Thornton Hough, 22nd March 2015

It was a bright and sunny morning and stayed that way all day.  Along the Wirral bus route there was white and pink cherry blossom, Forsythia was just coming out and garden Magnolias had fat buds. Is it Spring?

12 Thornton Hough rookery

Rooks were cawing from the Thornton Hough rookery and a Nuthatch was calling from the trees alongside Thornton Common Road. Two Partridges flew off across a field, but they were too distant to decide if they were Grey or Red-legged. We turned in at Crofts Bank Cottages, then right onto the footpath across the fields. A Weeping Willow in the hedge was just greening and there were molehills all along the path.

12 Thornton Hough Willow

12 Thornton Hough molehills

After the recent good weather the paths were quite firm and dry, although it can be muddy along this way sometimes. A Skylark was singing overhead, a Great Tit called persistently from the trees and a Buzzard circled. The fields appeared to have been planted with grass for hay or silage, whereas in previous years we have seen Oilseed Rape or Maize. The hedges had been ruthlessly flailed.

12 Thornton Hough flailed hedge

Was it Sparrows making that chorus of chattering and twittering? No,  it was a flock of about 100 Linnets on a roughly-ploughed field, occasionally taking flight then settling again. Over the hedges we could see the two Liverpool Cathedrals on the skyline to the north east.

12 Thornton Hough cathedrals

One field of early green shoots looked like a grain crop. Oddly, one strip was bare. Did the farmer miss a bit when he was planting, or is this set-aside to give the birds some bare ground to nest on in the middle of the field?

12 Thornton Hough missed a bit

We made a diversion from our usual route, down to the right, and there was a picnic table by a couple of little ponds, just right for lunch, and dead on 12 noon, well done John!  We heard our first Chiffchaff of the year singing and the ground was carpeted with Celandines. Yup, it must be Spring.  In shady damp places, there were clouds of little midges and occasional larger insects darting about. Some of us have had Bumble Bees in our gardens in the last few days, newly awakened Queens, looking for a hole in the ground to start a nest.

When we set off again we spotted a Kestrel hovering, then it flew around, showing us by its chestnut back that it was a male, then it perched in a bare tree.

12 Thornton Hough Kestrel

Snowdrops were still in flower by the big red earth bank with the interesting holes in it. Is it a Badger sett?  A few fields before Brimstage we came across a long mound of tons of very black stuff, with a bluish sheen. It can’t be coal tailings, so was it very old and crunchy manure that the farmer was about to spread on his fields?

12 Thornton Hough mound

As we approached Brimstage the motor bikers on the Egg Run passed by, some in Bunny costumes, and some with rabbit ears on their helmets. Brimstage courtyard has been smartened up with new fencing and paths, but the shop that used to sell knitting wool and embroidery kits has changed hands, and now sells cushions, ornaments and other nick-nackery under the general heading of “Interiors”.  But I cheered up when a small girl came by on a tubby little “Thelwell” pony.

12 Thornton Hough pony girl

There was a Song Thrush in the field opposite where they grow a Maize Maze in the summer.  Along that field edge we saw our first Coltsfoot flowers of the year, a Dandelion, and soon we came across the first Blackthorn blossom, together with an early bee or wasp.

12 Thornton Hough Blackthorn and insect

The five stiles that we usually have to climb on the route back to Thornton Hough have been  replaced by new kissing gates, so despite not seeing any Hares today, that made me happy!

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Thornton Hough 11.07. Returned from Thornton Hough on the 487 at 2.47, arriving back in Liverpool at 3.25.

Here is the plan for the next few Sundays:
29th March, Walton Hall Park, meet 10am Sir Thomas Street
5th April, Easter Sunday, no walk
12th April, City Farm  – meet 10am Queen Square
19th April, Southport – meet 10am Central Station
26th April, Orrell Water Park – meet 10.30 Lime Street Station (Will change if trains not running)

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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Dibbinsdale, 15th March 2015

Today was cloudy and overcast, and still quite chilly, but the sun was promised later.  A singing Robin welcomed us to Dibbinsdale, and as we descended the steps we also saw a Great Tit, a Blackbird and a Magpie. Far over to the left a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming.

