Allerton Towers and Reynolds Park, 9th August 2020

Both of these public parks were once the estates and mansions of wealthy Liverpool merchants, whose fortunes were made through the slave and cotton trades. Such owners often planted exotic specimen trees in their gardens, and now, over a hundred years later, those trees are giants of their kinds. The Allerton Towers estate belonged to the Earle family. In the 1830s, when the British government emancipated the slaves, the Earles were compensated over £25,000 for the liberation of over 300 slaves on 12 estates in Antigua. The mansion was built in the 1840s, but is now seriously dilapidated and boarded off.

The old orangery

The path from Menlove Avenue to the old mansion is lined with alternate Hollies and Hawthorns, but all the Hawthorns are in trouble. They look like they’ve been ravaged by hordes of locusts, leaving just some leaves at the very top. I wonder what has caused that? Heat or drought stress perhaps?

Near the old house I was admiring the very tall Monkey Puzzle, one of the old giant specimen trees, when I got into conversation with man walking his dog. He was Peter McAvoy from the Merseyside Youth Challenge Trust, to whom the council have leased the old building on condition that it is restored, the main task being to fix the roof. Somehow we got to talking about MNA founder Eric Hardy and how there used to be a sign nearby marking the nature reserve named after him. Peter took me into the courtyard and showed me that same old wooden sign that he had rescued from a council skip. It is too far gone to restore, but he hopes to make another.

He also hopes, one day, to have a café and toilet block as part of the amenities of the park, and he is preparing to plant trees in the garden behind the house. He had some ready in pots – Oaks, Birches and some with big leaves that I puzzled over, but decided must be Magnolias. Good luck to him.

The Rose Garden had a neatly clipped hedge, and next to it was another specimen tree from the days when it was a merchant’s residence – a huge old Bhutan Pine.

And then I found another rarity alongside the path – a Cedar of Lebanon. I didn’t think there were any left in Liverpool, the one in Calderstones having died a few years ago. But this looked the part – even-length dark green needles, level branches and brownish cones.

I lunched in the walled garden, which is a lovely sunny spot, with a long herbaceous border. It was mostly filled with the “easy” plants like Hydrangea, cultivated Goldenrod and Russian Vine. There were a few Wood Pigeons and Magpies out on the lawns, a few skulking Blackbirds and one Grey Squirrel. There were no butterflies on the wing. At the east end of the lawn was another specimen tree, a tall Ginkgo. Then I walked via Tesco Woolton to Reynolds Park.

The estate that was to become Reynolds Park changed hands many times, but in the late 19th century it came into the possession of the Reynolds family, who had made their fortune in the cotton trade. In 1929 James Reynolds, the last owner of the estate, donated it to the City Corporation. There is a collection of interesting younger trees on the sunken lawn, including a Wych Elm suckering from a stump, an Antarctic Beech and an Oriental Plane. The walled garden has recently been re-opened after being closed for the lockdown. There was a stunning display of Roses and Dahlias, but just two or three White butterflies gallivanting about. The Judas tree by the entrance arch was in fine fettle, but bore no seed pods. A lady confirmed that she had peered through the gate when the garden was closed, but had seen no flowers. What a funny year!  The Indian Bean tree that was broken as a sapling by vandals some years ago is now about 10 foot tall, growing well from the sprouts from the old trunk.

I noted two more old Cedars on the way back to the entrance, which may have been original estate plantings. It’s not often I get a hat-trick of all three Cedar species on one day! One was a Blue Atlas Cedar with ascending branches and bluish foliage.

The other was a Deodar Cedar with light green needles of varying lengths and a low-branched trunk, ideal for climbing.

Back on the lawn north (left) of the entrance I admired the very pretty Black Walnut with its delicate pointed leaflets, catching the sun like arrow heads. Over in the shadiest corner was an interesting tree I couldn’t identify, with three-lobed leaves. Amazingly, it was pink all over. Is it some kind of Maple? Is it meant to change colour in early August or is it suffering from climate stress?

Then I headed off to the back entrance via the wildflower meadow. It was past its best, but still had blooms of Poppy, Ragwort, Wild Carrot, Meadow Cranesbill and Purple Loosestrife. Even here there were only a couple of white butterflies. Where are they all this year?

