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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
February / 2016 - Michael Ryan

Our first IWEB (Irish Wetland Bird Survey,
   the scheme that monitors wintering waterbirds in Ireland) count of the year was an early start on the second Saturday in January with a short span of time between first light and high tide, meaning we’d be a bit pushed trying to count the birds as they approached us, pushed in front of the advancing tide. A positive aspect was the weather forecast which predicted that most of the heavy rain brought by south westerly fronts was gone, to be replaced with crisp dry cold weather so when I opened the door I was unpleasantly surprised to hear again what had been a constant soundtrack for previous weeks, the sound of drumming rain. It had got even heavier by the time we reached the Booterstown DART car park where we sat in the car waiting for a bit of light. Thankfully as the first light did appear in the east the rain eased off but when we crossed over the railway line we saw the sea was well in already. Anyone familiar with the strand, even from passing it on the DART will have noticed the expansion of the raised bank just south of Merrion Gates. The vegetation has stabilised the sand and prevented erosion and the area continues to expand into a formidable dune like area of raised land extending out from the sea wall.
   A few years ago the Dublin Field Club had a fascinating outing there led by Dr. Declan Doogue who pointed out the variety of salt tolerant plants that now thrive there. It is now a very important roosting area for wading birds and when the incoming tide has covered up their feeding area on the sands thousands of Dunlin, knot, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Bar tailed Godwits and gulls will move in there on to higher ground to wait for the high tide to recede when they will then move back to the sand again to feed on lugworms and many other little creatures that thrive in the mud. The vegetation of the reclaimed area is also host to flocks of linnets, starlings, goldfinch, pied and grey wagtails and many other species. In September you can often find wheatears feeding up before setting off on migration and during the November count we were lucky to see a Short eared Owl rise up from cover and fly inland. We counted the birds there as best we could though at this stage the waders were forming into heaving masses whose size you could only estimate. At least the earlier gloom had now been replaced by glorious low golden sunshine and since the count includes birds on the sea we scanned across the water and saw Great Crested Grebes, ‘rafts’ of them stretched across the water. There were almost 200 of them to be seen but it was a pair close to the shore that attracted attention. Great crested grebes are famous for their elaborate courtship display when the birds almost dance on the water as they rise up facing each other with head bobbing movements before diving to emerge with a bill full of vegetation which they present to their potential mate. It’s a display you’d expect to see on a lake or large pond in early spring but this pair in front of us were doing their ‘water ballet’ in the second week in January unseasonably early, a lovely sight on the glistening water.
We turned our attention to Booterstown marsh where the Black tailed Godwits cast mirror image reflections on the water. Spotting Snipe is always an enjoyable challenge and sure enough we spotted two groups in their usual place on the edge of the reeds but what was a new variation was a group of them in the grasses on one of the man-made ‘islands’, somewhere we’d never seen them before. When these two ‘islands’ had been created with spoil from road extension works they created a deal of controversy. The intention was good, to create a safe raised roosting places for when the tide was in full in the marsh but the size of them attracted much criticism. Happily it seems the birds themselves ignored the criticism and it supports big numbers of waders as well as Herons and Egrets.

Red Squirrel feeding on Larch cones in
Killiney Hill        Photo: M. Ryan

On our way home we drove up to the cafe on killiney Hill park and rewarded our early Saturday morning venture with tea and almond croissants then took a walk up through the trees. A flock of goldfinches busying themselves in nearby treetops attracted out attention and as we watched them fly off over our heads they passed a larch tree that we suddenly saw had two red squirrels feeding in its branches. The morning had started off so dismally I hadn’t brought the camera but we had the telescope in the car so I hurried back for it and was happy to find the squirrels were still there when I returned. The ‘scope is essential for watching and counting wading birds and birds at sea though I wouldn’t normally bring it up to the wood but here we had a squirrel who wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry and we were able to stand and watch one highly magnified in the lens. The squirrel would stretch out to prise off a larch cone then, holding it in its front paws, it would furiously shred off the scales with its teeth to get at the seeds inside. We hadn’t seen any reds for weeks and thought maybe they’d taken up residence in surrounding gardens as many did last year, so it was a delight to see two up here. The day that had begun with so little promise had brought great crested grebes courting, snipe in a new location and two very busy red squirrels.