Autumnwatch Unsprung

It was nice to see a marine themed quiz on yesterday evening’s Autumnwatch Unsprung. A lot of the visitors to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve who were asked to identify the mystery objects seemed to struggle. We have seen all of them during MNA trips on the Merseyside and Wirral coast.

Mermaid’s Purse – the egg case of  Lesser Spotted Dogfish (Small spotted Catshark) Scyliorhinus canicula

The Shark Trust is asking members of the public to record any Mermaid’s Purses that they find washed ashore. This will provide valuable information on species abundance and distribution and information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds.

Egg case identification charts and how to record your finds can be found at

MNA Mermaids Purse Dogfish1

Heart Urchin a.k.a. Sea Potato Echinocardium cordatum

This species favours sandy shores feeding on organic deitrus

MNA New Brighton Heart Urchin1

Sea Wash Ball – the egg case of the Common Whelk Buccinum undatum

MNA Sea Wash Ball2

Cartilaginous Bone from a Shark or Ray

MNA Cartilaginous Bone1

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West Kirby, 26th October 2014

It was overcast and mild today, 15 or 16 degrees, but with a strong breeze.  Our first bird of note was a Buzzard over Bidston tip, seen from the train. In West Kirby the Mahonia was blooming in the brief sunshine, and a big Ivy in Sandlea Park still had many small flies and hoverflies on it. It was very blowy down by the front. The windsurfers were having a wonderful time, leaping and turning in the strong gusts.

42 West Kirby kites over Hilbre

We were just before a high tide (9.02m at 11.57), built up by the wind. Many birds had been blown over from Hilbre by the strong onshore winds. Next to the marsh there were lots of Oystercatchers, several hundred Starlings in the reeds and about 40 Pale-bellied Brent Geese sheltering on the water margin.  A biggish jellyfish had been stranded on the beach, possibly a small Barrel jellyfish, Rhizostoma octopus, although I wouldn’t  insist on the identification.

42 West Kirby jellyfish

By the Dee Lane slipway we enjoyed an RSPB poster, showing the lengths of bird beaks and what they could reach in the sand.

42 West Kirby bird beak poster

We walked south along the prom, enjoying the sound of the wind wailing through the masts and rigging of the ships at the sailing club. There was spray splashing up onto the prom and a dead bird in the surf, probably a Magpie.

42 West Kirby dead bird in surf

We headed for the shelter of Victoria Park for lunch, spotting a Pied Wagtail on the bowling green and a late flowering Cordyline or Yucca spike.

42 West Kirby Cordyline

There was Ivy-leaved Toadflax blooming on a garden wall in Victoria Drive as we headed up to Ashton Park. People were still feeding bread to the birds despite notice about Angel Wing. Park birds included Mallards, Pigeons, Black-headed Gulls, Moorhens, Coots, Greylag and Canada Geese, and many young Herring Gulls. We think we spotted first, second and third year birds, but  no adults.

42 West Kirby young HG

On the path were painted representations of the planets, with the arc of the sun across the path at the far end to show their relative sizes. The distances weren’t to scale, though. The outer planets would need to be several miles away.  In the Upper Park were a party of Long-tailed Tits, a Jay, a Blackbird and several Magpies.

42 West Kirby Ashton upper park

The clocks changed last night, but the clock of St Bridget’s struck 12, even though the face was showing 1pm. They seem to have adjusted the chimes backwards by two hours, not one. One unusual gravestone was for David Donaldson Wynn-Williams of the Antarctic, whom I looked up. He was a polar microbiologist, born in West Kirby.

42 West Kirby antarctic gravestone















There were lots of Harlequin ladybirds crawling about on an “Old Rugged Cross” gravestone, which was carved like wood bark but, frustratingly for them, had no under-bark crevices for them to get into. There was a larva, too, which seemed quite late.

We walked back along the Wirral way, and saw the West Kirby Lifeboat and its tractor coming out of the garage, having just topped up its petrol.
42 West Kirby lifeboat

Public transport details: West Kirby train from Central Station at 10.35, arriving West Kirby at 11.04. Returned on the 14.01 rain, arriving Liverpool Central 2.35.

