Each season brings a different experience at Sheskinmore Lough. In spring, the wetland is awash with colour as the first orchids come into bloom. In summer, butterflies fill the air as they compete to attract a mate. In autumn, the machair turns golden with yarrow. In winter, look out for geese and chough flying above as they gather to feed and form roosts.
Click on the following images to see what seasonal delights you might discover:
Common Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia officinalis) Flowering from March to August, this small, low-growing, very variable native biennial or perennial plant is found on the saltmarsh, rocky areas and muddy seashores at Sheskinmore Lough. The plant has white or very pale mauve flowers comprising four petals and fleshy kidney-shaped leaves with arrow-shaped toothed leaves clutching the stem. Its common name originates from when it was used by sailors on long sea voyages in order to prevent scurvy, a condition which is brought about by a deficiency in Vitamin C.
Dense-flowered Orchid (Neotinea maculata) Flowering from April to June, this native wildflower, although not necessarily one of the most beautiful orchids, is certainly a curiosity. It is self-pollinating with a tightly-packed spike of ten to thirty pale, creamy flowers sometimes with a pinkish tint and is primarily found on the dunes and machair grassland at Sheskinmore Lough.
Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) Flowering from April to June, this hairless lilac-pink perennial, which can be found in the wetland at Sheskinmore Lough, was described by 16th Century herbalist, John Gerard, as ‘flowering for the most part in April and May when the Cuckoo begins to sing her pleasant notes without stammering’; although it is also known as ‘Lady’s Smock’ due to its resemblance to a milkmaid’s smock.
Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) Flowering from April to June, this native plant is easily confused with the ‘Early Dog-violet’; however the unscented, blue-violet flower is always solitary and is particularly attractive when viewed through a hand-lens or magnifying glass. It has a pattern of deep purple lines which run into the throat over a paler violet patch, becoming white. It can be found on the grassland habitats at Sheskinmore Lough.
Sea Pink (Armeria maritima) Flowering from April to October, this plant, also known as ‘Thrift’, forms compact cushions and has attractive deep pink or occasionally white flowers. It occurs along the rocky and muddy coastal fringe of Sheskinmore Lough. The name ‘Thrift’ is thought to refer to the leaves, which are tightly packed together to conserve water in salty air.
Sand Sedge (Carex arenaria) Flowering from May to June, this sedge possesses aerial shoots that grow up to about 40cm in height from a horizontal rhizome which can spread over considerable distances below the ground surface. The plant grows in the dune slacks and blowouts at Sheskinmore Lough and helps to reduce further wind erosion by binding loose sand. On bare sand patches the aerial shoots arise in dead straight rows, growing up from the horizontal rhizome in a perfectly straight line unless it encounters obstacles.
Black Bog Rush (Schoenus nigricans) Flowering from May to September, this distinctive rush can grow to nearly a metre in height forming large tufts with black fruiting heads that can be easily identified from quite a distance. It tends to prefer more alkaline soils and the damp habitats of the wetland and dune ponds at Sheskinmore Lough.
Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) Flowering from May to September, this extremely widespread bright yellow perennial, found in the grassy areas of Sheskinmore Lough, has a creeping, downy, patch-forming character. It has been used in many herbal remedies to treat problems of the digestive tract for centuries and its common name is thought to derive from the Latin Tormentum referring to the pain which it relieves.
Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima) Flowering from May to September, this low growing plant is particularly interesting as it does not have ‘true’ petals. What appear to be five pink petals are actually sepals. The true tiny flowers are hairless and grow in the junctions of the leaves and stems. The oval-shaped leaves are fleshy and are able to store water in salty habitats, therefore the plant is found in the saltmarsh at Sheskinmore Lough.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) Flowering from June to September, this tall creamy perennial with reddish stems is common in the wetland and wet grassland at Sheskinmore Lough. The species has a heavy fragrance and the flower heads are frequently visited by bees; although the flowers produce no nectar. A unique feature of this plant is the almond-like scent of the leaves which is distinctly different to the strong sweet aroma of the flowers.
Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) Flowering from June to September, this very common native plant occurs throughout Ireland and can be found in the grassland at Sheskinmore Lough. It is a slightly downy short and sprawling perennial with tiny bright yellow flowers that have an attractive hay-like smell. As its name might suggest, Lady’s Bedstraw was traditionally used to stuff mattresses. There is also even a legend that claims Mary lay on a mattress of Lady’s Bedstraw during the Nativity.
Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) Flowering from June to September, this common bright yellow pea-like flowering plant has, over the years, amassed a host of common names including ‘lady’s shoes and stockings’, ‘crow-toes’, ‘lady’s slipper’, ‘bacon and eggs’ and ‘God-Almighty’s thumb and finger’, most of which are related to the shape or colour of its flowers. This abundant and widespread plant grows in the machair and grassland habitats at Sheskinmore Lough and can tolerate a wide variety of conditions.
Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) Flowering from June to September, this native variable perennial can be found on the machair, dunes and grassland at Sheskinmore Lough, and sometimes bear multiple stems that can grow up to 30cm in height. The magenta or pink flowers, borne in dense conical heads, are pyramidal shaped at first but lengthen to form cylindrical spikes of 50 to 100 flowers that fade in colour as they age. The flowers have a strong pungent smell and are a great favourite with moths and butterflies.
Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea) Flowering from July to August, this deciduous perennial compact yet tufted grass forms dense clumps of narrow, upright leaves that turn pale brown and orange in winter, with narrow purplish flower heads in late summer at Sheskinmore Lough.
Lax-flowered Sea-lavender (Limonium humile) Flowering from July to September, this pretty, papery lilac-coloured native wildflower on the saltmarsh at Sheskinmore Lough is visited by hungry birds due to seed heads remaining on the plant. There are several species of this plant and this species can be found growing in gardens. They are known to gardeners as ‘Statice’ due to their appearance remaining static throughout their flowering period.
Whorl Snail (Vertigo geyeri) This tiny snail has a pale reddish-brown conical shell with regular growth-lines and a mouth with usually four small peg-like teeth. It has an annual life-cycle, although some individuals may survive into their second year. They lay up to ten eggs in late summer, taking two weeks to develop. Adult Geyer’s whorl snails graze on algae and bacteria growing on decaying plant remains in the wetland at Sheskinmore Lough.
Marsh Fritillary Butterfly (Euphydryas aurinia) In flight between mid-May and mid-July in the wetland and grassy areas of Sheskinmore Lough this butterfly has a highly patterned pale yellowish-brown upperside with orange-brown markings and brown spots, giving a stained glass appearance. The underside is light orange to brown with yellow spots. Females are generally larger than males. The caterpillars measure up to 2.7 centimetres in length and are black in colour with black spines along the back.
Small Blue Butterfly (Cupido minimus) In flight during June and July in the machair and dunes at Sheskinmore Lough, this butterfly is Ireland’s smallest with a wing span of as little as 20mm. The upperside of the wings are dark smoky-grey with white fringing hairs. The underside is silvery-grey with numerous small black dots.
Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) The adult male of this dragonfly species has a blue abdomen with a black tip and transparent wings, whilst the female has a yellow body, or brown once mature, with black bands along the abdomen and transparent wings. It can be seen flying over the lake and wetland at Sheskinmore Lough between late May and August.
Buck’s-horn Plantain (Plantago coronopus) Flowering from May to October, this attractive native coastal plant grows in the saltmarsh and rocky areas fringing Sheskinmore Lough. From its distinctive spreading, basal rosette of toothed leaves a slender spikes grow with tiny 4-petalled flowers. This plant gets its name from the shape of the individual leaves which are said to resemble a buck’s horn. It was used as a medicinal plant for treatment of fevers.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Flowering from June to November, this strongly aromatic, downy native perennial of the grassland at Sheskinmore Lough carries numerous yellowish-cream flower disc florets and pinkish-white ray florets The dark green and feathery leaves of this plant are very beautiful with the millefolium part of the name meaning ‘thousand leaf’. It was also known as herbal ‘militaris’ for its use in staunching the flow of blood from injuries and Achilles, the Greek warrior, was reputed to have had it applied to wounds made in battle.
Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella) Probably the most colourful plant that continues to flower well into Autumn, this pale purple biennial can be found across the machair, thriving where shelly sands have allowed the development of calcareous soils. It is a short and erect plant, that is often found in large groups where conditions are ideal, and is often flowering still at the end of October.
Greenland White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons flavirostris) Roosting in Ireland and visiting Sheskinmore between October and April to graze on grass, this long-distance migrant is a medium-sized grey-coloured goose, and is bigger than a mallard but smaller than a mute swan. Adults have a large white patch at the front of the head around the beak and bold black bars on the belly. The legs and bill are both orange. This species does not breed in Ireland, but reproduces in Greenland.
Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) Although this bird can be seen at Sheskinmore during the majority of the year, it is best viewed during winter. While its black plumage identifies it as a crow, the chough (pronounced ‘chuff’) has a red bill and legs unlike any other member of the crow family. It has a restricted westerly distribution in the British Isles and the population at Sheskinmore Lough is a particularly good example. This species readily displays its mastery of flight with wonderful aerial displays of diving and swooping.