Greenbank and Sefton Parks, 14th April 2019

Greenbank was once the home of the philanthropic Liverpool family, the Rathbones, who lived in Greenbank House. The surrounding land was bought by Liverpool Corporation in 1897 on condition that it was maintained as a recreation ground for the general public, and that the trees were preserved.

It was a bright day, but quite cold, and sometimes felt like January. The Daffodils are mostly over but the Bluebells (mostly Spanish) are about half out. There were plenty of birds on the park lake, including several Coots nesting on the platforms provided, Canada Geese, Mallards, Moorhens, Wood Pigeons and one Muscovy duck. A strikingly-plumaged Heron stood on a nest platform, feathers ruffled by the cold gusty wind.

Two young Mute Swans looked like they were pairing up, but they were only last year’s cygnets, still showing some brown plumage, so they are far too young yet.

Two Cormorants in breeding plumage flew in. I love the way they swim with an alert-looking heads-up air, as if doing an inspection.

One of the old trees at the south end of the lake was a Caucasian Wingnut Pterocarya fraxinifolia, while on the eastern bank were some new tree plantings. Two young Larch trees may well have been Japanese Larches, Larix kaempferi, as the flowers weren’t bright crimson, but pinkish-cream. One still in its planting cage was definitely some sort of Alder, because it bore last year’s cones, but the new leaves were yellow, the twigs pale bronze and the bark almost white. It might be Alnus incana ‘Aurea’, a variety of the Grey Alder known as Golden Alder.

We had lunch in the sunshine in the Old English garden, which is all that remains of the Rathbone’s estate. There were a couple of unusual upright Magnolias, and a pergola showing buds of Clematis and Wisteria. We looked at a small ornamental tree with very dark purple foliage. It wasn’t a Copper Beech, but looked rather like Hornbeam, although I have never heard of a red one. It had a twiggy base to the trunk like Lime and some of the shoots were reverting to the pale green leaves. Could it be a Purple Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardi’?  Here are some of the leaves next to a quotation from Eleanor Rathbone, a campaigner for women’s rights.

To our surprise, at the western end of Greenbank Lane, where it joins Sefton Park’s perimeter road, the island in the car park had a cluster of green and purple trees, clearly of the same species as each other, but two different colour varieties. These looked more like the Purple Cherry Plums I know from Birkenhead Park but they bore just a few little red conical fruits like Capsicums. I’m flummoxed by these purple trees!

(Added 19th April – it might be the result of an infection by the fungal plant pathogen Taphrina padi, which usually infects Bird Cherry, see this Wikipedia article . On the Facebook group “British and Irish Trees” there are some similar pictures and the suggestion that it also infects the purple Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera var. atropurpurea.)
By the old aviary in Sefton Park we looked at the stump of a recently-felled big old tree. It may have been one of the original Beeches planted in about 1872. On the lake we had a very quick glimpse of a Little Grebe, but it dived and vanished. There was no sign of the pair of Mandarins, but there were several families of little punk Coots (are they called Cootlings?)

A Canada Goose was sitting on a nest on the island, apparently plucking down from her breast. We could see one pale fawn egg in front of her legs, maybe two, but she wasn’t ready to incubate them yet.

A Jay came down to the edge of the lake for a drink.

There is a row of wonderful gnarled Cherry trees near the old bandstand, and many of the passers-by were admiring the profuse blossom in an echo of the Japanese custom of hanami or Cherry-blossom-viewing.

The Palm House was staging a free concert by the Band of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. They were very good, but most of us didn’t stay longer than the first two numbers.

On the way back to the buses at Aigburth Vale we spotted another Caucasian Wingnut tree and a possible young Butternut tree. There was a Pied Wagtail on the verge of the lake and several Tufted Duck out in the middle. There had been reports of a rare Icelandic Gull in the week, but we couldn’t spot it. Some of the Alder shrubs were infested with hundeds of Alder leaf beetles, Agelastica alni. According to the RHS website, the adults overwinter in the leaf litter and emerge in the spring to mate. But if that’s the case, what ate all those holes in the newly-emerged Alder leaves? The beetles don’t eat holes in leaves do they?

