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

A gloomy cool Monday morning. There was a milky light appearing in the east but nothing resembling sunshine. As we came down the hill past the aircraft beacon we heard somebody roaring from the woods ahead. The remains of an all night drinking party, we’d frequently meet youths hanging over, in every sense of the world, after a long night’s session and generally they’d mind their own business. Sometimes people would come up to the hill top to see the sun appearing above the sea but this didn’t sound like some one having a spiritual moment bonding with the wonders of nature so we thought we’d better avoid them. We went a longer way through the woods and then walked up the back of Killiney hill to the obelisk and back. As we came round the bend on the path, known locally as the Green Road, above the Vico Road we saw one of our friends staring intently down at the sea. There’s a little group of regular early morning dog walkers who know each other and often, when meeting, biscuits are exchanged between dogs. I don’t
View from Killiney Hill
Photo: Michael Ryan
mean the dogs give each other biscuits but the owners give biscuits to the other walker’s dog. Her dog came over to me for her breakfast bikkie and it was only when my dog started getting impatient for her bikkie I noticed our friend hadn’t noticed her because she was staring intently down at the sea. What was she looking at? Dolphins, she announced! At first my natural cynicism came to the fore. There are often Porpoise to be seen swimming along near to the coast. They’re much smaller then dolphins and you only ever see a small dorsal fin and a bit of their back as they rise out of the water. They don’t leap out of the sea, playfully nudge swimmers or do anything acrobatic although it’s always exciting to see them. They are sometimes mistaken for dolphin’s and initially I thought maybe that’s what our friend had seen but I was very wrong. These weren’t porpoise. Not much more then a hundred yards off the Vico Road were at least three dolphins.
Leaping up clear of the water and diving back in, tail fins high in the air, this was a spectacular sight. We watched them for 10 or 15 minutes and leaving them was difficult because they showed no sign of swimming away and were staying in the same general area. But an hour later I drove down to the Vico, parked and had a look. They were still there, just off the bathing place near the cove at Sorrento Terrace. From the Vico Road they were in that close to the shore I was looking down on them. I could hear early morning swimmers whooping with excitement as they watched them. Two dolphins leaped out of the water facing each other like synchronized swimmers and sometimes three dolphins would swim side by side almost touching as they surged through the waves. I took loads of photos, which were virtually all rubbish, most showing the broken surface where the dolphin had just dived back in. Afterwards I thought I should have forgotten about the photos and just watched them, the photos would never capture their grace or my excitement. I also thought afterwards if it wasn’t for the shouting from the woods earlier I’d have gone a shorter route and passed our friend before she’d seen the dolphins so I probably wouldn’t have seen them. Every few minutes a Dart would go by
Dolphins in Killiney Bay
Photo: Michael Ryan
and I was wondering did any of the passengers see them, clearly visible below them if they were looking in the right direction. That would lift anybody’s Monday morning, it certainly did mine. Next Sunday we were on top of Killiney Hill near the obelisk and scanning the bay. I, of course, didn’t see anything and had wandered off but my sharp-eyed companion called me back and directed my gaze to what she’d seen beside a sailing boat near Dalkey Island. A few metres off its stern dark shapes were breaking the surface and our binoculars clearly made out the dolphins although you could easily see them with the naked eye as they launched out of the water. Don’t know if they were following the boat or the boat was following them. We watched them again for ages, they came nearer the shore swam just past the beach at White Rock and headed south.
Three Bottlenose Dolphins had been reported many times between Greystones and Dun Laoghaire during the summer and autumn and for a while I was thinking I was the only person who hadn’t seen them. Since we had our sighting I’d met lots of people who’d seen them in Killiney Bay and even heard of people swimming with them. Who wouldn’t be a bit glad to see them though (apart from fish of course) are porpoise. Its surprising, and a bit disappointing, to know that dolphins, creatures we have such a high opinion of and credit with such benign characteristics, do actually go out of their way to injure and frequently kill porpoise, many of whom are found washed up dead with dolphin bite marks on their bodies. Perhaps the dolphins consider them rivals for the fish stocks. Anyhow its their nature not malice and it’s great to have another wonderful creature to add to our view from the hill.

It’s been known for some years that honey bees, when they return to their hive, can communicate to other bees where they have gathered nectar by a series of movements called a ‘waggle dance’ and the bees that witness it will then go to the specified food source they’ve been directed to. Initially a lot of scientists were very dubious about this proposition saying it was more likely that the dancing bee had brought in a scent of the food plant and it was following this scent that brought the other bees to the food. They couldn’t believe bees could communicate detailed information to each other by a series of movements. But subsequent research has proved the original findings correct and scientists have managed to interpret a lot of the dances. The movements are usually a sequence of figure eights as they waggle their abdomen and the length of times the movements last or the number of times they occur signals how far away the nectar is. The bees position as they dance indicates the angle the other bees should fly in relation to the sun. A few years ago researchers fitted bees with tiny transmitter antenna and after a returning bee had performed its ‘waggle dance’ in front of them the researchers were able to track their path and prove that they did respond to the directions and most flew directly to the food source. Further recent research on bees kept in glass sided hives in laboratories has been able to establish how far they fly on their sorties. Interestingly August bees fly on average four kilometres but in September they fly on average two kilometres. You might have thought they wouldn’t have to fly so far in what would probably be a warmer month but in fact a lot of plants will have flowered by August. But ivy comes into flower at the end of August and beginning of September and it’s this that the bees are flying to. Its nectar rich flowers provide late season sustenance for lots of insects, wasps and butterflies as well as many species of bees, very valuable for any of them that need to build up their energy before hibernating. So apart from providing early berries for birds in spring and a host for the eggs and caterpillars of Holly Blue butterflies the often maligned ivy plant is also a valuable autumn food for many other creatures.

The DLRR Parks Department, Biodiversity officer and other concerned parties held a meeting in September to study progress and reaffirm their commitment to conserving the Red Squirrel population on Dalkey and Killiney Hill. Some red squirrels seen in the last few months by researchers looked very like juveniles and it would be very good news if there had been successful breeding this year. There are plans to do further surveys of the locality in the future to see if there are any remaining red squirrel populations in the area and to track the distribution of the grey squirrel which threatens their future.