Calderstones Park, 14th August 2016

30 Calderstones flower beds

Calderstones Park holds one of the finest tree collections in the North West, and is perhaps the best park for trees in Britain. Today we hoped to see a rarity in flower, the Golden Rain tree, also known as the Pride of India, Koelreuteria paniculata. We walked up Ballantrae Road, across Allerton Road, and entered the park at the south east edge, where I spotted my first Yew berry of the year. There’s a Davidia tree (Dove tree or Handkerchief tree) at the south end of the Text Garden, and a Tulip tree in the middle. The Text Garden was designed with low hedges spelling out words. They are now hard to make out on the ground because some bits are missing, but try it on Google Earth! It spells out the names of flowers (Lord and Ladies, Love in a Mist, Lilly of the Valley and another unreadable one). We also spotted a Speckled Wood here, and a neglected nest box, lidless and squirrel-chewed.

Behind a fence in a shady corner just before the café at the corner of the Mansion House is a tree that has been identified to me as the infrequent Moosewood, Acer pensylvanicum, but I’m not quite sure. The leaves are more like the commoner Grey-budded Snake-bark Maple Acer rufinerve, and Mitchell says “A Snake-bark with grey and pink bark is always this species”.

30 Calderstones snake bark leaves

30 Calderstones snake bark trunk

On the path approaching the ladies’ and disabled loos is a Black Walnut in fruit, and the Golden Rain tree is along there too, almost against the wall. It is supposed to be a small-to-medium tree, but this one is hemmed in by dark Yews and has bolted for the light. It needs binoculars to see the canopy properly, even while standing right under it. It is supposed to flowers in mid-August, and we were right on time, but Golden Rains only flower in some years, and this one hasn’t performed this year. It needs a chainsaw to be taken to the Yews to give it more light!

30 Calderstones Golden Rain

On the lawn outside the Coach House and Gallery is a small multi-trunked tree with large leaves that we thought was some sort of Lime until we saw the nuts with their floridly spiky cases, tucked coyly beneath the leaves. It’s clearly some sort of Hazel. It has to be a Turkish Hazel Corylus colerna.

30 Calderstones Turkish Hazel trunk

30 Calderstones Turkish Hazel nuts

Beneath the Ivy on the wall by the Gent’s we found about three shoots of the parasitic Ivy Broomrape. There’s an old Gingko beside a path in the Old English garden, sprouting from its base. There are grape vines there too, with tiny bunches of grapes, no bigger than petit pois. We lunched around the fishpond, attended by a boisterous gang of Grey Squirrels and a rather scruffy-looking Robin, who clearly knew all about lunch.

30 Calderstones Robin

Near the café corner, behind the City Bike rack, is a Snowbell tree in early fruit. At one point there were four of us under it.

30 Calderstones Snowbell fruits

30 Calderstones Snowbell huddle

On the lake we noted only Canada Geese, Coot and Mallard. Some fishermen said it was stocked with Roach, Perch and big Carp, one making the classic fisherman’s gesture, indicating fish of about 18-24 inches. There is Water Figwort along the rails and a huge stand of  Purple Loosestrife.

30 Calderstones purple loosestrife

In the Bog Garden was a variegated Tulip tree, and what may have been a Lime-leafed Maple Acer distylum. I didn’t look at it properly, and I ought to come back for it sometime.

30 Calderstones lime leafed maple maybe

I was being distracted by a wonderful Caucasian Wingnut Pterocarya fraxinifolia with its masses of hanging seeds.

30 Calderstones wingnut

It seems to be a very good year for tree seeds. There were heaps of immature Alder cones and both kinds of Walnut were in fruit. I didn’t notice much in the way of acorns, although it might be too early yet. The Beeches are covered with brown seed cases which aren’t open, but they feel a bit flat.

30 Calderstones Beech seed cases

Corpse of the Day was a dead Wood Pigeon, probably a Sparrowhawk kill, but there weren’t many feathers about. In the rockery we noted a Paper-bark Maple, and a bit further we admired what was probably a Silver Pendent Lime Tilia petiolaris. Then we were stopped in our tracks by a tall Swamp Cypress Taxodium dischitum.

30 Calderstones swamp cypress

Right next to it was a mature Tulip Tree with just a few late flowers. We thought we’d missed them this year, so this was a bonus.

30 Calderstones tulip tree flower

Then we headed back past the Allerton Oak and home the way we came, via Ballantrae Road.

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.15, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.50. Returned on 86A from Mather Avenue / Storrsdale Road at 3.03, arriving City Centre 3.35.

Next few weeks:
21st Aug, no Sunday walk, MNA coach to Blacktoft Sands.
28th Aug, Hilbre Island. Meet 10.20am Central Station for the 10.35 train.

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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North Wales 6th / 7th August 2016

MNA West Shore Beach1

West Shore Llandudno looking towards Great Orme

I was over in North Wales for the weekend for a double birthday bash. Managed to have a couple of walks the first was along the beach and coastal path running from West Shore in Llandudno to Deganwy. Of note were half a dozen Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella stranded on the beach – the largest of which was approx. 15cm diameter although they can reach double this size. They are so called because of their distinctive brown pattern like the radii of a compass. The nemotcysts on their tentacles can give a nasty weal if stung unlike the three Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aurita we also found. ‘Corpse of the Day’ was a Common Shore Crab.