The RHS says “Larvae can be found on the leaves from May to July.” Even allowing for the quick start to the spring this year, those chewed leaves still seem anomalous. Did the first adults emerge in that warm spell in February and lay eggs then? There wouldn’t be many leaves for the caterpillars to eat at that time. I regret we didn’t turn the leaves over and look for them. The Alder leaf beetle used to be considered rare in the UK, perhaps extinct, with hardly any sightings between 1946 and 2003. In 2004 larvae and adults were found in Manchester and the species has been spreading ever since. It was found in South Hampshire in 2014 and in North Wales in 2018.

Public transport details: Bus 86A from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.08, arriving Smithdown Road / Borrowdale Road at 10.33. Returned on bus 82 from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane at 3.15, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 3.30.

Next few weeks:
21st April, Dibbinsdale. Meet at Central Station at 10 am. 

Anyone is welcome to come out with the Sunday Group. It is not strictly part of the MNA, although it has several overlapping members. We go out by public transport to local parks, woods and nature reserves all over Merseyside, and occasionally further afield. We are mostly pensioners, so the day is free on our bus passes, and we enjoy fresh air, a laugh and a joke, a slow amble in pleasant surroundings and sometimes we even look at the wildlife!
If you want to join a Sunday Group walk, pack lunch, a flask, waterproofs, binoculars if you have them, a waterproof pad to sit on if we have to have lunch on the grass or a wet bench (A garden kneeler? A newspaper in a plastic bag?), and wear stout shoes or walking boots. We are usually back in Liverpool City Centre by 4pm at the latest.

If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website for details of our programme and how to join us.

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Thingwall, 7th April 2019

The plan today was a repeat trip to Landican Cemetery and Arrowe Park to check on some of the trees we saw in bud on 24th February, but before doing that we travelled one extra stop to the Thingwall corner to look at the wonderful sign which names the area in Norse runes. The local authorities are so proud of their Viking past!

In Landican cemetery, on either side of the little CWGC area, are two Callery Pears (Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’). Their pink buds are now white flowers, larger than Blackthorn or Hawthorn, but not as big as Medlar.

There were no exciting birds about, just Magpies and Wood Pigeons, although we heard the calls of Goldfinch and Greenfinch. The Whitebeams were coming into leaf, with each foliage cluster standing upright like Magnolia flowers. One pretty little ornamental tree was a Willow-leaved Pear.

After lunch we crossed over to Arrowe Park, entering via the garden of the derelict ranger’s house. It must have been beautiful in its heyday, but the neglected Magnolia tree is now in magnificent flower.

Wild Garlic (Ramsons) was coming into flower in the wild woodland area behind the house, as were the Bluebells. Earlier we had seen buds of Garlic Mustard (also called Jack-by-the-Hedge). The Norway Maple flowers are still hanging on, and the buds of the Horse Chestnuts have opened to reveal the huge thrusting flower heads.

Norway maple flowers
Horse chestnut bud

The sun came out as we approached the pair of mystery trees by the tennis courts, which we had tentatively identified as some sort of Elm. Unfortunately, since February, all the easily-accessible, low-drooping branches have been trimmed off by the park keepers, making it harder to see what kind of flowers had emerged from those pink clusters. But now I can see that they have to be Elms of some kind, with those immature seeds surrounded by oval wings (each called a “samara”).

I currently favour an identification of Siberian Elm Ulmus pumila. Other indications are the ridged bark, (formerly) straggly untidy branches, glossy serrated leaves, rich brown buds and the symmetrical twig branching. Mitchell calls them “rare, mainly S of England” but the current Collins tree guide suggests they were planted more frequently in recent decades because they are resistant to Dutch Elm Disease

The two mystery elms (the pale green ones)

Nearer the exit gate is another uncommon tree, a Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea. It’s a tall young tree, just breaking into bud high overhead.

On the ground beneath it were last year’s dead leaves and the distinctive first year acorns with their beautifully-figured cups.

A tiny brown Ladybird (5-6mm) was resting in the direct sun on a Laurel leaf. It didn’t move at all, and might have been dead, but perhaps it had just woken up from wintering in the leaf litter and was trying to revive itself. I’m pretty sure it was the Cream-spot ladybird Calvia 14-guttata.

Blackbirds were nesting in a Cypress and scolded us as we passed. A Robin pecked about boldly on the path. As we turned left to walk along to the hospital for the bus, we were surprised to notice that the old cast iron gates of Arrowe Park had arrow motifs all over them

Public transport details: Bus 472 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.10, arriving Pensby Road / Thingwall corner at 10.50. Returned from Arrowe Park Hospital on the 471 at 2.11, arriving Liverpool 2.35.

