Seacombe to New Brighton, 18th August 2019

It was a clear and sunny day with a brisk breeze, perfect for a trip on the Mersey ferry. We threaded our way through the city centre towards the Pier Head, via Mathew Street and its hordes of tourists, passing the Beetham Plaza bucket fountain, which wasn’t working today, but it has recently been saved from demolition by being Grade II listed.

More tourists were flocking around the Beatles statues at the Pier Head. We took the 11am ferry to Seacombe and walked 2½ miles along the front to New Brighton. I was hoping that we might see the little migratory birds called Turnstones, which return to the Mersey around this time of year. From Seacombe we got a great view of the cruise ship docked in front of the Liver Buildings, the Magellan of Nassau, which must have been the source of the gangs of tourists.

Just north of the tunnel ventilation tower is a slope with an ascending path, going through rough grass and wildflowers. There were Chicory, Knapweed, Ragwort and Red Clover. It was a magnet for butterflies, and we noted several Large Whites, a Green-veined White, a Painted Lady, some Gatekeepers on the Ragwort and a probable Holly Blue, but it was distant and fast-moving. Painted Lady caterpillars are said to feed on Thistles, and we wondered if Knapweed counted, but it seems it doesn’t. The caterpillars eat thistles from the genera Cirsium and Carduum, but Knapweed is Centaurea. The butterflies like knapweed nectar, though. We also spotted a spider which had just caught a bluebottle and was wrapping it in silk.

It was coming up to high tide (due 1.44) and there were fishermen all the way along the railings (and one fisher lady). It was a competition, they said, and they were hoping for Dogfish or Thornback Ray, but all that most of them had caught were small flounders about 8″ (20cm) long. They were too small to take home and eat, so were thrown back alive.

We lunched at Egremont, and then stopped to watch an unusual gathering of what seemed to be a black evangelical church congregation having a baptism ceremony. They were on the beach tucked into the north side of the breakwater, dressed in white robes and bright headscarves. They were singing hymns in what sounded like a South African style. Two pastors stood in the breaking waves, risking being knocked off-balance. Two little lads of about 10 years old, and then an adult, were held and quickly triple-dunked.

On the breakwater by Mother Redcap’s care home there were lots of birds waiting for the tide to go out again. Many Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers. A Herring Gull, a Lesser Black-backed and several Black-headed Gulls. Amazingly there was a Little Egret. Not seen one of them here before. Also several Starlings and a couple of Redshanks. I thought I spotted a Turnstone, then it was gone and not seen by anyone else, but now I can see one or more on my photo, I think.

On the remnant of beach was a washed-up domed jellyfish about a foot across (30cm). I think it was Rhizostoma pulmo commonly known as a Barrel Jellyfish or a Dustbin-lid jellyfish, common in the  Irish sea and a favourite food of Leatherback turtles.

We had a look around Vale Park, knowing there was a Mulberry in there somewhere. Got it! It is bearing lots of berries, but they are still white or red, and not ripe yet. Mulberries are highly desirable to forage for, so no doubt plenty of local Mulberry-fanciers are watching it closely!

New Brighton was having a Pirate and Mermaid festival, and it was a lovely day for them. Many families and kids were out in fancy dress, and the driftwood Pirate ship the Black Pearl was well-patronised.

The container ship SM Vancouver had just come in on the high tide and was docked by the new red cranes at Seaforth. There was no sign of any unloading activity from the cranes, which we would have liked to watch.

On the pontoons in the Marine Lake was a huge sculpture, made of plastic bottles. It’s called ‘Message in a Bottle’ and is by artist Lulu Quinn. It is a 26ft (8m) bottle made entirely from recycled plastic, which at night becomes a beacon, illuminated from within. It’s message is to challenge our throwaway culture and spark positive environmental change.

Below the ‘Message in a Bottle’ were the hoped-for Turnstones, over 100 of them. They are little fat brown and orange waders with bright red legs. I think they are cute.