MNA West Shore Compass Jellyfish1

Compass Jellyfish

MNA West Shore Green Shore Crab1

Common Shore Crab

A Shag flew by heading out towards Puffin Island, Little Egret and Grey Heron strode about in the shallows, Oyks were resting on the sand but the Ringed Plovers were hyperactive. A male Stonechat perched on some scrubby bushes and around fourteen House Sparrows were feeding on the Marram Ammophila arenaria seeds. Lepidoptera included Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus, Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae including plenty of egg cases and around twenty Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae caterpillars on – you guessed it – Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea. Maritime Plants included Curled Dock Rumex crispus, Common Mallow Malva sylvestris, Sea-kale Crambe maritima, Common Restharrow Ononis repens, Sea-holly Eryngium maritimum, Sea Carrot Daucus carota subsp. Gummifer, Rock Samphire Crithmum maritimum, Duke of Argyll’s Teaplant Lycium barbarum, Common Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica and Sea Mayweed Tripleurospermum maritimum.

MNA West Shore Rock Samphire1

Rock Samphire

The second walk started near the Conwy Council Offices before skirting Coed Bodlondeb Woods and along Marine Walk.

MNA Conwy Gazania


The council flowerbeds held brightly coloured Gazania – members of the Daisy family native to South Africa and one plant I saw in Peru last year called Chinese Bell Flower Abutilon hybridum and the ground held Evergreen Oak a.k.a. Holm Oak or Mediterranean Oak Quercus ilex and Turkey Oak Quercus cerris.

MNA Conwy Chinese Lantern

Chinese Bell Flower

Walking through the woods there was an unexpected find of an Orang-u-tan 🙂

MNA Conwy Orang


Plantlife included Tutsan Hypericum androsaemum, Wood Avens Geum urbanum, Wild Cherry Prunus avium, the distinctive black seed heads of Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, Foxglove Digitalis purpurea, Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum, Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia, Sharp-flowered Rush Juncus acutiflorus and (Wood) False-brome Brachypodium sylvaticum. A few Butterflies with Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria and Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina and birdlife included a vociferous young Buzzard in one of the Cypress’. Fungi included Dryad’s Saddle Polyporus squamosus, Sycamore Tarspot Rhytisma acerinum and Violet Bramble Rust Phragmidium violaceum. Gall Species included Red Galls found on Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus leaves caused by the Gall Mite Aceria macrorhynchus, Blotch on Holly Leaves Ilex aquifolium caused by the Holly Leaf Gall Fly Phytomyza ilicis and also damage on English Elm Ulmus procera Leaf caused by Elm Leaf Beetle Xanthogaleruca luteola.

MNA Conwy Lords Ladies

Lords – and – Ladies

On the stonewalls along Marine Walk we noted Polypody Polypodium vulgare, Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes, Wall-rue Asplenium ruta-muraria, Pellitory-of-the-wall Parietaria judaica, Navelwort a.k.a Pennywort Umbilicus rupestris, Bittersweet a.k.a. Woody Nightshade Solanum dulcamara , Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis, Red Valerian Centranthus ruber, Wall Lettuce Mycelis muralis, Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium, Scentless Mayweed Tripleurospermum inodorum and Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum.

On the shoreline there was Common Sea-lavender Limonium vulgare, Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias, Spear-leaved Orache Atriplex prostrate, Sea Beet Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, Curled Dock Rumex crispus and Sea Plantain Plantago maritima.

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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Royden Park, 7th August 2016

29 Royden heath view

This was a joint MNA / Sunday Group walk, with eight of us altogether – three “double” members, one “Sunday only” person and three additional “Nats”.  After noticing the molehills on Frankby Green we turned into Frankby Cemetery, hoping for Mandarin ducks on the pond, but there were only Mallards. No other interesting birds either, just a few Wood Pigeons and our Corpse of the Day, a young Blackbird. Sid found a small moth inside the gents loo, but we have to record it as an unidentified Noctuid. On the Buddleia by the cemetery office doorway there were a couple of bright butterflies, a Red Admiral, and a Peacock with its proboscis deep into a flower.

29 Royden Peacock

There was another Peacock on Buddleia along Montgomery Hill. It was sunny and breezy until we took the shady footpath south eastwards into the park. One of my goals for today was an uncommon tree, a Madrona Arbutus menziesii, which is said on the TROBI database to be “by the old iron fence S of Frankby Mere, at edge of clearing in the pinewoods (hard to find!)” Three of us set off looking for it while the others lingered over invertebrates. We found a young Tulip Tree, and the old iron fence, but were otherwise unsuccessful. We did, however, note some unusual “buds” on the Sessile Oaks which turned out to be Artichoke Galls. According to Wikipedia they are caused by the parthenogenetic gall wasp Andricus foecundatrix and affect both Sessile and Pedunculate Oaks.

29 Royden artichoke galls

We had expected to re-connect with the others for lunch in the walled garden, but it was closed. Mobile phone time. The others had found the Madrona right away, without really looking for it, and were sitting under it having their lunch! We met eventually near the Ranger Station and walked southwards over the high sandstone heath near to Thor’s Stone. Interesting view over to Hoylake and Moreton, with the yellow bases of new wind turbines being put in.

