Dalkey Tidy
Brent GoosePainted Lady
Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
December 2006 - Michael Ryan

Booterstown Marsh seems to be constantly improving as a roosting and feeding area for ducks, waders and gulls. The birdlife in the marsh is counted continuously through the winter from September to March as part of a nationwide count of waders, gulls and wildfowl. Members of Birdwatch count along the coast on selected days each month from September to March and counters on Dublin Bay include the Marsh on the selected day. Since we began counting in 1999 the number of birds frequenting the Marsh has improved dramatically. There are probably a combination of reasons for this. For a long time there was a heavy sediment of oil beneath the surface of the marsh which would have made it useless for supporting the worms that waders would be probing the mud for. There was no sea water coming into the marsh till the channel in from further south was re-opened and the subsequent tidal flow of salt water probably cleaned out the polluted soil. In recent counts we have had hundreds of waders roosting in the safety of the marsh including Redshank, dozens of Black Tailed Godwit and Dunlin and flocks of Brent Geese.

One very welcome sighting we see there regularly now is that very elegant wader the Greenshank. A very slim and graceful bird usually seen solitarily feeding we were delighted when we started seeing one or two of these birds overwintering in the marsh a few years ago. At our October count this year we had fifteen of them in the marsh. Another comparatively recent addition and a very visible one is the Little Egret. Ten years ago these birds would have been a cause of excitement among birdwatchers as they were very rare visitors. Now they are breeding in a couple of spots in Ireland and can often be seen in Booterstown. Like a smaller Heron but snow white with black legs and yellow feet up to six of them have been seen round the marsh. Less easily seen is the Kingfisher often just glimpsed as a flash of blue streaking up the channel. We used often have DART drivers in the station, having seen us with telescopes, open their window to tell us they had seen the kingfisher flashing by, as the train passed. Other less visible inhabitants of the marsh are Snipe and the very elusive Water Rail. Recently An Taisce and some other concerned groups oversaw the placing of two large mounds of earth in the marsh which are hoped will become new roosting sites for birds at high tide. There was also constructed a new viewing area for the marsh at the north end by the road where you can sit down and have a leisurely look. The hours before high tide is best time for seeing birds there.
Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council are (at the time of writing) in the process of hiring a Biodiversity Officer. Hopefully we are promised one of his responsibilities will be the Red Squirrels of Dalkey and Killiney whose future is at risk from the imminent arrival of Grey Squirrels which are becoming increasingly common in the area. The Grey is an introduced species and wherever they move into the native Red Squirrel’s territory it almost always results in a loss of the Red. Many Greys carry a disease Squirrel Parapox which they are immune to but is fatal to Reds. Also the Greys are nearly double the size of Reds and out compete them for food having a much wider range of food (Greys eat acorns which Reds don’t) as well as the nuts and seeds the Reds specialise in. UCD are currently carrying out a study of squirrels in the Phoenix Park which may result in a complete cull of Greys and reintroduction of Reds. Lets hope our Dalkey squirrels can retain their foothold, they are lovely little animals and it is a real privilege to share the neighbourhood with them. The turn of the year often brings a cold spell and this sometimes brings new species of birds in on to garden feeders. Natural food such as berries (or even insects in the prolonged mild spells we often get now in Autumn) may have run out, or some of these birds may have been gradually making their way south from breeding grounds in northern Europe to find a regular daily supply of high protein food in suburban gardens. Family groups of Long tailed Tits, small flocks of Redpoll, Siskins, Greenfinch, Chaffinch or Goldfinch may start to appear on a regular basis. Birds can not store much fat or they would become too heavy to fly so they must eat every day to keep up their energy levels and keep themselves warm at night. Birds also need water in winter, not just to drink but to preen their feathers. If their feathers get matted it can impeded their power of flight so on days when you would not even contemplate the thought of an outdoor swim, you will often see a bird in your birdbath giving itself a very thorough wash and shake.