Dalkey Tidy
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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
July 2007 - Michael Ryan

Our Dalkey Tern project was looking bleak at the beginning of June with the rock deserted when most years at this time we’d normally have over 50 pairs of Common Arctic or Roseate Terns nesting. Hopefully this is just a temporary setback due to un-seasonal weather but we have to keep in mind that all over the north sea and in many seabird colonies in the UK they have had some disastrous years recently with no young birds breeding in many cases. Without doubt this is due to a dwindling food supply of the small fish, mostly sand eels which form the mainstay of their diet. These fish are being swept up
by industrial fishing fleets many to be used as ground down feed for farm animals. We don’t know if this is a factor with the Dalkey Terns but the Little Tern colony in Kilcoole in Wicklow had unprecedented behaviour too when many Little Terns began to nest then totally deserted the colony. Some of them did return but it’s hard to know at this stage how the colony will get on.

It also seems likely some Common Terns in Dalkey birds had settled in late May but high seas and a North Easterly storm seems likely to have washed them off since an expedition over to the rock found some broken tern eggshells indicating attempts had been made to nest. Since our earlier success in getting over ten pairs of the very rare Roseate tern to nest on Maiden’s Rock numbers of nesting Roseates had dropped to single figures. Although the Roseate terns that did nest generally succeeded in raising young we were always hoping numbers would increase again. To try and encourage the birds to nest we sent off to the US for some decoy terns, life size plastic replicas which had been used with good results in colonies in the US which we’have placed on or near nest boxes we had taken out earlier. These have been placed on Maiden’s Rock, among the boxes and gravel we take out for the birds. 

At time of writing (early June) we’d had a couple of pairs of Common Terns return attempting to nest and I’am hoping they will soon be joined by many more otherwise the only terns there this year might be the four plastic decoy ones. We’have been running the Dalkey Tern Project for 12 years and terns had nested there for many years before so a total absence of nesting birds might be a sad indication of man’s disruption of nature either through climate change or over fishing.

Recently two biologists from UCD came out to Killiney Hill to check out the area further to helping the Parks department in trying to protect our Red Squirrels from the threat of encroaching Grey Squirrels. One of them Billy Clark, is a noted wildlife photographer and had brought a SLR camera with telephoto lens with the hope of getting photos of a Red. We did see one but it raced up a tree and flinging himself from branch to branch and any chance of taking its photo quickly disappeared into the leaf canopy. Further on though, beside a fallen tree, we came across a much smaller but equally charming mammal, a Wood Mouse. Also known as Field Mouse and Long-tailed field mouse this little chap is a different species from our other species of mouse the House Mouse and is much more attractive with a warm brown coat (not grey like the house mouse) and big black eyes. The mouse was moving along beside the fallen tree and wasn’t too bothered by the presence of four adults and one restrained dog. Billy tried to take a photo but was too close initially and had to change lens on his camera.
I’d noticed a couple of dog walkers had stopped to watch the proceedings but next time I looked around there was a small crowd gathered, fascinated by the ‘celebrity’ mouse. Somebody was wondering was it a tame mouse since at this stage it was virtually posing for the photos with the camera's lens a couple of feet away from its nose. The mouse decided at this stage it was in danger of over exposure and disappeared into the undergrowth to resume its normal life ‘out of the spotlight’.
The last time I’d seen a Wood Mouse so close it was feeding on a bird’s nut feeder hanging off a tree in my garden. It was so engrossed in eating peanuts that I was able to walk up beside it and touch its dangling tail at which it instantly raced off up a branch.