Dalkey Tidy
Brent GoosePainted Lady
Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
February 2008 - Michael Ryan

Although usually very happy to attract wildlife to my garden I’d have reservations about playing host to wasps’ nests. We’ve had them in the garden before, usually finding the nest after it has been abandoned when you can admire the wonderful wood pulp weaving artistry of the nests with their spiralling patterns resembling photographs of the planet Jupiter. As I mentioned before we’ve preserved some wasps nests held together with liberal quantities of hair spray and they’re wonderful demonstrations of animal architecture. I’ve also got a collection of Blue Tit’s nests taken from nest boxes in the garden (the way they’re compressed could give the impression that blue tits build square nests) kept in the greenhouse and late one summer wasps began to build their nest on top of one of those. Anyway it’s one thing having wasps nest in the garden but an entirely different matter when they’re in or very near the house. In early summer last year before the warm weather took a downward turn we’d noticed a large wasp, evidently a queen, flying into a space between the hall door frame and the rough granite facing on the wall. Couldn’t imagine there would be much space in there to build a nest and after half hearted attempts to block the space didn’t think too much about it. The weather turned cool and wet and summer moved on and it was quite a surprise when we noticed a string of wasps flying in and out of the little space. They rarely came into the house flying in and out of the nest with great purpose (you could say ‘making a bee line’ to the nest), very diligent workers who were all in bed by dusk. We were never stung by them though they did sting the dog a couple of times after which she kept well away from them. But it was quite intimidating having wasps flying by one’s ear or clipping your hair and clothes as they buzzed past and you’d literally keep your mouth shut going out, a gobful of wasp being a unhealthy prospect! It was also a big a cause of concern for any visitors. It was interesting, and a little alarming to find out that when you kill an individual wasp it sends out a signal to the rest of the hive who will become very aggressive. Reluctantly I got a chemical spray whose name Wasp Nest Destroyer in bold yellow type out of a black background left no doubt about its purpose. The warning notices on the can stated it should only be sold to local authorities or pest specialists, you shouldn’t inhale it, you should wash any clothes that got contaminated and immediately wash off any that got on your skin. Wearing a medical face mask under a scarf wrapped tightly around my face I sneaked up on the nest at night and sprayed the deadly chemical into the entrance almost emptying the container into it. I didn’t get any pleasure out of doing it but knew if the nest had been disturbed and we’d had a confrontation with the wasps we were heavily outnumbered and would have came out worse. I’d watched them a few times piling into the opening at dusk, hundreds probably thousands of them and if they’d came into the house it could have been disastrous. In the morning I was surprised to see a few wasps buzzing around on the wrong side of the entrance looking as if they were trying to get in but evidently repelled by the chemical residue. I wondered if all the wasps in the nest actually stay in it at night or maybe there wasn’t enough room and they slept somewhere else in the garden returning to work in the morning. A few of them looked dazed but quite a few looked healthy enough and by the following evening it was business as usual, dozens of wasps coming and going. The nest must have been well in under the floorboards far enough
away from the deadly spray. Eventually I thought, well it’s nearly the end of the summer and they’ll be gone soon, we’ll wait it out. At the end of their breeding season all the wasps die off apart from the queens who leave the nest, survive the winter then start a new nest.Thought they’d be gone in late summer but there were still lots of them there in October and if any ‘trick or treaters’ had arrived before dark at Halloween they might have got a nasty response. The mild autumn weather probably caused their prey to survive while the nest itself was probably near a central heating pipe so no chance they were going to freeze at night. I heard a radio DJ reading out letters about wasps and one said the latest the writer had removed a live nest was on Christmas Eve! Ours were there in early December but didn’t make it through to the New Year and thankfully didn’t stay to share the holiday with us.
  Elder berries are highly desired by birds and usually the bush is cleared of them in early autumn by hungry blackbirds and wood pigeons. The last week of December seemed very early to have new leaves unfolding on an Elder bush although this bush was towards the east side of Dalkey Hill in the milder mini climate of Killiney Bay above Vico Road. It is on the Vico Road where for years I’ve seen the first unfolding buds on a Horse Chestnut tree though that isn’t usually till the early days of March so don’t know if this is another indication of global warming or just a plant that’s found a warm niche for itself . The Little Egret, in appearance like a snow white heron with black legs and yellow feet would have been a cause of great excitement if it was seen in Ireland fifteen years ago but now they breed in many counties and they can be seen almost anywhere there’s water, even in the little stream behind Spar in Deansgrange. A recent winter count in Booterstown Marsh, constantly improving as a feeding and roosting area, had more then 1600 hundred Knot, a small plump wading bird and over 1,000 Dunlin but if you’re passing on a dart the bird that’s most likely to stand out, especially on dull winter days, is the Little Egret. Many people who leave out food for birds in their garden were saying earlier this winter they didn’t have many birds
coming to their feeders. It might be down to the mild weather but it’s often noticed that birds become more reliant on food left out for them only after their wild food has run out when all the choicest berries are gone and the insects are hibernating or have died off, so if you have been putting out peanuts and sunflower seeds keep doing so as they could be most useful now for birds survival. I’d seen Blackcaps in the bird bath and foraging in bushes in late autumn but it was only in the bitter cold days of January that they began to feed on the halved apples I’d left out. Siskins are another species which are more commonly seen in gardens after Christmas although once they do arrive they might stay till April before returning to conifer woods to breed. Usually facing downwards when feeding on peanut holders they’re very busy little birds often chattering from nearby trees and bushes. It’s thought a lot of the siskins that come to our gardens are actually visitors from the continent.
New and very welcome visitors to my garden this winter were a pair of Jays who perched in an apple tree seemed to check out the peanut feeders but didn’t take any. Hope they’ll be back. They’re still to be seen on Killiney Hill but being secretive often just seen as a fleeting glimpse of a blue wing flash or white rump patch. The Brent Geese that fly from Sandymount to Wicklow every day and back again in the evening will continue to grow in number peaking in late March or early April before they all fly off north to breed in Arctic Canada. Their food will have got scarce around Dublin Bay and it’s evidently worth the energy they burn off on the long return journey in return for the food they’ll get in Wicklow. They fly down along the coast through Dalkey Sound across Killiney Bay and down to Kilcoole and Newcastle on the coast where they will spend the day grazing in fields, sometimes in either of the Birdwatch Ireland reserveswhere they’ll be undisturbed. It seems a long roundabout journey to make every day but they feel safer from predators spending the night by the coast in big flocks at Sandymount Strand or on the Bull Island so that brings them back up again every evening. There have been large numbers of Brent coming to Ireland this year and they had a very good breeding season last year with lots of juveniles returning with them. Although they go down in the morning in little groups they often come back all together very near dusk. Often it’s nearly dark when they return and you’ll hear them honking before you see them. It’s a spectacular sight seeing thousands of geese appearing out of the gloom in flying V’s. Sorrento Park and Colimore Harbour are good places to see them from.