11 Dibbinsdale woodland path

We turned right instead of our usual left at the bottom of the steps. Lots of birds about in the woods today. We saw Great Tit,  Wood Pigeon, Buzzard,  two Jays, and some Mallards and a Moorhen on the Dibbin. Two Coal Tits were poking about on high tree branches, looking for insects in crevices.  The loud call “Wheep, wheep, wheep” was a Nuthatch, and then we spotted a Nuthatch and a Blue Tit apparently having a barney over a tree hole, but a Great Spotted Woodpecker was already in it!

The Wood Anemones were just starting to come out, with only the earliest flowers showing, and without sunshine to encourage them they were partially closed.

11 Dibbinsdale wood anemone

All the fallen trees are left to rot down. This giant looks recently-fallen, perhaps brought down by high winds.

11 Dibbinsdale fallen tree

One Horse Chestnut had been cut down, and the stump had masses of regrowth. The other end has been carved into a dragon’s head.

11 Dibbinsdale dragon

As we approached Otter’s Tunnel the sun came out and we noted that some trees had Bat boxes fixed high up on the trunks. Just over the bridge at the other end of the tunnel, in the corner near walk post number 4, we spotted some bright red fungi. The biggest was about two inches across, and we think it was Scarlet Elf Cup, although we had imagined them smaller.

11 Dibbinsdale elf cup

The same corner has a patch of Opposite-leaved Saxifrage, and on the other side of the water two Marsh Marigolds were out. Along the causeway through Babb’s Meadow Reedbed, we spotted more Scarlet Elf Cup on rotten logs in the water.

11 Dibbinsdale elf cup in water

One tree bore this tuft of Lichen.  I think it’s Oakmoss Evernia prunastri.

11 Dibbinsdale oakmoss

One Ash tree by the side of the path had a bright metal label, with a number and the word “Ashtag”. Is it perhaps being surveyed for for Ash Die-back disease?

11 Dibbinsdale Ashtag

We heard a Treecreeper, and some of us spotted it flying away. But there was no sign of the usual Heron today, so perhaps it has gone off somewhere to breed.  On logs by the side of the path were some splendid specimens of the fungus King Alfred’s Cakes.

11 Dibbinsdale King Alfreds cake

We lunched by Woodslee Pond. There was no frog or toad spawn that we could see. In fact, there are still not many signs of Spring. We haven’t heard a Chiffchaff, there’s no Coltsfoot and no Blackthorn, just the confusing white blossom of early cherry trees, with brownish bark, not black, and no thorns. (See first picture above)

11 Dibbinsdale Woodslee pond

On the edge of an open space there were some young conifers, six to twelve feet high. I think they were European Larch.

11 Dibbinsdale larch whorls

We walked back the same way and spotted Celandine flowers we had missed earlier, but perhaps they had only just opened to the sunshine.

Dibbinsdale Celandine

At the edge of a clearing at the top of the steps we caught a brief flash of a Sparrowhawk flying into the trees. We were examining a tree with black buds, but they were arranged alternately, so it wasn’t an Ash. What had caught our attention were the small reddish cones or buds.  I think it’s Elm, possibly Wych Elm.

11 Dibbinsdale black and pink buds

The path then took us parallel to the railway line, and it was probably Brotherton Park by then. These russet-brown fungi seemed to be growing on some dead logs, possibly Ash. The colour and radial lines suggest Birch Knight, but that is only supposed to grow from June to October, so I’ve no idea what it was. We didn’t inspect the gills or the stem.

11 Dibbinsdale brown fungus

There were Molehills alongside the path, which eventually came out right next to Spital Station.  There is a Primrose bank by the station, somewhat spoiled by the discarded coffee cups and plastic wrappers. ( I couldn’t “garden” them away because they were behind a fence!)

11 Dibbinsdale primroses

Public transport details: 10.15 Chester train from Central Station, arriving Bromborough Rake 10.35.  Returned from Spital station at 14.22, arriving Central Station 14.45.

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MNA Coach Trip Marton Mere & Fairhaven Marine Lake

The first MNA coach trip of 2015 saw us returning to Marton Mere SSSI on the outskirts of Blackpool.  We disembarked and wandered past some allotments which had good stands of rhubarb and some dried up globe artichokes. Plenty of birdsong with pinking Chaffinch, wheezing Greenfinch, tinkling Goldfinch, steeping Dunnock, Robin and Wren. Underneath the tangled bushes beside the path were a number of empty but intact Garden Snail Cornu aspersum shells that ChrisB thought may have been predated by one of the Ground Beetles Carabidae, both larvae and adults are carnivorous and often specialise in eating slugs and snails.

