Trans-Pennine Trail 9, Broadway to Knotty Ash, 23rd August 2015

It was a hot and sunny day, so a good one to walk another couple of miles of the Trail with its lush and shady greenery.

31 TPT9 View with bridge

There aren’t many birds about in August, so interest was mainly in the plants and the butterflies. There was plenty of Ragwort and Rose Bay Willowherb, plus Yarrow, Tufted Vetch, Buttercups, Red Clover, Mugwort, Herb Robert, the garden escape Montbretia, Great Willowherb, and a smaller one that might be Marsh Willowherb. There was a big patch of Black Nightshade in one place and the leaves of Coltsfoot in another. Under the trees there were many seedlings of White Poplar coming up. We also noted several kinds of the yellow dandelion-like “Hawkish” plants, one of which might have been the Autumn Hawkbit. A new flower for me was Red Bartsia, growing in large patches.

31 TPT9 Red Bartsia

Several Grey Squirrels scampered across the path, dodging the people out on bikes. Signs of advancing summer included Rose hips turning red and the Sycamore leaves showing Tar Spot fungus. According to the First Nature website, the trees only get it when the air is relatively clean, which is good to know.  There were plenty of ripening Blackberries, but they aren’t very sweet yet.

31 TPT9 Blackberries

There were several big Buddleias but none had any butterflies on them. My Buddleia at home has been a disappointment this year, too. Ones we did see were a couple of Speckled Woods, a  Gatekeeper flitting around the Ragwort and this Blue one which sat for a while on the bare path, apparently tasting moisture or salt from a damp depression. There were scattered spots on its underwing, so I think it was a Holly Blue, despite them rarely being seen that low down.

31 TPT9 Holly Blue

We heard Goldfinches twittering, and saw Collared Dove and Greenfinch. In a stand of Nettles we noticed a Bumble Bee climbing rather clumsily and sluggishly about the tip of the plant. It was a queen Buff-tailed, I think. Was it trying to climb higher and looking for a place to nest? Lay eggs? Hibernate?

31 TPT9 Bumble bee

One patch of Ragwort had a few small Cinnabar moth caterpillars, but there are still very few of them about. Another stand of Ragwort had loads of smallish wasps or bees, probably after the nectar. There were areas of the verge where something had been cleared, perhaps Japanese Knotweed, but at the back of some houses just one surviving plant was growing like a small tree.

31 TPT9 Japanese Knotweed

Near the former West Derby Station the walls of the cutting had Royal Fern growing.

31 TPT9 Royal fern on wall

On this second picture the Royal Fern was adjacent to the commoner Male Fern so the difference is clear. Male Fern on the left, Royal Fern on the right.

31 TPT9 Royal and Male Ferns

We lunched at the old station area, accompanied by a Robin, which was hopping about in the Ivy on the wall, clearly interested in us eating our sandwiches but not quite brave enough to come down, even when we scattered some mealworms.

Further southwards is a deep cutting, very damp and shady. There is Liverwort growing up the walls and the almost-permanent puddles on either side had a wet-loving member of the Speedwell family called Brooklime, with the improbable Latin name of Veronica beccabunga. In the section from Alder Road to East Prescot Road we added Enchanter’s Nightshade to today’s flower list.

Near Alder Road we took time out to visit Margaret’s garden. Her yellow Mexican Orange had a big spider on it, probably a Garden Cross Spider, but it wouldn’t show me its dorsal side to see the cross marking. On Golden Rod there were over 100 blue-green iridescent flies. Flies (Diptera) are very numerous and hard to identify, but they looked to me like one of the family Calliphoridae, perhaps Greenbottle flies. If so, they may have been a single brood which had emerged from some dead creature in a garden nearby.

31 TPT9 Greenbottle

As we made our way along the last bit of the Trail to East Prescot Road the sky was darkening, looking like the promised rain was imminent. Just as we got on the bus the heavens opened, but it had stopped by the time we reached the City Centre. How very convenient!

On this eighth section of the Trans-Pennine Trail we walked a further 2 miles of it, taking us to 20½ miles from Southport.

Public transport details: Bus 14A from Queen Square at 10.08, arriving Broadway at 10.32.  Returned on bus 10B at 2.45 from East Prescot Road / Rudyard Road, arriving Liverpool City Centre at 3.15

Here is the plan for the next few Sundays:
30th August, Ainsdale-Freshfield – 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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Wirral Way, 9th August 2015

Our goal was the Thurstaston Seaside Fun Day, but since Thurstaston is poorly served by public transport, we had to walk there and back from West Kirby along the Wirral Way, which was five and a half miles altogether, longer than we would have chosen on a hot August day. In the sun it was hot and humid but much of the path was in very welcome shade.

