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 The roof has been replaced by skylights and the area is planted up with Star Jasmine, Trumpet Vine, a Tree Fern and an Antarctic Beech tree which is reaching up to the light.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.

Next few weeks:
16th June, no walk, MNA coach trip.
23rd June, undecided. 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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Waterloo, 2nd June 2019

It may have been the hottest day of the year in London, but in Waterloo it was drizzly, overcast and breezy.  Our first stop was the small green area known as Potter’s Barn. The buildings, a gate house, coach house and stables, were built in 1841 by a Liverpool merchant called William Potter, intending them to be part of a grand coastal estate. Unfortunately his business ran into financial difficulties and the project advanced no further.  Potter was a military history buff and so his buildings are replicas of the farmhouse called La Haye Sainte, a crucial strategic outpost on the battlefield of Waterloo in 1815. They are now Grade II-listed.

There wasn’t much to see in the park, but we noted that several small Laburnum trees had very short hanging flowers. Perhaps some unknown variety? The shrub Japanese Snowbell Styrax japonicus was flowering profusely.

There is a tiny nature reserve next to the Lakeside Adventure Centre, with wooden boardwalks over marshy ground. The trees were Alder, Willow and Elder, with an undergrowth of Nettle, Bramble, Coltsfoot leaves, Red Campion, Ragwort, Buttercups and Hogweed.

A Common Tern was hunting over the Marina and some House Martins zipped around overhead. There are Swifts in the Crosby area (I have had four over my garden for about a week now) but we didn’t see them down by the shore. There was a Collared Dove on a TV aerial and the usual flocks of Starlings on the grass.

Nothing exciting on the Boating Lake, just the usual Mallards, Coots, Canada Geese and dozens of juvenile Herring Gulls. There were more Mute Swans than normal, though, about a dozen of them, equally divided between adults and juveniles. One adult had a green Darvic ring on its right leg, CLL9, which I have reported to the North West Swan Study. They have passed the sighting on to Cheshire, as it’s one of theirs. One of the juveniles had a blue ring, but it wouldn’t co-operate so we didn’t get the number. (Added 4th June: David Cookson of the Cheshire Swan Study advised that CLL9 was ringed as a male cygnet on 19 Dec 2017 at Spike Island, Widnes. Steve Christmas of the NW Swan Study was in Crosby on 3rd and had another look. He said “The blue ringed cygnet is 4DCS which was ringed at Sefton Park, Liverpool on 19 Sep 2018. There was also 4CLP, which was ringed as an adult male at Leasowe Golf Club on 17 Mar 2017 and another green ringed bird CNH3 whose details I have sent to the Cheshire Swan Study”).

The thick hedges in Crescent Gardens were a-twitter with House Sparrows. The Friends of Waterloo Seafront Gardens have been working hard with litter-picking and plantings, and the Poppies around the rockery were splendid, as was the Yellow Bush Lupin Lupinus arboreus.

This unusual yellow-flowered shrub was emitting a powerful perfume. It’s Jerusalem Sage, Phlomis fruticosa.

Then we walked northwards up the beach looking at the Iron Men. Liverpool FC have won something or other, apparently, and there is reputed to be an Iron Man in celebratory clothing, but we couldn’t see it.

This picture is by Steve Rice from a local Facebook group.

Public transport details: Bus 53 from Queen Square at 10.02, arriving Crosby Road South / Marlborough Road at 10.35. Returned on the 53 from Oxford Road / Brooke Road West at 2.02.

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West Kirby, 26th May 2019

Well, that was an odd day. It was wet and drizzly for a start, and we were forced out of Liverpool by the Marathon, which had closed some roads and disrupted many buses. So we took the first Wirral train that came, ending up in West Kirby, where there wasn’t all that much to see. The tide was out, and some people were setting off over the sands for Little Eye, although it wasn’t an officially recommended day.

Just by the Dee Lane slipway was a large clump of yellow flowers, which was some kind of crucifer. It was 3 or 4 foot high with “double bobble” seed pods. I suspect it was White Mustard, but it’s hard to be sure.

