Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
August 2013 - Michael Ryan
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  Those involved in the Killiney Red Squirrel conservation project, were very happy to find out in July that the researchers had identified two of the females as having recently lactated, meaning they had both given birth. Although too soon to be optimistic about the long term success it was a great relief after all the effort and expertise that had gone into the project to find two new red squirrel families were in the woodlands. More of the released squirrels may well have given birth but since their radio collars were removed their presence can only be ascertained by reported sightings. All the latest findings had been announced at a very interesting talk in the Heritage Centre. Will Carr one of the researchers had said he would check inside the squirrel boxes using a Endoscope, a tiny camera at the end of a flexible lead which can be put into tiny spaces and will display the image on a laptop. This is ideal for putting into the entrance hole of nestboxes, which might be mounted eight or ten feet up a tree, without disturbing any potential inhabitants.

Red Squirrel in Scots Pine

Young Sparrowhawk -
9 days old
 
   The following morning after the meeting I was walking in the wood hoping to get a glance of a squirrel but also checking out another secretive family living in the woodlands. A few months before my companion, Lucy, had spotted a nest above us in a small Douglas Fir tree with a tail protruding from it. At first we thought it might have been a Jay’s nest but when we blew up a photo we’d taken we could see barring on the underside of the tail identifying it as a female sparrow hawk. Subsequently we watched the male coming in bringing food to the female as she sat on eggs, later watching her perched on the nest and evidently feeding small chicks. A friend of ours had been in touch with a Wildlife Ranger from Wicklow who, along with members of a Raptor group, has been trying to ring the chicks of as many birds of prey as they can find nesting. They came out to the nest on Killiney Hill to ring the chicks. We were fairly sure there were four chicks in the nest and they were at the perfect age, big enough to have rings put on their legs but not developed enough that they might try to jump or fly out. The ranger arrived with her two companions with climbing gear and notebooks and equipment to record their findings. The nest was in a small tree and since the bird’s well-being is always the highest priority one of the raptor group climbed the adjoining much bigger tree then lowered himself down a few feet above the nest.
  He reached in and plucked out the chicks one by one placed them in a bag and very carefully lowered them to his companion on the ground while he remained suspended from the tree. The chicks were weighed and the disparate weights revealed them to be two males and two females, the females will eventually grow to be almost twice the size of males. Their wings and legs were measured and then the rings were placed on their legs a perpetual record of their origin if they are ever trapped again or recovered. When all the recording was done they were put into individual bags. Although these little guys weren’t distressed, birds generally calm down when in the dark and keeping them in separate bags reduces any chance of them inadvertently scraping each others eyes. The bags were put into a bigger bag which was raised up on the pulley and carefully replaced in the nest. We watched them for the following days growing rapidly often standing perilously on the edge of what seemed a very small shallow nest. But thankfully they all survived and on this morning, they were all out of the nest and flying. They had been balls of fluff with a few adult feathers emerging when they were ringed only nine days before but were now full adult size.
  Although all young birds have a limited survival rate these looked as well as they could and have every chance of doing ok. Since only two sparrowhawk chicks had fledged last year for four to fledge this year was a great success for the parents. I’d been looking at two of the young sparrowhawks perched close to each other on an oak tree and minutes after I left them I met Will who had arrived in the wood with the endoscope and was checking out the nestboxes. I was able to join him while he checked out two of the boxes and in the second box, the one we had previously seen a red going into, we were able to look at an empty nest lined with moss that the adult squirrel had brought in as bedding. Will told me what sometimes happens is the mother squirrel will carry the young (baby squirrels are known as kittens) to another dray. Let’s hope they’re safe somewhere and we might yet see them moving through the branches. As I walked back with Will we stopped to look where I’d seen the two young sparrowhawks and they were still there. Then we noticed the two other juveniles were in the same tree, four sparrowhawks sitting quietly in the same tree until mum or dad comes home with prey when they will set up an almighty racket demanding to be fed. Asound I don’t think I’d heard in years made a very welcome return at the beginning of the July heatwave. The sound of masses of buzzing insects, a sound almost confined to the past when we used get proper summers and the shimmering heat of midday would have its own soundtrack of thousands of humming bees and hoverflies. In this case though the humming was coming from above and not from a very traditional source either. Aeucalyptus tree was in flower and these nectar rich flowers attracted a cacophony of buzzing bees who, at time of writing, had still been coming to the same tree for over ten days.

 Mother Sparrowhawk


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