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

  Driving towards the left turn for Sallynoggin one lunchtime I was delighted to see a buzzard circling slowly above Rochestown Avenue with wings held upright, possibly eyeing the waste ground beside the National Rehabilitation Centre for small mammal or bird movement. On a familiar daily journey it was a novel sighting of a bird that I frequently mention as a great success story, buzzards having spread to every county in the country in a natural range expansion. A few days later a friend rang to say that over his house in Church Road in Ballybrack, a little bit further south from where I’d seen the buzzard, he’d had four, simultaneously circling above his garden.

Calling Cuckoos
  A friend who’d been in Donegal early in April had seen a few migrants, swallows and willow warblers but had been surprised to hear a cuckoo calling, an early enough record for the year, the bird possibly carried up the west coast by strong southerly winds.   We’d heard, and briefly seen, a cuckoo on Dalkey Hill last summer and heard one in Wexford and I was very happy when another friend had said he’d been to a spot I’d recommended for hearing them, the west side of Glencree valley (near the Reconciliation Centre) and had heard one. That used be one of my most reliable spots for cuckoo spotting but I used visit another good spot in east Galway, a raised bog with some large open sparsely covered peatland which supported a good population of meadow pipits, a favourite Irish host species of cuckoos who would sometimes perch on telegraph wires, affording great views if I happened to have the telescope with me. It’s only the male bird that makes the call and watching him ‘cuckooing’ through the telescope I noticed it seemed to be making the call after it had closed its bill. Some time after I was on a Birdwatch branch outing and somebody made a similar observation about another species of bird calling that he’d been watching through a telescope, saying it seemed to be producing sounds with its bill closed, only for him to be rebuked with the fact it wasn’t the bird being a ventriloquist but the time it took for the sound to reach us that gave that impression. I kept my own mouth shut, feeling suitably discredited about my cuckoo observation and was glad I hadn’t mentioned my finding to too many people.

  A few weeks ago one of the guests on a morning chat show on BBC radio was a scientist, Professor Nick Davies, a leading authority on cuckoos in the UK who has een conducting a long study of cuckoos and the astonishing ways they can mimic the eggs of their host species. If they don’t produce very convincing copies of the host species eggs, down to the correct speckling on the shells, the host birds will reject them and eject them out of their nest. The host species he has been studying in the UK are Marsh Warblers and although this bird is tiny compared to the cuckoo, the cuckoo will lay an egg in its nest almost the same size as the marsh warblers. It was Davies who discovered that the young cuckoo calling for food has incorporated such a mass of calls into its pleading that it stimulates the adopted parent birds to bring enough food as if they were feeding a full nest of young.
The programme had begun with that most evocative call of the cuckoo but surprisingly it wasn’t actually a recording, it was Nick Davies himself, doing the best mimic of the call I’d ever heard (if you make a good imitation of the call it can attract a angry male cuckoo looking for a rival). He went on to explain he made the call by cupping his hands and blowing between his thumbs but then explained that the bird actually makes the ‘oo’ part of its call with its bill closed. I felt redeemed about my original observation, it wasn’t the speed of sound after all, the cuckoo did make part of its call with its bill closed. I hope I’ll get another opportunity to see one calling.

Jay Way
Although bitterly cold winds were blowing from the east on the other side of the hill it was quite pleasant in the sunshine with quite a few Treecreepers around Killiney woods, two of whom were fighting each other, possibly a territorial dispute. We’d seen at least three families of Treecreepers, parents and chicks, last year so hoping they’ll have another successful year. Last year, although we’d seen jays collecting twine for nest material from sacks left on top of the skips near the parks depot, we didn’t know where they eventually went to build their nest, but this spring we saw them near a previous nest site and they seemed to be prospecting for a suitable site, moving through the forks of trees and breaking off twigs. For birds that are traditionally associated with oak woods, acorns being a favourite food, any time we’ve found their nests they’ve been in conifers, once on top of a larch and another time in the dense top canopy of a Douglas Fir. Oaks are one of the last trees to produce leaves in the spring so there wouldn’t be much cover for a nest till later in the season. Jays are secretive and their raucous shriek like call is often the only way of knowing they’re in the vicinity but one of these jays was producing low gentler sounds perhaps murmuring something encouraging to its prospective mate.

Home prospecting Jay on Killiney Hill April
Photo: M. Ryan

The Blackbird seems to soundtrack every
sunset at this time of the year.   Photo: M. Ryan

  Summer Soundtrack
   Whereas it’s rare enough to hear the song of the cuckoo the song of the Blackbird seems to soundtrack every sunset at this time of the year. One local one seems to have incorporated the double note call of the Curlew into its song. Blackbirds are good mimics, often incorporating the sounds of house alarms into their song. From our house we can hear curlews calling from Dalkey Island during the winter and if I can hear them the blackbird certainly can too. I tend to take blackbird song for granted until early in June and I’ll notice they’ve almost all stopped singing and I’ll feel sad that we’ve nearly reached mid-summer and soon the days will begin to shorten and I won’t hear that lovely song again till next February or March.