Sefton Coast 24th May 2016

A much welcome burst of sunshine for the first part of DaveBs and my walk along the Sefton Coast starting on the Green Beach at Ainsdale and continuing in a meandering line along the saltmarsh, shoreline and dunes in a Southerly direction before ominous clouds rolled in as we approached Ainsdale .

MNA Birkdale Kidney Vetch1

Kidney Vetch

MNA Birkdale Sea Milkwort1


Always a great area for honing your skills on maritime plants we were pointed in the direction of a few by a local naturalist we met and pondered over others with the assistance of the Collins Field Guide to Wildflowers. A varied list included: Marsh Horsetail Equisetum palustre, Polypody Polypodium vulgare, Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris, Sea-purslane Atriplex portulacoides, Sea Sandwort Honckenya peploides, Common Mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum, Sea Campion Silene uniflora, Red Campion Silene dioica, Thrift Armeria maritima, Creeping Willow Salix repens, Common Scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis, Sea-milkwort Glaux maritima, Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre, Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Silverweed Potentilla anserine, Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Bush Vetch Vicia sepium, Common Vetch Vicia sativa, Black Medick Medicago lupulina, Red Clover Trifolium pratense, Evening Primrose Oenothera sp. Common Milkwort Polygala vulgaris, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Common Stork’s-bill Erodium cicutarium, Sea-holly Eryngium maritimum, Parsley Water-Dropwort Oenanthe lachenalii, Hemlock Water-Dropwort Oenanthe crocata, Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris, Wild Parsnip Pastinaca sativa, leaves of Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata, Field Forget-me-not Myosotis arvensis, Hound’s-tongue Cynoglossum officinale, Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata, leaves of Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus, Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys, Crosswort Cruciata laevipes, Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum and Sea Arrowgrass Triglochin maritimum.

MNA Birkdale Sea Arrow Grass1

Sea Arrowgrass

MNA Birkdale Germander Speedwell1

Germander Speedwell

In one of the dune slacks dedicated to Natterjack Toads Bufo calamita there was a good number of wriggling tadpoles mainly confined to the edge of the pool. A couple of dessicated Common Frogs Rana temporaria were found later on in the dunes.

Swallows zipped around and Skylarks, Mepits and a good number of Reed Buntings were in fine voice in the dunes. We watched a couple of Sedgies non-stop in their grating repetitive song plus a Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and a few Wrens. A mob of Jackdaws took offence to a Carrion Crow in their patch.

MNA Birkdale Masked Crab Netting1

MNA Birkdale Masked Crab1

Masked Crab – such a fine Corpse of the Day you get it twice 😉

A bit of beachcombing produced finds of Hornwrack Flustra foliacea, Pod Razorshell Ensis siliqua, Rayed Trough Shell Mactra stultorum, Common Whelk Buccinium undatum, Prickly Cockle Acanthocardia echinata, Necklace Shell Euspira catena, Sea Wash Ball Egg Case of Common Whelk Buccinium undatum, Sea Potato Heart Urchin Echinocardium cordatum, Sand Mason Worm Tubes Lanice conchilega, Mermaid’s Purse of Thornback Ray Raja clavata, dead Common Shore Crab Carcinus maenas. I mentioned to Dave that I quite often find the remains of Masked Crabs Corystes cassivelaunus along this coastline and true to form we found a few skeletons that definitely made Corpse of the Day. I posed one on some old fishing net. Algae washed up on the shore were mostly Spiral Wrack Fucus spiralis with a few fronds of Knotted (Egg) Wrack Ascophyllum nodosum.

MNA Birkdale Heart Urchins1

Heart Urchin

On the shoreline there was hundreds of Dunlin with approx. equal numbers of Ringed Plover some of which allowed us to approach quite close, twenty of so Bar-tailed Godwits strode about the shallows and cackling Shelduck were around along with the usual Gulls and two Sandwich Terns.

MNA Birkdale Wader Footprints1

Wader footprints in the sand

Returning to the dunes in one of the slacks containing flowering Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis and Yellow Flag Iris pseudacorus we watched a Little Egret stalking about, waggling one of its feet in the hope of disturbing any fish. We’d seen a few Butterflies with a couple of Large White Pieris brassicae, a Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas, and a Peacock Inachis io. Best sightings were of three Wall Lasiommata megera feeding on Dandelions but too flighty to catch on camera and around ten Small Heaths Coenonympha pamphilus. Two caterpillars of Yellow-tail Euproctis similis favoured the leaves of Alder Alnus glutinosa whereas another two favoured those of the invasive Japanese Rose Rosa rugosa.

MNA Birkdale Japanese Rose Flower1

Japanese Rose

MNA Birkdale Garden Tiger Caterpillar1

Woolly Bear

Two ‘Woolly Bears’ the caterpillars of the Garden Tiger Moth Arctia caja were on the path.

Other insects included Common Carder Bee Bombus pascuorum, a Northern Dune Tiger Beetle Cicindela hybrida, a Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis conspicua, a 2-spot Ladybird Adalia bipunctata, half a dozen Green Lacewings Chrysoperla sp. and a couple of Stretch Spiders Tetragnatha sp. Three female Four-spotted Chasers Libellula quadrimaculata were patrolling the dunes.

As we approached Ainsdale we notched up a few more plants with Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias, Beaked Hawk’s-beard Crepis vesicaria, Early Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. coccinea and Northern Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella. Walking back up the Shore Road to Ainsdale station we then added English Stonecrop Sedum anglicum and Common Restharrow Ononis repens.

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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Port Sunlight River Park, 22nd May 2016

What a wash-out that was! We got absolutely soaked, and abandoned the walk after lunch.