There was a very brisk breeze, and the Herring Gulls were hanging on the onshore wind, hovering and gliding with consummate ease. A Cormorant was diving and feeding in the Marine Lake. Only a few very hardy yachtsmen were out, but it was ideal conditions for the sailboarders, who scudded along at high speed, leaving long churning wakes

On the far side of Coronation Gardens was an unusual tree,  a Persian Ironwood. It has been donated by the Friends, and we wouldn’t have recognised it if it hadn’t been marked by a special sign. It’s half bare and appears to be struggling in the salty onshore wind.

House Sparrows pecked about in the streets near Ashton Park. A pair of Coots on the lake had raised four chicks, and there were the usual Mallards and Canada Geese, although we haven’t seen the resident Muscovy Duck for a couple of years. A Robin perched on the signpost for the Wirral Way

We lunched in the “Secret Garden”, which wasn’t that hard to find, although we’ve never noticed it before!  There were Great Tits and Chaffinches in the trees, Blackbirds on the lawns and a blossoming pink Midland Hawthorn, which is probably the variety ‘Paul’s Scarlet’.

We returned via Morrison’s supermarket and Sandlea Park. A perky Pied Wagtail scurried about on the grass at super-charged speed.

Part of the grass was strewn with what appeared to be black caterpillars, but they were the fallen catkins from the Walnut trees.

On the east lawn was a raised bed marked “Incredible Edibles”. What a lot of interesting culinary plants! Blue Sage, Celery, Fennel, Globe Artichoke, a variegated mint that smelled of ginger, chives, blackcurrant, cultivated blackberry, and strawberries with pink flowers. A pair of Harlequin ladybirds were doing their bit to propagate their kind.

Public transport details: Train from Liverpool Central at 10.05, arriving West Kirby at 10.35. Returned on the train at 2.00, arriving Central at 2.35

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Liverpool Loop Line, 19th May 2019

Today we walked three and a half miles of the Liverpool Loop Line, a green corridor through the city suburbs from Aintree to Halewood. It is the old route of the Cheshire Lines railway, which was abandoned by British Rail in 1964. It became quite derelict until 1986 when plans were drawn up for its conversion to a walking and cycling route. Construction began in 1988, and the final section to Aintree opened in 2000. It is now National Cycle Network route 62 managed by Sustrans, and is part of the Trans Pennine Trail. Direction signs for both appear at main access points.

We were passed by many cyclists, a few runners and a few family parties out for a stroll, but mostly we had it all to ourselves. It was a wonderful day for wildflowers, with Cow Parsley lining the path. Most of the Dandelions had gone to seed, and we also noted one of the Sow Thistles, what was possibly Hedge Mustard, Wild Garlic, Green Alkanet, Dog Rose, Three-cornered Leek. Forget-me-Not, yellow and orange Welsh Poppies, Wood Avens, Buttercups, Bindweed, Comfrey, the remains of Spanish Bluebells (some white, some pink), the leaves of Coltsfoot, Garlic Mustard, Red Clover, Red Campion and White Dead-nettle.

Cow Parsley and Green Alkanet
Dog Rose
Wood Avens
Comfrey

In the shady damp spots under bridges and in wet ditches were large carpets of European Speedwell or Brooklime, whose Latin name is the memorable Veronica beccabunga.

There were lots of Stinging Nettles too, many with ladybirds sunning themselves on the leaves. They seemed to be all the invasive Harlequin ladybirds. The nettles were flowering, and they come in both male and female plants. Apparently the male catkins are purplish, so these must be them.

A Blackthorn tree had some young sloes just forming, but many were distorted and rotten-looking. This must be the fungal infection Taphrina pruni, which is closely related to T. padi, which we saw distorting Cherry Plums a few weeks ago. On Blackthorn it causes cashew-shaped galls which are sometimes called “Pocket Plums” because the fungus destroys the stone and seed leaving an indentation. It’s bad news for the foragers who will be hoping to make sloe gin in the autumn!

Blackbirds and Robins sang us all the way along. The hedges had plenty of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches and Wrens and we heard a Greenfinch singing. Occasional timid Dunnocks crept out onto the path when it was quiet. A Whitethroat was singing in a high bare tree and a Song Thrush joined in from a less-obvious perch.

