July / 2017 - Michael Ryan
The robin was in great distress, spinning around in circles. We could see it was ensnared in a length of fine red thread which had been dangling from a branch low on the tree. The thread was caught around some of its primary feathers on one wing and the more it flew around in circles the more the thread would tighten around the feathers. We were able to catch it and thankfully the robin didn’t seem to have sustained any injuries. Holding it, as Lucy unwound the thread, I was getting a little concerned as its eyes slowly shut, worried it might have gone into shock, but it perked up and as soon as I loosened my grip it flew away. The thread that had entrapped the robin probably came loose out of some garment, I don’t think it was left there with any malevolent intent, but, casually discarded, it had become a snare for the bird and I doubt it would ever have been able to get free by itself.
A well-remembered founder of the South Dublin Branch of Birdwatch would often mention the potential threat to wildlife from objects such as discarded plastic strip loops, the ones that are used to hold cans of beer together. He would always pick up discarded ones and tear apart the loops which, if they ended up in the sea or left on the ground, could slowly choke or trap a marine animal or bird. Apart from the visual offence of litter it can cause death or distress to many creatures so anything picked up and safely disposed of from footpath or especially from the beach or seashore is always a worthwhile act.
Eye – Less than ten miles away from Dalkey can be found spectacular
colonies of seabirds crowded together precariously on steep cliffs. Ireland’s
Eye is only a short boat ride from Howth harbour, uninhabited apart from
thousands of birds, a few rabbits and rats. The island slopes up gradually
on the side facing land but on the farther, northern side, of the island
there are steeper slopes and sheer cliffs and it’s here you find
large colonies of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Cormorant, Shag and,
if you’re lucky, Puffin. One usually disembarks near the Martello
Tower and from there you make your way towards the rising slopes then
head over to the outcrop on the left which is the best vantage point to
see the seabirds. There are steep cliffs here so be very careful as you
approach the edge. Looking down you’ll see the rock face crowded
with chocolate-coloured guillemots and black and white razorbills with
the distinctive shaped beaks that give them their name while Fulmars nest
on grassy nooks just below you. The slope above the rock face is where
you’ll most likely see puffins who nest in burrows in the soil.
Vulnerable to predation from Greater Black Backed
Gulls they are always wary and never seem too far from their nests apart from when they are bobbing on the water below. Walking up to the crest of
the island you’ll encounter black backed gulls whose chicks will sometimes be hiding crouched motionless on the ground so be very careful where you step.
Greater Black Backed Gull and chick on Ireland’s Eye
Photo: Michael Ryan
Gannets on the stack on Ireland’s Eye with two chicks in the
The adults can be intimidating when you feel the wind from their sizeable
wings as they swoop down just over your head with raucous calls and I’ve
seen ringers from Birdwatch with blood streaming from their head after the parent birds had got very protective. Rock Pipits can be seen flitting around and Wrens and Stonechat nest among the dense bracken. Wheatears can occasionally be found on the island as well and Swallows, which often nest in the Martello Tower, swoop low over the ground. When you reach the
farther end of the island you’ll be facing the stack, a steep column of rock on whose narrow ledges perch spectacular numbers of nesting gannets as well as many more razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes. Gannets are beautiful birds with snow white bodies and black tipped tails with buff coloured heads and startling blue eyes. They feed by diving dramatically from a height to catch fish underwater and birds from here can often be seen fishing in Killiney Bay. This is the most recently established gannet colony in Ireland, there were 540 pairs in 2013 and they have increased since so the colony has now spread over on to the slopes of the main landmass on the island. A downside to viewing the colony is seeing how much discarded fishing lines are incorporated into the gannets nesting material. Circling the island and walking back along the beach you can sometimes spot Ringed Plover who nest on the shingle and rely on their camouflaged eggs to escape predation.
from the birdlife there’s every possibility of seeing seals, porpoise
or dolphin from the high vantage points and there’s great views
looking back towards the mainland or north to Lambay Island. The accessibility
of the island can have a negative side. A fire burnt for days there
a few years ago causing great destruction in the middle of the breeding
season till a group of volunteers put it out and cliff and ground nesting
birds are very vulnerable to anybody with bad intentions. I can’t
imagine a similar island off the UK with such valuable numbers of birds
that wouldn’t have a warden during the breeding season though,
although a lovely place to visit for a day, it would take some dedication
to be willing to spend a few months on the ‘Eye’ every year.
July is a good month to visit with the breeding season well under way.
You’d have to be reasonably fit and agile to get around the island
and sensible footwear and raingear are