19 River park city view

The day had started well, and we walked from the bus down Shore Drive, Bolton Road East and Dock Road North, admiring the young dark-red Norway Maples planted by the roadside. They might be “Goldsworth Purple” which Mitchell describes as “dark purplish red, remaining a heavy dark offensive purple all summer”, but I hope they are “Crimson King” whose leaves are said to be “a superior deep ruby-red, and red beneath.”

19 River Park maple purple variety

There were just a few spots of rain as we headed into the River Park. The planted trees were Rowan, Ash, Silver Birch, Oak, Alder, Hawthorn with its blossom going over and Norway Maple shedding hundreds of pairs of immature winged seeds. Flowers by the pathside included Red Campion, Green Alkanet, Buttercup, Ox-eye Daisy, Wood Avens and Three-cornered Garlic, which was also in evidence in a lot of the nearby gardens.

19 River park Three cornered garlic

Under the trees a carpet of Cow Parsley was coming out.

19 River Park Cow parsley

We had seen Starlings on the TV aerials and Greenfinches in the gardens, but it was now raining hard, and all the woodland birds in the River Park were hunkered down. The view over the lake into Liverpool was spectacular, despite the heavy cloud and rain, but on the lake there was just a single Shelduck upending and three pairs of Tufted Duck.  We trudged up to the top of the hill, but there was no sign of the sky lightening, so we trudged back down again. Near the picnic tables was a Field Maple with its wide-spread winged seeds.

19 River Park Field Maple

It seemed to go off a little and we ate our stand-up lunch, but it started to rain heavily again, so we headed off to the bus stop, thoroughly bedraggled. Of course, when we got back to Liverpool the sun came out!  Here’s a cheerful Laburnum from my garden.

19 River Park Laburnum

Public transport details: No 1 bus to Chester from Sir Thomas Street at 10.23, arriving New Chester Road / Shore Drive at 10.47. Returned on bus 1 from New Chester Road / Shore Drive at 12.45, arriving Liverpool at 1.15.

Next few weeks:
29th May, Woolton Woods and Allerton Cemetery. Meet 10am at Great Charlotte Street
5th June, Liverpool trees, 11 am ferry, Seacombe to New Brighton. Meet 10am Queen Square.
12th June, Inland Waterways Festival, Eldonian Village. Meet 10am Queen Square.
19th June, Burscough Heritage Weekend. Meet 10am Central Station.
26th June, Hilbre Island for the Friends’ Tea Party. Meet 9.50 Central Station (train at 10.05)

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, 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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MNA Coach Trip Stocks Reservoir 21st May 2016

A return MNA Coach Trip to Stocks Reservoir lying within the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We passed through the picturesque village of Slaidburn before driving through the south-west edge of Gisburn Forest managed by the Forestry Commision and parking in School Lane Car Park. The heavens had opened and after passing round maps most members quickly walked and spread themselves in the two bird hides overlooking the reservoir. En route to the hides I noted Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea, Common Bugle Ajuga reptans, Water Avens Geum rivale and Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Half a dozen Great Crested Grebes were joined by Greylags with goslings, Canada Geese, Lapwings, Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, BHG and LBBGs with DaveB & co seeing a Sanderling flying by. Sand Martins, Swallows and a couple of House Martins were zipping around.

MNA Stocks Resrvoir Wood Horsetail

Wood Horsetail

MNA Stocks Reservoir curled Bracken

Curled Bracken

As the rain eased to a constant drizzle members began walking along the trail, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and a Garden warbler were heard along with Coal Tits, the odd Wren and Robin. The Norway Spruce Picea abies had fresh growth, the Bird Cherry Prunus padus was in flower, the young fronds of bracken were about to uncurl Bracken Pteridium aquilinum and a few feathery looking Wood Horsetail Equisetum sylvaticum were scattered around. Other plants included Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis, Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, Bush Vetch Vicia sepium, Wood-sorrel Oxalis acetosella, Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys with Lynn Roper also noting Alpine Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla alpina. A small pool held twenty or so Common Frog Rana temporaria tadpoles.

MNA Stocks Reservoir Bird Cherry

Bird Cherry

Richard Surman saw a Kestrel near the dilapidated stone building that is all that remains of Birch Hill Farm, and as we wandered down the track through the forest edge a few buzzing Redpolls flew overhead. We wandered through a soggy meadow, a few tiny flowers of Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis in evidence and over Lock Bridge crossing over Hasgill Beck before up onto the fell passing Swaledale Sheep their associated dung attracting Yellow Dung-fly Scatophaga stercoraria. Jackdaws and Carrion Crows along with BHGs were visible on the fell; Curlews were flying around calling their plaintive cry, a distant Buzzzard, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks singing and the odd Oystercatcher piping.

MNA Stocks Reservoir walking

Swarms of dangly legs St Mark’s Fly Bibio marci followed us as we climbed. In a patch of Common Nettles Urtica dioica was a lone Nettle-tap Moth Anthophila fabriciana and our driver pointed out the orange clusters of Nettle Rust Fungi Puccinia urticata. On the nearby stone wall were a few inch long black Caterpillars with a faint orange strip along their side. We admired a Tree which had a large knobbly and gnarled base, eventually deciding it was two conjoined Trees probably Ash Fraxinus excelsior that was only beginning to come into leaf and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna.

