circa.4300 BC to 2018 AD
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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
                  December / 2017 - Michael Ryan

   Winter break – A Chiffchaff was a surprising and very welcome visiting bird to our garden in late October. Once only a summer migrant, it’s been known now for many years that some individual chiffchaffs will overwinter here and in the UK. One individual used to spend the winter months behind SuperValu in Deansgrange in the bushes along the banks of the stream that runs beside the linear parkland. Unless the water froze, beside the stream was always a good spot for insects and if the weather got really cold they could always take to the air and fly south which a lot of us do in winter as well.
   Helping Hedgehogs – An organisation that deserves mention for the great work it does is Hedgehog Rescue Dublin run by Yvonne McCann. I spoke to Yvonne, who gave up her job as a keeper at Dublin Zoo to look after injured and orphaned hedgehogs full time and she said at that moment she was looking after 40 hedgehogs and was expecting another four to be brought in that day. Many are young hedgehogs which are still active and wouldn’t have gained enough body fat reserves to survive hibernation so Yvonne’s organisation takes them in and feeds them over winter before releasing them in the spring.
   She says autumn juvenile hedgehogs are still out and about, often found out in the daytime, and as it’s now getting cold these young hedgehogs will not reach hibernation weight and will slowly starve to death. She states they need to be rescued so if you find one please put it in a high sided box with a hot water bottle, some cat food and some water and then get in touch with her organisation. Contact Yvonne,
Hedgehog Rescue, Dublin Quay Road, Rush, Co. Dublin K56 TW62
Philomena, named after the lady who found her and
brought her to Hedgehog Rescue Dublin. She had been
hit by a car and smashed her back leg which they had
repaired and she will be returning to the wild in spring.
Photo. Hedgehog Rescue Dublin
   Many of the hedgehogs she takes in over the year are orphaned babies and underweight juveniles but she also takes in many injured adults. Many hibernating hedgehogs suffer horrific injuries from garden strimmers but Yvonne asked me to emphasise that one of the main causes of fatalities in hedgehogs is poisoning by slug pellets which contain methaldehyde and she says if even one person who reads this stops using them it will be
worthwhile. On Hedgehog Rescue Dublin’s Facebook page there are wonderful photos and videos of some of her little guests which at the moment are housed in her garden shed. They released 57 hedgehogs into the wild last spring after caring for them over the winter but space is a big problem and she needs to build a new unit to house them. She plans on incorporating an incubation area and hygiene problems can be addressed much better in a purpose built unit. Her brother, who is a builder, is going to build the unit and the sum she’s looking for is quite modest. All her funding is from donations and she has started a fund-raising page to fund building the new unit. There’s an Adopt a Hedgehog scheme as well for which you get
a sponsorship pack and you can name your hedgehog.

We went back to the same Douglas Fir trees for over a week and the red squirrels were still there. We saw this one, which hadn’t been trapped and marked with an ear clip so it was almost certainly a juvenile born this year.                      Photo: Michael Ryan


 Furry Fellow on a Fir
Lots of cones lay underneath the grove of Douglas Fir trees above the car park but it was one that had been stripped of its scales that caught our attention. It had evidently been dropped by a squirrel but which species, red or grey, we couldn’t know. But this time we were in luck, the pitter-patter of dropping cone scales was from a red, sitting on a branch above us gnawing away at a cone held in its front paws. Greys do prefer mixed woodlands of broadleaved trees while reds do much better in a conifer plantation but a big advantage the greys have is their capacity to eat acorns, a seed whose tannin content makes them toxic to reds until they are fully ripe but greys can eat them at any stage of their development. One theory as to why greys can absorb acorns better is that we only have two native oaks and there are many more oak species in the greys’ native North America and the greys have evolved to make them an important part of their diet.
   Richard Thorington, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a world renowned expert on the 285 squirrel species found around the world tells of research that found some fascinating behaviour by the greys in their native habitat as they collect acorns. They can tell the difference between the acorns of white oak and red oaks and store them accordingly. ‘Whites germinate quickly, almost as soon as they hit the ground,’ said Thorington, ‘and the squirrels tend to eat them immediately since a germinated acorn loses nutritional value. Conversely, red oak acorns don’t germinate until spring, so the squirrels prefer to bury those for winter snacking.

   A 1996 study in the journal Animal Behavior observed some squirrels biting through the embryo of white oak acorns, essentially paralyzing the seed’s ability to sprout. The squirrels then buried the modified white oak acorns as they would have with the reds. What’s more, the
scientists witnessed the squirrels digging up red oak acorns that they didn’t need to eat over the winter, nipping off their embryos, and re-burying the food for later use.’
    But back to the red above us. We’ve found over the years you can often find reds feeding on the same tree for a succession of days, or even months as we found last year when we saw one in a Scots Pine in November and it and other reds were still feeding in that and a adjoining pine till the following March, Scots Pine being a tree that continuously produces seed over winter. We went back to the same group of Douglas Fir trees for the next week and saw at least two reds on them most days, including one without a ear clip, probably born this year.