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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey
               February / 2018 - Michael Ryan
FEBRUARY    MARCH    APRIL    MAY    JUNE    JULY    AUGUST     SEPTEMBER    OCTOBER    NOVEMBER    DECEMBER

   We took a short break in Vienna on the first weekend of December where our hotel was literally on the other side of the road from one of the entrances to Schonbruun Park, home to the spectacular winter palace of the Hapsburg Dynasty with extensive grounds and spectacular fountains and monuments. We were on a package guided holiday and when we arrived at the hotel on Sunday morning our guide had advised us that for the rest of the day, which we had free, we go to see some of the sights in the city rather than go to the park since, as part of our tour, we would be taken to the Palace and garden there the following day.
   I’d read about Schonbruun from a few online pieces and had got particularly excited about one thing we might see there but hadn’t told Lucy in case we didn’t get lucky so we ignored our guide’s advice, dressed up warmly and got over to the park as quick as we could. We’d only been in the park a few minutes when Lucy spotted a Nuthatch moving down a tree trunk. The nuthatch is a very attractive little bird with a grey back, warm buff underside with a thin black eye stripe and although common in the UK we never see them in Ireland even as rare migrants.
   Getting insects and their grubs and eggs from the tree bark they’re similar in behaviour to our treecreeper except nuthatches can also move down the tree while treecreepers only move up the trunk. There were patches of snow and ice on the ground, the water in the fountains was frozen solid and a cold breeze was blowing. The trees were stark and bare against the low light except quite a few had big clumps of greenery high up the trunk which we realised was the very seasonal mistletoe. Not native back home (although you can see it growing in some of the older trees in the Botanic Gardens) here it was growing in profusion.
 

This Viennese squirrel ran up to us but refused the Pecan Pie
snack bar Lucy was offering it. Photo Michael Ryan
 
   The Mistle Thrush gets its name from this plant and it’s when the bird is trying to get rid of the indigestible seed from inside the berries they sometimes wipe them against the tree trunk from where the seed will later sprout. It’s technically a parasitic plant on trees but does them very little harm.
 We had sightings of Great Spotted Woodpecker but then another woodpecker caught our attention. Unlike the Great Spotted this woodpecker had a solid red crown on the top of its head. Before we came I’d read a piece online from somebody who’d put up a photo of a bird in Schonbruun which he’d thought might have been the much more uncommon Middle Spotted Woodpecker until somebody deflated his observation by saying it was probably a juvenile male Great Spotted which have the full red patch on their head for the first few months of life. But December would have been very late in the year for one to till have the juvenile plumage and I was hopefully confident. Subsequent referencing confirmed it was indeed a Middle Spotted Woodpecker.
   Next morning, after our tour around the spectacular palace our guide told us we had 45 minutes free to visit the Christmas market stalls or the gardens. We made our way back to the gardens and then, less than a hundred yards away, was what I’d been hoping to see. I’d read online that the red squirrels in this park would actually come up to people to be fed and I’d seen a video of a squirrel hopping on to a bench and then on to the lap of the person filming it and here was a red squirrel ambling across one of the wide paths in front of us. I made noise to attract the squirrel which turned around, saw us and fearlessly bounded up the path to us. Lucy had a cereal bar and offered a bit of it to the squirrel. It stood up on its hind legs, sniffed the bar but, seemingly not impressed with its pecan pie flavour, it ran off directly towards a group of sightseers, literally running around their feet.
   Grey squirrels will come to humans to be fed in parks in Ireland and the UK but it was a real treat to have native red squirrels doing the same. Schonbruun Park forbids entry to dogs and, being Austria, the people obey the rule which means the squirrels are safe to move around on the ground.
We bought peanuts and made sure we were in the park early the next morning. The first squirrel we’d encountered had russet brown fur the same as our Irish reds but a lot of European red squirrels have dark grey fur though they always have ear tufts unlike the introduced American grey squirrel which thankfully is found only in one country on the European mainland, Italy, where some captive animals escaped in the late 1940s. It was a cold dull morning but within minutes we saw dark furred red squirrels and they saw us. I crouched down with a handful of peanuts and one of the little creatures approached me then stood up and rested a tiny paw on my hand and while it nibbled at the peanuts I was able to stroke its cheek. We had pairs of squirrels chasing each other around a tree before they came back to Lucy for more peanuts but eventually the cold and the call of the buffet breakfast at the hotel took us away from our charming encounter. Back home, before Christmas, Park Department staff on Killiney hill trapped four reds, two were this year’s juveniles which were ear-clipped before being released. One of the other adult squirrels was a survivor from the original introduction in 2012.

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