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On Saturday 12th August 2023 a group of 15 members (12 adults and 3 young people) visited a private wildlife garden at Waterfoot Ballymaguigan by kind permission of the owners Henry and Kathleen Walls.
This is a 20-acre site extending down to the western shore of Lough Neagh, containing a mixture of woodland, scrub, a large pond and extensive margins where wildflowers abound. The area is easily accessible with mown grass paths throughout. We were self-led on this outing with members each contributing their botanical knowledge.
Despite being late in the wildflower season this site was as always prolific in the number of species seen. This was especially so along the side of the lake with so many interesting species there, an hour had slipped past and we had not progressed beyond the pond!
Species seen on our tour included lots of Red Bartsia, lots of Yellow Rattle, Common Centaury, Water Horsetail, Common Mouse-ear, Selfheal, Water Mint, Gypsywort, Smooth Sowthistle, Purple-loosestrife, Silverweed, Knapweed, Yarrow, St John’s-wort, Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill, Yellow Loosestrife, Red Dead-nettle, Shepherd’s-purse, Red Valerian, Colt’s-foot, Marsh Cudweed, Woody Nightshade, Field Forget-me-not, Marsh Woundwort, Hawkweeds, Greater and Lesser Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Yarrow, Greater Celandine, Fat-hen, Bulrush, Knotgrass, Greater Plantain (White man’s foot), Ribwort Plantain, Bogbean, Vetches, Lesser Stitchwort, Meadow Vetchling, Wild Angelica, Meadowsweet, Great, Marsh and Rosebay Willowherb, Hedge Mustard, Common and Marsh Ragwort, Meadow and Creeping Buttercup, Hemlock Water-dropwort, Giant Hogweed and the inevitable Himalayan Balsam now so common in the Lough Neagh basin.
A Whooper Swan, some Mallard, Black-headed Gulls and a Little Egret took off from a sandy spit a few yards offshore. Moorhen, Little Grebe, Robin, Heron and Wren were heard. Apart from swallows overhead few other birds seen or heard as we were visiting in August, a lot of birds are moulting and like to stay hidden. Furthermore, it was a little windy which is always the birdwatcher’s enemy.
Despite the wind Dragonflies were patrolling the edge of the pond. Without a net we could not identify the species. On the way round we regularly saw Speckled Wood butterflies as well as the occasional Peacock and Holly Blue. It has been a good summer for Holly Blues. A Cinnabar moth larva was seen on Ragwort.
Cookstown Wildlife Trust have visited this private wildlife area before. It never ceases to impress us. It is a truly remarkable wildlife resource and a credit to Henry and Kathleen Walls for conserving it in such great condition.
Field Trip Report written by Ernest Hunter
VISIT TO ANNAGINNY FISHERY AND PARK FARM THURSDAY 20th JULY 2023
On Thursday evening 20th July 2023 Alan and Charlene Abraham entertained 32 members of Cookstown Wildlife Trust showing us around their Fishery and Park Farm at Annaginny Road near Dungannon. We were amazed to hear that the whole area had been an open field 40 years ago. Over the years Alan dug out the 8-10-foot-deep lakes and planted extensive areas of native and non-native trees while recycling old classrooms to build bridges and recycled the old Desertcreat WI Hall to create a meeting room, reception and coffee bar. They now have a thriving fishery business and caravan park with up to 29 mobile and 14 static caravans with supporting facilities. In the lower part of the park there is a comfortable looking holiday home made from an old container. Alan also has an apiary with several beehives. He is the “go-to” man in Mid Ulster for anyone needing advice or support with “beekeeping”.
A summer school runs in a marquee in the park teaching arts, crafts, wildlife studies and countryside skills.
Annaginny Park is obviously managed with the conservation and welfare of wildlife as a priority.
One of the lakes is a remnant from a turf cutting bog which fuelled nearby Annaginny House-previously a hunting lodge for an aristocratic family from Donegal. Alan dug out the other two lakes.
The lakes are stocked with Rainbow Trout, Bream, Roach, Perch, Eels and Carp while Gudgeon appeared naturally. A couple of 20lb Pike keep one lake clean by removing sick and dead fish. Alan showed us a huge Sturgeon in a tank which he plans to release into one of the lakes. On the side of the bigger lake Alan has also created a sandy bank for Sand Martins to nest in.
Alan pointed out cultivated areas of Jerusalem Artichokes, Borage, Mustard and Sunflowers. Some of this is for his bees. As we went around several wildflowers were pointed out by Ian McNeill.
There are 500 Rook’s nests in the wood. Several years ago, with incentive from a government grant, Poplar Trees were planted to potentially supply a Belfast match factory. The factory closed prematurely and later in a heavy storm most of the shallow rooted Poplars were blown over into one of the lakes. A few of the Poplars remain. There are also several fine native trees including Scots Pines.
We were shown Red Deer, Wallabies (including an Albino), Emus, Rheas, Anglo-Nubian Goats, Jake the Donkey and a pen of “retired” racing pigeons and other fowl. A lot of the animals in the park have been “donated” by owners no longer able to look after them. These have included a Corn Snake, Macaws and a Terrapin.
We were shown a display of stuffed animals built up over the years as some “residents” have died off.
There is a remarkable larger than life polystyrene cow which has recently required protection with wire netting as Jackdaws have started pecking off pieces for their nests!
At the end of the tour we were entertained to light refreshments. The Chairperson thanked Alan and Charlene for a most interesting tour and congratulated them on how they were supporting wildlife at Annaginny.
Cookstown Wildlife Trust Ballyronan Marina Thursday 29th June 7.00pm
23 members met at Ballyronan Marina on a dry calm though cloudy evening. We were led by Jackie Arrell and Ian McNeill.
Interesting botanical specimens were found in the first few yards of our walk along the water’s edge at the slipway and marina. We were shown Red Valerian, Bittersweet, Liverwort, Shepherd’s-purse, Wall Speedwell, Marsh Woundwort, Flowering Rush, Water Mint, Water Forget-me-not, Great Willowherb, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, and Branched Bur-reed. Jackie explained the interesting life cycle of Branched Bur-reed.
Jackie also pointed out lots of white “Red valerian” on the high wall of the slipway.
Then on to the artificial “Wildflower Meadow” where we saw Yarrow, Wild Carrot, Knapweed, Ribwort Plantain, Greater Plantain, Oxeye Daisy, Ground-ivy and Lesser Trefoil. Despite the lateness of the evening and dull conditions a number of Blue-tail Damselflies were out.
This is a relatively new artificial wildflower meadow only sown a couple of years ago. Some of the annuals present last year eg. Cornflower and Poppy were not showing this year. Ian explained that their seed was probably lying dormant. To germinate annuals require the soil to be disturbed regularly.
The two groups then entered the Woodland where Wood Avens, Wild Angelica, Hemlock Water-dropwort, Flag Iris, Hedge Woundwort, Teasel, Marsh Thistle, Red Campion and Common Marsh-bedstraw were seen as well as lots and lots of Himalayan Balsam.
Ian commented that a lot of the wildflower species he had recorded at the water’s edge in the wooded area in previous years have now disappeared probably due to nutrification of the soil from regular flooding by the lough in winter months.
Thanks to Jackie and Ian for leading us on a very interesting evening field trip.