circa.4300 BC to 2018 AD
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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey     

                    September / 2018 - Michael Ryan

     Back in mid-July we spent a few days in Waterford staying outside the town of Cappoquin. Our hotel was literally a few doors down the road from Mount Melleray Abbey which we strolled around to on our first evening. A wide avenue leads up to a very impressive building built on rising ground with a lovely view over hills and valley. To the left of the avenue was a playing field and behind one of the goal posts a large net, near enough to 20ft high, was stretched between poles, presumably to catch way ward balls that might be heading for the road. It was covered with perching birds, mostly House Martins with a few Swallows among them, some sat along the top of the net others actually perched on the threads of the mesh. For a moment I was afraid they might have been trapped in it then was relieved to see they were flying in and out of it at will.
    As we neared the Abbey which was now spectacularly back-lit by the sinking sun, more house martins, dozens, possibly even hundreds of them, swirled around the top of the square tower, many more perching on the inches wide ledges that bordered the tower just below the parapet. Zooming in on them with the camera we saw there were lots of juveniles among them and it looked like this was a flock gathering before beginning their flight south. Behind theAbbey, was a walk up the hillside to a large stone cross. When originally created there must have been a fantastic sweeping view of the surrounding countryside from the cross but a dense forestry plot had blocked out much of the view. Although the view when we got there was a disappointment the walk up to it provided a superb treat.
    We’d just reached a clearing where a track ran through the trees when a bird of prey took off from a perch on a spruce in front of us. Slim, pale, almost white, with a flat, owl-like face, it was a male bird of our scarcest breeding raptor, the Hen Harrier. Breeding on uplands and mountains, sometimes among low, recently established forestry plots, the Knockmealdown mountain range is still a stronghold for this beautiful bird though its survival is by no means certain.


A juvenile Dipper on the river.     Photo: Michael Ryan

A Silver Washed Fritillary at Glenshelane in Waterford     Photo: Michael Ryan






One of the reasons we had stayed in Cappoquin was after reading about a riverside walk at Glenshelane just outside the town. With trails of varying lengths all running along beside the wooded river it
looked very promising and indeed it surpassed any expectations.
    The glen was lined by mostly native ash and moss-coated oak with some tall mature conifers on the steep er sides. From the conifers a Chiffchaff sang, very late in the season to be singing and indeed it was almost certainly the last time to hear one this year.
    The heatwave had reduced the river to a gentle bubbling flow but it was deep enough for little darting fish clearly visible in the water. It was deep enough too for the juvenile Dipper we spotted bobbing up and down on a rock below us. Dippers are unique for a Passerine
(perching bird) since they feed in water, ‘dipping’ under the surface for aquatic invertebrates, such as the larvae of caddis and mayflies and even tiny fish. A thin membrane of flesh protects their eyes when underwater, known as a ‘nictitating eyelid’ it flashes almost white like a little metal shutter when the bird blinks.
     Glenshelane apparently means Glen of the Faeries. If there were any there we didn’t see them but we did see a delightful little creature that was new to us. The path criss-crosses the river by a few small bridges and on the other, sunnier, side of the glen we saw particularly lovely butterfly, the Silver Washed Fritillary. We were to see a lot more of them along the path as well as good numbers of Peacock, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and Green Veined White butterflies, many of them feeding on bramble flowers alongside bumble bees and hoverflies in the warm sunshine.
    The glen was lovely but there was a fly in the ointment, specifi cally the Horsefly. Literally bloodsuckers, horseflies can deliver a nasty bite which is followed by serious irritation and there were lots of them menacing us, though we were able to fend them off before any could get their jaws into us. As we headed back to the car park I’d given up on any chance of seeing one of our favourite creatures which according to one website ‘.. There is evidence of..’ in the Glenshelane woods. Then Lucy stopped and whispered ‘A red squirrel!’ It had been on the ground, possibly burying food for the winter then had raced up a beech tree. Probably less familiar with humans then Killiney’s reds it peered down at us intently for ages.



     Our warmest day in Waterford was the day we visited Lismore Castle where the spectacular flower beds were humming with insects while screeching swifts flew in and out of nests in one of the castle’s highest towers. Very elegant homes for these spec tacular birds and who knows how many generations of them have nested there over the years, but they’re equally at home and breed as happily under the eaves of two storey houses in St. Begnet’s Villas in Dalkey. One of our shortest stayed summer visitors, by the time this is published the swifts will be long gone, well on their way back to Africa where they’ll follow the rain and the abundant number of insects that breed and fly in the humid air.

Swifts at Lismore castle flying close to their nests in
alcoves of the tower          Photo: Michael Ryan