Thornton, 27th September 2020

I went on a short solo wander on Sunday morning to explore the rough land between Thornton Garden of Rest and the new Broom’s Cross Road. I took the bus to Edge Lane / Water Street and walked to the old Thornton village centre, which still has its ancient cross base and a set of stocks. They can’t be very old stocks because they appear to be made of cast iron. Perhaps they replaced older wooden ones.

Alongside the Nag’s Head pub is an old road called Holgate, which used to lead to a footpath into the farmland, but is now crossed by the fast new road. Happily, they put in several pedestrian crossings while they were building, to accommodate ancient rights of way, so I was able to achieve my ambition of stopping the traffic on that stretch.

I planned to go and see the ancient monument, the original Broom’s Cross, but the footpath was too overgrown. There was a bird of prey overhead, probably a Sparrowhawk, which had put up a large flock of small brown birds from the farmer’s field, possibly Linnets. High-pitched goose calls overhead attracted my attention to a small flock of Pink-footed Geese, heading eastward. They are regular migrants to south Lancashire for the winter.

Stopping the traffic again (what fun!), I took the new footpath alongside the road, leading to a patch of rough meadow. One Large White butterfly was still on the wing. Flowers still showing were Ragwort, Bindweed, Red Clover, and the lovely curled-up seed heads of Wild Carrot.

The path across the meadow led to the back of the local cemetery, Thornton Garden of Rest. The only birds seemed to be Magpies, Crows and Wood Pigeons, but there were plenty of small groups of people, visiting graves on this lovely bright autumn day.

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Crosby, 20th September 2020

In view of the impending new restrictions, where use of public transport is discouraged, the group didn’t meet this week, and I walked locally instead: through Victoria Park and all four Crosby seafront gardens, and came back northwards along the beach.

The glory of Victoria Park at this season is the orange berries of Pyracantha, a shrub also known as firethorn, and you can see why. Each patch was full of the cheeps of House Sparrows. It was still and quiet in mid-morning, and several Grey Squirrels were larking about. There have been sightings of Red Squirrels here recently, but I didn’t see any. The Magpies and Wood Pigeons were loafing about, one Blackbird was flicking through fallen leaves and another was listening for worms under the dewy grass.

The park’s wildflower meadow has now gone over, showing just clumps of Michaelmas Daisies and a few Evening Primroses and late Buttercups.  It has been a good year for Crab Apples, with some garden trees heavy with them.

The four seafront gardens were also quiet. Some autumn flowers were still blooming, including more Evening Primrose, Yarrow, Dandelions, Hawkweed, Red Valerian, late flowers of Bramble and a single Poppy in a sheltered corner. Masses of Ivy are still in bud, and the Snowberry was putting out its last flowers.

There were dozens of Black-headed Gulls and young Herring Gulls on the Marine Lake, and some Mute Swans hanging around the edge. A further dozen or more Mute Swans were on the Boating Lake, with the usual Coots, Mallards and Canada Geese. Less common regulars were a couple of dozen Tufted Duck and two or three Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The local pair of escaped Black Swans had been reported here in the week, but they seem to have decamped back to Southport. On the approaches to the beach cute new signs have been fixed up, exhorting people not to leave litter.

In the bare sand on the dune edges were some specialist plants, including Sea Holly and Sea Rocket.

Sea Holly
Sea Rocket

A skein of Canada Geese flew over, and a flock of a hundred or more Knot or Dunlin flew south in a shape-shifting group. I made a foray into the older dunes to see one of Britain’s rarest plants, the Dune Wormwood, known from only two sites in Britain – here and on another beach in South Wales. Last year cuttings from the Crosby clump were transplanted to other local sites, just in case some disaster befalls this original spot. Dune Wormwood flowers in September, but it isn’t much too look at, with a few tiny yellow petals poking out from a cluster of succulent sepals. This is about as good as it gets.

Dune Wormwood
Dune Wormwood flowers

Near Crosby Baths there was quite a crowd coming onto the beach and settling in for picnics and  sand castles with the kids. I picked my way through them carefully and headed home.

