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. 

Next few weeks:
24th February, Landican and Arrowe Park. Meet at Sir Thomas Street 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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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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Chester, 10th February 2019

We entered Grosvenor Park at the north east corner, off Dee Lane, and spent a happy hour in the chilly sunshine wandering about looking at the trees. There is a tall Giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum (which may only be quite young) at the northern edge, which had dropped some very large cones.

We admired the rich mahogany bark of a Tibetan Cherry, some young Turkey Oaks with retained leaves and whiskery buds, and this lovely cone of the Tulip Tree, about 4 inches long.

We lunched in the rose garden. Some scattered grain attracted sixteen Wood Pigeons but the Blackbird that had been hopping about in the shrubbery didn’t come out to compete for it. Half a dozen Jackdaws flew over. Then the sky went very dark and we had a brief rain and hail shower, which sent us scrambling for shelter under the Yews.

Along the lower path with the ruins of the old church we spotted a Contorted Hazel and an Indian Bean tree with huge numbers of hanging bean pods. It must have been a lovely sight when it was in flower. There was another redwood-type tree there, with red shaggy bark and tiny cones at the tips of the cypress-like branchlets. I didn’t have my tree book with me and was puzzled by it, but now I see it was probably a new one on me, a Summit Cedar Athrotaxis laxifolia.

A tree with four trunks caught our attention. What is that light grey bark with long dark fissures? Happily, there was another nearby with a tree label. It’s a Katsura, which will have heart-shaped leaves like a Judas Tree in the spring. Its leaves turn yellow in the autumn and smell like candy floss.

Then we headed down to the Groves, looking at the Black-headed Gulls (BHGs) along the riverside, hoping to find our interesting Norwegian commuter. There were a lot of them there of course, but none with leg rings at first. There were plenty of Mallards, two Mute Swans, a single Cormorant diving and fishing, and a few Moorhens. Then we spotted a BHG with a ring perched on a railing.

It flew off and we followed it. We tracked it down to the jetty under the City Walls and found that it wasn’t our Norwegian friend J4U8, but a different one, number T4R0. I have since looked it up and it appears to have been ringed in Poland. What a cosmopolitan lot the BHGs are in Chester!
Added Tuesday 12th Feb. Yes, this bird IS from Poland – I heard from the Gdansk museum today. Ringed as a nestling in 2010 at a lake called Zbiornik Przykona between Poznan and Lodz. It’s been commuting between its home lake and Chester ever since. BHGs are amazing little birds!

Public transport details: Train to Chester from Lime Street low level at 10.17, arriving Chester 11.01. Returned on the train from Chester at 2.30, arriving Liverpool 3.15.

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Sudley House, 27th January 2019

It was very windy, with “wintry showers” forecast, so we decided to go where there would be warmth and shelter, and headed for Sudley House, a small museum in south Liverpool whose grounds are used as a public park. We got off the bus in Templemore Avenue, home of Liverpool’s “Thorn Collection” – several dozen rare Hawthorns and Medlars planted on the wide central reservation there. We didn’t stop to look at them, because there isn’t much to see at this time of year, merely noting in passing one unidentified rarity with pale bronze bark like some birches, but bearing many large red hawthorn-type fruits with one seed, some growing on short twigs springing low down out of the trunk. On Dromore Avenue a single crimson rose was blooming in a garden. Then we climbed up Holt Field, noting the bare Manna Ash trees next to Kylemore Avenue, and across Mossley Hill Road to Sudley House. Some crocuses were out beneath the trees, and lots of snowdrops.

On the east lawn they have a huge old Tulip Tree and a newly-planted Monkey Puzzle, about knee-height, protected by a circle of fencing. Two big old Beeches flank the path around to the back of the house and Daffodils were just opening on the south lawn. There were a few Redwings high in some tall trees and about half a dozen Common Gulls on the open field.  On the a stump of a felled tree was a large crop of Hoof Fungus.

One small Hazel had put out a mass of catkins, and we hunted for the tiny female flowers, which are just like a bud about a quarter of an inch long, but with bright red stigmas protruding, to catch the wind-borne pollen from (hopefully) a different tree.

Sudley has a new sign up about some tree planting in the grounds.  In 2007 they planted eight English Oaks to celebrate Liverpool’s 800th anniversary. They also say they have a Crab Apple collection, a Hawthorn Collection and have begun to plant a WWI Centenary wood, although it is  hard to tell what’s what in the winter. Olive also showed us a leaflet from the Woolton and Gateacre Labour Party, saying that the Mayoral Neighbourhood Fund had bought two new Oaks for Reynolds Park and also a rare Chinese Rubber Tree called Eucommia. We will have to look out for that next time we go!  We lunched on the south facing terrace, overlooking the Hillsborough Memorial Rose Garden.

