Nature & Wildlife at Spanish Point
Spanish Point is rich in wildlife both on land and on the shore. As you walk the paths and laneways or play on the sand and explore the rocks keep your eyes and ears open for the many plants and animals around you.
Many types of seaweeds, shellfish and other marine life are easy to investigate in the rock pools on Black Rock and on the rocky shore throughout the area.
To get you started on your wildlife safari here are a few seashore animals to look out for. And also a few plants to watch out for as you explore the area.
As you explore respect and protect. Take a photo if you want to identify something later.
Spanish Point is part of both an SAC – a special area of conservation and an SPA – special protection area. Spanish Point has a remarkably high number of different species, including some rare species, both on the shoreline and below the water. On the sand dunes marram grass can survive due to its very long roots but is fragile if walked on.
Respect and Protect all plants, animals and their environment.
Five seashore animals to be seen at Spanish Point
Limpet or Bairneach (in Irish)
- Limpets are herbivores and feed on tiny algae growing on the rocks – their “teeth” are about one millimetre long and are made of the hardest biological substance known.
- They move around on the rocks when the tide is in – scraping off the algae.
- They return “home” to the same spot every time.
- They grind the rock to make an exact match to their shell, so they have an airtight and watertight seal with the rock.
- They find their way back home by following a trail of mucus left on the rocks – a bit like that left by a snail on land.
Mussels or Diúilicín (in Irish)
- Mussels are bivalves – they have two shells. Dark blue in colour you can’t miss the mussels – they form large mats across the rocks.
- The bigger the waves – the smaller the mussels.
- That’s why the mussels here on the rocks at Spanish Point are so small. To have the big mussels you enjoy eating so much you need much calmer waters.
- Mussels are filter feeders and are prey of the dog whelk.
Dog Whelk or Cuachma (in Irish)
- They look pretty innocent, but dog whelks are ruthless hunters and show no mercy to their prey.
- Known as the “Killer Driller” they saw a hole into the shell of limpets (or mussels or barnacles), squirt acid into the hole to digest the limpet from the inside out and then hoover out the “goo”. All that can take up to a week. Yum!
- It lays eggs that can often be found in rock crevices and seaweed. The eggs look like large grains of rice.
Sea Anemone or Bundun Coiríneach (in Irish)
- Sea Anemones are soft and squishy but don’t go touching their tentacles – they sting!
- That’s how they catch and stun their prey as it passes by. Their prey is drawn into the anemone’s stomach in the centre, the flesh is digested, and any bones left are simply squirted out.
- They close up when the tide is out, or they are threatened.
- They are close relatives of jelly fish.
Barnacle or Garbhán Carraige (in Irish)
- Tiny and grey these little animals are rough under foot, but they give good grip if walking on wet rocks.
- They are filter feeders and Charles Darwin studied them for many years.
- These guys are closely related to crabs! Imagine an upside-down crab living in a tiny volcano – that’s what’s inside these amazing creatures.
- If you look very closely, you can see their shells are like little houses with a door that opens at the top.
- They only come out to play, ‘socialise’ & eat when the tide is in – they are hiding away inside their shells when you are around, and you can’t harm them by walking on them.
For further information:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Ireland’s Seashore is a 208 page pocket-sized guide, suitable for beginners of all ages supplied by Sherkin Island Marine Station.
- Explorers Wild About Wildlife on the Seashore offers information supplied by the Marine Institute (Foras na Mara).
- Explore Your Shore offer information to build knowledge of the distribution of marine species around the Irish coast.
- Become a citizen scientist by recording your finds here Seashore Spotter offered by Explore Your Shore.
Five plants to be seen at Spanish Point
The rocks in Spanish Point date back approximately 317- 320 million years to a period of time called the Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous) or Namurian. They are sedimentary rocks and form part of what is called the Central Clare Group. At the time Ireland was much closer to the equator and large rivers delivered sand and mud to the coast where it was deposited in deltas. Think of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Delta today and you’ll have a good idea of Co. Clare 320 million years ago. The deltas advanced and retreated as the sea level rose and fell creating 5 cycles or cyclothems. The oldest two cycles form the Cliffs of Moher. Here at Spanish Point, we have the top of the third cycle (the Doolicky Cyclothem) and cyclothem IV.
Different layers and types of rocks can be seen as you walk along the shore. The rock layers or beds slope or dip in a south-easterly direction as they were gently warped and tilted by earth movements. The rock types are sandstones, siltstones and mudstones originally deposited in river channels, on sand bars where the rivers entered the sea, in muddy bays and marshes, and on the sea floor offshore of the deltas. The sandstone beds are more resistant to modern coastal erosion and form the obvious ribs projecting out into the sea.
The Earth was in the grips of an Ice Age at this time and as the ice formed or melted the sea levels rose or fell. When the sea level rose, the deltas were flooded and black mud, rich in organic matter, and shells of marine organisms settled on the sea floor for a time. The black shales that accumulated at time of high sea level contain abundant ammonoid fossils. These were pelagic (marine) animals like the modern Nautilus and their shells settled onto the sea floor and allow the rocks to be dated and the different Clare cyclothems to be distinguished. There is one of these fossil-rich layers on the shore here.
The sandstones contain many structures that help reconstruct the original environment. You can easily see the ripple marks on the surface of the rocks made by waves and currents. It looks as if the tide has just gone out but for these rocks the tide went out 330 million years ago.
There is also a fossil soil layer which formed on a temporary patch of dry ground between water channels in the delta all those millennia ago. Look out for the remains of fossil tree roots on this surface. There was once a forest here! Like the Mississippi delta today, these Clare deltas advanced rapidly and were prone to underwater landslides. Locally the layers are buckled and deformed as a result of sliding (best seen on the shore close to the Armada Hotel).
Acknowledgments & References
- Thanks to P. Haughton and Jutta Kruse for their photographs.
- The Banner Rocks, by Matthew Parkes, Clare County Council 2014.
- Syndepositional sliding and slumping in The West Clare Namurian Basin, Ireland. Special Paper No.4 by W.D. Gill, Geological Survey of Ireland,1979.
- SEPM STRATA: Society for Sedimentary Geology
- Thanks to P. Haughton, UCD, for text.
There is an information board at the beach showing the some of the birds you might see in the area. On the seashore you will find a variety of gulls, oystercatchers, sanderlings, turnstones, dunlin, plover and many less common birds. Little rock pippits find insects along the cliff on the shore. Inland rooks, crows, jackdaws and starlings move about in flocks. Birds of prey appear occasionally.
In Spring and Summer, skylarks can be heard singing in the sky above fields and meadows, stonechats hop ahead of you along fences and hedgerows, sparrows, finches and other small birds are common.
Bring a pair of binoculars, sit still, and watch. You’ll be amazed at what you see!
Here are just two to get you started:
The southern part of the beach can produce flatfish and eel using lugworm and sand eel bait. Spinning for Pollack from Black Rock is also possible.
Enquire locally for further information on fishing the Annagh River.
Low light levels make star gazing a pleasure in Spanish Point. Don’t forget your telescope!