40 species in 40 days

It’s hard sometimes with the doom and gloom of lockdown to find something to look forward to but yesterday at lunchtime I got the pleasant surprise of the first Brimstone of the year float past my window. So with that in mind I decided, it’s Lent, there’s 40 days, 40 days for 40 species is definitely achievable. (I should have started on pancake Tuesday but I was too full). So this morning armed with a notebook, a pair of binoculars and my trusty assistant we headed out to make a start.

My trusty assistant

First we primed our garden with a mix of bird seed and peanuts and waited to see what would show up. Unfortunately two issues quickly arose, a) my assistant has very little patience and b) cats (Felis catus) eat peanuts so off we went. On the bird feeder around the corner we found two blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) munching away  and adding to our Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) from the day before we were already up to two species. Our neighbour has starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) nesting in her attic so we knew we’d be able to tick those off next before we’d even left the garden.

I wasn’t aware cats ate peanuts before today

My assistant hopped on his bike and we were off to see what we could find further afield. Down the road we saw Blackbird (Turdus merula) with nesting material, a robin  (Erithacus rubecula) hoping in the road and a pair of magpies (Pica pica) on a silage bale and we started getting excited, maybe we’d tick off all 40 today. We headed down to the lake hoping to tick off mute swan (Cygnus olor) and maybe a a duck or two (Anas platyrhynchos) but no luck on this occasion. Circling our 5k radius it was more blackbirds and robins but not much else to see until we came to a local farmers field where in addition to the sheep (Ovis aries) we came across a flock of rooks (Corvus frugilegus).

A curious robin

Thinking 9 was a good start we headed for home where on our return to the garden the cat presumably having eaten it’s fill we startled a mixed feeding aggregation of chaffinchs (Fringilla coelebs) and collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) and then while we enjoyed a celebratory yoghurt we were lucky enough to see our neighbourhood jay (Garrulus glandarius).

Our resident jay visiting the garden

While my assistant took a well deserved break I got on to Biodiversity Ireland to log our records. We lost two species at this point (you can’t record domestic species so cat and sheep had to go) but we were happy enough with our mornings work. And the best part of it all once I’d logged the records I could log in there was a full list for me to review. 10 down only another 30 to go.

Biodiversity Ireland allows you to log in and view the records you’ve submitted so you can keep track of all the species you’ve recorded in a given time frame. A very handy feature

Seaweed Identification workshop – Online

We’re delighted that Dr Kathryn Schoenrock-Rossiter of the KelpRes project is once again offering her vast expertise on all things algae related. This workshop will cover how to identify, press and appreciate the importance of the common seaweeds in Irish waters. It’s intended to be aimed at complete novices and those who know their way around a rocky shore.

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

To book a place email SeasearchIreland@gmail.com

A tale of two fishes

Guiding divers in Dingle we always took an interest in identifying the species that we had seen, we had a few guidebooks including the British Marine Life ID guide. One of our most accessible dive sites has been known by many names over the years including “The gravelly” and “Thornback alley”, it is a shallow dive within the bay which is home to great diversity. The Eastern part of the site is characterised by a sandy, muddy and gravelly substrate teeming with life barely visible until disturbance sends them darting in all directions, and it was here that I first identified a Common dragonet, Callionymus lyra Linnaeus, 1758, or was it?

Fast-forward 10 years to the third year of a Freshwater and Marine Biology degree, and it is only now that I have discovered the presence of another member of the genus in our waters. I may even have already observed it without realising. So why was the Callionymus reticulatus left out of the guidebooks for so long.

Well, they are tricky little fishes. In fact, Linnaeus when first describing the Callionymus lyra in 1758 believed that the female was a distinct species. The Reticulated dragonet was not described until 1837 by Valenciennes (Darwin, 1871). They are a truly beautiful fish with males particularly well deserving of the name dragonet, the striking colours, flattened triangular shaped head and pectoral fins which when fanned out could resemble wings, the elongated tail and striking dorsal fins.

Identification features described in those dichotomous scientific identification guides containing both species often come down to things like the shape/direction of the pre-opercular spines for example, or measurement references for the relative length of the head. These are not useful ID features for the field observer of course whose subjects are not dead, hopefully. Other identification features such as the observation of the erect first dorsal fin in the male if seen, is a definitive species ID feature. The distinguished saddle markings on the reticulatus which can be seen in Image 2 can also be used. The females and juvenile males are trickier to tell apart by eye.

This project aims to investigate the distribution of both species using all obtainable records and try to determine whether the Reticulated dragonet is rare or overlooked. The data is limited, and I will need all the help I can get, I plan to interview experts in the field, analyse all the existing data, and develop a photographic quiz. I will be asking Seasearch Ireland members for participation. Any photos or stories you would like to share please contact me at lisanihill@gmail.com. The Seasearch data will be of deep interest to me given the added details of habitat and substrate type. I will be updating the blog weekly and will share all my discoveries and queries, all suggestions, advice and/participation will be gratefully received.

Until next time, wishing I was underwater with you all, Lisa Nihill.


Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man: And Selection in Relation to Sex. London: J. Murray, 1871.

World Register of Marine Species. (WoRMS, 2019)