29 Royden sea view

The Birch was seeding heavily and there were thick patches of bright purple Bell Heather.

29 Royden Birch seed heads
Birch seeds

29 Royden bell heather
Bell heather

A fast-moving dragonfly was probably a Migrant Hawker, and we noted a patch of an Umbellifer with much smaller flower heads than the others of its family. It was a new one on me, Upright Hedge Parsley, which also flowers later than its cousins. Back at the Ranger Station we looked around the day’s displays. Alwood Donkeys had a mother donkey in a pen with her much admired 12-day-old foal called Buzz Lightyear.

29 Royden donkey foal

Rockliffe Raptors were there too, with Ziggy the Common Buzzard, Truffle the Asian Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica) and Zako the Little Owl.

29 Royden Truffle

29 Royden Zako

On the way back John took us to the Madrona tree. When it was last checked and measured by TROBI, in 2000, it had three stems, but one has since been removed. It’s still the Britain and Ireland Champion for girth, though. It’s an evergreen, native to the US west coast, with orange-red bark. Two Buzzards called and displayed overhead while we were looking at it.

29 Royden Buzzards

29 Royden Madrona tree

29 Royden Madrona foliage

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.05 towards West Kirby, arriving Frankby Road / Frankby Green at 10.41. Returned from Frankby Road opposite Baytree Road on the 437 bus at 3.20, arriving Liverpool 4.00.


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Dibbinsdale 31st July 2016

A productive morning wander around Dibbinsdale. Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, Hedge Bindweed Calystegia sepium, Water Forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides and Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara were found beside the path through the reedbed. A mother Coot was escorting her four squealing youngsters through one pond with quacking female Mallards on another. In the wooded area were the spiky seed pods of Wood Avens Geum urbanum, Enchanter’s Nightshade Circaea lutetiana and Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica. Nuthatches were calling away, one has been a regular visitor to my garden.

In Bodens Hay Meadow the various grasses were above knee height with a scattering of Wildflowers including Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca, Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis, Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, Rosebay Willowherb Chamerion angustifolium, Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor with some plants still flowering but the majority now with seed pods. The Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra flowers were attracting good numbers of Red-tailed Bumblebees Bombus lapidarius and Buff-tailed Bumblebees Bombus terrestris.

MNA 2016 Dibbinsdale Common Blue1

Common Blue

On the Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea was a lone caterpillar of the Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae. A selection of Butterflies with Large White Pieris brassicae, Small White Pieris rapae, Common Blue Polyommatus icarus, Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus and Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina.

MNA 2016 Dibbinsdale Leptura maculata1

Spotted Longhorn Beetle

A couple of Spotted Longhorn Beetles Leptura maculata were covered in pollen from feeding on the umbellifer heads. At the west edge of Bodens, Meadow Grasshoppers Chorthippus parallelus sprung into the air from under my feet.

MNA Dibbinsdale Green Grasshopper1

Meadow Grasshopper

In Spital Fields I spotted a Hornet Mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonaria, a species that I first observed in Dibbinsdale last summer. There were a few Commas Polygonia c-album basking in the sunshine and a Dingy Footman Eilema griseola, a Moth that flies in July and August that feeds on various Lichens.

MNA 2016 Dibbinsdale Dingy Footman1

Dingy Footman

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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Maghull to Lydiate, 31st July 2016

28 Maghull canal view

There were magnificent displays of flowers all around Maghull station, and congratulations are due to the Maghull in Bloom volunteers and their sponsors, including the Great Mogul pub and other local businesses.

28 Maghull station flowers

Access to the canal is down Rutherford Road and over the footbridge. A great day for butterflies started with a damaged Comma on the footbridge handrail, soon followed by a Large White, bird-pecked in almost the same place.

28 Maghull Comma

28 Maghull large white

One of the many fishermen said the canal is well-stocked with Bream, Tench, Roach, Perch and Pike. We saw many young fish swimming about in the murky waters in Maghull town centre and another fisherman told us they were Roach, which smell bad when they are caught. Further along we watched yet another angler bring in a Bream, then remove the hook and put it back.

28 Maghull Bream

On the fields bordering the canal we noted Carrion Crows, Starlings, Jackdaws, Sparrows and Black-headed Gulls. A Cormorant flew high overhead, heading westwards. One Moorhen seemed to be living on top of a hedge on the other side, while another clucked at us angrily as we passed her three tiny black balls of fluff, perhaps hatched just that morning.  There were some very tiny Mallard ducklings, too.

28 Maghull ducklings

There was a Green-veined White butterfly on Creeping Thistle, a second Comma, and a Red Admiral flew across the water. Several Holly Blues were hanging around in the nettles.

28 Maghull Holly Blue

Also on the nettles was this small orangey Ladybird with something like 18 spots. Not one of the commoner ones, and I think it’s the Water Ladybird Anisosticta 19-punctata. North west England is getting near to the northern end of its distribution.

28 Maghull water ladybird

Masses of flowers on the tangled verge, including Great Willowherb and Rosebay Willowherb, Yarrow, Honeysuckle, Meadow Sweet. Pineapple Weed, Tufted Vetch and Burdock. None of the Ragwort had any Cinnabar moth caterpillars here either.  On the canal edge were the water-loving Water Mint, Marsh Woundwort and Gypsywort.

