Wirral Way, 27th November 2016

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From Hooton station it’s 1½ miles each way to Hadlow Road station. The path was covered with oak leaves almost all the way along, and some leaves were still falling. The young trees retain their leaves for longer, though.

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This young Turkey Oak also had some odd galls wrapped around the twigs. This singleton was the only one in reach, but higher up there was an overlapping cluster. I think they might be galls caused by the Cynipid wasp Aphelonyx cerricola. According to the monograph “Oak Galls in Britain” by Robin Williams of the Natural History Museum (2010)  they are classed as “rare”, although I also found some pictures of them from Sefton Park in April 2014.

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It was very still and silent, and there weren’t many birds about, although the group saw four Jays while Margaret and I were inspecting the oak galls. It has been very frosty for the last two days so had all the birds decamped to urban heat islands?  But we spotted a Robin, a few Blackbirds in flight, and a small flock of Redwings on some thickly-berried Hawthorn bushes.

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The hedges were festooned with necklaces of bright red Black Bryony berries. Why are they all still hanging there? Don’t birds eat them? I thought that’s what juicy red berries were for, to propagate the seeds via birds.

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There were fresh molehills on the side of the path near Hadlow Road station, and a Sparrowhawk kill site very close to the car park. It looked like it had been a Wood Pigeon. Hadlow Road Station had the intermittent café open, but we had brought our own lunches, of course, and resisted the cream cakes.

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This visiting small dog (called Tobi Kenobi !) bore a Christmas coat with a passenger attached.

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In the hedge there were chirping sparrows.

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Corpse of the Day was a dead Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus.

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We had a look around Willaston village and church.  There was a Grey Squirrel in the churchyard, and two Yew trees flanking the lych-gate. The Copper Beech on the green is one of the Great Trees of the Wirral, now showing only its pointy winter buds.

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Outside the Old Hall was a winter-flowering tree Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’.

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On the way back I looked at what I thought might be White Poplar trees, and confirmed them when I got home. Their leaf isn’t the typical “ace of spades” of many poplars, but three- or five-lobed, rather like a maple type, but they are downy on the underside, so fallen dead leaves show as either white or black. The bark is white, too, with rows of diamond patterns.

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Next to the ramp up to the road by Hooton Station was a cluster of big dark fungi on the bank. They had dark gills, dark stems, and a light ring where the veil had been attached, but that’s as far as I can go !  Probably only Honey Fungus on a buried stump.

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Public transport details: Train at 10.15 from Central, arriving Hooton at 10.41. Returned on the 14.29 train, arriving Central about 15.00.

Next few weeks:
4th Dec, Ormskirk. Meet 10 am Central Station.
11th Dec, Croxteth Park. Meet 10 am Queen Square.
18th Dec, Christmas meal at Parkgate Old Quay. Meet 10.15 Sir Thomas Street.

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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Freshfield, 20th November 2016

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We headed down Victoria Road from the station, and into the NT reserve, which is a plantation of Scots Pines, managed for the Red Squirrels. There were plenty of them about, scampering along the ground and up the trees. Most of them are quite dark, nearly black, but we did see one redder one. This is one of the darker ones.

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There were Squirrel feeding tables up on many of the trunks, protected from bigger birds by mesh cages. The little birds could get in, though, and we noted Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Robin. Bigger birds were Carrion Crows, one or two Jays, a Woodpecker which we heard drumming in distance and Wood Pigeons, which seemed to be following the Red Squirrels from feeder to feeder, hoping to pick up bits of dropped nuts.

After lunch we walked around part of the Asparagus trail, which has been set up to celebrate the local specialty. There’s even a wood carving of Jimmy Lowe, the Asparagus King of the 1930s.

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The car park was flooded after the heavy rains of the last few days, and the fence had attracted a Lesser Black-backed Gull and several BHGs.

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The isolated Scots Pines near the beach are very picturesquely windswept and truncated.

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We returned through a woodland of Birch, Grey Poplar, Sycamore. These trees were also rather twisted and stunted by the coastal winds, and would be rather magical after snowfall.

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The leaves on some trees have still not fallen, including this young Oak.

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Public transport details: Train from Central towards Southport, arriving Freshfield station at 10.52. Returned from Freshfield at 2.11, due at Central 2.44.

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MNA Coach Trip Leighton Moss RSPB 13th November 2016

An exceedingly memorable conclusion to our coach trip programme for 2016. We visited one of our favourite RSPB Reserves at Leighton Moss and members were rewarded by some fantastic sightings.

