Sherdley Park St Helens, 20th May 2018

I popped into St John’s Gardens on the way to Lime Street Station to check on a couple of notable trees. The Indian Bean tree, which is always one of the last trees in leaf, has just the first shoots breaking out amongst last year’s dangling bean pods. The Dove Tree / Handkerchief Tree has a few flowers out, with their lovely white hanging bracts, but not very many, sadly. (The two in Calderstones were flowering spectacularly last week.)

We were last at Sherdley Park on a freezing day last November, so it was good to see it when it was warmer and less muddy!  Behind the fence of Sutton Academy were some Red Horse Chestnut trees (Aesculus × carnea) in flower. It is an artificial hybrid between A. pavia (the American Red Buckeye) and A. hippocastanum (the English Horse Chestnut).

It was a hot and sunny day, so we were glad to walk the shady paths around the pond. There were the usual Mallards and Canada Geese, and a family of four young Coots. The air above the water had a blizzard of insects, but where are the Swallows? They do seem to be late this year. The trees were full of birdsong, and we spotted Mistle Thrush, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit and a Carrion Crow. In the autumn the paths are carpeted with fallen Beech leaves, but Beeches also shed vast quantities of unpretentious flowers in the spring, making a second annual carpet.

Another tree flowering just now is the familiar Hawthorn or May Blossom. There are also many Hawthorns in gardens with double pink blossom. It’s a different species, the Midland Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, which has white flowers in the wild, but the pink one is the cultivated variety ‘Paul’s Scarlet’.

Near the children’s playground is a Swamp Cypress, one of only two I know of in Merseyside parks. There were also plenty of Whitebeam, Rowan and Swedish Whitebeam in flower, and near the entrance to Delph Wood was a magnificent billowy Narrow-leaved Ash on the edge of the path called The Score. We noted all three common species of Oak. The English or Pedunculate Oak has acorns with stalks (“peduncle” is the botanical name for the stalk), while the Sessile Oak has unstalked acorns. Oddly, the leaves are the other way around, so Sessile Oaks have stalked leaves while Pedunculate Oaks have leaves that grow close to the twig.


Sessile Oak with stalked leaves


Pedunculate Oak with unstalked leaves

All Oaks have catkins, but they usually grow so high up that we don’t notice them. This Turkey Oak had several low branches and was flowering splendidly.

In Delph Wood we noted Specked Wood butterflies and an occasional Orange Tip. The trees are a typical mix of Beech and Hornbeam, Ash and Sycamore, Oak and Horse Chestnut, and lower down there is Hawthorn and Elder. In a damp spot by an open meadow we found a single orchid, still only a bud, but it seemed to be going to be dark purple and not very tall. One of the Marsh Orchids I imagine. Red Campion was popping up everywhere.

We came specially to look at the Bluebells. There wasn’t a huge carpet of them, but many scattered patches. They appeared to be hybrids, but with a lot of native in them. The flowers mostly drooped to one side and had curled-back petals and white pollen, which all suggests native Bluebells.

However, they weren’t deep blue, but rather pale.  Other patches were clearly Spanish, with upright stalks and flowers all around.

Just to note that there is a Wildflower Identification training day on Wednesday 6th June, on the  Liverpool Loop Line near Sainsbury’s on East Prescot Road. Organised by Sustrans and led by Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s senior ranger John Lamb. It’s free but you need to register.

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street towards Wilmslow, supposed to be at 10.30 but delayed by Arriva Northern until 10.48 because there was no guard. Arrived Lea Green 11.13. Returned on the train from Lea Green at 14.01, arriving Lime Street 14.28.

Next few weeks:
27th May, Calderstones Park. Meet Liverpool ONE bus station at 10am
3rd June, Childwall woods and fields. Meet Liverpool ONE bus station at 10am
10th June, Port Sunlight. 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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Chester Zoo Nature Reserve, 13th May 2018

Chester Zoo has had a free nature reserve on the far side of its car park for a couple of years, but they have recently enlarged it to 14 acres, so we thought we’d take a look.

The original reserve is a small planted woodland, still with only very young trees. They all appear to be native species, as they should be. I noted lots of Cherry and Crab Apple; Birch, Oak, Beech and Ash; Rowan, Field Maple, Hornbeam, Willow and a few very small Scots Pines. The Hawthorn “May blossom” isn’t yet fully out, but the Bird Cherry has loved this late winter and sudden spring and is flowering most profusely at the moment.