Last week I went to Southport Botanical Gardens in Churchtown, looking for five champion trees, but only found one of them so far, the Wild Service Tree Sorbus torminalis (another “lifer” for me).  However, I did see this odd pair of droopy trees planted in their arboretum area. The one on the left is a Brewer’s Spruce Picea breweriana, while the one on the right is a Weeping Nootka Cypress Cupressus nootkatensis ‘Pendula’, often nicknamed the Afghan Hound tree, for obvious reasons. I think the gardeners who planted two different droopy species side by side thought it was a pun!

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Allerton Towers, 13th September 2020

I was at Allerton Towers on my own on 9th August 2020, so you can read about it in my previous post, but this was the first time five of us had been together since 8th March, and we chose the park as the easiest place for Olive, as it is near to her home. It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day, and overhead a Sparrowhawk was harassing a Buzzard. The park has very many Sweet Chestnuts, and they were all looking very healthy, green and glossy with copious spiky nut cases.

My goal was to find and photograph the champion Tree of Heaven Ailanthus altissima. At 21 meters and 247 cm around the trunk, it is the Lancashire girth champion (but not the tallest, that one is in Alexandra Park, Whalley Range.) We found it in the shrubbery between the walled garden and the main path.

In the same area we spotted a mystery shrub with leaves like Persian Ironwood, but flowering like Witch Hazel. The experts on the Facebook group “British and Irish Trees” suggest it is Virginian Witch Hazel Hamamelis virginiana. The RHS website says the flowers “appear from mid-autumn to late autumn, emerging while the leaves are still green and remaining as the leaves turn golden yellow and fall. H. virginiana is the species from which medicinal witch-hazel extract is made.”

Two other minor adventures to report. Last Friday the local female Sparrowhawk was in my garden again. She had the leg bone of something, which she was picking clean. She became aware of me behind the patio window, so she flew off into the Camellia and gave me one of those stares, before making herself scarce. When I looked later there were no remains, and no scatter of feathers, so she had killed elsewhere and taken her leftovers away with her.

In the week Margaret and I went to Gorse Hill Nature Reserve to find the Wayfaring Tree, Viburnum lantana. It’s a British native, and common in the south of England on the chalk, but far rarer in t’north. The Cheshire Wildlife Trust ranger told us a few years ago there were none at all in Cheshire. In February 2019 we spotted a labelled one at Gorse Hill, where they have a policy of planting native trees and shrubs. Of course, there had been nothing to see then, on a winter’s day, so we went back last week and found it again. It’s an unassuming small multi-stemmed tree, with plain leaves, and you wouldn’t look at it twice, usually. Its unique feature is the bunches of berries that ripen at different times, so you get red and black ones in the same cluster. And there they were! Hooray. It MIGHT be the only one in Lancashire, so it’s a good tick for tree-spotters. (It’s a “lifer” for me, the first one I have ever seen.)

Public transport details: 76 bus from Queen Square at 10.02, arriving Menlove Avenue / Cheddar Close at 10.39. Returned from Woolton Street / Mason Street (Woolton Village) on the 75 bus at 2.10, arriving Liverpool at 2.40.

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Rimrose Valley Country Park, 6th September 2020

There is a distinct touch of autumn in the air, and the Michaelmas Daisies are blooming everywhere. The feast of St Michael isn’t until 29th September, so the flowers are early. I didn’t go for a nature walk last weekend, which was a bank holiday when everywhere was likely to have been crowded. This week I opted for Rimrose Valley Country Park, near home, so very easy to get to. Until 1978 it was a council tip, but from 1993 it was grassed and planted and has become a much-loved local amenity.

In 2013 the council announced a proposal for a new road to the docks, running right down the middle. That threat has galvanised the local community to form a Friends group and campaign for its preservation. Last year they planted a huge wildflower meadow within the old running track.  It isn’t looking too bad, one year on. There are still plenty of Poppies, Cornflowers, scented Corn Chamomile, and Corn Marigolds. One Small White butterfly was flitting about. The big cranes at the docks are visible in the background.