Here is the plan for the next few Sundays:
2nd Nov  Waterloo – meet 10 am Central Station
9th Nov  MNA coach trip, no walk
16th Nov  Stanley Park – meet Queen Square 10 am
23rd Nov  Woolton Woods – meet Great Charlotte Street 10 am
30th Nov  Southport – meet Central Station at 10 am
7th Dec  Xmas meal at New Brighton – meet Sir Thomas Street at 10 am
14th Dec  “Merry Music at the Mansion”, Calderstones – meet 10 am Liverpool ONE

Sunday walks will resume on 18th January. All winter 2015 walks will meet at 10 am Queen Square and the destination will be decided on the day, depending on the weather.

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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Toxteth Moth III

Last night I had another Moth this one a Blair’s Shoulder-knot Lithophane leautieri. First discovered on the Isle of Wight in 1951 this Moth has rapidly colonized England and is now considered common. The larvae of the moth feed on the leaves and flowers of Cypress Cupressus sp. found in parks and gardens.

MNA Blairs Shoulder Knot Moth1

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Ainsdale to Freshfield on the Woodland Path, 19th October 2014

41 Ainsdale woods

The day started with a blue sky and a fresh breeze, and I took the opportunity to look at the leaves of the Gingko trees in Williamson Square, whose green is now bordered with gold.

41 Ainsdale Gingko leaves

From Ainsdale Station we turned south along Mossgill Avenue and kept going south on the Woodland Path, (white spots on the map).

41 Ainsdale map

There were still some plants in bloom along the borders of the path. Evening Primrose, Ragwort, Scarlet Pimpernel, White Campion, Harebell, Red Clover, late Bramble flowers, and Common Storksbill.

41 Ainsdale common storksbill

We noticed the leaf rosettes of next year’s Mullein, which are very soft and furry. Someone said that birds sometimes pick pieces from the leaves to line their nests. It certainly felt snuggly enough!  Big clumps of Weld were still in flower at the tips, although they are only supposed to bloom until the end of September. As they say, it hasn’t read the book! The plant was formerly known as Dyer’s Rocket and was used for a yellow dye.

41 Ainsdale Weld

The path has been designated the “Butterfly Route”, but this late in the year we saw just one Red Admiral still flying, an unidentified distant moth and an unidentified speedy dragonfly. Near a gateway a very sluggish Queen Bee was crawling right in the middle of the path with walkers, bikers and dogs all going past. John rescued it on a twig and deposited it safely in the undergrowth, where it can overwinter in comfort.

41 Ainsdale queen bee

By the time we reached the picnic tables we were all too hot and stared peeling off layers. An enterprising Robin, knowing that people sitting down means lunch, came right onto the tables to forage for crumbs, which we obligingly supplied.

41 Ainsdale Robin

Bird life was very sparse, with Magpies, Jackdaws and Gulls overhead, a few Blue Tits in the woods, and two Carrion Crows scouting on a grassy verge, but we couldn’t see what they were looking for.

41 Ainsdale hunting crows

Some wild Asparagus plants were going autumnal on the edges, and one bore red berries. Will they grow into harvestable Asparagus in the garden? One of us plans to try it!

41Ainsdale Asparagus berries

On a damp bank was a good crop of the fern Common Polypody with its rows of spore- bearing organ called sori.

41 Ainsdale common polypody

Below the ferns was Liverwort, and some tiny toadstools, just an inch high and half an inch across.

41 Ainsdale tiny toadstools

We crossed the golf course, negotiated the level crossing and thus into Freshfield. There has been a good crop of Rowan berries this year.

41 Ainsdale Rowan berries

On the way home, dark clouds and a gusty wind were getting up. We are promised some storms later in the week.

Public transport details: Southport train from Central Station at 10.23, arriving at Ainsdale at 11am. Returned from Freshfield station at 14.11, due Liverpool city centre at 14.50.

