Algarve day 7- Project work By: Katie O’Donovan

Alg4So after six long days of work I’m about to set off on my final day in the Algarve, a total scorcher much to my delight. Today is the second day of our project work. The previous day was spent setting plots in the three different habitats (grassland, woodland and matas) in our project site, which was just a short stroll from the hotel.

The day was spent with each group collecting each of the invertebrates in their respective plots. We used different capturing techniques like sweep netting, pooting, soil searching and bashing to ensure, excuse the phrase no rock was left unturned in our search for invertebrates. After all our data and weather conditions was collected, we returned to the hotel for a much deserved dip in the pool before meeting with Fildelma to get names for all the invertebrates collected.

Alg5I was extremely lucky to have the privilege of doing my project work under the wise and watchful eyes of Prof. Matthijs Schouten and Dr. Monqiue Nooren.  Before we went to Portugal Gavin said it would be hard for Matty and Monique to be able to name all the plants down to their at least species name. Unfortunately for them we are a very inquisitive class and managed to find a plant they were not able to name. As they left us with our mountain of work, we left them scratching their heads and some research work of their own to do.


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Algarve day 7: Project day 2 (by Michael Allshire)

Alg1Monday morning brought another sleep in and a second day of work in our project groups. I had chosen to join Dr. John Quinn with the bird study group. We had spent Sunday camped out at the edge of the Alvor estuary, near the beach, observing a small flock of flamingos. We worked in pairs recording sweep scans and focal samples of their feeding and general behaviour.
After Sunday’s long day of work we had all the data we needed for the project write-up so John had decided we could afford to spend most of the day on Monday searching for some more uncommon species and take a trip back to the Lagoa dos Salgados to have a closer look at the species in the lagoon.

Alg3The day started with an unpleasant surprise, our trusty rental van had been broken into overnight! Thankfully nothing had been left inside and there was no damage to speak of. Laden down with our telescopes and tripods we loaded up the van and set off. After a few wrong turns and a long drive in the heat, we reached the lagoon.

We settled in and spent a few hours spotting from the new bird watching hide at the water’s edge. There had been word of a booted eagle, the Algarve’s largest raptor, in the area but unfortunately it never reappeared for us. We did get some fantastic views of spoonbills, a stone curlew, purple swamphens, glossy ibis and hoopoes amongst others.

Alg2Back at the hotel, we hit the pool for some well-deserved R&R in the sun. That evening everyone gathered for a slideshow of the trip’s photos and the presentation of some awards for the best of the photos. Our last night in Portugal was rounded off with a traditional meal together in a local restaurant before everyone wandered out on the town to make the most of the last night of the trip.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from such a long field trip but the week was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in university. You don’t really know your classmates until you’ve lived with 40 or so of them for a solid week! I’d like to thank the all of the staff that travelled with us and made the experience so valuable, particularly Prof. Schouten and Dr. Nooren who flew from the Netherlands to lend their expertise. The Algarve is truly a stunning region to study and our time there provided us with an insight into the realities of practical field work.

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Algarve day 6: Project day 1 (by Aaron Bowen)

hard at workWEBSunday saw us being split into different groups for projects, each led by a staff member who is an expert in their chosen field. Dr. John Quinn took his budding ornithologists for another bird practical.  Dr. Fidelma Butler ran a practical on beetles in the sand dunes, Dr. Ruth Ramsey and Dr. Sarah Culloty chosen to hold her practical on fowling in rocky shore ecology in the local beach, Dr. Gavin Burnel squeezed for lucky students into his rental car and drove to Salgados for a more in depth practical on the fiddler crabs. I myself elected to go with Prof. Matthijs Schouten and his talented assistant Monique to assess the floral and faunal composition of an area of abandoned farm land.

So at 11.00 am (the first lie in we have had) we departed on foot through the beautiful town on Alvor and we arrived at the farmland and where Prof. Matthijs (or Matty as I am sure he is tired of us butchering the pronunciation of his name) gave us a detailed introduction about how we will carry out the floral habitat assessment in our selected areas of Woodland, Grassland and Matos(open shrub land).

the plant that broke MattyWEB

With our heads full to the brim with information about the habitats we set to work. In our chosen zone we mapped out the area and collected all the relevant data which would be later used for our project and also collected samples of all the types of plants we could find in our area. I actually found a plant the Matty couldn’t identify, which I didn’t think was possible! He restored my faith by not only identifying all the other plants but also finding 30% more plants that I had missed on my walkthrough! We collated our data with the other groups and we left all happy with our days’ work.