A further bulletin on that mystery tree in Queen Square, wich we looked at again this morning. Someone suggested that it might be a Terebinth or Turpentine Tree Pistacia terebinthus. However, in view of that species’ extreme rarity (and presumably the great expense of a sapling), I didn’t think it was reasonable that Liverpool would have planted one of them in a bus station. It doesn’t smell of turpentine either. However, someone from the Facebook group about trees may have finally solved it, suggesting it is a Honey Locust Gleditsia tricanthos (which I had suspected already) and that the red bits aren’t flowers and fruit at all, but are leaf galls caused by the fly Dasineura gleditchiae. That sound more like it. I think you can see on this picture that the lighter lumps in the lower centre seem to be within the leaves (suggesting a larval parasite), not separate flowers or fruit. It’s a rare insect (or under-reported) if that’s right.

Public transport details: Mersey ferry at 11 am, arriving Seacombe 11.20. Returned from New Brighton / Morrisons on the 433 bus at 3.40, arriving Liverpool 4.10.

Next few weeks:
25th August, Rimrose Valley. Meet at Queen Square at 10 am.

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 or a wet bench (A garden kneeler? A newspaper in a plastic bag?), 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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Port Sunlight River Park, 11th August 2019

Port Sunlight River Park used to be the Port Sunlight factory’s private Bromborough dock, from where Sunlight Soap was exported worldwide. From 1995-2006 it was a landfill site, and then it was capped with an HDPE membrane, with clay and soil, and it is now a 37 meter mound which has been turned into a small Country Park, opened in 2014. It has a woodland, a wildlife lake and is a superb viewpoint for the river estuary.

Sunday was the park’s 5th birthday picnic celebration. It wasn’t a good day for it, really, with lowering skies and spotty rain. We headed down Shore Drive, past the industrial estate, and started up the path leading through wildflower verges. They were thick with Bramble, Buddleia, Ragwort, Nettle, Michaelmas Daisy, Fleabane, Wild Carrot, Teasel, Tansy, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Comfrey, Rose Hips, Yarrow, Bindweed, Red Clover, Tufted Vetch and Knapweed.

Tansy

The woods were of Ash, Oak, Rowan, Sycamore, Birch, Hawthorn and Elder. Many of the trees appear to be fruiting astoundingly well after this hot summer. A tiny Hawthorn, looking like it was only in its second or third summer, was bearing little single haws. A well-grown Rowan’s branches were bowing down with the weight of its fruit.

The pond at the northern end had just one Mallard and one Coot, but tucked away near the corner was a flock of 70+ Black-tailed Godwits, roosting and preening.

The RSPB had a tent there and one of their volunteers had a telescope on the Godwits and was telling their migration story to interested passers-by.

Part of the day’s fun and games was a “Scavenger hunt”, with quiz questions on laminated cards tied around the verges. We enjoyed question 2, especially the tongue-in-cheek suggested answer [c].  (It’s answer [a], of course).

The Mayor and Mayoress were there, introduced by a “town crier”, and invited to cut the celebration cake.

The local Bat Group had a stand, as did the bee-keepers and the Soroptomists, but some planned exhibitors had been put off by the weather. We ignored the Burger Bar and the Ice Cream van (we always have our own sandwiches) but were very happy to meet our old friend Vic. Then we all went up to the top to look at the views. When the sun came out very briefly we spotted a single Swallow, and then enjoyed the panorama from Rock Ferry beach below us, past Tranmere Oil Terminal and Cammell Lairds, then out to the mouth of the river, across to the red cranes at Seaforth Docks then rightwards to the Liverpool skyline.

Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving New Chester Road / Shore Drive at 10.35. Returned from New Chester Road / Opp Shore Drive on the No. 1 bus at 2.35, arriving Liverpool 3.00.

