Orrell Water Park, 26th April 2015

Another beautiful sunny day, with clear skies and long visibility, but with a sharp north wind. Last week’s brief heatwave has brought out all the Cherry blossom in thick bunches of pink, white and red, and the non-blossoming trees are flushing with the soft greens and pinks of spring.

17 Orrell cherry blossom

17 Orrell trees leafing

Because of the recently-changed train times we had a later start and arrived at Orrell Water Park just in time for lunch. We found a sunny sheltered spot at the north end, overlooking the first lake. There wasn’t much birdlife on the water though, just Mallards, Coots and Canada Geese, with a few passing Black-headed Gulls, Magpies and Wood Pigeons. This top lake is managed for coarse fishing so there were anglers camped out all around the edge.

17 Orrell lake view

Around the east side of the lake we spotted a Robin, some Collared Doves, Blue Tits, a Mallard pair with seven tiny ducklings, perhaps hatched that morning, and some Coots on nests. Both Chaffinch and Chiffchaff were singing. These aren’t old woods, so there were very few flowers under the hedges, just Dandelions and Daisies. The lakes used to be reservoirs, and the area was landscaped in the early 1980s. Those trees were all bursting into leaf, and I think this red one is Sycamore.

17 Orrell sycamore bud

The southern end of the water park is managed for wildlife and called Greenslate Water Meadows. Their sign says “Greenslate’s development started in the early 1980s when the three ponds were dug and the area planted with native tree species. This reserve area now provides a mixture of open water, swamp, wet woodland, planted scrub and trees, bounded by well-established hedgerows. The reserve is particularly important for dragonflies and damselflies, with thirteen species having been recorded by the time the area was awarded Nature Reserve status in 2007. The reserve is also home to the nationally-protected Water Vole, four RSPB red-listed birds, four amphibian species and nineteen species of butterfly.”  We didn’t see any of the dragonflies, mammals or amphibians, and the only butterfly we noticed was a Small White. However, the swampy ground was rich in clumps of Marsh Marigold.

17 Orrell marsh marigold

There were more wildflowers here, too, including Red Campion, Forget-me-Knot and Yellow Archangel under the trees. A single “wheep” call, which we hoped was a Nuthatch, turned out to be a Chaffinch!

17 Orrell birdwatching

Near the junction of the southern loop is an area of bird feeders, where we saw Long-tailed Tits, Collared Doves, Blackbird, a Dunnock, Coal Tit, Blue Tits, a Wren, and one of the reserve’s specialties, a male Yellowhammer foraging on the ground.

17 Orrell yellowhammer

Around the southern end there was a pair of Blackcaps in the trees overhanging the path and we heard a Greenfinch calling. The Hawthorn isn’t flowering yet, it isn’t May after all, although there was some blossom at Marshside yesterday in a sheltered spot near Nell’s Hide. At Orrell there were only buds, but plenty of them.

17 Orrell hawthorn buds

When we returned to the bird feeding area we were delighted to see a male Bullfinch on a feeder, at the same time as a Greenfinch. The male Yellowhammer had been joined on the ground by a female. There was a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the overhanging trees, which later hid behind the tree trunks, but it was very shy and didn’t come to feed.

17 Orrell bullfinch

Although this is called a Water Park, from a naturalists’ point of view the water birds are rubbish but the woodland birds are great!

Public transport details: We met at the later time of 10.30, because the hourly train to St Helens now leaves at 47 mins past the hour. We got the 10.47 Blackpool train from Liverpool Lime Street, arriving St Helens Central at 11.13. Then the 352 Wigan bus from St Helens bus station (stand 6) at 11.35, passing Carr Mill Dam and Billinge, arriving Orrell Water Park at 11.57. There is no marked bus stop on the way back, so stand opposite the southbound bus stop and the return bus will stop for you. It was the 352 bus at 2.39, arriving St Helens 2.59. If you dash you might catch the 3.04 train from St Helens Central, arriving Liverpool Lime Street 3.32. If you miss it, rather than waiting an hour, you could get the number 10 bus back to Liverpool. (You could also get to Orrell Water Park by an hourly train from Kirby to Billinge station, which is only five minutes walk away, but it’s outside the Merseytravel area, so payment is required!)