ChrisB and I quickly headed off the coach and through the small patch of woodland hearing Great Spotted Woodpecker before walking along the causeway. We barely had to wait a minute at the grit tables when there was the characteristic ‘pinging’ from the surrounding reeds heralding the arrival of a male moustachioed Bearded Tit. The colour ring leg combination was Left: Orange over Blue, Right: Green over White. A female soon descended onto a tray also colour ringed Left: Orange over Yellow, Right: Green over White. Beardies usually eat insects during the summer – a protein rich source of food that helps growing youngsters but as autumn approaches they change their diet to seeds. The grit enables them to digest the seeds in their crop which means that they don’t have to migrate south and can stay at Leighton Moss all year round.

We continued down the causeway a Great White Egret flying low overhead, six Carrion Crows hanging around on the path before flying to an adjacent bare tree and a Buzzard flying away from us.

In Public Hide the selection and numbers of Wildfowl was stunning, Shoveler over 40 males + 20 females, Pintail 7m 3f, Teal 60+, Wigeon 12+, Gadwall 60+, Coot, Canada Goose 8, Greylag Goose 7, Mute Swan pair + 7 cygs, Moorhen, Pochard 8+, Cormorant 1, Goosander redhead, Little Egret, BHG etc. A Grey Heron chased a Great White Egret within 5m of the hide, a Bittern glided low over the reeds before landing again, a Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds putting many of the Teal and a handful of Snipe to flight, a bird caught my eye flitting around at the base of the reed edge but proved to be a Robin and a Wren flitted amongst the small patch of reeds in front of the hide giving a burst of song.

As we continued along the causeway nine Snipe circled overhead calling and sounding very like Redwing and the odd Cetti’s was chuntering in the reeds. We entered the more wooded area heading along to Lower Hide. A few dozy Pheasants stalking around the undergrowth – one tame individual took some seed from John Clegg’s hand – a few Blue, Great, Coal Tits, Goldcrest, a male Bullfinch, a feeding party of around twenty Siskin and later some chacking Fieldfare.

We entered Lower Hide and were soon onto the star bird of the day a male American Wigeon, who has been dabbling in front of the hide in the company of its Eurasian cousins for a couple of weeks. One of the RSPB volunteers had his scope trained on the bird and we were able to appreciate the iridescent green eye mask and striking white head stripe. He had seen Otter from the hide earlier that day. Yet more wildfowl with Tufty and seven Curlew overhead added to the list. We were treated to another great view of Bittern unusually flying quite high for a distance over the reeds before dropping down.

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Blushing Bracket

After the birding excitement we were able to note the various Fungi species with Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae – a handful of which ChrisB picked for some culinary experimentation, Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa, Candlesnuff Fungus Xylaria hypoxylon, Leafy Brain Tremella foliacea – a fine specimen in exactly the same spot as our visit in Nov 2014, Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes, Coral Spot Nectria cinnabarina, Oysterling Crepidotus sp. Bleeding Broadleaf Crust Stereum rugosum, Purple Jellydisc Ascocoryne sarcoides and various Mycenas.

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Leafy Brain

Heading back down the causeway we heard a Green Sandpiper and a Cettis gave a brief chuntering song again. The light was already going as we wandered through the mature woodland heading along to Tim Jackson Hide. Small piles of bird seed on various fallen logs were attracting a variety of visitors with plenty of Coal Tits, Blue Tit, Great Tit, inquisitive Robins, Prune, Blackbird, with a Nuthatch circling in one tree and a Treecreeper in an adjacent tree. With a bit of patience we were able to get good views of a Marsh Tit coming down to the seeds.

On approaching Tim Jackson hide there were a couple of squealing Water Rails in the adjacent reeds with one particularly vociferous porcine individual. More Teal, Gadwall, a Shoveler and Mallard along with half a dozen Snipe. A female Marsh Harrier hunted out the back of the pools where a Little Egret and Great White Egret were standing. The Great White flew directly at us and landed close to the hide. It strutted around the shallows wiggling its feet in the hopes of disturbing small fish like its little cousin is often observed doing. When the rapid gunfire from the photographer’s clicking cameras became too much we continued around to Grizedale Hide. A couple of Cormorants were resting in a tree, another Little Egret and a couple of Pheasants with pale wings that Chris thought maybe one of the Central Asian subspecies.

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Pipistrelle Bats

Returned to the visitor centre and popped into the adjacent education room where a few desiccated Common Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pipistrellus made Corpse Of The Day.