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Pickering Pasture, 31st March 2019

Pickering Pasture Local Nature Reserve runs along the banks of the River Mersey near Widnes. Historically it was Hale Marsh, then it was a waste tip from the 1940s to the 1960s, then it was cleaned up and restored by Halton Council in 1982. It was opened to the public in 1986 and became a Local Nature reserve in 1991. From the riverside walk there are excellent views of the old and new Widnes-Runcorn bridges.

As we walked down Mersey View Road we remembered that there is a fruit tree overhanging the industrial fencing, which drops sticky plums or damsons onto the pavement in autumn. This must be its blossom, but if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t expect autumn fruit from these generic white flowers.

A mass of the fertile stems of Horsetail Equisetum arvense was pushing up through the concrete sidewalk.

On the island in the car park is a Grey Alder tree, the only one I know. They are often grown on old tips, where they do well. It was probably planted here in 1982 so is approaching 40 years old. There is a splendid display of Daffodils around the Visitors’ Centre and both Goldfinches and Long-tailed Tits were flitting about in the trees. As we walked south westwards along the river bank we spotted Canada Geese and Cormorants flying over the water and Shelduck on the mid-river sandbank. The wildflower bank had hundreds of Cowslips just going over. On the way into the bird hide at the southern end I looked for the Spindle trees, which are easy to recognise in the autumn by their distinctively-shaped red fruits, but what do they look like now? Not very exciting – plain little leaves and small bunches of flower buds.

From the hide there is a view over a pool, the marsh, and on to the Duck Decoy about half a mile away, now surrounded by bright yellow fields of blooming oil seed rape (canola). There were the usual Canada Geese and Shelduck on the marsh, a Heron flew out to the river, and we spotted possible single Redshank and Lapwing in the distance. There were Robins and Wood Pigeons in the shrubbery, and a single shy Reed Bunting came to the bird table. Then two Little Egrets flew in and circled around. One went to the marsh and disappeared into a gully while the other landed in the pool and started hunting around the islands. It was hungry and seem to catch plenty of small mouthfuls of prey.

The United Utilities pathway around the sewage treatment plant is lined with Birch and Grey Poplar, the latter with their distinctive scalloped leaves still lying underfoot. They have no new leaves yet but are clothed in coarse green hairy catkins

A twittering overhead drew our attention to three or four Siskins, which were after something in those same green catkins. Further along a Wood Pigeon sat on her shallow nest in some Hawthorn and eyed us suspiciously.

A lovely Blackthorn thicket was just going over, and was home to lots of insect life. The warm sunshine had brought out several native Seven-spot Ladybirds, various unidentified bumblebees and hoverflies and a Small White butterfly. On the other side of the path we glimpsed our first Speckled Wood butterfly.

There is a stand of white trees near the west edge, opposite the Control Meadow, which I have previously identified as Aspens. Or are they? Could they be Grey Poplar? They are the only two  tree species with those distinctive scalloped leaves. But they look like a suckering clone of identical trunks (which is what Aspen does) and the catkins are different from those of the Grey Poplar, redder and with grey hairs. I think its really Aspen, despite my second thoughts

The Hawthorn leaves are out everywhere, and in one sunny south-facing spot were the first white buds and a few open flowers. They aren’t supposed to come out until May, and it isn’t even April yet! The first big flush of Dandelions is about a month early, too, probably triggered by that warm spell in February.

On the way back to the bus we spotted our first Ragwort and some Yellow Archangel by the bus stop. Some of the ornamental Crab Apples in gardens have wonderful red flowers just at the moment.

Ragwort
Crab apple?

Public transport details: Bus 500 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.10, arriving Halebank / Mersey View at 10.55. Returned on the 500 bus from Halebank / Mersey View at 2.33, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 3.30.

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Eastham Woods, 24th March 2019

A lovely day for a joint walk with the MNA, with bright blue skies but a cold gusty wind. We met outside the Visitors’ Centre and admired a Norway Maple which was doing its one and only good trick, putting out its froth of yellow-green flowers. For the rest of the year you wouldn’t give it a second glance.

