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

    A handful of people I know are lucky enough to have Linnets coming to their garden bird feeders. If they became regulars at feeders it would probably substantially increase their population as it has done for goldfinches and bullfinches. Good to see linnets appearing back on Dalkey Hill, sometimes in little flocks but also in pairs indicating they might be going to nest since they had seemed to have abandoned the area over four years ago when a bad gorse fire burned for a week. Prior to the fire linnets were a regular sight and sound and almost certainly breeding there, with females carrying nesting material and male birds singing, declaring their territory. That particular fire had occurred at the worst possible time, in Spring when birds would already have built nests and might even have been feeding young. The linnets around at this time seem very faithful to trees and bushes between the aircraft beacon and the telegraph tower. The sun wasn’t far above the horizon as we watched a flock of twenty of them gathered in a hawthorn bush as the sun rose over the sea, shimmering gold behind them. They flew off, we continued our walk and a couple of minutes later when we saw a little flock of birds land on top of the Monterey Pines ahead of us presumed they were the linnets again. These were quite a distance away but looking through the binoculars some of these birds, illuminated by the sunshine seemed to be almost glowing. Male linnets have a little red on their crown and chest but some of these birds looked totally crimson in the light and we realised we were looking at a flock of Crossbills.
    The females are mostly green but male crossbills have red bodies and there were three or four splendid males here, bright red with their bizarre large bills clearly visible. Last year I wrote about seeing them on the same trees in mid-summer which is the usual time they appear but I’d never seen them this early, late March. Since they don’t rely on insects, the young being fed on regurgitated conifer seeds, and those seeds being most abundant during winter they are often one of the earliest breeders and these birds may have already nested. A few weeks later we spotted a pair of Sparrowhawks mating, and immediately afterwards the male flew onto a Scots Pine and perched there awhile. Many years ago at the same spot I was fascinated to watch another male sparrowhawk land on a branch on to which it carefully placed a twig and subsequently I found out this is typical sparrowhawk courtship behaviour, the male beginning cursory nests on different trees before the female examines them then chooses the best site. Since it was over 15 years since witnessing that it couldn’t possibly have been the same bird but was almost certainly the same tree, indicating what was a good potential nest site then is still one now.
     We were fooled again. Coming down the hill towards the car park we heard a buzzard call ahead of us from what seemed like the lower woods of Killiney hill. Before we reached the open area between the hills we heard it again but surprisingly, since we hadn’t seen the large broad winged bird flying over, this time it seemed to be calling from the treetops
above us then moving behind us. The mystery was solved when we saw what had been calling, it was that jay again, the one I’d mentioned before that does a perfect imitation of a buzzard call.
    We’ve seen the jay flying and doing the call a few times since but why do they do it? There is speculation that they might imitate a raptor to intimidate other birds away from food or else to increase their own song repertoire making it more attractive to a female. There’s lots of footage on YouTube of jays imitating buzzards and you can have a listen to the buzzard’s call there as well to verify how good the cover version is.
    Evidently the male jay we saw later had a good voice or some other appeal since it was with a mate and they were breaking off twigs and bringing them into a dense Douglas Fir, any nests of theirs we’ve seen have been near the crown of conifers, one in a larch tree had growing chicks spilling over the side of the nest.  There’s a good chance there might be more than two pairs of jays nesting on Dalkey and Killiney Hills
and we often see up to six adult birds together, a great success story for a bird that would have been very scarce there a few decades ago.
    A concerned local Dalkey resident and members of the Tidy Towns group have enlisted some expert help and advice to start a conservation project to help Swifts, those lovely high flying, sickle winged birds of summer who arrive in early May but have suffered in recent years by being deprived of traditional nest sites. If you know of swifts nesting in your house or in the vicinity it could be very helpful to the project and there’ll be more news of the project next month.