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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
March 2013 - Michael Ryan

  March is the month our first early avian migrants start to arrive with sightings of Wheatears and Sand Martins almost guaranteed in the first couple of weeks. Favourable southerly winds can help the birds move north quickly while strong northerly winds will delay their arrival. Our resident birds will be nesting soon as well so please be careful if cutting hedges, bushes or ivy. On a dull, cool morning our ninety minute meander around the hills produced no interesting wildlife apart from a solitary raven croaking its way across the sky. Not a squirrel to be seen, it was probably the strong wind that kept them curled up in their nest boxes. They weren’t going to be jumping from tree to tree if the branches were swaying around. Before the reintroduced squirrels were retrapped to have their radio collars removed a few had already lost theirs. Anuisance for the researchers who weren’t then able to trace their whereabouts by the radio signals. They deduced later what might have caused the loss of the collars. Some of the reintroduced reds were actually sharing nestboxes at night and they think they may well have chewed through each others collars for reasons best known themselves.
   Anyhow the lack of wildlife on our walk was made up for in the garden when we got back home. A Song Thrush, an uncommon visitor to our garden hopped across the lawn head tilted sideways as he scanned the grass for worms which would have crept nearer the surface to escape the sodden earth. A male Blackcap perched on top of a leycesteria from where he was plucking out berries. Incidentally blackcaps are very partial to eating slices of apples but I found recently when they have the option of a slice of pear they far prefer that to the apple. Later I was lucky enough to be looking out the kitchen window when a flock of about thirty birds flew into the garden. I hurried out and was able to hear them calling, a high pitched ‘tseep’ sound more usually heard overhead on misty nights. It was a little flock of Redwings, possibly recently arrived on our shores fleeing the arctic weather that was then gripping the UK. Unfortunately they weren’t familiar with the leycesteria and its berries that the blackcap had been eating and, presumably without enough food in our garden to interest

As the light faded a fox was barking from a neighbours garden. The fox’s bark is a lot sharper then a dog’s, the sound almost hanging in the air and
this sound drew nearer, the fox barking as it moved. I thought he’d eventually reach our garden and then, sooner then expected, his head appeared from under a conifer, he checked all was clear then trotted across the lawn, still barking, into the dusk. But the following Saturday the
wildlife count on the hills was back up as on our walk around the hill we had a pair of Jays and a Red Squirrel and the followingday, Sunday, we got our best views yet of the Great Spotted Woodpecker that has been
frequenting Killiney and Roche’s Hill since last autumn, perched on a tree pecking for insects or grubs. I mentioned I-Webs before, the monthly winter counts of wading birds and wildfowl that takes place once a month from September to March all around the country. Our counting area includes Booterstown Marsh. We’ve been doing the counts over twelve years and it’s
heartening to see the continuing improvement of the marsh as a feeding and roosting area. When the tide is in hundreds and sometimes thousands of birds will rest on the three small mounds of raised land, the larger two artificially created especially for their benefit.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker

Killiney Jay
Killiney Jay
I always look forward to training the telescope on to the reeds in the north east corner and possibly picking out a snipe or two sitting almost motionless in the morning light. They have a gentle, elegant appearance with big soft eyes at the base of a long bill. Sadly their zigzagging flight when alarmed has made them a favourite target for wildfowlers and the shooting of these harmless creatures has brought the term sniper into the language. Our February count had an early start but at least the weather forecast was promising long dry spells. When we all met at our starting point we all commented on the irony of this as we stood in the driving rain which proceeded to get worse as the morning went on.
  Anyhow we got the count on the strand done and went up the railway bridge to get a good view into the marsh, getting some shelter from the drizzle that was fogging up our ‘scope lens. A quick look at the corner revealed a few snipe sitting in the open, well out from the reeds. Then scanning across the reeds revealed the biggest group of snipe I’d ever seen together, almost thirty of them. Other little groups became visible grouped around the edge of the reed.
  As we counted a total of 62 and there’s every chance there were more hidden in the grasses. We’d had up to twenty of them in the marsh before on counts but this was far more snipe then I’d ever seen and I’m sure a record for the marsh. Snipe feed by pushing their long bill into soft mud so if the ground is frozen they’re in trouble. Maybe the cold weather had brought birds from inland or from Britain but whatever reason brought them I wasdelighted to see them. Between
a busy main road and a busy railway line within a few miles of a city centre it’s a real privilege to see these birds that
are more usually associated with remote wetlands and bogs. When they move to their breeding territory the male bird
will do a display which includes a diving flight that produces a strange sound often compared to the bleating of a goat.   The noise is made by two small feathers which protrude stiffly out of the wing creating a vibration as the wind rushes past and making the noise that had previously given them the evocative names of Bog Bleater and She-goat of the Air.