We set off into the woods, noting the Hawthorn greening all the edges, the Weeping Willow shading from gold to green and both Horse Chestnut and Sycamore just putting out their leaves. There was more blossom about, this time possibly Crab Apple, but all those cherries, plums and apples are very hard to distinguish. Three-cornered Leek, Dandelions and Shepherd’s Purse were in flower and also a few patches of Wood Anemones

A lot of the cut and fallen wood is left to rot, so we saw various fungi, including Stump Puff Balls and Glistening Ink Caps on the stump of an old Beech. We kept finding little painted stones tucked into the bases of trees. One had a picture of a frog on it, others had cartoon characters, smiley faces or words like “happy”. It’s a game for kids, apparently, to give them something to rummage for in woods. There’s a “Wirral Rocks” Facebook page, and the stones are supposed to be re-hidden in another location. According to someone’s smartphone, about 60 new stones had been put out that morning in Eastham woods.

The bird feeders at the back of the Visitors’ Centre were busy, with a Nuthatch, Great Tits, a Coal Tit, a Chaffinch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker which was flitting around the trees but being elusive

Coal Tit

A couple of us had to leave early but the others set off to look at another section of the woods.

Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.21, arriving New Chester Road / opp Woodyear Road at 10.42. Returned on bus 1 from New Chester Road / Allport Road at 1.53, arriving Liverpool 2.20.

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Allerton Cemetery, 17th March 2019

Allerton Cemetery in south Liverpool is one of the main burial places for the city. It was consecrated in 1909 and is Grade II listed. Its 150 acres (61 ha) now contain something like 85,000 burials, including the relatives of some of us, burials from tragic public events and some Scouse celebrities.

Last week’s Storm Gareth has passed over and we are now getting the tail end of Storm Hannah, with gusty winds and hail showers between the intermittent sunshine. On the road up to the Cemetery we noted two types of Eucalyptus tree in a garden, both the Snow Gum and the Cider Gum. Inside the Cemetery we headed for the Persian Ironwood in section CE 1A to see what the flowers look like, two months after sprouting as the shocking pink and black buds that we saw in Sefton Park on 20th January. The answer is, they look quite underwhelming, and we wouldn’t have given them a second glance.

In a wooded section near the main chapel we glimpsed something a bit more interesting, a tree which was throwing out bunches of strange pink tassels. It’s a Box Elder, which isn’t an Elder at all but a type of Maple, Acer negundo, also known as an Ash-leaved Maple. It has separate male and female trees (dioecious), and this must be the male tree with those spectacular pink flowers and anthers.

It has been very wet, and the island on the way to the east section was flooded

We were heading that way to see Ken Dodd’s grave in section CE 28, where he is buried with his parents. The first anniversary of his death was only a few days ago, so there were many family flowers and cards.

After lunch at a convenient picnic table we crossed the road to Springwood crematorium, where the very earliest Cherry trees were in bloom.

We had been looking at a lot of trees of the same species which were showing the first pale green haze of growth. They weren’t leaves or catkins, they were little green hanging strings of flowers. I checked at home, and they were Hornbeams, as we had surmised.

Then, stopping to nod to Cilla Black’s grave on the way, we made our way back to the main gates. One early Rhododendron was in particularly lovely bloom.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.13, arriving Liverpool South Parkway 10.25. Returned from the same station at 14.38, arriving Liverpool Central at 14.55.

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Carr Mill Dam, 10th March 2019

This is the time of year when the Great Crested Grebes do their famous mating dance, so despite the weather forecast threatening strong winds and hail, we set off for Carr Mill Dam, the nearest place to see plenty of them.

It was surprisingly sunny as we took the path along to Otterswift Farm. The hedgerows had Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Robin, Dunnock, Blue Tit and Great Tit. The Blackthorn is out, Hawthorns are in early pale green leaf and there is lots of blooming yellow Forsythia in gardens and municipal roadside plantings. We got to the “19-arches” bridge in time for lunch, and kept our eyes on the 10 or so mated pairs of Grebes that were in view on either side. They were swimming and diving, but sadly, not strutting their stuff.

There were also lots of Canada Geese and a few Mallards lingering on the sheltered side. We had a few flurries of hail as we set off along the muddy paths of the east side of the lake. Despite some very strong gusts of wind and one very heavy hail shower, we made it around in record time, hardly stopping to look at anything!  At the spot called the The Goyt, where a little brook joins the lake, the water was very high and the woodlands below were wetter than I remember seeing before. Some Wild Garlic was showing its leaves and there were patches of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage.

