Dibbinsdale, 13th April 2014

We were joined by two MNA members today, Ron and Jim, who had been planning to visit Dibbinsdale at the height of the Wood Anemone season.

16 Dibbinsdale carpet

Dibbinsdale is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because it’s an ancient woodland. Wikipedia says it is thought to have formed part of the boundary in the 10th and 11th centuries between the Norse colony in Wirral, to the north and west, and Anglo-Saxon Mercia to the east and south.

We were greeted by a Robin at Bromborough Rake station, closely followed by a Great Tit and a Long-tailed Tit. As we started down the path into the woods we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming. John used a stone and a fallen tree to reply, and the bird came to look at us from high in a tree. There was another one answering the drumming from a few hundred yards away.

16 Dibbinsdale anemones

The carpets of Wood Anemones were a magnificent sight. They had Lesser Celandine amongst them, and the Bluebells were just starting to come out. They are mostly slim, and they droop to one side, suggesting that they are only lightly contaminated by Spanish Bluebells, and much purer-looking than the big bold ones in my garden!  We also noted some clumps of Dog’s Mercury, which is another indicator of ancient woodland.

16 Dibbinsdale mercury

The sun wasn’t out yet, and there were a few spots of rain, but they didn’t come to much. Two Jays flew low in the woods and a Carrion Crow passed by. A Buzzard was overhead, circling and mewing. A Mistle Thrush sang, we saw Blue Tits, and there was a single Mallard down on the river Dibbin. A clump of Marsh Marigolds added a bright splash by the edge of a ditch. An Early Bumble Bee was foraging low in the undergrowth. Margaret spotted a big patch of the little flower called Town Hall Clock under a Birch tree. The flower head has “faces” on all four sides and one on the top. It loves damp, gloomy places, and is said to be common, although we rarely see it.

16 Dibbinsdale clock

The sun came out briefly just before lunch, but not for long. We stopped to watch a Song Thrush in a gap though the trees, singing in various triplets. During our lunch stop John saw a Green Woodpecker fly over, but most of us missed it. We were looking out over the open field to the wood which was just starting to flush with green.

16 Dibbinsdale trees awakening

Two Dunnocks were sitting on the path and more Jays through the branches. In a damp spot there was a clump of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage.

16 Dibbinsdale saxifrage

Some trees in the woods bore clusters of lime green flowers. The leaves looked like a Sycamore, but the genuine Sycamore leaves were much further out. It was some sort of Maple.

16 Dibbinsdale maple flowers

At the top of the steps we saw a Nuthatch, a Buff-tailed Bumble Bee searching for a nest hole and a Chiffchaff, which flew out giving us a rare good view. A Blackbird was softly repeating its alarm call in a high hedge. Sometimes that means there’s an owl about, but we couldn’t see anything. Finally, the sun came out properly, and on a sunny bank there were Daisies, Speedwell and Dandelions, several Ladybirds warming up, a Carder Bee,  a Peacock butterfly and another Bumble Bee, probably a Buff-tailed this time. I also took a picture of this insect, the size of a big wasp, but it’s probably some sort of fly.

16 Dibbinsdale fly

Bats hibernate in the boarded-up tunnel from October to April, and there is a sign warning that they are protected. On the other side of the brook was our first Garlic Mustard and at the other end of the tunnel there was more Marsh Marigold, reflected prettily in the water.

16 Dibbinsdale marsh marigold

Cuckoo flower was blooming on several logs in the pools. Does it grow like that naturally or has it been planted?  It and Garlic Mustard are the food plants of the Orange-Tip Butterfly, so we started keeping a lookout for one.

16 Dibbinsdale cuckoo flower

Confusingly, a Nuthatch was going up a tree like a Treecreeper.  By another prominent tree on the edge of the steep valley we could hear a pecking noise. We stopped and listened and it definitely seemed to be coming from the other side of the tree, almost in arm’s reach. Was it a Great Spotted Woodpecker pecking for food, or attacking a tree hole or nest box? There was another nest box visible nearby which had definitely been “got at”.

Woodslee Pond had a Moorhen on a nest, made where some tree branches dipped into the water. I don’t think I’ve seen a Moorhen’s nest before, just Coots. There were also some artificial floating islands, and a Mallard was sitting on eggs on one of them, which kept on rotating in the breeze. She at least had a constantly-changing view!

16 Dibbinsdale floating mallard

The Ranger Station had a sign up about Water Voles, saying they have a small population, although there used to be many more. The problem is habitat fragmentation caused by both flooding and drought. They are working on wetland restoration, and use local conservation students to do annual surveys. We left some MNA leaflets there, and admired their stuffed Hedgehog, the display of “replicated taxidermy” butterflies and a wall full of children’s paintings of wildlife.

16 Dibbinsdale stuffed hedgehog

16 Dibbinsdale rep tax butterflies

16 Dibbinsdale owl painting

































Their walled garden had a large patch of Cowslips.