The trees lining the path were mostly native Hazel, Birch, Willow, Oak and Ash. There was Elder lower down, with the flowers just starting to open. In one place was a bright yellow Laburnum and another junction had a large stately Silver Pendent Lime. A dense spherical tuft in a Birch made us consider Mistletoe, but it had Birch leaves on it, so it was just Witch’s Broom. A small bird flew out of it, so might have been nesting there. South of the M62 there was a Magpie feeding on something on the path. A sad Corpse of the Day, probably a nestling Blackbird (and rather too gory-looking for a close-up). After we passed, the Magpie came back to its lunch

The only butterfly of the day was a Holly Blue near Well Lane. Past Lyndene Park we heard a bird singing very melodiously between flitting back and forth, but it was neither a Robin nor a Blackbird. A Blackcap! We only had a glimpse, but it was enough to be sure. We don’t see many of those.

We left the path at Belle Vale Road and went into the little park there, where there is a large Turkey Oak. Most of the catkins were brown and shrivelled, but a few seemed to be developing small red or black berries. Were they some kind of gall? I have consulted “Oak Galls in Britain” by Robin Williams, which is available on line.

Only three Andricus wasps produce galls on Turkey Oak catkins, and these must have been one of the rarer ones, the sexual generation of Andricus grossulariae. The galls are said to be “5.5 x 7mm, unilocular but found in numbers together; deep purple; rounded, with point.” That looks right. Later in the year the wasp will also have an asexual phase in acorn cups producing “agamic galls”. There are only 23 records of it on the NBN atlas, most in the Midlands and two or three near Glasgow. The wasp is moving north since its arrival in Britain in 2000.

Public transport details: Bus 10A from Queen Square bus station at 10.02, arriving East Prescot Road / Chatterton Road at 10.22. Returned from Rose Brow / Woolton Hill Road on the 75 at 2.31, arriving city centre at 2.55.

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Kirkby, 12th May 2019

Kirkby was originally a quiet old village near Liverpool, but a new housing estate was built there in the 1960s. The name is Scandinavian, from the Old Norse word elements ‘kirkja’ and ‘byr’, meaning ‘church’ and ‘village’. Kirkby is another Merseyside place with a proud Viking heritage, exemplified by the design of a longship in the gate of their newest park.

Opposite the church of St Chad, the Millennium Green had a profusion of Red Campion, the only flowers remaining from the civic wildflower planting of a few years ago. Some flowers were a darker red, and others were white.

The edges of the green were clothed in Cow Parsley, and several butterflies were out in the sun – Small White, Orange Tip and our first Small Copper of the year, sipping on a Daisy.

The church of St Chad has an ancient foundation, preceding the Norman conquest, and the church in Kirkby is recorded in the Domesday Book. The font is early Norman and is considered to be the oldest man-made object in Kirkby. The present church was built in about 1870 by the Molyneux family, the Earls of Sefton, and many of them are buried in the graveyard at the west end. Oddly, the Molyneux gravestones have been neatly boxed in new chipboard, perhaps as protection preceding restoration. The effect is rather spooky, though.

Our main goal at St Chad’s was to see if the Peregrine Falcons were nesting in the belfry again. They were indeed, and we spotted one adult on the louvers, listening intently to something calling within.  Before I could take a picture, the 11.45 bells rang out loudly and suddenly, the Peregrines shrieked in outrage, and three of them flew off. Two parents and one chick? Soon afterwards we spotted a young one on a buttress roof, but the adults didn’t return while we were waiting.

Not long before the 11.45 bongs we had also been looking at the hopper at the top of a drainpipe, where we had seen a Kestrel nesting a few years ago. Something was sitting in it, well down, but all we could see was a grey and black tail. Could it have been a Sparrowhawk? It must also have flown off when the bells rang, and we didn’t see it again

There were Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws flying about, and a Robin in the shrubbery. In the brook below the church someone had abandoned a supermarket trolley, which was lying on its side. A Nuthatch took advantage of the low perch and came down for a drink. A Holly Blue butterfly flew busily past and the shady old area of gravestones at the southern end was a mass of Wild Garlic.

