Dalkey Tidy
Brent GoosePainted Lady
Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
February 2007 - Michael Ryan

I met a resident of a house in Coliemore Road whose wife had had the pleasure of having a owl perched on their balcony railing early one November evening. They were not sure what species it might have been but the laws of probability would make a Long-eared Owl the most likely suspect. Our most common breeding owl and a very handsome bird Long-eared Owls are seen regularly if not commonly in the Dalkey/Killiney vicinity. Another possibility would have been a Short Eared Owl usually seen as winter visitors. A Barn Owl could be possible but increasingly rare and easily identified that was not too likely.
But as I found out soon after it was not any of the above. I got a call late one Sunday from another resident in Dalkey to say she had a owl in her garden which seemed distressed. She said it could fly ok, but was calling all the time. I rang Niall who works in Birdwatch, wondering would he have a number for anyone who might take in the bird. He told me they had lots of calls in about the same owl in peoples gardens. He told me it was an escapee and it was in fact an American bird, a Great Horned Owl. I went to see if the bird was still there and when I found the house since it was late I rang the occupant to say we were outside. She said she would come out and I thought at least the owl must still be there anyway, and it certainly was, perched on their side door calling continuously, and not the least bothered by people a few feet away. We took photos of it and all it did was blink.

Eventually the resident had to close the door and the bird flew on their neighbour’s bedroom window where it began to call again. I would not like to wake and find it looking in the window at me but felt sorry for the poor creature. Unfortunately neither of us would be qualified to handle such a bird and did not have anywhere to take it. Owls can be dangerous and the long talons it gripped the door with were very formidable.We found out later the owl belonged to a chap in Ballybrack who had tried unsuccessfully to catch it a few times since it escaped. Apparently the owl was a pet, hopped around his kitchen floor and watched television!

Great Horned Owls occur all over the United States and most of Canada, and southward to Central and South America to the Straits of Magellan. Great horned owls are big and bulky (3-4 pounds), standing 18-25" tall with a wingspan of 36-60" long. Males and females are similar in appearance, except the female is the larger of the two. Great horned owls eat a wide variety of prey, both small and large. Cottontail rabbits seem to be a prominent food, but the owls will take squirrels, mice, weasels, snakes, bats, beetles, scorpions, frogs, grasshoppers, and a wide variety of birds, from small passerines like sparrows to wild ducks, grouse, pheasants, and even other owls. It was subsequently reported from a number of gardens in Dalkey and a couple of times perched in the trees around Castle Park School playground but I don’t know whether it was ever reunited with it’s owner.

Killiney Bay
On Christmas Eve I was speaking on the phone to a friend and knowing he is very interested in Cetaceans (dolphins and whales) I mentioned I had twice seen something in Killiney Bay which I was sure was not a porpoise. Porpoises are not uncommon and all you usually see of them is a brief glimpse of a fin as they break the surface. What I had seen just off White Rock beach looked bigger and was spending more time on the water surface. My friend said by coincidence he had just been down at Scotsman’s Bay where he’d been watching two bottle nosed dolphins that had been spotted earlier that day. Later I saw a letter in the Irish Times from a chap who had seen, from his boat, five adult and one baby dolphin behind Dalkey Island.
Since the following day was the day the Forty Foot gets packed with hardy Christmas Day swimmers it would be interesting to know if anyone saw the dolphins.

By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Getting up in the dark to take the dog for a walk can be an effort sometimes especially on cold dark winter mornings but I am rarely sorry that I have made the effort and sometimes it can be very rewarding.
In early December a very bright, almost full moon lay very low in the western sky and as I walked up to the junction of the paths that run around the two hills the moon sat just above the horizon in an almost cloudless sky. Then, from the trees on the left, a fox appeared, walking nonchalantly along the skyline sharply silhouetted by moonlight. Suddenly it froze, ears pricked, evidently aware of our presence. For the seconds it stood there backlit by the moon; it could have been an illustration from a children’s book before turning around and making a swift retreat.

The day after the next full moon in early January it was a much cloudier sky with a cool wind blowing but the moon again very bright in the west and light fleeting showers. The dog took off into the bushes on the left, possibly after a fox and as I looked left I saw in the sky the unusual phenomena of a lunar rainbow. Not the corona which often forms in the clouds around the moon but a full size replica of a daytime rainbow stretched over Killiney Bay pale and colourless but well-defined. I found out from the internet lunar rainbows (or ‘Moonbows’) only occur within one or two nights of a full moon and to be seen the moon has to be lower then 42 degrees with light rain falling between you and the rainbow and the moon behind you. They have the same colours as ordinary rainbows but the colours are not as visible at night though some observers have seen them as washy pastel colours. I have been lucky enough to have seen them before, twice from the kitchen window at home and once while driving in county Galway when we stopped the car and all got out to gaze in wonder. Apparently they are regular features in some of the earth’s largest waterfalls including the Victoria and Niagara falls when they can regularly be seen on full moon nights forming ‘moonbows’ in the spray.

Day of the Grey
I have written many times about the Red Squirrels of Dalkey and Killiney hill and my fears of the imminent arrival of Grey Squirrels which ultimately nearly always result in the extinction of reds whenever they move into their territory. Sadly Grey's have started to appear in the woodlands of Killiney Hill as a couple of people had reported to me in November and then I saw at least two there over the Christmas break.
Huge efforts are being made in the UK to remove Grey's but Red Squirrels have disappeared from most of the country although they are holding out well in Scotland.