30 Wirral path

There are still plenty of flowers out, including Green Alkanet, Burdock, a second flush of Bramble flowers, Common Mallow, Purple Loosestrife, Great Willowherb, Herb Robert, Honeysuckle (with flowers and berries), Hogweed, White Campion, Red Campion, Toadflax. St John’s Wort, Wild Strawberry, Black Briony, Meadowsweet, Himalayan Balsam, Hemp Agrimony and Mugwort. Near the Cubbins Green junction about twenty yards of the landward verge was covered with Scarlet Pimpernel.

30 Wirral Scarlet pimpernel

The Ragwort was in magnificent bloom, untroubled by the black and yellow Cinnabar moth caterpillars which chew it to shreds in most years. We have remarked on this all summer, throughout Merseyside, that it’s been a very poor year for them. Our friend Dorothy C, who encourages various caterpillar food plants on her farm, said she noticed loads of Cinnabar moth eggs on her Ragwort earlier in the year, but there was a great thunderstorm and the next day they had all been washed off.

30 Wirral Ragwort

There were several kinds of Bindweed in the verges. The smaller one with some pink on the flowers must have been Field Bindweed. The big white one was either Large or Hedge Bindweed, and I think this pink one with the white stripes must be the rarer Sea Bindweed.

30 Wirral Sea bindweed

We don’t see many birds this time of year, just Robin, Dunnock and Blackbird on the path, the sound of a Greenfinch wheezing somewhere, and Magpies cackling in the trees. But the butterflies were all on the wing, Speckled Wood, Large White, Small White and Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Gatekeeper and one splendid Comma.

30 Wirral Comma

An overhanging branch of wild rose had this Robin’s Pincushion growing. The Wildlife Trusts say it’s a gall caused by the larvae of a tiny gall wasp, Dipoloepis rosae. It is widespread and common, and can be found developing on the stems of wild roses during late summer, acquiring its reddish colour as it matures in autumn. The grubs inside the gall feed on the host plant throughout the winter and emerge in spring as adults. The adults reproduce asexually and only a tiny number are male.

30 Wirral Robins pincushion

We lunched at the Visitors’ Centre then made our way down to the beach for the Seaside Fun Day. We weren’t terribly impressed. The posters said “Learn about amazing coastal wildlife, help create a Giant Beach Art picture, mud dipping, clay beach art, dolphin activities, scavenger hunts, seashore searches and meet Blue Planet’s Charlie the Clownfish”.  In reality there were perhaps a dozen kids dipping in plastic trays. They can’t investigate rock pools, because there aren’t any here. A couple of Rangers were answering questions, but there was nothing to detain us. Nice views over to Wales, though.

30 Wirral welsh view

The tide was out so there were very few birds, just some distant gulls and a flock of several hundred Oystercatchers near the waterline. We walked north along the highest tide line, noting lots of whelk egg cases and cast gull feathers. There was Mayweed growing in the soft, unstable old dune faces, Sea Holly amongst the Marram grass and this very large Broad-leaved Dock, nearly six feet tall.

30 Wirral Dock

Near the Dee Sailing Club there was Wild Carrot and Yellow-wort, and finally some Ragwort with Cinnabar moth caterpillars on it. They were big and fat and occasionally they twitched their back ends back and forth, as if they were starting to spin their cocoons. A young family from Mold were also looking at them, and said there were lots of them on the Ragwort where they lived.

30 Wirral ragwort caterpillars

On the way back to the Wirral Way we thought we heard a young Whitethroat, but we couldn’t see it. We saw the Swallows, though. Autumn is approaching, and the fruits are ripening. Many of the blackberries are going red, there are a few ripe black ones, and masses are still green and developing. Going to be a good blackberrying year by the looks of it. The trees are coming into generous fruit, too. The Rowan berries are already red, Sloes are starting to go black, the Hawthorn berries are just on the turn, small apples are falling by the wayside and great bunches of Ash keys are forming.

30 Wirral Ash keys

Public transport details: Train from Central Station at 10.05 to West Kirby, arriving 10.35. Returned from West Kirby on the 3.31 train, arriving Liverpool city centre at 4.05.


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MNA Coach Trip Smardale 2nd August 2015

MNA Smardale Gill Viaduct1  Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve is about 100 acres in size and occupies a 3.3 mile stretch of the disused Tebay to Darlington railway line. It is maintained by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

It was four years since our last visit – see Smardale Aug 2011

We parked up in Newbiggin-by-Lune taking our usual route we crossed the road and walked along a farm-track running between two drystone walls climbing steadily before dropping down to the packhorse / drover’s bridge crossing Scandal Beck & stopping for lunch. We steadily climbed again up the limestone valley before crossing the old Smardale Gill Railway Viaduct and following the route of the former railway line back to the village.