Purple Loosestrife
Meadow Cranesbill

The last tree of the day was the Black Poplar hanging over the back gate. Last time I was here I wondered if it was one of the rare old native Black Poplars or one of the commoner hybrids. The way to tell is that the rare natives have massive burrs on their trunks. Nope, it had a plain and smooth trunk, so it isn’t one of the rarities.

Public transport details: Bus 76 from Queen Square at 10.02, arriving 10.40 at Menlove Avenue / Cheddar Close. Returned from Rose Brow / Woolton Hill Road on the 75 bus at 2.08, arriving Liverpool at 2.25.

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Rake Lane Cemetery, 2nd August 2020

It is a lovely cemetery, rich in maritime history. Properly called Wallasey Cemetery Rake Lane, it is the final resting place of the Captain of the Lusitania, several Mersey Pilots, a man lost in the Thetis submarine disaster, a New Brighton lighthouse keeper, the Wallasey Hermit and a Titanic survivor. Memorials to sea captains bearing carved anchors are everywhere.

The chapel is now leased to the Russian Orthodox church and is used by Russian, Ukrainian and Lithuanian people from all over Merseyside. It is looked after by an active Friends group

They keep it very well. I noticed that broken gravestones are treated with more respect than is usual in local cemeteries. Fallen angels or vases are propped carefully next to the rest of their monument. There seem to be no toppled ones with their faces down and unreadable, and insecure stones appear to have been supported with wooden posts and nylon strapping. It was also recently mowed. All that tidiness isn’t much good for wildlife, though, with no “weeds” daring to flourish.  Near the gate was the only patch they’d missed, with Bramble, St John’s Wort and Ragwort. The trees were unremarkable, and the only other flowers I saw were on a shrubby edge, the tiny pink blossom of the Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. They turn into white squishy berries later in the year. It is a neophyte from the US, and was first planted in the UK in the 1710s. Since the 1860s, when it naturalised, it has grown in woods, scrub, hedges and on waste ground, almost anywhere.

The only birds were Magpies, Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons, with one Herring Gull marching about like it was making an Admiral’s inspection!  After a cloudy start the sun came out and it became quite warm. The butterflies took to the wing, but only one very ragged Speckled Wood, one Meadow Brown and a Large White flying high up next to a Lime tree.

Speckled Wood

I also checked the adjoining Earlston Gardens, but it was just an expanse of grass, no place for a naturalist.

Public transport details: Bus 433 from Sir Thomas Street at 9.50, arriving Rake Lane / Mortuary Road at 10.10. Returned on the 432 from Seaview Road / Thirlmere Drive at 12.35, arriving Liverpool 12.55.

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Rotten Row, Southport, 26th July 2020

The Sunday group isn’t confident to meet again, so I ventured out on my own. A major consideration for us oldies, of course, is finding a public toilet. Two places I considered and rejected were Birkenhead Park (Visitors’ Centre still closed) and Flaybrick Memorial gardens (Tam O’Shanter urban farm next door still closed). But supermarkets are useful pit stops nowadays, and there is a Morrison’s at the north end of Rotten Row.

Rotten Row is long herbaceous border just south of Southport. At nearly half a mile, it is the longest in the country. It is indeed lovely, full of big showy garden-type plants but not really wildlife-friendly. Agapanthus, Fuchsia, Hydrangea, Hibiscus, Agave, Bear’s Britches, Hollyhocks, Cordyline Palms and various tropical grasses.

Hibiscus
Hollyhock and Tansy

I found it all remarkably silent, with no insect buzz at all. I think I saw just three bee-sized insects in the whole 700-odd yards. This one is some kind of drone fly.

This one, in the middle flower, is probably some kind of bumblebee, but the identifiable abdomen tip is curled under and impossible to see.

This one MIGHT have been a honeybee, foraging in the Purpletop Verbena.

I also spotted two Ladybirds, both torpid dark-variety Harlequins. There were no butterflies at all. It was overcast and breezy, of course, so not the best butterfly weather, but even so it seems a very poor year.  There has only been one butterfly in my garden so far, a single Small White and I haven’t seen any on any of the Buddleias I have passed.