Near the “grass amphitheatre” we spotted what looked like an animal track detector. Some sheets of white A4 paper were either side of some pink, slightly sticky dye with an attractant in the middle.

We looked closely at the paper with the footprints, and there were plenty of them, but it was hard to say what had made them. They were under an inch wide, say about 2 cm, and had three forward- pointing toes and one on either side. Too small for a Rat and too far from the canal for a Water Vole, so I guess they were made by some kind of mouse. Later we met the local naturalist Jeff Clarke and asked his opinion. “Indistinguishable!”, he said.

Many of the path verges were planted with masses of Red Campion and something with tall pointed leaves. It took a while to recognise them as Teasel, before their flower heads have come up.

The leaves of the young Cherry trees were well-marked with holes and chewed edges, so there is plenty of small insect life about. There was a Harlequin ladybird on one, and a native Two-spot lower down on the same tree. The Two-spot Ladybird is common, but thought to be declining.

There weren’t many birds there, as it was a pretty flat, open area and a bright sunny day. We heard a Great Tit calling and spotted a Buzzard overhead. It felt like a day for Swallows and House Martins, but we saw only one fleeting Swallow later in the day. They are late this year. One pond held a single bathing Mallard, while the lowest pond, overlooked by a hide, had a Moorhen and a family of Coots, with three black and red chicks.

Near the edge of the canal they have an old Black Poplar, which they are very proud of.

A signboard told us that there are currently only about 7000 Black Poplar trees left in the UK. 95% of them are old trees, most are genetically similar, and to make it worse 90% are male trees, too far away from the few remaining female trees to fertilise them. Chester Zoo is part of a team working to save these native trees. They have planted over 1000 young ones in the last 15 years, propagated by cuttings from as diverse a population as possible, and they have put male and female trees close together. The little plot with the signboard had two of these young Black Poplars side by side, one male and one female.

There were plenty of Molehills in the grass, and we saw Small and Large White butterflies and an Orange Tip. They are running a meadow experiment on this former fertilised farmland. One plot has been left to its own devices, and they expect it to grow only thick grass. The second has been harrowed and planted with wildflower seeds, but they expect the grass to out-compete them. On the third plot they have removed the fertile topsoil, but added no seed. They expect this one to  grow both grasses and flowers, but it will take a long time to become a proper meadow.  It’s a bit early for their proper wildflower meadow yet, but there were Buttercups and Ribwort Plantain along the edges.

As we were leaving, I was still checking the young trees, and I found a young Elm. Hooray! It was almost certainly a Wych Elm, not the now-scarce English Elm, but Wych Elms are also susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease and are in decline, so it was good to see a young one.

Before we left we popped into the part of the zoo before the pay gates and had a look at the elephants. A wild Rabbit loped up the path to the elephant house, so that’s another mammal tick!  We intended to get the very fast X8 back to Liverpool, but it was late. When it was 15 minutes overdue, we gave up and got the number 1 to Bache Station and then the train. As we left the zoo on the bus, we saw our X8 heading in, so we should have trusted it would come!  At Bache Station a Chiffchaff was singing from the opposite shrubbery, and we saw a Holly Blue and an Orange Tip flitting about the rails and hedges.

Public transport details:  Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving Chester Zoo 11.20. Returned on bus 1 towards Chester at 2.32, arriving Liverpool Road / Countess Hospital at 2.40. Around the corner to Bache Station, and train to Liverpool at 15.03, arriving Central 3.45.

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Old Roan to Maghull, 29th April 2018

We descended to the canal via Wally’s Steps, off the A59 at the Old Roan. They were named after a local angler, Wally Crebbin, who fought the council in the 1980s to restore access to his favourite fishing spot on the towpath, after the building of new housing. Wally died in 2008 aged 97, but his steps are now an essential part of the Trans-Pennine Trail.

There were no unusual birds about on the water, just the usual Mallard, Coot and Moorhen. There were lots of Coot’s nests in the reeds, one apparently abandoned with a solitary egg, and this one with a mother and two punky red-headed chicks.