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The Dream, St Helens, 4th August 2019

It’s a few years since we’ve been able to get to the Dream, but we’ve recently found a bus that runs there on Sundays. “Dream” is a piece of public sculpture resembling the head of a young girl with her eyes closed, presumably dreaming or meditating. It’s 66 feet (20m) tall and clad in very white stone. It sits at the summit of the old spoil tip of Sutton Manor Colliery and overlooks the M62 motorway. Sadly, 10 years on, it is no longer quite so clean and white. It was unveiled in May 2009, inspired by the old Latin motto of St Helens and of the colliery – Ex Terra Lucem (From the ground, light).

The bus dropped us close to the preserved wrought iron gates of Sutton Manor Colliery, which now lead into the Forestry Commission’s Sutton Manor Woodland, planted with over 50,000 trees, mostly native Birch, Oak and Poplar, although we did note an Italian Alder. In between are masses of wild flowers, and we were interested to note just how much of the tall yellow Common Melilot there was – great fields of it – so it must be tolerant of the coal waste beneath.

There was a pair of Kestrels hunting near the top, and wonderful views, southwards to Widnes and eastwards to the Pennines.

For scale, see the people sitting on the steps on the right. It’s BIG!

It was an overcast day, hot and humid, with the promise of thunder later, but it kept off as we descended the hill and found ourselves on a path along the southern edge of the woodland, right next to the motorway. The wildflowers were here in great profusion. Masses of Ragwort, Teasel, Great Willowherb and Yarrow.  Also occasional Hemp Agrimony, Wild Carrot, Rosebay Willowherb, Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Evening Primrose, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and what might have been the buds of Chicory.

Fleabane
Chicory?

Butterflies were well in evidence. There were still a few Painted Ladies persisting from the once-in-a-decade mass emergence earlier in the week. Also Red Admirals, Peacocks, a Gatekeeper and a Speckled Wood.

Painted Lady
Two Peacocks (and a Pained Lady!)

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street towards Blackpool at 10.16, arriving St Helens Central Station at 10.43. Then the hourly bus 17 from Bickerstaffe Street (outside TJ Hughes by the bus station) at 10.55, arriving Jubit’s Lane / Forest Road (at entrance to Sutton Manor) at 11.14. Returned from Jubit’s Lane / Forest Road (by the garage on the opposite side of the road) on the 17 at 1.41, arriving St Helens Bus Station at 1.55. Then the 10A bus at 2.05, arriving Liverpool at 3.12.

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Rotten Row, Southport, 28th July 2019

It was raining hard when we met in Queen Square. What a change after the record-breaking heatwave of last week! While we waited for the bus we looked again at the unidentified tree next to the New Look shop. It is in flower, with the seeds forming like little gooseberries. New leaves are growing out of the tips of the flower shoots. What an oddity it is. It can’t be either Honey Locust (Gleditsia) or a Pagoda Tree (Sophora), our previous guesses, because they both have seeds in pods. It’s really got us stumped.

In Birkdale, we walked in the rain down Weld Road and turned onto Rotten Row. Its claim to fame is one of the longest herbaceous borders in the country, at 746 meters (nearly half a mile.)  It was once an attractive promenade and a popular tourist attraction, but it was allowed to deteriorate and become overwhelmed with weeds and rubbish. In 2011 the Friends of Rotten Row began the restoration, with the help of the council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. A dedicated band of volunteers now keep it in its glory and continue to win many awards.

We strolled slowly along, admiring the plants. The little red and pink spikes are of the unusual Primula viallii. We also liked the Globe Thistle Echinops bannaticus, the Pheasant Bush Leycesteria formosa and the huge thistle-like Cardoon Cynara cardunculus.