Just south of the church is a little park called St Chad’s Gardens, where we had our lunch. The specimen trees there have been planted with care and taste. A pair of Turkish Hazels flank the entrance, and there are several Red Horse Chestnuts Aesculus x carnea, which is an artificial hybrid between Red Buckeye and ordinary white Horse Chestnut.

There is also a young Dawn Redwood, a medium-sized Deodar Cedar standing alone and beautiful on a lawn, and several yellow Sycamores, the variety ‘Brilliantissimum’, which look pink in close-up.

The only problem is the failed Laburnum arch. A few years ago they put in the metal arch, planted the young Laburnum trees and then failed to train them over the sides and top of the arch. The trees have simply grown up alongside, reaching in the wrong direction, towards the light. A casualty of the cuts to council services, I suppose. What a pity.

Most of the ordinary Ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) appear to be very late into leaf this year, with the first leaves just unfolding. Weeping Ashes are even later, with two near me in Crosby just showing the first buds breaking. However, the Manna Ashes (Fraxinus ornus) have been in full leaf and flower for a week or two. Could the slow ones be infected with Ash Dieback disease? The disease takes several years to weaken the trees, apparently. Are we going to lose all our Ashes? Denmark has lost 95% of theirs. According to the government’s Forest Research website, ordinary and weeping Ashes are susceptible, as is Narrow-leaved Ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) but Manna Ash might prove to be tolerant.

We ended the day in Millennium park, next to the church. There were rabbit droppings on all the bare patches of flattened molehills. We explored a wide grassy ride near the north end, which was lovely, as well as being quiet and deserted. Was everyone indoors watching the big football match? There were lots of butterflies about, including Small Whites, a fast-moving Brimstone, several Orange Tips and this well-worn ragged Peacock.

It was so quiet that a few Rabbits started emerging from the shrubberies, out onto the grass.

In the small reedy wetland area along the Simonswood Brook we thought we heard a Sedge Warbler. John also spotted a Goldfinch and a Tree Sparrow. There were plenty of tadpoles in the pond.

Public transport details: Bus 20 from Queen Square at 10.10, arriving Kirkby Row / Old Hall Lane 10.55. Returned from Kirby Row / James Holt Avenue on the 21 bus at 2.20, arriving Liverpool 3.10.

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Port Sunlight and New Ferry, 5th May 2019

Overlooking the southern end of Port Sunlight’s dell, just outside the station, is this very droopy conifer, which we have never yet made a determined effort to identify. The most obvious candidate is the famously droopy Brewer Spruce, Picea breweriana, named after a Mr Brewer and nothing whatsoever to do with the effects of drinking too much beer.

I think it must indeed be a Brewer Spruce, everything matches the book. The twigs fall straight down from the branches, the male flowers were dropping copious pollen and last year’s cones were the typical leathery, curved spruce type, about 4″ (10cm) long with stains of white resin.

We noted the Honey Locust and a fastigiate Beech, and stopped again at a handsome small tree with green and brown heart-shaped leaves. This seems very likely to be a young Dove Tree Davidia involucra, also called the Handkerchief Tree. It doesn’t seem to be flowering this year, but they flower when quite young, so maybe one of these years it will positively identify itself!

In the tall Tulip Tree we spotted a fast-moving Grey Squirrel with a young bird in its mouth, possibly a Blue Tit nestling. We watched it to see if it would go back to predate another one from the same brood, but it was last seen being scolded by Blackbirds under the bridge, whose two young ones were fledged, hopping about and thus relatively safe.  There were three Mistle Thrushes on the lawn, two parents with a single fledgling. A poor brood for them. Did the Squirrel get the others? I love how they cock their heads as if they are listening for worms.

Past Hulme Hall, with their light-leaved ‘Brilliantissimum’ Sycamores in flower, and up to the Hillsborough Memorial Garden overlooking the Rose Garden and the Lady Lever art gallery. They usually plant it up in red and white, Liverpool FC’s colours.