Quiet Fungi wise with only common species – plenty of Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae, also Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa, Common Jellyspot Dacrymyces stillatus and Yellow Brain Tremella mesenterica. A Cherry Prunus species was flowering whose name no-one could recall – “the one that flowers a few weeks before Blackthorn” possibly Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera.

Our gaze was drawn upwards as two Mute Swans flew over-head; the familiar buzzing sound made by their wing-beats is unique to Mute Swans all other Swan species fly silently. We listened to a squealing Water Rail they are particularly vocal at this time of the year when they are trying to attract a mate but we were unable to catch even a glimpse of it as it moved around in dense cover. A Goldcrest gave brief views and there were a few parties of Long-tailed Tits. From the edge of the reedbed we watched a male Reed Bunting, a Cetti’s Warbler gave a brief burst of song and a Grey Heron took to flight. A juvenile Shag joined the loafing Cormorants, a few Oyks were piping on the Mere edge. Wildfowl included Canada Geese and out on the water were another pair of Mute Swans, Mallards, Coot, Gadwall few, Teal few, Tufted Duck 12+, Goldeneye 1male 2female, Shoveler pair, Great Crested Grebe 2, Little Grebe whinnying, as well as Black-headed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black Backed Gulls.

A local birder put us onto a Long-eared Owl hidden in a thick bush that some members required a number of directions to finally see.

A distant Buzzard was circling close to Rooks from a nearby Rookery, a Curlew flew overhead along with a skein of 24 Pink-footed Geese. A Kestrel was hovering as we wandered around to the hide with the feeders.  Plenty of action with Robins, Dunnocks, Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits, Reed Buntings joined by Woodpigeons and a few Pheasants. We headed back to the coach noting three Common Gull amongst the Black-headed Gulls on the playing fields.

We boarded the coach and continued south to Lytham-St-Annes and Fairhaven Lake. I quickly nipped into the RSPB Ribble Estuary Discovery Centre where there was a display cabinet with various seashore finds from the Flyde coast including the carapaces of Masked Crabs Corystes cassivelaunus, skulls of various shorebirds, Sea Potatoes Echinocardium cordatum and Green Sea Urchins Psammechinus miliaris and various shells.

MNA Sea Potato Green Urchin Cut Out1

Green Sea Urchin and Sea Potatoes

The other members were admiring the Red-throated Diver that looked fabulous in its contrasting black and white winter plumage. On the Marine Lake Island I counted thirty six Oystercatchers resting. I finally managed to read the blue darvics of the two Mute Swans H6A and LNZ. This information was passed onto the North-west Swan Study. H6A (originally NLH) was ringed as a male cygnet on 24/08/1996 at Llyn Padarn, Llanberis. Early on in life it used to return to over winter in Wales. It is paired to LNZ ringed as an adult female on 11/07/2000 at Southport Marine Lake and they usually overwinter on Fairhaven Marine Lake before heading off.

Gazing out across the saltmarsh and mudflats we noted Shelduck and Redshank. Heading down to the beach we confirmed that a flock of thirty or so finches were just Linnets and not Twite.

MNA Prickly Cockle Cut Out1

Prickly Cockle

I had a good root around the shore debris. Numerous tube cases from the Sand Mason Worm Lanice conchilega, three different Razorshell Species with Ensis siliqua, Ensis arcuatus and Pharus legumen; Common Cockle Cerastoderma edule a few Prickly Cockles Acanthocardia echinata, Common Whelk Buccinum undatum and their eggcases commonly known as Sea Wash Balls.

MNA Necklace Shells Cut Out1

Necklace Shells

Bright pinky purple Baltic Tellin Macoma balthica shells gave a splash of colour and there were also twenty or so Large Necklace Shells Euspira catena – they prey on bivalves such as the Banded Wedge Shell Donax vittatus softening the shell chemically before drilling a round hole with their radula and sucking out the contents! One Large Necklace Shell was covered in the black coloured Hydroid Hydractinia echinata commonly known as Snail Fur.