MNA Smardale Dead Sheep1

Dead Sheep

Les Hale found Corpse of the Day I a dead Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus on the A685 and there was a rather extreme Corpse of the Day II – a whiffy dead sheep near our lunch stop. Unfortunately no Scotch Argus Erebia aethiops on the wing today given the weather but we did note Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, Common Blue Polyommatus icarus, Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus, numerous Common Grass-veneers Agriphila tristella, Large Yellow Underwing Noctua pronuba, Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae and Chimney Sweeper Odezia atrata.

MNA Smardale Common Blue1

Common Blue

MNA Smardale Small Skipper1

Small Skipper

Birds included Grey Heron and Mallard in Scandal Beck, Great Spotted Woodpecker, yellowy coloured juv Willow-chiffs, Kestrel and Raven. Jean Lund was watching a Spotted Flycatcher when there was commotion close by with an agitated Song Thrush and Wren being disturbed possibly by a Stoat Mustela erminea.

Various Galls were noted including:- Galls on Aspen Populus tremula leaves caused by the Gall Mite Phyllocoptes populi, Galls on Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria leaves caused by the Gall Midge Dasineura ulmaria, Red Pustule Galls on Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus leaves caused by the Gall Mite Aceria macrorhynchus, Galls on Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus leaves caused by the Gall Mite Aceria pseudoplatani and Sloe Prunus spinosa Leaf Curl caused by the Leaf-curling Plum Aphid Brachycaudus helichrysi.

A few Insects & Invertebrates with Hoverfly Rhingia campestris, Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus, Common Red Soldier Beetle Rhagonycha fulva, Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius and the black and red forms of Black Slug Arion ater.

An interesting geological diversion was a chunk of fossilized rugose colonial coral Lithostrotion junceum being used as building material along with the usual sandstone and granite in a section of drystone wall.

MNA Smardale Colonial Coral1

Fossilized Coral

Pat Lockwood and Robert from the Liverpool Botanical Society were on hand to help with plant ID and we stacked up a great list including Black Spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-nigrum, Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes, Wall-rue Asplenium ruta-muraria, Brittle-bladder Fern Cystopteris fragilis, Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris, Welsh Poppy Meconopsis cambrica, Common Nettle Urtica dioica, Turkish Hazel Corylus colurna, Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea, Imperforate St John’s-wort Hypericum maculatum, Common Rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium, Sweet Violet Viola odorata, Aspen Populus tremula, Shepherd’s-purse Capsella bursa-pastoris, Heather Calluna vulgaris, Primrose Primula vulgaris with one flower!

MNA Smardale House Leek Rosettes1

House Leek

House-leek Sempervivum tectorum, Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre, Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Silverweed Potentilla anserina, Tormentil Potentilla erecta, Creeping Cinquefoil Potentilla reptans, Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca, Water Avens Geum rivale, Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria, Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis, Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor, Fodder Burnet Sanguisorba minor subsp. muricata, Garden Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla mollis, Burnet Rose Rosa spinosissima, Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus pedunculatus, Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca, Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis, White Clover Trifolium repens, Zigzag Clover Trifolium medium, Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, Broad-leaved Willowherb Epilobium montanum, Rosebay Willowherb Epilobium angustifolium, Enchanter’s-nightshade Circaea lutetiana, Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis, Fairy Flax Linum catharticum, Meadow Crane’s-bill Geranium pratense, Bloody Crane’s-bill Geranium sanguineum, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Rough Chervil Chaerophyllum temulum, Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata, Pignut Conopodium majus, Ground-elder Aegopodium podagraria, Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium, Upright Hedge-parsley Torilis japonica, Wild Carrot Daucus carota, Betony Stachys officinalis, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica, Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia, Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, Wild Marjoram Origanum vulgare, Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus, Hoary Plantain Plantago media, Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata, Monkeyflower Mimulus guttatus, Thyme-leaved Speedwell Veronica serpyllifolia, Wood Speedwell Veronica montana, Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis, Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor, Harebell Campanula rotundifolia, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Limestone Bedstraw Galium sterneri, Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile, Cleavers Galium aparine, Crosswort Cruciata laevipes, Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus, Field Scabious Knautia arvensis,  Devil’s Bit Scabious Succisa pratensis, Melancholy Thistle Cirsium heterophyllum, Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre, Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, Saw-wort Serratula tinctoria, Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra, Chicory Cichorium intybus, Goat’s-beard Tragopogon pratensis, Mouse-ear-hawkweed Pilosella officinarum, Sneezewort Achillea ptarmica, Oxeye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare, Pineappleweed Matricaria discoidea, Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea, Quaking-grass Briza media, Timothy Grass Phleum pratense.

MNA Smardale Gill Fragrant Orchid1

Fragrant Orchid

There were 80 + spikes of Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea also Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis and Common Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsia.

If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website for details of our programme and how to join us.

