple saxifrage in the form of Bulbin, but this site at Glengad hasn’t had this species recorded in roughly 100 years.
This was truly the icing on the cake for entire weekend and it put the importance of botanical recording (or any biological recording really) in perspective. Noting where species are found, the threats they may face, being able to monitor this is all hugely important in a world where the pressures of the modern world are hitting the environment hard. After such spectacular plants, people and scenery I can promise you that Purple Saxifrage at Glengad Head won’t have to wait another hundred years for the next botanists to show up.
Now all that’s left to do is put in the +900 records into MapMate and I think everyone can agree, that’s where the real fun begins!
Recently the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) held it’s Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) in Northern Ireland.
This final post will be looking at our trip to Binevenagh, Co. Derry.
Binevenagh is a Northern Ireland Environment Agency owned National Nature Reserve and is stunning area and was the perfect place to finish our botanising trip.
Before we actually got up to the mountain we had to go through some rather nice woodland. The shade from the trees was very welcomed as the temperature increased throughout the day, it was also really nice to come across some Bird’s-Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), with about 5-6 spikes dotted on either side of the well worn path.
It was also nice to come across one of my old favourites – Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella).
Not long after that we were given some background about the site, we were also told how the management of the area will be adversely influenced in the coming years due to budget cuts.
Binevenagh has a truly imposing stature –
After our briefing, we started up the mountain in search of plants –
It wasn’t too long before we came across some delightful “Burren” species.
It was really nice to see a species which has a relatively limited distribution in Ireland (especially nice to see it outside of the Burren) but this wasn’t the only case and as the day rolled on we started getting more and more rarities!
Next up was the very beautiful Mossy Saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides) – another first for my species list.
I noticed quite a bit of excitement around a small green cushion like mound growing on the side of one of the slopes and then when I noticed a few purple flowers I thought I was going to see Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia), but it actually turned out to be Moss Campion (Silene acaulis), which also has a very restricted distribution in Ireland.
An altogether very different looking plant and also very attractive and almost “comfy” looking, no wonder it’s also known as Cushion pink.
On the slope directly across from the Moss Campion another group was gathering with cameras and hand lenses, so I promptly made my way over (well as promptly as you can over sloped and uneven ground) and again it was a species new to my list. This time it was Spring Sandwort (Minuartia verna)
At this point I was feeling rather chuffed with myself having recorded and photographed a few new species (quite rare ones at that) and to be in the company of some of the best botanists within Ireland and the UK.
The final push up the hill was certainly worth it as we encountered Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) which has only one site within Northern Ireland. Unfortunately though it appeared to have just finished flowering, still amazing to come across and of course new to my species list (although it is a species I’m hoping to come across on Bulbin in H34).
The view was also spectacular from near the top, especially considering we were looking directly into East Donegal (H34) my homeland and the area myself and Mairéad have been botanising in since last July.
The best was certainly kept till last as Binevenagh was the highlight of the entire trip. The rare alpine species, so many of them being new to my list and the scenery and atmosphere was just superb.
Overall a fantastic weekend of learning and lovely people, exactly the sort of thing that I’ve come to expect from the BSBI!
Recently the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) held it’s Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) in Northern Ireland.
In this post I’ll be looking at our trip to the Umbra Nature Reserve in Co. Derry.
Umbra Nature Reserve –
The Umbra Nature Reserve is a duneland site which is managed by Ulster Wildlife. Leading the walk was Dave Riley (V.C H40) who also gave an informed talk about the site before we entered.
We weren’t at the site for more than five minutes before I came across a plant new to my species list.
It’s always nice when you come across species which are completely new to you and this wasn’t the only occasion during the Umbra (and in fact Day II was full of firsts).
It was nice to come across some familiar plants also.
As we entered new areas and habitats Dave would give us a run-down on the species we were likley to encounter.
Another species of significance was a rare moss (Rhytidium rugosum) which has only one sight in Ireland, which of course was the Umbra. What an attractive moss it turned out to be.