The north end is the gateway into Victoria Park, where preparations for the Southport Flower Show were just starting. We dripped our way into Morrison’s for the loos, then into the shelters in King’s Gardens for a late lunch. The bowling green was waterlogged, and it was full of Carrion Crows, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, perhaps hoping that worms would come up. The rain went off a bit and we strolled around the south end of the Marine Lake. There was a Moorhen, Mallards, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese and about 40 Mute Swans. Four of the swans preening on the edge had blue Darvic rings (so belonging to the North West Swan Study, not the green rings of Cheshire.) They were 4CHS, 4CHP, 4CUA, VD4. (Added later. Steve Christmas from the NW Swan Study tells me that 4CHS and 4CHP were ringed as male cygnets on 21 Dec 2016 at Southport. 4CUA  was ringed as a male cygnet 4 Nov 2017 at Sale Water Park, Manchester and VD4 was ringed as a male cygnet 8 Oct 2016 at Greenbank Park, Liverpool. )

We thought we spotted a man and his wife picking up an oddly unresisting Greylag Goose from the path under the bridge. They said they had rescued it as a tiny gosling, hand-reared it, and now three months later were trying to let it go, but it had imprinted on them and just kept following them home. They plan to take it to Martin Mere.

Then there was a surprise, a Black Swan Cygnus attratus. They are native to Australia, so it hadn’t flown here all that way – it must be an escapee from some collection somewhere. John said it had been around for a while, and the obvious suspect for its source is the WWT reserve at Martin Mere, which keeps all kinds of exotic wildfowl. However, they deny it’s one of theirs.

The rain had eased a bit, but we sat in the shelter around the back of Southport Theatre. In the shrubbery were several Ladybirds on the Cotton Lavender plant, Santolina. They must have liked it there despite the rather antiseptic smell. One was definitely the common 7-spot Ladybird, but the other two were very tiny, just 3mm, and the spots weren’t as neat. I think they were 11-spot Ladybirds, Coccinella 11-punctata, whose spots are sometimes fused (looking like 7), and they are “widespread on various herbaceous plants”.

7-spot ladybird
11-spot?

Then it started to rain heavily so we gave up and headed back to the station, past all the ice-cream and rock shops which must have done a wonderful trade earlier in the week.

Public transport details: Bus 47 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Lulworth Road / Weld Road (Birkdale) at 11.18.  Returned from Southport Station on the 2.28 train, arriving Liverpool sometime after 3.

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Wirral Way, 21st July 2019

Today we walked the first stretch of the Wirral Way, Hooton to Hadlow Road and back. It’s a linear path, the former route of the old Hooton to West Kirkby line of the Birkenhead railway. It closed in 1962, anticipating the Beeching cuts of 1963, and re-opened as the Wirral Way in 1973.

It was cool and shady under the trees, and very quiet. We encountered a few cyclists and walkers, but often there was nobody but us. There were hardly any birds, either. Once or twice we heard a  Blackbird chipping its muted warning from the deep hedgerow, a young Robin crossed the path and we had a glimpse of a Buzzard passing overhead.  The greatest wildlife interest was the flowers. The banks were lined with Meadow Sweet, Red Campion, Rosebay Willowherb, Hogweed, Great Willowherb, Bindweed, Tufted Vetch, Red Clover, Nettle and Goosegrass.

Great Willowherb

In one spot there were a couple of bushes of the alien Japanese Rose, Rosa rugosa, with its purplish flowers, but which ecologists are keeping an eye on in case it turns out to be invasive. The Brambles are in their second flush of blooming, and some of the flowers were pink instead of the usual white.

Less usual flowers were Hedge Woundwort and the delightfully-named Enchanter’s Nightshade. We also spotted many climbing vines of Black Bryony with big bunches of unripe green berries, looking almost like young grapes. They have had a very good year. It’s usually later when we notice it, after the berries have turned red.

Under the larger trees were several small trees or bushes, looking fairly uninteresting, but I bet these are the important native food plants for butterflies, like Buckthorn and Spindle. I must get better at identifying them. The only butterflies we saw were a few Large Whites and a Gatekeeper. There were also a couple of dragonflies, probably Common Hawkers. We stopped to look at a narrow path down the bank on one side which appeared to join up with one in the undergrowth on the other side. It was too narrow for kids to have made, so did it belong to a fox or a badger? Both are said to live around this area.