MNA Stocks New House Farm

New House Farm ruins

We stopped at the atmospheric derelict house and barn of New House Farm before deciding which route to take. A few members headed back with the remainder continuing along the track before dropping down a wooded vale and again out onto farmland. A couple of Grey Wagtails flew overhead, perching on wires near a fast flowing stream, a couple of Snipe put on quite a show with their winnowing or drumming display flight – the sound produced by the vibration of the modified outer tail feathers. Calling Curlews, Lapwings and Oyks were joined further along the track by two calling Cuckoo and a chiswicking Pied Wagtail. Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana and Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus were flowering in the swarthy verge. We could hear Redstart and it wasn’t long before we located a superb male perched on electricity wires.

MNA Stocks River Hodder

River Hodder

We descended a field and a fancy stone slab path led us down to a wooden footbridge crossing the River Hodder adding Blue Tit to the day’s tally before climbing up to the ruins of New House Farm again, a Raven croaking overhead. On entering the Forest again during the return walk back I had two rattling Mistle Thrushes. Corpse of the Day went to Harry Standaloft’s find of a dead Common Newt Triturus vulgaris that had a damaged tail.

MNA Stocks Reservoir Newt

Common Newt

John Clegg and co had watched a female Goosander with 10 ducklings – four were riding on their mothers back with a few of the others desperate to clamber on. They also noted a male Red-breasted Merganser. Close to the Coach eight or so Black and Red Froghoppers Cercopis vulnerata were sat amongst some shrubs.

MNA Stocks BR Froghopper

Black and Red Froghopper

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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Mossley Hill, 15th May 2016

Near Mossley Hill Station, on the grassy central reservation between Templemore and Rathmore Avenues, which continue southwards as Brodie Avenue, is a group of trees called the Liverpool Thorn Collection. They are various rare relatives of the Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) or Medlar (Mespilus sp.) and some are hybrids of the two. Five or six of them are listed on the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland (TROBI) as either County Champions of Lancashire for girth or height, or just as remarkable trees.  Here’s a map of roughly where the TROBI trees are.

18 Mossley thorn map

The first one we came to, marked number 3 on the map, was Crataegus x grignonensis, commonly known as the “Grignon Hawthorn”, which originated in France in 1873 and whose parentage is disputed. It had quite old and gnarly bark, and unlike Hawthorn, there were flowing sprouts coming straight out of the trunk. It is the county champion for girth at 99 cm, the five figure grid reference is  SJ3912387078 and it bore the identifying tag number 13819.

18 Mossley grignon tree

18 Mossley grignon flower

The next one, marked number 4 on the map, was a Common Medlar, Mespilus germanica. It was a handsome and well-shaped tree, with large single flowers and plain oval leaves. Its fruit has been cultivated since Roman times, although it is rarely harvested nowadays. It is unusual in being available in winter, and in being eaten when “bletted”, or allowed to soften and partially decay. It is the county champion for girth at 104 cm and the five figure grid reference is SJ3916986973. I didn’t notice a tree tag number.

18 Mossley medlar tree

18 Mossley medlar flower

The one marked number 5 on the map was X Crataemespilus grandiflora, which is a hybrid between two genera, Crataegus (the thorns) and Mespilus (the medlars).  It was another one with big single flowers and plain leaves. Although not a champion tree, TROBI lists it as “remarkable”.  The five figure grid reference is SJ3918886935 and it bore the tag number 13772.

18 Mossley grandiflora tree

18 Mossley grandiflora blossom

The next one, marked number 2 on the map was Crataegus chrysocarpa, a species of hawthorn that is native to much of the continental United States and Canada, where it is called Fireberry hawthorn or Goldenberry hawthorn, after the colour of the unripe fruit. We will have to come back in the autumn to look at that! The tree was recumbent (lying down) and had some coloured ribbons tied to its branches as if local people were using it as an old fashioned pagan wishing tree. It had clusters of small flowers like our Hawthorn, and very similarly-shaped leaves. This is also listed by TROBI as “remarkable”. The five figure grid reference is SJ3921886902, but I didn’t see a tree tag number.

18 Mossley chrysocarpa tree

18 Mossley chrysocarpa blossom

We had difficulty identifying the trees marked on the map as 1 and 6. Number 6 was another grandiflora, the same as number 5, so we weren’t too worried about that, but we’d have liked to find the other one, Crataegus azarolus, known as the Azerole or Mediterranean Medlar. One for the autumn, perhaps. We cut up Arranmore Road to Kylemore Avenue and found the gap in the wall opposite Pinemore Road, and walked up Holt Field, heading for Sudley Hall. There were Magpies and Crows on the open grass, and a Large White butterfly went past. Then we looked back and saw two Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) in flower at the edge of the field, so went back to look at them. They are between Pinemore and Carrickmore, and although they have the pinnate leaves and grey bark of the Common  Ash, they also have amazing fluffy white flowers, like Russian Vine.

18 Mossley manna ash trees

18 Mossley manna ash flowers

From the top of the field there are good views south to Frodsham. The Turkey Oak catkins are drying out but hanging on, while the Norway Maple is already showing its immature winged seeds. Near the entrance to Sudley House a Sweet Chestnut was just coming into leaf, which makes it one of the last. A Speckled Wood chased a Large White into the shrubbery near some bright red Rhododendrons.

18 Mossley rhododendron

We lunched in bright sunshine in the Rose Garden at the back of Sudley House then explored the trees in the grounds. A pair of venerable Beeches flanked the path around to the front.

18 Mossley Sudley and beech

There was a Tulip Tree on the east lawn next to a blooming Laburnum. The Tulip Tree is very tall, with a double trunk.  Its flower buds were hardly further developed since the ones we saw in Port Sunlight Dell two weeks ago. Still several weeks to go before it flowers.