And from my back garden – because every blog should have a magical frog ;o)

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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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Birkenhead Park, 6th November 2016

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It felt very wintry, with a brisk north wind. Time for extra layers and gloves! Some trees are still full of green leaves, like Hornbeam and Willow; the Rowans still have leaves, which are mostly red; the Cherry leaves are nearly all down, with just a few red ones clinging on; the Norway Maples and Planes still have about half their leaves, which are green and yellow. The Gingkoes in Williamson Square, which were all planted together several years ago, are now very different sizes, while two have yellow leaves, three are still green, and one has no leaves at all !

The first tree that impressed me in Birkenhead Park was a massive Turkey Oak by the play area. Is it one of the original plantings? The Park opened in April 1847, so this tree might now be approaching 270 years old.

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At the north end of the Lower Lake, near the rockery, an otherwise unexciting-looking small tree was shedding massive leaves, bigger than my hand, about 8 inches by 4 inches (20 x 9 cm). It’s a Cucumber Tree Magnolia acuminata. It will produce bright pink or red “cucumber” fruits in early autumn, so perhaps we’ll check it next year.

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Also at that end of the Lower Lake is a young Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea, with far better colour than Red Oak.

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The lake itself offered Pigeons, Mallards, a Coot, and a Wren hopping about in a low Weeping Willow. We didn’t see the two odd black Mallards, which have more than a hint of some very tall and thin variety in their ancestry. But further on there was a Mistle Thrush, and lots of the ubiquitous Magpies. A Jay few though the woods. The strange weeping Camperdown Elm looks like it’s dead. There are just a few leaves on the lower branches but most of the upper twigs are dry and snapping off. Another Elm bites the dust.

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There are hordes of Grey Squirrels in the park. One looked very hopeful when I rustled a bag of bird food, but when he came up and sniffed it on my hand, he turned away in disappointment. As he turned we saw he had only half his tail.

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A big old Beech trunk has been left to decay, and there were two Nuthatches on it, hunting in the crevices of the dying bark and prising bits off.

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At lunch time I bought a booklet from the Visitors’ Centre (£2) called Unusual Trees of Birkenhead Park. It’s an A4 glossy booklet, 12 pages, describing 11 trees, one page each, and a map. Some of the featured trees aren’t that unusual (Holm Oak, Deodar, Common Lime, London Plane) but it includes an English Oak thought to be older than the Park. “Dating from the 1760s, this magnificent tree was probably part of a field boundary when the surrounding land was all pasture.” We didn’t go to find it (one for next time) but we set off to see three featured trees in the Upper Park.

There was a pair of Tufted Duck on the Upper Lake, some Canada Geese and two Muscovy Ducks. We also spotted the two missing tall black Mallards, now five years old, and looking very different to their unhybridised relatives.

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One of the rare trees was a Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo. It’s an evergreen, and the red fruits were all gone, but the green and white flowers, which come out in October and November, were plentiful.

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A Heron posed obligingly on the opposite fishing ledge, framed by autumn foliage.

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Just past the north end of the Upper Lake I spotted lots of fallen leaves with scalloped edges and thought “Aspen”, but the tree that was shedding them was far too big, with a huge ridged trunk. I think it was a Grey Poplar, Populus canescens, which is thought to have arisen as a hybrid of the Aspen and the White Poplar.

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The leaflet also recommended a clump of Myrobalan Plum or Cherry Plum of the red variety Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’. They are on the far side of the big field, near Park Road West. They are probably best in summer, with good light. Although they still bore plenty of dark purple leaves, they just looked dull in November. Far better was a young Maple tree with very bright red leaves in what appeared to be a nursery area, with several other young Maples of different varieties.

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Our last rare tree of the day was a clump of four Hybrid Strawberry trees Arbutus x andrachnoides by the exit gate opposite Duke Street, near the station. It’s a natural cross between the Irish and Grecian Strawberry trees and is another evergreen. Its main feature is the bright red peeling bark. Both Strawberries are related to the Madrona.

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Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.05 towards West Kirkby, alighting Birkenhead Park station at 10.12. Returned from Birkenhead Park station at 13.36, arriving Central 13.45.

 

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Abercromby Square and St James’s Cemetery, 23rd October 2016

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Yet another tree day, this time looking in Liverpool City Centre. First to note are some new ones. Last Sunday I noticed that workmen had just planted twelve young columnar (“fastigiate”) oak trees  in Elliot Street, at the bottom of the steps from Great Charlotte St. This morning there were six more in Houghton Street, which leads around to the Playhouse. I sneaked through the barriers to read the label still attached to one of them, and they are English Oaks, Quercus robur Fastigiata ‘Koster’. The label also said the order quantity was 26. There are eighteen planted already, so eight more to go. They are probably intended for Parker Street, outside Superdrug.