Hadlow Road is a preserved railway station near Willaston, operating as a visitors’ centre with picnic tables and loos. There are House Sparrows there, hopping about and hoping for discarded crumbs.

Then we retraced our steps back to Hooton. Behind the sign near the steps up to the road there is an uncommon Orange-berried Rowan.

Public transport details: Train from Central Station at 10.15 towards Chester, arriving Hooton at 10.45. Returned from Hooton on the train at 1.58, arriving Central Station at 2.30.

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Norris Green and Newsham Parks, 14th July 2019

Norris Green Park is a new venue for us, inspired by Channel 5’s “Great Garden Challenge”, shown on 2nd July. Last autumn, two teams of designers and their helpers made small competing gardens in this run-down public park, which have since been maintained by the Friends. Both areas were still flourishing, and we thought that the winner is still the best one. Although the planting scheme has been altered from the original plan, it is still lovely in shades of purple and yellow, with Lavender, the tall waving Verbena bonariensis and some clumps of a yellow variety of Red-hot poker.

We noted the young Katsura tree in the losing garden, then we headed off to look at the rest of the  park. There was originally a grand 17th century mansion on the spot, built by the Norris family of Speke Hall. It was rebuilt in 1830 and demolished in 1931. The last owner was Lord Derby, who gave the land to the city in 1933, to be used as a public space. The only bit of the 1830 building remaining is a single wall, said to be of the stable block, and which is now Grade II listed and can’t be removed.

Its history as a great estate explains why some of the trees are far bigger, older and more interesting than you would expect from a small municipal park. There were several large Beeches, a huge Small-leaved Lime and an unexpected and elegant Cut-leaved Beech.

On the north edge, in the wild area behind the old stable wall, we stumbled on a grove of uncommon Caucasian Wingnut trees, with their long dangly seed clusters. I have seen single trees elsewhere, but here there were at least six of them, maybe ten. What a find!

They were surrounded by a wild tangle of Buddleia, Bramble and Bindweed, over which a pair of Speckled Wood butterflies were doing their mating dance. The blackberries are ripening and the Brambles are putting out a second flush of flowers.

Then we took a short bus ride along to Newsham Park, greeted at the northern entrance by a pretty wild-ish flower bed, which included a budding spike of Great Mullein, right by the main road.

It was really hot now, and the sun brought out a Painted Lady, several White butterflies, many Common Blue damsel flies on the boating lake and what appeared to be an Emperor Dragonfly. The main fishing lake had lots of algae on the surface, but it wasn’t as bad as last year. A pair of Coots was feeding five chicks, and another pair was nest building for a second (or third?) brood. A Coot and then a young Moorhen stood on a barely-submerged log just below the bridge and let us have a good look at the differences in their feet.

By the bridge were the first red Hawthorn berries we have spotted this year.

In the water under the bridge we got a good look at a really big fish, about two feet long. One of the many fishermen on the banks said it was a Carp. The fishing lake is artificially stocked, of course.

Public transport details: Bus 18 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Muirhead Avenue East / Lorenzo Drive at 10.30. Then from Muirhead Avenue East / Almond’s Green on the 18 at 12.50 to Newsham Park, alighting at 1.00.  We all went home in various ways: I got bus 18 at 2.20, arriving City Centre at 2.30.

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Ormskirk Parks, 7th July 2019

We had hoped to get to Burscough for their Scarecrow Festival, but the regular bus from Ormskirk to Burscough doesn’t run on Sundays, and there were no special buses provided, so Ormskirk was as far as we got. They have some good parks, though.

Victoria Park at the junction of Ruff Lane and St Helens Road is a tiny triangular patch of trees and formal flower beds, containing an interesting monument. “To the memory of brave men who have fought for their country this column has been erected by public subscription”. It predates the First World War and it commemorates one soldier from the Crimean War and four from the Boer War. The Crimean soldier is Sgt Major James Ikin Nunnerley of the 17th Lancers “one of the six hundred” (i.e. he was in the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854) who survived to become a local celebrity. He ran a draper’s shop in Ormskirk in later life and died in November 1905 aged 75.