18 Mossley tulip tree

Then we walked around to the old walled garden. There were Bat boxes in the trees, and Garlic Mustard / Jack by the Hedge at the side of the path. Swallows zoomed about over the lawn. Two Goldfinches were pecking about in the old Ivy stems, perhaps looking for insects for their chicks. There were some raised beds where local schoolchildren were growing vegetables – beans and rocket and strawberries – in the “Growing Sudley” project. As we were on the way out we spotted this tree, looking just like an old English Elm, which were all killed by Dutch Elm disease. Was it a rare survivor? No, sadly it was an atypical Sycamore, not bearing any flowers that we could see, with leaves that were subtly different. Perhaps it was just a very old tree.

18 Mossley not an elm

Public transport details: Bus 80A from Great Charlotte Street at 10.15, arriving Templemore Avenue/Rose Lane at 10.37. Returned on 80A from Rose Lane opposite Avonmore Avenue at 14.22, arriving Renshaw Street 14.45.


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Southport, 8th May 2016

17 Southport tide in

The RSPB were having a “Birds from the Pier” event, which was odd because, unusually for Southport, the tide was in. The only birds to be seen were those flying past in groups, called out by Sefton Ranger John Dempsey.  Large groups of Dunlin flew south, heading for Birkdale Green Beach. Oystercatchers were going north, as were several flocks of Grey Plovers, a pair of Shelduck, and a Cormorant. One Lesser Black-backed Gull flew by and there were Swallows overhead. The only other “birds” were a row of Carolina Wood Ducks on the shooting gallery!

17 Southport Wood Duck

I asked some fishermen what they usually caught off the pier, and they said flatfish, sea bass and eels, but nobody had a fish to show me, the only catch having been a small Dab, returned to the sea. Several butterflies appeared to be coming in off the sea – Large Whites and a Comma. Were they commuting from Lytham?

We amused ourselves in the “penny-in-the-slot” machines for half an hour or so, being most taken with a very old machine called The Harlot. In a beautiful little doll’s-house-like room, two men were in bed with a blonde woman (who was no lady, we assume). The door at the back was slightly ajar and there was another man lurking there. When we finally got a coin to work, the entire “show” took about two seconds. Both men in the bed sat up abruptly then lay down again, and the door flew open to reveal that the lurking punter was a vicar!

17 Southport The Harlot

By now it was very hot indeed, and as we made our way back to the train we moved against crowds of people arriving, and the shops were doing a roaring trade in ice cream and candy floss, fish and chips, buckets and spades.

17 Southport buckets and spades

Tree news: The unidentified tree in Williamson Square, outside the Liverpool FC shop and nearest to the Playhouse, is coming into leaf. They are pinnate leaves, with each leaflet very finely toothed, and spear shaped. I’m leaning towards it being a Japanese Rowan Sorbus commixta, often used for town plantings in recent years.

17 Southport Japanese Rowan maybe

The pink Japanese Cherry Prunus serrulata var. Kanzan, whose profuse blossom we missed two weeks ago near Crossens, is now all out, and even starting to go over.

17 Southport cherry blossom

The Wych Elm Ulmus glabra is in flower, with clusters of nutlets each surrounded by a papery membrane.

17 Southport Wych Elm

My local bird news is that the Swifts are back. A small group nest near me every year, and two of them appeared on Saturday 7th May. By Monday 9th there were seven of them. We have also had a Blackbird drama. My neighbour reported a nesting pair in one of her garden shrubs, with three eggs. On Friday she was distraught. “It’s been murder in here!” A rival male had appeared and fought the resident. After vanquishing him, he methodically removed each egg, broke them open and ate the contents. That evening he was sitting on a chimney pot, happily proclaiming his victory.

17 Southport killer Blackbird

This morning, Monday 9th May, two male blackbirds were flying at each other through my garden, and they had a knock-down drag-out fight at high noon, in and out of my shed. Afterwards one sat gasping on my fence, looking bedraggled, but there was no sign of the other one. No idea who’s winning, but the ousted father clearly had some fight left in him!

Public transport details: Train from Central to Southport at 10.23, arriving 11.10. Returned on the 14.28 train, arriving Liverpool about 15.15.

Next few weeks:
15th May, Mossley Hill for the Liverpool Thorn Collection and Sudley Hall. Meet 10am Great Charlotte Street.
22nd May, Port Sunlight River Park. Meet 10am Sir Thomas Street
29th May, Woolton Woods and Allerton Cemetery. Meet 10am at Great Charlotte Street
5th June, Liverpool trees, 11 am ferry, Seacombe to New Brighton. Meet 10am Queen Square.
12th June, Inland Waterways Festival, Eldonian Village. Meet 10am Queen Square.
19th June, Possibly Burscough Heritage Weekend (if there is a bus from Ormskirk). Meet 10am Central Station.
26th June, Hilbre Island for the Friends’ Tea Party. Meet 9.50 Central Station (train at 10.05)

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, 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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Leasowe Lighthouse 7th May 2016

A great start for the day when Hugh pointed out a rather exhausted looking Whinchat sitting on the grass beside the Burton Biscuit /Typhoo Tea factory. Fifteen members dashed across Pasture Road avoiding the traffic and turned into Tarran Way walking through the small industrial estate and along a track running adjacent to the railway line. Whitethroat, Blackcap, Robin, Wren, Dunnock, Great Tit, Skylark, Starling, Blackbird,  Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, and a flock of around forty Golden Plover started the list rolling.

MNA Leasow Crack Willow Catkins1


MNA Leasowe Grey Willow Catkins1

Grey Willow

The Willows had me puzzled eventually identifying Crack-willow Salix fragilis and Grey Willow Salix cinerea, flowering bushes with Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, Apple Malus sp. and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. A scattering of plants with Garlic Mustard a.k.a. Jack-By-The-Hedge Alliaria petiolata, Common Vetch Vicia sativa, Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, Mediterranean Spurge Euphorbia characias, Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens, Red Valerian Centranthus ruber, Wild Teasel Dipsacus fullonum, Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus and Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica. A Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus perched on the leaves of Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum.

