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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
July 2015 - Michael Ryan

Red squirrels on Dalkey Hill       Photo: M.Ryan

  It’s always nice to see red squirrels on Dalkey or Killiney Hills and this particular morning in late May we’d already got very excited after seeing one individual but it headed off in a hurry, throwing itself from branch to branch and eventually disappearing into the leaf canopy. We continued up the hill then Lucy spotted another red then realised there was a pair together in a big larch tree, chasing each other around the trunk. We assembled a delighted little crowd around us as we pointed out the reds to them till the squirrels moved up into the denser branches. We made our way to the cafe, very happy with our sighting.
  I figured we’d filled our quota of squirrel spottings for the day and we couldn’t complain but we thought we’d try again on our return journey so approached the same big larch. They were still there and as we watched one squirrel perched on the fork of a branch while the other circled the trunk, approached the sitting one then as we watched they actually
mated. Afterwards they crouched together against the trunk and the male rested a front paw on the female’s back in what looked like a very tender gesture. It was wonderful to witness but then Lucy drew my attention to something I hadn’t noticed. Neither of the squirrels had earclips which meant they must be squirrels born last year and not previously captured and recorded by the researchers who monitor the project, very encouraging news for the future
of red squirrels on the hill.
   I mentioned last month this is the twentieth year of the Dalkey Tern Project. The project has experienced various fortunes over the years and after initial great success in establishing a breeding colony of Roseate Terns, alongside the Common and Arctic terns already nesting there, we had a succession of horrendous summers with north easterly storms washing away tern chicks and eggs. After no roseates in 2013 a pair nested there last year but for reasons unknown the nest was abandoned with eggs still in it. Anyhow the arctic and common terns still come to nest on the rock so every year we take out small stones for the birds to use as nest material, the previous year’s stones probably having been washed down into pools and gulleys. The birds only arrived in the last week in May and the weather had been too bad to get out so it was on the Saturday of the June Bank Holiday we made plans to go out. Luckily for us Ken, the Dalkey Island ferryman, was very agreeable to take us out.

In recent years we’d gone out in Stephen Newton, BirdWatch Ireland’s senior seabird officer’s inflatable. The boat, though handy for wedging in between rocks to land, had its best years well behind it and the fact it needed constant re inflating wasn’t too reassuring. So, in the comparative luxury of Ken’s boat with 60 kilos of gravel, four new nest boxes, big chunks of stone to weigh them down with and the four of us we crossed over on a lovely sunny morning. I’d seen the first terns there the previous Tuesday, already mating and courting, the male birds offering sandeels to the females. Stephen had predicted they might already have eggs even after just five days and sure enough after landing he had a quick scan and came back to tell us to be careful where we stood since some birds had already laid. The eggs would stay warm in the sunshine for a while but we didn’t want to delay too long keeping the parent birds off their clutches. We spread the gravel and weighed down the new boxes watched by a pair of curious seals swimming a few yards off the rock and dozens of terns wheeling and calling overhead. We kept spotting new clutches and a final count of the eggs revealed 25 nests. No roseates so far but hopefully the commons and arctics will have a good season.
  BirdWatch South Dublin Branch members will be on hand with telescopes at the viewing area at Coliemore for seabird watching every Tuesday in July from 6.30 to 8.00pm. The following day coming through the woods on Killiney Hill we came across another recently fledged family of Treecreepers. When these delightful little birds leave the nest they crouch motionless, often in bunched groups of four and five against tree trunks where the adults will bring food to them. There was still an active Treecreepers nest in a piece of dead wood on a big beech tree where the parents were still bringing food but we’d came across at least two, possibly three other Treecreeper families whose young had already left the nest. Although very small birds and often overlooked as they move upward pressed against tree trunks they have lovely plumage, snow white on the underside and lovely mottled subtle browns on the back, perfect camouflage when the bird is against a tree bark.

Red squirrels on Dalkey Hill       
Photo: M.Ryan

  Their curved bill, designed to pick out insects and their eggs from tiny cracks on the tree, is possibly the thinnest bill of any of our bird species. We were making our way to see if the other Treecreepers were bringing food to the nest in the beech tree when we stopped short as the most distinct of bird calls echoed through the woods, a cuckoo! We followed the calls but couldn’t see it.   Almost every year a cuckoo arrives and calls on Dalkey or Killiney Hill for just a day or two but I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear one this late, the last day of May. We headed on and were walking round the Hill above the Vico when on the top of Dalkey Hill that unmistakable, long tail and hawk like pointed wings silhouette of the cuckoo flew above the Monterey Pines. Last year it had been calling near the same area not far from the aircraft beacon. Could it have thought that area of high ground was potentially somewhere a meadow pipit might nest and provide a home for the cuckoo’s offspring? A couple of decades ago a meadow pipit did display in the area, singing as it rose up beside the Telegraph Tower, but I don’t think it ever nested and I haven’t seen any around there since but presumably the cuckoo instinctively knows the type of habitat its host species might nest in.
  The latest issue of the Irish Wildlife Trust’s quarterly magazine has a very disturbing report which states that ‘scientists tracking badgers using GPS as part of ongoing TB vaccination trials
have inadvertently highlighted the number of badgers being kidnapped for badger baiting in which badgers are placed in a ring to be pitted against dogs as people watch for gory ‘entertainment’. The badgers being monitored were transferred rapidly over large distances indicating motorised transport before turning up dead.’ It’s not bad enough that the badgers are torn apart by savage dogs but apparently the ‘baiters’ often ‘restrain or injure the badger (removing teeth and/or claws, cutting hindleg tendons) to minimise injury to the dogs’.