The atmosphere at the Umbra was very relaxed and it was nice to dander about and look for species, unfortunately plants are slightly late this so many of the orchids that we came across were just about emerging or hadn’t even emerged.
The scenery was fantastic and it brought back some great childhood memories of being on Downhill Beach, plus it was also pretty neat to be near a Game of Thrones filming location.
However a few things of a winged variety broke my botanical concentration (well everyone has their vices).
First up was this beautiful Wood White butterfly, myself and Mairead along with Julia Nunn and Graham Day (BSBI recorder for Co. Down) had noticed ones flying earlier in the day, so it was nice to find one at rest and be able to get a picture of it.
Shortly after that I noticed something else fluttering by and it turned out to be the very flighty Small Heath.
To be honest it was nice that the Umbra had a relaxed pace as later in the day we would be going up Binevenagh and well as you’ll see tomorrow, the pace was steep going!
Recently the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) held it’s Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) in Northern Ireland. Yesterday I covered the first part of Day I, now it’s on to part two! White Park Bay, Co. Antrim White Park Bay is a spectacular area and is owned by the National Trust. We had seen many pictures of the area earlier in the morning during the talks and presentations and while they were amazing shots, nothing can prepare you for the amazing scenery that it has to offer. We were given some further background to the site and then split up into three recording groups so botanise in different habitats and locations.
But first, here’s a quick shot of how everything looked before recording!
Along the way to the dune system we noticed another group –
It didn’t take long for the recording to start and all of a sudden scientific names were flying in from every member of the group. On my first BSBI outing in 2013 I knew very few scientific names and it was great to know that my Latin and Greek has obviously improved quite a bit as I understood most of what was being recorded. A great thing about being in a smaller group is that you get to see the various ways people have of identifying species or distinguishing confusion species. It’s also great for getting tips and being shown species from some of the trickier groups (grasses, sedges etc). I think sometimes these groups are slightly more difficult to remember, but thanks to Con Breen I came away knowing a few more grasses and sedges. One species that stuck with me in particular (probably as it was everywhere) was Avenula pubescens.
With the more common species already recorded on the card, the time came to do some hardcore botanising. I always find that there is a great amount of camaraderie between botanists and it’s great when everyone is chipping in to achieve a common goal, in this case an identification. Some shots of this interaction are below –
My highlight for this trip and in fact the whole day was recording Spring Squill (Scilla verna) a plant which I had not come across before.
Luckily the species was abundant in the area so there was plenty to be found and photographed. Other interesting species we came across –
An excellent end to the first day of the BSBI ASM in Northern Ireland.
The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) recently held its Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) in Northern Ireland which involved botanists from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK coming together to enjoy the splendour of Ulster’s scenery and of course to record plants across a number of habitats and locations.
The ASM for me started on the Saturday (13/06/15) where in the morning we attended a number of talks about the natural history of Ulster, including habitats, geology and pressures/threats which are putting species at risk.
Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington chaired the morning of presentations which seen talks from stalwart BSBI botanist John Faulkner, who gave an introduction to botany in Ulster, Patrick Casement was next and gave us some of his personal background and reflections of North Coast. After a short break we got a detailed presentation regarding the habitats, species and geology from Paul Corbett and Ian Enlander.
During the talks/presentations we viewed a number of images from the sites which we would be visiting over the weekend and this conjured some great excitement for the audience of botanists (many of whom were having their first visit to the North Coast).
Garry Bog – The first site we visited was Garry Bog, Co. Antrim a raised bog and National Nature Reserve managed by the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA). David McNeil (V.C Recorder H39) led the outing.
After we were given a short talk on site history we made our way into the bog and started to record any species we could find. Sundew species (Drosera sp) were the first things to capture our attention.
Every bog pool had a number of very interesting plant and it was a delight to come across some of the following.
On route from one bog pool to another we also came across Carex panicea and Carex pilulifera along with large amounts of Sphagnum sp. Due to my interest in these pools and being shown some species which I hadn’t come across before, I didn’t actually make it too far into the vast expanse of bog, but of course others did.
As we were preparing to head back to the bus Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) was spotted flowering in great abundance. I had come across the species before, but never in flower, this was my highlight from Garry Bog.
Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) is also part of the BSBI Irish Species Project, which aims to record eight species of plant which are in need with more up-to-date information. If you find Bog Cranberry or are just interested in the project follow the link below to find out more information.
Next post will involve our trip to the beautiful White Park Bay.
It’s been quite a while (five months in fact) since my last post about botanising in Donegal, which was part of the New Year Plant Hunt run by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). Since then I’ve been trying to keep my botanical skills somewhat sharp (don’t want to get too rusty), but there are also plenty other things to get your brain ticking over, some light bird-watching and of course pollinators. In April of this year (2015) myself and Mairéad Crawford got a county first for Waterford in the form of the Mountain Bumblebee (Bombus monticola), which we were extremely happy about. I’ve been hoping to record the species for about two year and it was amazing to get a county first.
But back to Botany –
21st of May – Myself and Mairéad decided to do some local recording around Raphoe and the surrounding area. Raphoe is a small rural town in East Donegal with quite a bit of history attached, it also has old stone walls, which were our first port of call.
Road verges and hedgerows were next on the agenda and it was quite nice to see that not everything was cut back to bare earth and in fact most had quite a bit of colour.
On the other side of the road was a slightly uncommon visitor to Donegal – Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum), which was carpeting an old parking area.
The hedgerows in Donegal were slightly behind the rest of the country and the Hawthorn was only in half bloom at best (with quite a lot still in bud). Some of the early Spring species were still thriving also, like this very healthy looking Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)
It’s always nice when you have either some beautiful scenery or some historical/cultural/social landmark near when you’re recording and you don’t have far to go for that in Raphoe.
More searching of the walls and we found Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) and English Stonecrop (Sedum anglicum). Hart’s Tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium) was just unfurling at this point and its youthful colour added to the hedgerows and old stone walls.
By no means is the above a complete list of the species recorded, close to 80 were recorded in this small town.
More to come about Botanising in East Donegal in the next few weeks!
Ireland has 20 native species of bumblebee, but like most things some are rare or have restricted ranges and are not commonly seen. The most commonly encountered species are Bombus lucorum, Bombus terrestris, Bombus Pascuorum, Bombus Hortorum and Bombus Jonellus. Depending on your location you may also see Bombus Muscorum. Bombus lapidarius is more common in the south of the country (I only generally seem to record it on speices rich grassland near the coast in the North) and is listed as vulnerable in the Irish bee Red List.
Bumblebee identification can seem daunting to begin with, but like most things it gets easier with time. Thankfully you can take a systematic approach to their identification. This will generally start with tail colour, moving on to the number of bands on the thorax or abdomen.
This week we will be looking at the Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). In Ireland buff-tailed queens are quite noticeable creatures. They are large species and often one of the first to emerge in the spring, in fact they are one of the few species to actually forage during the winter. It is well worth keeping an eye out for these beautiful bumblebees on mild winter days (especially in urban areas). A few days into January of this year I was amazed to see a lovely new buff-tailed queen feeding on Ivy (Hedera helix). A few days later, I started to notice a few more searching for suitable feeding areas.
As I mentioned, the first thing to look for is tail colour, buff-tailed queens have a “buff” coloured tail. This can range from a dirty white to an almost brown/orange colour and stands out quite a bit compared to the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) (which has a very clean white tail, but there’ll be more about that in the coming week). The species has two dark yellow/orange bands, one on the thorax and one on the abdomen (this also differs from the white tailed which has very bright lemon yellow bands on the thorax and abdomen).
The queens are rather easy to tell apart once they have been observed a few times (it helps if you have a white-tailed bumblebee for comparison near the beginning though). Unfortunately the workers are not as easy to tell apart as the queens, in fact it’s a great deal more complicated as it involves DNA analysis of the species.