28 Maghull Water Mint
Water Mint

28 Maghull Marsh woundwort
Marsh Woundwort

28 Maghull Gypsywort

Just after the Maghull Business Centre there’s a Fig tree on the opposite bank, and what looks like a small palm-type tree. Are they the remains of a garden that’s now built over, right to the water’s edge? There are other surprising things in some of the gardens. One had a very convincing-looking pair of bird sculptures of dancing Cranes. Near Lollies Bridge 17A there’s an Indian Bean tree on a lawn, and one verge has four very active beehives.

28 Maghull beehives

We checked all the Buddleia trees on the other side, but there were hardly any butterflies on them. Just one Peacock all day. Where are the dozens we used to see on Buddleias not so many years ago? It was better on the towpath, where we added Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and the always-photogenic Speckled Wood.

28 Maghull Speckled Wood

There were Greenfinches calling and Swifts overhead. On another lawn we spotted a Mistle Thrush and a Song Thrush feeding side by side. Blackberries and Cherries are ripening. By Lollies Bridge someone had fished a filthy old bike out of the canal, and it was propped up to dry. It was covered with what we think were freshwater mussels. They were smaller than the marine variety, just a little bigger than a pistachio nut shell. There must be plenty of them living down there, providing food for water birds. Our last interesting flower was a Nettle-leaved Bellflower on a shady bank, with just one spike, and another one that had fallen over.

28 Maghull bellflower

We came off the canal at Jackson’s Bridge, onto Hall Lane. Near the junction of Eager Lane we heard a Yellowhammer, but couldn’t see it. Some of us got the bus on the main road right away, but four of us went to the Hayloft for tea and a visit to the Farm Shop.

Public transport details: Ormskirk train at 10.10, arriving Maghull 10.30. Returned on the 300 bus from Southport Road / Hall Lane (outside the RC church) at 3.35 (which was the 3.29, late), but we could have got the one an hour earlier. Arrived at Bootle New Strand at 4.05.

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Parkgate to Neston, 24th July 2016

27 Neston Parkgate square
The tide was out at Parkgate, and on the marsh were two Little Egrets, a young Heron, two Mute Swans and very many Black-headed Gulls. There are House Martins nesting on Mostyn Square.  We walked up to the Old Baths and lunched on the picnic tables there, sheltering under a tree from a  short but heavy shower. Then up to the Wirral Way, noting Buttercups, Ragwort and Greater Willowherb. There was a Buzzard calling, flying over the farmhouse by the steps down to the Wirral Way.

27 Neston Meadow Sweet

There was a mass of tangled greenery on each side of the path, including great swathes of Meadow Sweet. Lots of Ragwort, all immaculate, with never a Cinnabar moth caterpillar to be seen all day. Tall Stinging Nettles, Yellow Loosetrife, Convolvulus, Yarrow, White Dead-nettle, Rosebay Willowherb, Herb Robert, Black Horehound, White Clover, Hogweed, Wild Carrot, a Snowberry bush with its little pink flowers, Hemp Agrimony just coming out, Burdock and the bright orange-red berries of Lords and Ladies Arum maculatum, also known as Cuckoo Pint or Wild Arum.

27 Neston Hemp Agrimony
Hemp Agrimony

27 Neston Burdock

27 Neston lords and ladies
Lords and Ladies

It was overcast, so the only butterfly out and about was a Speckled Wood, and during the whole of today’s walk I spotted just one tiny patch of the Horse Chestnut leaf miner.

27 Neston Horse chestnut leaf miner

Near the crossing of Station Road there is a new car park with steps up to it. Nearby is an old wartime pillbox, its gun slits bearing on the road, ready to attack any German tanks coming up from Parkgate.

27 Neston pill box

Several autumn fruits are coming on, and it isn’t even August. There were green Hawthorn berries,  wild Raspberries, unripe Damsons, Rose Hips and some ripening Blackberries.

27 Neston rose hips

27 Neston blackberries

Near Neston a big old hollow Ash had fallen, spreading three broken-off branches in different directions. Locals said it had been down for a week.

27 Neston broken Ash

There’s a great view over to Moel Fammau from there.

27 Neston Moel Fammau

We turned off into Church Lane, and up through the graveyard of the lovely sandstone church of St Mary and St Helen (1874, Grade II*).

27 Neston churchyard

And just to note, before we set out this morning I checked St John’s Gardens, and the Indian Bean trees are now in copious blossom.

27 Neston Indian Bean blossom

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Mostyn Square Parkgate at 11.20. Returned on the 487 from Neston Brook Street on the 487 at 2.36, arriving Liverpool 3.25.

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Marshside, 17th July 2016

26 Marshside cattle

There’s a small colony of House Martins nesting under the eaves in Preesall Close, which is near where the 44 bus dropped us, and adjacent to the path along the sea wall on the south east side of the reserve.

26 Marshside House Martin

It was overcast, and cooler than we expected with a brisk breeze in our faces as we walked along Marshside Road. Along the verge we noted Tansy, Burdock, Convolvulus, Great Willow Herb, Poppy, Ragwort, Yarrow, Mint and Comfrey. We had heard that a Glossy Ibis has been coming and going here for the last few weeks, so we kept our eyes peeled, but saw only Wood Pigeon, Moorhen, Mallard, a few Oystercatchers and a Little Egret posing nicely.

