Killruddery’s Wildlife Diary: Spring into Summer

22/07/2016

GArden Rock people on bench WS4 11

April, May and June are, I think, my favourite months. I also find that September and October, when a so called ‘Indian summer’ occasionally appears, can also be special, but that’s another story.

It is very exciting to witness the spring migration of birds in April after the darkness of a drear winter. Spring here was mainly dry but with a biting cold wind from the north most days. Normally our swallows arrive on about 14th April, however I saw the first pair on 8th April and by 14th April another six pairs had arrived. Now we have a full compliment of approximately 30 pairs in our complex of buildings. Because of the cold in May insects, which provide the much needed protein to the migrating birds on their arrival from Africa, were very scarce and this delayed the nest building and laying of eggs. At the time of writing no young swallows have yet flown the nest.

Unfortunately we do not have any summer residents of the other hirondelle families such as House Martins, Sand Martins or Swifts. According to Birdwatch only 1% of modern buildings are suitable for both House Martins and Swifts within the island of Ireland.Black Bird

Our mallard ducks are early nesters but the first hatch appeared later than usual i.e. on 19th April. Ten ducklings on day one were rapidly reduced to three which happily are still surviving and doing well on the Long Ponds in the garden. A further two pairs of mallard hatched onto the Long Ponds but have lost their clutches, so also a pair on the Ace of Clubs pond and the dam. Such is the way with wild life, many are born; only a percentage making it to breeding age. Some good news is that the little grebes on the dam have hatched with three chicks and there is one grebe sitting on a nest in the middle of the left Long Pond. I am not sure she won’t desert the nest as she is too visible to corvids and humans.

The other good news is that there are two pairs of woodpeckers in two separate locations on the Estate still in their nests. Hopefully these will fledge successfully in this month of June. I have also seen two woodcock in separate areas both in breeding plumage. Sadly the resident woodcock population that breed and stay all year on the Estate has diminished compared to 30/40 years ago.

I have not heard a cuckoo this year which I much regret. We used to have two or three pairs on the Little Sugarloaf. The main host for the cuckoo’s eggs were the meadow pipit nests, a ground nesting bird utilising tussocky mountain grasses for its nest. These birds are now very scarce on the Estate due to more movement of farm stock and people.

Rapseed FeildAs regards mammals, our red squirrel population is small but stable. The grey squirrel, of the rat family and not to be confused with the red squirrel, are well culled by our two pairs of buzzards which is good. However our hares are suffering from attacks by the buzzards to their leverets. This is the first year that leverets in the garden area have not been seen. Rabbits do appear to have shown a positive increase but every year myxomatosis appears in August and inflicts casualties on the population.

We have had two dawn chorus expeditions led by Eanna O’Flynn and Justin Ivory. One on 1st May and one on 15th May. The latter one was particularly successful with 33 species of birds observed of which 27 produced good sing song. In particular a spotted flycatcher and a very active black cap. Our thanks to Eanna and Justin for their dedication and enthusiasm of our wildlife at Killruddery.

Jack Meath, June 2016.