MNA Leasowe Green Alkanet2

Green Alkanet

MNA Leasowe Holly Blue

Holly Blue

On the Moreton Brickworks Mere were a handful of Mallards some with ducklings and a splendid male Mandarin Duck. We only had time to scan across the old Brickworks site noting Buzzard, Collared Dove and Swallow before we were accosted by a rather cantankerous bloke who insisted we had no right of way up the track, were going to trample on the fishermen’s gear etc. When his accusations became even more skewed we decided to head back along the track before turning into Lingham Lane. Around eight Swifts screeching overhead were new Year ticks for most members and were quickly followed by Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Around the more civilised setting of Lingham fisheries pond a few Swallows were sat on electricity wires along with a Pied Wagtail, Canada Goose overhead, Moorhen in a field, Song Thrush, Magpie and Carrion Crow. A few 22-spot Ladybirds Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata were collected in a tube to show those members who had eagerly continued onto the Lighthouse for lunch. I’d just opened my lunch box when a small Beetle with shiny brass/copper appearance landed beside my Tuna sarnie. ChrisB identified it as a Sun Beetle Amara sp. a member of the Ground Beetle Carabidae family.

MNA Leasowe Striped Millipede1

Striped Millipede and Springtail

After re-fuelling I had a mooch around, ChrisB overturned a few planks of wood and uncovered a couple of White-legged Snake Millipedes Tachypodoiulus niger and a Striped Millipede Ommatoiulus sabulosus curled beside a teeny Springtail Collembola sp. Along by the horse paddocks we watched another Spotted Flycatcher zipping from its fence perch after insects. According to the Dee Estuary Birding website there had been 27 Spotted Flys recorded today – a record count! St Mark’s Flies Bibio marci were active flying around with dangly legs and a number of mating pairs.

MNA Leasowe Mating St Marks Flies Reed1

St Mark’s Flies

A Cuckoo called which couple of members managed to see as it flew into a copse where a Mistle Thrush was perched up in one of the trees. In the paddocks a couple of female Wheatears hopped around and a Little Egret flew by. More plants with Field Horsetail Equisetum arvense, Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea, Water Avens Geum rivale, Water Forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill Geranium molle. Buff-tailed Bumblebees Bombus terrestris were bumbling away and a Large White Pieris brassicae fluttered by

We watched a male Reed Bunting singing, Chris B had a few Mepits before climbing the embankment to look out to sea. The tide was in and Waders were flocked together on the rocky groyne structure with around eighty Dunlin in various stages of reaching full Summer plumage, three Ringed Plover and a couple of Redshank. A couple of pairs of Sandwich Terns screeched on their fishing sortie – an evocative sound of the Summer coastline. ChrisB and DaveH found a nesting colony of Vernal Mining Bees Colletes cunicularius in a small blowout – this spring-flying species coincides its foraging with the blossoming of Creeping Willow Salix repens on coastal dunes. ‘Corpse of The Day’ was a Cormorant but was in such an extreme state of decay I even declined to photograph it. On the embankment another Sun Beetle Amara sp. scuttled through the short grass and we noted a scattering of Sea Wash Balls – the egg case of the Common Whelk Buccinum undatum and a few Mermaids Purses of Skate Raja batis that had been blown in by the wind. ChrisB headed back down to the reedbed and was rewarded by a singing Sedgie.

MNA Leasowe Nursey Web Spider1

Nursery-web Spider

We passed the Lighthouse and walked along the edge of the road. I spotted a Nursery-web Spider Pisaura mirabilis in its typical pose on a rock, also plenty of Wolf Spiders, a Green Nettle Weevil Phyllobius pomaceus and a few 7 Spot Ladybirds Coccinella septempunctata. A male Stonechat with bright green caterpillar in its beak perched up in a Bramble patch adjacent to a stand of the invasive Japanese Knotweed Fallopia japonica. He was soon joined by a female – they have declined as a breeding species on the Wirral so fingers crossed for this pair. Back along Pasture Rd stopping briefly to peer across the bridge to the River Birket – a Pheasant was in the adjacent field and a couple of male and a female Orange Tips were flitting along the riverside vegetation enjoying the sun. All to soon we were back at Moreton Station for our homeward journey after a day packed with a great selection of Summer migrants for this local site.

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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Cilcain, North Wales 30th April 2016

MNA Cilcain Scenery2

Richard Surman, DaveB and I returned to Cilcain near Mold in Flinshire, North Wales for a circular walk that we did a few years ago. Singing Chiffchaff, Wren, Prune, and Blackbird greeted us on arrival. A Silver Birch Betula pendula had a gall called Witches’ Broom caused by a Fungus Taphrina betulina which stimulates the tree to produce numerous extra shoots, resulting in a dense nest-like cluster. A mixture of Wild Daffodils and garden cultivars including some with ruffled, double centres lined the country lane edges. Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis was very prevalent, Dave pointed out a little wildflower that is easily overlooked because it is so small – Moschatel a.k.a Town Hall Clock Adoxa moschatellina. Each stem bears five flowers, one on the top and one on each of the four side faces of a cube. There was also Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa, Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata, Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea, Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria that had taken a battering from the recent wet weather, Wood Forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica, English Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta and Ramsons Allium ursinum. As we walked up the lane Blue Tit, Great Tit and Blackcap were added to the list and after hearing a familiar burst of song we located a male Redstart perched on a fence post on the edge of a copse before flitting around briefly with a Willow Warbler putting in an appearance close by.