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Toxteth Moth II

Had a rather nice Angle Shades Moth Phlogophora meticulosa sporting autumn colours that was resting away from the drizzle near the entrance to my flat in Toxteth this evening :)

MNA Toxteth Angle Shades Moth1

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Maghull to Old Roan, 12th October 2014

For this sixth section of the Trans-Pennine Trail we had a gloriously sunny day, 12 degrees when we started out (that’s 54 degrees in old money), but getting much warmer in the sunshine during the day.  Our first birds were spotted in Queen Square before we got our bus. Eight or ten geese flew over in a V-formation, flying northwards. In Maghull we walked down Rosslyn Road and re-joined the TPT at Old Racecourse Road. A Robin was singing eagerly on a garden tree. At the end of Meadway a footpath leads to Sefton Meadows. On some Flowering Currant bushes there were lots of ladybirds sunning themselves. Most were orange with black spots, but one was black with red spots. I think they were all Harlequins.

40 Maghull ladybird

Flowers in bloom were Himalayan Balsam, Ragwort, Hogweed, White Dead-nettle, and today’s mystery plant – this yellow-flowered one with a cluster of flowers and seed-heads atop a very stout stem, with shiny, prickly leaves like a thistle. Perhaps it had been cut off at the top and was re-sprouting. My best guess is Smooth Hawksbeard, which is common, has shiny leaves, lives on path-sides and flowers to December.

40 Maghull hawksbeard

Jackdaws and a Pheasant were calling and there were flocks of Rooks from the Maghull rookery flying overhead. After the bridge onto Chapel Lane there was a signpost pointing right saying “Jubilee Woods”, which we must investigate another time. Pathside trees included one bearing bright red apples and a White Poplar with its top leaves catching the sun.

40 Maghull white poplar blue sky

We lunched at a broken-down picnic table, surrounded by empty beer bottles and crisp packets. Then over Mill Dam Bridge crossing the River Alt and onto Chapel Lane, across the flat fields between Switch Island and Sefton Church. A Buzzard was calling but we couldn’t see it. Two Red Admirals were flying over fields and a Grey Wagtail flew up from Moor Hey Brook.  The Hawthorn berries are very abundant this year.

40 Maghull Hawthorn berries

We paused where the road crossed the line of the new Broom’s Cross Road. We won’t be able to stand in that spot next year!  The first picture below looks south towards Switch Island and the second looks northwards towards Thornton, with Sefton Church on the horizon. The works appear to have been flooded by the recent heavy rains.

40 Maghull road southwards

40 Maghull road northwards

We crossed Northern Perimeter Road into Netherton, where there are three roads named for the moon landings. Aldrin’s Lane (after the astronaut Buzz Aldrin), Lunar Drive and Apollo Way (after the title of the manned space programme). Then we turned onto the canal. The Mallard drakes are now in their full breeding plumage after their moult. Also the usual Coots and Moorhens. Ivy was in  flower all along the fences, full of insects. This one is the Drone Fly Eristalis tenex, I think.

40 Maghull dronefly

Other signs of autumn included the red leaves of either Virginia Creeper or Russian Vine (which are very hard to tell apart) and Golden Cotoneaster berries, probably of the variety “Rosthchildianus” .

40 Maghull golden cotoneaster

There were lots of Red Admirals about today. We saw two flying over the fields and at least six along the canal on the Ivy.

40 Maghull Red Admiral

As we approached Old Roan we admired the great row of Poplar trees on the far side.

40 Maghull Canal Poplars

Today we walked two and a half miles of the Trans-Pennine Trail, taking us to 14.5 miles from Southport.

Public Transport details: 300 bus from Queen Square at 10.18, arriving Liverpool Road/Rosslyn Road Maghull just after 11. Some of us returned on the 1.58 train from Old Roan to Liverpool, while others got the 55 bus outside the station at 2.06, heading for connections at Bootle Bus Station.