16 Dibbinsdale cowslips

Near St Patrick’s Well  Wild Garlic was just budding, a Wood Sorrel was in flower and there was a patch of white Bluebells. At the back of the well Herb Robert was clinging to the vertical wet wall, above masses of Liverwort. Then Ron called – he’d seen an Orange Tip sunning itself on a leaf. It was probably newly emerged from its pupa and was a stunner.

16 Dibbinsdale orange tip

Then we walked up to Spital station, admiring the flowers and shrubs in the sunny gardens.

Public transport details: Chester train from Central Station at 10.15, arriving Bromborough Rake at 10.35. Returned on the train from Spital at 3.07, arriving back in Liverpool at 3.30.

Here is the plan for the next few Sundays:
20th April    Easter Sunday, Waterfront Walk. Meet 10am at the Pump House, Albert Dock
27th April    MNA Coach, no walk
4th May      Chester for Cathedral. Meet 10am Central Station

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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Thornton Hough, 30th March 2014

15 Thornton pinesToday was much warmer, although it was overcast and hazy as we set out. From Thornton Hough we walked via Crofts Bank Cottages through field footpaths to Brimstage, then back a different way over half a dozen stiles. Most of the fields were planted with oilseed rape, with some not flowering yet and some just coming out.
15 Thornton rape flower

The sides of the paths were bright with Lesser Celandine, whose flowers opened fully when the sun eventually came out. The number of petals on the flowers is very variable, and we counted between 8 and 14.

15 Thornton Lesser Celandine

Along the edges of the crops a pretty little Speedwell was growing, probably Common Field Speedwell. Also spotted were Red Dead-nettle and the orange seed clusters of Iris.
15 Thornton speedwell
Common Field Speedwell

15 Thornton iris seeds
Iris seed-heads

Rooks were cawing from the rookery by Thornton Hough church, a Buzzard flew low over a field, Chaffinches and a Song Thrush were singing. We saw a Wren, Blue Tits, a Heron, a few Tree Sparrows, a Dunnock and about three dozen Fieldfares in a far tree. Skylarks were pouring their hearts out overhead and John heard a Yellowhammer along a hedge.  A Magnolia tree was just starting to flower in a farm garden.

15 Thornton magnolia

Along a path near our lunch spot there was Hawthorn on the left, the new foliage showing bright green, but no flowers yet. By contrast, on the other side was a Blackthorn, all flowers and no leaves. There was a Honeybee on one of the flowers and a Chiffchaff was calling overhead.

15 Thornton Blackthorn lane

15 Thornton Blackthorn

Out of the back of the trees flew a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and we heard the creaky call of a Pheasant. By the side of the path here is a great mound of bare red earth, higher than our heads, with beehives on the top. In the flanks were holes of various sizes. Some might have been rabbit holes, but one was bigger, possibly made by a Badger.

15 Thornton animal holes

On the earth below was a single pawprint. Badger? We couldn’t see any claw marks, so it probably wasn’t a dog.

15 Thornton pawprint

We had lunch perched on two huge tractor tyres. A Blackbird and some Long-tailed Tits passed by us and a Chiffchaff was calling long and persistently. There were Carrion Crows investigating a muckpile. By now it was really hot and sunny, and we had to remove some layers.

15 Thornton tree-lined lane

On the way again, we noticed that Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were about, and there were parties of Linnets flying in front of bare trees. A bird was going wheep, wheep, wheep, which puzzled us for a while, but as usual with an odd bird call, it turned out to be a Great Tit. When it changed to teacher, teacher we recognised it, and then we saw it.  Half a dozen Wolf Spiders were basking by a field margin, but they all scurried away before I could take a picture of them. Towards Brimstage we heard a Greenfinch and there was a Pied Wagtail on the roof. Disappointingly, there were no Brown Hares today in their usual fields, but we were compensated by the most interesting sighting of the day – a great cluster of 7-spot Ladybirds, perhaps 40 or 50 of them, on cut branches of lichen-encrusted trees. A few pairs were mating, but most were torpid and basking in the sun.

15 Thornton ladybird cluster

15 Thornton ladybirds mating

Close by Brimstage we noted a Nuthatch, and there were Jackdaws on the roofs. It was too early in the year for Swallows to be nesting under the archway. Around the back someone had put out a basket of free-range eggs for sale on the “honesty” system. All the eggs were gone and there was money in the pot.

15 Thornton eggs

The bridleway leading back to Thornton Hough is damp and shady, with a water-filled ditch on the right.  Near the base of a big old Ivy-covered Beech there was a huge bracket fungus. It was about a foot across, nine inches deep and very dark. Despite it’s blackness I think it might be a very old Artist’s Bracket, Ganoderma applanatum. Plantlife says it’s often found near the base or on the stumps of old Beech Trees, which would fit.

15 Thornton bracket on beech











A small moth was fluttering in the water of the ditch, trapped and drowning, so we fished it out with a stick. David B said he thought it was a Noctuid Moth, but as there are 35,000 known species, there’s no chance of me identfying it. All I can say is that it was a plain pale brown moth.