Other plants by the wayside included Ragwort, Bindweed, White Dead-nettle, a late blooming of Bramble, Red clover, Yarrow, Mugwort, Teasel, Burdock with its spiky seeds and Great Willowherb. In the hedgerows the berries are all ripening – Rose hips, Guelder Rose, Dogwood, Rowan and Hawthorn. The Elderberries are just on the turn.

Guelder rose berries
Dogwood berries
Rowan berries
Hawthorn berries
Unripe elder berries

The only birds I saw in the park were Wood Pigeons, Magpies and House Sparrows. On the canal there were plenty of Mallards, just getting over their moult. A dozen or so Herring Gulls sat on the apex of the roof of the three-storey flats opposite, calling and screaming at something that had bothered them. Was it me or was it the cyclist that swept past on the towpath? A group of five or six adult Coots were being very aggressive to each other, so they are about two seasons ahead of themselves.  Other Coots still had small chicks. I noticed one adult with two half grown chicks, one smaller than the other, so maybe it was a runt, or maybe it didn’t belong. The adult seemed to be driving it off, and the little one was calling piteously. Then it came back, all was quiet for less than a minute, then the parent started pecking at it again and saw it off. It’s a hard life (or death) being a baby Coot.

A fisherman was meditating quietly on the bank, hoping for Roach or even Carp.

The only leaves turning colour for the autumn were on the branch tips of Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). The book calls the colour crimson, but it looks like a smoky purple to me.

In a sunny nettle patch several ladybirds were basking. I think they were all the invasive Harlequin ladybirds. One was black with orange spots, one was orange with small black spots and the third was orange with big black spots. Nearby a spider appeared to be building a web.

A Speckled Wood butterfly was on a ripe Blackberry which had been missed by the pickers. It looked like it was feeding on a squashed drupelet (the name of the individual berries).

At the Red Lion bridge there is a Canal and Waterways depot, with guest moorings. I admired the flowers on the roof of this canal boat with the unusual name of Zephyranthes. That’s the Latin name for the Lily genus, so I wonder if the owner was a lady called Lily?

A short intense rain shower sent me into the Tesco supermarket, then I ate my lunch overlooking the canal, dropped into Lidl Seaforth then took the bus just a few stops home.

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Allerton Cemetery and Clarke Gardens, 23rd August 2020

On a wet and windy day I met two others of the group for the first time since March and we went tree hunting in Allerton Cemetery and Clarke Gardens. We were interrupted several times by heavy showers, but at least there were plenty of trees to shelter under. Our first target tree was this Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica, which is the Lancashire girth champion at 118 cm.

Near the southern quartet of Monkey Puzzle trees there is a very interesting little Judas Tree. It isn’t a listed champion for height or girth, but it is a survivor. We first noted it over a decade ago, when it was just a broken and fallen sapling, but it has grown and re-rooted remarkably and this year it is covered in seed pods, unlike the one in Reynolds Park.

Last week I looked at two Japanese Pagoda trees in Hesketh Park, which were county height champions. The girth champion of the same species in Lancashire is this one, at 207 cm. Many trees which live long enough to be the tallest or widest get to be rather straggly, and look like they might be on their last legs. This is one of them.

We also found the champion Highclere Holly, Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Wilsonii’. At 12 meters, it is the county height champion, but it doesn’t look very dramatic, just one of the many big old dark Holly trees. More exciting was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which had adopted the spire of the north chapel at its perch and was admiring the view.

On the other side of Springwood Avenue is Clarke Gardens, which surround Allerton Hall.  It is now a restaurant but it was formerly the home of one of Liverpool’s West Indies merchant families, the Hardmans, who were slave traders. We took the path around the back of the hall, in the area once designated as the Eric Hardy nature reserve. The path edges were full of Bramble, masses of Himalayan Balsam and also some more demure woodland wildflowers like Wood Avens and Enchanter’s Nightshade.

