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

  Fantastic to hear that at least eleven pairs of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, have nested in County Wicklow this year. For a bird that was a very rare visitor just a few years ago they’ve done spectacularly well as a new breeding bird for Ireland and at that rate hopefully you might have them coming to our garden feeders in a few years. Dalkey’s resident ravens successfully nested and fledged two chicks, which, at the time of writing, were looking very healthy, flying around constantly squawking to each other. Squawking isn’t a very apt description of the call of these highly intelligent birds, whose

Ravens     Photo: Michael Ryan

deep resonant croaks sound more like speech then any other birds and they can even be taught to speak. Charles Dickens kept a number of pet ravens and he was very taken with their intelligence, wrote very amusingly of their antics and was very upset when they passed away, usually due to some self-inflicted misadventure. We saw one of the young ravens during the Killiney Hill Birdwalk on Biodiversity Day. Further along the Vico Road we would see a little specialist summer visitor, the Whitethroat, marking out his territory by singing from the top of trees and bushes below the wall. The walk had begun on a beautiful sunny morning at the car park from where we saw a Mistle Thrush feeding on the open grass, then made our way past singing Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Wrens and Chaffinch.

  The dog had been brought along for her squirrel sighting abilities and sure enough she tore into the undergrowth where she began barking under a tree, alerting us to the two Red Squirrels moving around its top branches. Later a Peregrine was sighted gliding across the sky and a few of us later saw a pair of Sparrowhawks, both perched on the same tree. After the walk a few of us went to Tom’s coffee shop at the Victoria Gate entrance and got our best view of a bird the whole morning, while sitting down tucking into the pastries. A Goldcrest, Ireland’s smallest bird, appeared on a bush a few yards away from us and as it foraged for insects it gave great views of the vivid crown on its tiny head. Coffee, Croissants and Goldcrest, - a very nice combination. I’d almost given up hope on any Terns coming back to Maidens Rock off Dalkey Island to nest after last year when no birds nested so it was a great relief to have Common, Arctic and at least one pair of Roseate terns, arrive in May and begin to nest on Maiden’s Rock while a number of Arctic Terns nested on Lamb Island, the western part of Dalkey Island which is separated from the main island at high tide. Unfortunately the Arctics on Lamb didn’t nest inside the fence but around it on rocks where they are vulnerable to disturbance from goats and people but we’ll hope for the best for them. Birdwatch Ireland will be having Start Viewing Evenings at Colimore Harbour from 6.30 to 7.30 every Tuesday evening in July where we’ll have telescopes set up to view the varied birds and wildlife visible from there. Black Guillemots, Razorbills and Ravens are all seen regularly as well as Gray Seals, Rabbits. Everybody is welcome and hopefully we’ll have some young terns to view as well.

Monkey Puzzle (Arucaria)
Photo: Michael Ryan
Noble Fir
Photo: Michael Ryan

    I’ve mentioned before a butterfly, which can be seen around the granite rocks of Dalkey and Killiney hills in late summer. The Grayling, although not spectacular looking, has a fascinating method of protecting itself from predation. When it lands on a granite rock it raises its wings to reveal underwings with a grey mottled pattern, closely resembling the surface of the rock, a very subtle demonstration of nature’s camouflage. But then this butterfly goes a stage further. It folds its wings together and starts to gradually lean over until it is almost flat on the rock. This is to cover up any shadow it might cast as it is perched and as you watch it lean over it virtually disappears into the surface of the rock. The rocks on the east side of the obelisk are a good place to see them on a sunny day. One of the Killiney Park horticulturists, Michael Kingston, does surveys of butterflies on the hill and has recorded Peacock, Speckled Wood, Large White and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies over a selected area on the hill.
  In May we spent a wonderful day at Woodstock Gardens at Inistiogue in south Kilkenny. This garden was established in the mid nineteenth century but the house was burnt down during the Troubles and subsequently the gardens became overgrown and a lot of the planting disappeared. A very ambitious restoration project was begun in 1999, consulting old records from previous head gardeners and examining old planting plans. If you have an interest in trees it’s a wonderful place. Redwoods planted over 150 years ago have achieved heights of 40 metres and there are some spectacular specimens of broadleaf, conifer and rare exotic trees there as well as adjoining native woodlands. In the early years of the garden two avenues of trees were planted, one lined with Monkey Puzzle (Arucaria), trees while the other parallel avenue was planted with Noble Fir trees. The individual trees in each avenue were planted at 7 metre intervals, 31 pairs of Arucarias stretching nearly a quarter of a mile. Some of the trees had died and the two avenues had disappeared into a wilderness of undergrowth, only known to be there from old records. It was only through aerial photography that their original position was found. Some of the dead trees in the avenues were removed and replacements planted. Between three tons and four tons of deadwood and ivy was removed from some individual trees. It’s well known that Treecreepers, a lovely little bird that moves up the trunks of trees catching insects with its very thin curved bill, often roost in the soft bark of giant redwood trees and the very first redwood we encountered in the gardens, a stately Wellingtonia, actually had Treecreepers nesting under its bark. Later my companion spotted a red squirrel in another giant redwood. One of the loveliest trees there, the very exotic looking Gordon’s Pine had a Song Thrush singing from its branches. We saw Mistle Thrush building a nest in the fork of a tree. It was lovely to see native animals making use of these wonderful old trees.