15 Thornton noctuid moth

There were lots of people walking dogs. One man seemed to have about twelve of them with him! Maybe that’s why we saw no Brown Hares today. David B reckoned that we’d heard five different Chiffchaffs singing along our route, one from a pine tree, which is unusual. Near Thornton Hough there are two big Eucalyptus trees, one on each side of the path.

15 Thornton eucalyptus














In the farmyard we came across a Peacock butterfly sunning itself.

15 Thornton Peacock

Over the barn roof there was a glimpse of the huge mature Chilean Pine (Monkey Puzzle), next to the Rookery in the tall trees around the church.

15 Thornton trees over barn roof

Then we sat in the sunshine outside St George’s United Reformed Church, waiting for the bus.

Public transport details: Bus 487 at 10.30 from Sir Thomas Street, arriving Thornton Hough 11.10. Returned on the 488 bus from Thornton Hough at 2.46, arriving back in Liverpool at 3.25.

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Stanley Park & Anfield Cemetery, short walk, 26th March 2014

This was the second of our experimental short walks, and attracted nine members and a visitor.  We met at the Leaf Globe behind the Isla Gladstone Conservatory, on a warm sunny morning.

14 Stanley leaf globe

All the ornamental shrubs were blooming, including Forsythia and Pieris “Flame of the Forest”, and the cherry blossom was out.

14 Stanley forsythia

14 Stanley Flame of Forest

14 Stanley cherry blossom

The recently-restored formal walk with flower beds was looking its best, and beyond it were some of the half a million daffodils planted in 1991 as part of the Marie Curie Field of Hope project.

14 Stanley beds and daffs

Park birds were Blue Tit, Wood Pigeon, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow, Magpies, a Wren calling, Robin and Blackbird.  On the lake were Canada Geese, Moorhen, Coot, Mallards, some Cormorants on the island, a Great Crested Grebe, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a pair of Tufted ducks, but no Pochards and no sign of the Mandarin Drake, who hasn’t been seen for six weeks or more. There used to be a female Mandarin too, but she disappeared a year or more ago.

14 Stanley Canadas

While we were in the gravelled circle of  eight very old London Planes, we looked at the central tree, which John was told was something special by a Ranger, but he can’t remember what it was. It seems to have a flat-topped habit, like some ornamental cherry trees. From the look of the breaking buds Chris Felton thought it might be some kind of Poplar. In a depression in the bark of one of the eight old London Planes Chris F identified the web of a lace-webbed spider Amaurobius similis, which he described as a hunter which bites a crane fly on the leg, waits for the poison to take effect, then wraps and eats it.

14 Stanley web

We crossed the road to Anfield Cemetery, and spotted a Sparrowhawk circling above. There were also two Jays on the grass, a Mistle Thrush, 11 or 12 Magpies having a meeting and a Buzzard overhead. Grey squirrels were scampering about. Several Buff-tailed Bumble Bee queens Bombus terrestris were flying low and investigating holes at the bases of  fallen gravestones.  A fallen Hawthorn tree had clumps of lichen on it, identified by Chris F as Xanthoria polycarpa.

14 Stanley lichen

We also had a browse about some interesting monuments and gravestones. One referred to the deceased as the “Vicar of the Parish of Bevington, Liverpool”, but none of us had heard of such a place. I think it was St Alban (Bevington) C of E on Limekiln Lane, Vauxhall, founded 1846 and closed 1941. We also looked at the mass grave of 554 Liverpool citizens who were killed in the May Blitz in 1941. Three Belgian Merchant Seamen were also killed that week and their gravestones are near the side of a path, probably cared for by the Belgian Government.

14 Stanley Belgians

There are also memorials which record the burial somewhere in the cemetery of two early recipients of the Victoria Cross. The one on the left is for Patrick Mylott  who was honoured for his bravery in Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion (Mutiny) of 1857 while the other is for Joseph Prosser for his valour at Sevastopol in 1855 during the Crimean War.

14 Stanley VC memorials

While some of us were looking at those, Chris grubbed about in the soil and came up with a rather splendid keeled slug Limax maculatus. Originally from Black Sea area and the Crimea, the species was probably introduced to Ireland, where it is now common, and it is spreading rapidly in Britain. For instance, the first Worcestershire report was in 2000.

14 Stanley slug

Final tally: 20 bird species, one mammal and several interesting plants and invertebrates.  The walk broke up at just after 1 pm, with many members expressing pleasure and surprise at how attractive the park and cemetery were and how much there was to see.

14 Stanley group with cherry blossom

People who are 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, should see the main MNA website for details of our programme and how to join us.

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Carr Mill Dam, 23rd March 2014

As we waited in Lime Street for the rail replacement bus there was a spatter of rain with strong northerly gusts, but from the bus (which was a plush, warm coach) it seemed like a lovely spring day in the sunshine. It was officially the first day of spring a few days ago, and there was a faint haze of green over all the wayside trees. In the gardens the ornamental trees and shrubs were flowering – Magnolia, Forsythia, Camellia and Cherry, some with very thick blossom indeed.  But at St Helens bus station we noticed small drifts of congealed hailstones at the bases of the shelters.

