As part of Heritage Week 2016 the NPWS Ranger for South West Donegal, Emer Magee, led an enjoyable ramble over sand, fore dunes, marsh, rocky headlands and sandy bays, ending up on the salt marsh of the old sports pitch at Sandfield. A group of around thirty people took part in the walk. The (packed) bus journey back to Tramore was fun and added to the social benefits of the expedition as regulars and visitors chatted away.
We learnt about dune formation and the amazing roots of Marram Grass that go right down to the bottom of a dune. The marram just grows taller and taller through the forming dune. We saw the Sand Sedge tendrils creeping across the sand.
Many topics were discussed along the route, ranging from the larvae-rich dune ponds to the taste of Rock Samphire. Who amongst us knew that the pools were so favourable to dragonflies because they contained no fish to eat the larvae?
Rock Samphire, described as “evil trade” in Shakespeare’s King Lear, grows on a few sheltered rock faces on the Carrickalahagh headland and is not to be confused with Glasswort/Marsh Samphire. It was once a cash crop, exported to London for medicinal purposes.
Several species of birds, regulars and visitors again, were mentioned. The long life of a strandline gannet, ringed on Ailsa Crag some twenty-five years ago, was revealed. We visited the nest of the ravens at the end of Tramore strand and its excellent predator proof location was admired. We saw no eider but their habit of sitting just beyond the breaking surf was mentioned. We talked about sea beans again and I include a photo of a couple of Hamburger Beans found on Tramore in May.
There was only one rain event, which unfortunately meant we could not explore for Marsh Fritillary webs, and we had a peaceful lunch on what I call the Biodiversity Cove rocks. I call it this due to the variety of moths and butterflies found in the sheltered spot on a good day.
Then began the walk around Ballinreavy strand, a beautiful curve of sand and dune. Some jellyfish were examined with the help of Emer’s young assistant and son, Hugh, who had brought some scientific equipment to help examine treasure, living or dead, found on the dunes, marsh and sand.
We walked over amazing sand patterns formed when the waves retreated after a high tide.
At the end of the strand we took our shoes off and waded through the shallow stream (thanks to the diligent tide table check by Emer) to sit on the edge of the salt marsh and await the bus back. Emer’s knowledge for this vast area of so many micro-habitats was evident throughout the walk and I hope we have many more opportunities to share in her expertise.