Masses of Himalayan Balsam
Enchanter’s Nightshade

More champion trees to photograph here – a Narrow-leaved Ash, Fraxinus angustifolia, girth & height county champion; a Pin Oak, Quercus palustris, girth county champion at 222 cm and a remarkable Hungarian Oak, a species I have never seen before. Another new one was this Oriental Beech, Fagus orientalis, girth and height champion of Lancashire at 18 meters and 284 cm. The leaves are very similar to ordinary Beech, just with something “not quite right” about them, but the trunk is fluted, not a plain column, and it breaks into branches far lower down.

For the last tree on the list we had to go down the side of the house to the east lawn, where there is a Blue Colorado Spruce, Picea pungens, the girth and height champion of the county. It is very tall at 22 meters (about 70 feet) and was said by Alan Mitchell in 2015 to be “unusually good”. Sadly, it appears to be coming to the end of its life and was looking very sick and sparse. It’s the distant tall tree in the centre on this picture.

So that was a good day, with seven more champion trees photographed for the Tree Register. And there were some bright and cheerful red “wild” roses planted in the shrubbery around Liverpool South Parkway station. Very nice!

Public transport details: Merseyrail train southbound from Blundellsands and Crosby at 9.13, changed at Moorfields, arrived Liverpool South Parkway (LSP) station at 9.55. I just missed the return train back to Central, which are currently only running hourly, so I got the train from Manchester at 14.39, arriving Liverpool at 14.55.

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MNA UPDATE

UNFORTUNATELY ALL MNA COACH TRIPS ARE CANCELLED FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR. WE HOPE TO RE-INSTATE COACH TRIPS IN 2021 IF GOVERNMENT SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES PERMIT THIS. PROGRAMME DETAILS FOR 2020 WILL BE SENT TO MEMBERS WITH THE YEARLY NEWSLETTER IN DECEMBER

WE WOULD LIKE TO CONTINUE WITH A FEW OF OUR LOCAL TRIPS. PLEASE SEE THE COVID RELATED WALK GUIDANCE ON THE MNA WEBSITE PROGRAMME PAGE.

http://www.mnapage.info/programme/
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Hesketh Park, Southport, 16th August 2020

The Tree Register of Britain and Ireland (TROBI) has an online database of Champion trees, and very few of them have a photograph attached, although there is a facility for any member to add one. So, armed with a list of the four notable trees in Hesketh Park (and one on Lord Street Southport) I set out on my quest. It had rained in the night, breaking last week’s heatwave, so it was overcast, with a weak sun. The first tree I noted was this Weeping Ash in the Rose garden, although it wasn’t one of the Champions I was seeking.

The Camperdown Elm, Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’, is a weeping and contorted variety of Wych Elm. Left to itself it would sprawl on the ground, so gardeners graft it onto a trunk of normal Wych Elm, to make a sort of umbrella. It’s a sad mutant, really, but most Victorian parks used to have one as an interesting ornament. In Hesketh park the “Girth County Champion of Lancashire” (91 cm) is in a little glade on the side of the path descending eastwards from the Observatory. One side has broken off.

Another County Champion of Lancashire for girth (293 cm) is a Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides, this time a fine natural tree. There are two of them backing the Carpet Bed Garden, but I think the champion is the one on the left.

Two specimens of Japanese Pagoda tree Styphnolobium japonicum are Lancashire height champions at 16 meters each. One is near the north-east gate, not far from the gazebo. It has a little name plaque on a post nearby, calling it by the old name Sophora japonica.

The other is further around the same path, opposite the north entrance to the Sensory Garden and just around the corner from the Dawn Redwoods.

Here’s the plan of the north end of the park, with the trees marked as C for the Camperdown Elm, R for the Dawn Redwood and J for the two Japanese Pagoda trees.

That was mission accomplished in Hesketh Park, so I walked back around the lake. There were plenty of Mute Swans, Mallards, Tufted Duck, Coots, a Moorhen and a scattering of Herring Gulls. Flowers on the verges included Ragwort, Purple Loosestrife (which seems to be having a very good year), Water Mint, one shoot of Fox and Cubs in an Ivy bed, Evening Primrose and my first Michaelmas Daisies. Autumn is coming!

Purple Loosestrife
Fox and Cubs
Evening Primrose

The Water Mint was attracting lots of insects, mostly Hoverflies, I think. This handsome one is the very common Tapered Drone Fly Eristalis pertinax.