13 Carr Mill view

Around Carr Mill Dam it was very wintry, too. In the woods it still felt like February. Young oak and beech leaves were still clinging to the trees and fluttering in the strong gusty wind. On the lake Canada Geese were trumpeting, there were Mallards, Black-headed Gulls (about 25% with full black heads) and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. At the south end there were only two or three Great Crested Grebes, but the woodland paths were busy with birds. We heard Wren and Chaffinch singing, a Wood Pigeon flew by fast, and then something else, quick over the trees that might have been a Sparrowhawk. We saw Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Dunnock, Robin and Goldfinches.

Nearer the bridge there was a huge gathering of Great Crested Grebes. We counted 42 altogether, and John said he had never seen so many together before. They weren’t dancing, but a few were facing each other and head-shaking.

13 Carr Mill grebes

We lunched on the bridge. Below us were Coots and Moorhens, there was a Heron on the far bank and a pair of Mute Swans were nesting right beneath us, brooding three eggs. John thought he had heard a tale from a ranger that a dog had caught and injured one of the Carr Mill Swans a year or two ago, it had been taken to the RSPCA but had had to be put down. It looks like the survivor of the pair has found a new mate.

13 Carr Mill swans

Around the farms and muddy field paths beyond Otter Swift Farm we admired the planted clumps of Daffodil varieties, the new Hawthorn leaves, and the Blackthorn just starting to blossom.

13 Carr Mill daffs

13 Carr Mill blackthorn

The Wild Garlic wasn’t in flower yet, but we saw a few flowers of Coltsfoot and some Pussy Willow breaking out.

13 Carr Mill pussy willow

Near one of the farms some curious domestic geese came to investigate us, and one (the gander?) hissed at us through the fence.

13 Carr Mill geese

13 Carr Mill hissing goose

Public transport details: Rail replacement bus from Lime Street at 10.18, arriving St Helens Station at 11.24. Then bus 352 from St Helens bus station towards Orrel and Wigan, alighting Carr Mill Road / Waterside pub at 11.45. Returned to Liverpool by the 352 bus at 2.51, and we just caught the number 10 bus at St Helens bus station at 3.00, arriving back in Liverpool city centre at 3.50.

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Everton Park and Stanley Park, 16th March 2014

The weather wasn’t pleasant today, it was windy, overcast, damp and misty, with occasional spits of rain. We took the bus up to St George’s Church, Everton and went inside. This beautiful church was the first ever to be built on a cast iron frame, making the interior gorgeously light and delicate.

12 Everton St George

Then we strolled in Everton Park. On a clear day there are wonderful views, and it’s a walk really worth doing, but it was very murky and hazy today. There are several newly-erected signboards by the Friends of Everton Park on the theme “Walk into history across a spectacular ridge”. They point out the historical features of the area, like the old fire beacon, the Royalist encampment in the Civil War (from where Prince Rupert said Liverpool was “nought but a crow’s nest that a parcel of boys could take”), the Everton Toffee Shop and the old lock-up.

12 Everton lock-up

One signboard shows a panoramic view over the City, naming notable Liverpool and Wirral landmarks, the Welsh peaks beyond and the Great Orme.

12 Everton signboard view

Carefully placed against the skyline is a sculpture of Everton worthies. On the left, Molly Bushell, of the Everton Toffee Shop; in the middle, Kitty Wilkinson, “the Saint of the Slums” who founded Liverpool’s first public washhouse and baths; on the right a docker, “selected for his role as a vital labourer at the heart of Liverpool’s industrial revolution”.

12 Everton worthies

The wind was very strong, and some Herring Gulls were hovering in the updraft. The only other birds in evidence were Magpies on the grass. A few flowers were struggling through:  Shepherd’s Purse in rough corners, Daisies in the grass, closed-up Dandelions on a bank, and at the back of the colonnade there were the remains of a small wildflower meadow, with some straggly Corn Marigolds, Corn Daisies and Cornflowers still in bloom. Surprisingly, the tree trunks were rich with lichen, so all those fresh breezes must keep the air very clean !

12 Everton lichen

The sun tried to come out once, but otherwise it was a cold, raw day with a lazy wind (too lazy to go around you, just blows straight through you) and it was more like February. We were too cold and exposed to stay there so we took a short bus ride to Stanley Park and lunched outside the Isla Gladstone Conservatory.

12 Stanley Conservatory

Canada Geese, Mallards, Coots, Moorhens and a pair of Great Crested Grebes were on the lake. We looked for the Mandarin drake, which was last seen six weeks ago, but he wasn’t showing. There weren’t any Pochards either, but we noted a single pair of Tufted Duck. Two Coots were mating on their nest. A male Sparrowhawk flew across the lake and made all the Canada Geese scatter.

