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LABLog 2015(Field Trips and Observations — Water Quality and Biodiversity reports: January to December 2015)
June 2015
[ LINK to Log15 Monthly Index5 ]

IMPORTANT NOTE: Water/Weather conditions for each report are located in a Table at the bottom of this page. Locations Maps and Water Commentaries also now there.

A) 7th June, 2015

Pseudorchis albida/Shannon River foothills.





Another rare ‘Lough Allen’ orchid flowering in early Summer each year.


A pleasant day in the foothills of The Playbank in that part of Co. Cavan that runs along the Shannon Valley towards Dowra. Very much part of Lough Allen Basin with the river flowing through it and the lake itself a short distance to the South West.

Here there is another rare orchid which we have not yet found on the shores of Lough Allen but which occurs in good numbers elsewhere in Leitrim, as exemplified by a recent big find near Manorhamilton.

The Small White Orchid is the only species in its group and is a plant of higher ground. It seems to love altitudes of 160m to 200m in this region.

Another very worthy conservation species and might well qualify land in this region for enhanced grants under the GLAS Scheme. Threats to this species can be listed as follows:

1. Increasingly wet field conditions.

2. Associated high growth of rushes on sloping pastures.

3. Land improvement.

4. Removal of field walls.

This plant just loves low tumbled down field walls, which have no benefit in stock control but provide the dry haven that this species  loves. Formerly found in open pastures in the foothills of north west facing mountains (in this location), it now seems to be migrating to higher humps and moss and holly covered low walls. We assume that it is caused by the saturated fields that now seem commoner at this time of year, or else by the associated rich growth of rushes (in unimproved fields) or grass in more managed fields.

Like many orchids this species thrives on marginal land and any efforts to improve land, particularly with fertilisers, can make the grass so lush that this species is pushed out. Perhaps some ‘awkward’ fields can be set aside for this species as a conservation contribution by a farmer or landowner?

Conditions Today:

After the coldest May in many years, many botanical marvels have been held back this season. We had visited this field in recent weeks but conditions were far too bleak for this plant to emerge. This is a pattern we have seen around the country with many species of Orchids emerging late. Even Early Purple Orchids were late and stunted except where sheltered by woods. The only species on time seems to have been the Birdsnest Orchid but that is a saprophyte and grows in deep woodland with rich soils. (See May Log.)

Today on the mountain there was mixed cloud and sunshine, breezy and dry. The Small Whites were thriving but conditions made photography difficult.

Here we show 3 plants in different stages of budding and flowering. These can be very small to quite impressive plants (5 - 30cm) depending on conditions. All these specimens were found on low walls.




Another Place, other Wildlife...

We are curious to see if we can extend this very limited known occurrence of Psudorchis albida to other sites nearby. Over several years searches have been conducted in nearby locations and going as far as the west flank of The Playbank (overlooking Lough Allen), but to no avail. An intrepid observer has recently found a new colony near Manorhamilton. This is the nearest Leitrim colony to Lough Allen that we are aware of.

The three pictures shown here were taken in a ‘perfect site’ for these orchids — without success! But it was a lovely largely abandoned area of old farmland just in the hills above Dowra and almost on the Leitrim Cavan border!

No Small White Orchids but many stunning Heath Spotted Orchids which supports the view that this is a good area for orchids. Also some insects out enjoying the early Summer sunshine in this rather warm sheltered place!

Green Weevil (LEFT) and Click Beetle




A glorious bunch of Heath Spotted Orchids, in a clump in some rich ground in a warm field surrounded by woods...

B) 8th June, 2015

Terns and Herons, north Lough Allen.



Biodiversity is changing in Lough Allen. Lapwing and Curlew have disappeared! This is major ecological disaster to seem to be losing so suddenly two traditional breeding waders who have been part of this landscape from time immemorial. It’s on a par with losing the Corncrake 50 years ago. These losses are part of a bigger European scenario where Curlews, in particular, are declining. They will probably continue to occur in Lough Allen as passage migrants moving to and from breeding grounds to the north. Lapwings did try and establish themselves again this year but a mixture of intensifying onshore grazing and inclement weather seems to have caused them to leave the area. None have been seen this month!

However, other species are colonising and some traditional species are surviving. We have never seen so many Common Terns on Lough Allen. There are now at least 3 pairs breeding on widely dispersed locations. Not a big number but, once they become established, they may multiply. (Conservation goal: to supply some nesting rafts in suitable locations around the lake.) Other species like Buzzards (still rare) may settle here, some smaller birds may move in (Woodpeckers, Garden and Wood Warblers).

Plant biodiversity is also threatened by changing climate and changing land management. There are opportunities and there are risks. The two orchids, Small white and Irish Lady’s Tresses are both vulnerable to intensification of land use and a specific protected area is highly recommended for both species — if only such land was available.