I took the bus back to the south end of Lord Street, dropped into Morrison’s, then looked for my last extraordinary tree. It is an Elm, Ulmus minor ‘Sarniensis’. Ulmus minor is the ordinary English Elm, and most of them were killed by Dutch Elm disease. This, however, is of the variety ‘Sarniensis’, which the Collins tree guide lists as the Jersey or Guernsey Elm and comments “an abundant street tree since 1836, survivors are now rare”. There are two of them in front of the Prince of Wales Hotel. They aren’t Champions, but the taller of them is listed on the TROBI database as a “Remarkable tree of Lancashire”, 18 meters high in 2015.  I think it is this one, bordering the hotel’s driveway and front garden.

Then it started to rain, and I got the bus home just in time to avoid a downpour.

Public transport details: Bus X2 from Crosby northbound, arriving Albert Road / Hesketh Park at 10.25.  Then number 2 bus southbound at 12.35 to Lord Street / Duke Street. Then home from Lord Street / Eastbank Street on X2 at 1.55, arriving Crosby 2.40.

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Allerton Towers and Reynolds Park, 9th August 2020

Both of these public parks were once the estates and mansions of wealthy Liverpool merchants, whose fortunes were made through the slave and cotton trades. Such owners often planted exotic specimen trees in their gardens, and now, over a hundred years later, those trees are giants of their kinds. The Allerton Towers estate belonged to the Earle family. In the 1830s, when the British government emancipated the slaves, the Earles were compensated over £25,000 for the liberation of over 300 slaves on 12 estates in Antigua. The mansion was built in the 1840s, but is now seriously dilapidated and boarded off.

The old orangery

The path from Menlove Avenue to the old mansion is lined with alternate Hollies and Hawthorns, but all the Hawthorns are in trouble. They look like they’ve been ravaged by hordes of locusts, leaving just some leaves at the very top. I wonder what has caused that? Heat or drought stress perhaps?

Near the old house I was admiring the very tall Monkey Puzzle, one of the old giant specimen trees, when I got into conversation with man walking his dog. He was Peter McAvoy from the Merseyside Youth Challenge Trust, to whom the council have leased the old building on condition that it is restored, the main task being to fix the roof. Somehow we got to talking about MNA founder Eric Hardy and how there used to be a sign nearby marking the nature reserve named after him. Peter took me into the courtyard and showed me that same old wooden sign that he had rescued from a council skip. It is too far gone to restore, but he hopes to make another.

He also hopes, one day, to have a café and toilet block as part of the amenities of the park, and he is preparing to plant trees in the garden behind the house. He had some ready in pots – Oaks, Birches and some with big leaves that I puzzled over, but decided must be Magnolias. Good luck to him.

The Rose Garden had a neatly clipped hedge, and next to it was another specimen tree from the days when it was a merchant’s residence – a huge old Bhutan Pine.

And then I found another rarity alongside the path – a Cedar of Lebanon. I didn’t think there were any left in Liverpool, the one in Calderstones having died a few years ago. But this looked the part – even-length dark green needles, level branches and brownish cones. (Added later – a fallen cone found on 13th September 2020 had a dimple in the top, which is characteristic of Atlas Cedar. It must be the original green variety – most Atlas Cedars are “blue” or “glauca”. So probably not a Cedar of Lebanon after all.)

I lunched in the walled garden, which is a lovely sunny spot, with a long herbaceous border. It was mostly filled with the “easy” plants like Hydrangea, cultivated Goldenrod and Russian Vine. There were a few Wood Pigeons and Magpies out on the lawns, a few skulking Blackbirds and one Grey Squirrel. There were no butterflies on the wing. At the east end of the lawn was another specimen tree, a tall Ginkgo. Then I walked via Tesco Woolton to Reynolds Park.