A number of the Cockle and Whelk shells were stained black due feeding in anoxic sediments. There were three Mermaids Purses of Thornback Ray Raja clavata, a handful of small Sea Potatoes (Heart Urchin) Echinocardium cordatum, the bryozoan Hornwrack Flustra foliacea, Eggwrack Ascophyllum nodosum.

Further scans of the mudflats added Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and whistling Wigeon with some members also noting Grey Plover and Pintail.

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Old Roan to Rice Lane, 8th March 2015

It was a wet morning for our seventh section of the Trans-Pennine Trail, although the forecast was that it would clear up about lunchtime. This is a very peculiar bit of the trail, awkwardly connecting a small bit of traffic-free path near Aintree station to a gap in the main path, by going along parts of the main roads near Aintree racecourse.

10 TPT Path with hazel We saw our first sign of spring just as we got off the bus – a Hawthorn in the hedge was just coming into leaf. It was the only leafing Hawthorn we saw all day, so perhaps it’s in a very sheltered spot.

10 TPT Hawthorn leafing

We stopped by Wally’s steps which lead from Ormskirk Road down to the canal, where we’d left the trail on our previous section. There were a couple of Coots and a Moorhen, and lots of rubbish collecting at the canal edges.

10 TPT Wallys Steps

We turned left into Heysham Road (no TPT direction sign here), passed under a narrow railway bridge and found the traffic-free path past the Carillion factory. On each point of the factory roof was a gull, either a Herring Gull or a Lesser Black-backed gull.  Male Blackbirds were fighting over stretches of the path, and we also saw a Robin, a colony of Sparrows, and several bold Magpies. We have had some warm days in the past week, and hoped to hear a newly-arrived Chiffchaff, but we had no luck. Although we heard one last year on 9th March, none has been reported in the UK so far this year. All along the path the Hazel catkins were out, and we stopped to look at the inconspicuous female flowers, growing further back on the twigs, showing red stigmas.|

10 TPT Hazel catkins

We lunched at Aintree Station, and the rain stopped at last. Then we crossed the main road, turned left into Melling Road, then right into Greenwich Road and found the access ramp to the Loop Line.  A brightly-coloured male Chaffinch was watching us from a tree, and we also spotted two Blue Tits, a Great Tit, a Coal Tit, a Robin and some more Sparrows. A Greenfinch called, but we didn’t see it. We were hoping for our first Coltsfoot, but there were none to be seen, just some very early Cow Parsley, drooping after the rain.

10 TPT Cow Parsley

The tunnel under Walton Vale had some out-of-the-ordinary decoration on the walls, including this splendid stencilled gecko.

10 TPT Gecko

As we passed the back of the demolition site that used to be Archbishop Beck High School, the sun came out. A pair of Crows were prospecting on the bare ground, a Dunnock pecked around under some young trees and some Pussy Willows were just coming out, with the sun glinting off the raindrops still clinging to them.

10 TPT Pussy willow

Near Hartley’s village a bird was singing, which we first thought was a Blackbird, but it must have been a Song Thrush, because it was doing repeats of threes and fours (and some fives and sixes).  One of the wayside trees was very knobbly. It must be infected with something – not a fungus by the looks of it, but something making it grow lots of woody galls. It was too far back for us to determine what sort of tree it was.

10 TPT lumpy tree

We emerged onto the Recreation Ground. About a dozen Magpies congregated around a wet and muddly depression, but we couldn’t see what the attraction was. In the middle of the big field there was a flock of gulls, some Black-headed and some which might have been either Herring of Common, they were too far away to identify. Nearer the edge a Common Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull were both stamping their feet on the wet grass, trying to charm worms to the surface. I knew Common Gulls did that, but I’ve never seen an LBB do it.

10 TPT Gulls on rec

Near the children’s swings, we found an Alder, also with catkins, and could see that the female flowers were different from those on Hazel. On Alder they are at the tips of the branches, not skulking further back.

10 TPT Alder catkins

Near the edge of the path was a Mistle Thrush, not minding us at all. We think he or she (probably she) was picking a nest site in the V of a tree, about 10 feet up.

10 TPT Mistle thrush

Today we did another two and a half miles of the TPT, taking us to 17 miles from Southport.

