circa.4300 BC to 2018 AD
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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey     
                    March / 2019 - Michael Ryan

    I’d hoped to write about seeing a Short-eared Owl. One of the birds had been seen regularly on a headland just north of Balbriggan. They are regular winter visitors to Ireland and north county Dublin is a good spot to find them where they favour tillage fields near the coast. They breed in the far north of Europe, the closest breeding pairs are probably in the northern isles of Scotland with most of the species close to the Arctic circle where they will be breeding during days of almost continuous sunlight so they are daytime hunters, unlike our Barn and Longeared
owls which are strictly nocturnal hunters.
    A friend, Gustavo, had got a wonderful photo of one sitting in a stubble field in Balbriggan and had given us a good map of where the birds had been seen so we set off with high hopes and expectations on a day that was cold with brisk northerly winds but dry with dazzling sunshine. I’d never walked along that stretch of coastline before and it was very impressive with the tide way out and lots of bird life along the shore. Looking north over the sea you could see snow covered mountains in the Mournes. Curlews flew over in little flocks to feed in the farmland just above the shore while Ringed Plover, Turnstones, Redshanks and Dunlin
busied themselves along the waters edge.
    We got to the headland and made our way up from the beach and followed the path, circling the field to the area on the map which was a mound of earth with brambles growing around the base. We approached tentatively but no large eyes stared at us from a tussock or no bird took to the air with broad wings flapping silently. We scanned the surrounding fields from the top of the mound then walked along the length of the nearest hedgerow. A big flock of Brent geese flew over a distant field and a little flock of Linnets busied themselves feeding on grass seeds among the dried up maize stems. But no owls! I’ve seen them a few times before, on the site of the old Baldoyle race course, then a big field now a housing

    Short-eared Owl on post in Balbriggan     Photo: Gustavo Zoladz

estate, where we saw two of the owls quartering low over the ground looking for rodents then landing and staring back at us from the grass while a Buzzard perched on a tree in the background. I’d spent a happy hour or two in a lane in Donabate watching two Short-eared Owls buzzing each other in an adjoining field. They sometimes appear further south, we’ve seen two a couple of times one near Booterstown marsh, one flying over the undeveloped land north of the marsh and another morning before we began a wader count on the beach one flew out from where it was roosting in a tree beside the Dart car park. When he used to live in Dalkey renowned birder Dick Coombes would regularly see them wintering on Dalkey Island, perfect hunting ground for them with its then abundance of rabbits and rats.
   We wandered around the Balbriggan field and were greeted by a pair of walkers asking us had we seen the owl? They had seen it regularly so we knew we were in the right place even if the owl wasn’t. Maybe the numbers of Saturday walkers had driven it or them to another field. Subsequently the owl was seen again at the same spot so when a friend said he was going out to have a look we gladly accompanied him. It was an even more beautiful morning than our last visit. The sea was flat calm and through the telescopes we watched rafts of Common Scoters, a scarce breeding duck in Ireland but in winter they are joined off the coast by birds from the Continent. Apparently they usually feed for molluscs in water less than 12 meters deep and it was the low tide that brought them in so close. Hundreds, possibly thousands of them dived, flew across the sea in little groups or sat on the mirror like water. You can see them in Dublin Bay but I’d never seen such numbers as was before us here.
    We walked up the shore again and reached the field. Once again a local on a stroll appeared, told us there had been three or four owls which he’d see regularly but he hadn’t seen them for a week or more. We walked the periphery of the fields, a large flock of Chaffinches flew up into the Hedgerow ahead of us while a Song Thrush sang from the hedge beside us. But no owl! We set off back towards the car park. The tide was coming in and little flocks of Dunlin and Turnstone fed on the waters edge just a few yards away. Waders were gathering on rocks as the sea lapped around them and on one cluster of rocks were a number of Golden Plover

Golden Plover with one Grey Plover          Photo: Lucy Desierdo