The estate that was to become Reynolds Park changed hands many times, but in the late 19th century it came into the possession of the Reynolds family, who had made their fortune in the cotton trade. In 1929 James Reynolds, the last owner of the estate, donated it to the City Corporation. There is a collection of interesting younger trees on the sunken lawn, including a Wych Elm suckering from a stump, an Antarctic Beech and an Oriental Plane. The walled garden has recently been re-opened after being closed for the lockdown. There was a stunning display of Roses and Dahlias, but just two or three White butterflies gallivanting about. The Judas tree by the entrance arch was in fine fettle, but bore no seed pods. A lady confirmed that she had peered through the gate when the garden was closed, but had seen no flowers. What a funny year!  The Indian Bean tree that was broken as a sapling by vandals some years ago is now about 10 foot tall, growing well from the sprouts from the old trunk.

I noted two more old Cedars on the way back to the entrance, which may have been original estate plantings. It’s not often I get a hat-trick of all three Cedar species on one day! One was a Blue Atlas Cedar with ascending branches and bluish foliage.

The other was a Deodar Cedar with light green needles of varying lengths and a low-branched trunk, ideal for climbing.

Back on the lawn north (left) of the entrance I admired the very pretty Black Walnut with its delicate pointed leaflets, catching the sun like arrow heads. Over in the shadiest corner was an interesting tree I couldn’t identify, with three-lobed leaves. Amazingly, it was pink all over. Is it some kind of Maple? Is it meant to change colour in early August or is it suffering from climate stress?

Then I headed off to the back entrance via the wildflower meadow. It was past its best, but still had blooms of Poppy, Ragwort, Wild Carrot, Meadow Cranesbill and Purple Loosestrife. Even here there were only a couple of white butterflies. Where are they all this year?

Purple Loosestrife
Meadow Cranesbill

The last tree of the day was the Black Poplar hanging over the back gate. Last time I was here I wondered if it was one of the rare old native Black Poplars or one of the commoner hybrids. The way to tell is that the rare natives have massive burrs on their trunks. Nope, it had a plain and smooth trunk, so it isn’t one of the rarities.

Public transport details: Bus 76 from Queen Square at 10.02, arriving 10.40 at Menlove Avenue / Cheddar Close. Returned from Rose Brow / Woolton Hill Road on the 75 bus at 2.08, arriving Liverpool at 2.25.

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Rake Lane Cemetery, 2nd August 2020

It is a lovely cemetery, rich in maritime history. Properly called Wallasey Cemetery Rake Lane, it is the final resting place of the Captain of the Lusitania, several Mersey Pilots, a man lost in the Thetis submarine disaster, a New Brighton lighthouse keeper, the Wallasey Hermit and a Titanic survivor. Memorials to sea captains bearing carved anchors are everywhere.

The chapel is now leased to the Russian Orthodox church and is used by Russian, Ukrainian and Lithuanian people from all over Merseyside. It is looked after by an active Friends group

They keep it very well. I noticed that broken gravestones are treated with more respect than is usual in local cemeteries. Fallen angels or vases are propped carefully next to the rest of their monument. There seem to be no toppled ones with their faces down and unreadable, and insecure stones appear to have been supported with wooden posts and nylon strapping. It was also recently mowed. All that tidiness isn’t much good for wildlife, though, with no “weeds” daring to flourish.  Near the gate was the only patch they’d missed, with Bramble, St John’s Wort and Ragwort. The trees were unremarkable, and the only other flowers I saw were on a shrubby edge, the tiny pink blossom of the Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. They turn into white squishy berries later in the year. It is a neophyte from the US, and was first planted in the UK in the 1710s. Since the 1860s, when it naturalised, it has grown in woods, scrub, hedges and on waste ground, almost anywhere.

The only birds were Magpies, Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons, with one Herring Gull marching about like it was making an Admiral’s inspection!  After a cloudy start the sun came out and it became quite warm. The butterflies took to the wing, but only one very ragged Speckled Wood, one Meadow Brown and a Large White flying high up next to a Lime tree.

Speckled Wood

I also checked the adjoining Earlston Gardens, but it was just an expanse of grass, no place for a naturalist.

Public transport details: Bus 433 from Sir Thomas Street at 9.50, arriving Rake Lane / Mortuary Road at 10.10. Returned on the 432 from Seaview Road / Thirlmere Drive at 12.35, arriving Liverpool 12.55.