A wide photographic selection of birds, marine life, insects, mammals, orchids & wildflowers, fungi, tribal people, travel, ethnography, fossils, hominids, rocks & minerals etc. is available on my Alamy webpage

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Royden Park, 26th July 2015

The forecast promised rain, and it wasn’t wrong. It started while we were on the bus, and poured all day.

29 Royden Roodee Mere

From the bus stop just past Frankby we took the footpath southwards to Birch Heys and Montgomery Hill. Horses were sheltering from rain under a tree, but we carried on, noting Ragwort, Red Clover, a pinkish Yarrow, and some early signs of autumn. The Bramble’s first berries were starting to ripen to dark red and the Herb Robert leaves were also turning.

29 Royden Herb Robert reddening

Another footpath took us southwards to Royden Park. I saw no birds in the heavy rain, but John said he’d spotted a Jay, a Wood Pigeon, a Blue Tit and a Blackbird. We were very happy to arrive at the shelter of the Visitor’s Centre and the café.

29 Royden tea shop

A sign in the Centre explained Royden Park’s woodland history, mentioning that they have some rare specimen trees here – Madrona, Cedar of Lebanon, Deodar and Grand Fir – but it was too wet to look for them. Perhaps another day.

29 Royden woodland sign

We mooched about in the Walled Garden. They have a Laburnum arch, but it was well gone over. There were bird tables and feeders but no food had been put out so there were no birds. There was a beehive in the glade and an old cast iron blacksmith’s forge made by the Birmingham engineers Alldays and Onions in about 1890.

29 Royden old forge

We lunched in the shelter of the gazebo, which, according to a plaque, was originally from the Garden Festival Victorian Garden in 1984, and was donated to Wirral Council by Unilever. A Dunnock emerged briefly, but then retreated to the shrubbery. There was a gorgeous ornamental Maple with its leaves just starting to take on autumn colours. There was a row of fresh Molehills across the same lawn.

29 Royden autumnal maple

Roodee Mere is a fishing lake, with only Mallards as far as we could see. The verges had Rosebay Willowherb and Himalayan Balsam, while great piles of Water lilies were stacked up in the water, both the white and the yellow species, but not the smaller Fringed Water Lily. Then we spotted a Moorhen hopping on one leg, with the other leg drawn up. A ranger told us they had found it a few days before, entangled in fishing wire, and freed it. It was a female, with two chicks to look after. She swims well, they said and feeds OK. She’s very ungainly on land, though, and before she can muster the oomph to hop, she needs to put her beak down almost to the ground and get on the tips of her toes. But she chose to move into cover when disturbed, not to go for the water, so she appears to be managing.

29 Royden hopping moorhen

We returned to Frankby via Hillbark Road, noting Honeysuckle and Greater Willowherb in the verges. There was a huge infestation of Horse Chestnut leaf miner Cameraria ohridella on one unfortunate tree, which we first noted in Reynolds Park in August 2014.

29 Royden horse chestnut leaved mined

Another sign of approaching autumn was on a rather muddy-looking Copper Beech, which had started withdrawing the green pigment from the leaves at the tips of its branches, leaving them bright pink.

29 Royden copper beech tips

It was still raining, so instead of getting the bus back to Liverpool we chose the bus stop with the  shelter, and the bus going in the opposite direction, into West Kirby for the train.  By the time we got back to Liverpool the rain had stopped!

Public transport details: Bus 437 towards West Kirby at 10.18 from Sir Thomas Street. Arrived Frankby Road / Baytree Road at 10.58. Returned on the 437 from Frankby Village at 1.28, arriving West Kirby station at 1.35, then the 14.01 train, arriving Liverpool 14.35.

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Powdery Mildew Project

Tony Carter asked me to circulate this to members regarding research into Powdery Mildews. Please contribute if you are able :)

Powdery mildews commonly occur on garden plants, are unsightly, and can cause serious damage. To help understand how widespread powdery mildews are, both in terms of geography and hosts, the Royal Horticultural Society and University of Reading are working together to identify and map as many powdery mildews as possible over the next two growing seasons. You can help by supplying us with infected plant samples and in exchange we will do our best to tell you what mildew is infecting your plant.

Resize P1010449

Figure 1: Geranium sp. infected with Neoerysiphe geranii in the University of Reading, Harris Gardens

With over 900 named species, occurring on more than 10,000 different plant hosts, evenexperts struggle to ID them effectively. I am able to collect and analyse many powdery mildew samples around the University campus and further afield in Reading. However, it is necessary to gain more samples, from more UK locations, on more host plants, in order to better understand the problem in UK gardens.

Using DNA sequences I will be able to identify and map which powdery mildews occur where and when they are most prevalent and ultimately develop short DNA sequences allowing for easy ID of similar samples in future.

