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

   We’d gone to Tullamore for a couple of days, visiting a relative who’d had a brief stay in hospital but was now making a good recovery. Amazingly sharp minded with a perfect memory and, apart from recent problems, remarkably fit at 93 years of age, she was a mere youngster in comparison to another living being we got to visit in Tullamore. In Charleville Forest, just outside the town, grows the King Oak, believed to be the oldest living oak tree in Ireland. It’s a pedunculated oak, one of our two native oak species, the other being the sessile oak.
   Our host at the B&B told us someone had recently made a core drilling of it, taking out a long plug of wood which enabled the growth rings to be counted without harming the tree and thus establishing it was at least 750 years old! It was a beautiful October morning when we went to see it, the low sunshine burning away the mist and barely a breeze stirring. The ancient tree was in a large well established oak wood and I had wondered would we have difficulty recognizing which particular tree it was but it turned out it was the very first oak you see beside the driveway as you enter the estate. Despite being a bit sprawling with its vast trunk. It has a circumference of 26 feet; split and twisted in places it was still a very impressive sight. The tree was hit by lightning in 1963 and the trunk split in half but it still grows on. Some of the lower branches had supports holding them up while other massive branches, grown heavy and weary over the centuries, actually rest on the ground. We weren’t its first visitor of the day as a treecreeper was winding its way up the huge trunk feeding on insects, their grubs and eggs among the fissured bark. Another oak of similar stature stood nearby but this tree had died a long time ago and was bare of bark and leaves.


The King Oak Trunk has a 26 foot girth at its widest
Photo: Michael Ryan

   Despite being dead it probably supported as much, if not more, life than the King Oak, providing nest space for birds and bats and supporting multitudes of insects and fungi in the decaying timber. We continued down the driveway then went off the main avenue to wander down a path through the woods and almost instantly set off a raucous calling of jays, spotting one’s distinctive white rump disappearing through the trees. Acorns are one of the jay’s favourite foods and individual jays carrying up to five acorns in their crop at a time can bury up to 3000 a month, having a remarkable ability to remember where they can recover them but inevitably a few acorns will germinate (Some years ago a radio documentary about jays was titled ‘The Oak Tree Planters’) and indeed it’s possible the great King Oak may have begun life by being planted by a jay. Acorns are a favourite food of grey squirrels as well although extremely toxic to red squirrels until they’re fully ripe.

Red Squirrel in Charlville Forest
Photo: Michael Ryan






   This is considered another advantage greys have over reds and although, likejays, grey squirrels will cache acorns in the ground they tend to bite into the seed while they’re carrying them thus rendering them incapable of germinating. So you wouldn’t be surprised to find greys in an oak wood but when Lucy heard, then located a squirrel in a larch treetop high above us and we were delighted to see it was actually a red squirrel. The trees lining the avenue were predominantly oak, more noble specimens with spectacular clumps of fungi and great rounded knots of wood on their trunks but intermingled with them were larches and Scots pines which would have provided food for the reds. It was nice to see it was a thriving regenerating wood as well since there were many oak saplings springing out of the ground. The only downside of the forest was a gloomy line of rhododendrons, dark and oppressive alongside one path supporting no birds or other life
but that was only a tiny portion of the woods and when we emerged from the trees approaching the castle the fields opening up in front of us had a number of statuesque redwoods growing in solitary splendour. Loads more jays screeching on our return walk and though we walked for hours we only covered a small part of the 170 hectares of the estate and hope to get back there again. Another oak standing solitary in a field which we didn’t get to see is supposed to be the largest oak in Ireland and apparently the estate also has breeding buzzards, has the biggest badger colony in Ireland and there are pine martins there which may well account for the absence of any grey squirrels.


   A sparrowhawk perched on the edge of our stone bird bath just feet away from a couple of bird feeders hanging from a bush. We hadn’t seen her land so don’t know if she had come for a drink, a wash or to try and catch a bird coming in for some sunflower seeds but there it was, content to perch almost motionless for ten minutes before I accidentally startled it and she flew off. Sorry to have disturbed it but no need to worry because she was back in the same place a few minutes later.
    This time it initially perched on the edge of the bird bath with its back to us and we could wonder at its ability to swivel its head 180 degrees, an ability you’d normally associate with owls. Almost intimidating when its fierce yellow eyes seem to fix on you but it just perched there, occasionally craning her head back in impossible-seeming contortions to preen her wings and tail. Wood pigeons would land on the branches above and it would stretch its neck upwards, tilting its head to observe them while a number of smaller birds would approach the feeder before beating a hasty retreat. The sparrowhawk perched on the bath for over an hour then, after a final preen, with a shrug of its wings and a flick of its tail it was gone!



       The female Sparrowhawk sat
     on the bird bath for over an hour
           Photo: Michael Ryan
     She would twist her head
around at seemingly impossible angles to preen her plumage
      Photo: Michael Ryan