On either side of the Rose Garden are long avenues of Lime trees. Their identification still eludes us. They have no twiggy growth at their bases so they aren’t Common Limes. The flowers are just coming out, and they aren’t sticking out in all directions, so they aren’t Small-Leaved Limes. The leaves are smallish and thin, so they probably aren’t Large-leaved Limes, and the undersides of the leaves aren’t noticeably white and downy, so they aren’t Silver Limes. Are they Caucasian Limes? American Basswoods? No idea. We were dragged away from this contemplation by loud bird calls overhead, where a Buzzard was being mobbed by a pair of Crows, and it was circling higher and higher to try and get away from them

After lunch we cut through to Greendale Road, where the Judas Tree Cersis siliquastrum, between numbers 32 and 33, was in full flower, the little pink blooms springing straight from the wood.

New Ferry Butterfly Park was having an Open Day. There were tents from the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Friends of Port Sunlight River Park and many others. They had plant sales, a Maypole, Morris Dancing and the Mayor and Mayoress were there to grace it all. The Butterfly Park has just won the Community Impact Award at the Echo Environment Awards, which might explain the attention. We have never seen it so crowded.

One of their volunteers, John McGaw, is an arachnophile, a Spider Man. He had several live specimens on display, which he had found in the park the day before and kept in kitchen containers for the show. Here are four of them.
A Woodlouse Spider, Dysdera crocata which has strong jaws which can crack and eat woodlice.

Woodlouse spider

A female Nursery Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis. Before mating the male brings the female a wrapped gift of food to reduce the chances of her eating him afterwards.

Nursery web soider

A Black Lace-weaver Amaurobius ferox, the one that makes lacy cobwebs in your old flower pots.

Black Lace-weaver

Finally, in a Kilner jar, a False Widow Spider, Steatoda nobilis. Overnight she had woven a nest and laid eggs.

False widow spider

We happily pottered about the wilder end of the area, noting Alder Buckthorn just coming into flower. The white flower in the herb garden wasn’t Cow Parsley as we first thought, but Sweet Cicely which smelled of aniseed. We appear to be at the peak of the Hawthorn (May) blossom, and it attracted several butterflies. As usual the Orange Tip was too fast for me but this Speckled Wood behaved more sedately.

And the pond was its usual interesting spot, with pond skaters, water boatmen and very many Newts, which I think are Smooth Newts.

Public transport details: Train from Central Station towards Chester at 10.15, arriving Port Sunlight 10.30. Returned from Bebington Station at 2.55, arriving Central at 3.15.

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Dibbinsdale, 21st April 2019

Dibbinsdale, near Bromborough on the Wirral, is the steep valley of the River Dibbin, nowadays called the Dibbinsdale Brook. It is mostly undisturbed woods, containing many distinctive “ancient woodland” plants below the trees, including native Bluebells. There are also wetland areas, wild meadows, good paths and an information centre. It is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

It was another scorcher today, possibly another record-breaker for April. Luckily we were in cool dappled shade for most of the day. The trees are mostly Beech and Hornbeam, with some Wych Elm. There are lots of Willows and Alders in the marshy bottoms, including this shattered old Crack Willow.

Most of the Bluebells are the rarer native types (not the imported Spanish ones you see in most gardens) with nodding stalk, flowers all on one side, curled up petals and white anthers.

Other ancient woodland indicator species carpeting the ground were the last few Wood Anemones, some patches of Dog’s Mercury and the bright yellow flowers and glossy green leaves of Lesser Celandine.

We also noted the dainty white flowers of Greater Stitchwort, and near the marshy areas were clumps of rich gold Marsh Marigolds. There were a few plants of Lady’s Smock, which is usually white, but there are pink ones here. It and Garlic Mustard (which we also saw) are the food plants for the Orange Tip butterfly. We saw many of them through the day, all busily in flight, and sadly none sat still to be photographed. We also saw one each of Peacock, Comma, Speckled Wood and this Holly Blue, perched on a leaf over a stream, and occasionally shivering intensely, as if it was warming up.

Birds were a bit hard to find, and the only ones we saw were flashing about busily. They were mostly the usual woodland species like Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Robin and Wren. Mallards and Moorhen were skulking in secluded pools, a Heron took flight over the reeds and we heard our first Chiffchaff.

