June 11th - Groomsport.


Botany


After a week of hot sunshine, we were back in woolly hats and rain coats so we did not venture far enough onto Ballymacormick Point to see County Down’s special flower, the beautiful blue Spring Squill (Scilla verna).


However as Ivor McDonald brought us to vantage points to observe birds, we were able to look at some of the plants in the harbour area. Three-cornered Garlic/Leek (Allium triquetrum) is a garden escape that is widespread in the Groomsport area – the triangular stems are very noticeable. Three umbellifers (Apiaceae) were examined – the yellowish Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) is a southern European plant found by the sea and near old abbeys and was used as a vegetable, Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is the most common roadside umbellifer in the summer after Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) has finished flowering. So we had one plant with its English name connected with Alexander the Great and the other with its botanical name from Heracles/Hercules. The third umbellifer was Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) growing in a stream. Oenanthe means wine-fragrant but it can be fatally poisonous. Many umbelifers are the ancestors of our familiar vegetables like carrots, parsnip, celery and parsley but others are very poisonous, so our predecessors must have tried them out by trial and error!

Tree Mallow (Lavatera arborea) grows by the shore - it can cope with gales and sea spray but is another Mediterranean plant that does not like frost. We tasted the leaves of Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia officinalis) used to ward off scurvy. Its white flowers are some of the earliest on the seashore in spring. Another white shore plant is Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) which was growing near the garden-escape Snow-in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum).

So a short seaside walk on a cool damp evening had nevertheless shown us an interesting variety of plants.


Margaret Marshall


Zoology

A very damp evening was cheered up by a warm turf fire and freshly made soda bread served to all as they arrived in the Cockle Cottages. Shirley and Ed, dressed in costume, acted as host and hostess and told us some of the history of the area.


The cottage on the seaside has two large screens to allow the breeding Terns on Cockle Island to be observed. Hugh from the National Trust explained the work they carried out on the island, monitoring the birds and their nests.


Despite its small size and close proximity to the active village of Groomsport, the island has always been an important site for breeding seabirds and is part of the Ballymacormick Point ASSI.

It is particularly important for breeding terns. Up to 275 pairs of Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) breed there although 150–200 pairs is more normal. A smaller number, 40–70 pairs of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) use the island, and for the past ten years a colony of up to 500 pairs of Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) have bred on the island. These three species of tern are all amber listed on the list of species of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland 2008–2013.


In addition to the terns there is a good population of breeding gulls – over 400 pairs of Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus - red listed) and just a few Common Gulls (Larus canus - amber listed).

Ivor then took us round the bay where we were able to see a variety of birds including Gannets (Morus bassanus) flying quite close to land, Eider duck (Somateria mollissima) and Oyster catcher (Haematopus longirostris). As always he shared his vast knowledge of birds, telling us where they wintered and breed as well as the different names they may have. We learnt that Eider ducks are also known as ‘dunters’ in the Shetlands – an apt description of their movement in the water.


Pamela Thomlinson




 
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Female Eider duck (Somateria mollissima)

Eider duck nest.

Cockle Cottage, Groomsport.