Here is the plan for the next few Sundays:
3rd May, Storeton Woods – meet 10am Sir Thomas Street
10th May, Everton Cemetery / Bluebell Wood – meet 10am Queen Square
17th May, Leasowe – meet 10am Central Station
24th May, no walk – Three Queens weekend
31st May, TPT8, Rice Lane to Broadway  – meet 10am Queen Square (B)
7th June, Widnes – meet 10am Lime Street Station
14th June, no walk – MNA coach trip
21st June, Childwall Woods and Fields – meet 10am Liverpool ONE
28th June, Kirkby – meet 10am Queen Square

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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Hesketh Park, Southport, 19th April 2015

It was colder and chillier today than the warm sunny days we’ve been having. I could have done with my scarf and woolly hat! It stayed overcast for most of the day, with a few rare glimpses of the sun.

16 Hesketh park sunken garden

There were lots of flowering shrubs by the Park gates: Quince, Flame of the Forest, Hellebore, Euphorbia. The banks were full of Daffs and Hyacinths going over, Grape Hyacinths at their peak and Bluebells just coming out, including some patches with blue, pink and white flowers close to each other. Wildflowers included Dandelions, Green Alkanet, and this one with the leaf all around the stem (called “perfoliate”). It’s Spring Beauty.

16 Hesketh spring beauty

There were loads of Mallards on the lake, but no ducklings. John saw 60+ at a park in Ormskirk yesterday. A Mute Swan was on her nest on an island, as were several Coots, whose nests were on floating wooden platforms tethered to the island. Moorhens and Carrion Crows mooched about, and there were Herring Gulls, some Black-headed Gulls and one Lesser Black-backed Gull. One young HG on the water was fascinated by an orange ball with holes in it. It kept picking it up then dropping it back into the water. Did it think it was food? It looked like it was playing.

16 Hesketh playing ball

One pair of Mallards was head-bobbing. The drake had normal plumage, but the other was a dark one with a white chest, that we’d all have guessed was a male, but it was definitely a female. The drake responded to the head-bobbing invitation by grabbing the female’s neck, pushing her under water and mating. Then another male barged in, and then another. We always fear the female will drown when this happens, but she emerged from under the scrum and flew off. Later we spotted her keeping company with possibly the same Drake.

16 Hesketh odd Mallard

As we sat down for lunch and opened our bags, the Mallards and gulls perked up and watched us closely.

16 Hesketh lunch gull

Both Chaffinch and a Chiffchaff were singing, a Wren flew across the path and a Dunnock picked about on the grass. Other birds today were Magpie, Wood Pigeon, Great Tit and a female Blackbird with food in her beak, who scolded us from the shrubbery while we were examining some low flowers of Magnolia.

On the bank beside the path we looked at some large patches of roundish leaves springing from the ground, looking rather like Coltsfoot or Butterbur, but they weren’t either. There were no flowers at all, just the leaves. Any ideas?

16 Hesketh round leaves

On the west side of the lake the banks were full of wildflowers. Red Campion, Greater Periwinkle, Forget-me-Not, Common Fumitory, Herb Robert.

16 Hesketh forget me not
Forget-me-Not

16 Hesketh fumitory
Common Fumitory

16 Hesketh Herb Robert
Herb Robert

In the sunken garden below the Fernly Observatory there is a floral clock and a stone with a verse of an apposite poem by Andrew Marvell. See my report on our previous visit to Hesketh Park on 19th Feb 2012.  Then we spotted a Hedgehog just by the clock, poking in the grass for worms and insects.  It’s the first one I’ve seen for years. It was quite small, possibly just a youngster, and it was a bit sluggish because it wasn’t that warm. Aren’t they supposed to be nocturnal? It didn’t seem to be bothered by people talking and passing by. Eventually it sloped off to the hedge and disappeared.