12 Stanley lake edge

Other birds included Wood Pigeons, Carrion Crow, Long-tailed Tits, Goldfinches, Blackbird, Black-headed Gulls, (20% now with black heads) and Common Gulls on the grass.

12 Stanley arches

Blooming in the shrubbery against bare twigs were the flame-coloured cups of Quince.

12 Stanley quince

Another fine display of colour was Darwin’s barberry (Berberis darwinii), a native of Southern Chile and Argentina, named after the famous Charles (and not after his grandfather Erasmus, the 18th century botanist and polymath, as I first surmised.)

12 Stanley darwin's barberry

Surrounding a gravel circle at the north west corner of the park are eight venerable London Planes, with another unidentified tree in the centre. It has a vaguely pagan and druidical feel to it.

12 Stanley Plane circle

John remembers that same circle of eight trees being there when he was a child, and says they were big old trees then. Are they as old as the park? It was opened in 1870 so that would make them 144 years old. This blog says that “the London Plane is one of the few trees in the world whose life span is unknown to botanists. The reason for that is that this particular kind of plant life has not been around for long enough for its natural life expectancy to be ascertained. No London Plane tree has ever died of old age. Those that have expired were killed by injuries or by diseases, or by both, not by Father Time. The very oldest ones are about 400 years extant.”

Public transport details: Bus 17 from Queen Square at 10.14, arriving St George’s Church at 10.23. Then bus 21 at 11.48 from Netherfield Road South to Walton Road, arriving 11.54. Returned to Liverpool on the 19 bus from Walton Lane at 2.10, arriving Queen Square at 2.25.

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Eastham Country Park 15th March 2014

A grand total of 22 members of the MNA and Liverpool RSPB group joined our joint walk at Eastham Country Park led by Howard Mills. We had a quick look around the small visitor centre and watched the bird feeders that were doing brisk business with plenty of Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Chaffinches, Robins and a lone Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch. The small pond was home to a pair of mating Common Frogs Rana temporaria and masses of frogspawn. A Goldfinch was calling from the top of a tree outside the visitor centre as we started the main walk. A few Stock Doves posed in a tree in addition to the usual Woodpigeons. Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens were in song along with Nuthatch and Great Tit already noted.  There were plenty of Magpies around with one bird missing its tail feathers possibly after an attack by a Sparrowhawk. A Jay flew across the path.

Although conditions in the wood were very dry I found a few Fungi species with Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea rhizomorphs, Purple Jellydisc  Ascocoryne sarcoides, Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae – a few dessicated specimens, Glistening Inkcap Coprinus micaceus, Artist’s Bracket Ganoderma applanatum – widespread in Eastham C.P. and included this nice trio.

MNA Eastham Ganoderma Trio1

Artist’s Bracket

Beech Woodwart Hypoxylon fragiforme – mature specimens with a black finely warted surface, Stump Puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme – a few spent fruiting bodies.

MNA Eastham Beech Woodwart Mature1

Beech Woodwart

MNA Eastham Mature Puffballs1

Stump Puffball

Lumpy Bracket Trametes gibbosa – even a few of the none mycologists commented on this common fungi seen mostly on fallen Beech trees Fagus sylvatica this semi-circular chunky white bracket has elongated pores on the underside and often has a greenish coating on its upper-side in older specimens due to algal growth, Turkeytail Trametes versicolor.        

Half a dozen Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris queens were on the wing. These are one of the first bumblebees to be seen in spring with only the queen hibernating through the winter. After re-fuelling with nectar she starts looking for a suitable site to build her nest – often using abandoned mouse burrows. We noted that the majority of the Holly bushes Ilex aquifolium were infected by the Holly Leaf Miner Phytomyza ilicis, a fly whose larvae burrow into leaves leaving characteristic pale trails or leaf mines. Sid Duff pointed out a very decayed tree stump that on closer inspection was riddled with wood boring insect holes.

MNA Eastham Beetle Holes1

Wood Boring Holes

Plenty of Daffodils Narcissus sp. cultivars in bloom and also flowering Gorse Ulex europaeus.

MNA Eastham Daffodils1


We ate lunch overlooking the River Mersey whilst waiting for the tide to recede. There was a lovely Dolphin memorial seat and some cute ceramic tiles of various marine creatures such as Starfish, Seahorses, Octopus and Fish behind the small Cafe.

MNA Eastham Dolphin Memorial1

MNA Eastham Marine Creature Tiles1

A few Redshank and a Curlew probed about the seaweed shoreline. We walked south along the front viewing an exposed sandbank in the distance. A dredger sailed back and forth along our line of sight as Alexander scoped the waders – Redshank, Godwits – too distant to decide whether they were Black-tailed or Bar-tailed, a few Cormorants, Mallard and Teal in the water plus a scattering of Black-headed and Herring Gulls.

We popped into view the feeders again adding Greenfinch to the list and noting how the hungry hordes had munched through half a feeder’s worth of seeds. We then continued around the north part of the C.P. seeing a friendly tree-rat or two – Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis as well as plenty of Squirrelly evidence in the form of pine cones stripped of the scales starting at the base in order to reach the oily seeds at the base of each scale and droppings on a mossy tree branch.