Quick, accurate and efficient identification of these garden, fungal foes will help to track the presence of British based species on their host plants, perhaps discovering new species invasive to this island. It will also allow us to track which have recently expanded their host ranges to infect new plant species.

UK gardeners and plant enthusiasts can help to build the global knowledge of Fungi and plant diseases. To help this important research please collect and send your infected plant material to me (please try to follow the steps below)!

Resize New-Picture

Figure2: Please try to pick a significant portion of the infected plant: an entire leaf (such as that of this Geraniumsp.) or shoot (like this Myosotis arvensis (Field Forget-me-not)) is best.

I will record the appearance of your fungi, and then pulverise a small part of it to analyse its DNA. Once identified your sample will be added to a national powdery mildew database and you will be sent a link to the relevant record.

Resize New-Picture-1

Figure 3: Adding fresh leaves to a ‘slightly inflated bag’ will help to preserve the sample.

How to…pick and send a powdery mildew sample:

  1. Locate powdery mildew on plant host.
  2. Prune off several whole leaves (fig. 2)
  3. Put the fresh leaves in a slightly inflated sealed bag (fig. 3).
  4. Send to:

Oliver Ellingham School of Biological Sciences Harborne Building University of Reading Whiteknights Reading Berkshire RG6 6AS

United Kingdom 

…along with the postcode/grid reference of where the sample was found, your email address and the host plants name. If you can add a GPS location and/or photograph of the plant in growth this would be most helpful.

  1. We will email you when results are available. This may take several weeks.

This information will help to form a more complete picture of powdery mildew presence in the UK and to develop cutting-edge, molecular identification techniques.

Many thanks to all!


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The Dream, 19th July 2015

28 Dream sculpture

It’s five years since we’ve been to The Dream. On a blustery day, warm in the sunshine but chilly when the sun went behind clouds, we set out that way again. At Lea Green station we waited for a few minutes for a Steam Train excursion to come through, and we were amused to see a Grey Squirrel run up the ramp and disappear into the hedge.
We turned right out of the station, south along Chester Lane then turned into the Forestry Commission’s Brickfields Daisyfield reserve. To our delight we found that the Hazel trees bore many clusters of young nuts. Why don’t we see them anywhere else?

28 Dream Hazelnuts

Other signs of approaching autumn included Rowan berries beginning to turn red, and green sloes on the Blackthorn. There were plenty of summer flowers out, though. Lots of Ragwort, although we noticed that there have been hardly any Cinnabar Moth caterpillars this year. Oxeye daisies, Spear Thistle, Creeping Thistle, Evening Primrose, Himalayan Balsam, Rosebay Willowherb, Common Centaury, Common Vetch, Ribbed Melilot, and Bird’s Foot Trefoil growing tall in the tangle. There were a few Marsh Orchids by a ditch, and lots of Greater Willowherb.

28 Dream Great Willowherb

A young Cherry tree was exuding gleaming black droplets of sap. Had it been punctured by some boring insect?

28 Dream cherry sap

A Robin and a Goldfinch were singing, there were Rabbit droppings beside the path, a fast-moving Dragonfly which we couldn’t identify, and butterflies were everywhere. Large Whites, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Small Skippers and Small Heaths. They were all very active, so they were hard to catch sitting still, but here’s a Gatekeeper.

28 Dream Gatekeeper

On a Creeping Thistle we found a very strange insect, about the size of a Ladybird, orange and black with white bristly ends. It wasn’t moving, and now I see that it must be a shed skin, probably of some kind of Bug, but I can’t find a match. Does anyone recognise it?

28 Dream bug skin

One young Alder tree had many brown and curled up leaves. Inside were black larvae which I think belonged to the Alder Leaf Beetle Agelastica alni. It’s on the increase in the North West of England. Later we saw an adult beetle with a swollen orange abdomen, which was a pregnant female.

28 Dream Alder beetle larvae

28 Dream Alder beetle adult

In places there were great swathes of Rosebay Willow Herb.

28 Dream Rosebay Willowherb

They have built a new housing estate since we were last here, but at the other end of Farndon Avenue we came to the path across the King George V playing field. There were Black-headed gulls on the grass, and Swallows and one House Martin in the air.  There is a row of young trees alongside the path that we couldn’t identify. They had big, almost cabbage-y leaves, bark like Rowan, but with rows of small holes, and young leaves sprouting out of the bole like they do on Limes. I can’t find anything like it in my tree book. (Added later: Young Lime trees have bark like Rowan, so this was probably something from the Lime Tree family, but still not identified.)

28 Dream big leaves

Just below the Dream there were Swifts, and when we got to the top, as well as admiring the sculpture itself, we took in the views. Looking southwards across the motorway, there was a panorama from Moel Fammau in the south west, past Runcorn Water Tower, Runcorn Bridge, Helsby Hill and Fiddler’s Ferry to the grey tower of the Daresbury Nuclear Physics Lab. Through a gap in the trees to the east there was the distant Peak District and a black church spire about 4 miles away, possibly in Warrington.

