Dalkey Tidy
Brent GoosePainted Lady
Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
2011 - Michael Ryan

  The season started off very well for butterflies with good numbers of the earlier emerging species such as Holly Blues and record numbers of Orange Tips but as I needn’t tell you subsequently the weather dis-improved, the heavy showers and strong cold winds being very unfavorable for butterflies on the wing. Last year saw good numbers of Small Coppers as well as our more common butterflies, Peacocks, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshell. Over a month of constant winds delayed us going out to Maidens Rock off Dalkey Island to prepare the rock for the colony of terns which had begun to arrive, having flown up from their wintering grounds in the south Atlantic. The nest boxes we’d left out last season had been secured to the rock by drilling them in and most had survived the winter winds and seas so at least accommodation was in place for any Roseate terns that might arrive. One thing we could do to help the birds was to take over some gravel and little stones which we place in the grooves in the rock where the birds might nest. This helps stop the eggs rolling away and if the birds don’t like where we’ve placed the stones they’ll pick them up in their bills and reposition them. The day we did go out was absolutely perfect for us with a flat calm seas and only fleeting showers in the distance. Gannets sat on the water a few yards offshore and porpoise swam up the Sound as we lifted the inflatable down the ramp at Coliemore.
As we approached the rock a few dozen terns took to the air above us shrieking out their displeasure. Although the birds don’t like being disturbed we never stay too long in case any eggs laid might get cold or predatory gulls might move in for a snack of scrambled eggs. We landed and unloaded the bags of gravel and Stephen Newton, the Birdwatch Ireland seabird specialist went to look for nests. Within minutes he’d found a Roseate Tern egg freshly laid in one of the nestboxes. The bird hadn’t wasted any time since it arrived. A Common Tern had laid also and no doubt the rest of the birds would be laying soon. We spread the gravel, weighed down the boxes with cement slabs and rocks we’d brought on previous trips and set off to Lamb Island. Lamb is the northern end of Dalkey Island accessible from the main island at low tide.

Small Copper and Ladybird
Small Copper and Ladybird

Small Copper (wings folded)Small Copper (wings folded)

Blackbird singing on Killiney Hill

A cluster of wood pigeons

A cluster of wood pigeons

Dolphin in Killiney Bay.
Dolphin in Killiney

. Every year a number of Arctic terns attempt to nest here and I’d seen terns sitting here but we were still surprised to find five nests with eggs laid. Unfortunately very few of the birds that nest here ever succeed due to disturbance from goats and possibly people. At time of writing there were only a couple of pairs left. The positive side is that if the birds don’t succeed here they’ll probably move over to Maiden’s Rock and nest there. There will be sea watching from Coliemore Harbour on Tuesday evenings in July and hopefully there will be young terns to be seen. A surprising avian visitor to Dalkey Hill in May was a male Cuckoo calling from the woods above the Vico Road although it didn’t hang around for long. They do turn up occasionally on the hills, one called from the eucalyptus wood for a few days some years ago, actually perched on a tree in our neighbours garden for a while. I’d heard a cuckoo in Wexford in mid April a time they usually arrive and evidently the bird on the hill was on the move hoping to attract a female. Cuckoo numbers have fallen dramatically in the last few decades and nobody is sure why although suspecting they might be having problems in their wintering grounds in Africa or on their migration route. In the UK five adult cuckoos have been trapped and fitted with tiny transmitters so researchers can discover where exactly they spend winter and hopefully find a cause for their decline. Another summer migrant visitor we saw but didn’t seem to hang around was a Spotted Flycatcher. These birds too have been in decline in the last few years possibly affected by cold damp summers which reduce the amount of insects available. I mentioned last month a Whitethroat was calling from the slope above the Vico and subsequently we were delighted to note there were actually three individual male birds, two on Dalkey hill and one near the obelisk. A gorse fire burned for a couple of days near where we’d seen the first bird although we don’t know if it had a nest there. On our feeders at home the bullfinches seemed to be constantly feeding and I was wondering could they have had the time to nest. So we were delighted to see a juvenile bullfinch on the tree above the feeders frantically flapping its wings in the way young birds do to tell the parents they want to be fed. The male parent flew up from the feeders and gave it a mouthful of sunflower seeds. The following morning a juvenile was helping itself on the feeders. It was a shame there was only a small turnout for a walk around Dalkey and Killiney hills led by Biodiversity Officer Mary Toomey and Cathy Duff from the Dublin Naturalist Field Club. It was great though that half the attendants were children who took a great interest in the wildflowers, plants and trees that the leaders pointed out. Although concentrating on flora one of the highlights was when Mary heard a noise from the gorse bushes and pointed out a Song Thrush smashing open a snail shell on a rock. A few minutes later we were able to see Killiney’s pod of three Bottlenose Dolphins swimming in front of cabin cruisers and diving out of the water and we later got very close views of a family of Treecreepers.