MNA Eastham Squirrel Cones1

Squirrel nibbled Pine cones

MNA Eastham Squirrel Scat1

Squirrel Droppings 

Ron Crossley spotted a Lacquered Bracket Ganoderma lucidum and later I added Common Tarcrust Diatrype stigma and Rusty Porecrust Phellinus ferruginosus. 

MNA Eastham Rusty Porecrust1

Rusty Porecrust   

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, rocks & minerals etc. is available on my Alamy webpage

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Wirral Way, 9th March 2014

It was clear and sunny, and promised to be a warm spring-like day. We took the train to Hooton and turned onto the Wirral Way.

11 Wirral Way view

Along the first few hundred yards there are three young Yew trees by the side of the path, each about 8 or 10 feet tall. Were they planted when the Country Park was opened in 1973?  If so, they would now be 40 years old. However, commercial yew hedging is said to grow a foot a year, so maybe they are much younger than that.

11 Wirral Way young Yew

Our first birds were Wood Pigeons, then a Robin singing in the bushes, followed by a Goldfinch pecking about some roots.  We probed a hole in the bank, and found it to be at least 3 feet deep. It was too small for a fox and had no foxy smell. Could it have been a rabbit hole? There were lots of small scrapes in the area too, but no other definite burrows. A dead branch had a fine collection of bracket fungi with chestnut-brown tops, probably Artist’s Bracket Ganoderma applanatum. (Added later – no it isn’t, it’s Blushing Bracket, Daedalopsis confragosa. Thanks Sabena.)

11 Wirral Way Brackets

Overhead, a small group of Goldcrests flitted about in a tree and we paused to listen to a Chiffchaff, the first of the year. It was only singing a short song, perhaps three or four repeats, so maybe it had just arrived from Africa and was tuning up.  We also heard the call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and some Jackdaws cawing from the woods. Long-tailed Tits passed through and we stopped to watch three Buzzards soaring high above. Our first Coltsfoot flowers were out, and an early Cow Parsley on the verge.

11 Wirral Way Coltsfoot

11 Wirral Way Cow Parsley

An early Bumble Bee – perhaps a Buff-tailed – was going in and out of a damp hole in the ground. She was probably an overwintering queen setting up her new nest. A Lapwing was flying and calling above a horse field, no doubt trying to impress a potential mate. A Jay flew up off the path and a male Blackbird foraged in some low branches. Another possible sign of a mammal was a well-defined run through the grass below a barbed-wire fence. Again, there was no fox smell, and no tufts of badger hair on the barbed wire. We weren’t doing well for mammals! But the birds just kept on coming – Blue Tits, Magpies, Greenfinch and a Dunnock. There was a rich song coming from the woods, a bird singing sets of three or four different calls. It was probably a Song Thrush but we didn’t see it.

11 Wirral Way Hadlow

We arrived a Hadlow Road Station for lunch soon after noon. By that time it was so warm that we had to peel off layers of jumpers to eat in our shirt sleeves. It turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. A Kestrel swooped past, putting up half a dozen Wood Pigeons, then a Sparrowhawk came past on patrol. We spotted a butterfly going past the signal box, which turned out to be a Brimstone, tempted out of hibernation by the warmth.  In the flower bed in front of the ticket office, Lesser Celandines and Speedwells were blooming amongst the daffodils.

11 Wirral Way L Celandines

Three ladybirds were basking in the sun. The two red ones were the common 7-spot ladybirds, but we thought for a while that the black one might be the rarer Pine ladybird. But it was just a Harlequin.

11 Wirral Way 7 spot ladybird

11 Wirral Way Harlequin

After lunch we walked up to Willaston village. They have some very old buildings there, many of which are Grade II listed, meaning they are of national importance. The oldest was Ashtree Farmhouse, which is half-timbered and early 17th century. Willaston Old Hall has a stone over the door saying 1558 but it is believed to be 17th century. However the Old Red Lion on the green is dated to 1631.  On the green itself the great copper beech was a magnificent sight, surrounded by its circle of crocuses. It was planted on 5th May 1935 for George V’s silver jubilee, so is now nearly 80 years old.

11 Wirral Way copper beech

11 Wirral Way crocuses

We returned via Smithy Lane, spotting Collared Doves on a rooftop and House Sparrows in a beech hedge. A Great Tit was calling. One field of domestic geese had some impressive lines of molehills right across it.  A mammal sighting at last!

11 Wirral Way molehills

Along a narrow section of the path were three sites of Sparrowhawk kills, all within a few feet of each other. This could be the favourite feeding spot of the bird we saw earlier.

11 Wirral Way sparrowhawk kill site

Two Buzzards were flying low together, nearly touching, then separating, engaged in their mating dance. Our last bird of the day was a fleeting Bullfinch in some thin trees, seen when we were nearly back at Hooton.  We had lots of spring “firsts” today, so it’s definitely on its way.

