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

   Saw our first summer migrant on Dalkey Hill, a Chiffchaff (a small warbler named after the male bird’s song) in late March, singing from a sycamore. Within minutes we saw our second one and within the hour we’d heard our third, fourth and fifth chiffchaffs on the hills. It seemed as if they’d all arrived overnight and indeed they may well have. It was the same morning that many cars were covered in fine Sahara dust and the same warm winds blowing from the south might have speeded the arrival of many migrant birds. These singing chiffchaffs were all males which will set up a territory and sing to defend it and attract females which will be arriving later. It was a few weeks later till we saw our first swallows flying over Dalkey quarry. As if often the way with them, after you see your first it’s like a floodgate has been opened and the following day we saw at least a dozen more in Wexford where we’d headed in the early hours to do a bird survey. Like over 200 other volunteers around the country I take part in the BirdWatch Ireland Countryside Bird Survey in which you are allocated a square kilometre which you survey twice a year during the breeding season. The survey squares are picked and allocated at random so they can be in any sort of habitat from industrial estate to remote bogland. It is a long running survey whose intention is to ‘monitor population trends of Ireland’s common and widespread breeding birds. The main aim of the CBS is to keep tabs on changes in breeding bird populations from year to year and over long term periods.’ The survey began in 1998 and I was allocated my square that year on a area that encompassed farmland and forestry in a valley in North Wexford.

Whitethroat below Vico Road
    I’ve managed to do the survey every year since, apart from the year that Foot and Mouth disease threatened the agricultural industry and the survey was suspended. The survey is done by creating two parallel transects across the land which you then divide into five 200 metre sections which you walk, noting on a printed form, by sight or call, the birds you encounter on the way. I could have done my transects from north to south with one running along the road and the other across fields but I thought east to west transects would take in more varied habitats and would be more interesting. The farm is situated in a valley with very steep hills on one side and that’s where I begin, climbing up the hillside to my start point then walking back down with survey form on the clipboard. When I started the surveys in ‘98 to the right of where I began on the other side of a little stream was a dense plantation of mature conifer trees straddling the hillside from which wrens and chaffinches would sing.
   One April morning some years ago I arrived for my first survey of the season and found the conifer plantation had been completely clearfelled just leaving stumps and a few solitary birch trees on the hillside with for a few following seasons a subsequent almost total absence of birdlife. When I did my first survey this year in April it still looked like the aftermath of a bombing raid Wren but small clumps of bramble have grown back and wrens were now singing from them. Wrens appear in nearly every survey form returned from around the country every year and must be our most diverse bird, found in almost every habitat in the country from dense forests to city street gardens and from bare mountain top to bogs. Further away I could see another bird perched atop a small bare tree which on closer inspection turned out to be a male Stonechat, a bird you’d never see in a forest but who is perfectly suited to scrubby hillsides. AKestrel floated over, maybe looking for mice among the stumps and fallen timber. The survey has a separate form to detail any habitat change and how it might affect the birdlife and here you could see the gradual recolonisation of the area of felling, now getting birds that wouldn’t have been there when the trees still stood there. In the second late survey which is done in June (there has to be a minimum six weeks between the two annual surveys) I’ve had a Cuckoo calling and by then the swallows would be nesting in outhouses. Some years we’ve had Spotted Flycatchers another migrant of fluctuating populations on the farmland. And it’s not just birds, if the weather is good on our June visit we often get Orange Tip and Common Blue butterflies, last year getting to see a pair mating. We had a great encounter with a red squirrel one year when my companion, Lucy, spotted one perched on a hazel tree, totally motionless presumably hoping we wouldn’t see it. Two years ago we had a pair of Red Kites over the survey square which were likely to be breeding in the area and we’ve had a Buzzard soaring overhead as well, birds which would have been so uncommon when the survey started they don’t even appear in the list of coded initials of birds that you might find on the survey which was originally written in 1998,.
   This year as usual I finished my first transect a quarter way into one of the farmer’s fields. Bordered on three sides by hedges with dense woodland at the farther end, in past years I’ve seen deer grazing in the field and once the very charming sight of a vixen nestled in the grass with her cubs playing around her (I made sure not to mention them to the farmer). Usually I finish the first transect here and go back to the car for a cup of tea and a break before beginning the second transect but I’d thought I’d heard a faint but distinct sound from the woods at the farther end and we walked a bit further into the field to investigate. Then we heard it, much louder and clearer this time, the resonant tapping sound of a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on a tree trunk. The drumming, or pecking sound is only made by the male woodpecker guarding a territory or exhibiting for a mate so it looks like this chap was setting up shop. Another new bird on the survey list and a hope that we might hear or see it again on further surveys. Birdwatch Ireland are always looking for volunteers to take on new squares so if you’re interested in doing one get in touch with Dick Coombes at Birdwatch HQ, details can be found on their websit

Common Blue Butterflies
mating in Wexford