We scanned the first of the small fishing lakes which had a couple of Little Grebes diving on the lower lake and a pair of Tufties floating on the higher lake.

MNA Cilcain Sycamore Flowers

Sycamore flowers

The Sycamores Acer pseudoplatanus had already developed pendulous clusters of the monoecious yellow-green flowers called ‘racemes’. Marsh-marigold Caltha palustris and Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium was growing along the edge of a bubbling stream. A Song Thrush sang it repetitive notes and a Yellowhammer asked for a ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ from the top of a flowering European Gorse Ulex europaeus before taking flight a dash of yellow against a dark grey sky.

We began climbing onto the moor passing the edge of the larger fishing lake which held a couple of Canada Geese. There was some flowering Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and a few flowers of Tormentil Potentilla erecta. It was quite squelchy in places underfoot and we chose the driest route traversing a few seasonal streams draining off the moor. Then the darkening sky unloaded its first hailstones forcing us to take what little shelter there was under a Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. As the hail eased off we continued noting the odd Raven and Carrion Crow and another migrant a female Wheatear. Richard spotted a small mammal scurrying through some hail covered bracken as we approached I had a glimpse as the Vole headed into cover.

MNA Cilcain Tawny Owl Pellets

Tawny Owl pellets

I found a couple of rather wet Owl pellets beside the track amongst the hailstones – Richard mentioned that there are Tawny Owls in the area – they looked about the correct dimensions for those. Another band of hail moved through – we weren’t the only nutters out and about though – a couple passed us, a few mountain bikers and half a dozen lads on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme stopped to check the route to Moel Famau.

MNA Cilcain Scenery1

The hail eased again allowing great scenic views over a wintery looking landscape. We stopped for lunch and a much needed slurp of hot coffee. Bright orange cushions of the algae Trentepohlia aurea were on the stone wall behind the wooden seat, the orange pigment haematochrome (β-carotene) hides the green of the chlorophyll.

MNA Cilcain Trentepolia

Trentepohlia aurea

Dave was chatting to me when Richard quite calmly said ‘sorry to interrupt’ there are twelve Ring Ouzels in that bare tree over there. Unbelievable! They soon took to the air calling a faint ‘tac-tac’ as they headed north following the line of the Clywdians. I said I’m sure I can hear more calling and steadily more took to flight from an adjacent Larch copse. We counted them off reaching a tally of 18 individuals – roughly a half/half mix of males and females – an utterly fantastic spectacle! Then a Cuckoo called from the copse sitting on top of one of the Larches briefly before taking to the air looking extremely raptor like as it too followed in the same northerly direct as the Ring Ouzels.

We began descending noting a couple more Wheatears hopping on the short swarthy grass and stopped again when a bubbling noise came from the heather – Black Grouse! We decided it was probably in the dip over the top of the heathery hillock so was unfortunately out of view.

We headed through a gate into more wooded conditions – a few Common Dog-violets Viola riviniana and Primroses Primula vulgaris in flower. Richard mentioned that he thought this would be a good spot for Redstarts and one appeared on cue. We had a couple of Mistle Thrushes in a field, also Chaffinches and Goldfinches before stopping again for the Highland Cattle munching away at their hay.

MNA Cilcain Highland Coos

Highland Coos

As we approached the village the sun put in an appearance and more Wildflowers appeared in the verges with White Dead-nettle Lamium album, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris, Crosswort Cruciata laevipes, the leaves of Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus, Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens, Red Valerian Centranthus ruber and Greater Periwinkle Vinca major. A Rook perched on the electricity wire outside a cottage – undoubtedly from the nearby Rookery of around 40 nests. A House Martin zipped by and I had a brief glimpse of a Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus. A Tree in one of the gardens had a few layers of old Artist’s Bracket Ganoderma applanatum.

MNA Cilcain St Marys

We had a nose around the churchyard of St Mary’s adding Greenfinch to the list and noting a few plants with flowering Grape-hyacinth Muscari neglectum and Petty Spurge Euphorbia peplus growing from the cracks between horizontally laid gravestones.

MNA Cilcain Grape Hyacinth


MNA Cilcain Petty Spurge

Petty Spurge

The water in the pond besides the Cilcain waste water treatment building was barely visible the surface covered with the erect stems of Marsh Horsetail Equisetum palustre and a scattering of Marsh-marigolds Caltha palustris.

Another migrant as a Swallow zipped over the car as we headed back down the lane for the return journey home after a quite unforgettable day!

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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Port Sunlight, 1st May 2016

16 Sunlight view

The Gingko trees in Williamson Square are just sprouting and the leaves of my neighbourhood Whitebeams are coming out like hands clasped in prayer.

16 Sunlight Whitebeam

Despite these signs of advancing spring, there was a fine drizzly rain all day. We started in the Dell at Port Sunlight, first taking note of a droopy conifer on the bank at the southern end. Was it a  Brewer’s Spruce? A Morinda Spruce? These conifers are very hard!

16 Sunlight Dell and droopy conifer

The famous big Tulip Tree by the bridge had its leaves just coming out and we also looked at the Honey Locust with the spikes on the trunk. There is said to be a Wollemi Pine in the Dell, near the bridge, but despite us looking very carefully for little lime-green conifers, there was no sign of it. But there were many young saplings, none with much foliage to identify them by, but some of them still had their labels on. There was a Grand Fir, a Mulberry and our Tree of the Day, the uncommon Antarctic Beech Nothophagus antarctica. It’s native to Chile, and also grows on Hoste Island in Tierra del Fuego, so it has the distinction of being the southernmost tree in the world. It’s a narrow sapling, about 10 feet tall, at the top of the south-east facing bank, behind the Lyceum Club, standing in a Daffodil bed. You would take the dark brown bark for some kind of cherry, while the leaves look rather hawthorny.