28 Dream view peak

On the way down we spotted Creeping Cinquefoil at the edge of path and Lady’s Mantle. A young Alder tree, this one free of the Alder Leaf Beetle, showed last year’s open brown cones and this year’s closed green ones.

28 Dream Alder cones

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street Station at 10.15 towards Manchester Piccadilly, arriving Lea Green 10.38. Returned on bus 194 from Jubits’s Lane / Chandler’s Way at 1.54 arriving St Helens bus station 2.05 (just missing the hourly train back to Liverpool), then bus 10A at 2.14, arriving Liverpool 3.15.


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Victoria Park, Crosby, 12th July 2015

It was a warm and humid day, overcast, with the promise of sunshine later. From Waterloo station we walked up Brighton Road, through the level crossing on St John’s Road and turned left into Somerville Road. Opposite Victoria Park, between Somerville Road and the railway, is some derelict land that a local group took over a few years ago. Some dedicated volunteers are gradually clearing it. It’s called Waterloo Community Forest Garden, and they are planting fruit trees, making woodland glades, and hoping for community allotments. There is known to be a fox living there.

27 Crosby Forest garden sign

Then we crossed into Victoria Park itself. Since the cutbacks in Council funding some years ago, less work is being done in all parks, with some happy results. One consequence is that the Privets aren’t trimmed so often, so they were all blooming, filling the park with their lovely scent.

27 Crosby Privet

The usual park birds were there – Wood Pigeons, Magpies, a Robin singing out of sight and a group of Long-tailed Tits in the trees above. A Blackbird was basking in the sun next to some shrubbery, with its beak open. This is a rubbish photo, I know, but I didn’t want to get any closer and disturb its siesta.

27 Crosby Blackbird basking

Less usual birds included a Mistle Thrush, lots of House Sparrows (there is a large colony here) and a very confiding fat pigeon in a branch right above us, which then flew onto grass, and we  realised it was a very young Wood Pigeon, probably just out of the nest. Some people wonder why they never see baby pigeons, but they are fully-grown by the time they emerge, and look just like the adults, apart from the detail of the plumage.

27 Crosby Young WP

One large field was ploughed up and seeded as a wildflower meadow about four years ago. It looks very rough and unkempt from a distance, but it bears closer inspection. We found an orchid in there with unspotted leaves, and a tall, thin, dark purple flower, just going over. I wonder if it came in with the wildflower mix, whether it was always under the grass, just waiting for the mowing to stop, or whether it had come from a wind-blown seed? The rest of the meadow contained various grasses, plus Ragwort, Musk Mallow, Red and White Clover, Knapweed, Buttercups, Lady’s Bedstraw, Cornflower, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Wild Carrot, and one delicate white frothy one we had to look up – probably Common Marsh Bedstraw.

27 Crosby Marsh bedstraw

In another field they have halved the mowing job by only cutting in a spiral, so now it looks like a maze, or a spiral walkway.

27 Crosby mowing spiral

On a wooded bank there were more wildflowers, those typical of shady edges. Corncockle, Ox-Eye Daisy, Feverfew, Foxglove, Red Campion and lots of tall Garlic Mustard with seed pods. A couple of Grey Squirrels scampered about. Scattered all around are wood carvings on old tree stumps, with lovely detailed workmanship.

27 Crosby wood carving

There used to be a “notable” tree here, because there was a marked map at one of the entrances and an explanatory sign next to the tree itself. I looked at them two or three years ago. However, the map and the marker have both now disappeared. The tree was notable because it was planted to commemorate a Royal event for one of the 20th century Georges. I think it was for the accession or coronation of George V in 1910 or 1911. We pottered around the trees in the right area and wondered if it was the Oak, revealed to be a Pedunculate or English Oak Quercus robur, by its stalked young acorns. It’s less common in the north west of England than the Sessile Oak Quercus petraea. That might have been the special tree, but there was also huge old Black Poplar Populus nigra, a species which is rarer now that Hybrid Poplars are planted so widely. The bark was wonderfully fissured and ridged and the tree itself towered over the adjacent Sycamore (half in front of it on the left) and the English Oak (behind and right). I wonder if that was the one?

27 Crosby Black Poplar

27 Crosby Poplar trunk

Public transport details: The Southport train from Liverpool Central at 10.08, arriving Waterloo at 10.25. Returned on the train from Blundellsands and Crosby at 2.37, due Liverpool Central at 2.58.