What I am staggered by is how much we have learned this week. We went from a group of students who refused to even answer a question about the Algarve for fear of looking stupid to confidently identifying the soil type, type of habitat, as well as most of the plants by their Latin name! This last week has been amazing and for any second years presented with the opportunity to go on this trip it is a must!

Too enthusiastic_WEB

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ALGARVE DAY 4: Monchique (by Ciara Beausang)

AsphodelusWEBSaturday brought with it a change of scenery and an entirely new perspective on landscapes in the Algarve for 45 third year BEES students.

We travelled from the sea at Alvor,  ascending the hills and mountains of Monchique, to Mt Foia at a height of 902m. With Prof Matthijs Schouten guiding us through the wide variety of habitats encountered, we were certainly in safe hands. We made various stops along our journey and I was delighted that we got to put our few days experience identifying species in the Algarve to good use. Asphodelus was one species of flower we found in the mountain zone (pictured). We were all quite excited to see a short-toed eagle soaring overhead at the foot of the mountain. Other novel species we noticed included Geckos and Tree frogs.

Prof Matthijs Schouten with the studentsWEB

I was particularly interested hearing Prof Schouten talk about the important role of wildfires in the Monchique region. There may be up to 2000 wild fires in Portugal every year. We saw Rockrose (Cistus sp) flowers on our travels, which contain aromatic oils, and when they evaporate the plant can ignite spontaneously at a temperature of 33 C! Many species in this habitat are specially adapted to survive wildfires, for example Quercus suber (Cork Oak) has a very thick bark. Many other plant species have thick seed coats, and fire is necessary for these seeds to germinate.

It was fascinating to hear how the land use has changed in the region, and we could see this for ourselves, with plantations of Quercus suber for cork production for wine and plantations of Euclyptus which is pulped to make paper.

Before we knew it, it was time to hop back onto the bus and make our journey back down the mountain towards to sea. The first five days of this field trip have gone by so fast, our adventure will be coming to an end all too soon…

ciara beausangWEB

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black winged stilt in courtship flightWEBToday, the 4th of April, we returned to Salgados for the morning and thankfully had the first day of constant sun and high temperatures. There were two tasks for the morning so the group was split into two.

The first group was led by Dr John Quinn where we identified and mapped the species on and around the brackish lake. The other task was led by Dr Ruth Ramsay and Dr Sarah Culloty where we constructed an Ethogram (behaviour log) on two species of our choice. This introduced everyone to scan and focal sampling. As I plan on specialising in ornithology this was my favourite part of the trip and John’s enthusiasm for the task meant that even non ‘birdy’ folk felt the same.

A few new species to us included the Greater Flamingo, Black-winged stilt, and the Purple Swamphen, and the Caspian tern. And the kestrel (a small falcon) is always nice to see, even if also common back in Ireland.


After lunch in the sun, and too many minutes watching an ant nest tackle a cracker, we were back on the bus heading for Faro. We successfully carried out the Fiddler Crab behaviour study which built on the techniques we were introduced to in the morning. The crabs showed a variety of behaviours which ranged from courtship (‘the come hither wave’ – as Dr Ruth Ramsay liked to describe it), to combat (‘aggressive open armed hug’), which were humorous to watch. It was separated into male, female and left or right handed males. It was a day for the Zoologists where everyone learnt a lot of practical field skills.

male fiddler crab arm waving to a femaleWEB

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study of fig tree leafweb

I can’t remember the last time I checked the forecast so often willing the weather to change and luckily it did not disappoint. Within 2 hours of landing in the Salgados, the sun burst through the cloud leaving us with a lovely heat for the day. Today’s task was to study the vegetation in the Salgados sand dunes and identify the different habitat zones.

