10 Favourite Species
Everyone who is interested in wildlife has a species which they particularly like, or they associate with a special wildlife encounter. We asked each staff member of the Data Centre to nominate their favourite species. This is our top 10 favourite species. What species would be on your list?
Juanita – It’s so difficult to pick your favourite species. In college it definitely would have been Ireland’s mammals, and every year I seem to develop a special affinity with a different group or species, be it our native trees or common garden birds, such as the House Sparrow this year. Ten or more House sparrows wait at the feeders for me every morning. But working on the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, my top Irish species at the moment has to be the Dandelion. Hated by so many, this underdog of the gardening world is the most important plant for insects in early spring, providing vital food for bees and other early-flying insects such as butterflies. Later, when the flowers disappear, birds feast on the seed-heads. Dandelion seed is a favourite with birds such as the Goldfinch and Greenfinch. The plant’s leaves are also food for some moth larvae, including the lovely Garden Tiger moth. If only we could change how we see Dandelions. Between birds and bees, what more could one flower offer to the world?
More dandelions = more biodiversity
(And not to forget, dandelions allow you make wishes!)
Image: Heath Bumblebee © Anneke Vrieling
Colette – I love trees. I love the shape of a Scots pine, the red berries on a rowan tree but above all, I love oak trees. There is nothing like a touching big old majestic Oak tree and wondering about all the seasons and changes it has been around for. All the animals and other plants that have made it their home over generations. To stand under a big oak tree and look up into its canopy is just breath-taking. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve always found one special oak tree, so this is my second choice. (Photograph: Liam Lysaght)
Una – My favourite Irish species is Forget-me-not. I always think the day that I’m not blown away by the beauty of this tiny little wildflower is the day I need to start worrying.I love that you don’t have to be anywhere special for it to appear and brighten up your day. Last time I saw it was along a pavement outside a supermarket. It is so tiny so you have to stop and have a look but that perfect blue flower will outshine anything for me (Photograph: Zoë Devlin www.wildflowersofireland.net).
Grass of Parnassus
Oisín – My favourite Irish species is Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) agus Fionnscoth as Gaeilge. Apart from being my favourite, I think it is probably the most beautiful species of plant that we have. Each time you find this plant, there is something to look at, from the small white globes before it has flowered to the intricate details within the flower. The venation on the petals, the way in which the five stamens unfold one by one and the other five beautiful fan-shaped sterile stamens. It also helps that there’s nothing else in Ireland that looks quite like Grass of Parnassus, the features above making it so distinctive. One of my favourite sites has Grass of Parnassus growing in abundance and so regardless of where I am, I make the botanical pilgrimage at least once a year to check on this beautiful plant. (Photograph: Oisín Duffy)
Michelle – My favourite species is the Barn Owl. I love the elegant appearance of the Barn Owl with its beautiful light-coloured plumage and an elegant heart shaped face. But looks can be deceiving! Although very beautiful, the Barn Owl has many features that make it a highly skilled hunter. Excellent hearing and the ability to see in almost complete darkness allows the owls to hunt very efficiently at night, and the soft feathers on the wings of the Barn Owl means they can fly almost silently, allowing them to sneak up on their prey. I think Barn owls are the perfect mixture of beauty and efficiency and that’s why they got my vote! (Photograph: Robert Shea).
Great Yellow Bumblebee
Niamh – For me, my favourite species is the Great Yellow Bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) and I think it will always be my favourite. I completed my MSc. thesis in UCD on the Great Yellow Bumblebee with Dara Stanley. The Great Yellow Bumblebee is Ireland’s rarest true bumblebee species and now is only found on the Belmullet Peninsula in County Mayo. It is a large blonde bumblebee with a black stripe and has a characteristically low buzz in comparison to some other species. Potential reasons for the decline of the Great Yellow are attributed to the intensification of agriculture, that it is a late emerging species has a specialised food preference. The two main species it forages on are Red Clover and Common Knapweed. The Great Yellow is also a fantastic example of different groups coming together to work for the conservation of this species including BirdWatch Ireland, Belmullet Tidy Towns, The National Biodiversity Data Centre and Mayo County Council. I was incredibly lucky to work on this species for university and it was the start of my love (obsession) for pollinators. (Photograph: Steve Falk)
Dave – Though I feel very, very guilty at not listing a marine species as my number one, the red fox – or more specifically the urban fox – has to be my favourite species. I started studying urban foxes as an undergraduate in 1995 and from that day to this they have fascinated me. I still get a thrill every time I see a fox slinking along a city street or making its way from garden to garden in the suburbs without anybody much noticing, or the fox much caring if they do. It also helps that they are one of our most attractive and iconic mammals. The fact our only wild canid, and one of our largest terrestrial mammal species, thrives in our very midst despite our seemingly incessant onslaught against biodiversity on land and in the sea should give us all some hope in this time of biodiversity crisis. (Photograph: Dave Wall)
Devil’s bit scabious
Saorla – For me plants are by the far the most fascinating of organisms. It would be wrong for me to pick just one species and say it is my favourite, but this is the task I have been given. Plants provide all animals and humans with food, safety, and shelter. Their beauty can be breath-taking. An additional benefit of plants for me is that each species has a unique story associated with it. The story goes that Devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) received its name because the plant contained so many cures that it angered the Devil and he cut the roots short (Jackson, 2010). Whenever I see Succisa pratensis growing in the countryside it makes me smile. If it is a sunny day you are guaranteed to see some pollinator species feeding on the nectar or pollen. I have successfully cultivated this species and it now grows in my Granny’s garden, so I also associate this plant species with her (G. Marie). (Photograph: Saorla Kavanagh)
Liam – I began birdwatching in the late 1970s, at a time when the whitethroat was a rare breeding bird in Ireland. It had suffered a population crash in 1969 caused by a drought in the Sahel zone of west Africa, where it spends the winter months. Fortunately, the population has since rebounded and it is once again widespread in Ireland. But probably because of its scarcity during my formative birdwatching years, I still get great pleasure in seeing its jerky display flight and hearings its scratchy song (Photograph: Shutterstock).
Ben – I could think of many candidates for this accolade. But the one that stands out for me personally is the House Martin, which I often feel is the undeservedly lesser appreciated cousin of the Swallow. Since I was a young toddler, like family living far afield that you wouldn’t get to see for months at a time, I remember the House Martin returning ‘home’ every year to my delight. Some years they would have to build a mud nest from scratch underneath the eaves of the house, other times it was just a case of repairing the old nest from the year previous. It wasn’t uncommon for two broods to be raised in any given year and come the middle of the summer and into the end of the season you would have hordes of House Martins filling the air with their chatty chirps and twitter, scooping insects up in their amazing acrobatic and speedy flights. Nowadays I enjoy those moments when I spot that large white rump zipping past, reminding me of growing up at home in the Meath countryside (Photograph: Shutterstock).