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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
February 2006 - Michael Ryan
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Usually the first leaves I see opening on trees are in February on a Horse Chestnut on the Vico Road whose ‘miniclimate’ usually keeps it a few degrees warmer then the rest of the area but this year I was truly surprised to see leaves opening on the lower shoots of a sycamore high on Killiney Hill on the 21st January and also saw a number of elder bushes with leaves starting to open the same day. It is now a scientific fact that Spring begins earlier then it did even twenty years ago but to actually see it happening brings home concern about global warming and its long time effects.
I have mentioned before our concern for the small population of Red Squirrels on Dalkey and Killiney Hills whose future is threatened by the spread of Grey Squirrels whose arrival ultimately means the disappearance of the native Reds. The Dun Laoghaire Rathdown parks department are taking the threat seriously and will be gathering information about the spread and distribution of both species. If you have regular sightings of either species, perhaps you have only recently had first sightings of Grey Squirrels in your garden, maybe you might take note of when and where you sighted them and keep the notes till a database has been set up.

On the same weekend the unfortunate Bottle nosed Whale swam up the Thames another smaller tragedy was taking place in Dun Laoghaire harbour. I got a call that Saturday that a Red Throated Diver had become entangled in fishing line and was swimming around in obvious distress trying to tear off its bindings. The caller had been down on the harbour where a group of people had seen the bird a few hours earlier inside the breakwater near the new marina. Catching and handling injured birds and animals needs a degree of expertise but the DSPCA do not have a weekend service and could not be contacted.
Brendan Price of the Seal Sanctuary was willing to look after it if it could be caught, suggested a few people in yacht clubs who might be able to help catch it and also said the Harbour Police had been very helpful to his organisation in the past. I tried them and within minutes they had somebody check out where it had been seen last. No sign of the bird though. Injured and oiled birds often make their way ashore when they can not swim properly so we then asked a local ‘birder’ who went down and checked any likely spots, again to no avail. Very little chance of the poor creature freeing itself so its future was very bleak. Discarded fishing line is a serious threat to birds and many sea creatures causing, as probably in this case, a prolonged death through drowning or starvation.

Red Throated Divers spend winter around our coasts before heading north in winter to breed and are often seen in and around the harbour. Similar in size and shape to cormorants but predominately dark grey with pale breast and under parts and very sharp bill usually held slightly upright they develop the red throat marking when they come into their breeding plumage.

An often spectacular sight at dusk on winter and early spring evenings is the flypast of Brent Geese returning to their roost at Sandymount or the Bull Island. Big numbers of them fly south in small groups to Kilcoole and Newcastle in the morning where they spend the day feeding but they often return in very large flocks of up to 1,000 birds sometimes just a few feet over the water in characteristic flying V shape. Often just before dusk or in the twilight gloom to have hundreds of geese emerge out of the dark can be a wonderful sight.