16 Sunlight Antarctic Beech

The only birds out and about in the rain were a couple of Robins and a Blackbird.  Around the corner was another Tulip tree, with low branches near to the bank and a flower bud easy to see.  It would be a good one to look at when it’s in flower.

16 Sunlight Tulip tree bud

We walked up past Hulme Hall and noticed the wonderful green leafy hedge along Queen Mary’s Drive. It isn’t Beech, because that’s not out yet, so it’s probably Hornbeam. John, as a professional gardener, admired how carefully it had been trimmed, with no sign of machine “thrashing”.

16 Sunlight Hornbeam hedge

Then we looked at the Hillsborough Memorial garden on the balcony overlooking the War Memorial , which today had fresh flowers and messages, following the recent conclusion of the “Truth and Justice” inquest.

16 Sunlight Hillsborough tributes

There is a Judas Tree between 32 and 33 Greendale Road and we went to look at it, hoping it would be in flower, but we were too early. There were some lovely young Maples along the pavement though, with thin pink and gold leaves. There’s a bewildering variety of Maples in the book, and I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess what they were.

16 Sunlight Maple foliage

We cut through some footpaths and came out by the Lady Lever Art Gallery.  By now we were quite bedraggled but we couldn’t think of anywhere to sit in shelter to have our sandwiches. We knew none of the available cafes would allow us to eat our own food. Perhaps the lobby of the Lady Lever would let us sit there? I must have looked pretty pathetic, because as soon as I told the man on the desk about eight wet pensioners needing shelter, he sprang into action, rang a manager and they opened up the “Sustain Room” in the basement for us. Thanks very much, guys!

Afterwards we looked around the Art Gallery. I like to spot wildlife even there, and here is a detail from a painting called “The Garden of the Hesperides” by Lord Leighton, apparently showing a Little Egret and a Great White Egret.

16 Sunlight Egret painting

The New Ferry Butterfly Park was having an Open Day with some fund-raising stalls. I got some home-made cakes, some note cards with drawings by our old friend “local artist Bob Hughes”, and a small Feverfew plant. Some of the others bought Strawberry plants, while John bought a Tombola ticket and won a large scented candle, said to be good for romance! They had a Cowslip meadow, and sprouting amongst the flowers were hundreds of spore-bearing stems of the Common Horsetail Equisetum arvense. These brown shoots are only found in spring, while the sterile green feathery ones grow the rest of the year.

16 Sunlight Cowslips and horsetail

There was some odd-looking Mistletoe on an Apple tree, which one of the helpers said was African Mistletoe. Alas, there were no butterflies on the wing today, they don’t like the rain either, but the Marsh Marigolds by the pond put on a good show.

16 Sunlight Marsh Marigolds

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.15 towards Chester, arriving Port Sunlight at 10.30. Returned on the 14.41 train from Bebington Station, arriving Central at 3.00.


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Churchtown Botanic Garden, 24th April 2016

15 Churchtown lake view

We had a long run on the bus this morning, almost the whole route of the 47. My goal was to see the magnificent pink Cherry trees on Preston New Road, planted in the last half mile before the Crossens terminus. There are over 100 of them lining both sides of the road, and when they all come out together they make a magnificent pink tunnel. Sadly, we were about a week too early.

15 Churchtown cherry road

As we walked down Balmoral Road there were a few spots of rain, and it was overcast and chilly. We entered the Botanic Garden at the north end, and lunched overlooking the (empty) flowerbeds outside the Fernery. We paid it a quick visit, appreciating the humid warmth inside.

15 Churchtown fernery

As we strolled around the aviary the sun started to come out. They have many small birds in the parrot / budgie line and also Peacocks, a huge black Turkey and a pair of very ugly Muscovy Ducks with some very cute cream and brown ducklings (or are they goslings?) It’s hard to believe such handsome young birds will grow up to be so strange-looking. The ugly duckling in reverse! They also had a pair of Shelduck, which I do prefer to see in the wild. Happily, they also had Mandarin ducks, and it was nice to see a pair together. When we see stray Mandarins in parks, there’s usually only a single bird, and we joke that we should set up a dating agency for them!

15 Churchtown Mandarins

They also have a pair of Golden Pheasants and a pair of Lady Amherst’s Pheasants.

15 Churchtown Lady Amherst

Nothing exciting on the lake. Black-headed Gulls, lots of Mallards, several Moorhens nesting and a pair of Mute Swans. One mother Mallard had 11 well-grown ducklings. There had been 12 of them when I recce’d on Saturday 16th April, so perhaps I miscounted, or perhaps she has lost one.

They have a mini-Arboretum, which is a low grassed area within a bank of old Beeches. They have a young Deodar (behind the cherry blossom on this picture).

15 Churchtown Deodar and cherry

There is also a row of four young conifers, and the two on the left are very intriguingly droopy.

15 Churchtown four young conifers

The leftmost one has foliage in the Yew / Redwood / Hemlock group, and I hoped for a while it was a California Nutmeg Torreya californica, but couldn’t match it in the book. California Nutmeg leaves are supposed to smell of sage or turpentine, but these didn’t. The second droopy one was some kind of Cypress. I think it might be a Nootka Cypress Chamaecyparis nootkatensis var. Pendula, described as a tree with upturned branches from which the foliage “hangs in curtains” (yes). Male flowers “abundant, massed at the tips” (yes) and cones “globular, 1cm across, each scale with a large curved spine” (yes, they have the spine, but I’m not sure if it’s curved.)