Assigned to a group of 8 with Dr Sarah Culloty as our tutor, we set out mapping the area and identifying plants as we went along. Studying the area seemed somewhat pertinent because planning permission had been granted to develop hotel apartments at the eastern end fo the dune system. Many objections to the development have been voiced so perhaps our interest and presence on the dune system will serve to emphasise the importance of the flora and fauna in the area, maybe even helping to back up these objections.

Many plants we saw today are very much exotic from an Irish perspective. For example Fig, Pistachio and Olive trees were common in this former agricultural landscape, while rosemary grew wild everywhere. We also came across all sorts of insects, include the Devil’s coach-horse and stag beetles, both of which were consumed in vast quantities by hungry cattle egrets (a type of heron). We also saw an Iberian Hare and a juvenile grass snake.

That evening we ventured down to the harbour and had dinner in one of the many restaurants Alvor has to offer, celebrating our successful day. Learning more and more about this very different country and its amazing habitats is something that can’t be taught in any lecture hall.

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Sammys CrabWEB

Hello, I’m Sammy, a third year Zoology student taking the AE3013 Ecology Field Course to the Algarve.

For the second day of the module we went down to Armoreira Beach to study rocky shore ecology.  Everyone was trying to find interesting animals and we weren’t disappointed! Among the most exciting specimens found were some crabs, starfish and even an octopus.  The afternoon was spent with a guest lecturer, Professor Schouten, from the University of Wageningen. He explained about sand dune vegetation and about vegetation sampling.  He even got us to taste some of the native plants that were growing there -  some of them were surprisingly nice, including the sea asparagus which in some places is a delicacy.

All in all this was a lovely introduction to the Algarve

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Eurasian Woodcock Satellite Tagging and Tracking Project a great success: The Voyage of St. Brendan!

St. Patrick stays elusive but St. Brendan “the Navigator” returns for Paddy’s Weekend Celebrations!

For those of you who have been following our on-going research project you will be aware that after satellite tagging St. Patrick and St. Brendan in March last year they migrated to their summer breeding grounds in Russia and Latvia respectively (see map below). The vast majority of Woodcock in Ireland are winter visitors, usually arriving in Oct/Nov and migrating back to their summer breeding grounds in March/April of the following year.

Great data was received over the summer and autumn months, however as winter approached the data from the tags diminished until it eventually ceased in October of last year.

St. Brendan with tag attached

St. Brendan with tag attached

Luke Harman with St. Patrick

Luke Harman with St. Patrick

To enable the tags to be light enough for the birds to carry without detriment, the tags are solar powered and weigh in at an impressive 9.5 grams. Unfortunately, due to the low light levels over the winter months, coupled with the bird’s largely nocturnal lifestyle it appears the tags reach a threshold where they are unable to receive enough light to sufficiently charge the solar cells.

Migration routes of St. Patrick and St. Brendan (up to Oct 2013)

Migration routes of St. Patrick and St. Brendan (up to Oct 2013)

This silence is a nail-biting time for us researchers as we have no definitive answer as to why the tags are not transmitting. Even-though the likelihood is low light levels, we can’t help but think what if the tag has failed, or the bird fallen foul to one of the many challenges it faces, eg. predation, hunting or just old age!

As spring approached we hoped the tags would kick into action and, with great relief and joy, on the 10th March St. Brendan’s tag started transmitting again. Incredibly, his position was almost identical to the position where he was tagged on the 31st March 2013 (see aerial photo). Unfortunately, to date, we haven’t received recent transmissions from St. Patrick. Here’s hoping he pops up soon. Maybe he’ll put in a show stopping appearance on the 17th! Watch this space!

St. Brendan’s tagging and current locations.

St. Brendan’s tagging and current locations.

This proves that although we didn’t receive any transmissions from the birds or tags for several months, it doesn’t mean the birds are not alive and well. Also important to consider is that even though we have resent transmissions from St. Brendan, it doesn’t mean that he has just arrived back to Ireland. The likely-hood is he returned at the end of last year along with the majority of Woodcock over-wintering in Ireland.

This project was part of a study conducted in collaboration with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in the UK. Two more woodcock were tagged in Ireland as part of this study (Amy and Elissa) and although Elissa is still quiet, Amy is back in Galway where she was tagged last year. For the most up to date information on all the woodcock tagged visit

Finally, we are in the fortunate position that we have had two more tags sponsored this year. The tags arrived yesterday and we aim to deploy them in the coming weeks so we will keep you posted on our progress.

