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

Blackbird Singing
In the March issue I put in a photo of Bluebells in flower, taken last year on Killiney hill, and said some of them would be in flower by the end of March. They weren’t. By the second week in April I still hadn’t seen one open. So I was a bit relieved about my faulty forecast, when I heard an item on a nature programme saying bluebells were three weeks late opening this year, due no doubt to the hardest winter we’ve had in nearly 40 years. Migrant birds have no idea what the weather is going to be like here when they set off from their wintering grounds in Africa. Birds that arrive here early might be able to get the best nest sites or attract a mate early but it’s obviously a risk when, as this year, they arrive to unseasonably cold weather with even snow falling after some of them have arrived and very little insect food in the air. Newly arrived migrants had been reported before St.Patrick’s Day but it wasn’t until Easter Monday I saw my first swallow, flying in over the house. Two days later on our early morning walk around the hill as we came on to the ‘Green Road’, the path over the Vico Road, I heard my first burst of Blackcap song. Although many blackcaps overwinter and take peanuts and apples in our gardens those particular birds are from Eastern Europe and the blackcaps that breed here migrate from wintering ground in Southern Europe. Known as Ireland’s Nightingale because of their exuberant song they do very well on the hill with at least seven male blackcaps singing every year. Delighted to hear my first singing blackcap this summer a few minutes later I heard my first singing Chiffchaff then behind it another burst of Blackcap song, a second one recently

Red Squirrel eating larch seed

arrival. As we came to the end of the path, yes, there was another one singing. I’ve no doubt they’d only arrived within the previous 24 hours on the strong southerly winds. Hope the weather stays nice for them. And for us of course! As part of the effort to preserve Killiney and Dalkey hill’s small population of red squirrels the parks department acquired two handmade Red Squirrel wire feeder cages to supplement the squirrels’ diet. These cages are specifically designed so red squirrels can enter them but the entrance is made too small for the bigger grey squirrel to get in at the food. Two areas where reds are regularly seen were chosen. The cages arrived and both were put up. There’s always a risk putting up anything in the woods because of the level of anti social behaviour at night and at the weekends but it was decided it was worth the risk. Supplementary feeding has been very valuable in other projects where red populations have expanded. Red Squirrels actually have more natural food available in winter when all the conifers seeds are on the trees and in spring when they feed on new buds and bulbs and food provided for them, hazel nuts and maize, can be very valuable in late summer. Unfortunately, worst fears were realised a few days later when I got a text to say that one cage put up had disappeared the following day, even though it was tied tightly well above head height on a tree. Very disheartening initially although a few days later someone found the feeder thrown into bushes and returned it to park staff. It’s been put up again in a hopefully- more inaccessible position.

The old pool in our garden used to host literally thousands of tadpoles every year but, perhaps due to a accumulation of conifer leaves making the water too acidic, we hadn’t had any frogs in it for the last few years. I drained off most of the water this winter but left some for birds to bathe in and the frogs are back this year. Frogs don’t spend all their lives in water, wintering under cover in gardens and they often turn up in our flower beds and the edges of lawns. I’ve had some near misses and some very nasty accidents with lawn mower and hedge clippers coming into contact with frogs, sometimes leaving the frog fatally injured. They are such helpless creatures and always have a sort of bewildered apprehensive expression so having to put them out of their pain is very unpleasant but the only kind option. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often. The night before St.Patrick’s Day I was about to flick a leaf off the path when I realised it was a
Frogs mating
frog, sitting motionless. It made no resistance as I moved it to the side of the path. The following day glancing out the back window I saw a magpie picking at something on the lawn. I asked my partner to have a look and she reported that yes, it was a frog, probably last night’s one, and the magpie had badly picked at its head and body. But it was still alive. She’d moved it in to cover and I wondered was it too badly injured to survive, dreading having to dispatch it. It was cut but had stopped bleeding so we took it down and put it in cover by the edge of the pool. There was loads of activity in the pond that day, frogs very visible in the shallow water and they’d already deposited big clumps of frog spawn. Checking on our injured frog a few times I saw it hadn’t moved and wasn’t expecting it to so I was surprised later when I saw it had moved and was now swimming around in the pool, clearly recognisable by the wound on its head. It looked none the worse for its experience and in fact a male frog was coupling with it. The photograph shows the injured frog on the left side of the photo while another pair of frogs mate above a mass of frog spawn. Later in the day I counted 20 frogs in the shallows and that night I could hear them making a ‘churring’ sound like little two-stroke motorbikes.

Feeding birds all through the year can be of great help to them but never put out loose peanuts, dry hard foods, and large chunks of bread or fats during the spring or summer. These foods can be harmful to nestlings. But peanuts and sunflower seeds in wire or plastic feeders can be of great help to adult birds. They can keep themselves well fed while they hunt for insects and other suitable food for their chicks. Last year in June our Blue Tits left the nest just as the weather turned horrible, cold and wet. We saw the parent birds feeding them later with food they were taking from the feeders. Once they’re old enough to fly they can eat the same food as their parents. Water is very important to birds especially for keeping their feathers in good condition. If you don’t have a bird bath a upturned dustbin lid or even a big plate will do. Make sure the water isn’t too deep or tilt the lid or dish slightly so the bird can wade in.
Blue Tit on cherry tree