Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
July 2013 - Michael Ryan
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   I was able to brake in time as a fox darted across the road in front of the car but thought a moment later that if I had hit it and killed it instantly I might have done it a favour. It looked emaciated but that was because it had barely any fur and what it had was patchy with bare spots. It’s tail instead of being a luxuriant brush was totally bald and stuck out behind it like a piece of wire. I certainly couldn’t say for sure what was wrong but it almost certainly had mange. Sarcoptic Mange is caused by a mite which infects the skin causing terrible irritation to the animal. Foxes have been known to gnaw off their own tails to try and alleviate the itching and sometimes foxes will die from secondary infections since the constant scratching prevents the broken skin from healing and they will contract other infections. I’d heard of quite a number of foxes infected with it around Dalkey and when I spoke to my vet’s practice which is based in Blackrock they said they’d also had a unusually high number of inquiries about infected foxes this year.
Greater Black Backed Gull
Greater Black Backed Gull’s chick.
 
   Unfortunately there’s very little that can be done for individual animals and the vet says even if an animal was taken in and treated it would be as likely as ever to contract the disease again when it was released back into the wild. Afew of us went out to Ireland’s Eye during the very hot spell in June to see the seabird colonies that nest on the cliffs. We usually leave our annual visit till July when chicks are born or the birds will be sitting on eggs. It was still a bit early for the razorbills, guillemots, 5 kittiwakes and gannets to have chicks but some members of one breeding species of bird out there already had hatched chicks or had eggs about to open. This was the Greater Black Backed Gull which instead of clinging to perilously narrow edges of the cliff face nests in the open on the ground on the higher areas of the island. The parent birds can get very agitated when someone walks near the nest and they are quite formidable creatures (the largest species of gull in the world) especially when they are ill disposed towards you.
  We had been warned before we went out by a friend, who had recently been on the island, about a few ‘psycho’ greater black backed gulls which were nesting near the highest point of the island and were particularly aggressive. This part of the island is close to the great tower of rock known as the Stack which is home to a colony of hundreds of gannets and is always worth a look, worth risking an angry gull attack. We were treated to the sight of a peregrine perched on top of the rock as we ate our packed lunches in the blazing sunshine. A greater black backed gull was perched quite near us and a tiny fluffy grey chick appeared from the undergrowth. The parent bird was calling raucously but it didn’t come near us maybe figuring if were predators we’d have tried to eat the chick by now rather then tucking in to cheese sandwiches. Wemoved to the summit to view the gannets where another visitor to the island was sitting sketching birds. He’d already had a close encounter with a gull which had flown down and hit him on the head and although he was wearing a hat the impact of the birds beak had drawn blood. The rest of my companions had moved off when I felt a whoosh of wings passing inches over my head as a greater black backed gull wheeled around and came in for another attack, a determined look in its eyes.
  Carrying a telescope around an island can be a bit awkward but it’s great for getting good close up views of nesting birds and, as in this case, it serves as an efficient air attack defence when held aloft. Gannets are another large and very impressive seabird with their beautiful blue eyes and snow white plumage with black tipped wings but the bird everybody loves to see is the smallest sea bird breeding there. We’d earlier been scanning the northern facing cliffs with a telescope set up facing the packed colonies of birds on the cliffs. A chap was filming them with a small video camera and I offered him a look through the ‘scope. As soon as he looked through it he instantly became very animated since it was trained on a little group of puffins. He said he didn’t even know you got them in this country let alone a few miles away from the city centre. His reaction to first seeing them is typical of anyone who sees a puffin for the first time.

Guillemots – Ireland’s Eye


With their almost comical appearance they’re very charming little creatures. A small colony nests in burrows on very steep slopes on the side of the island. Although there are far greater numbers of puffins a few miles north on Lambay Island the Ireland’s Eye colony has survived and possibly grown slightly in the last few years. There’s still time to visit and see the birds on Ireland’s Eye though peak time for seeing chicks on nests would be the first few weeks in July. A number of small ferry boats go out from Howth Harbour though it would be worth checking first online to see if they’re going out as strong seas can sometimes make landing difficult. Crossing the island involves a deal of climbing and walking paths through shoulder high ferns with rabbit holes underfoot. We called down to Coliemore Harbour early the following day, Sunday, which was to be the last day of the intense heat before the weather returned to the more typical, rain every day seasonal climate. I was relieved to see the Arctic terns were still sitting on nests at the summit of Lamb Island. Although late to arrive they had quickly established themselves with at least 40 nests visible from the land. I was afraid that during the hot spell somebody might have climbed up there and disturbed them which is almost certainly what happened last year when the whole colony disappeared one weekend with the almost certain loss of many chicks and unfledged birds. Unfortunately when I went down two days later there wasn’t a single bird on the island. My pessimism had been well founded, somebody had probably gone on to Lamb Island or else the goats had been frightened off the main island, crossed over at low tide and either trampled the nests or frightened off the birds. Lots of eggs would have been lost and possibly even some chicks since the birds had been there long enough for eggs to have hatched. They might try and nest again but at time of writing there was no sign of any birds returning and it might be better in the long run if they moved away from Dalkey to somewhere safer to nest.