26 Marshside Little Egret

We had a quick look in Junction Pool, but there were just Shovellers, Greylag Geese with goslings, Black-headed Gulls and a Coot. Then we walked along to Sandgrounders hide. The sides of the path there remind me of Darwin’s tangled bank, such a lot was going on in just those three hundred yards. Plants included Rest Harrow, Evening Primrose, White Campion, Green Alkanet, White and Red Clover, Yarrow (including some with pink flowers), a Pyramidal Orchid, Hop Trefoil, and a clump of about 20 stalks of something nettley, each covered with very dark sepal tubes and sparse pink flowers. Was it Black Horehound? That’s best match I can find. The book says it has a disagreeable smell, but I regret we didn’t think to sniff it.

26 Marshside Black Horehound

There was also plenty of Ragwort, but only one small patch had caterpillars. There were about four  plants, two on each side of the path. Did a single laying female put eggs in just this spot? The caterpillars were fatter than the ones we saw last week, looking almost ready to pupate and  twitching occasionally.

26 Marshside Cinnabar caterpillars

The sun was now out and several Gatekeepers were basking. The ones with the brown diagonal smudges on their upper wings are males, apparently.

26 Marshside Gatekeeper

Sitting quietly and inconspicuously amongst the leaves was this handsome moth, possibly a Shaded Broad Bar, Scotopteryx chenopodiata.

26 Marshside Shaded broad bar

There were Red-tailed Bumble Bees visiting something very like Bramble, but growing far less aggressively, so I think it was the dune specialist Dewberry. Also several pairs of mating Burnet moths, probably Six-spot, although they were quite entangled, making the spots difficult to count precisely.

26 Marshside Burnets mating

From Sandgrounders hide there were mainly BHGs, Coot, Moorhen and Canada Geese. Suddenly all the Lapwings from further out, and all the gulls, flew up but there was no sign of a predator. One Black-headed Gull parent had two chicks who were a little younger than all the others, and who were still pestering her for food.

26 Marshside BHG and chicks

Then off to Nel’s hide. There was a herd of cattle there, of many mixed colours, doing some conservation grazing. A couple of Avocets had two well-grown chicks and were very twitchy and aggressive in protecting their young. First they saw off a Mallard, and then a mother Shoveller with two fluffy shovellettes.

26 Marshside Avocet and Shoveller

Then 100+ Black-tailed Godwits wheeled overhead and settled to the pool. They drove the Avocets frantic!  The Avocets kept on flying at the Godwits, trying to herd them away to the far side of the pool, and amazingly, they succeeded!

26 Marshside Avocets and Godwits

On the way back to Marshside Road we looked at the Duke of Argyll’s Tea Tree Lycium barbarum which grows on the bank here. It was flowering, and later it will have red berries which are attractive to birds. Apparently those berries are the much touted “superfood” Goji Berries, although I would be cautious with anything from the Solanaceae, which includes the poisonous Nightshade group.

26 Marshside D of As Tea Tree

The volunteer in Sandgrounders hide had told us that the Glossy Ibis had been seen that morning near the corner of Marshside Road and the sea wall footpath, over the wooden pens and near the pond intended for Natterjacks. Sadly, no joy. We saw a Heron and a Collared Dove, but the Ibis was hiding or gone.  So we descended the bank into Pilling Close and spotted the Tree of the Day. It was a small Fir tree in a garden, about 6 or 8 feet tall and covered with cones. I think it was a Korean Fir Abies koreana. It’s “infrequent” and endangered in its native Korea, but sometimes planted in European gardens, because it doesn’t grow very tall and it bears abundant cones, even on young trees.

26 Marshside Korean Fir

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.08, arriving Southport 10.50, then 44 bus from Hoghton Street / London Street (opposite the Little Theatre) at 11.17, arriving Elswick Road / Preesall Close at 11.29. Returned on the 44 bus from Elswick Close / opp Pilling Close at 2.44, arriving Southport, by the Little Theatre, at 2.55. Just missed the train at 2.58, so got the 3.13, due in Liverpool at 3.55.


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Pickerings Pasture, 10th July 2016

25 Pasture bridge view
Before meeting the group I checked some of the trees in St John’s Gardens. The Indian Bean trees are in bud and will flower shortly.

25 Pasture Indian bean buds

The Trees of Heaven are flowering, but what kind of flowers are they? Various books say they bear both male and female flowers, usually on separate trees. I can’t say I saw any differences so I’ll just have to wait and see which ones bear seed.

25 Pasture Tree of Heaven flowers

We walked a different way to Pickerings Pasture today, on the private road around the water treatment works. There were plenty of Ragwort plants along the roadside, and we looked for Cinnabar moth caterpillars, and found them on only one plant, clustered on the buds.

25 Pasture Cinnabar caterpillars

All along the roadside was a very tall plant of the “dandelion-ish” persuasion, the biggest perhaps 8 feet high. Probably Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca seriola.

25 Pasture Prickly lettuce

A Rowan bush was covered in ripe red berries. That’s early.

25 Pasture Rowan

Other flowers included Rosebay Willowherb, a yellow pea flower on a spike which was one of the Melilots, Red and white clover, Wood Avens and some patches of unusually tall Self-heal, some growing over 6 inches high, when they are usually very low to the ground.