Some of the trees are becoming autumnal already, with recognisable seeds. The hanging clusters of Hornbeam seeds were developing, but the Limes were still in flower. I think Ormskirk bought a job lot of Small-leaved Limes some years ago. There are no sprouting leaves at the bases of the trunks, the developing seeds appear to have little points or beaks and the creamy flowers were sticking up above the leaves. That identifies them as Small-leaved.

The monument was flanked by a Weeping Birch, and a flower bed had a pretty Sweet Gum (Liquidambar). An unassuming tree around the edge had leaves with three or five leaflets, but the seeds were clearly some kind of Acer. We couldn’t inspect the bark because there was Ivy on it, but there was another tree nearby with similar leaves, no seeds, and smooth grey bark. I think it was a Box Elder or Ash-leaved Maple, Acer negundo. They come as separate male and female trees, so the one with seeds was a female, of course, while the other must have been the male, carefully planted a few yards away as the other half of the pair. The male trees are the ones that have spectacular tassels of pink catkins in early spring. (See the one we found at Allerton Cemetery in March.)

There weren’t many birds about, just Wood Pigeons, Starlings and Blackbirds. We found a single 7-spot ladybird on some shrubs and a White-tailed Bumble Bee crawling on the grass and looking rather sick. Then we headed off to Coronation Park, spotting a tree on the way with bright red cluster of seeds. It was just a Sycamore, but one genetically endowed with a propensity to be extra-red. A pretty thing.

Many families were out in the park, where there was a funfair, and lots of extra tennis nets set out. There were no interesting birds on their pond, either, just moulting Mallards, Coots, a Moorhen and a flock of Black-headed Gulls. Beyond the drainage ditch is a wetland area / wild flower meadow, and right on the corner of the bridge was a clump of tall plants with purple flowers in whorls. Not any kind of Woundwort, and we eventually concluded it had to be Black Horehound. It differed from the book in being taller than it was supposed to be (4 or 5 feet not 3), lilac not reddish and having no detectable unpleasant smell, but the stems were square and all other features matched

The meadow was full of Meadow Sweet, Teasel and Mugwort, with occasional Tufted Vetch and Field Scabious. Only two butterflies – a Comma and a probable Small Copper.  The edges were planted with young native trees – Larch, Oak and Hornbeam. I have seen one or two Rowan trees with red berries already, but the ones here had berries that were still fawny-brown.

Meadow Sweet
Rowan berries

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.17, arriving Ormskirk at 10.48.  Returned on the train from Ormskirk at 2.37, arriving Central at 3.10.

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Chester Zoo Nature Reserve, 30th June 2019

A long bus ride, but an easy walk on this hot day. North of the Chester Zoo car park is their small Nature reserve, which is mostly wildflower meadow, but with a bit of woodland, the canal at the north, and some experimental plots.

The meadow was mostly white with Oxeye Daisies, as it has been left to mature since 2017 or 2018, and the annuals like Poppies won’t grow again. But there were Teasels, White and Red Campion, Corn Marigold, White Clover, Rosebay Willowherb, Great Willowherb, a tall trefoil about a foot high which can’t have been the low-growing Birdsfoot Trefoil so was probably Common Trefoil. In one place there was a large clump of Common Toadflax, just coming into flower.

We spotted a Buzzard overhead, and there were a few butterflies, mostly Meadow Browns with two or three Gatekeepers. At the south-east corner they have created three test plots to investigate how to turn fertile farm soil to natural meadows. There is a sign saying what they did and how they expect them to turn out, and each plot is labelled. Either their predictions were wrong, or it will take several more years to turn out as they expect, or they have labelled them the wrong way around. It looks to me like the one labelled plot 3 is thick grass and no flowers, as they expected plot 1 to be, while their plot labelled 1 looks like it has had the topsoil removed and is growing both grass and flowers sparsely. That’s what they say plot 3 was.