In a sheltered spot by the path to the old walled garden some garden Campanula was still in bloom, and an old wooden door was showing a different kind of bracket fungus, emerging from all the joints, bright orange and black against the blue paint.

Sudley House was built in 1824, and bought in 1883 by George Holt, a partner in the Liverpool shipping firm Lamport and Holt. He extended the house and redecorated the rooms much as they are today. Like many wealthy merchants he collected paintings and displayed them around the house, and Sudley is now the only house of a Victorian merchant that still has its original paintings. They include work by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Landseer, Millais and Turner. After George died in 1896 his only child Emma continued to live there until she died in 1944. Both she and her father had been important local philanthropists, and Emma’s final act of generosity was to leave the house, the pictures and the grounds to the people of Liverpool, on condition that the house was to be preserved with the paintings in situ and the grounds were to be a public park. It is now managed by National Museums Liverpool and specialises in exhibitions of 20th century ball gowns and evening wear, left to the Museums by wealthy society ladies. All very well if you are interested in posh frocks, but we went animal-spotting. Our first find was this fresh bird imprint on one of the windows. I think there’s a older one to its left. They were probably Wood Pigeons, and since there were no dead birds on the lean-to roof below, they probably survived the collision.

We noticed a huge letter-opener made of ivory in Emma Holt’s study, something that’s not allowed nowadays! We also studied this Mink stole and calculated it might have been made from about 50 dead minks.

They also had some lovely old children’s toys, including this fantastic carved wooden Noah’s Ark. It was made in Germany in about 1860-1870 and the sign commented, “A Noah’s Ark was one of the few toys thought suitable for children to play with on a Sunday because it related to a story from the Bible.” The inclusion of moles, flies and spiders is imaginative, but the carver had probably never seen any real Zebras, because these look like painted-up Mules with those huge ears!

At the bus stop on Rose Lane we noticed a big old Privet bush laden with black berries.

Public transport details: Bus 80A from Great Charlotte Street at 10.14, arriving Templemore Avenue / Rose Lane at 10.37. Returned on the 80A bus from Rose Lane / Mossley Hill station at 2.52, arriving Liverpool at 3.20.

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Sefton Park, 20th January 2019

Despite a cold and misty start, the day turned out to be surprisingly mild and sunny. We decided to go to Sefton Park, as the Liverpool RSPB group were holding their usual event in the Palm House, which they usually do in the week before the Big Garden Birdwatch, to get people in the mood.

We had a wonderful day for birds, getting our 2019 list off to a great start. The south end of the lake was packed with the usual freeloaders – huge numbers of Black-headed Gulls and Canada Geese, many Coots bickering amongst themselves, Mallards, and the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons. We got to wondering if the white shields on the Coot’s faces were made of hard stuff like beaks or were soft like feathers. None of us has ever touched one. We assume  it must be hard, but the shields look “rough” in close-up, like dense feathers. There were “no bread” signs all around the railings, and many were complying, but there’s always one family who have to bring out the doughy white sliced, isn’t there!

There was one Greylag Goose in with the Canadas, and a few Moorhens over on the east side. Further north were other Gulls keeping aloof in the centre of the lake – several Herring Gulls and one each of Lesser Black-Backed and Common Gulls. Eighteen Tufted Duck were clustered amongst them. Near the island was a single Little Grebe and four Mute Swans, two adults and two grown-up Cygnets. Overhead, loud squawking and screeching announced fly-pasts of Ring-necked Parakeets. Several Mandarin Ducks were reported in the park over the Christmas holiday, one female and two males. One male has paired up and we have hopes of successful nesting. The other male has apparently been seen off by the winner and is now lurking in the “River Jordan” pond with Mallards. He’s a very handsome fellow, though.

Amongst the trees there were Wood Pigeons, Carrion Crows and Magpies. Someone had thrown down a handful of seed, attracting Great Tits and Blue Tits, as well as a Robin and a Blackbird. Many Grey Squirrels were hanging about, mooching food or scampering up and down tree trunks. Daffodils were shooting up and demure clumps of Snowdrops were just about to open.

