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

     The last week in June had us down in the midlands again, staying in Birr for two nights. On our way we stopped off at Lough Boora Discovery Park, formerly a peat extracting bog and now a great public amenity incorporating a sculpture park and miles of lakes, woods, streams and vast areas of restored bog, home to a wonderful haven of wild flowers, wintering and breeding birds, dragonfly and
damselfly and numerous insects and other creatures. There’s a number of different walks and cycle paths of varying distances but first stop was the cafe. From the wooden deck we looked over the railings and saw orchids growing a few feet away. They were the first orchids we were to see but later we’d see, scattered in the peat, single plants then dozens, then hundreds, pink and white
spikes dotted all around the landscape.
   We thought going through the woodland walk looked promising and set off for it but never actually made it there having got very pleasantly distracted on the way. Willow Warblers and a Whitethroat sang from clumps of willow and Meadow Pipits flew up and piped their lilting refrain as they ‘parachuted’ down to earth.
One of the permanent sculptures, named the Pavilion, has a covered stage with a roof supported by metal beams and chattering swallows flew in inches above our heads to feed chicks in the nests they’d built on them. The path running beside the woods opened onto a large area of fenced off grassland. This area of Lough Boora parklands is sectioned off, dedicated to a very successful Grey Partridge conservation project, breeding them with the intention of eventually releasing
them into the wild and within this area the grassland is managed to give cover to the birds.
    You have to stay on the paths and with knee deep waving grasses on one side and a dense bank of willow and wild flowers on the other I thought the chances of seeing a partridge would be virtually impossible so when one dashed across the path a few yards in front of us, although only a fleeting glimpse, we thought ourselves very fortunate. A pair of Stonechats escorted us along the path flying up from the fence to snatch insects and a pair of buzzards drifted across the sky. A snipe flew up out of cover for a instant, a few minutes earlier we’d heard another one’s distinctive breeding display wherein, as the bird flies up
 high then dives, a small feather held rigid at the base of it’s wing vibrates, creating a sustained sound compared to a goat bleating. We could easily have spent the day exploring the trails and habitats in the vast park but time wasn’t on our side and we began to retrace our route. I was still inclined to wander into the woods but thankfully we didn’t since further back beside the path Lucy spotted a little group of startlingly beautiful plants we’d overlooked on the way down.

Bee Orchids at Lake Boora        Image: Michael Ryan

The Pine Martens were difficult to see but
Lucy managed to get these shots.
Photo: Lucy Desierdo
   Even if you’d never seen a orchid before you might know what these were, bee orchids, a real wonder of nature, their flowers developed to mimic and thus attract pollinating bumblebees. They weren’t the only spectacular orchids either, another orchid we saw further along and later identified from Zöe Devlin’s book of wildflowers was the lovely Marsh Helleborine.
   We’d stayed in our B&B in Birr twice before. It’s positioned on the river side opposite the grounds of Birr Castle with the possibility of seeing Grey Wagtail, Dipper and Kingfisher flashing by the full length glass wall as you eat breakfast. This time we hadn’t even gone down for breakfast when Lucy spotted a kingfisher perched directly below our room. We’d noticed a pair of Spotted Flycatchers on the opposite bank a few times and later realised they were nesting in a dead tree, the female bird sitting in the nest facing directly towards our room.
   Next day we headed to the Forest Park at Portumna where a bird hide had been purpose built to face the tree on a spit of land jutting out into Lough Derg where White Tailed Sea Eagles have bred in recent years, but sadly not this year. An adult bird and one juvenile had died last year from avian flu and the surviving adult hadn’t paired up
so the huge empty nest was a sad sight. We followed a narrow winding trail into the woods where on a previous visit we’d seen red squirrels. We’d stopped to ponder what sort of small structure a cement base on the ground had once supported when a buzzing of creatures flying into the fork of a scots pine just above it attracted our
attention. Initially presumed it was a wasp’s nest then gradually realised it was actually a honey bee’s nest, some of them almost at our feet gathering pollen from daisies.    Bumblebees tend to nest in the ground and most honey bees seen in gardens are from domestic hives. This was the first time we’d ever seen a wild honey bee nest and
researching about them online later I found the National Biodiversity Centre are conducting a survey on their nests so if you know of any nests please log on to their website and record your observation. There are a number of small reed lined ponds in
Portumna forest, very serene and tranquil, a few feet deep with crystal clear water in which you can see tiny fish and the occasional frog moving around. The one we paused beside also held a Moorhen with chicks and we were watching them when a call I can confidentially say I’d never heard before rang out nearby from what seemed to be most above us. I had a slight suspicion of what it might possibly be but it was Lucy, peering at a dead tree totally covered with dense ivy, who confirmed what had made the noise.    She’d spotted a Pine Marten. That was exciting enough then she realised there were three of them, almost certainly juveniles by the noise they were making. Pine Martens don’t make their own nests, often using abandoned squirrel drays or bird nests and very frequently moving into attics or outhouses. These ones were probably born in an old squirrel dray in the ivy and were getting adventurous, clambering through the ivy, constantly calling, before the three creatures climbed down the tree disappearing from our sight after reaching the ground.  
    Birr itself is a very pleasant town with elegant buildings and many of them play host to the swifts that in the humid weather were almost a constant presence. Some flying in
screeching groups were probably non-breeding birds prospecting for future nest sites. The square at the front of the B&B seemed very attractive to them and groups of five and six birds swooped so low you could actually hear and feel the swoosh of their wings as they passed. Visiting the castle grounds next day we were fascinated to find swifts were nesting in holes in the external walls beside the road, some nest holes positioned only six or seven feet above ground. A very interesting project in a area adjoining the castle grounds is a new plantation of Giant Redwoods which can be sponsored and planted and named after the sponsor or someone they wish remembered. The plan is to have the largest giant redwood grove outside the tree’s native California. Although a very worthwhile project in itself a more ominous
reason for its conception is the fact that global warming might threaten the future of the
original trees and Ireland’s climate is perfect for growing these wonderful conifers.