Around the meadow the Apple blossom is out, with its large white flowers and round pink buds. We also spotted more Alder Beetles, and checked the undersides of the leaves for caterpillars around the holes, but couldn’t see any. Is it the awakening adults which chew and damage the soft new leaves? We also spotted what we think was a developing Oak Apple on a Pedunculate Oak. It was over an inch wide, say 3cm, and it was developing on its own, not in a cluster like Marble Galls.

If anyone is interested, the rare Foxglove Tree Paulownia tomentosa in a private garden in Crosby is blooming again. This picture is looking north up Eshe Road. See the post of April 26th 2017 for details of its location. No frost this year, so it’s a cracker!

Public transport details: Train from Central Station at 10.15 towards Chester, arriving Bromborough Rake at 10.35. Returned on the number 1 bus at 2.50 from Croft Avenue East / New Chester Road, arriving Liverpool 3.15.

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Greenbank and Sefton Parks, 14th April 2019

Greenbank was once the home of the philanthropic Liverpool family, the Rathbones, who lived in Greenbank House. The surrounding land was bought by Liverpool Corporation in 1897 on condition that it was maintained as a recreation ground for the general public, and that the trees were preserved.

It was a bright day, but quite cold, and sometimes felt like January. The Daffodils are mostly over but the Bluebells (mostly Spanish) are about half out. There were plenty of birds on the park lake, including several Coots nesting on the platforms provided, Canada Geese, Mallards, Moorhens, Wood Pigeons and one Muscovy duck. A strikingly-plumaged Heron stood on a nest platform, feathers ruffled by the cold gusty wind.

Two young Mute Swans looked like they were pairing up, but they were only last year’s cygnets, still showing some brown plumage, so they are far too young yet.

Two Cormorants in breeding plumage flew in. I love the way they swim with an alert-looking heads-up air, as if doing an inspection.

One of the old trees at the south end of the lake was a Caucasian Wingnut Pterocarya fraxinifolia, while on the eastern bank were some new tree plantings. Two young Larch trees may well have been Japanese Larches, Larix kaempferi, as the flowers weren’t bright crimson, but pinkish-cream. One still in its planting cage was definitely some sort of Alder, because it bore last year’s cones, but the new leaves were yellow, the twigs pale bronze and the bark almost white. It might be Alnus incana ‘Aurea’, a variety of the Grey Alder known as Golden Alder.

We had lunch in the sunshine in the Old English garden, which is all that remains of the Rathbone’s estate. There were a couple of unusual upright Magnolias, and a pergola showing buds of Clematis and Wisteria. We looked at a small ornamental tree with very dark purple foliage. It wasn’t a Copper Beech, but looked rather like Hornbeam, although I have never heard of a red one. It had a twiggy base to the trunk like Lime and some of the shoots were reverting to the pale green leaves. Could it be a Purple Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardi’?  Here are some of the leaves next to a quotation from Eleanor Rathbone, a campaigner for women’s rights.

To our surprise, at the western end of Greenbank Lane, where it joins Sefton Park’s perimeter road, the island in the car park had a cluster of green and purple trees, clearly of the same species as each other, but two different colour varieties. These looked more like the Purple Cherry Plums I know from Birkenhead Park but they bore just a few little red conical fruits like Capsicums. I’m flummoxed by these purple trees!

(Added 19th April – it might be the result of an infection by the fungal plant pathogen Taphrina padi, which usually infects Bird Cherry, see this Wikipedia article . On the Facebook group “British and Irish Trees” there are some similar pictures and the suggestion that it also infects the purple Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera var. atropurpurea.)
By the old aviary in Sefton Park we looked at the stump of a recently-felled big old tree. It may have been one of the original Beeches planted in about 1872. On the lake we had a very quick glimpse of a Little Grebe, but it dived and vanished. There was no sign of the pair of Mandarins, but there were several families of little punk Coots (are they called Cootlings?)

A Canada Goose was sitting on a nest on the island, apparently plucking down from her breast. We could see one pale fawn egg in front of her legs, maybe two, but she wasn’t ready to incubate them yet.

A Jay came down to the edge of the lake for a drink.

There is a row of wonderful gnarled Cherry trees near the old bandstand, and many of the passers-by were admiring the profuse blossom in an echo of the Japanese custom of hanami or Cherry-blossom-viewing.