Several Mallards had two or three ducklings with them, but the prize was taken by this mother with thirteen!  They stopped for birdseed, but when they were motoring along they took up the whole width of the canal.

There were Bluebells coming out all along the towpath (not the native Bluebell, of course) and about a third of them were white ones. The Cow Parsley had nearly unfurled, and below it were White Dead-nettle, Red Dead-nettle, Ground Elder, Comfrey, Herb Robert, Chickweed, Ribwort Plantain, thousands of bright yellow Dandelions and absolute masses of Garlic Mustard, also know as Jack-by-the-Hedge.

Corpse of the Day was a belly-up dead fish with red fins. A Roach? We saw another further along, too. Do they die natural deaths after spawning at this time of year, or was there something nasty in the water?

We were interested in a plant growing right on the edge of the canal, with its feet in the water. The leaves were tall and pointy but otherwise suggested Dock. The book tells me there is a plant called Water Dock that looks like that, Rumex hydrolapathum, so that was probably what it was.

It was sometimes sunny, but with a cool breeze. Still hats and gloves weather. A few cyclists and joggers came past, but not the hordes that emerge on warmer weekends. We lunched by Hancock’s Swing Bridge at Wango Lane and when we re-joined the path we saw that the Canal and River Trust have joined the fight against the feeding of bread to water birds, saying it “Doesn’t fit the Bill”. Their posters also urged families not to concentrate feeding in just a few favoured areas, but to “Spread the Love”. Clever, that.

Trees starting to leaf or bud included Hawthorn, Ash, Whitebeam, Apple, Elder, white Lilac, and a tree with pale soft newly-emerged leaves and abundant flowers. A Field Maple. We know it well later in the year when the leaves are dark green and shiny, but we didn’t know it flowered like that.

We hoped to see Orange Tip butterflies, considering the abundance of their food plants Garlic Mustard and Lady’s Smock, but we didn’t see any butterflies at all today. Lady’s Smock is also called Cuckooflower, Mayflower and Milk Maids, and was abundant all along the damp verge. It did attract a single bumble bee, though, with a dark abdomen and a gingery, hairy thorax. Although I didn’t get a proper picture to study at leisure, it must have been a Common Carder bee because the only other common bumblebee with a ginger thorax is the Tree Bumblebee, and that has a white ‘tail’.

Apart from the waterfowl, there were the usual hedgerow birds like Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, House Sparrow and Blackbird. An occasional Reed Bunting flew from one side to another, where there were patches of reeds, while near Melling we stopped to listen to a stream of fast, scratchy chirps and cheeps coming from dense reeds on the other side. Without doubt it was a Sedge Warbler. We searched the reeds and brambles with binoculars, but Sedgies are notoriously skulking birds, and we never did see it. There was another one further along and we didn’t see that one either.

Near Maghull, we spotted the old WWII pillbox guarding the railway bridge. Not far before that, at the site of the former Clare’s Swing bridge, the narrow place was completely blocked by reeds and debris. We had already commented that we hadn’t seen any narrow boats coming along, and that was why. It has to be cleared in time for the summer boating season, surely.

Just before the end of the walk we passed the newly-restored milepost showing 12 miles from Liverpool. All the old mileposts were replaced and restored in 2016 for the canal’s 200th anniversary. We had seen the “9” just after we set out, so we covered over three miles today. Hard going for some of us, but at least it was flat! Then over the pedestrian bridge, past Frank Hornby’s house and we got to Maghull station just in time for the train.

Public transport details: Bus 345 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Aintree Lane / Old Roan Station at 10.45. Returned from Maghull Station at 2.30, arriving Liverpool at 2.50.

 

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Thornton Hough, 22nd April 2018

We have had several hot and sunny days (was that summer?) but it was blessedly cooler today. There was a heavy rain shower in the morning as I set out, but it held off for the rest of the day. We experimented with a different way today, because of impassable miry paths on our usual route. (Thanks, John, for the recce).  We still hoped to see some boxing Hares, though.

We got off the bus near Claremont farm and walked down Clatterbridge Old Road. All the hedges were bursting into bud or flower. The Blackthorn was out, as was the native wild Cherry. Buds were well-formed on the Hawthorn. Under the hedges the Garlic Mustard was just coming out and the Cow Parsley was nearly there. The much-derided Dandelions were putting on a splendid bright golden show. The trees were all on the go too, with Norway Maple putting out its froth of acid-yellow flowers and the young leaves of Copper Beech a wonderful bronzy red.