On the firmer footing of Garswood Old Road we spotted a Cormorant flying towards the lake and heard a Greenfinch. The overflow was also in spate, with the spillway down to the Sankey Brook foaming white over the stepped surface. After a reviving pot of tea in the Toby Carvery Waterside, we headed back for our bus.

Just to add that on the MNA short walk to Arrowe Park on 6th March we spotted three Mandarin ducks, two males and a female, lined up on a log in the Arrowe Brook. More possible ducklings to look out for later in the year! It looks like a small population may soon be established on Merseyside.

Public transport details: The Blackpool train from Lime Street at 10.18, arriving St Helens Central at 10.45. Then bus 352 (towards Wigan) from St Helens bus station at 10.55, arriving Martindale Road / Deepdale Avenue at 11.06. Returned on the 352 bus from Carr Mill Road / East Lancs Road at 2.10, arriving St Helens bus station at 2.20. Some of us got the 2.35 train back to Liverpool, arriving Lime Street station at 3.05. 

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West Kirby, 3rd March 2019

The record-breaking February heatwave finished with the threat of Storm Freya, expected to arrive mid-afternoon. We cancelled our plan to go to Carr Mill Dam, where there is very little shelter, and headed for West Kirby instead. A light rain persisted all day, and it was very murky over towards Hilbre Island, with nobody attempting the crossing. 

We noted the five young Stone Pines outside Morrison’s supermarket then walked along South Parade from the Dee Lane slipway.

A solitary Cormorant perched on a jetty, balancing on its tail, but there was no point in it spreading its wings, they would have got even wetter.

Despite the drizzle, the sailing club carried on practising their route around the buoys on the Marine Lake.

We lunched in Coronation Gardens with its brave display of spring flowers and an interesting wind vane sculpture of three wild geese. There was no sign of a plate giving the name of the artist, though. We headed back via the tiny Sandlea Park. There were some Dog Roses still blooming straggily in a flower bed and the seaside plant Alexanders was coming into flower. There were no leaves yet on the Walnut trees, but one tall young tree with light-coloured bark and lanceolate leaves caught our eye. Was it a Eucalyptus? To our surprise it looked like some kind of Cotoneaster. They don’t usually make it to tree size. A group of Long-tailed Tits were in a Birch and a Wren was in a rough corner. The heavily-pruned Flowering Currant were starting to blossom.

On our way to Ashton Park we saw a genuine Eucalyptus tree in a garden – the fairly common Snow Gum Eucalyptus pauciflora.  There was a Pied Wagtail on the pavement and a Collared Dove accompanying a flock of House Sparrows coming to fat ball feeders in Park Road. Over our head was a series of loud “wheeping” calls. A Nuthatch? No, it was a pair of Starlings sitting side by side on a high branch, and one was trying to impress its prospective mate with its mimicry. Various ornamental garden trees were coming into bloom, including this lovely Magnolia.

In Ashton Park the Weeping Willow was just coming into leaf, and there were the usual Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Herring Gulls and a Canada Goose. We heard what might have been a Song Thrush in the shrubbery. A Rat was skulking about in the reeds at the south end of the lake, under the Blue Atlas Cedar. Then on to the last bit of the Wirral Way leading back to the station. There were masses of Alexanders all along the banks and the first Hawthorns were coming into leaf.

Another of the garden trees I had spotted earlier was the very early-blooming Cherry Plum, which has been out for about two weeks. In the last few days some lower-growing shrubs have started to erupt into white blossom, and I think they must be Blackthorn. Happily, there was one Blackthorn on the Wirral Way so I was able to compare them. The Cherry Plum is a small tree with a trunk, the first thing to flower every year, and its white flowers have pink hearts. The Blackthorn is a shrub, with very dark bark, thorns, whiter blossom and longer stamens.

Cherry plum
Blackthorn

Public transport details: Train at 10.03 from Lime Street Station, arriving West Kirby at 10.35.  Returned on the 2.01 train, arriving Liverpool 2.35.

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Landican Cemetery and Arrowe Park, 24th February 2019

The thick, soft mist on the Wirral made Landican Cemetery look very dream-like before the sun evaporated it.