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Gorse Hill, Aughton, 5th July 2015

26 Gorse Hill group at gate

Another warm and sunny day, with thin cloud and high humidity, although rain was forecast for later in the day. From Aughton Park Station we turned right onto Long Lane, crossed Prescot Road, then crossed Liverpool Road at Christ Church Aughton, and took the footpath up to the Reservoir. There was a Dunnock on the ramp at the station exit and a young Swallow on the wire by the church. The hay has been harvested, and there were huge wheels of it on the skyline.

26 Gorse Hill hay on horizon

On the verges of the wheat fields we spotted a Small Tortoiseshell, some Meadow Browns and a  Red-tailed Bumble bee. A large dragonfly flew past – probably an Emperor. A Skylark was singing overhead and a Kestrel was hovering. Along the footpath to Holly Lane the Elder and Honeysuckle were blooming in the hedgerow.

26 Gorse Hill honeysuckle

This summer, Gorse Hill is having open days on the first Sunday of each month. See their website and also their blog “Out and About at Gorse Hill” . They are particularly proud of having all three species of Newt on the site, and have built new ponds and connecting damp hedge lines to allow them to disperse. Along the sides of some paths they have laid flagstones with spaces below them to act as Newt shelters, and which are also used by beetles and spiders.

26 Gorse Hill newt shelter

Other man-made homes for wildlife included small mammal piles, made from plastic tubes filled with hay, covered in carpet squares pegged in place, then covered with branches, They say they are popular nesting and refuge sites for mice, voles and shrews.

26 Gorse Hill mammal pile
We were also impressed by the Bug Hotel with en-suite teapot!

26 Gorse Hill bug hotel

We lunched at the picnic tables alongside Seldom Pond. There were hundreds of Common Blue Damselflies, many paired and ovipositing in the water, others basking on the Bramble.

26 Gorse Hill damselfly

Tree Sparrows were visiting the bird feeders, and there were Blackbirds along the woodland edges. Several magnificent Teasel plants were towering over the plants at the water’s edge.

26 Gorse Hill teasel

Along the other side of the wood many trees bore signs identifying the species, whether it was native or not, and what the wood is used for. Speckled Woods were dancing in sunny spots, we spotted one Red Admiral and we heard the song of a Willow Warbler. The reserve encourages children from visiting school parties to write poems about the woods, and some are on display. This one is beautifully illustrated by its author.

26 Gorse Hill poem

We climbed up Gaw Hill and saw one of the reserve’s specialties, a bright male Yellowhammer, singing from a favourite tall branch. There is a great view northwards to Southport and further on to Blackpool Tower. Then we headed back to the Visitor’s Centre, admiring the large stands of Foxgloves in the shady spots.

26 Gorse Hill foxglove

They sell tea and home-made cake (recommended) and there is a stall where they sell some of their own garden produce such as rhubarb, beetroot, strawberries, gooseberries and red currants. They also have an orchard growing heritage varieties of apples, which will be on sale in the autumn. Just as we sat down for tea the heavens opened. It rained heavily as we walked back to the station, so we were soaked for the first time in ages. Still, the gardens need it!

Public transport details: The Ormskirk train from Central Station at 10.10, arriving Aughton Park station at 10.36. Returned from Aughton Park on the 15.23 train, arriving Liverpool 15.50.


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Kirkby, 28th June 2015

It had rained in the night and was still heavily overcast when we set out, but apart from a few scattered spots of rain later, it was a warm and humid day. Before we got to Kirkby John took us on a detour to Orrell Park Station to see the display of flowers. Over 100 yards of bank on the Ormskirk-bound platform has been planted with both wild and garden flowers, and it looks fantastic.

25 Kirkby Orrell Park station

It’s the work of a group called the Orrell Park Regeneration Group, Station Volunteers, who have been working there since 2006. They were awarded a pair of third prizes in Network Rail’s “Best Station Garden” and “Best Station Adoption Group” competitions in 2011. The flowers we noted (amongst many others) were Feverfew, Campanula, Poppies, Oxeye daisies, Foxgloves, Marigolds, Fox-and-Cubs, Begonias, and the Greater Quaking-grass Briza maxima.

25 Kirkby quaking grass

Then we hopped back onto the bus and continued to Kirkby, first visiting the small woodland called Lime Tree Park. The understory was Nettles, Brambles, Dog Rose and Buttercups and the trees included Ash, Hawthorn, Field Maple, Beech, Rowan and Horse Chestnut – but no Lime trees anywhere to be seen. We heard the squawks of Magpies and saw a Blackbird on the verge as we arrived, but heard nothing else. Near the motorway bridge, on the corner of Burton’s Way, we saw a dead Pigeon, looking from the scatter of feathers to be a Sparrowhawk kill, although not much had been eaten. At the time I didn’t notice the red ring on its leg, but now I think it must have been someone’s prized racing pigeon.