16 Hesketh hedgehog

We had a very good day for trees. The Sycamore and the Horse Chestnut were leafing. One tree had a few bunches of acid-yellow flowers, which we thought were Field Maple, but they are usually more profuse. Near the Observatory was a fantastically tortuous tree with weeping branches and a graft line about 4 foot up the trunk. There was a wooden signpost nearby but the name label was missing, Then we saw another, then a third, and the last one DID have its nameplate. They were Weeping Pagoda trees Sophora japonica “Pendula”. Mitchell reckons they are quite a rarity. The ordinary Pagoda trees are classed as “uncommon”, found only in the south of England and East Anglia. The “Pendula” variety is said to be only occasionally found in south England. He describes them as “a mass of contorted branches grafted onto a stem of the type”.

16 Hesketh Pagoda tree
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were some other good trees (with labels, happily) in the Sensory Garden for the blind on the west side of the park. One was a Persian Ironwood with interesting patchy bark and another was a Katsura tree, with the leaves well out. They look like the leaves of the Judas Tree, but are positioned opposite, whereas the Judas Tree’s are alternate.

16 Hesketh persian ironwood bark
Persian Ironwood bark

16 Hesketh Katsura tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Katsura tree

16 Hesketh Katsura leaves
Katsura leaves

The Sensory Garden had unusual maroon-coloured Hyacinths, Lavender and Rosemary by the path edges for the blind to feel and smell and this plant with huge whitish leaves. I think it is Giant Artichoke, which will be spectacular when it flowers.

16 Hesketh giant artichoke

Our last interesting tree was just outside the Sensory Garden. There was a fine tall Wellingtonia tree (on the left of the picture below) but just in front of it, leaning at about 45 degrees, was something with amazing pink tassels. What was THAT? The leaves were just coming out, and below them were loads of pink dangly things. Catkins? The leaves look like some kind of Maple, but the long catkins suggest something from the Poplar family. Any suggestions welcome!

16 Hesketh leaning tree

16 Hesketh pink tassels

 

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Southport 11.07. Then 44 bus at Eastbank Street at 11.26, arriving Hesketh Park Gates 11.30. Returned on the 47 bus from just outside the park at Albert Road / Park Crescent at 2.15, arriving Southport 2.22. We just missed the train at 2.28, so we had to wait for the 2.58, due back in Liverpool about 3.40.

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Thailand April 2015

MNA Thailand Mythical Beast1

Kodchasri – a Thai mythical creature with a lion’s body and an elephant’s head

Spent the Easter break indulging the cultural and culinary delights of Thailand. A hectic trip  – as per the norm but I did find some time to adopt my usual guise and venture into the undergrowth to see what creatures were lurking there. Colourful tropical Dragonflies and Damselflies are always a treat for me. The main season for Odonata in Thailand is September but I still managed a few new ticks.

MNA Thailand Dragonfly1

Stream Heliodor a.k.a. Yellow-lined Gem Libellago lineata lineata

MNA Thailand Dragonfly2

Blue-tailed Forest Hawk a.k.a.  Lesser Blue Skimmer Orthetrum triangulare triangulare

MNA Thailand Mating Damselflies1

Senegal Golden Dartlets mating Ischnura senegalensis

There was also a good variety of Bugs, Spiders, Beetles, Cicadas and the ubiquitous Geckos to photograph whilst enduring the painful bites of the local Ants.