Norway Maple


Copper Beech

There was a Cock Pheasant in a ploughed field, and later we saw another flying over a hedge and clucking furiously. A Buzzard circled slowly overhead, and a group of a dozen or so little brown birds on a wire all went down onto the ploughsoil together. They were probably Linnets. A Blue Tit flew off from a tree hole, where it was probably nesting. There were early Bluebells by a fence, and Yellow Archangel and Green Alkanet in the grass. We crossed the motorway by the footbridge, walked around the Clatterbridge roundabout and took “Thomas’s Path” past Claire House. A male Bullfinch was on the path, but it flew off as soon as it saw us. We could hear it calling in the hedgerow but we didn’t see it again.  The gnarled Ash trees in the flailed hedge were putting out their new leaves and Wych Elm was in flower.


Ash shoot


Wych Elm flowers

Back amongst the fields we noted clumps of Lesser Celandine and the new leaves of Field Maple. A fast-flying dark butterfly turned out to be a Peacock, then we saw a Small Tortoiseshell, and finally a male Orange Tip near the old black-wrapped hay bales and the abandoned farm machinery, where we lunched. There were dark clouds threatening so we soon pressed on. One recently-planted hedge had four or five young Oaks in it. They hadn’t leafed yet (oaks are usually late) and were still carrying last year’s dead brown leaves. We were amazed to see hundreds of Marble Galls on each of them. What an infestation!  We have never seen so many, clustered on the young trees like bunches of grapes. You would almost think the trees were dead, but they probably aren’t. They had a few different-looking galls on them, too. On last year’s twigs, just a few of the leaf buds had been turned into something that looked like seed heads.  None of the descriptions in “Oak-galls in Britain” by Robin Williams seemed to match and I wonder if the raggedy ones were old Artichoke Galls?

In the same hedge there were these lovely red buds, which were probably Crab Apple.

Many of the fields were full of the bright yellow flowers of Oil-seed Rape (Canola).

Under them were multitudes of Speedwells (probably Common Field Speedwell) and the occasional Common Fumitory.

Around the farm (Rocklands farm?) there are several interesting ornamental trees over the hedge, including a Himalayan Birch with bright white bark and long dangling catkins, a Copper Beech and a Cedar, which might just possibly have been a Cedar of Lebanon, but we weren’t able to get near enough to be sure.  We came out onto Thornton Common Road at Crofts Bank Cottages and headed down the road into Thornton Hough village. John and Margaret looked into a field hoping for Hares (no luck with them at all today) and spotted two Red-legged Partridges. We admired the huge Monkey Puzzle tree at the entrance to the village. Then, to our surprise, four vintage buses came along and waited outside the Post Office until a fifth old bus came along to join them. Then they headed off towards Neston. What was that about?

Some of us got the 1.45 bus back to Liverpool, while the rest of us stayed for a further hour. We headed up past the school towards Grange Lane, where I was sure I had seen a Japanese Larch last year. Blow me! It wasn’t where I remembered it and we couldn’t find it at all. We did see a Collared Dove on the ground though, a Song Thrush rootling about by the side of the path and some Rooks in the rookery beyond the corner shop called “The Store” (see top photo). In the churchyard was a Deodar Cedar, a lovely small Weeping Cherry bearing pink blossom and a young Whitebeam with upright leaf buds like magnolia flowers.

On the way back on the bus we looked out for two marvellous garden trees that we had spotted on the way out.  One was a Sycamore of the variegated pink-and-cream variety ‘Brilliantissimum” which at this time of year was a mound of new leaves that looked rather like a delicious fruity dessert. It is in Bebington near the junction of Heath Road and Abbot’s Drive. The other was a grafted Cherry which had both red and white blossom on the same tree. It was on Brimstage Road, near the junction with Beechway.

I was determined to photograph a Japanese Larch in flower, and there is one in Alexandra Park in Crosby. I had a look at it on the way home. Here are its amazing little inch-tall female flowers (2.5cm), like crimson fireworks. The commoner European Larch will be doing the same thing at the moment, so keep your eyes open for one. Its flowers are a deeper red and the foliage is a darker green.