Public transport details: Bus 300 from Queen Square at 10.18, arriving Old Roan at 10.50.  Returned on bus 250 from Rice Lane / Hornby Road, arriving Queen Square at 2.50.

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Waterloo, 1st March 2015

07 Waterloo garden
This morning I walked to Waterloo from my home in Crosby, through Victoria Park. The long hedge (about 100m) at the south-east corner is full of chirping House Sparrows, so it must be a large colony, with many dozens of birds. The miniature Daffodils were out.

07 Waterloo daffs

The sun was bright, but the wind was cold and gusty, and the forecast promised rain or even hail later. We noticed that the dilapidated old public toilets at the beach end of South Road have now been redeveloped into a café called Waterloo Place, and it seemed to be quite busy.

07 Waterloo cafe

The Boating Lake had the usual Black-headed Gulls (some with full black heads already), Herring Gulls, Mallards, Coots, Tufted Duck and a pair of Mute Swans. Both Swans had BTO rings, but only one had a Darvic ring – blue, right, DT6. We know this bird. We spotted it in company with another one on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal near Sandhills Station on 10th March 2013, and Wes Halton of the North West Swan Study told me it had been ringed at Sefton Park when it was a cygnet, on 23rd November 2011. It’s still a young bird, less than 4 years old. (Added later, the North West Swan Study tells me that since our sighting on the Canal in 2013, this bird has also been reported by others from Sefton Park and Seaforth Marina – presumably the Marine Lake where we saw it this time.)

07 Waterloo swans

After our mini-twitch at New Brighton two weeks ago, we were hunting for another rare bird, a Long-Tailed Duck. It has been at Waterloo since 7th December, but it hasn’t been reported for a couple of weeks, so we feared it would be gone. We scanned the Marine Lake. There was a Cormorant swimming and diving and a Great Crested Grebe a long way out. Then Sabena spotted it, at the north end of the OTHER lake, the Boating Lake, in amongst some Tufted Duck. It was feeding, so was only up for a few moments at a time, before diving again. It had black on the top of its head, so it’s a winter-plumaged female. (It’s the bird on the left, below, with two Tufties)

07 Waterloo LTD

Over the noise of the wind we could just hear a Skylark singing (a welcome sign of Spring) and then we saw two of them go down into the grass. There were Pied Wagtails flying about, a Common Gull on the lawn, Redshanks and a Lesser Black-backed Gull at the north end of the small lake, a flock of Starlings rising and falling, and about half a dozen Black-tailed Godwits flying over. It was too windy to go onto the prom or the beach, without being sand-blasted, so we headed for the beachfront gardens for lunch.

Then we worked our way northwards through the gardens, looking for flowers. On the rockery in Marine Garden there were clumps of Heather in flower. Not sure which one this is, although neither Common Heather or Bell Heather are supposed to flower until June. I think this must be some cultivated variety, and just look at those anthers and stigmas sticking out!

07 Waterloo heather

The Flowering Currant had its first few flowers out and there were a few trees with no leaves but early blossom. They definitely weren’t Blackthorn, and we concluded they must be some form of early-flowering Cherry.

09 Waterloo currant

07 Waterloo cherry

The Daffs were nearly out, and there were clumps of Crocus and Snowdrop. In Crescent Garden, the Friends have been doing a lot of work, with many bare borders. One circular bed had Gorse and Euphorbia flowering.

07 Waterloo Euphorbia















High up was a tree bearing red flowers almost straight off the branches. (this is known as “cauliflory”, a habit shared with Cocoa  trees and Judas Trees). We decided it was a Quince bush that had been allowed to overgrow.

07 Waterloo quince

Something on the lawn was attracting the attention of a Carrion Crow, while a Wood Pigeon huddled in a tree.

07 Waterloo Wood Pigeon

While we were in Adelaide Garden it started to rain, as promised. We did a quick tour of the northernmost garden, Beach Lawn, to check the pond, but there was nothing interesting that we could see.  A house at that end was flying a (tangled) Welsh flag in honour of St David’s Day, and we spotted the blue plaque to Thomas Henry Ismay (1837-1899), the founder of the White Star shipping line, who lived there.

