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Orange Tip

(Anthocharis cardamines)

May 31st - Groomsport and Ballymacormick Point


Groomsport means “The port of the gloomy servant”  but here was no gloom around on this lovely sunny afternoon, when members gathered at Groomsport Harbour to look at coastal plants. We first headed eastwards by the path to the beach. Four species of Plantain were examined- Greater Plantain (Plantago major) with broad leaves favours well-trodden paths, the taller Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolatus) has lance-shaped ribbed leaves. The seaside plantains are Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima) with fleshy narrow leaves while Buckshorn Plantain (Plantago coronopus) has antler-shaped leaves.  Coronopus means crow-foot so you can use either the English or the botanical name to help to identify it.

Dovesfoot Cranesbill (Geranium molle) was growing in grass while Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) with shiny leaves was managing to grow out of a wall. It used to be quite an uncommon plant in Northern Ireland but now seems to appear on waste sites everywhere and as a persistent weed in my garden. Pepper-tasting Yellow Stonecrop (Sedum acre) also grows on walls. On a sandy path by the beach a single plant of Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum) was just surviving trampling by  beach-goers.  Arena means ‘Sand’ – arenas had sand-covered floors. Lyme Grass (Leymus arenarius), Marram (Ammophila arenarius) and Sand Sedge (Carex arenaria) all have root systems that help bind the sand together. The winter storms had exposed some of the root systems but a clump of lilac-coloured Sea Rocket (Cakile martima) had survived.

A rocky greywacke headland was a riot of colour- yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), pink Thrift (Armeria maritima), white Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) and the last few flowers of blue Spring Squill (Scilla verna). Refreshed by icecreams, we
made our way past the harbour, where male and female Eiders (Somateria mollissima) were swimming together, and watched the Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) on Cockle Island. Arctic Terns spend our winter in the Antarctic and come here and as far as the Arctic to breed – a round trip of 70,000 km per year. In their 30 year life span they can cover 2 million kilometres of ocean travel although weighing only 100g. Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and Peacock caterpillars (Aglais io) were identified on Nettle plants and Green-veined white (Pieris napi) and Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) butterflies were in flight. In wet areas were clumps of the poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). The winter storms had washed uprooted plants onto beaches and there have been reports of dogs being poisoned by mistaking the roots for sticks.

The sea marsh area of Ballymacormick is a very different habitat from the sandy shore. The pink sepals of Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima) and the pink petals of Lesser Sea-spurrey (Spergularia marina) were visible among the green of Sea Arrow-grass (Triglochin maritima) and Saltmarsh Grass (Puccinellia) – named after a nineteenth century Italian botanist.

Glasswort (Salicornia europaea) has fleshy leaves to cope with the saltiness; soda used to be extracted from it as from Kelp for use in glass-making. This had been listed on the programme as a botany excursion but as with most BNFC outings we shared our interests, so contributions from botanists, geologists, bird and butterfly experts added to the enjoyment of a very pleasant afternoon. There was also the historical interest of the nineteenth century thatched fishermen’s cottages at Cockle Row.

Margaret Marshall


Eider Duck

Peacock Instars (Aglais io)