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Port Sunlight Riverside Park, 5th October 2014

39 Sunlight aerial view








It was a bright and sunny autumn day, noticeably cooler than in recent weeks. The new Port Sunlight Riverside Park lies between Bromborough Pool and New Ferry, on the south bank of the Mersey. The explanatory sign said it is on the site of the Bromborough Dock landfill site, which operated from 1995 to 2006. The waste built up into a 37 metre high mound, and at the end of operations it was encased in a high-density polyethylene geomembrane, then covered in engineered clay and a layer of soil. Nature has been allowed to take a hold and over the coming years more vegetation will grow, forming a new woodland on the south side of the mound.

39 Sunlight climbing path

Along the path which climbs to the summit were Brambles, masses of Michaelmas Daisies, Rape, Ox-eye Daisy, Evening Primrose, Wild carrot, Tansy, Ragwort, Yarrow, Teasel, and this plant with spiky seed heads that we couldn’t identify. It was about three feet tall. Any suggestions? (Added later: Margaret has identified it as a Milk Thistle Silybum marianum. Originally a French plant, long naturalised in Britain, although Merseyside is near the northern limit of its range. Found in “bare and sparsely grassy places, often on the coast.”)

39 Sunlight spiky seeds













39 Sunlight Michaelmas daisies


One Jay flew over, a Kestrel hovered near the summit, there was a big flock of Goldfinches amongst the seed heads and a Robin was chattering in a hedge, quite close to us, very bold and relaxed.

39 Sunlight Robin

There are wonderful views from the top, as far south as Garston and Speke airport tower, right across Liverpool and out to the river mouth.
39 Sunlight river mouth

On the way down we spotted this shrub with weird-looking cloudy blue/white berries. Both fruits and leaves reminded us of Blackcurrants. It’s the ornamental Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum, native to the US West Coast.

39 Sunlight berries flowering currant

We lunched in the sunshine by the riverside then set off north on Mersey View Walk to look at the lake.

39 Sunlight lunch spot

On the north east corner the path overlooks Rock Ferry shore, where there were Redshanks, an Oystercatcher, a Curlew, some Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and a Shelduck. There are steps down, which probably join up to Rock Park, a route which we might investigate another day.

39 Sunlight view

On the lake were Gadwall, Moorhen, Shoveler, a Mute Swan, a Snipe and over a dozen Black-tailed Godwits.

39 Sunlight Godwits

Alongside the path along the southern edge there was a climbing plant twining around a wild rose stem, with bright red berries. It was the poisonous Black Bryony.

39 Sunlight Black Bryony

There was a late bee on one of the massed clumps of Michaelmas Daisies, and a single Large White Butterfly near some flowers of Purple Toadflax.

Public transport details: Number 1 bus from Sir Thomas Street at 10.23 (the Chester bus), arriving New Chester Road / Shore Drive 10.55. Returned on 41A bus at 1.54 from New Chester Road / Shore Drive to Birkenhead bus station. Some of us were going to the Vintage Bus and Tram display at Woodside, but two of us went to Conway Park for the 14.24 train to Liverpool Central.

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MNA Coach Trip Old Moor RSPB Reserve 4th October 2014

23 members joined the MNA Coach Trip over to Old Moor RSPB Reserve in the Dearne Valley near Barnsley in North Yorkshire. We were slightly later in the year than our last visit in September 2011 but despite missing the passage Waders the sheer volume of Ducks and some fantastic views of Raptors led to an enjoyable day.

After a quick nose at the feeders beside the visitor centre – Robin, Blue and Great Tit, Chaffinch and later Willow Tit and Great-spotted Woodpecker seen by some, a large group of members headed to Bittern Hide overlooking the Mere for lunch. A Little Egret was seen stalking around and flying out at the back – later John Clegg & co viewed a Little Egret with a red darvic ring –too distant to read the number and also a Kingfisher. A pale looking Peregrine was being harassed by a couple of Carrion Crows. Ducks included Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Coot with Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, eighteen Cormorant standing on an island and Black-headed and Lesser Black Backed Gulls. Better views of the Wildfowl was seen around at the Family Hide along with four Pochard and a pair of Little Grebe diving close in, plenty of Moorhens stalking around the islands, a Mute Swan and cygnet, a Grey Heron and a female Marsh Harrier gliding at the back of the reeds being chased on and off by half a dozen Magpies. A few passerines with small flocks of Goldfinch, Linnet, Starlings and the odd Reed Bunting. A Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus was sat on the grass just outside the hide meticulously cleaning its long ears and paws.