15 Churchtown cypress males flowers

15 Churchtown cypress cones

The third one was some kind of golden Cypress and the fourth one was probably a Spruce. That’s about as far as I get with conifers!

Near the lakeside was a fallen Oak, with last year’s golden brown foliage still on, but apparently quite dead. The kids are using it as a climbing tree.

15 Churchtown fallen oak

Under a stand of Scots Pines were lots of well-chewed cones. Looks like the work of Squirrels, probably Greys, but we didn’t see them.

15 Churchtown chewed cones

There’s a Tulip Tree on the lawns by the lake (with no distinctive leaves yet, but I cheated and read the nameplate) and also this old Mulberry outside the shop. The sign, which looks quite old, calls it a Common Mulberry Morus nigra, but we call it the Black Mulberry nowadays. “A small very long-lived tree which becomes gnarled and picturesque with age. Dark-green heart-shaped leaves and dark purplish-red edible fruits. Native to west Asia but has been grown in Britain since about 1500. Often found in quadrangles and college gardens.”

15 Churchtown mulberry

Before we left we shopped for pots of Tulips. They were selling pots of 6 ready-to-flower plants for £2.99 each or two for £5. A bargain!

Public transport details: Bus 47 from Queen Square at 10.10, arriving Preston New Road / Glenpark Drive at 11.25. Returned on the 49 bus at 2.06 from just outside the main entrance of the Botanic Garden, arriving Southport Monument 2.16, in plenty of time for the train at 2.28 back to Liverpool.

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Rivacre Valley Country Park, 17th April 2016

14 Rivacre Bluebell carpet

The wayside flowers were out next to the ramp up from Overpool station platform – Dandelion, Red Dead-nettle and Forget-me-Not. The way to Rivacre Valley is north along Overpool Road, first left onto Seymour Drive, and at its western end, just on the curve, there’s a path behind some garages that leads down to the Rivacre Brook. The path then crosses Rossmore Road West then carries on into the Country Park. The northernmost section is a Local Nature Reserve and appears to be ancient woodland, with native bluebells, a few Wood Anemones and carpets of Lesser Celandine.

14 Rivacre Lesser Celandines

The breaking buds of the trees were showing well in the bright sunshine. The Weeping Willows were  greening, the Horse Chestnut leaves are out and they are about to flower. The Ashes show no sign of coming out, but the Oak buds are starting to break. Does that herald a dry summer? “Oak before Ash, only a splash”. The Norway Maple trees have their acid-yellow flower tufts out, with some leaves following.

14 Rivacre Norway maple flowers

Birds included Starlings and House Sparrows along the houses, a Robin by the station, several Chiffchaffs calling, a Song Thrush, Magpies, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits. We heard two Green Woodpeckers, which seemed to be calling or “yaffling” to each other, and we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker, too, but it was just as hard to find. Another call was a Nuthatch, also not seen. We did spot a Jay up in a tree, and a Buzzard overhead. There were lots of little bridges going back and forth across the brook, which looked like Kingfisher country. We lingered over them, but no sighting. We met a lady later who said she had seen a Kingfisher very early that morning, but they probably hide away as soon as it gets busier. On a green lawn was Corpse of the Day, a dead Wood Pigeon, clearly the prey of an early-rising Sparrowhawk. It had started to pluck it, but must have been disturbed, because the dead WP was otherwise untouched. Perhaps its owner will come back when most people and dogs have gone.

14 Rivacre WP corpse

When we first entered the valley, the Bluebells were English or hybrid, but as we went further in they appeared to be mostly native, with droopy stems, flowers just on one side, and white anthers.

14 Rivacre Bluebell

More evidence that the woodland was undisturbed was offered by the patches of Wood Anemones.

14 Rivacre Wood Anemones

The Willow buds were breaking out, too. Most Willows bear either male or female flowers, according to my book, which surprised me, and this set of “sticky-up” flowers must be females.

14 Rivacre Willow flowers

Near the closed Ranger hut there is a pond with small tadpoles, perhaps hatched a week. One Hawthorn was flowering and a bank of Cowslips were out.

14 Rivacre Cowslips

A small stand of Birch trees had their catkins and female flowers out, too. The male catkins hang down, but the females are erect before they are fertilised.

14 Rivacre Birch male catkins

14 Rivacre Birch female catkins

While I was rummaging in the Birch trees, the others saw the Sparrowhawk, but I missed it. Now that the day had well warmed up the butterflies came out. We saw a Peacock, a Small White, several Brimstones on the move and a couple of Commas, one of which sat still long enough to be photographed.

14 Rivacre Comma

Near the crossing of Rivacre Road there’s a disused tall brick tower called Borewell Station number 2, with one side covered with Ivy. High up there was a nest of a pair of Grey Wagtails. The female was well hidden, sitting in the nest in deep shadow, but the male flitted back and forth in the sunshine.

14 Rivacre Grey wagtail

While we were looking for a Mistle Thrush, a dark shape ran swiftly along a high bank. A Fox!  We only saw it briefly but we were all pretty sure it was a fox by the way it ran low with its long brush straight out behind. A Treecreeper was busy along the brook, and also some kind of little brown warbler, showing well, hopping around the branches hanging over the brook. John thought it was too round and chubby to be a Chiffchaff, but there was no other clue. The last birds of the day were two male Bullfinches flashing across a gap in the undergrowth.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.30 towards Ellesmere Port, arriving Overpool at 11.02. Returned from Overpool Station at 15.22, arriving Liverpool 15.55


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