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It was a lovely clear autumn day, and the leaves on the trees have started to change colour this week, and come down in the wind. We intended to start in Abercromby Square, but miscalculated the bus route and found ourselves nearer to Falkner Square. There are lots of Plane trees around the edge, and one lone Hawthorn allowed to grow to (smallish) tree size. In the border was a plant whose flowers had three pale blue petals. I think it’s probably one of the North American Spiderworts, genus Tradescantia, sometimes planted in Europe as ornamentals.

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Then we threaded through Grove Street, Myrtle Street and Chatham Street, noting a row of young Tulip Trees outside the Sidney Jones Library. On the corner of Chatham St and Abercromby Square is this rare Victorian “Penfold” Post Box  with a history of damage and restoration, see this blog post from an enthusiast.

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Inside the park railings there’s a mature Tulip Tree in the south east corner, opposite the pillar box, which we might visit again when it flowers. An ornamental Apple tree bore little red fruit with a bitter taste.  From a distance Plane, Norway Maple and Tulip trees are all looking about the same now, with similar crowns, similar pointy leaves and the same colour changes, but the Norway Maples are particularly lovely.

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At the north west corner is the memorial sculpture to Noel Chavasse, the double VC, with the names of other Liverpool-born VC winners inscribed around the base.

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Then along Hope Street to St James Cemetery, where we had our lunch. It was quite cool when  the sun went in. We examined two very odd thorn trees that seemed to be reverting to Hawthorns. The upper trees had plain oval leaves and biggish fruit with two seeds. From the base of the trunk they were both sprouting a sucker-like addition that bore leaves and fruit like an ordinary Hawthorn. One might be just the lucky germination of a Haw from anywhere, but both of them were doing it. Are they hybrids reverting to a parental form?

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The upper and lower parts of the tree.

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Berries and foliage at the top

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Berries and foliage at the bottom, with a “top” berry for comparison.

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The minor trunk at the base.

Several Hornbeams had big bunches of seeds, but we haven’t seen many Ash keys this year. There is supposed to be a big old Golden Ash Fraxinus excelsior ‘Jaspidea’ in the far south east corner of the cemetery, which should have been putting on its autumn show of brilliant lemon-yellow leaves all over, but we couldn’t find it. There is one big old Ash there, but it didn’t seem to be changing colour in any spectacular way, and there was an ominous stump. However, outside one of the houses opposite the Cathedral west front there was a young tree in a garden that probably WAS a Golden Ash, with a yellow-fruiting Crab Apple next to it. Very nice!

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Opposite the Chinese Arch, at the bottom of Upper Duke Street, there are about half a dozen young Dawn Redwoods planted on the pavement. They are Chinese trees, of course. There are some other trees there of the same age, and may also be Chinese-themed. Then we wandered through the back streets of the Ropewalks district, heading for town, and getting not quite lost. We found ourselves in the dark and narrow Henry Street and had a pleasant surprise. Outside the Pagoda Chinese Arts Centre there is a large mature Foxglove Tree Paulownia tomentosa.  The only other one I know is a weedy one in Calderstones Park. Next to it was a Narrow-leaved Ash Fraxinus angustifolia, and there were also some Maples.

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Narrow-leaved Ash on the left and Foxglove tree on the right

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Then down Fleet Street and School Lane and into the garden at the back of the Bluecoat. There are two Snake-Bark Maples in there. One appears to be dying, but the other is in fine form. The leaves are hardly three-lobed at all, so it might be a Père David’s Maple, Acer davidii. On the picture below there is a tall Fig at the back with a small golden ornamental Maple in front. The possible Père David’s Maple  is in the middle, with a small green ornamental Maple on the right.

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In Bootle the pair of Claret Ashes Fraxinus angustifolia ssp. oxycarpa ‘Raywood’ on Stanley Road just north of Marsh Lane, are now just coming into their magnificence. It’s amazing how many interesting trees there are in unexpected corners of the city.

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Public transport details: Bus 86 from Elliot Street at 10.20, to Catherine Street / St Phillip Neri at 10.25. Walked back into town.

