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            Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
                     October / 2016 - Michael Ryan

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Red Squirrel feeding on Douglas Fir cones in July       Photo: M. Ryan

   Porpoises aren’t uncommon around Dalkey and Killiney’s coast. Harbour porpoises are small and dark with a small triangular shaped dorsal fin and it’s only this fin and a small section of their head and back that you ever see when they break the surface, they don’t make spectacular leaps out of the water like their more glamorous relatives the dolphins and whales. Sometimes the porpoise appear around the same area of water where gulls and gannets might be clamouring indicating the presence of a shoal of fish but often enough they’d just be swimming by and when they dive you can try and guess where they’re going to appear next, whether they’re circling or moving in a definite direction. I’d been looking down over the Vico at a small pod of porpoise very close to shore. The sea was very calm with sunlight glittering off the surface and every time a porpoise would break the surface it would send out arcs of gentle ripples. I spent a relaxing few minutes watching them before continuing my walk. I turned around hoping to get a final glance of one and that happened to be the moment a dolphin soared up clear out of the water, twisting mid-air before splashing back into the sea again. I had read that dolphins were being seen again around Dalkey but apart from one occasion hadn’t personally seen any since the pod of three bottlenose dolphins were a daily sight in Killiney Bay four and five years ago. That one occasion we had seen dolphins since then was two years ago when a pod of four Rissos Dolphins briefly appeared in Killiney Bay but Rissos are more uncommon and don’t do spectacular breaches like the one I have seen so it was most likely a Bottlenose Dolphin. Naturally surprised and delighted to see it but further surprised that it was sharing the same space of water with porpoise. Dolphins are much bigger than porpoise and can often get very aggressive with them to the extent that the death of a number of porpoise found washed up has been attributed to them being battered and bitten to death by dolphins and quite a few people have witnessed, photographed or filmed quite disturbing footage of dolphins actually killing porpoise. Hopefully the dolphin and porpoise here were well
disposed towards each other. Have seen porpoise many times since but not a sign of dolphins which makes that brief spectacular view even more precious.




Copper Butterfly      Photo: M. Ryan

 

HOPE SPRINGS IN AUTUMN
   Apparently, this year’s weather created a number of factors that combined to make it a terrible year for many species of butterflies. The mild winter had a lot of caterpillars emerge early who subsequently starved or were killed when temperatures dropped later in 13 the season. There is a school of thought that mild winters also affect butterflies by helping fungal diseases thrive and by getting butterflies that have emerged early to burn up their fat reserves.
  Subsequently some of the early months of spring were unseasonably cold and then the mild but often sunless summer had very few butterflies on the wing. The Small Tortoiseshell, once our commonest garden butterfly, was almost totally absent from our garden during the summer and was reported as suffering a dramatic decline this year in the UK. Small Tortoiseshells are the butterfly you might see in mid-winter often emerging from indoor hibernation during a very mild spell. I was going to write that I couldn’t recall seeing any at all this summer but the time of writing is during the brief heat wave in early
September and I got home to find one was feeding on the few remaining flowers of the buddleia bush outside our kitchen window. It was in pristine condition and had probably recently emerged possibly to spend winter hibernating indoors in a shed or quiet room. It might indicate that the warm later weeks of summer and early autumn saw a brief recovery in some species.
   Thankfully the Holly Blue butterfly seems to be doing ok, as well as having good numbers of them in the garden in spring we had quite a few in late summer, indicating they had a successful second brood. A pair of Small Copper butterflies spent a few days on the sunny south east side of Dalkey Hill in May but the only other Small Copper we saw this year was on a sunny July day on Ireland’s Eye.


DALKEY TERN PROJECT

  Over the winter the Council employed a pest control operative who removed a large number of rats from Dalkey Island. Initially the terns had what looked like what was going to be a good year with over 70 pairs of Arctic terns nesting on Lamb Island (the western part of the island separated at high tide) producing dozens of chicks but tragically over the course of one weekend all the newly born birds disappeared. Birdwatch had employed a temporary warden for the project but he wasn’t on duty the weekend the birds disappeared so nobody knows how they died, whether the parent birds were initially disturbed by people (which I suspect, especially since it happened on a weekend) and then deserted the chicks who were predated on by rats or gulls or whether some other dismal fate had befallen them. The only positive outcome was the return of a pair of Roseate Terns to nest in a box on Maiden’s Rock and though they had left it too late in the season to successfully rear young the fact they returned there at all is encouraging for the future.

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