Rotten Row has a few trees scattered along the back of the border. Both red and white-berried Rowans had developing fruit. There were occasional Horse Chestnuts with their leaves chewed by the Leaf Miner. It doesn’t harm the tree, they say, but it makes the conkers smaller. Near the north end is a tree with an old plaque on it saying it was planted 1910. I think it was a Red Horse Chestnut, as the leaves were rather buckled and the fruits weren’t spiky. I was amazed to see  large clusters of fruits on short shoots growing straight out of the trunk, not at the ends of branches. Is this usual for Red Horse Chestnuts, or is it a response to its age?

Victoria Park was very open and well-manicured, with nothing wild about it. The bowling greens were mowed and edged to perfection. Jackdaws and Magpies poked about on the grass.

Two Swallows swooped low over the grass. I think they were homing in on places where dogs had just romped, probably hoping to catch disturbed insects. A little pond had a few moulting Mallards and a pretty patch of white Water Lillies.

After a visit to Morrison’s, I headed into King’s Gardens and along the southern arm of the Marine Lake. Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, feral pigeons, one Greylag goose, one Moorhen, a Cormorant diving for fish, just a few Black-headed Gulls and hordes of immature Herring Gulls.

On the far side were great flocks of Mute Swans, something like 100 of them altogether. They were mostly non-breeders, although there were six half-grown cygnets amongst them, so one pair has raised a family this year. Young Herring gulls, like the Swans, find Southport a safe place to hang around for handouts. The very brown spotty ones are this summer’s chicks, I think. It takes them four years to reach adulthood, and experts can tell their age at a glance. Not me, though. Are the slightly paler ones a year older or are they this year’s chicks too?

Tourism seems to be picking up. The Roundabout in the fairground was in use, complete with lights and music. The kid’s playground was open, and lots of school-age kids were climbing and romping. Plenty of people were walking in the gardens, none wearing masks, but there wasn’t a worrying crush – social distancing was working well. The motor bikers had turned up as usual, and at the Marine Lake café the punters sitting at the outside tables were being entertained by a live singer, doing Elvis Presley’s greatest. He wasn’t in costume, but giving his all to “You were always on my mind”. I think he was working just for tips. Several families were out on the water in the Swan and Flamingo pedalos.

Public transport details: Bus X2 northwards at 9.36 from Liverpool Road / Myers Road West, alighting 10.10 at Lulworth Road / Weld Road in Birkdale. Returned from Southport Monument on the X2 at 12.50, arriving Crosby 1.30.

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Flowering trees, spring 2020

In these lockdown days, when short forays into nature are all we can hope for, I have been looking for trees in flower in my local streets and parks, noting some wildflowers too. In Alexandra Park on 8th April the pink Cherry was magnificent. There was also a white one, perhaps a Wild Cherry, and the ornamental Snowy Mespil (Amelanchier lamarckii).

Pink cherry
White cherry
Snowy Mespil

The street trees and shrubs around my home are also doing well. My neighbour’s Wisteria is magnificent this year, as is her dark Lilac, but none of the local Laburnums seem to be blooming well.

Wisteria
Lilac

On Everest Road, near Coronation Park, there are two young Manna Ashes, which look like ordinary Ash for most of the year, but put out spectacular fluffy flowers in early May.

Manna Ash

I made a special trip up to Eshe Road North on 6th May to look at the Foxglove tree, which had just passed its best.

Foxglove tree

In Victoria Park on 3rd May  I spotted Horse Chestnut, Rowan, Hawthorn (white and red) and the demure blossom of Holly.

Horse Chestnut
Rowan
Hawthorn, probably the variety ‘Paul’s Scarlet’

The ordinary wildflowers were flourishing due to the “reduced maintenance regime” in all the local parks. Dandelions were running rampant everywhere, while the daisies were in massed carpets. In odd corners were Garlic Mustard, Ragwort and Red Campion.

Dandelions
Daisies
Red Campion
Ragwort
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Parkgate and the Wirral Way, 8th March 2020

In suburban gardens the Forsythia and Quince are flowering and the Magnolia buds are just bursting. It was a sunny spring-like day, but with ominous clouds over Parkgate.

In the pools on the marsh were Mallard, Black-headed Gulls, Canada Geese, Moorhen, Redshank, Teal and Oystercatchers. A Pied Wagtail flew in near the wall, and a Little Egret flew by, now a common sight at Parkgate. Less common was a Great White Egret, stalking about like a Heron.