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Cilcain, Wales 8th October 2016

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Richard Surman, Ron Crossley, DaveB and I headed over to Cilcain near Loggerheads in Wales for an Autumnal walk around our usual circuit. Walking up the lane there were a few plants still in flower – Nipplewort Lapsana communis and Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum with others gone to seed – Enchanter’s-nightshade Circaea lutetiana, Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa, Foxglove Digitalis purpurea and Cleavers Galium aparine. We noted some Cola-nut Galls on Pedunculate Oak Quercus robur caused by the Gall Wasp Andricus lignicola, Hazel Leaf Miner Phyllonorycter coryli and the first Fungi of the day with Oak Barkspot Diatrypella quercina and Common Tarcrust Diatrype stigma. Quite a number of Robins in song, Pheasants creeping amongst the undergrowth at the side of the path being flushed as we walked by, the first of many Ravens croaking overhead, a soft ‘pheuuing’ Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The higher of the fishing ponds held a Mallard and Moorhen.

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Flaming Scalycap

More Fungi with Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare, some rather sizeable but slug eaten Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria, a couple of Boletus sp. and on a tree stump a clump of Flaming Scalycap Pholiota flammans and a lone Common Inkcap Coprinus atramentarius. By the edge of the track where we turn left onto the moor I spotted a Badger Meles meles skull.

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Badger Skull

The Heather Calluna vulgaris had mostly died off but patches of Bell Heather Erica cinerea were still flowering along with European Gorse Ulex europaeus, Tormentil Potentilla erecta and delicate flowers of Harebell Campanula rotundifolia. The Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus had a few berries and the occasional Rowan Sorbus aucuparia was laden with fruit. Yet more Fungi with Brown (Dusky) Puffball Bovista nigrescens, Golden Spindles Clavulinopsis fusiformis, Blackening Waxcap Hygrocybe conica, Meadow Waxcap Hygrocybe pratensis, Brittlegill Russula sp. and Plums and Custard Tricholomopsis rutilans.

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Brown Puffball

I spotted a caterpillar that I later identified as the brown form of the Broom Moth Ceramica pisi. The distinctive brown and yellow striped caterpillar with groovy pink feet feeds not only on Broom Cytisus scoparius, but also on Bracken Pteridium aquilinum on which we found it.

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Broom Moth Caterpillar

 

A few Mepits were flitting around the moor and a Tawny Owl hooting from the copse across the valley. More vocal Ravens and due to the still windless conditions we could even hear the beat of their wings as they flew overhead. One posed majestically on top of a rock that broke the skyline allowing a good silhouette view of its shaggy throat feathers as it croaked. It took off and a few minutes later along with its partner were harassing a Buzzard. We found the remains of a Carrion Crow – only the wings and rib cage – again probably the victim of the Ravens.

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Dave crossing stream

Lesser Black Backed Gulls glided overhead, a male and a couple of female/juv Stonechats perched on the top of the bare stems of a shrub. Dropping back down through the woodland Dave watched a small party of Goldcrests. We turned into the lane that drops back to Cilcain village pondering on the leaves of a small tree – Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus and noting the profusion of Elderberries Sambucus nigra whilst reminiscing on home-brew wine making experiences. Buzzing noises from the flowering Common Ivy Hedera helix were due to Honey Bees Apis mellifera, various Wasps and a few Hoverflies. Rooks from the nearby Rookery replaced the Ravens, whilst on a feeding station in one of the cottages there was a portly Woodpigeon, a Prune and Blue Tit. The lane edge – always good for Wildflowers still held a few in flower with Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus, Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris, Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium, Greater Periwinkle Vinca major, Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica, White Dead-nettle Lamium album, Crosswort Cruciata laevipes, Red Valerian Centranthus ruber along with the leaves of Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris

After coffee and cake in the community hall we walked through the graveyard of St Mary’s Church. Adults and larvae of a couple of different forms of the Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis were on a few of the gravestones and the Ivy leaves. As a finale Richard had a possible Chiffchaff as we boarded the car for the journey back…

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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Gorse Hill Apple Festival, 9th October 2016

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We turned right out of Aughton Park Station and headed up Long Lane. At the corner of one of the gardens there’s a Red Oak Quercus rubra, with its enormous leaves. Here are a few with some Beech leaves for scale.

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We turned left at the junction of Holborn Hill, crossed at the pedestrian lights and then headed up the footpath to the Communications Station. A Kestrel hovered above the field on the left. This year John led us the long way around, going right from the gates, then left on a shaded footpath around a cultivated field. Several Robins tutted gently at us as we passed. We had an early lunch by the pond, and saw a “V” of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead, about 20 or 30 of them.

