circa.4300 BC to 2018 AD
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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
February 2013 - Michael Ryan

  The very mild weather at the turn of the year brought the usual unseasonable records. I usually see the first year's leaves on a Horse Chestnut in early March but in the second week in January there were new leaves on Sycamores trees on Killiney hill and new leaves on Alder trees in Booterstown. A male Dunnock was singing from the top of a gorse bush on Dalkey in mid January months before he’d normally be expected to and any mild mornings were full of the lovely song of Song Thrushes sounding through the darkness. Love seemed to be in the air for foxes, hearing a male barking below the Vico Road and a little later hearing the same sound in my own garden where later a pair of foxes were observed nonchalantly trotting across the lawn together. Evidently his barking had done the job and won him the heart of a female.

There are now lots of electronic forums that report sightings of rare and uncommon birds, nationwide or specifically for the East Coast such as and East Coast Bird News twitter account. Most of the sightings are reported within a hour (sometimes minutes) or two of being seen with description and location details and if the sightings are of unique enough birds they will set off a little stampede of birders. I rarely ever check out any of the reports finding them more of a source of frustration or regret since I rarely have the time to go and check them out and there’s always the underlining thought that I might go on a long journey, get there and not see the bird. I still recall the sense of disappointment I had years ago walking down the track to Broad Lough in Wicklow and meeting a group of birders who had just spent a happy few hours watching a Osprey fishing in the lake until it took to the wing to continue its migration north, about 40 minutes before I arrived on the scene.

  But in December when I heard there had been regular recent sightings of a flock of waxwings that was a different matter. Waxwings are spectacular, easily identifiable and there was a flock of them. But the best thing about the sighting was they’d been seen at various locations along Avondale Road in Killiney. Next day I drove the length of Avondale Road on my way home at lunchtime. It was a cold but very sunny day, visibility perfect. I got to the Barnhill Road end but no sigh of any unusual birds. I thought I’d try another look so back around the roundabout and up Avondale Road again. A small tree stood beside the footpath at the crest of the incline, its bare branches backlit by the low midday sun and on top of it was a flock of birds which, although only visible in silhouette, were unmistakably the waxwings. With their tall plume like crest, black eye mask, yellow tips to feathers and tail they look very exotic. You could imagine them in tropical forests but they are northern European birds breeding in coniferous forests near the Arctic circle. A poor berry crop at home sometimes drives them south in what is known as a ‘irruption’ and this winter brought them to the UK and Ireland in record numbers.
Delighted I’d found them so easily I parked around the corner and got the telescope out to have a good look. I counted them, at least 70 and they stayed there till someone in an adjoining garden came out and disturbed them.

Waxwings on Avondale Road
Waxwings on Avondale Road

Squirrels inside and outside feeders
Squirrels inside and outside feeders

  Returning after lunch they were at the other end of the road strung along a telegraph line till a very perturbed Mistle Thrush, although greatly outnumbered, defended his berry patch by launching a attack on them which sent them packing. Waxwings get their name from the red wingtips which, when their wing is folded, resembles a blob of the red wax which used to be dripped hot on to envelopes of important documents to seal them. Their Latin generic name is Bombycilla garrulus, which derives from Bombyx meaning silk and cilla meaning ‘tail’ which refers to their silky-soft plumage while garrulous meaning talkative refers to their constant chattering. A charming name for a charming little bird.
  In November we eventually got to see the Great Spotted Woodpecker that had been reported on Killiney Hill and the Friday before Christmas we got to see three separate pairs of the released red squirrels, at one stage causing a minor human traffic jam on the path above the Vico as my companion Lucy showed people the red she had spotted perched on the very top of a Larch tree. As far as I know the woodpecker hasn’t been seen recently on Killiney Hill but became a regular visitor to a feeder in a garden at the back of Mullins Hill.

   For a while the squirrels were very obliging, coming down to feeders and being seen reasonably easily. On one occasion I quietly approached one of the feeding stations and was rewarded with a charming sight. A squirrel had gone into a open fronted box and was looking out, at one stage with its tiny paws resting on the opening as if it was a little shopkeeper. If it had been wearing a bonnet and a pinafore it would have passed as a character out of a Beatrix Potter story.

  By the time of publication the researchers will have trapped the squirrels and removed their radio collars before re releasing them, hoping some of them might pair up and start a family. It was good to see our original remaining red was still around, distinguished by her lack of a collar. It’ll be much more difficult to recognise her when the others lose their collars although the imported Wexford reds have a much browner tinge while our survivor has a much more consistently red tinge to her fur.

When the squirrels are re-released the researchers will become much more reliant on sightings by the public. Lots of up to date information on the Killiney Hill Red Squirrel Group page on Facebook.