At the nearby Field Pool West Hide I’d only just sat down when a couple of Magpies flushed a Snipe which circled around eventually landing out of sight in a ditch. The sixty or so Wigeon standing on the edge of the channel then quickly took to the water ‘whistling’ as the pale coloured Peregrine put in another appearance circling above their heads then gliding over the field at times unusually almost stopping mid-flight and doing a quick hover like a Kestrel before gliding off again. I wandered along the Green Lane Trail adding Blackbird, Long-tailed Tit, Dunnock and Woodpigeon to my day’s tally. At Wader Scrape Hide a real Kestrel was showing much interest around island five at the north-east end of the Mere sitting on the island sign then dropping down on the coarse island vegetation before flying up and hovering. It didn’t catch any unsuspecting Vole though as it too flew off after being harassed by the ever present Magpies.

At Wrath Ings Hide I was counting yet more Wigeon, Shoveler and Gadwall when a flock of thirty or so Golden Plover flew over, they circled a few times but didn’t land. They were soon followed by sixty Lapwing that broke off into two smaller groups and had only just put their feet to the ground when they were back in the air – the pale coloured Peregrine gliding by again!

MNA Old Moor Brown Rollrim1

Brown Rollrim

Only a couple of Fungi species were noted with eight Brown Rollrim Paxillus involutus growing on a patch of short grass close to the Mere and King Alfred’s Cakes Daldinia concentrica growing on the base of one of the wildlife themed wood carvings that were scattered around the reserve and had begun to decay.

MNA Old Moor Willow Gall1

Willow Galls

A number of Gall species with Red Galls on Crack Willow Salix fragilis leaves caused by the Sawfly Pontania proxima and a number of Robin’s Pincushion Galls a.k.a. Bedeguar Gall caused by a Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae which lays its eggs in either the leaves or stem of the Dog Rose. They were unfortunately past their best unlike a fine example we saw on the MNA walk around Wiggs Island NR in September. However, one of the Galls did have the added bonus of a Hairy Shieldbug  a.k.a. Sloe Bug Dolycoris baccarum sat on it.

MNA Old Moor Robins Pincushion Gall1

Robin’s Pincushion Gall with Sloe Bug

MNA Wigg Island Robins Pincushion Gall1

Robin’s Pincushion Gall at Wigg Island NR

ChrisB pointed out some Galls on the Sloe Prunus spinosa bushes called ‘pocket plums’ caused by the fungus Taphrina pruni that results in an elongated and flattened gall, devoid of a stone. The leaves of the Sloes were rolled up tightly perpendicular to their mid-rib caused by the Leaf-curling Plum Aphid Brachycaudus helichrysi.

MNA Old Moor Pocket Plums1

Pocket Plums

Dull overcast cold conditions kept the Insects at bay but there were numerous Alder Leaf Beetles Agelastica alni making short work munching through the leaves and when the sun put in a brief appearance when we were about to depart a Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta was patrolling a trail.

Autumn fruits and berries covered the hedgerows and trees with Bramble Rubus fruticosus, Japanese Rose Rosa rugosa, Dog-rose Rosa canina, Blackthorn a.k.a. Sloe Prunus spinosa, Sea-buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides and Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus. Very few plants were still in flower with Michaelmas-daisy Aster sp. Water Mint Mentha aquatica Ribbed Melilot Melilotus officinalis and Hedge Bindweed Calystegia sepium. Pat Lockwood pointed out an invasive species of Pigmyweed Crassula sp. that seemed to be taken firm hold in a lot of the water channels and one pond was covered in White Water Lily pads Nymphaea odorata.