The second weekend in October is when Gorse Hill NR have their Apple festival, and they sell their harvest of traditional varieties of apple, their freshly-pressed apple juice and some pretty lethal cider. They also demonstrate their apple press and give tours of the orchard.  They have about 100 trees: half are cooking apples, in 12 varieties, and the other half are dessert or eating apples, of 16 varieties. They also have four kinds of pears and a plum tree. All around the orchard are crab apples for pollination, variety Golden Hornet, which are now bunches of little golden globes, each about an inch across. There was a ladybird on one of them, which I hoped would be something exciting, but it was just another colour variation of the Harlequin.

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After the tour we shopped for apples and cider. I now have one each of Ribston Pippin, Worcester Permain, Sunset, Wheeler’s Russet, Ellison’s Orange and King of Pippins.

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We patronised their café before we left, and I strongly recommend their lemon and lime drizzle cake!  In the hedgerows the Hazel catkins are showing, although the leaves haven’t fallen yet. I also took note of these Hawthorn berries, which were a rather dark red.

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Nobody takes any notice of Hawthorns, but there are many species. The Common Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna has deeply indented leaves and only one seed in the Haw. The other commonish one is the Midland Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, with less-indented leaves and two or three stones in the fruit. Confusingly, there are many hybrid forms. This one appeared to have a trifoliate leaf, and I regret I didn’t investigate the number of pips. I will start opening them next week!

The house on Holly Lane near the reserve entrance has an enormous wooden sculpture of a giraffe in the garden!

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From the Communications Centre there is an extraordinary view over Ormskirk, which seems to be in a bowl. Way over to the left of its “tower-and-spire” church, and maybe 50 miles away north eastwards, is a big lump of high ground. Could it be Longridge Fell? Or perhaps even the Forest of Bowland?

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On the way back to the station we spotted a Snake-bark Maple tree in a garden in Long Lane. Once you get interested in them, they turn up everywhere! Going by the scarlet leaf-stalks and long strings of small seeds, I think it could be a Red Snake-bark Maple Acer capillipes. It’s said to be a favourite in small gardens for its very red autumn leaves. Nice bit of stripy bark showing in the top right of the picture, too.

38-apple-snake-bark-maple

Public transport details: Ormskirk train from Central at 10.10, alighting Aughton Park at 10.37. Returned from Aughton Park at 2.53, arriving Central 3.20.

 

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Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, 2nd October 2016

It was a glorious sunny day with a clear blue sky, and it was quite warm for early October.  As we approached Flaybrick we looked up at the overhanging Holly branches. The bottoms of the leaves were full of the white egg masses of Cottony Camellia Scale Pulviaria floccifera. We’ve seen a lot of that about this year. The Grade II listed chapels are now surrounded by scaffolding and hoardings, and are undergoing a process of “controlled ruination” because the damage by vandals has made them unsafe. The Friends still have hopes of creative re-use.

37-flaybrick-three-tree-glade
Section CE12 with (L-R) Deodar, Swamp Cypress and Tibetan Cherry

Flaybrick is full of marvellous trees. As well as the plan by Bob Hughes we followed last year, we now have Flaybrick’s own “tree walk” route, with 44 trees marked. Not all are rarities, but most are interesting. One of the first notable trees is this big old Monkey Puzzle in section NC 3A, looking like a freely fruiting female tree.

37-flaybrick-monkey-puzzle

There were Magpies and Grey Squirrels on the grass, but John had his eye on the sky as usual, and called out a sighting of a Sparrowhawk, cruising leisurely overhead. A young Red Oak in section NC 6A was planted in memory of the first Ranger. There was an orange ladybird on it, but it was only the ubiquitous Harlequin. I was looking forward to seeing the Bhutan Pine in section NC 3A, which I had become familiar with in Scotland, but the one in Flaybrick is very tall and hemmed in by other tall trees, so it wasn’t possible to examine the beautiful long needles. They are unusual in being grouped in fives, not the usual pairs. We picked some dead ones from the litter below it, though.

37-flaybrick-bhutan-pine-needles

There are ten different Rowans and Whitebeams planted in the “Sorbus Avenue” between sections CE13 and CE17. Eight of them have red berries, so we didn’t attempt to distinguish them; one has been vandalised and is just a stump sprouting new foliage, but no berries; but the tenth one had cream berries and so must be Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’, a variety with no Latin species name.