The recent unseasonably warm weather has made the Spring suddenly gallop ahead. Blue Tits were being contrary by prospecting the “wrong” nest boxes, ones that weren’t really designed for them. One was in a three-apartment Sparrow box near the entrance and another was carrying nesting material to an open-fronted Robin box.

In some rough ground off the eastern border was a Goat Willow with the first pussy willow flower of the year, breaking out its yellow pollen.

The cemetery was opened in 1935 and the plantings of architectural evergreen trees like Lawson, Leyland and Monterey Cypresses, now look as the planners envisaged. The Golden Irish Yews (which are all-male clones), are covered with ripening pollen sacs. Many of the more recent plantings of young bare deciduous trees still have their identifying labels, so we found a Sorbus hybrida ‘Gibsii’, which is a kind of Rowan with non-pinnate leaves, a Salix pentandra, which is Bay Willow and also a couple of Crab Apples ‘John Downie’, which will have pale pink blossom and red and yellow fruit. At the corners of the Commonwealth War Graves plot are two young trees with the early signs of pink blossom. We have noticed them before but haven’t been able to identify them. Today we found a labelled tree elsewhere with the same buds and bark, so now we know they are Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’, a kind of ornamental flowering Pear, native to China and Vietnam, but planted widely in the USA and becoming popular in Europe

Along the edges of the cemetery were more natural or native trees, including Silver Birch and Lombardy Poplar, and some of the less-modern planting included White Willow with its orangey-red twigs, Hazel with its yellow catkins and Italian Alders with their dramatic long purplish catkins.

For the last week or so I have been noticing small trees breaking into very early white blossom and there were two of them in Landican. I think it’s Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera. It usually comes out about two weeks before the Blackthorn, which was once said to be the earliest spring blossom. But this definitely isn’t Blackthorn – the flowers are on small garden and roadside trees, not on hedgerow shrubs with black bark and thorns!

There weren’t many birds about, just a Song Thrush on a path, a Chaffinch, a couple of Blackbirds, several Magpies and a calling Greenfinch, which we couldn’t see. There were plenty of fresh Molehills, and we always hope for Hares here, but we didn’t have any luck today. After lunch we crossed the road to Arrowe Park and strolled past its display of Crocuses under the Beech trees.

A Buzzard flew past, just above the Beech tops. The Common Limes in the park have been allowed to keep their twiggy bases (the ones on the streets near me are always “tidied up” by Sefton Council), and they provide wonderful dense thickets for small creatures to live in. For our tree list we also ticked Cedar of Lebanon, Atlas Cedar and Scots Pine, then went to look at the mystery trees near the tennis courts which we think might be Smooth-leaved Elm. Interestingly they were covered with pinkish flowery tufts, breaking out from brown shiny bud scales. Both the bark and flowers look like the photos of English Elm in Roger Phillips’s “Trees in Britain”, but the glossy leaves we saw last year definitely weren’t that species. So is it some kind of hybrid?

Public transport details: Bus 472 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.13, arriving Arrowe Park Road / Landican Cemetery at 10.45. Returned on the 471 bus from Woodchurch Road / Church Lane at 2.29, arriving Liverpool 2.55.

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Gorse Hill, 17th February 2019

From Aughton Park station we headed westwards up Long Lane, occasionally stopping to look at interesting things in gardens – a tiny bird’s nest up a bare tree, a diorama with model woodland birds and animals in the driveway of the Hillcroft Care Home, yellow Witch Hazel in bloom amongst the leaves of a pale evergreen shrub, a clump of very dark Hellebore and this lovely early pink Camellia.

We were half an hour early at the main entrance, so we walked around the paths by the orchard. There were bat boxes high in the trees, what looked like a Pussy Willow just starting to break its buds, two Buzzards and a Kestrel overhead and a Siskin picking the tiny seeds from a Birch cone. There were Hazels all along the hedgerows, shedding pollen from the long yellow catkins as we brushed past.

Gorse Hill is a nature reserve managed by the Northwest Ecological Trust and in 2010 it won one of the Queen’s Awards for Voluntary Service. In recent years they have made a feature of their Snowdrops, and today was their Snowdrop Festival. Although the woodlands weren’t exactly carpeted with them, there were certainly plenty of clumps along the edges of the paths in Cabin Woods.