The Species:





A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers feeding. Mergansers are present in good numbers but the female should be sitting on eggs by now? Instead we have found mixed flocks with many females widespread around the lake. The behaviour shown in this photograph is akin to courtship but it is also used for fishing. This is shallow water at the bay near Yellow River — not a common area for fishing as it is very shallow. We assume they may have been looking either for fish fry or bottom dwelling invertebrates.


Three Heron were seeing flying steadily up this field in an easterly direction. Such movement of Herons is symptomatic of breeding and we have not seen much sign of this in Herons either. The cold May has made them wait until sufficient food sources were available? This was taken at Druminalass and the birds would have been heading towards Ballinaglearagh. Any birds seen, or loud ‘barking’ sound coming from trees, would be an indication of nesting. We would be keen to hear of this as Herons have moved from former sites and as they are a shore feeding bird that might be vulnerable to shoreline CyanoBlooms!




RIGHT: Water Pollution!!!

Very sadly the ugly spectre of a CyanoBloom has raised its head again. This large and intense area of Cyanophyceae Bloom (aka ‘blue-green algae — which it ain’t!) was seen in the south west corner of Annagh Lake today. This can be highly poisonous, especially to dogs. This was the opposite corner of the lake to where a small stream, often carrying foam, enters the lake. However the wind was in the perfect direction to lodge this pollution and to allow the CyanoBloom to develop. Blooms are now seen in Lough Allen at very strange times, Winter and Summer. The cold wet and windy weather of recent weeks does not seem to have deterred this bloom from developing. No blooms have been seen in the main body of Lough Allen this year (and this one may be of a local origin) but there are clear signs of suitable contamination widely dispersed around Lough Allen. Why wait for an accident to happen? We should all read (and heed) the Pontiff’s words on pollution and justice!

We must stop polluting Lough Allen!

LEFT The adaptable Common Gull

The not-so-common Common Gull is one of the daintier and more attractive of the many varieties of Gulls on Lough Allen. It is very well adapted to this environment because of its habit of nesting in tree stumps well above the water. Often these can be 5-7m high but this bird on Fahy Island had an ideal compromise! However, this species also nests on The Spit, and has done so in large numbers along with Black-headed Gulls and some Lesser Black-backed Gulls. These species and that location are very vulnerable to flooding. The Lesser Black-backed colony on Corry Shoal is still substantially flooded but with birds hanging around in hope! A long period of dry weather and reduced lake level will help many species.

However, the wily Common Gull will survive. It breeds in isolated pairs or small groups all around the lake and, in many cases, above the widely changing water levels.

C) 11th. June, 2015

Terns and Gull colonies at south end of the Lake.

A very pleasant early morning on Lough Allen, feeling warm in a gentle breeze with the lake varying from light to strong rippled water as the morning went on. We traversed the lake from Cormongan to Arigna then south along the west shore down to Spiranthes Islands and then back along the east shore via The Spit and all the islands. Conditions were pleasant with two moderate streams of broken up scum flowing through the middle of the lake. Shorelines were free of foam and no blooms were seen.


Quiet at first. The photograph of two perfectly normal Mute Swans (above) is included because it seemed to typify the Lough Allen landscape with varied fauna and steeply rising slopes from the 46m. surface of the lake to the hills and mountains generating electricity for the Irish economy! But, soon the biodiversity appeared and it was diverse and bustling.

LEFT: New site for Common Terns

3 Common Terns had occupied Srabragan Rock and two nests were visible. These are simply bundles of stems and moss placed on bare rocks so as to prevent eggs rolling away.


RIGHT: Terns nest

1 pair were successfully breeding and were either sitting on the eggs or mounting guard nearby. We quickly photographed the Tern eggs and then moved away

RIGHT: Evicted by the little monster!

Srabragan Rock has for several years been the location for 1 pair of breeding Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Indeed they seemed settled here on our last trip around this area. Today only one was present and was sitting listlessly on the navigation mark near to the rocks. This photo shows the strength and size of this bird. However, they are often mobbed and driven off by Common Terns protecting their colonies. In this case it seems that the Terns may have evicted the large Gulls!



LEFT: Fast aggressive manoeuvrable fliers!

As we arrived at the site 3 terns were in the area, two sitting, watching the nearby Gull. One was sitting tight and low down and we suspected breeding and we brought the boat slowly close to the shore. Eventually she flew off exposing 3 eggs in a very bare nest on a low rock. This is a risky site both for predation and flooding. However, both of the pair stayed close to the area and came back very quickly when we moved away. It will be nice to see greater numbers of terns coming to Lough Allen and, maybe, establishing a viable breeding colony here?

LEFT: Nesting Site.