Near the pond there were lots of damselflies and a few dragonflies, but they were all moving too fast to photograph or identify. There was a strange little creature motionless on a reed or Iris leaf just outside the hide. It was about the size of a Ladybird (5mm?) but fawn with a big black spot. The colours reminded me of the sawfly larvae Chris F pointed out to us a few years ago. Is it some kind of sawfly pupa? I’d be happy for any suggestions.

Last week I had my first Painted Lady in my garden, feeding on a Hebe shrub. John had seen his first during the week, too. Have a batch of migrants just arrived?

Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving Chester Zoo 11.15. Returned from the same Zoo bus stop on the X8 at 2.15, arriving Liverpool 3.10.

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Marshside, 23rd June 2019

We don’t often go “twitching” – chasing after rare birds – but today there were reports of two good ones at Marshside RSPB – a Cattle Egret (which we’ve seen before) and a Glossy Ibis (which would be a “lifer” for me).

It was a lovely warm and sunny day, no coats, rolled up sleeves. In Preesall Close, where we got off the bus, there are House Martin nests every year in the eaves of the houses, and there were also Swallows swooping over the marsh. There was a profusion of wild flowers all along the verge of Marshside Rd and continuing on either side of the path down to Sandgrounder’s hide. The dominant plants were lots of a yellow crucifer, which might have been escaped Oil Seed Rape (Canola). In amongst it were Yarrow, White Campion, Poppies, Comfrey, Bindweed, Red and White Clover, Dog Rose and a white umbellifer that wasn’t Cow Parsley or Wild Carrot (white umbellifers aren’t my specialist subject!). Lower down were Hop Trefoil, the sand-dune specialists Rest-Harrow and Dewberry, and a tiny geranium-type flower that was either Small-flowered Cranesbill or Dovesfoot Cranesbill.

Rest-harrow
Cranesbill

On the way to the hide we spotted a couple of Little Egrets, a hovering Kestrel, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits coming in to land, Lapwings, one or two Mute Swans and a couple of hundred Canada Geese, some with parties of goslings. From the hide we also noted Tufted Duck, Coots, Moorhens and Mallards. However the view of all the near islands was dominated by a nesting colony of Black-headed Gulls. They were squawking, squabbling and strutting, and seeing off rivals for their chosen patch of ground. There were many more than we have seen before, the colony is  growing, and they seem to have displaced the Avocets that have nested here in the last few years.

Some of the pairs of Black-headed Gulls had a couple of well-grown chicks with them, but surprisingly few of them. Had those parents been early nesters, or had all the others started at the same time but suffered some disaster (flooding? predation?) and were most of them starting on their second attempt? Suddenly there was mass panic, all the gulls flew up, and a Peregrine darted through the wheeling white wings. It didn’t seem to get any prey this time, though. Someone observed that they would all be safe from a falcon if they hunkered down, so why don’t they all stay put instead of flying up and becoming a Peregrine’s buffet? Their threat response, simply to fly in all frightening circumstances, seems a bit too generalised.

After lunch we headed south to Nel’s Hide, where we found a Swallow’s nest in the rafters. All the hide windows had been left open for the parents to fly in and out with food. We sat quietly at the far end and after a few minutes the feeding parents plucked up courage to start coming back in. There were four of five big chicks, almost ready to fledge.

The Avocets displaced by the BHGs have decamped to Nel’s Pool.

We watched the antics of three or four pairs with well-grown chicks. One pair were threatening a flotilla of about six Mallards and another was seeing off one of our target birds, the Cattle Egret.

We had looked amongst the grazing cows earlier and not seen it, but here it was, sitting alone, nowhere near the cattle, which had moved on. I have never seen one NOT in amongst the legs of cows before. Nearby was a Little Egret, and to make the set, a Great Egret flew over, wheeled, but we didn’t see where it had landed.