37-flaybrick-sorbus-avenue

37-flaybrick-joseph-rock

We admired the young trees in CE 17, a blue Atlantic Cedar, a Deodar and a Dawn Redwood. A small skein of Canada Geese flew over, heading towards New Brighton. We lunched in Tam o’ Shanter urban farm, then set off up the hill to Bidston windmill. I had to stop as my sore foot isn’t up to all those uneven steps and surfaces, and went back to Flaybrick to look at the more-secluded northern RC section, which we rarely spend any time in. Their best tree is a rarity called an Exeter Elm Ulmus glabra ‘Exoniensis’. It’s one of the tallest in Britain, at 46 feet (14m) when last measured, and is a tree of national significance.

37-flaybrick-exeter-elm

It’s a variety of Wych Elm, but with smaller leaves, in upright bunches in Spring, and which are more coarsely serrated. Since the loss of the English Elms to disease in the 1980s, Wych Elms and their rarer forms are the only remaining food plant for the White Letter Hairstreak butterfly. I met Bob Hughes later, and he said even these Elms seem to be dying locally. He saw the butterfly on his allotment in 2010, 2013 and 2014, but not since. The Exeter Elm in Flaybrick was looking a bit sick too, with brown bits on the leaves that probably aren’t autumn colours.

37-flaybrick-exeter-elm-leaves

At the junction of sections RC3 and RC4 there is a huge triple-trunked Cedar of Lebanon. Nearby, in section RC4 is a lovely grove of six or seven Hornbeams, looking like one broad tree.

37-flaybrick-hornbeam-grove

On a bank at the east end of section RC6 is a Common Pear tree, not notable in itself, but this one had produced masses of fruit, which were falling with audible thumps. I had to stand clear!  I tried one, and it was sweet and edible, so there is free food for anyone who wants to forage. Don’t forget to bring a hard hat!

37-flaybrick-fallen-pears

In section CE16 is possibly the most unusual tree in the garden. It’s listed as an Orange-berried Service Tree, which had me foxed.  It was neither the True, the Wild nor the Bastard Service Tree, but it might be the beautifully-named Service Tree of Fontainbleau, Sorbus x latifolia (which some unromantic souls call the Broad-leaved Whitebeam). That’s unusual enough, but the orange berries with white lenticels make this an atypical member of an already-rare species.

37-flaybrick-service-fontainbleau

37-flaybrick-service-fontainbleau-berries

It was too early for much autumn colour on the Tulip Tree or the Sweet Gum (Liquidambar), but the top of the Red Maple was just starting to turn.

37-flaybrick-red-maple-colour

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Upton Road / Boundary Road at 10.30. Returned from the opposite stop on Upton Road on the 437 bus at 3.10, arriving Liverpool city centre at 3.30.

 

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Chester, 25th September 2016

The plan was to walk from Chester Zoo to Ellesmere Port along the Shropshire Union Canal, but I had to pass on the five mile walk because I seem to have pulled a muscle in my foot. Limping but getting better! I had a short stroll around the Zoo instead. There were the usual attractions – elephants, giraffes, two Greater One-horned Rhinos and a new baby Tapir, but I headed for the Tropical House to see the birds. Here’s a pretty little Pekin Robin Leiothrix lutea.

36-chester-pekin-robin

Near the bridge by the Tropical House was a huge Ivy in flower, attracting many insects. Most were wasps, but there were also two Commas.

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There was also a large orangey insect of some kind. A hornet? I couldn’t get a picture of it side on, it kept its back to me, but it looks like the Hornet Mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonaria. It was a rare visitor in the 1940s, but is now said to be found as far north as the Midlands. This one’s further north than that!

36-chester-hornet-mimic

In the butterfly house the Blue Morphos Morpho peleides were feeding on oranges.

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The Mallards are pairing up. Most drakes were in their smart new winter plumage and following the females closely. All of the trees were still green except this Norway Maple, which was putting on an autumn show.

36-chester-autumn-colour

John tells me the rest of the group made it to Ellesmere Port successfully, and their best sighting was a Peregrine Falcon pursuing a Wood Pigeon.

Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving Chester Zoo at 11.15.

 

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Tree-hunting in Scotland, September 2016

Last week I stayed with my brother and sister-in-law near Stirling and we went about looking (mostly) at trees. One day we went to the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (RBGE). Amongst the prettiest trees there was this Katsura Cercidiphyllum japonicum. Its leaves are very similar to those of the Judas tree but Katsura’s leaves are opposite, not alternate. Their autumn colours are lovely, and it was already turning pinkish-yellow. The fallen leaves are said to smell of burnt sugar or candy floss.

