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

    Many years ago I was one of a group on a BirdWatch outing around Lehaunstown, off the Brennanstown Road, not far from Cabinteely village. The group was wandering up towards Tully’s Cross passing along a quiet beechlined road then on to open fields. Lovely at any time it used be a great spot for birds in the winter since a lot of the surrounding area was then still working farmland and the cereal crops would attract vast flocks of finches and including hundreds of Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Linnets with every chance of much scarcer wintering Brambling being among them. It was also one of the best places in south county Dublin where there was a good chance of seeing a Yellowhammer. You could walk over fields and along the abandoned railway line for an hour and barely see a soul; it could have been in the middle of the countryside. Further along the track as it approached Heronford Lane, Long Eared Owls used to nest among the conifer plantation. Of course now that abandoned Harcourt Street rail line we used wander along is the busy LUAS line to Bride’s Glen and the cereal fields it once cut through are going to soon become Ireland’s newest town at Cherrywood.
   We were strolling up the road when someone who had seen our group, came out of their house to tell us they’d just heard a woodpecker hammering on a tree. This was years before Great Spotted Woodpeckers arrived to colonise Ireland, when the birds were even exceptionally uncommon as a rarity and any of the species that did arrive here, usually in the west of the country were believed to be birds from Scandinavia. I can’t remember if anyone disillusioned her at the time but we all knew what she’d heard wasn’t a woodpecker but was actually a hooded crow which we’d just seen rattling its bill from a treetop. When you do hear a woodpecker ‘drumming’ on a tree, a territorial and mating call usually performed in early spring, it has a deep resonant rapid quality whereas the crow’s sound has a much higher cadence lacking the low echoing sound.
    Recently we had seen jays quite regularly near the car park on Killiney Hill and one particular morning we saw a pair perched on either side of a tree trunk. We’d been watching them for a while when one of them began rattling its bill, making the same noise as the hooded crow does, if not quite as loud. I was amazed, never knowing any bird apart from the ‘hoodies’ do it.


Crab Spider on a nettle, Dalkey Hill        Photo: Michael Ryan

An adult red squirrel with very wispy ear tufts, Killiney Hill
Photo: Michael Ryan






Jays are famous as mimics and a few weeks before, around the same bit of woodland, we’d heard the very distinctive call of a buzzard coming from the trees where we figured it must be perched. We thought we had heard one anyway, until a solitary jay flew out of the trees but there was no buzzard to be seen and we suspected it was the jay imitating it. Any doubts it had been the jay calling were dispelled later when I had a search on YouTube and found, under the very specific heading ‘(Eurasian) Jay mimicking a buzzard’,
there was film of one doing a perfect imitation of a buzzard’s call. Of course there were loads more related videos including a very interesting video from
Cambridge University about a study of captive jays and tests that were
being conducted to prove their intelligence. The researcher had even taught one how to speak a few basic sentences. Another clip posted had the most extraordinary footage of a wild jay doing a perfect imitation of a cat meowing.
Had the jay that was rattling it’s beak near the car park learned how to do it by imitating a hooded crow? It didn’t seem too much of a stretch for such a clever creature but in this case rather then imitating a call it would have been imitating an action, the clattering together of the bill’s mandibles. Then I watched another jay video, this one, evidently a pet, striding purposefully across a kitchen table but it was clattering its bill as it did so. So the jay we were watching may have known how to make the noise anyhow rather than copying it but it was still fascinating to see and hear it, always a privilege to witness animal behaviour you’ve never seen before.
The small bright yellow spider we saw on a nettle leaf above the Vico Road was easy enough to identify as a crab spider, Thomisus Onustus, since they’re named because of the way they hold their front legs wide apart like crabs as they sit waiting for an insect to get close enough. They don’t make a web, instead relying on sitting immobile then erupting in a burst of speed to pounce on creatures like hover flies and bees, pray that is sometimes considerably bigger than they are.
    Apparently some species, over the course of ten days to 25 days, can actually change colour to match the flower they’re perched on but the one we saw, though small, being bright yellow stood out dramatically from its nettle perch, looking like it was wearing the insect equivalent of a high visibility jacket. Last month I wrote about our few very pleasant days spent in Waterford during the summer. Any post holiday blues were happily dispelled the day after our return by our first sighting in over two months of red squirrels, three distinct individuals on both Dalkey and Killiney Hills. The first one we saw, on our way down the path towards the car park from the aircraft beacon, was a juvenile red with lush tufts of hair growing from its ears and no metal ear clips, indicating it was born this year and had not yet been trapped and recorded. It was feeding on cones in a Douglas Fir tree as were the two reds we subsequently sawover on Killiney Hill on our way up towards the obelisk. By their metal ear clips we knew both were adults, one with thin wisps of hair protruding from its ears, the other differentiated by no ear tufts whatsoever. Grey squirrels have bare ears, an important diagnostic to differentiate them from red squirrels but the adult reds lose these tufts of hair for a short period in mid to late summer before sprouting luxuriant new growth for the winter.
There were a couple of walks organised on the Hill during Heritage Week titled ‘The Red Squirrel Trail Walks’. Unfortunately, although there was apparently a big turnout of people for the walks no red squirrels made an appearance!
Another Red with bushy tail and no ear tufts on Killiney Hill
Photo: Michael Ryan