Sadly, no sign of the Glossy Ibis, which had been reported there all week, including early that same morning. So we headed back to the bus, but there were still some interesting sights to see in the hedgerows. The low vegetation held patches of little banded snails, the biggest about half an inch (1.3 cm) and some as small as ¼” or less (3mm). Were they something special? No, they seem to have been White-lipped Banded Snails, which are quite common.

This little beastie appears to be a Common Froghopper, caught in the act of blowing “cuckoo spit”.

On the edge of the pavement in Marshside Road, amazingly, a Bee Orchid.

And lastly, the colony of House Sparrows in garden next to the Fernley Observatory and the returning bus stop, was showing off several fluffy fledglings.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.08, arriving Southport at 10.54. Then the 44 bus from Hoghton Street (opposite the Little Theatre) at 11.25, arriving 11.35 at Elswick Road / Preesall Close. Returned on the 44 bus from Marshside Rd / Elswick Rd on the 44 at 2.25, getting back to the Little Theatre at 2.35, then the train back to Liverpool at 2.43.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Marshside, 23rd June 2019

Toxteth gardens, 9th June 2019

Today we visited four gardens in the Sefton Park area as part of the National Garden Scheme, but since none of them opened until noon, we visited Toxteth Park Cemetery first and wandered about in the warm sunshine. The only trees of note were a row of about eight mature Weeping Ashes, more than we’ve ever seen together before. There wasn’t much wildlife about – we were close to the city centre in a very built-up area after all – but we noted a Grey Squirrel, Starlings, Wood Pigeons, a Carrion Crow, Swallows overhead, Blackbirds and a small flock of Goldfinches.

Our first garden was the “Community Orchard and Wildlife Garden” on Arundel Avenue. It’s the old Quaker Burial Ground, and the historic gravestones of the Society of Friends are still in situ, but it is now a garden, orchard and nature sanctuary run as a community project since February 2013. Most of the plants were cultivated varieties like Lavender, Cranesbill, and Himalayan Poppy, but they were alive with Bumble Bees. Many were Tree Bees, but we also spotted a Red-tailed and perhaps some Buff-tailed.

Number 17 Sydenham Avenue was a small private garden, open for the first time this year. There was a wonderful Black Elder growing against the shed, and the white flowers of the plant known as Hattie’s Pincushion or Masterwort (Astrantia) were hugely attractive to insects of all kinds.

Fern Grove Community Garden is on a former derelict site, where the local residents grow fruit and vegetables in raised beds, and keep bees. They were selling their own Toxteth Honey, which was delicious.

Finally, we arrived just in time for the 3pm tour at “That Bloomin’ Green Triangle”. The project was started several years ago by the residents of Ducie Street, Jermyn Street, Cairns Street and Beaconsfield Street, in opposition to the council, who were boarding up empty houses and painting them black! The local people saved their strong community by re-painting the boards in bright colours and guerrilla gardening eye-catching flowers and vegetables on every scrap of available soil. They planted a Wild Flower Meadow on ⅓ acre of derelict land in Ducie Street, which now boasts 40 species of wild plant, and at least one Common Blue butterfly.

Two houses on Cairns Street were beyond saving, so they were knocked together and turned into a community space which the residents call their “Winter Garden”. The roof has been replaced by skylights and the area is planted up with Star Jasmine, Trumpet Vine, a Tree Fern and an Antarctic Beech tree which is reaching up to the light.

Further treats were in store as we were led into the alley between Cairns Street and Beaconsfield Street, where the residents have an amazing hidden “Alley Palley”. There are tubs of plants all along, including one tub of flowering Potato plants!  One resident, Elizabeth, had a wonderful densely-planted backyard garden which we were allowed to cram into. Architecture group Assemble won the Turner Prize in 2015 for their work with these four streets.

Public transport details: Bus 86A from Elliot Street at 10.12, arriving Smithdown Road / Salisbury Road at 10.30.  Returned from Princes Road / North Hill Street on the 26 bus as 4.10, arriving Liverpool ONE at 4.20.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Toxteth gardens, 9th June 2019