Dalkey Tidy
Brent GoosePainted Lady
Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
April 2010 - Michael Ryan

I wrote last month about scientific proof that spring is beginning earlier then it did even ten years ago. Of course nature does what it wants and this year we’ve had the coldest winter and the latest frosts we’ve had in years with every sign of spring later than usual. It did result in some beautiful days with cloudless skies and spectacular sunsets. Our local Birdwatch branch had organized a coach trip north to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) hide at Belfast in mid March while this spell of weather was still with us. The RSPB building sits beside a man made lagoon in the middle of the industrial estate within Belfast Harbour complex. To access the hide you drive past the two huge Harland and Woolf cranes, past large storage tanks with planes roaring off from the nearby Belfast City Airport on your right. The hide, barely visible from the road, is concealed within a dense planting of native trees and shrubs full of chattering birds. When you enter the building you’re struck by the vista before you and the temperature of the room. Most birdwatching hides are very basic huts situated by reed beds or open water with wooden benches and open slit windows. Keeping you concealed you can get close to the birds and wildlife but since most watching would be done in the winter you’d want to be well dressed for the cold.

No such problem in the Belfast Hide. Wall mounted heaters, carpets and very comfortable seating. Clear glass windows, tinted on the outside so the birds can’t see you, runs the width of the room looking out over a tidal lagoon with hundreds of active birds. A flock of Black tailed Godwits fed a few feet away just outside the window while hanging seed feeders attracted Goldfinch, Redpoll and Blackbirds. At least ten male Reed Buntings fed on the ground alongside Linnets and Chaffinches. Big flocks of Curlew, Knot, Lapwing and Dunlin milled around with lots of ducks, Teal, Widgeon, Shelduck swimming in front of them while in the background big container ships were being loaded up or sailing past down the channel. Suddenly everything was in the air as a Peregrine swooped in and darted around after flocks of waders though without catching anything. Later from the hide we had spectacular views of snipe feeding at the edge of a reedbed, the closest to them we could ever hope to get. A lovely place to spend a few hours but you’d get spoiled by its comfort.

On our way to Belfast we’d stopped at Dundalk Harbour where we met a local birdwatcher who led the coach into a housing estate from where we walked up to a small laneway. Naturally enough a group of people with telescopes and binoculars (one of our group had a camera with an enormous lens which looked like a Taliban rocket launcher) wandering through an estate on a Sunday morning attracted a degree of curiosity from some residents, wondering what we were looking for. After 15 or 20 minutes some of our group were beginning to wonder what we doing there as well. We’d nearly given up when the object of our attention appeared in the bare tree in front of us leaning against a branch which cast a shadow over it but it was still obviously a single Waxwing.
These spectacularly exotic looking birds, with their plume, black eye band and yellow tipped tail and wing feathers come from Scandinavia in winter and often descend in big flocks to feed on berried bushes, rowan and other trees. Their name derives from the small flash of red on their wing which resembles the melted wax used to seal official documents in bygone days.






Oddly enough, despite the cold winter there hadn’t been many reports of waxwings this winter and this bird had been here by itself for many weeks, eating apples in a back garden before returning to a few specific trees. Our last destination for the day was at Oxford Island at the southern end of Lough Neagh and as we did our final trek back to the coach the sun was slipping behind a ridge. The cloudless sky turned a deep red and as we headed south we looked west from the coach at a spectacular landscape, every tree on the skyline in spectacular silhouette against the deepening orange glow of the sunset. There was still light in the west an hour after the sun had set then as we rounded a bend the snow covered Mourne mountain range appeared before us. A lovely end to a lovely day.
We got a disturbing call from Parks Supervisor Jim Ellis in mid February. He’d just come across a man trapping wild birds in Loughlinstown Park. The guy had already trapped two male Bullfinches and a Goldfinch. Jim had phoned the Gardaí and was ringing us to find out the legal status regarding trapping wild birds. We were able to confirm that it is an arrestable offence and we tried to get in touch with a NPWS ranger. Our South County Dublin ranger was on leave but I got through to Niall Harmey who is wildlife ranger for the Fingal district. Niall was in Ballymun but was very concerned to hear about the incident. He rang back a few minutes later to say he’d got permission from his superiors to leave his district and was on his way. Meanwhile the Gardaí had arrived at the park but unfortunately the offender had cleared off with the birds.

There is a legitimate trade in caged birds which are born and bred in captivity but sadly there are still people who take birds illegally from the wild. These birds are sold or traded at markets and would be kept in cages for the rest of their lives. Goldfinches and Linnets are trapped for their song whereas birds like bullfinches are taken for their colourful plumage. Niall Harmey told me that a lot of the bullfinches caught this way, either in traps, nets or getting stuck in bird lime which is applied to branches or perches, can suffer extreme stress, which can cause them to have a stroke and die. Another sad aspect is when you see Bullfinches they are nearly always in pairs so taking single birds separates them from their mates who they would normally pair with for life. It was very sad for the birds but heartening to see so many people who did their best to try and save them. A happier story for me and another bullfinch when we saw one at our sunflower feeder. I’d never seen one at feeders before although there had been a few reported sightings of bullfinches taking seed but it was a first for our garden. He’s been back regularly quite aggressively guarding his sunflower feeder against chaffinches. They’re always delightful little birds to see and I hope he’ll be a regular visitor.