Near the café were several early blooms. Forsythia was just coming out, the pink flower clusters of Viburnum bodnantense had persisted since before Christmas, and the Witch Hazel near the Eros statue made a splendid show

By the Aviary there is a wonderful old Birch which is infected with “Witches Broom”, which makes it grow dense twiggy excrescences

There have been three Kingfishers about in the park recently, and one or both females were said to be in the Dell, but there was no sign when we passed by earlier. But the male was present on the island, and we glimpsed him briefly before he flew off. There’s a Weeping Beech on the other bank of the stream there, and as usual it bore its squad of Black-headed Gulls, keeping watch from the top branches. Note also the marvellously figured trunk of the Dawn Cypress in the foreground.

As we headed towards the Palm House we spotted a Mistle Thrush on the big field.

The bird table outside the Palm House was well loaded up with seed, with several telescopes trained on it. A Nuthatch was a regular visitor

Opposite the Darwin statue is an Italian Cypress and a Corkscrew Hazel, and further around in the ornamental borders near the Peter Pan statue there are Chusan Palms (with scaly, hairy trunks) and Cordylline Palms.

Inside, the RSPB activities were in full swing. They had duck food (wheat) for 50p a bag and it was selling well. There were also lots of kid’s activities like drawing birds and making masks. There’s a Robin that lives inside the Palm House and he or she was hopping about on the carpeted dais behind the main RSPB table, lured by a bowl of mealworms.

We went back via the Dell and one of the female Kingfishers had turned up again and she was sitting very still, watching the water intently. Then, marvel of marvels, she dived and we heard the plop! I don’t think she caught anything, though.

While the rest of the gang were watching a Treecreeper playing hide-and-seek around a tree trunk,  I was admiring the crimson flowers of the Persian Ironwood tree.

The lakeside was very busy in the early afternoon, with runners, cyclists, people walking dogs and families feeding the ducks. Not many of them noticed this roosting Heron up a tree overlooking the lake.

Our birdlist for the day = 27, including several Pied Wagtails spotted on the lake edge. Pretty good for a city park.

Public transport details: 82 bus from Eliot Street at 10.10, arriving Aigburth Road opposite Ashbourne Road at 10.25. Returned on the 82 from Aigburth Vale at 2.45, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 3.00.

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A Norwegian commuter

Remember this Black-headed Gull that John C spotted in Chester before Christmas? I have just heard back from the ringing group in Norway, and it seems J4U8 is a regular commuter between Stavanger and the River Dee, a journey of around 1000 miles each way. It’s a male bird, and was ringed in March 2012 in southern Norway. It was then estimated to be three years old. Since then it has wintered every year in Chester by the River Dee, occasionally straying into Grosvenor Park, and has gone back to the Stavanger area each April, presumably to breed.
If you go to Chester, keep an eye out for this amazing little gull.

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Parkgate, 16th December 2018

Yesterday we were subjected to Storm Deirdre, which lashed Liverpool with wind and rain, but it was comparatively mild today. After getting off the bus at Parkgate Mostyn Square we walked along the quayside to the so-called Donkey Stand, where there was the usual civic Christmas tree.

The tide was out, but we scanned the marsh for birds. There were some Oystercatchers on a grassy bit and a distant bird of prey sitting up above the reeds on a higher twig: perhaps it was a Buzzard but it was too far out to identify. Two or three Little Egrets were poking about. One flew up and came down in a different place and disturbed a dozen Lapwings, which we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. A smart-looking Heron was close in.

In the pools were the usual Mallard, Teal, and various gulls. Then northwards from Burton came a male Hen Harrier, being mobbed by gulls and Crows. Eventually he dropped whatever it was he had caught, and he flew off. One Carrion Crow went down into the reeds to find the prize the Harrier had dropped.  After all that excitement,we strolled along to the Old Quay restaurant for our Christmas lunch.

Afterwards we walked back up to Neston for the bus. In the churchyard of the Parkgate and Neston United Reformed Church we stopped to look at two handsome trees, a Monkey Puzzle and a bare Weeping Ash.

The Sunday Group’s tally for 2018  is 84 species of birds, 163 species or varieties of trees and 5 species of mammal (if we are allowed to count molehills!), all seen within the range of our Merseytravel pensioners’ bus passes. Not bad for parks, cemeteries and odd woody corners in an urban area.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.30, arriving Mostyn Square Parkgate at 11.25. Returned from Brook Street, Neston, on the 487 at 14.36, arriving Liverpool 15.30.