25 Pasture selfheal

It was supposed to be showery, but it stayed dry, and although it went threateningly overcast once or twice, there were also intervals of bright sunshine, which brought out butterflies. We spotted Meadow Brown, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Gatekeeper and Speckled Wood.

25 Pasture Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown

25 Pasture Small white
Small White

We emerged into Pickerings Pasture at the south end, near the bird hide. The bird feeder in the woods there has been vandalised, but from the hide we saw a Heron, a Black-headed Gull, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, loads of Canada Geese, some Shelduck and a Cormorant. Nothing very exciting, sadly. As we returned through the wood we spotted a Spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus, one of the native British trees, and one we don’t see very often. The oddly-shaped seeds were still green, but they will go bright orange in the autumn.

25 Pasture Spindle fruits

They have planted a great field of Meadow Cranesbill, with occasional Yellow Rattle and Musk Mallow.  It was full of bees and other insects, and both Swifts and Swallows were overhead.

25 Pasture meadow cranesbill

We also found several very bright and smart Small Tortoiseshells, and there were a few Orchids in the meadow.

25 Pasture Small tortoiseshell

25 Pasture Orchid

We heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker, but it didn’t show itself. There’s an Aspen tree there, the only one I can recall seeing in the whole of Merseyside. It’s near the junction of the “inland” path with the path that goes towards the river and the visitors’ centre, not far from the Control Meadow (= the Bramble patch).

25 Pasture Aspen leaves

Near the visitors’ centre a small Lime tree was in splendid flower.

25 Pasture Lime flowers

There was another tree on the island in the car park. At first glance it said “Sweet Chestnut”, but it wasn’t. It had long leaves, about six inches long, with serrated edges. We were scratching our heads, and then we spotted Alder cones on the ground. Further scrutiny revealed Alder cones actually growing on the tree itself, so there was no doubt about it. We’ve never seen an Alder with leaves like that before. After a quick riffle through the book we decided it had to be a Grey Alder, Alnus incana, a new one to us, which has to be Tree of the Day. Mitchell says it’s rare as a garden tree, but “a useful tree for rapid growth on dry and difficult soils; planted in land-reclamation schemes.” That sounds right.

25 Pasture Grey Alder

25 Pasture Grey Alder leaf and cone

The tide was coming in strongly as we headed north towards the footbridge, then up the steps and back by the woodland path. There were Shelduck and Lapwing on the sandbanks and big patches of frothy yellow Ladies Bedstraw by the wayside. Another patch of pink flowers with square stems foxed us. Could it be Corn Mint or its hybrid with water mint called Whorled Mint?

25 Pasture Corn Mint maybe

There was also lots of Wild Carrot. I’m used to the flowers having a pink bit in the middle, but these all seemed to have a small black insect on them. Closer inspection revealed a central floret that was so dark red or purple as to be almost black. It stood up from the others, too.

25 Pasture Wild Carrot face on

25 Pasture Wild Carrot side on

We walked back to the bus up Mersey View Road. There were ripe wild Plums in the hedges, the Privet was flowering and the Field Maple seeds were looking autumnal already.

Public transport details: 82A bus from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.15, arriving Halebank, Garnett’s Lane at 11.04. Returned on the 82A from Halebank / Mersey View at 2.25 (the 2.15, late) arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 3.15.

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MNA Coach Trip Malham, Yorkshire 9th July 2016

MNA Malham Cove

The MNA Coach parked beside the Yorkshire Dales Visitor Centre in Malham village and after donning waterproofs against the typical English Summer weather we were soon listing slightly unusual botanical sights like a huge coppiced Laburnum Laburnum anagyroides and a Bay Willow Salix pentandra beside Malham Methodist Chapel. Butterbur Petasites hybridus leaves lined the banks of Malham Beck and a Tree of note in Dingle Dell was Yellow Buckeye Aesculus flava with similar shaped leaves to Horse Chestnut. Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and Swifts were hovering insects at speed above and around us. Wren and Song Thrush in full song, twittering Goldfinch and a Grey Wagtail perched in a tree beside the Beck. John Clegg tried to add Kingfisher but the larger than life sculpture on the bridge didn’t fool us.

MNA Malham Meadow Cranesbill1

Meadow Cranesbill

MNA Malham White Stonecrop1

White Stonecrop

Wandering through the village the various Fern species growing on the stone walls were identified as Hart’s Tongue Fern Asplenium scolopendrium, Black Spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-nigrum, Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes, Wall-rue Asplenium ruta-muraria and Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis. Also in the banksides and walls was Welsh Poppy Meconopsis cambrica, Garlic Mustard a.k.a. Jack-By-The-Hedge Alliaria petiolata, Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre, White Stonecrop Sedum album, Wood Avens Geum urbanum, Meadow Crane’s-bill Geranium pratense, Shining Crane’s-bill Geranium lucidum, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica, Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Cleavers Galium aparine, Crosswort Cruciata laevipes, Wall Lettuce Mycelis muralis etc.