I also went to check on the Crosby Foxglove Tree that was blooming this time last year. (Follow that link for last year’s post, which says where the tree is.) Although the book says they oughtn’t to flower until late May, last year wasn’t an aberration for this early tree, and it’s just coming into flower again. Alas, it seems to have suffered from the prolonged winter, and the flower spikes bear disappointingly few blooms.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Brimstage Road / Clatterbridge Road at 11.02. Returned on the 487 from the stop opposite the Seven Stars pub at 2.45, arriving Liverpool 3.25.

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Botanic Gardens, Churchtown, 15th April 2018

We had a very long run on the bus, an hour and twenty minutes, which took us well past Southport and into the lovely “thatched cottage” village of Churchtown. Although the Botanic Gardens were our main destination, we dropped into the tiny North Meols Civic Garden on the way.

A small tree of Goat Willow Salix caprea was in flower, with the stamens breaking out of the “Pussy Willow” buds.

The Forsythia was in bright yellow bloom and just over the fence a Wren was singing its heart out at the top of a fir tree.

At the entrance to the Botanic Gardens they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the RAF with a red, white and blue “bullseye” flower bed, decked with RAF flags.

We went to look in the aviaries first. There were four or five Peacocks, but no Peahens in evidence, some geese and Guinea Fowl, and pairs of several rare pheasants – Golden Pheasant, Lady Amherst’s Pheasant and a black and white one which I think was a Silver Pheasant. The enclosures are made of very close-grained mesh, so it was very hard to get good pictures of them, but I had reasonable success with the male Mandarin duck.

On the lawn outside the Fernery are two tall, pointed Dawn Cypress trees with their ropy trunks, but no foliage yet because they are unusual in being deciduous conifers. There is also an old Mulberry in a flower bed there.  We sat outside the Fernery to eat our lunch, and admired the very lovely early cherry tree by the lakeside. Then we heard a distinctive call, and a Ring-necked Parakeet flew into the tree and started picking the lovely pink cherry blossom. The cheeky little tyke!  It was systematically stripping the petals off and eating something at the base of each flower, perhaps the nectar stores, and one by one the discarded petals fluttered down to the lawn beneath.

There were Mallards, Coots and Tufties on the lake, and beside the path north of the upper bridge was a Bhutan Pine and also a young Atlas Cedar (called “Ceder” on the label), which was a green one, not the usual blue variety ‘Glauca’. The Horse Chestnut buds are all breaking now, with the sticky cases still hanging on to the stem, the young leaves drooping, and the baby flower spikes just emerging.

There was a female Blackcap in one tree by the lake, and a Nuthatch was “chipping” loudly from the top of another.  At the southern end were several Mute Swans and a Collared Dove.  We had a look in the Fernery, which is being surveyed and re-stocked with the help of Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. We spoke to one of the Friends of the park, who said they have another large building behind it, which they could easily heat, and they are thinking of making it into a tropical butterfly house. That will be popular!  Then we shopped for some bargain plants. Miniature daffs were going for only 50p a pot!

Public transport details: Bus 47 from Queen Square at 10.10, arriving Preston New Road / Cambridge Road at 11.32. Returned on the 49 bus from Botanic Road / opp Botanic Gardens at 2.06, arriving Southport Monument at 2.18, then the train at 2.28, due at Central Station at 3.15.

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Albert Dock, 8th April 2018

Spring is definitely coming on now. There are splashes of yellow Forsythia in gardens, and the Magnolia buds are just breaking out. The Albert Dock were having a “Heritage on the Dock” weekend, with free events, so we walked there through Liverpool ONE.

The lawn at the top of Chavasse Park had a female Blackbird, several Magpies, a Wood Pigeon and a pair of Mistle Thrushes.

Mistle Thrushes have nested at various places in the City Centre in the past: behind the Museum, outside the Marriott Hotel and near the Bluecoat. I wonder where this pair have set up home? Then we strolled down the switchback path opposite the Hilton Hotel. It’s lined with attractive shrubbery, including a Witch Hazel which had gone over. There were several little birds flitting about. One was definitely a Robin but we also spotted something fawny grey with black at the front, fast-moving and elusive. A warbler of some sort? A Blackcap? We didn’t identify it, unfortunately. There is a lovely Tibetan Cherry tree, Prunus serrula with its shiny mahogany bark.

