Habitats, wildflowers, butterflies and moths – a great day out at Tramore-Magheramore

On the 30 July, around 40 people gathered at Tramore to walk across Tramore strand, Carrickalahagh headland and back via Magheramore. The walk, organised by An Taisce and Birdwatch Ireland, was led by our field guide Ralph Sheppard. The weather was good but with two heavy showers.

Tramore

Ralph discussed the major changes which had taken place at Tramore over the last twenty years – the development of lakes, machair, saltmarsh and dunes – as a result of the accumulation of incoming sand. We saw for ourselves the importance of seaweed, marram grass and other species in stabilising the sand. It is the special ability of marram (Ammophila arenaria) to continue to grow through accumulating sand and extend its root system from the top to the bottom of even a very high dune that gives it, in particular, the ability to colonise and stabilise new dunes. New embryo dunes with a few marram stalks were obviously developing on piles of seaweed further down the strand towards the sea. The lovely Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) was the most obvious plant in bloom in the area behind the new dunes.

Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)

Carrickalahagh

The vegetation on the exposed, rocky/peaty headland was in sharp contrast to that of Tramore. Ralph pointed out, among many other things, the three types of heather – Ling (Calluna vulgaris), Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) and the paler pink Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix) – and the much rarer, heather-like, Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum). All of these are short and have waxy leaves which allows them to survive on such an exposed site. Equally well adapted were several very short-stalked Golden Rod (Solidago virgaurea) plants, mainly in seed. A rare Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride), Brookweed (Samolus valerandi) in shallow streams and a Meadow Brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina) were also observed. According to Ralph, it is at this time of the year that these butterflies start to emerge.

Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea)

Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea)

Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)

Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)

Magheramore

In the afternoon, the weather improved and in the sheltered areas past the lake leading to Magheramore, more butterflies and moths were observed. These included the Five-Spot Burnet moth (Zygaena trifolii), its empty pupa cases on grass stalks and the caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) feeding on Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), their black and orange strips warning possible predators of their poisonous content. The most surprising discovery was that of a tiny young newt, no more than 20 mm in length, in damp moss where a pond had dried up.

In addition to the yellow Ragwort, Bedstraw (Galium verum) and Tormentil (Potentilla erecta), many of the plants observed flowering in late July had purple flowers. These included the Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), Knapweed/Hard Heads (Centaurea nigra) and the Pyramidal and Fragrant Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidal and Gymnadenia conopsea). Many of the other orchids were no longer in flower. Yellow-flowered pansies (Viola tricolor ssp. curtsii) were also numerous on the sandy areas around the rabbit holes.

The group, full on interesting knowledge and understanding, then wound their way back to Tramore car park. Many thanks to An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland and especially Ralph Sheppard for a most enjoyable and informative day.

Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) caterpillars

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