16 Aug 2022

Wild About Wildlife: Discovering Salthill on a staycation

Wild About Wildlife: Discovering Salthill on a staycation

New Zealand Flax provides a costal perch for birds

IT had been several years since my last visit to Salthill and I was always telling the kids how beautiful the beach, wildlife and food was. On recent trip to Galway we took the short journey out to Salthill and it was a glorious day for exploring and discovering wildlife.

First we paid a visit to the aquarium and everyone enjoyed this really interactive experience. You can get up close with all of the different creatures from sea horses to stingrays. There is also a strong conservation message running through the entire display and this awareness is very important given the pressures our precious seas are under.

Back on land we took a walk along the long promenade towards the distant beach. Large boulders bordered the path and these were placed to reduce the power and eroding impact of the waves. Between the boulders a little bit of soil had mixed with the sand and these little patches had been colonised by tough plants.

There were a few familiar plants but they were their costal cousins. I am used to finding mayweed inland but Sea Mayweed thrives by the sea. We also found sea sow thistle and groundsel. Pellitory of the wall grows from gaps in the walls in urban areas and it is definitely tough enough to survive by the beach.

Large flower beds have been built and these were full of colourful flowers. The chrysanthemums are very hardy and we gave a brief look but there was no sign of any bees. Ivy leaved toadflax is another stone wall specialist and has trailing stems full of purple flowers. These are excellent for bumblebees with long tongues who feed on the pollen and nectar.

Some games are universal and we watched as a man and his son stick cleavers or goose grass to each other’s backs. This attracted another couple and their kids and nature can be great fun for all the family.

On the yellow flowers of the Ragwort a red tailed bumblebee worker was busy gathering food for the colony. These insects have very hairy bodies and can work on damp and even drizzly days. Judging by the bulging pollen sacks on her legs there is plenty of nectar and pollen to be found on the costal flowers. Herb robert another dry loving plant added a splash of pink along the sea front.

Three young hooded crows were perched on a large stone on the beach. There wary parents were only a few feet away. These clever birds have learnt for the gulls how to break open the hard shells of crustaceans.

They fly up and drop them onto the rocks to get at the soft meat. The height has to be just right and this take skill and practice. If they are too low the shell won’t break or if they are two high the contents will scatter widely.

Just before the beach I test my kid’s patience by stopping to examine sea beet. This has large fleshy leaves and is a perennial. The whole plant is edible and makes a delicious vegetable. For costal foragers it is one of the prized plants to find.

The kids were eager to go beach combing and Salthill beach is one of the best for gathering shells. We also found a full crab hidden in the sea weed and lots of cockle shells. The main species of sea weed was bladder wrack. This has air filled sacks along its fronds that give it good buoyancy. We reached the sand dunes and there is a fine walkway. Broad leaved plantain, bramble, bittersweet and common hogweed lined the edge of the path.

New Zealand flax is a common costal plant and offers perches for birds is a tree free environment. We saw goldfinches perched on the tall stems of a flax.

With the day marching on it was time to head back to the car.

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