A row of early pink Cherries was in bloom.

We went on a walking tour of the Albert Dock area with a Green Badge Guide, and noticed that there were flowers left under the Billy Fury statue. Is it an anniversary? Then we lunched outside the Maritime Museum, on the “inside” of the dock. There’s always a cheeky Herring Gull eyeing your lunch there. One was so bold as to fly low, looking for something to snatch.  The four young Horse Chestnut trees outside the Edward Pavilion were just breaking their buds.

Then we went to “Dock Ness Monsters”, which invited people to “discover what lurks beneath the waters of Albert Dock”. It was net-dipping from the pontoons in Salthouse Dock. Despite it being mostly aimed at kids, we had a go and filled a tray with weed and Mussels. Then we caught a tiny fish, then another, ending up with three of them. The naturalist from the Lancashire Wildlife Trust said they were sticklebacks, which we hadn’t considered. He said they tolerate the brackish water of the dock and come in from the canal.

He also found a Sea-squirt in our tray, and a tiny Amphipod, about 3mm long. One of the Mussels was so relaxed it had opened up and was filter-feeding. Another group had found a Shore Crab.

The find of the day was a Common Goby, about 2½ inches (6cm) long.

Public transport details: No buses or trains this week, we walked everywhere.

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More Bird Photos by Chris Derri

Corn Bunting – Moss Lane, Rainford

Oystercatcher – Leasowe

Pale Belled Brent Geese – West Kirby Marine Lake

Red-breasted Merganser – New Brighton Marine Lake

Redshank – West Kirby Marine Lake

Scaup – West Kirby Marine Lake

Stonechat – Red Rocks

Tufted Duck – Eccleston Mere

Water Pipit – Carr Lane Pools

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Carr Mill Dam, 25th March 2018

Another lovely sunny and mild day, so we decided to go to Carr Mill Dam, where the MNA saw Great Crested Grebes doing their mating dancing a week ago. We avoided the muddy west side of the lake by going a couple of stops further on the bus, past the Waterside pub, and got off at the side road up to Otterswift Farm. The hedges had been flailed, and were bare and gaunt, but the Flowering Currant was putting out its dangling pink blossom.

There were Mallards and Moorhen in the lake on the left, a Song Thrush by the gate and Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Wood Pigeon in the bare trees. A Grey Squirrel crossed the lane above our heads, leaping the gap between two trees, and we gave it a cheer! The hedges and verges towards the farm had House Sparrows, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Robin, Great Tit and Blackbird. The weather vane on Otterswift Farm shows both an Otter and a Swift, naturally enough!

We turned into the path between the fields, where we heard a Skylark singing overhead and saw a Kestrel hovering. There were several Mistle Thrushes on the fallow ground, including these two very alert ones. Were they a pair? What had they seen?

The bridge over the Dam has convenient parapets to use as seats, and we arrived just in time for lunch. There were carpets of the leaves of Wild Garlic under the trees, but no flowers yet. The usual hordes of Canada Geese were on the water, and also several pairs of Great Crested Grebes, including a pair in the sheltered bay behind us. We watched them closely as we ate our sandwiches, and they did a bit of swimming together, and posing prettily, but there were no gift-giving displays or dancing.

A pair of Mallards were head-bobbing, then they mated. It seemed quite a gentle and consensual affair, in contrast to the rough multi-male scrambles that Mallards usually engage in, which look like gang attacks. Then suddenly a pair of Great Crested Grebes on the other side of the bridge rose up, breast-to-breast on fast-churning feet. The famous dance!  But they did it so briefly that it was a blink-and-you-missed-it moment, with no time to snatch a picture. We set off along the east side of the lake. One pair of Coots were aggressively seeing off another pair, with much fuss and splashing. The “sticky buds” of Horse Chestnut were still closed, but I noticed in Crosby this morning that the points of my local Horse Chestnut leaves were just breaking out of their sticky covers. It must be warmer in the town. One very early Dandelion was out in a sunny spot and we also found our first Coltsfoot on a steep bank.