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Chester, 9th December 2018

The morning was bright and sunny, but the rain came down heavily after lunch and washed us out! We started in Grosvenor Park, and noticed that they have re-instated their very smart tree nameposts, probably related to their tree trail leaflet. This Indian Bean tree was festooned with hundreds of hanging pods.

There were several Cedars. The Blue Atlas Cedar and the Deodar had nameposts, but two or three others might have been green Atlas Cedars or Cedars of Lebanon (I favour the former) but they weren’t identified. Perhaps they aren’t sure either!  Amongst the flowerbeds were four willow Spitfire sculptures, built to mark this year’s centenary of the RAF. They are by local artist, Sarah Gallagher-Hayes.

The Grey Squirrels were very bold, scampering right up to us and trying to climb up our legs! The park has a Weeping Beech, and we were amused to see it had a row of birds perched on top, just like the one in Sefton Park, which is always “owned” by a gang of gulls. Oddly, birds don’t seem to like Weeping Ashes quite so much. Another star tree is the Strawberry Tree by the lookout at the south eastern corner of the park. That too had a prominent namepost.

We lunched at The Groves, overlooking the Dee, and hoping to see the Black-headed Gull from Norway, but it wasn’t anywhere near us. One young BHG was squawking and begging like a chick from all the adults, and also from us and our lunchboxes!

After a brief heavy shower we strolled up to the Roman Garden, and admired the tall narrow Italian Cypresses Cupressus sempervirens, which are fairly rare trees, but an entirely appropriate choice here.

We walked along the walls from Newgate to the Eastgate clock and then headed towards the Christmas market. Unfortunately, out plans were foiled by the biggest shower yet, which was torrential. We sheltered under the covered Rows, listening to the Carol Singers, and as soon as we could, headed back to the station.

Public transport details: Train from Liverpool Central at 10.15, arriving Chester 11.00. Returned on the 1.55 train from Chester, arriving Liverpool 2.40

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Croxteth Hall, 2nd December 2018

Croxteth Hall Country Park was once the country estate and ancestral home of the Molyneux family, the Earls of Sefton. It is now managed as a park by the City of Liverpool. It is said to be one of the “finest working country estates in the North West” (of England) and has the historic Hall, the home farm with rare-breed cattle, a Victorian walled garden, 500 acres of country park and nature reserve, an outpost of Myerscough Agricultural College and a (horse) riding school.

In a mild drizzle we set off from West Derby village on the long walk up to the Hall. Some of the old fungus-ridden Birches along the path have disappeared, no doubt finally felled. On the north side of the avenue the ground is wet and becoming rough and sedgy. “A good spot for Snipe”, said John. New bird boxes had been put up, and a charm of Goldfinches flew between the bare wintry trees. On the ground were Magpies, Carrion Crows, Wood Pigeons, a Pied Wagtail and Black-headed Gulls, with a solitary Common Gull contemplating the possibility of worms. About halfway along we came to the fields with Highland Cattle and red-and white Irish Moiled cows, while the Highland Bull bellowed at us from its separate enclosure on the other side.

In the courtyard there were two Starlings on the weather vane.

Opposite the children’s play area we spotted a gate with the sign “Wildflower Glade and Minibeast Area” with a muddy path leading into the trees on the west of the Long Pond. So that was where all the woodland birds had gone!  The glade and surrounding trees were very busy indeed, especially around a big Larch. I have always thought Larches were scruffy, no-account trees, but the copious cones and seeds on this one were attracting all sorts of wildlife.

Several Redwings and a Mistle Thrush were flying around it, and within the branches we spotted a Long-tailed Tit and a tiny, always-moving Goldcrest.

Further on was a Nuthatch, a Treecreeper and a Grey Squirrel keeping watch. A Jay flew quickly away from us, but we spotted it later. Around the corner was a single Mallard on the pond, and Blackbirds and Great Tits in the trees.  After lunch we admired some of the park’s notable trees, including a rare Lucombe Oak Quercus x hispanica, (a hybrid of the Turkey Oak and the Cork Oak) on the lawn opposite the west front of the Hall. Around the back are a huge Pin Oak and a lovely rusty-red Swamp Cypress (I love a Swamp Cypress).

We went snooping around into gardener’s territory, along the path behind the walled garden. Nobody usually comes this way on a Sunday. There is a wonderful long Beech hedge, and at the base of it was a Nuthatch, which is rarely seen on the ground. There was a Robin further along, too, both on this picture.