We turned off beside the Youth Hostel passing some fragrant Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata and wandered along a small track adjacent to a stone wall that held some impressive cushions of Moss before stopping for lunch, sheltering from the rain underneath the trees. A Harvestmen wandering along the stone wall had a number of scarlet parasitic Mite larvae belonging to the genus Leptus attached to its legs and body. We crossed over farm fields adding another plethora of plants to the list – Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris, Trailing Tormentil Potentilla anglica, Creeping Cinquefoil Potentilla reptans, Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Bush Vetch Vicia sepium, White Clover Trifolium repens, Red Clover Trifolium pratense, Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris, Ground-elder Aegopodium podagraria, Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare, Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra, Prickly Sow-thistle Sonchus asper.

MNA Malham Self Heal1


After watching a Treecreeper spiralling around a tree and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers chasing after Insects we crossed over Malham Beck using one of the traditional stone clapper bridges. Amongst the Yellow Meadows Ant Lasius flavus hills we found Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus, Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis, Harebell Campanula rotundifolia, Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile, Mouse-ear-hawkweed Pilosella officinarum, Yarrow Achillea millefolium and Betony Stachys officinalis. Marsh Valerian Valeriana dioica grew along the Beck’s bankside, Water-cress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum in the Beck itself and across the Beck were a few flowering Jacob’s-ladder Polemonium caeruleum.

MNA Malham Wild Thyme1

Wild Thyme

In front of us was the curved limestone ampitheatre of Malham Cove. This cliff face was formed along the line of the Middle Craven Fault through ice and water erosion but nowadays the water flows underground through fissures in the limestone exiting at the foot of the Cove into Malham Beck. (On our return coach journey DaveB passed around an aerial photo from December 2015 when torrential rainfall from Storm Desmond briefly created a waterfall as it sent torrents cascading over the 260ft cliff face for the first time in hundreds of years.)

MNA Malham Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway

We headed over to the Peregrine Viewpoint where staff and volunteers from the RSPB and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) had scopes set up on the two Peregrine chicks that have fledged this year. Given the inclement weather they were hunkered onto the cliff but for the past few weeks have been honing their flying skills around the cove. This is the 20th year that Peregrines have successfully raised chicks at this site. A small herd of Belted Galloway cattle were providing alternative entertainment browsing on the Ash trees running along the beck edge, craning up their necks and extending their tongues to grab the leaflets – or given a helping hand by ChrisB and our driver Jed.

MNA Malham Yellow Loosestrife1

Yellow Loosestrife

We wandered back along the track towards the village and in the absence of any ‘Corpse of the Day’ we decided on ‘Mollusc of the Day’ the cutey Brown-lipped Snail Cepaea nemoralis. Their slimier cousins adorned the Meadow Buttercups in the form of Black Slug Arion ater red form and Slug Deroceras sp. Back in the village a profusion of Yellow Loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris was growing beside a stone wall and we decided a new Fern for the day was Southern Polypody Polypodium cambricum. Trooping Crumble Cap Coprinellus disseminatus and some Artist’s Bracket Ganoderma applanatum were growing on the remains of a dead Tree.

MNA Malham Southern Polypody1

Southern Polypody

At the entrance to the Beck Hall car park were a couple of fine wooden sculptures of Boxing Hares

MNA Malham Hare Sculpture1

Whilst ChrisB and I sat outside the Lister Arms with a pint busy putting the world (or should I say academia) to rights, DaveB led a small group of members along to Gordale Scar. They had a Blackcap singing and a brief snatch of Redstart song coming from a grove of Sycamores and Ash, Green Woodpecker in flight and a very ragged Common Buzzard hovering in the breeze above the crags with fairly large prey in its talons. More plants with Wild Marjoram Origanum vulgare, Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria, Upright Hedge-parsley Torilis japonica, Imperforate St John’s-wort Hypericum maculatum and Common Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsia. On the return walk they heard a Curlew frequently calling.

John Clegg wandered along to the waterfall at Janet’s Foss where Gordale Beck flows over a limestone outcrop topped with tufa into a pool below that was once used for sheep dipping. Janet was apparently a fairy queen that lived in a cave nearby. John didn’t spot Janet but did see half a dozen Dippers along the beck.

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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Marford and Minera Quarries, Wales 5th July 2016

A natural history packed day as DaveB and I visited a couple of sites in the Wrexham area using public transport. We initially took the train to Chester then boarded Arriva’s 1 bus alighting at the village of Marford famous for its quaint Gothic revival cottages, built as part of the former Trevalyn Hall estates. Crosses also feature in the cottage designs to protect the inhabitants from the ghost of Marford “Lady Blackbird”, who is said to tap at the windows.

The land around Marford and nearby Gresford was formed at the end of the last Ice Age when two ice sheets joined. When the ice melted, about 14,000 years ago, it left behind huge areas of sand and gravel and Marford Quarry was opened in 1972 providing the source of the aggregate for the Mersey Tunnel. The site was designated a SSSI in 1989 primarily because of its rare Invertebrate species including solitary and spider hunting Wasp species and Plants including Wild Liquorice Astragalus glycyphyllos, Green-flowered Helleborine Epipactis phyllanthes. North Wales Wildlife Trust bought the site the following year.