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street to Hooton at 10.13, arriving at 10.40. Returned on the 14.29 train from Hooton.

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Hoylake, 2nd March 2014

It was a dry, overcast, morning, with occasional fine drizzle and a forecast of heavier rain later. But we opted for an outdoor day and headed for Hoylake, where there was a high tide of 9.7m due at 11.24.

10 Hoylake sea and sky

Just outside Hoylake Station was a Pied Wagtail in the car park, and a planter with a sign saying “Incredible Edible Hoylake”. It was empty when we passed but in summer there are food crops to which the residents may help themselves.  The masses of civic daffodils were out, and the street sculpture is impressive, based around a punning use of “knots”. There is a poem called “Knots” by Elizabeth Davey, rope motifs on the bike stands and benches and there are two sculptures of linked birds by David A Annand, one on the pavement and one on the roundabout. All very clever and appropriate.

10 Hoylake knots

There was a Magpie on a lawn at The Kings Gap and we hoped to see great flocks of birds on the shore, but when we got there the water was already so high that the birds had flown. There were just gulls bobbing on the waves, Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Greater Black-backed Gulls further out. There were occasional fly-bys of small flocks of Oystercatchers, Curlew and Knot.

10 Hoylake Kings gap

We walked north east along North Parade, stopping to investigate a garden wall festooned with brightly-coloured fishing floats.

10 Hoylake floats

On the rocks behind the Lifeboat Station is the second children’s pirate ship, sister to the Black Pearl at New Brighton, called, appropriately enough, Grace Darling.

10 Hoylake Grace Darling

We ate lunch in Queen’s Park then walked back to The Kings Gap, where there was now enough beach for us to get along to Red Rocks.  We splashed along the wet, ripply beach, nearly paddling in places! There were “Mermaid’s Purses” (dogfish and small shark egg-cases) entangled in the seaweed.

10 Hoylake mermaid's purses

A Grey Wagtail flew in off the sea, perhaps from Hilbre, and started pecking about in the green algae on the sea wall. A few Redshanks were lingering in the remaining pools, against a backdrop of windsurfers and distant wind farms.

10 Hoylake redshanks and windsurfers

On Red Rocks we spotted a Rock Pipit, a Kestrel swooped past and we heard a Skylark. As we rounded Red Rocks its started to rain intermittently, and as we headed into the blustery wind along the marsh path to West Kirby there were Crows on the path, a Meadow Pipit on the edge of a pond and, in a brief dry spell, a Skylark was fluttering and singing high overhead.

As we neared West Kirby we could see the storm damage from the St Jude storm in late October 2013.  Some beachside lawns had great chunks eaten out of them, which have now been filled in with raw earth, and all the barriers made of concrete “planks” had been chewed up and thrown around, but the fences made of railway sleepers seem to have held.

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street to Hoylake at 10.33, arriving just after 11am. Returned on the 14.31 train from West Kirby.

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Port Sunlight, 23rd February 2014

It was a day of dark, heavy clouds and a forecast of heavy rain later, but it was quite mild. We decided to go to Port Sunlight, where there are several places to shelter, just in case.

09 Sunlight view

We don’t usually visit the Dell at Port Sunlight, but it’s a nice spot in any weather. The gardeners have planted many artful groups of crocuses and snowdrops, each one carefully arranged, and no flower daring to be out of place.

09 Sunlight snowdrop and crocus bank

09 Sunlight crocus patches

We also noticed lots Daffodil shoots, but they weren’t blooming yet. It was quite a poor day for birds, just a Robin in the hedge by the station; lots of Jackdaws on roofs; a Mistle Thrush in the Dell; Wood Pigeons, Magpies and Crows on the banks and in the trees, and just one Herring Gull overhead.

The Dell is a great spot for trees, though. By the side of the path north of the bridge there’s a Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), the tallest one in Cheshire at 40 ft (12m). It has clusters of long thorns on the trunk. Next to it is a Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) also about 40 ft high, which is famous for the autumn colours of its foliage. There was also a very nice young Monkey Puzzle tree.

09 Sunlight monkey puzzle

We looked at the house visited by George V and Queen Mary in March 1914, admired the view from the Hillsborough Memorial balcony at the south end of the avenue, looked at the names and medals listed on the War Memorial and dropped into the Port Sunlight Museum shop.

09 Sunlight balcony

We also looked at two very interesting sundials today. The first was commissioned to mark the Millennium. There is a big-breasted Sphinx, apparently carrying a cross on her back. The bars are marked with the hours, and the shadow of one bar falls on another to mark the time. Below it, on the plinth, is a graph showing “The Equation of Time” from which you can read the minutes before and after the hours, calibrated at five-day intervals throught the year.

09 Sunlight sphinx sundial











In the centre of the avenue leading northwards to the Lady Lever Art Gallery is an even more complex one, called an “annalematic” sundial, in which the shadow-casting object is moved depending on the date. In this case the shadow is cast by the person wanting to know the time.  The little pathway leading into it has tiles marked with the names of months, so you stand on the one for February, in our case. The inner ellipse of white posts marks the hours in British Summer Time, while the outer ellipse of grey posts marks the time in winter.  Sadly, as there was no sun, we couldn’t try it out.