07 Waterloo welsh flag

Public transport details: 53 bus from Queen Square at 10.05, arriving outside Waterloo Station at 10.38.  Returned on the 53 bus from Oxford Road / Courtenay Road at 1.30, arriving Liverpool about 2pm

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Parkgate, 22nd February 2015

06 Parkgate Parade
There was a high tide at Parkgate today, but the weather wasn’t promising.  It was overcast when we met and was supposed to rain hard all day, although the weather maps on the BBC showed a small clear patch in South Wirral. Despite our hopes for a dry window, the rain started at 10.15 while we were at the bus stop in Sir Thomas Street.

06 Parkgate  houses and marsh

When we disembarked just before the Old Quay restaurant, a very thin cold rain was falling. But there were Long-tailed Tits in the hedges, and on the fence opposite we found some sort of cocoon. It was three quarters of an inch in height (2 cm). The brown loopy thing may not be part of the structure, just a bit of plant that has fallen and stuck. We touched it gently and it was quite hard and firm. Whatever made it might still be in there. Some kind of moth or beetle? Anyone know? (Added later. Regular reader Susan thinks it might be a spider egg mass, most likely the Garden Cross Spider.  She says “I have one like it inside my green wheelie bin. I watched the female stand guard for over a month – unfortunately she went when the bin was emptied. The cocoon is still there and the young will hatch in Spring. They are quite fascinating to watch as they form a group but if touched will scatter and then reform. ”

06 Parkgate cocoon

The RSPB were out in force at the Donkey Stand and at the Old Baths car park. On the marsh we saw Teal, Mallard, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Lapwing, Oystercatchers, Wood Pigeons, Starlings and two Little Egrets. It was very cold and bleak, and not much fun at all.

06 Parkgate bleakness

As we walked towards the Old Baths we commented on the way the quayside stones were worn and wondered how many years it had taken. According to the display at the Donkey Stand the composer Handel returned from Ireland to Parkgate in 1742 so perhaps the low wall at the edge of the marsh is still the same one, now over 273 years old.

06 Parkgate worn stones

Growing on the marsh against the sea wall was this plant, which we think might be Sea Kale, although the leaf edges aren’t really curly enough. Is it perhaps Sea Beet?

06 Parkgate sea kale or beet

We had lunch on the seats outside St Thomas’s church. Gosh, it was cold and raw! It was still raining gently, with cold gusts off the marsh. We had rather hoped to get into the church to eat our sandwiches, but the church was packed because a christening was going on, and there was nowhere for us to hide. Afterwards we headed towards the Boat House car park. High tide was to be at 1.30, but it didn’t seem to be coming up very far. We have seen better height of water with escaping small mammals at the Old Quay itself (south of Parkgate) and also further north by the golf course. The only flowers were some Gorse, a few bedraggles Daisies on the verges and Snowdrops on the bank beyond the Boat House and in the church garden.

06 Parkgate snowdrops

At the Old Baths there was a cluster of people with telescopes, braving the worsening rain. A call went up for a Hen Harrier, very far out near the edge of the Dee. I saw it, but I’d never have identified it myself. We also saw a very distant Great White Egret, just a white blob a long way out.   None of us was having much fun, it was too cold, so we decided not to wait for the actual high tide (which was probably going to be underwhelming), nor to stay for the 3.30 bus, so we dashed off for the nice warm bus at 1.30.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street, arriving Parkgate 11.20.  Buses back to Liverpool are only two-hourly on a Sunday, and although we usually get the 3.30, today we got the 1.30 bus 487, arriving back in Liverpool at 2.20.

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New Brighton, 15th February 2015

05 New Brighton view

What a lovely bright day it was, feeling very warm in the sun, but it turned colder when the clouds rolled in later on. We decided to go to New Brighton for two unusual birds. The first one was the vagrant Laughing Gull, Larus (or Leucophaeus) atricilla. It arrived on 3rd February after some storms blew it from its usual home on the US east coast, so it’s very lost. It’s a first-winter bird, so it may never find its way home. The last one on Merseyside was 15 years ago, at West Kirby. This one has taken up residence on the pontoons at Marine Lake, behind the Prezzo restaurant.

05 New Brighton Laughing gull

Also on Marine Lake were two Mute Swans with BTO rings but no Darvic rings, and many Black-headed Gulls and young Herring Gulls. A Kestrel made a brief flypast. Then we walked south-west along King’s Parade, spotting Cormorants on the end of the groyne, Oystercatchers on the beach, with the occasional Turnstone, and Pied Wagtails strutting along the sea wall. Very far out on the beach two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were standing side by side, very close, and apparently chattering to each other. Were they pairing up? A day late for Valentine’s day!