We sat in the sunshine on the picnic benches by Seldom’s Pond and watched the little birds coming to the seed and nut feeders. The usual Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, but also a Dunnock on the ground, a party of pink and black Long-tailed Tits and three or four Tree Sparrows, which are quite scarce locally.

Long-tailed Tit
Tree Sparrow

Signs told us that Snowdrops were also sometimes called “the snow piercer” and the first part of the scientific name Galanthus nivalis comes from the Greek words for “milk” and “flower”, while the second is Latin for “of the snows”.

There were also Primroses coming into flower and Hawthorn leaves breaking out in a few sheltered spots, our first of the year.

Many trees there have hanging name labels, and one unassuming shrub bore a sign saying it was a Wayfaring Tree Viburnum lantana. Hooray! We have never seen one, and it might be the only one on Merseyside. It was in our I-Spy book two years ago but we couldn’t tick it. The Wirral Wildlife Trust ranger told us that there were none in Cheshire, and that they only grew on the chalk in south-east England. There is nothing particular to see on this uncommon tree now, just bare brown twigs, but it will have white flowers and red berries (and it supports a number of moths) so we will have to come back for it later in the year. Then we sat in the sun on the edge of Five Acre field, looking at the view towards Southport, and hoping that one of the resident Yellowhammers would turn up. None did. Then we walked around by the northern edge back to Long Lane. The Starlings on Aughton church tower were screaking at a passing Buzzard.

Public transport details: Train at 10.17 towards Ormskirk, alighting Aughton Park at 10.45. We missed the 2.40 back to Liverpool, so got the 2.45 one stop outwards to the terminus at Ormskirk, then sat on the same train as it made the return journey at 3.07, arriving Liverpool Central 3.38. 

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Crosby, 13th February 2019

This was an MNA midweek short walk, starting at Waterloo station at 11am. Unfortunately Merseyrail are working on the platforms, trains are off, so would anyone brave the Rail Replacement bus and come out? Yes, there were eventually six of us, Jim, John, Barbara (me), Dave, Robert from the LBS (botanists) and Val. We walked down South Road and through Marine Gardens, where our first bird was a Collared Dove. Blackbirds and a Robin in the shrubbery and plenty of Snowdrops and Crocuses coming out. In an odd corner south of the Lakeside Adventure Centre and the Marina Club there is a pocket-sized nature reserve, with boardwalks through marshy reeds. We looked for frogspawn but there was none to be seen. Alder catkins were opening and we spotted the first Coltsfoot of the year

A Raven flew over, mobbed by crows. An Oystercatcher flew past. Two Cormorants were diving in the Marine Lake. A very dark Lesser Black-backed Gull perched high on a scaffolding structure in the lake, probably the Baltic subspecies. We peered through the fence to the Seaforth Nature Reserve, seeing Rabbits, Lapwings, Common Gulls, Canada Geese, Pied Wagtail, Black-tailed Godwits, Teal, some Magpies on the fence, one Curlew walking on the grass and a group of Shelduck.

Then we strolled northwards along the prom, past the Iron Men on the beach. Something was hovering over the sand. Was it a Kestrel? When it came nearer we saw it was a Cormorant! Was it really hovering or was it flying directly towards us and only seemed to be imitating a Kestrel?  The resident Skylarks were tweeting softly in the dunes, but when the sun came out three took to the air at once. We went to look at the clump of the very rare plant, the Dune Wormwood, Artemisia campestris ssp. maritima. It wasn’t very impressive, I have to say, but it is the star of this week’s “Sefton Coast” column in the Midweek Visiter newspaper. It is only found in two places in the UK, and Crosby is one of them. The other is on the Glamorgan coast.
In a sandy gully we spotted a little pinkish Dunnock-like bird, pecking about on its own. We considered a Twite, got the book out, and decided it was probably a female Linnet. You don’t often see one of those on its own.

We returned alongside the Boating Lake, noting the usual birdlife – Canada Geese, Mallards, Black-headed Gulls, several young Herring Gulls, two Common Gulls, Starlings, Carrion Crows, seven Mute Swans and a handful of Tufted Duck. To our surprise there was also a pair of Goldeneye, diving to feed.

We finished at just after 1pm, having walked 2.5 miles.

If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website for details of our programme and how to join us.

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