circa.4300 BC to 2018 AD
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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
April 2014 - Michael Ryan

  We are all aware how our climate and seasons have changed over the last three or four decades with various effects on the environment. Drastic reductions in butterfly and insect numbers occurred during cold wet summers and though there was a slight reprieve with last year’s record hot summer, butterfly species that were once our most common, like Small Tortoiseshell, continue to drop in number. But alongside the changes caused by climate, a lot of bird species have themselves created the changes which affected their own circumstances. In the last 40 years there has been a heartening increase in numbers of one of our most melodious singing summer warblers, the Blackcap. Once only considered a summer migrant they are now a frequent visitor to garden feeders in winter and a common summer breeding bird. The wintering blackcaps are birds that will return to breed in central Europe and have increased their survival rate by not migrating as far in the winter, instead coming to western

Dalkey Fox now seen frequently
Europe where the milder winters and abundance of garden food can help them survive and get back to their breeding territory a lot easier and faster then if they’d migrated to Africa.While the blackcaps that will be singing all around Dalkey and Killiney hills in summer are birds that will have wintered in Spain or North Africa before coming here. It’s thought that these birds aren’t migrating as far south either, the shorter return distance reducing the risk of loss on their return journey. Whatever the reason for their success, former Dalkey resident Dick Coombes, co-ordinator of Birdwatch Ireland’s Countryside Breeding Bird survey told me that blackcaps have increased by a whopping 15.5% average annually (nationally) over a 13 year span. Whitethroats, another summer migrant member of the warbler family suffered a catastrophic 90% decline in numbers in the late sixties blamed on a drought in the western Sahel in Africa but have managed a substantial recovery since. One pair regularly nested below the Vico Road and a few years ago there were at least four male Whitethroats singing around the two hills. Sadly, in decline is the most evocative sounding bird of summer, the Cuckoo. We’ve had male cuckoos calling on Dalkey and Killiney hills in recent years but they never seem to connect with a female and although some can be heard around Wicklow, they have declined nationwide leaving the west of the Shannon as their stronghold. Another summer visitor, the Swallow, has declined by 2.6% annually in the east of the country while Swifts have displayed a even more drastic national decline of 5.6% annually according to the Birdwatch CBS survey. It is a fair assumption that 40 years ago nobody would have predicted that a number of previously very uncommon bird species would arrive and spread across the country. Two species of eagle, the Golden and White Tailed, as well as Red Kites have been reintroduced by human intervention but Buzzards have made their own way down from a tiny population in northern Ireland to spread all over the country. They are now seen in every county and driving north along the M1 they’re a common sight perched on lamp posts or quartering fields beside the motorway. They are often seen locally over Loughlinstown, Cabinteely and Kilbogget parks. What was once our most commonly seen raptor, the Kestrel, which used to nest in Dalkey Quarry and above White Rock beach, is sadly in continuous decline while Peregrine falcons, after years of persecution, are now doing reasonably well and can often be seen around the coastline.

Mediterranean Gulls
    I still remember the first time I saw a Mediterranean Gull at Sandycove, another species, once rare, that now breeds in good numbers in Ireland and dozens can regularly be seen from the coastal footpath near the Forty Foot, roosting on the rocks. Another bird that would have been a newsworthy rarity forty years ago, the unmistakable snowy white Little Egret, is now a common sight and can be seen in Booterstown Marsh and virtually any local park that has ponds or streams and they are now a regular breeding bird in Ireland with nesting colonies in the south east. And of course
one of the most spectacular birds to arrive in Ireland and successfully breed in counties Wicklow and Dublin is the Great Spotted W oodpecker. Once only ever seen as a very rare winter migrant their own arrival and natural spread across the country as a breeding resident in recent years was totally unexpected but very welcome. We’ve had an individual wintering on Killiney Hill and, who knows, they may nest there in the future. Not so long ago Roseate Terns were one of the most endangered seabirds breeding in Europe but in the last couple of decades have managed to grow to a very healthy population in Ireland mainly due to wardening of the colony on Rockabill Island off the coast of north county Dublin, where over 2,000 pairs now breed every year. Our own project on Maiden’s Rock off Dalkey Island succeeded after a number of years in getting Roseates to breed but subsequently a succession of north easterly storms washed over the rock in the middle of the breeding season and no Roseates have nested there since 2012. garden feeders.

Great Spotted Woodpecker



Although it’s sad not to have any Roseates there anymore if they have moved to a safer location to breed that’s not too bad. Many animals and birds have modified their behavior within the last forty years ago. Bird species such as Siskins, Linnets, Goldfinches and Bullfinches have become common visitors to

  Forty years ago seeing a suburban fox was rare enough, to see one in daylight was almost unheard of. Now they trot around fearlessly at any time of the day displaying very little fear of humans. Sadly hedgehog numbers seem to be in continuous decline possibly due in part to milder winters waking them from hibernation as well as the huge losses they sustain on busier roads. I’ve written many times about the red squirrels on Killiney and the way they are tenuously hanging on despite the influx of grey squirrels which first appeared in the Killiney parklands in 2005. The boom years caused many wild areas to be removed and developed but at the same time with greater awareness and appreciation of nature many suburban gardens have become havens for wildlife and almost a separate habitat themselves. Twenty years ago Booterstown Marsh was coated in oil and only supported a handful of roosting birds while now the water is clean, supporting fish and invertebrates and providing feeding and roosting areas for geese and hundreds of other birds including Snipe, Kingfisher and Black tailed Godwits. If anything can be learned about predicting nature, if you use the last forty years as a example, it could be that you probably can’t predict anything about nature!