05 New Brighton oystercatchers

Although the hard-core twitchers had already been and gone, there were still quite a lot of out-of-town birdwatchers, who had come to New Brighton hoping to see the Laughing Gull, and who were grateful to be directed to the right spot.  We noted some Carrion Crows on the beach, apparently digging in the sand. We think they were getting Cockles, which they carried off and dropped on the hard pavement to break open, then flew down to eat the contents. Sometimes they were disturbed at their meal by parties of passers-by.

05 New Brighton Crow at dinner

This amazing dog passed us by, taller than a greyhound, and with big ears. It looked just like the Egyptian hunting dogs on ancient tomb paintings.  It was a Ibizan Hound, which is indeed thought to descend from those ancient breeds.

05 New Brighton Ibizan Hound

The Lifeguard Station bore a painting by local artist John Christiansen of the “St Tudno Homeward Bound in the Rock Channel”. It was put up as part of the Momentary Art Project, a scheme to “Brighten New Brighton”.

05 New Brighton picture St Tudno

There was a snack van parked near the Lifeguard Station and we were amused by the claims that it had a “large sand play area” and an “extensive outdoor smoking area”.

05 New Brighton snack cart sign















As we reached the south end of King’s Parade, where it joins the Coastal Road, we kept an eye out for our second special bird species of the day. A pair of Snow Buntings has been on the beach there for a week or so. Their location was obvious, because there was a man with a big camera on a tripod, pointing right at them. They were busily pecking about on the beach, about six feet out, and apparently totally oblivious to passing people and dogs.

05 New Brighton Snow Buntings

Then we walked up past the lovely Art Deco Harvester pub, heading for Wallasey Grove Road Station. Our only flowers of the day were gorse blooming on the small heath there, and some common daisies by the side of the road.

Public transport details: Bus 432 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.15, arriving outside Morrison’s at 10.40. Returned on the train from Wallasey Grove Road at 13.27, arriving Liverpool 1.40.

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Festival Gardens, 11th February 2015

04 Festival pagoda
This was one of the MNA’s short walks, from 11am to 1pm, intended to attract newer members, and those that haven’t been out for a while. Eight people turned up, four regulars and four who we don’t see very often, so the “short-walk” plan succeeded yet again.

It was a mild and overcast day, and the park was very quiet. The lake had Moorhens, Coots and Mallards, and we spotted Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbird, Magpie and some Robins in the trees and shrubberies. Apart from the birds practising their songs, the first signs of spring were the Hazel, Alder and Birch catkins. The male Hazel catkins are obvious, but the female flowers are unobtrusive structures, with red protruding stigmas, and need searching for. This one is against the palm of a leather glove, and only about a centimeter (half an inch) long.

04 Festival hazel catkins

04 Festival hazel female

On the way down to the riverside walk we noted Gorse in flower, and Carrion Crows, Wood Pigeons and Feral Pigeons. The  tide was very low, and a mid-river sandbank had Lesser Black-backed gulls and Black-headed gulls. One of the BHGs was feeding, flitting and diving over the water like a Tern.

We returned to the Festival Gardens and climbed the steps to the woodland walk. The Bluebell and Daffodil shoots were coming up, and a young oak had a great collection of Marble Galls still clinging on.

04 Festival marble galls

An old stump was mossy, and sprouted small bracket fungi all around. By the side of the path was this clump of orange toadstools, which I have since looked up on this website, which has a calendar, so it narrows them down a bit.

04 Festival velvet shank

My guess is that it was a Velvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes, from the colour, and because it is said to fruit from September to March  There was no ring on the stem, which is correct. The stem or shank is supposed to be velvety, (but I didn’t feel it) and is also supposed to be dark in colour. The one I turned on its side had a light stem, but perhaps it was still too young.

A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were moving about overhead in the tall bare trees, and Christine B alerted us all to a Goldcrest busily pecking and flitting about. There was also a Siskin high up in an Alder tree and a Great Tit singing boldly right over the path.

By the duck pond, the bulrush seed heads were ragged and fluffy, interestingly placed against a bank of golden Dogwood and some tall bare trees.