The only splashes of real colour all day were these Iris berries on the edge of the River Alt, and a Rhododendron bush starting to flower. It’s ahead of its time, but the weather has been so mild.

As we headed back towards West Derby Village we came across a young man with a female Harris Hawk, 22 weeks old, which he had bred himself and was just starting to train.

Just to add that John had been to Chester in the week, and he spotted one of the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls by the Dee at The Groves which had a leg ring – right leg, black on white, four digits beginning with a J. I looked it up on the Euring website and found that “J” BHGs are being ringed by the Lista Ringing Group of Vanse, southern Norway. I have mailed them to say bird J4U8 has been spotted a very long way from home! (See report on this bird, posted 4th January 2019)

Public transport details: Bus 12 at 10.20 from Lime Street (it’s usually from Queen Square but the bus stop was moved today because of the Santa Dash), arriving Mill Lane / West Derby Village at 10.35.  Returned from Mill Lane / Town Row on the 13 bus at 2.25, arriving Liverpool 2.55.

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Calderstones Park, 25th November 2018

We entered at the Crompton’s Lane / Menlove Avenue side, and explored the field on the western side of the car park. It is full of rare trees, which aren’t on any tree lists I can get my hands on!  I know there is a Foxglove tree and a Keaki there, and we admired an Alder with a magnificent gnarly trunk, a group of Bhutan Pines and one of the many unknowns which still bore most of its leaves, although they were yellow, and which had little brown berries with one hard seed close under the skin. It must have been some unusual kind of Cherry, although the bark was patchy and flaky, with no horizontal rows of lenticels (which is what most Cherry bark is like).

We spotted the remains of a Sparrowhawk kill, and later saw the predator itself soaring overhead. A Yew tree at the back of the ice cream parlour was being patronised by a Blackbird, who was tucking into the plentiful red berries.

The work on the old Manor House continues, and it is wrapped up like an artwork by Christo. Around the back, by the old toilet block, is a rare tree called a Golden Rain Tree or Pride of India. Until recently it was badly hemmed-in by dark Yews and had bolted for the light. To our delight, they seem to have removed the shading trees as part of the works, although there is nothing to see yet. We aren’t even sure which one it is now, but it’s probably the three-stemmed one just in front of that Birch with the white patchy bark. We shall see next spring!

There’s a Handkerchief Tree Davidia involucra by the path to the Old English garden. There were some seeds underfoot and the large leaves have turned autumnal in some interesting waves of colour.

Some of the very dark crimson leaves of the Japanese Maples have a surprising autumn habit. They shrivel up like crinkled tissue paper, starting while they are still on the tree.

Lunch was by the pond in Old English garden. We put out seed and mealworms and were rewarded with lots of little birds, Dunnocks, Blue Tits and a Chaffinch, and also two fearless Robins.

The Magpies, Wood Pigeons, Feral Pigeons and several Grey Squirrels also joined in the feast.

In the shrubbery on the edge of the path opposite to where the old café used to be there is a Snowdrop or Silverbell Tree Halesia monticola with its four-winged seeds hanging in rows from the twigs. Below it is the common Snowberry bush, one of the planters’ little jokes. Over by the Lucombe Oak there are two Swamp Cypress with their wonderful rusty-red needles falling in a carpet all around them, and a Douglas Fir whose cones have little bracts sticking out under every scale, like forked tongues.

A pair of trees in that same area caught our attention. They had huge oval leaves like Magnolia leaves, but the fruits were like little pears. Margaret broke open a fruit, and although it is hard to see on the photo, she said it seemed like an apple core inside. What on earth were they? There are no pears or apples like that in my copy of Mitchell. I have Colin Twist’s survey of the unusual trees in that area, but none of the names seem to refer to these trees. [Added later – thanks to the Fb group ‘British and Irish Trees’. It is very probably Tibetan Whitebeam ‘John Mitchell’, Sorbus thibetica]

The suburban gardens are starting to show winter-flowering shrubs and trees like Mahonia, the orange-on-bottle green Darwin’s barberry Berberis darwinii (named after the famous Charles), winter-flowering Jasmine Jasminum nudiflorum with its delicate yellow flowers and the pink and white tube-flowers of Viburnum bodnantense. I even have some roses still blooming!

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Great Charlotte Street at 10.05, alighting 10.25 at Woolton Road / Taggart Avenue (we overshot!). Returned on the 75 bus from Beech Lane / Crompton’s Lane at 1.38m arriving Liverpool 2.00.

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