Dalkey Tidy
Brent GoosePainted Lady
Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
August 2012 - Michael Ryan

  Despite the many dreadful days of torrential rain when it would be hard to imagine birds could find any insects many still managed to raise young. You can sometimes hear the high pitched tseep call coming from the undergrowth as adult birds call to their young and it’s always a lovely sight seeing young birds perched mouths gaping wide and wings flapping frantically as the parent bird fires the food in. There were good numbers of Blackcaps on the hills, at one spot male birds sang within yards of each other from either side of a path which must have formed the borders of their territory and at least one family produced chicks. We had three juvenile Bullfinches coming to our feeders and as always the Wrens produced at least one, maybe even two or three broods. Whether the birds like Swifts or Swallows that rely on flying insect will do well isn’t likely with early reports from monitored swift colonies reporting far lower eggs and chicks then usual.
  For a long time the rabbits on Dalkey Hill didn’t seem to be doing what rabbits were supposed to do, namely breeding like rabbits! Twenty years ago there used be hundreds, if not thousands on both hills scattering off to cover every time you’d walk along a path or over the hilltops. Then we started finding lethargic sick rabbits which wouldn’t even attempt to run away. They had fallen victim to a strain of myxomatosis that subsequently decimated the local population. These outbreaks of a very unpleasant disease are very disturbing to witness but they rarely completely wipe out a population and a few individuals resistant to the virus usually survive with the populations usually recovering after a few years. But the recovery did seem very slow on the hills with any we did see, rarely more then one or two, nearly always in the same small area on the hill. Early some mornings we’d see one sitting up on the low wall around the aircraft beacon where it could easily hop inside the railings if threatened.
Dalkey fox sunbathing in back garden Dalkey fox sunbathing in back garden
  A very sensible strategy since it would have to be a very thin fox or whippet that could fit through the bars in pursuit. Happily though within the last couple of years the numbers of rabbits seem to have steadily increased and their range seems to be expanding. Like anyone else they seem to enjoy a bit of relaxing in the sunshine and often sit out on top of rocks among the gorse overlooking Killiney Bay. We were on the path below looking up at one, stretched across a rock its ears flattened against its head. After soaking up enough rays it got up and did a big stretch and a bit of scratching and preening before hopping off into the gorse. It’s when you see other creatures having fun or, as in this case, relaxing you realise we’re not that different from them although of course when we sit out in the sun we’re not likely to be caught and eaten whereas the rabbit can never relax fully. After spending hours down a burrow this bunny must have thought it was worth taking a risk to get a bit of heat from the sun. Of course it’s not just rabbits and people that enjoy a snooze in the sun. Coming home from work on a rare sunny and warm evening I was met at the front door by our dog who strolled out a few steps then promptly flopped down and fell asleep in the sunshine. She’d have been very affronted to know that there was a large male fox doing the same on the back lawn. Looking out the window I watched him repositioning to make himself more comfortable, stretching, yawning and casting an occasional glance in my direction. His eyes would start to blink in the sunlight then gradually close and he’d nod off to sleep again. Eventually he got up and sauntered away but instead of departing the garden he only went a few yards and flopped down in the shadow of a small conifer bush, it had been too hot for him.

Greyling Butterfly on Killiney Hill
Greyling Butterfly
on Killiney Hill

     I’ll issue the usual late summer alert to keep an eye on the sky especially on still, very warm and humid days when the air above might suddenly fill with gulls, swallows, house martins and swifts wheeling around making short sharp turns in the sky. They’ll be catching ants that have grown wings and taken to the air to establish new colonies. Our garden wall and the pavement outside it becomes a busy little air terminal with little groups of ants fussing around the large winged female ‘Princesses’ and the smaller winged male workers preparing them for take off. On the rocks on the Killiney side of the obelisk August is the time to see Wall and Greyling butterflies perching on the rocks, the latter folding its wings and leaning parallel with the rock face until its mottled underwing blends almost magically into the surface of the granite. We were lucky enough to be passing under a tree when a sparrowhawk flew over us calling. It perched briefly then flew back into what we soon realised was its nest. We’d seen sparrowhawks regularly in the area over the years and knew they had nested there before.
   A couple of years before in the same trees I’d been privileged to see the female being approached by the male sparrowhawk which kept its head bowed in a submissive manner uttering low mewing calls before the birds, very briefly, mated. After the birds pair up in the spring they will prospect possible nest sites, leaving a twig on a branch, nearly always on the southern side of the tree, and apparently waiting to see if it is well balanced or if it falls off before proceeding to build. They are very discrete as to where they hide the nest and it was a stroke of luck we’d spotted it this time. Getting a bit of elevation we were able to get a better view of the nest, a big mass of twigs with the female sparrowhawk sitting in it. In the following days we saw two chicks, fluffy white bundles which quickly became more active stretching and flapping their wings and bustling each other alarmingly near the nests edge. Another time I was watching the two chicks then saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. The mother sparrowhawk glided on to a nearby branch, checking out the surroundings before approaching the nest. She evidently considered I wasn’t worth worrying about and flew into her small brood with some food. She held it down with her feet and tore it up, feeding bits to the chicks, all carried out in silence. When the chicks do begin to fly they’ll be constantly calling telling their parents where they are and to bring them food in a hurry