MNA Thailand Clearwing Moths Mating1

Imaon Clearwing Moths mating Syntomoides imaon

MNA Thailand Hawk Moth1

Death’s-head Hawk Moth Acherontia styx

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Cicada exoskeleton

MNA Thailand Hairstreak Butterfly1

Club Silverline Spindasis syama terana

MNA Thailand Moth Caterpillar1

Tussock Moth caterpillar Lymantriidae sp.

MNA Thailand Plant Bug1

Soybean Pod Bug Riptortus linearis

MNA Thailand Red Bug1

Red Bug Pyrrhocoridae sp.

MNA Thailand Signature Spider1

Multi-Coloured St Andrew’s Cross Spider Argiope versicolor

Seafood featured highly on the menu at the local night-markets’, make your choice of freshly caught crabs, lobsters, squid, prawns, bivalves and molluscs and have them cooked according to your taste buds preference. For those with a more adventurous palate there were net-bags filled with Bullfrogs, fried Chicken & Duck heads as well as the Thai delicacy ‘non mai phai’ Bamboo Worms Omphisa fuscidentalis the larvae of the Bamboo Borer, a moth of the Crambidae family.

MNA Thailand Blood Spotted Crab1

Blood-spotted Swimming Crab Portunus sanguinolentus

MNA Thailand Blue Leg Prawns1

Giant River Prawn a.k.a. Blue-legged Prawn Macrobrachium rosenbergii

MNA Thailand Gastropods1

Spiral Babylon Babylonia spirata

MNA Thailand Squid Meal1

Squid Meal

MNA Thailand Bamboo Worms1

Bamboo Worms Omphisa fuscidentalis

MNA Thailand Toads In Net1

East-Asian Bullfrog Hoplobatrachus rugulosus

We had the honour of meeting with Sangduen “Lek” Chailert. This diminutive lady with a huge heart is the Daphne Sheldrick of the Asian Elephant world. Born in the small hill tribe village of Baan Lao, her love for elephants began when her grandfather, a traditional healer, received a baby elephant as payment for saving a man’s life. Later after learning about the abuse and neglect that domestic Asian Elephants experience Lek began advocating for the rights and welfare of Asian Elephants in Thailand.

MNA Thailand Ele1

Lek with Ele and a group of visiting students

MNA Thailand Ele2

Bathtime!

In 1995 she established the Elephant Nature Park nestled in the breath-taking Mae Taeng Valley, about an hour north of Chiang Mai. ENP is home to over forty rescued Elephants. Ranging in age from infants to old-timers, these previously abused and neglected Ele’s are able to live out the rest of their lives in peace and dignity on the Park’s grounds.

MNA Thailand Ele3

MNA Thailand Ele4

MNA Thailand Ele5

The tearaway baby Eles

Lastly for the botanists there was a colourful spectacle of Thai Orchid genera with Dendrobium, Vanda, Ascocentrum and Phalaenopsis species in bloom.

MNA Thailand Orchid1MNA Thailand Orchid3MNA Thailand Orchid2

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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Ken Jordan Memorial Foray 12th April 2015

FROM TONY CARTER

Sunday 12th April 2015

The Ken Jordan Memorial Foray.

Ten hardy souls attended this North West Fungus Group foray, including David Bryant and Joanne Moore from the Biodiverse Society Project.

I walked round the area on Tuesday, in shirt sleeves. On Sunday it was two pullovers and a coat. We started in gale force winds so kept to the shelter of the woods.

We did not expect to find great numbers of fungi, particularly as the area is so dry. I understand that the water levels are the lowest since 1997. As a number of fungal species only grow in spring we did hope to collect some of the more uncommon ones.

Most of the finds in the Freshfield wood were crust fungi or tiny disc fungi under fallen wood and on dead branches.

MNA Hapalopilus nidulans

Hapalopilus nidulans

A very nice find of Hapalopilus nidulans (Cinnamon Bracket) was followed by the tiny Crepidotus epibryus (Oysterling) on some stacked branches.

