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

Dublin Hare Port
A very unexpected place to see one of Ireland’s most handsome is in the long term car park at Dublin Airport. It was there late one weekend in November I got as close as I am ever likely to get to a hare, hopping leisurely between the lines of cars and seemingly undisturbed by my proximity. I mentioned it to a friend and he said he had a similar experience getting great close up views though being a very good wildlife photographer he was frustrated by the fact his camera was packed inside his bag. The large open areas of vast grassland around the runways are an ideal habitat for these lovely animals undisturbed apart from dozens of enormous aircraft taking off and landing. Unlike rabbits which breed and sleep underground in burrows hares dig out shallow hollows in which they sleep and rest lying low in them to conceal themselves and relying on speed to get away from predators. They can reach speeds of 35 mph and can run four miles without tiring.

A fiercely impressive rare visitor from cold Northern regions the Snowy Owl has occasionally turned up in Ireland and apparently one of these birds was once taken in to care after being found at Dublin Airport with a broken wing. Their prey in the Arctic Circle where they breed is primarily Lemmings and hares and it was probably the abundance of hares at the airport that initially attracted the bird.

There’s a very healthy population of rabbits on Dalkey Island displaying a great range of colour variety from black to white and many shades of brown in-between. It is said that a lot of these rabbits derived from pets that produced too many offspring and their owners took the surplus bunnies over to the island though I can’t confirm that.
Not too many years ago the parkland of the hills of Dalkey and Killiney held very large populations of rabbits and it was more common then not to see them as you walked around the hill any time of the day but especially early morning or dusk. Looking down on what was then Darcy’s field from the path around the quarry you could see lots of rabbits hopping around, often while a fox lay outstretched nearby sunning itself.
Sadly the rabbits virtually disappeared off the hills probably as a result of disease. Often, as on offshore islands in the west of Ireland, when the rabbit population has grown so big the habitat can barely support them, they become prone to outbreaks of disease like a form of self imposed population control. Viruses rarely kill all the host species they prey on, leaving a few resistant individuals who will form future generations of host species. There are a few rabbits back on the hill now and rabbits being rabbits there is likely to be a lot more of them in the future. Let’s hope so.
You can get lots of information on Ireland’s native mammals from the Irish Peatland Conservation Council whose website is www.ipcc.ie

Booterstown Birds
Water Rails, close relation of the Moorhen, are very shy elusive waterbirds which frequent dense reeds at the side of large bodies of water. Smaller and distinctly slimmer than the moorhen, it has chestnut-brown and black upper parts, grey face and under parts and black and white barred flanks, and a long red bill. They make a call not unlike the squealing of a pig and that is usually how one encounters them so it was a delight to get great views of one in Booterstown Marsh on a beautiful morning in February. With early morning sun blazing low in the east and light sparkling on the water this bird came out into the open giving us fantastic views as it strode around on long legs. Also in the marsh that morning was a flock of Knot, a small wading bird which moves to Ireland to spend the winter before returning to its breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle. This was the biggest flock of Knot we have ever seen there, and we made a conservative count of nearly 800 birds. Knot have developed a way of sustaining themselves on the long flight to their breeding ground in which their digestive system shuts down and their bodies convert their intestines into energy to fuel their muscles. By the time they reach their breeding ground their stomach will have shrunk to a fraction of what it was on their wintering ground. When they are here in winter they feed on shellfish and worms but when they reach their breeding grounds they change their diet to feed on the insects and larvae, especially midges and mosquitoes that become profuse as the snows melt.