It’s now a full week since the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) held it’s New Year Plant Hunt, which encouraged botanists and all manner of enthused individuals to go out and find whatever was in flower from the 1st-4th of January. I was extremely interested when I heard about the project and in fact my enthusiasm led me out in the cold and rain just before 1:00AM to record my first species for the year (which also appears to be the earliest recorded species for the plant hunt) which was the beautiful and very common Daisy (Bellis perennis). Unfortunately the mixture of slippery ground, rain and wind didn’t allow me to get any decent photographs.
The 1st and 2nd of January did not bring great weather to Co. Donegal, so it was the 3rd before I finally got out into the field. But I was able to keep track of all the happenings of the hunt from the comfort of my home thanks to Twitter and FaceBook and Blog posts. From these sources I could find out how many records and species were coming in from various locations throughout Ireland and the UK. (My Twitter – https://twitter.com/OshDuffy) (BSBI Twitter – https://twitter.com/BSBIbotany)
On the 3rd I met up with Ralph Sheppard (BSBI Vice-County Recorder for West Donegal – H35) and we visited various areas around the county (mainly in East Donegal -H34, also a few in West Donegal too). Our first stop was fruitless, with only one species in flower, Gorse (Ulex europaeus) but the scenery more than made up for the lack of plants.
Our next stop was along the border of both vice counties in Donegal Town. Along the dividing line of the bridge we found Ivy (Hedera helix), Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Hazel (Corylus avellana) Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) and Water Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus). It was amazing to see some flowers in perfect shape as if it was their peak flowering time and others that seemed to be regretting the decision to flower (late/early).
Next on our list was Murvagh, a beautiful area in East Donegal which is fantastic during the Summer for plants and pollinators having a mix of sand dunes, grassland and a small bit of woodland too. I was there earlier in the year carrying out a BSBI Irish species project on Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) and ended up spending most of the day in the location. But on this occasion there was again very little in flower, Daisy (Bellis perennis), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus). Once again the lack of plants was not an issue as the scenery was phenomenal.
On our way back we stopped along a section of roadside in Convoy, where I was reliably informed that there was White Butterbur (Petasites albus) growing in previous year. Without too much effort we found both White Butterbur and Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) along with a collection of plants we’d encountered at the other sites and we also got our first and only grass of the day Poa annua. This turned out to be the most profitable site for flowering plants.
On the 4th of January I decided to go out into the field for the last time (as the New Year Plant Hunt was finishing that day). It soon became a bit of a family affair with my parents joining me and helping me search for anything in flower. We got some of the usual suspects early on, Daisy, Dandelion, but were finding it hard to find any Ivy in flower. I was starting to wonder if I would even make it past 3 species, when we came across Bramble (Rubus fruitcosus agg.) in flower! Finding that gave us all new enthusiasm and we started picking up other plants, Fuchsia (which seems to pop itself into areas without too much difficulty) Common Chickweed (Stellaria media), Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) and Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).
As we ventured out a little further we started to notice a few other plants, Herb-Robert once again peaked it’s rather (on this occasion) weathered head, along with gorse (which was turning out to be a constant) and Red Campion (Silene dioica). Straight after finding the Red Campion I also noticed Groundsel and Smooth Sow-Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus). The species list was certainly on the up and up at this stage and I had also added some species which I hadn’t got the previous day. The last two species I recorded on the 4th were also new for my list, Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna). It was a nice surprise to come across these two and I hadn’t properly seen Hogweed since I was turning over the leaves to look for 22-spot Ladybirds.
Overall, between both days 20 species of plant were recorded in Donegal and I was relatively happy with this, considering how Donegal isn’t exactly the mildest of places in Ireland. It also gave me a jump start for the year to get back into the field and get recording (which I have been doing since and I’m actually keeping a species for this year, so I’ll be giving updates on that here too). If you missed out on the New Year Plant Hunt on this occasion, then fear not, you can catch up with all the botanical recording here -(http://bsbipublicity.blogspot.ie/2015/01/new-year-plant-hunt-over-for-another.html ) and also prepare yourself for New Year Plant Hunt 2016. You could also go out into the field any time and record plants, be they flowering or not and send the details on to a Biological Recording Centre (such as the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Ireland) or even your BSBI Vice-county recorder. I’ll sign off with a list of all the plant that were recorded over the two days!