09 Sunlight annelamatic sundial

After lunch we went into the Art Gallery to see the exhibition “Turner: travels, light and lanscape” including some rarely-shown early watercolours. But I was more interested in a painting I haven’t seen before, kept in the little alcove off the Main Hall. It appeals to the scientist in me, and is called The Forerunner, painted in 1920 by the artist Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

09 Sunlight Forerunner








It shows an imagined moment in the late 1400s with Leonardo da Vinci demonstrating a small prototype of one of his flying machines to his patrons the Duke and Duchess of Milan, Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d’ Este. Lurking on the left, looking darky opposed to progress, is the monk Savonarola, who famously organised bonfires of secular books and art in Florence at around the same time.

Public Transport details: Train from Lime Street at 10.13, the Chester train, arriving Port Sunlight at 10.30. Returned from Bebington at 1.53, arriving Liverpool soon after 2pm.

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Sefton Park 23rd February 2014

During the mid-week MNA walk around Sefton Park last week – see Barbara’s blog post below – Dave Bryant and Chris Felton noted some unusual galls on young Turkey Oaks Quercus cerris that they didn’t recognise. Turkey Oaks are known hosts to the Knopper Gall Wasp Andricus quercuscalicis, which in spring forms small galls within the catkins of the Turkey Oak. However, they weren’t these…

On returning home DaveB consulted “Britain’s Plant Galls: A Photographic Guide by Michael Chinery” and found the culprit – the Cynipid Gall Wasp Aphelonyx cerricola which was first noted in Berkshire, UK, on 30 September 1996. Since then they have been slowly spreading through-out South-east England. Chris F said that he would appreciate a photographic record. Despite non-ideal photographic conditions – being overcast, windy and raining I met up with DaveB at the cafe and we went out to find the Turkey Oaks. These galls are green and velvety in the summer, later becoming brown and woody as they were now. One particular tree was covered with the irregular shaped galls wrapped around the twigs and neighbouring galls appearing to fuse together.

MNA Sefton Park Turkey Oak Gall1

MNA Sefton Park Turkey Oak Gall3

MNA Sefton Park Turkey Oak Gall2

Turkey Oak galls

I’ve since found out that Steve McWilliam noted these galls in Calderstones Park 25th October 2013.


The Turkey Oak acorn cups were also rather impressive looking quite hairy in appearance.

MNA Sefton Park Turkey Oak Cups1

Turkey Oak Acorn Cups

There were plenty of other interesting things of note around Sefton Park. Investigating an artificial cave we saw the lace-like diffuse webs around the entrance to holes and crevices inhabited by Lace Weaver Spiders Amaurobius similis. Lace Weaver Spiders produce a special kind of silk from its cribellum, which is a pair of sieve-like plates just in front of the spinerets. The silk is very characteristic, with a blueish colour when fresh and is teased out by a double-row of curved bristles on the metatarsus of the fourth (hind) leg called a calamistrum.

MNA Lacy Weaver Spider Web1

Lacy Weaver Spider Web

A scattering of Fungi with Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae, Black Bulgar Bulgaria inquinans, Exidia plana, Southern Bracket Ganoderma australe, Lacquered Bracket Ganoderma lucidum, Root Rot Heterobasidion annosum, Peniophora quercina, Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum hirsutum, Bleeding Broadleaf Crust Stereum rugosum and Tukeytail Trametes versicolor.

MNA Sefton Park Black Bulgar1

Black Bulgar

MNA Sefton Park Root Rot1

Root Rot

On the lake were nine Mute Swans in total – 4adults including blue darvic ringed XA6 and XZ6 along with five cygnets including 4ABB, 4ADX and 4ADZ. Adult male XZ6 was displaying with much heart-shaped posing with one of the un-ringed cygnets!

Thirty bird species were noted: Little Grebe 14 birds squealing away, Great Crested Grebe a lone individual, Grey Heron one preening in the rain on an island and another flying, Mute Swan 9, Greater Canada Goose 75+, Mallard, Common Moorhen including 2 birds sitting on nests, Coot 12+, Black-headed Gull 85+, Common Gull 1, Feral Rock Pigeon 8+, Common Wood Pigeon 10+, Rose-ringed Parakeet at least three birds flying around squawking, Great Spotted Woodpecker two drumming, Pied Wagtail 2 feeding on the lake edge, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush 2 singing, Mistle Thrush 2 rattling away, Long-tailed Tit feeding party, Great Tit 6+ calling, Nuthatch 2 calling, Eurasian Jay squawking, Magpie 10+ scattered around the grassed areas, Carrion Crow, Starling flock 9 overhead, Chaffinch, Greenfinch wheezing it’s call. Also a few cheeky Grey Squirrels taking advantage of the scattered monkey nuts left by visitors.     

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, rocks & minerals etc. is available on my Alamy webpage

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