MNA Old Moor Owl Playground1

I think I may have to put in a submission to the British Birds Rarities Committee  – I came across this magnificent Owl in the children’s adventure playground :) After resisting the urge to buy more books in the Reserve shop I headed out where a Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta was flitting around the masses of Ivy Hedera helix that completely covered the gable end of the stone centre. ChrisB had found some Grapes growing in a small Herb Garden – a few of the vine leaves giving wonderful Autumn colours.

MNA Old Moor Vine Leaf1

Vine Leaf

As a finale John Clegg shouted out ‘Red Deer herd!’ standing in a nearby field when we had just re-joined the M6 for our return journey.

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.

A wide photographic selection of birds, marine life, insects, mammals, orchids & wildflowers, fungi, tribal people, travel, ethnography, fossils, hominids, rocks & minerals etc. is available on my Alamy webpage

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Town Lane woodland, Southport, 28th September 2014

This area is managed as part of the Mersey Forest and is located at Kew, south east of Southport town centre, near Southport General Hospital and close to Dobbies Garden Centre. It is open scrubland with some trees, and Fine Jane’s Brook runs through it.

38 Town Lane bridge











It was a cloudy, calm and mild day, unusually warm for late September. One public thermometer in Bootle said 20 degrees and the other said 18 degrees, and that was only mid-morning.

There were Carrion Crows on the open fields, with Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls overhead. A Moorhen hid under the bridge over the brook and House Sparrows and Blue Tits flitted along the gully. A Robin was singing, and there were Starlings in the trees. A Jay flew low over the scrub and we spotted a female Stonechat high on a Bramble patch.

There were two big patches of late-flowering crucifers. I think the yellow one with the three-seeded pods might have been Sea Radish, while the similar white one might have been Wild Radish, although they are said to hybridise readily, so could have been mixed. Evening Primrose and Himalayan Balsam were still in flower, and big patches of Michaelmas Daisies were splashed about. There were red berries in various shades, dark Hawthorn, brighter Rowan and the very jewel-like clusters of Guelder Rose. We noted a very heavy crop of Elderberries, their weight dragging them down.

38 Town lane elderberries

As we lunched at a cluster of picnic tables, a line of about 20 geese flew north west, then a V-formation of 50, then another 30 until there were more and more, perhaps 1000 altogether. We didn’t see them close-up but we could hear some honking, and they were probably Pink-footed Geese. There are reports that they have already arrived, and they were probably flying from the Lancashire plain towards Marshside.

We saw just one white butterfly in the distance, coming down onto some Michaelmas Daisies. It was probably a Large White by its size. In a horse field some fodder appeared to have been spilled, and it had attracted 17 Collared Doves, a Pheasant, several Magpies, some Gulls and a few Jackdaws. One small Oak tree bore both Spangle Galls and Silk Button galls, and one leaf had both.

38 Town Lane oak galls

Outside Dobbies garden centre a group called S & R Birds were displaying their rescued birds of prey. A Buzzard, a Barn Owl, a female Kestrel, a Burrowing Owl and a European Eagle Owl.

38 Town Lane Barn Owl

38 Town Lane Burrowing Owl

38 Town Lane Eagle Owl

Then we went into Dobbies and browsed for bargains. They have some of their Christmas decorations out already, but I preferred this bright display of Cyclamens.

38 Town Lane cyclamen

Public transport details: Bus 300 from Queen Square at 10.18, arriving Town Lane, Kew, at 11.30. Returned on the 44 bus at 2.11 from Bentham’s Way (outside Dobbies) to Southport at 2.35 then the 2.58 train to Liverpool, arriving 3.45.

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Gannets at Bass Rock

Ken Lewis says: I have just got back from North Berwick.  I had a day on Bass Rock and the Scottish Sea Bird Centre. Did a chumming on the return to Dunbar. It was very special and I would like share my images with our members.

04 Gannets

01 Gannets

05 Gannets


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