A range of notable Plants included Greater Spearwort Ranunculus lingua growing in the small pond, Stinking Hellebore Helleborus foetidus, Thyme-leaved Sandwort Arenaria serpyllifolia, Perforate St John’s-wort Hypericum perforatum, Weld Reseda luteola, Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis, Creeping Cinquefoil Potentilla reptans, Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca, Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium, Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea, Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata, Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia, Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris, Musk Thistle Carduus nutans, Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis and Common Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsia. Dave identified a speciality favouring lime soils in quarries and the edges of woodland as Common Gromwell Lithospermum officinale.

MNA Marford Woodlice1


We turned over a few logs and disturbed groups of Common Striped Woodlouse Philoscia muscorum, Common Shiny Woodlouse Oniscus asellus and a couple of Pill Millipedes Glomeris marginata. Another log had a few Ground Beetles including one of the two species of Violet Ground Beetle called Carabus problematicus which has ridges and dimples on its elytra. A small felt mat that is designed to absorb heat and attract Reptiles to hide underneath had done its job well with a female Slow Worm Anguis fragilis adopting a sinusoidal pose.

MNA Marford Slow Worm

Slow Worm

A Sand-tailed Digger Wasp Cerceris arenaria sat on a leaf for a photo and later we saw a number of others entering the nest holes in a sandy bank, from which side-tunnels radiate leading to cells. An egg is laid in each cell and the growing larvae are provisioned with paralysed prey, mostly Weevils Curculionidae sp.

MNA Marford Nomada Wasp

Sand-tailed Digger Wasp

The leaves of the tall flowering Great Mulleins Verbascum thapsus around the site had been almost completely decimated by the caterpillars of the Mullein Moth Cucullia verbasci leaving noticeable frass (pelleted excreta). However there were no caterpillars now visible – we searched on and under those remaining leaves, amongst the flowers and in nearby vegetation. We then found a few flowering spikes of White Mullein Verbascum lychnitis which had half a dozen caterpillars of varying sizes.

MNA Marford White Mullein Caterpillar1

Mullein Caterpillar

There were a few small but bright red Robin’s Pincushion Galls a.k.a. ‘Bedeguar Gall on Dog Rose Rosa canina caused by the Gall Wasp Dipoloepis rosae, Willow Rust Melampsora spp. on the leaves of Salix sp. and a Yellow Waxcap Hygrocybe flavescens.

MNA Marford Robins Pincushion Gall1

Robin’s Pincushion Gall

MNA Marford Willow Rust1

Willow Rust

Butterflies included a Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina and plenty of Ringlets Aphantopus hyperantus with Odonata including a patrolling male Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa and a very obliging Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta.

MNA Marford Migrant Hawker1

Migrant Hawker

We returned to Marford Village along Springfield Lane noting Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens, Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis, Red Valerian Centranthus ruber and Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium before boarding an Arriva 1 bus again to Wrexham.

After quickly eating our lunch we boarded the Arriva 10 bus to Minera  whose name derives from the Latin for “mine” or “ore” (the Welsh name Mwynglawdd translates roughly as “ore mine”). We disembarked at the village triangle walked down the road and crossed the newly re-pointed stone bridge over the River Clywedog where Dave spotted a Dipper flying upstream before turning onto Ty Brith Ln and onto the track leading up to the Quarry. Plants included Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica and the feathery-looking leaves of Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis growing amongst the Polypody Polypodium vulgare.

A scrubby area with flowering Blackberry Rubus fruticosus and Field-rose Rosa arvensis attracted Mountain Bumblebees Bombus monticola and the Hoverfly Volucella pellucens with the umbellifer heads of Ground-elder Aegopodium podagraria holding a scattering of other Insects.

Next the wooded area growing on the old lime slag heaps had Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii in a variety of colours, Common Twayblade Neottia ovata along with Broad-leaved Helleborines Epipactis helleborine that were just in bud and a few spikes of the green fruits of Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum.

MNA Minera Quarry

Minera Quarry

We arrived in the main quarry the sun putting in an appearance which brought out a selection of Butterflies including Large Skipper Ochlodes venata, Common Blue Polyommatus icarus, Grayling Hipparchia semele, Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus and Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus.

A feast of Wildflowers with Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla sp. Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca, Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis, Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia, Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus, Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis, Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Small Scabious Scabiosa columbaria, Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris, Welted Thistle Carduus crispus, Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre, Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra, Oxeye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare and the leaves of Colt’s-foot Tussilago farfara. Pyramidal Orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis joined masses of Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsia, a handful of Heath Spotted-orchids Dactylorhiza maculata and Fragrant Orchids Gymnadenia conopsea that were just beginning to bloom.

MNA Minera Quarry Pyramidal Orchid1a

Pyramidal Orchid

The small pond fringed with Marsh Horsetail Equisetum palustre held a Great Diving Beetle Dytiscus marginalis, a couple of Pond Skaters Gerris lacustris along with a Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula and a few Common Blue Damselflies Enallagma cyathigerum.

MNA Minera Frog Orchid

Frog Orchid

We climbed up a path through woodland along the bottom edge of the quarry before emerging at a ridge giving great views over the whole quarry complex. A few more Wildflowers with Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor and Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria but the best was kept until last. I’d only read a few days before our visit that Frog Orchids Coeloglossum viride had been re-discovered at the quarry in 2014 and lo and behold there was a small flowering spike. The compact cowl of three sepals forms a globular shape with the tongue only just protruding from beneath the cowl. Once we had our eye in, we counted forty small spikes!

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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