Common Tern returning to the nest. This photo shows how dainty this bird is in comparison to the big lumbering gulls.


RIGHT: Great-crested Grebe.

Another species that seems to be increasing in numbers. Theses Grebes have always been present but scarce. They probably prefer shallow water and known breeding areas would include Acres Lake (to the south of Lough Allen) and sheltered reedy inlets near The Shannon Sluices and at Derrintobber. This is a species that is often seen in small ponds and reedy areas often associated with public playing areas. In Lough Allen they are shy and hard to approach, but a beautiful and exciting bird to watch. Another welcome addition to the biodiversity!

A flock of Mergansers seen high in the sky.

This group of Mergansers was seen flying high over Long Island. It is unusual to see Mergansers high up; particularly during the breeding season they are ducks that swim a lot and only take off when disturbed. We had not disturbed these birds. If Mergansers want to move around the lake they tend to fly low and fast and directly from one place to another. They seem to know where they are going.

Also, if you look closely at the photograph, it seems that there are 4 females and 2 males. The bird in the centre with the three ducks, seems to be a drake; the bottom one definitely is. The only other Mergansers seen were 1 pair close to the shore at Inishfail and 1 lone female resting on The Spit. For so many females to be idle seems to suggest a failure of breeding this year or else a long delay. Cold weather in May often disrupts this species and they seem to have some instinct not to pair up and mate and lay eggs unless the weather is staring to look more promising.

So, so far it seems that Mergansers are not in the mood to breed yet and are associating as flocks rather than breeding couples. Is it too late for them to reconsider? Perhaps not, if we get improving weather for a sustained period? Let’s hope so. The Red-breasted Merganser is one of the most important species for Lough Allen. They are present in good numbers this year. Hopefully they will get a chance to rear a few broods of delightful Merganser Ducklings?

Total Mergansers seen today: 9

Summer breeders arrive in numbers!

At the start of the day the landscape was pleasant and bright but the wildlife seemed scarce. However whenever we were close to shore in bays or channels the numbers of Black-headed Gulls feeding was immediately obvious. They were present in Srabragan, Mountallen Bay, south of Inishfail and in the Inishfail Channel and the east coast of Lough Allen up as far as The Spit.

Black-headed Gulls aren’t fish eaters but they naturally fish over water hovering and twisting and then dropping down to pick up some small insect or other object of food from the surface of the water. They are dainty feeders and attractive to watch. In Lough Allen it doesn’t seem to bother going after fish but can often be seen to catch some insect in flight as well as dipping down to pick up objects from the surface of the lake.

Fortunately, as we arrived at The Spit there was Black-headed Gull mayhem with a large colony getting established on the southern part of this rocky shoal. There was much screaming and vying for territory going on. This is another of the ‘attractive’ gulls and can be stunningly beautiful when in full breeding plumage with chocolate brown heads, white chests and deep red beaks.


Black-headed Gulls: c. 70 birds

Common Gulls: Few, many seem to be dispersed and breeding in solitary nests.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls: Numbers down with only a few desultory individuals. More on nearby Round Island, their traditional haven.

Common Tern: Another pair established but on the north end of The Spit



We will be away now for he rest of June. More images and stories of Lough Islands wild nature in July!


MONTH’s Data Sheet: June 2015













Air Temp. °C

Wind (Dir/F.)


Temp. °C

Level m.

Quality (Bubbles)



7th, 0930-1300

Grey to Sunny


W 2/3

not a Boat trip




8th, 0900-1200

Mixed sun & cloud








Annagh Lake

11th, 0700-1130



NE 2/3





2 streams mid lake











Locations, Maps and Water Observations:

2015: MONTH

This is the 10th year of Lough Allen biological surveys. This year’s surveys are collected together in Monthly Pages (starting with March)

<--- Main Locations and Names are shown Left and Right --->

Recording Water Quality issues:

The Yellow / Orange / Red warning scheme initiated last year is retained as a banner that will appear at the top of any day’s Log entry where there have been Environment Quality concerns.


Environment Issue

YELLOW Alert: Unsightly

ORANGE: Potential Risk to Habitat

RED Alert: Real risk to Animals and People

A Red warning would relate to such issues as CyanoBlooms (‘blue-green algal blooms’) which may necessitate a Swimming Ban and special care for Dogs and other animals. Hopefully these will not recur this year but we need to be prepared in light of problems in November 2013 and 2014.
Orange Warnings relate to contamination where there appears little possibility of harm or health risk but where a condition may be damaging to wildlife in the area or limit the amenity value of the Lake. Yellow warnings will solely describe situations which may be unsightly and which should be eliminated. We anticipate there may be several Yellow Bars in the Logs below during 2015!


This is one month’s record of our work on Lough Allen in 2015. Other months are Linked through the Monthly Blog Index.