04 Festival bulrush

There were Primroses in the flower beds and Snowdrops in Priory Wood.

04 Festival primroses

04 Festival snowdrops

Public transport details: 82A bus from Liverpool ONE, arriving Festival Gardens (Riverside Drive opposite Beech Gardens) just before 11am. I returned by walking through Priory Wood to St Michael’s Merseyrail Station, but others took the 82A bus outside back into Liverpool.

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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Woolton Woods, 8th February 2015

It was a calm, overcast, foggy day, and the thermometer at North Park said 5°C, nominally colder than last week’s 6°C, but without the wind it felt much milder.

We walked through St John’s Precinct and spotted a bird flying into a shoe shop, then perching on one of its roof struts. It was a Pied Wagtail. The staff flapped it away and the bird went for the doors into Great Charlotte Street, but it chose a closed one, and battered itself hopelessly against the glass. Some passers-by kept the automatic doors open, and John tried to catch hold of the fluttering bird, but it evaded him and, happily, made it out of the open doors to freedom.

I took no pictures of Woolton Woods today; my camera battery had run out and I hadn’t noticed. Birds spotted included Blackbird, Jay, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and Chaffinches. Inside the Walled Garden Snowdrops were in bloom and the Magnolia buds were fat and thinking of bursting soon. A Quince bush was flowering, with its dark crimson flowers against the bare twigs. A big multi-trunked Holly tree bore its leaves too high up to be spiked, but some suckers or saplings around the base had the classic Holly leaf.

There was a Sparrowhawk kill site on the lawn. We noted a head and a beak, a few wing feathers and lots of down feathers. The prey was probably a Wood Pigeon, so the predator must have been the larger, female Sparrowhawk.

We were at Woolton Woods for a ceremony there at 12.30, to unveil a plaque to Col. Sir James P Reynolds, who gave Woolton Woods to the people of Liverpool. It was organised by the Save Woolton Woods campaign.  The Council is proposing to build a new St Julie’s school on part of Woolton Woods, then use the old St Julie’s site for housing. Local residents are very opposed. Simon O’Brien (actor, formerly of Brookside and a Woolton resident), introduced local historian Irene Byrne, who talked about Sir James and the terms of his gift, which she said ought not to be broken, then he introduced members of the Reynolds family, who spoke against the scheme, then the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Erica Kemp, and Lady Charlotte Reynolds, who joined in unveiling the plaque.

03 Woolton plaque

Public transport details: 76 bus from Great Charlotte Street at 10.22, arriving Woolton Village / High Street at 10.50. Returned on the 75 bus from Woolton Mount / Acrefield Road, arriving Liverpool before 2pm.

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Eastham Woods, 1st February 2015

There was a very cold north wind today, making it feel much colder than the 6°C claimed on the display at North Park, Bootle. We decided to go for the relative shelter of Eastham Woods.

02 Eastham winter woods

On the Lever sports field there were Common Gulls, Wood Pigeons, about ten Redwings and a Mistle Thrush. Crows were picking through leaf litter at the edge of the path and in the trees we spotted Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Magpies and several Robins. There was a Blackbird on the lawns near the Visitors’ Centre and a Nuthatch, which came down low into the hedges. The only natural food we could see were some dried-up Ivy berries, which nothing had fancied.

02 Eastham ivy berries

We stopped for a look at the branch which fell from the great Beech tree in 2003 and which has been left to decay naturally for the last 11 or 12 years.

02 Eastham decaying wood

The end of one limb has been carved into a snake’s-head, which peeps invitingly over the fence.

02 Eastham snake mouth

The feeders at the back of the Visitors’ Centre had the usual Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches, but also a Great Spotted Woodpecker taking a good long feed of nuts. We admired the displays of dried leaves, mostly of common tree species, but there is a Tulip Tree leaf in the middle. I wonder where the tree is?

02 Eastham leaf display















We also had a look at the display of bird and bat boxes.

02 Eastham bird boxes

And then we turned for home, because it was too cold to be paying much attention to any flowers or fungi!

Public transport details: Bus number 1 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.25, arriving New Chester Road / Tebay Road at 10.55. Returned on bus 1 at 2.30 from outside Christ the King RC church on New Chester Road

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