MNA Crepidotus epibryus

Crepidotus epibryus

After a breezy lunch on the heath, it started to rain so we quickly made our way to some cover in the different habitat of the pinewoods of Ainsdale Sand Dunes Reserve.

MNA Pholiotina aporos 0415

Pholiotina aporos

We soon made some interesting finds, including Pholiotina aporos (a spring Conecap), an early Peziza repanda (Palamino Cup) and pine loving Tricholoma terreum (Grey Knight).

As the rain continued people started to drift home. It was on their way back to the station that a couple of forayers found Disciotis venosa (Bleach Cup). So they came all the way back in the rain to show us. A first for this species at Ainsdale.

MNA Discotis venosa

Disciotis venosa

We recorded 54 species, including two new ones for Ainsdale. Not bad considering the weather conditions.

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Walton Cemetery and City Farm, 12th April 2015

This morning was overcast and gloomy, with the forecast suggesting it might rain all morning but in fact it didn’t start until early afternoon.

15 Walton daffs

The rooster was crowing as we approached the farm down Rawcliffe Road, but since the staff were mucking out we decided to go around the Cemetery and nature trail first. The Daffodils were still flowering amongst the gravestones, the Hawthorn was starting to leaf and there was a Kestrel overhead. Around a corner we found these splendid cattle.

15 Walton cows

There weren’t many birds about in the woodland area, just a couple of Robins. Bluebells were just starting to flower. Along the side of the path were plenty of blooming Wood Anemones, but we guessed they were probably planted, because they were in discrete clumps, not carpeting the ground as they do in Ancient Woodland.

15 Walton wood anemones

Some of the gravestones around the woodland path were marked (vandalised?) with blue paint, picking out the name, the date and the plot number. I wonder what that’s all about?

15 Walton gravestones

Lots of Dandelions have come into flower in the last few days, but they were all closed up this morning, as it was quite cold and blowy. The Wild Garlic was leafing profusely but there were no flowers out yet. We did spot quite a lot of Yellow Archangel, though.

15 Walton yellow archangel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a paddock there were two big brown donkeys. At least I think they were donkeys, not asses or mules.

15 Walton donkeys

We lunched on the picnic tables by the farm, then looked at the animals in the farmyard. Their sheep are the rare breed Ryeland Sheep, and there have been nine lambs born so far this Spring. The youngest, just two days old, was under a heating lamp.

15 Walton lamb

They keep domestic Geese and Ducks, and a great variety of Hens, which were scratching happily through the straw. The Rooster was a splendid fellow.

15 Walton Rooster

Several white doves looked out of the dovecot with a turf roof.

15 Walton dovecot

Then it started to rain so we headed back for the bus.  Some extra notes: John saw Swallows at Llangollen yesterday 11th April and I had my first Peacock butterfly on my patio on Easter Saturday 4th April.

15 Walton Peacock

Public transport details: Bus 210 from Queen Square at 10.02, arriving Rice Lane / Rawcliffe Road at 10.20. Returned on the 130 bus from Rice Lane at 1.30. Note that both these bus routes, the 210 and the 130, which run on small yellow “Cumfibuses”, are being cancelled in a week or two and replaced with the new route 30A.

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A Sparrowhawk in my garden

On Monday (30th March) a Sparrowhawk killed a Wood Pigeon in my garden and it has been coming back at least twice a day to feed on the carcase.

14 Sparrowhawk 1

The kill was on Monday afternoon. I was just coming back from the bin, and in a split second I heard the Wood Pigeons on the lawn clap their wings as they lifted off , then something grey and white whizzed past my shoulder and there was a flurry on the lawn. When I looked out of the kitchen window, there was the Sparrowhawk, “mantling” the WP, which was still struggling sporadically. As I watched, the Sparrowhawk started to pluck and eat the unlucky victim.  After a minute or two I wondered if I could sneak out quietly to take some pictures, but despite my best efforts at stealth, the very alert Sparrowhawk flew off. I thought it had taken the corpse with it, but it must have dropped it a few yards away.