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Rotten Row, Southport, 26th July 2020

The Sunday group isn’t confident to meet again, so I ventured out on my own. A major consideration for us oldies, of course, is finding a public toilet. Two places I considered and rejected were Birkenhead Park (Visitors’ Centre still closed) and Flaybrick Memorial gardens (Tam O’Shanter urban farm next door still closed). But supermarkets are useful pit stops nowadays, and there is a Morrison’s at the north end of Rotten Row.

Rotten Row is long herbaceous border just south of Southport. At nearly half a mile, it is the longest in the country. It is indeed lovely, full of big showy garden-type plants but not really wildlife-friendly. Agapanthus, Fuchsia, Hydrangea, Hibiscus, Agave, Bear’s Britches, Hollyhocks, Cordyline Palms and various tropical grasses.

Hibiscus
Hollyhock and Tansy

I found it all remarkably silent, with no insect buzz at all. I think I saw just three bee-sized insects in the whole 700-odd yards. This one is some kind of drone fly.

This one, in the middle flower, is probably some kind of bumblebee, but the identifiable abdomen tip is curled under and impossible to see.

This one MIGHT have been a honeybee, foraging in the Purpletop Verbena.

I also spotted two Ladybirds, both torpid dark-variety Harlequins. There were no butterflies at all. It was overcast and breezy, of course, so not the best butterfly weather, but even so it seems a very poor year.  There has only been one butterfly in my garden so far, a single Small White and I haven’t seen any on any of the Buddleias I have passed.

Rotten Row has a few trees scattered along the back of the border. Both red and white-berried Rowans had developing fruit. There were occasional Horse Chestnuts with their leaves chewed by the Leaf Miner. It doesn’t harm the tree, they say, but it makes the conkers smaller. Near the north end is a tree with an old plaque on it saying it was planted 1910. I think it was a Red Horse Chestnut, as the leaves were rather buckled and the fruits weren’t spiky. I was amazed to see  large clusters of fruits on short shoots growing straight out of the trunk, not at the ends of branches. Is this usual for Red Horse Chestnuts, or is it a response to its age?

Victoria Park was very open and well-manicured, with nothing wild about it. The bowling greens were mowed and edged to perfection. Jackdaws and Magpies poked about on the grass.

Two Swallows swooped low over the grass. I think they were homing in on places where dogs had just romped, probably hoping to catch disturbed insects. A little pond had a few moulting Mallards and a pretty patch of white Water Lillies.

After a visit to Morrison’s, I headed into King’s Gardens and along the southern arm of the Marine Lake. Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, feral pigeons, one Greylag goose, one Moorhen, a Cormorant diving for fish, just a few Black-headed Gulls and hordes of immature Herring Gulls.

On the far side were great flocks of Mute Swans, something like 100 of them altogether. They were mostly non-breeders, although there were six half-grown cygnets amongst them, so one pair has raised a family this year. Young Herring gulls, like the Swans, find Southport a safe place to hang around for handouts. The very brown spotty ones are this summer’s chicks, I think. It takes them four years to reach adulthood, and experts can tell their age at a glance. Not me, though. Are the slightly paler ones a year older or are they this year’s chicks too?

Tourism seems to be picking up. The Roundabout in the fairground was in use, complete with lights and music. The kid’s playground was open, and lots of school-age kids were climbing and romping. Plenty of people were walking in the gardens, none wearing masks, but there wasn’t a worrying crush – social distancing was working well. The motor bikers had turned up as usual, and at the Marine Lake café the punters sitting at the outside tables were being entertained by a live singer, doing Elvis Presley’s greatest. He wasn’t in costume, but giving his all to “You were always on my mind”. I think he was working just for tips. Several families were out on the water in the Swan and Flamingo pedalos.

Public transport details: Bus X2 northwards at 9.36 from Liverpool Road / Myers Road West, alighting 10.10 at Lulworth Road / Weld Road in Birkdale. Returned from Southport Monument on the X2 at 12.50, arriving Crosby 1.30.

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