The Palm House was staging a free concert by the Band of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. They were very good, but most of us didn’t stay longer than the first two numbers.

On the way back to the buses at Aigburth Vale we spotted another Caucasian Wingnut tree and a possible young Butternut tree. There was a Pied Wagtail on the verge of the lake and several Tufted Duck out in the middle. There had been reports of a rare Icelandic Gull in the week, but we couldn’t spot it. Some of the Alder shrubs were infested with hundeds of Alder leaf beetles, Agelastica alni. According to the RHS website, the adults overwinter in the leaf litter and emerge in the spring to mate. But if that’s the case, what ate all those holes in the newly-emerged Alder leaves? The beetles don’t eat holes in leaves do they?

The RHS says “Larvae can be found on the leaves from May to July.” Even allowing for the quick start to the spring this year, those chewed leaves still seem anomalous. Did the first adults emerge in that warm spell in February and lay eggs then? There wouldn’t be many leaves for the caterpillars to eat at that time. I regret we didn’t turn the leaves over and look for them. The Alder leaf beetle used to be considered rare in the UK, perhaps extinct, with hardly any sightings between 1946 and 2003. In 2004 larvae and adults were found in Manchester and the species has been spreading ever since. It was found in South Hampshire in 2014 and in North Wales in 2018.

Public transport details: Bus 86A from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.08, arriving Smithdown Road / Borrowdale Road at 10.33. Returned on bus 82 from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane at 3.15, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 3.30.

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Thingwall, 7th April 2019

The plan today was a repeat trip to Landican Cemetery and Arrowe Park to check on some of the trees we saw in bud on 24th February, but before doing that we travelled one extra stop to the Thingwall corner to look at the wonderful sign which names the area in Norse runes. The local authorities are so proud of their Viking past!

In Landican cemetery, on either side of the little CWGC area, are two Callery Pears (Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’). Their pink buds are now white flowers, larger than Blackthorn or Hawthorn, but not as big as Medlar.

There were no exciting birds about, just Magpies and Wood Pigeons, although we heard the calls of Goldfinch and Greenfinch. The Whitebeams were coming into leaf, with each foliage cluster standing upright like Magnolia flowers. One pretty little ornamental tree was a Willow-leaved Pear.

After lunch we crossed over to Arrowe Park, entering via the garden of the derelict ranger’s house. It must have been beautiful in its heyday, but the neglected Magnolia tree is now in magnificent flower.

Wild Garlic (Ramsons) was coming into flower in the wild woodland area behind the house, as were the Bluebells. Earlier we had seen buds of Garlic Mustard (also called Jack-by-the-Hedge). The Norway Maple flowers are still hanging on, and the buds of the Horse Chestnuts have opened to reveal the huge thrusting flower heads.

Norway maple flowers
Horse chestnut bud

The sun came out as we approached the pair of mystery trees by the tennis courts, which we had tentatively identified as some sort of Elm. Unfortunately, since February, all the easily-accessible, low-drooping branches have been trimmed off by the park keepers, making it harder to see what kind of flowers had emerged from those pink clusters. But now I can see that they have to be Elms of some kind, with those immature seeds surrounded by oval wings (each called a “samara”).

I currently favour an identification of Siberian Elm Ulmus pumila. Other indications are the ridged bark, (formerly) straggly untidy branches, glossy serrated leaves, rich brown buds and the symmetrical twig branching. Mitchell calls them “rare, mainly S of England” but the current Collins tree guide suggests they were planted more frequently in recent decades because they are resistant to Dutch Elm Disease

The two mystery elms (the pale green ones)

Nearer the exit gate is another uncommon tree, a Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea. It’s a tall young tree, just breaking into bud high overhead.

On the ground beneath it were last year’s dead leaves and the distinctive first year acorns with their beautifully-figured cups.

A tiny brown Ladybird (5-6mm) was resting in the direct sun on a Laurel leaf. It didn’t move at all, and might have been dead, but perhaps it had just woken up from wintering in the leaf litter and was trying to revive itself. I’m pretty sure it was the Cream-spot ladybird Calvia 14-guttata.