14 Sparrowhawk 2

Next morning, there was a circle of feathers at the back of the lawn, and I thought there had been a second kill, but then realised that the remains must be the same dead WP that the Sparrowhawk had dropped, and it had come back in the early morning to feed again. I left it, and was rewarded with more good views of the Sparrowhawk, back again at about 4pm, and this morning at 9-ish for a fourth feed off the remains. The pictures above were taken through the kitchen window!

14 Sparrowhawk victim

There still looked like plenty of meat left on the WP, and at around mid-day today the Sparrowhawk came back and took the much-lightened load away.

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Liverpool City Centre, 29th March 2015

It was raining when I set out this morning, but I stopped on the way to the bus to admire this newly-blooming Magnolia in one of the gardens on Liverpool Road.

13 City magnolia

We planned to go to Walton Hall Park, but it was still raining steadily when we met, and forecast to rain all day, so we abandoned that idea and decided to go into the three great public buildings on William Brown Street.  In St John’s Gardens a pair of Goldfinch flew together into a small tree and a Herring Gull was sitting on the head of the statue of Alexander Balfour.

13 City St Johns gardens

Within the Walker Art Gallery we were interested in the butterfly on the marble statue of “Love cherishing the soul while preparing to torment it” by John Gibson (1790-1866), showing “the god Eros caressing a butterfly upon his breast while with his other hand he is drawing an arrow to pierce it.” The butterfly is a bit thick and heavy, but perhaps the sculptor didn’t dare carve it any thinner!

13 City Cupid with butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also looked at the special exhibition of photos from the 1960s of Britons at play by Tony Ray-Jones.

Outside the World Museum a rough bank has been designated as a City Wildlife Meadow. There are only some daffs and primroses at the moment, but the sign says “It will take time to become a colourful home for wildlife”.

13 City wildflower meadow

We ate our sandwiches in the picnic area on the Museum’s fourth floor, then went up to see the old clocks and the bits of Moon rock on the fifth floor. We had a brief look around the Central Library, where we looked at the wonderful old Hornby Library and the book of Audubon prints in the Oak Room, which today was open at the Yellow-poll Warbler. It was still raining as we emerged, although we were cheered up by this great clump of Hyacinths growing on the edge of St John’s gardens.

13 City hyacinths

 

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Thornton Hough, 22nd March 2015

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

12 Thornton Hough rookery

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

12 Thornton Hough Willow

12 Thornton Hough molehills

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

12 Thornton Hough flailed hedge

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

12 Thornton Hough cathedrals

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

12 Thornton Hough missed a bit

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

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

12 Thornton Hough Kestrel

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

12 Thornton Hough mound

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

12 Thornton Hough pony girl

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

12 Thornton Hough Blackthorn and insect

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

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

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Dibbinsdale, 15th March 2015

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

11 Dibbinsdale woodland path

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

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

11 Dibbinsdale wood anemone

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

11 Dibbinsdale fallen tree

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

11 Dibbinsdale dragon

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

11 Dibbinsdale elf cup

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

11 Dibbinsdale elf cup in water

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

11 Dibbinsdale oakmoss

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

11 Dibbinsdale Ashtag

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

11 Dibbinsdale King Alfreds cake

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

11 Dibbinsdale Woodslee pond

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

11 Dibbinsdale larch whorls

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

Dibbinsdale Celandine

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

11 Dibbinsdale black and pink buds

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

11 Dibbinsdale brown fungus

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

11 Dibbinsdale primroses

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

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MNA Coach Trip Marton Mere & Fairhaven Marine Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

MNA Sea Potato Green Urchin Cut Out1

Green Sea Urchin and Sea Potatoes

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

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

MNA Prickly Cockle Cut Out1

Prickly Cockle

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

MNA Necklace Shells Cut Out1

Necklace Shells

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

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

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

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