01 Katsura

There was a grove of young Monkey Puzzle trees (Chilean Pine) Araucaria araucana. They are threatened in their native Argentina and Chile, so six young trees have been collected from the wild to safeguard genetic diversity, a process known as ex-situ conservation. You can see how varied these three are.

02 young monkey puzzles

RBGE also has Britain’s biggest plant fossil. It’s the trunk of a Pitus withami (Carboniferous period) which was discovered about a mile away at Craigleith quarry. Behind it is the fossilised root of a Lepidodendron, which grew to 45 metres, but whose only living relatives are now small clubmosses.

03 fossil tree

Outside the Glasshouses entrance is a variety of Siberian Elm Ulmus pumila var. pinnato-ramosa, described by Mitchell as “very rare”. It has a weeping habit and serrated leaves.

04 Siberian Elm

05 Siberian elm

Inside glasshouse 4 is a Giant Victoria Water Lily, Longwood Hybrid. Amazingly, it’s an annual !

06 Victoria water lily

Another very rare tree was a Butternut Juglans cineria with pinnate leaves up to two feet (60 cm) long, looking too big for the tree.

07 Butternut

At MacRosty Park, Crieff, I was introduced to Douglas Firs and also to the Bhutan Pine Pinus wallichiana. It’s a five-needle pine, with very long needles, and I expect I will be able to identify it when I see it again.

08 Bhutan Pine

At Cluny House Gardens there is a huge Giant Redwood Sequoiadendron giganteum. The first seeds came to Britain in 1853 and this tree is thought to have been grown from that first batch. It’s 135 feet (41 meters) tall and still growing at about two feet a year. It’s the British girth champion at 11.3 meters (37 feet).

10 Champion Giant Redwood

Red Squirrels are common here, and were scampering around the car park. They feed them regularly in bird-proof lidded feeders.

09 Red Squirrel

They have a very large and gnarled Antarctic Beech Nothofagus antarctica. There’s a very young one in the Dell at Port Sunlight, but this one looked like it might have been over a hundred years old. The species was first introduced to Britain in 1830 so is it one of the originals? Their leaflet didn’t say. Near the entrance I spotted a three-lobed maple with very big leaves. It was a Moosebark! Acer pensylvanicum. After having a possible Moosebark Maple pointed out at Calderstones a few weeks ago (I don’t think it was) I had looked up the snake-barked Maple group so I was primed when I saw the huge matching leaves. Nice bark, too.

11 Moosebark maple leaves

12 Moosebark maple bark

The Fortingall Yew is thought to be the oldest living thing in Britain and perhaps in Europe, at least 3000 years old, maybe 5000. In 1769 it was estimated to have had a girth of 56 feet (17m), but its subsequent fame ensured it was pilfered for souvenirs. Then some children set it on fire. Now there are only remnants behind a gated stone wall. All the separate trunks on the picture were once one tree and a ring of marker posts shows where the circumference used to be. Cuttings have been taken from this and other ancient Yews to make a hedge in the RBGE, to preserve genetic diversity.

13 Fortingall Yew

14 Fortingall Yew

The Meikleour Beech Hedge is believed to have been planted in autumn 1745 and is now the world’s tallest hedge at an average of 100 feet. It is 580 yards long. We were able to get behind it, where it doesn’t look like a hedge at all, just the edge of a beech wood.

15 Meikleour beech hedge

16 behind the MBH

At Scone Palace they have the original Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii, grown from seed sent back by the plant-hunter David Douglas from the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest of the USA in 1826. It’s now 190 years old and is one of the fifty Golden Jubilee Great British Trees, as is the Fortingall Yew.

17 The Douglas Fir

18 Douglas Fir sign

At Airthrey Castle, now part of Stirling University, there is a layering Giant Redwood. Its branches droop to the ground all around it and take root, making a ring of young trees. Some Yews are known to do this, but it’s rarer for Giant Redwoods.

19 Layering giant redwood

They also had a Père David’s Maple Acer davidii. It’s another in the snake-bark group, but has the most subtly (almost imperceptibly) three-lobed leaves of them all.

20 Pere David's maple leaves

21 Pere David's maple bark
We ended the week in fine style at Argarty Red Kites, a feeding station and hide set up by a local farmer and his family. They were being given venison scraps the day I was there!  I reckon there are eleven Red Kites in this picture, although three are just dots in the sky.

22 eleven kites

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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