At this point I would like to thank all who have made this project possible, especially our sponsors over the last two years.

We look forwards to the continuation of this project and hope it is as successful as last year.

For more information on Woodcock please consult the Woodcock Watch website or contact us on the details below:

Signing off for now,



BEES Woodcock Research Group,

Luke Harman, Barry O’Mahony, Dr. Mark Wilson, Dr. John Quinn and Prof. John O’Halloran,

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES),

University College Cork,

Distillery Fields,

North Mall,


Tel: 00353 (0)21 490 4668




Federation of County Cork Gun Clubs

National Association of Regional Game Councils

Mayo Regional Game Council

Monaghan Regional Game Council

Waterford Regional Game Council

Kerry Regional Game Council




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TY2014: Sea Urchins don’t like Pink

Niamh Bain, Loreto Secondary School, Clonmel


I really enjoyed the Transition Year program in the School of BEES here in UCC. I learned a lot and got to do things and meet people that I possibly wouldn’t ever have the chance to if I had not taken part in the program.

I had to drive down every morning to Cork from Co. Tipperary with another girl, and get the train back to Limerick Junction in the evening. On the first morning, we really overestimated how long it would take us to get here, and arrived at five past nine, when the course didn’t start until 10 in the morning. We met everybody in the program on that first morning and got split into our groups. We then took a tour of the School of BEES campus. We saw the museum over in the Cooperage, which was fascinating; who knew a platypus was so small, or so soft! They had a chicken with three legs, a two headed cat, and a Cyclops kitten, which was cool, but a bit scary at the same time.

We had various practicals and lectures. I think my favourite practical was the Zoology experiment with the Sea Urchin we were put in pairs, and each pair had a sea Urchin in a tank. We had to put the sea urchin in the middle of the tank, which was harder than it sounds because it did not want to leave the corner of the tank at all. We then put in opposite corners, a piece of seaweed and a piece of pink fluffy fabric to see which the Sea Urchin preferred. Every second group had to put a black bag over the tank, to keep the urchin in the dark. I think every single Sea urchin went to the seaweed and put it on top of itself. Sea Urchins don’t like pink.

We had a practical of bird ringing, where some birds were caught in a mist-net (I think that was what it was called anyway) and we were shown how to put a ring on their leg for tracking purposes. We also had a Radio tracking practical, where our group was split in two, and one group hid the tracking device and the other group had to find it using the radio.

There were a lot of funny moments in the program, and we got to meet a lot of scientists who are experts in their field, and extremely passionate about they’re chosen subject.

After this program I have learned that I am very interested in Zoology and animal sciences. I did not really consider doing Zoology in college before this, but now it is a real option for me. This program has definitely been a worthwhile experience, despite all the travelling.

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TY2014: ‘I now know that I want to do zoology’

Amy Benaim, St. Aloysius College, Carrigtwohill

Mairead kiely

It furthered my interest in science, particularly natural sciences and helped me to decide what I would genuinely be interested in.

The BEES TY2014 course run at UCC was great. It really aimed to encourage us to take an interest in science and to just show us that science isn’t as boring as it seems in the Junior Cert.

One of the things that I loved was that all the lecturers genuinely enjoyed their topic and they loved teaching it.  I thought this made it far more interesting for me. They even made me enjoy the lecture on plant science due to the fact that the professor thoroughly enjoyed the subject and, though he understood that most people wouldn’t think plant science an enjoyable subject, he still made it as interesting as possible.

One of my favourite parts of the course was all the stuff we were able to do that we would probably never do outside of BEES such as radio tracking and bird ringing. It made the week very memorable, as in where else would we be able to catch and ring bird or use proper equipment to track hidden GPS trackers?

But what I thought really made the whole thing worthwhile was the people. All the people we met were very nice and interested in us and what we thought about their subject or the course or the School of BEES  in general. You could see that their main goal was to make science enjoyable for us and it worked! I now know that I want to do Zoology after a lecture from Prof. Gavin Burnell who found a way to make even sea urchins interesting.

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