High overhead a Buzzard seemed to be being mobbed by a pair of Kestrels. At the Goyt footbridge some people leave bird food in the fork of a tree, which was being visited by several Great Tits and a Nuthatch. There were patches of Lesser Celandines under the trees. We returned the long way around by Garswood Old Road and noted that both Hawthorn and some kind of Rose were starting to put out their leaves.

Public transport details: 10.25 train from Lime Street towards Wigan, arriving St Helens Central at 10.45, then bus 352 from the bus station at 10.55, arriving Martindale Road / Carr Mill Dam at 11.10. Returned from Carr Mill Road / Garswood Old Road (by the Waterside pub) on the 352 bus, which should have been at 2.12, but turned up at 2.23, and got to St Helens Bus Station at 2.36. Three of us got the 10 bus, while the rest got the 3.03 train, arriving Lime Street 3.30.

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Bird Photos by Chris Derri

Black-tailed Godwits – Carr Lane Pools

Grey Partridge – Carr Lane Pools

Buzzard – Carr Mill Dam

Goldcrest – Carr Mill Dam

Nuthatch – Carr Mill Dam

Goldfinch – Moss Lane Rainford

Great Crested Grebe – Eccleston Mere

Long-tailed Tit – Eccleston Mere

Lapwing – Moore NR

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – Moore NR

 

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Stanley Park, 18th March 2018

The warming Spring has turned Siberian again, with the arrival of the “mini-beast from the east”. We had light snow overnight, but the pavements were clear this morning, so off we went to Stanley Park. We went into Anfield Cemetery first, greeted mournfully at the gate by a Carrion Crow. Our goal was the long-sought gravestone of William Herbert Wallace and his murdered wife Julia. This time we found it, near the eastern edge. Julia Wallace’s death in Liverpool in 1931 was for many years regarded internationally as a classic murder mystery. Her husband was convicted of it, then his conviction was overturned on appeal. Many called it the “Impossible Murder”.  They are buried together in an otherwise unremarkable spot.

Then we headed into the park. Near the main chapel, on its south side, a small tree was putting out a sprinkling of delicate white flowers. It wasn’t Blackthorn, because the twigs weren’t black and there were no thorns, so I think this earliest blossom is Cherry Plum, Prunus cerasifera

The big field had the usual Black-headed Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, lots of Wood Pigeons and a few Common Gulls. No trees have their leaves out yet, but we were able to identify a Weeping Ash from its classic black winter buds. Near the raised overlook by the old boathouse in the north-east corner is a big Monterey Cypress. There is a circle of venerable London Planes, possibly as old as the park, nearly 150 years. In the centre of the Planes is a different tree which might be a Wych Elm. If so, it’s another of those park planners’ little jokes, hinting at the “magical” or “witchy” nature of the grove. Most of the wildlife was hunkered down in the cold, but we spotted a Robin, several Blackbirds and a single Grey Squirrel. This tree had pink buds, different from the Cherry Plum’s white ones, so was it an Almond? Perhaps not, because Almond buds are supposed to be pointy, not round like these.

We scanned the lake hoping for a dancing pair of Great Crested Grebes, but there were only Moorhens, Coots on nests, Mallards, Canada Geese, another Lesser Black-backed Gull and a pair of Tufted Duck.

The massed daffodils on the Field of Hope weren’t out yet. Despite the occasional sunshine, there were snowy flurries and a bitterly cold wind. We headed for the benches near the Isla Gladstone Conservatory, which gave us a little shelter for lunch. There are three lovely white Himalayan Birches in the shrubbery there (see top picture) and the Rosemary was in bloom.

A male Kestrel flew over, setting the little hidden birds a-twitter. We admired this Weeping Cherry, which is something of a gardener’s artefact, with its branches grafted to the top of a normal Cherry trunk. It will be pretty when it blooms, though.

In several places we noted low hedging of some sort of Pine. Surely it couldn’t be Scots Pine, growing only two or three feet tall? It had all the other signs of Scots Pines though, sets of two needles, a bit twisty, and the cones were pointy. I looked it up at home and I see that there is a dwarf variety called ‘Nana’. That must surely be it.

It was far too cold to linger any longer so we all headed home early.

Public transport details: Bus 19 from Queen Square at 10.05, arriving Walton Lane / Bodmin Road at 10.20. Some returned on the 68, but I went for the 19 at 13.31 from Walton Lane / opp Newby Street, arriving City Centre at 13.45.

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