25 Kirkby dead pigeon

Last year we were a bit too late for the best of the wildflower planting along Valley Road, and this year they have left it to its natural succession so it isn’t as eye-catching. There was lots of Corncockle, Poppies, Oxeye Daisy, Ragged Robin, a large pink Mallow that must have been a Musk Mallow, Self-heal, Meadow Sweet and Cornflower.

25 Kirkby cornflower

Amongst the flowers were some huge fresh Molehills. Top spots were a pair of Orchids amongst the Clover and a Bee Orchid in the Buttercups.

25 Kirkby orchids

25 Kirkby bee orchid

We lunched in St Chad’s gardens, spotting a Mistle Thrush, a Speckled Wood and a spotty young Blackbird on the lawn. We admired a very handsome young conifer with drooping tips to its branches. After struggling with the Larches in the tree book, I now realise it was a young Cedar of Lebanon, hard to identify because it hasn’t yet developed its characteristic shape with spreading horizontal branches. The pale green barrel-shaped upright cones, easily 4 inches tall (10cm) gives it away.

25 Kirkby cedar

25 Kirkby cedar cone

We had a quick look inside St Chad’s church, although there was a service going on. Their leaflet says their font is the oldest in Britain, perhaps Norman, possibly Saxon.

25 Kirkby font

The oldest gravestones were submerged in a lovely froth of wildflowers. One fallen stone had several broken snail shells and we wondered if it was a Thrush’s anvil. Millbrook Park lies behind the church, and has a Viking theme. The gate evokes a longship and the “Viking Bridge” seems to be made from broadswords.

25 Kirkby viking gate

25 Kirkby Viking bridge

A Heron flew over the wetland area, which was surrounded by masses of Meadow Cranesbill.

25 Kirkby Millbrook pond

25 Kirkby Meadow Cranesbill

We heard a Sedge Warbler and saw a pair of Coots feeding three noisy, peeping young ones. Other flowers included Flowering-rush, Yellow Flag Iris, Water Lily, Fringed Water Lily, and Marsh Woundwort.

25 Kirkby woundwort

There has been a lot of fuss in the local press about some public sculpture put up in Kirby, so we went to see them  The metal tree stump caused much controversy in February – see this Echo article. It’s intended to honour the oldest tree in Huyton, which was dying when it was cast in iron, and the words on the base of the sculpture describe some of the historical events it had “seen” in its 400+ years of life.

25 Kirkby metal tree

The other piece is called Edward’s Elephant, by GG Wood, B Fell and G Fell, and refers to a line by the nonsense poet Edward Lear (who has Knowsley connections) “The Enthusiastic Elephant who ferried himself across the water with the Kitchen Poker and a New pair of Ear-rings”. Notice that the boat is another Viking longship!

25 Kirkby Edwards Elephant

Public transport details: Bus 20 from Queen Square at 10.10, arriving Rice Lane / Wasdale Road at 10.35. After visiting Orrell Park Station we returned to the same stop and got the 21 bus at 11.05, arriving Valley Road / Aintree Lane at 11.15. Returned from Kirkby Civic Centre on the 21 bus at 2.08, arriving Liverpool at 2.55.


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Conwy Valley 20th / 21st June 2015

MNA Conwy Valley1

Spent a wonderful weekend at a wedding reception at Plas Maenan, a beautifully restored Edwardian mansion on a bluff 300 feet above the Conwy Valley. Managed to drag myself away from the champagne to have a wander around the grounds.

MNA Conwy Valley GS Woodpecker1

Coal Tits and Nuthatches were calling along with Great Spotted Woodpeckers and I came across one hunkered down in a crevice near the base of a Fir tree. It had a broken wing although could still manage to grip onto the trunk and hop around using its tail for support. A Red Kite glided over the valley and three vocal Buzzards mewed as they circled eye-level to the terrace. Later three Ravens croaked above the woods to the rear of the Country Mansion. Rabbits galore burrowing into the sloping lawn – I counted eighteen in the evening as well as couple of Grey Squirrels. I found a Red-legged Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes and Hoverflies feeding on a fragrant white flowered shrub included Eristalis sp. and Volucella pellucens.

MNA Conwy Valley Moth1

MNA Conwy Moth2

I found a friendly Moth – I’d be grateful if anyone can identify it as my wildlife guides are packed for an imminent house-move.

MNA Conwy Valley Roses1


MNA Conwy Gunnera


Plants included garden plants such as Gunnera sp. and Roses as well as Tutsan Hypericum androsaemum, Dog-rose Rosa canina, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Ground-ivy Glechoma hederacea, Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa, Foxglove Digitalis purpurea, Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys and English Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta that had gone to seed.

MNA Conwy Valley Tutsan1


MNA Conwy Valley Common Figwort1

Common Figwort

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.

Posted in MNA reports | Comments Off on Conwy Valley 20th / 21st June 2015