Blackbirds were nesting in a Cypress and scolded us as we passed. A Robin pecked about boldly on the path. As we turned left to walk along to the hospital for the bus, we were surprised to notice that the old cast iron gates of Arrowe Park had arrow motifs all over them

Public transport details: Bus 472 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.10, arriving Pensby Road / Thingwall corner at 10.50. Returned from Arrowe Park Hospital on the 471 at 2.11, arriving Liverpool 2.35.

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Pickering Pasture, 31st March 2019

Pickering Pasture Local Nature Reserve runs along the banks of the River Mersey near Widnes. Historically it was Hale Marsh, then it was a waste tip from the 1940s to the 1960s, then it was cleaned up and restored by Halton Council in 1982. It was opened to the public in 1986 and became a Local Nature reserve in 1991. From the riverside walk there are excellent views of the old and new Widnes-Runcorn bridges.

As we walked down Mersey View Road we remembered that there is a fruit tree overhanging the industrial fencing, which drops sticky plums or damsons onto the pavement in autumn. This must be its blossom, but if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t expect autumn fruit from these generic white flowers.

A mass of the fertile stems of Horsetail Equisetum arvense was pushing up through the concrete sidewalk.

On the island in the car park is a Grey Alder tree, the only one I know. They are often grown on old tips, where they do well. It was probably planted here in 1982 so is approaching 40 years old. There is a splendid display of Daffodils around the Visitors’ Centre and both Goldfinches and Long-tailed Tits were flitting about in the trees. As we walked south westwards along the river bank we spotted Canada Geese and Cormorants flying over the water and Shelduck on the mid-river sandbank. The wildflower bank had hundreds of Cowslips just going over. On the way into the bird hide at the southern end I looked for the Spindle trees, which are easy to recognise in the autumn by their distinctively-shaped red fruits, but what do they look like now? Not very exciting – plain little leaves and small bunches of flower buds.

From the hide there is a view over a pool, the marsh, and on to the Duck Decoy about half a mile away, now surrounded by bright yellow fields of blooming oil seed rape (canola). There were the usual Canada Geese and Shelduck on the marsh, a Heron flew out to the river, and we spotted possible single Redshank and Lapwing in the distance. There were Robins and Wood Pigeons in the shrubbery, and a single shy Reed Bunting came to the bird table. Then two Little Egrets flew in and circled around. One went to the marsh and disappeared into a gully while the other landed in the pool and started hunting around the islands. It was hungry and seem to catch plenty of small mouthfuls of prey.

The United Utilities pathway around the sewage treatment plant is lined with Birch and Grey Poplar, the latter with their distinctive scalloped leaves still lying underfoot. They have no new leaves yet but are clothed in coarse green hairy catkins

A twittering overhead drew our attention to three or four Siskins, which were after something in those same green catkins. Further along a Wood Pigeon sat on her shallow nest in some Hawthorn and eyed us suspiciously.

A lovely Blackthorn thicket was just going over, and was home to lots of insect life. The warm sunshine had brought out several native Seven-spot Ladybirds, various unidentified bumblebees and hoverflies and a Small White butterfly. On the other side of the path we glimpsed our first Speckled Wood butterfly.

There is a stand of white trees near the west edge, opposite the Control Meadow, which I have previously identified as Aspens. Or are they? Could they be Grey Poplar? They are the only two  tree species with those distinctive scalloped leaves. But they look like a suckering clone of identical trunks (which is what Aspen does) and the catkins are different from those of the Grey Poplar, redder and with grey hairs. I think its really Aspen, despite my second thoughts

The Hawthorn leaves are out everywhere, and in one sunny south-facing spot were the first white buds and a few open flowers. They aren’t supposed to come out until May, and it isn’t even April yet! The first big flush of Dandelions is about a month early, too, probably triggered by that warm spell in February.

On the way back to the bus we spotted our first Ragwort and some Yellow Archangel by the bus stop. Some of the ornamental Crab Apples in gardens have wonderful red flowers just at the moment.

Ragwort
Crab apple?

Public transport details: Bus 500 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.10, arriving Halebank / Mersey View at 10.55. Returned on the 500 bus from Halebank / Mersey View at 2.33, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 3.30.

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