A squall blew in from the Welsh side, bringing cold gusts of driving rain, but it went off just as we reached the picnic tables at the Old Baths. After lunch, we took the path to the Wirral Way and walked to Neston.

About twelve Curlew flew up from adjacent field, and passed overhead, calling. At one of the few gaps in the thick hedges we were able to look into a stubble field, which must have had plenty of spilled grain, because there was a flock of Linnets, several Carrion Crows, a Chaffinch, a Mistle Thrush and two male Pheasants. Dunnocks were sitting up high and singing, not skulking in the undergrowth as they usually do, and a succession of Robins sang us along.

Signs of spring flowers were pushing up. Wild Arum and Wild Garlic are just leaves yet, but there were a few early flowers of Hogweed, Cow Parsley and Lesser Periwinkle. The first of the Lesser Celandine were showing their bright yellow blooms.

The best plant of the day was something of a mystery. We spotted several clumps of pale lilac flowers, very low to the ground, rather like crocuses, but the flowers were hooded. There were five or six clumps of these odd flowers, all in the same few yards of verge, but no more anywhere else.

I think it was Purple Toothwort, Lathrea clandestina. It is parasitic on the roots of Willow, Alder and Poplar and likes damp, shady places. It isn’t native, it’s a “neophyte”, and has been in the UK for over a century. Still fairly uncommon, although the Wirral is one if its known haunts. It was not far south of the Brooklands Road bridge, on the east side of the Wirral Way.

We emerged from the path behind the church of St Mary and St Helen, Neston. One grave was planted with Forget-me-Not, which is quite appropriate but we didn’t know what to make of the one planted with Wild Garlic. It made us think of Vampires!

Opposite the bus stop is this wall sign for the Neston Female Society, founded 1814. It seemed appropriate for International Women’s Day.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Parkgate Donkey Stand at 11.22. Returned on 487 from Neston at 3.44, arriving Liverpool 4.20.

Next few weeks: No more Sunday walks until further notice.

Anyone is welcome to come out with the Sunday Group. It is not strictly part of the MNA, although it has several overlapping members. We go out by public transport to local parks, woods and nature reserves all over Merseyside, and occasionally further afield. We are mostly pensioners, so the day is free on our bus passes, and we enjoy fresh air, a laugh and a joke, a slow amble in pleasant surroundings and sometimes we even look at the wildlife!
If you want to join a Sunday Group walk, pack lunch, a flask, waterproofs, binoculars if you have them, a waterproof pad to sit on if we have to have lunch on the grass or a wet bench (A garden kneeler? A newspaper in a plastic bag?), and wear stout shoes or walking boots. We are usually back in Liverpool City Centre by 4pm at the latest.

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

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Leeds-Liverpool canal, Bootle to Litherland, 1st March 2020

Yet another named storm – Storm Jorge – but the day was at least sunny even if it was cold and windy. We decided to walk northwards along the canal, with the wind and sun behind us. We would be quite close to the city centre, so our expectations of wildlife weren’t high. Near Bootle is the row of lovely Weeping Willows, that our leader John planted many years ago when he worked for Parks and Gardens. They were heavily pruned a couple of years ago, and still haven’t quite recovered. They need a couple more years yet.

There were nearly 20 Coots under the first bridge, and plenty more all along the canal. Not many Mallards, but single Moorhens on the verge every few yards. There are lots of Canada Geese resident here, too. This group of six were sunning themselves and were so comfortable they didn’t shift even when we walked quite close behind them.

A few flowers were out, including Herb Robert under a fence, occasional Daisies and Dandelions and some Gorse right on the edge of the water. There’s a little nameless park between the canal and Lunt Road, with House Sparrows in the shrubbery, Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons in the taller trees, Black-headed Gulls on the tarmac and a Robin on the path. There were some Cherry Plum trees still blossoming and all the Goat Willows were bursting out with “pussy willow” flowers.

It was a lovely day, still, quiet and sunny along the sheltered towpath, and almost deserted. Just very occasional dog walkers and one pair of cyclists heading southwards. A nice surprise was a Heron, sitting motionless in the cut reeds on the opposite bank, standing on an old piece of metal plating.

Another unexpected bird was a Cormorant in the shadows under the bridge near Litherland.

We called in at the big Tesco in Litherland for their loos, and had lunch on their windy terrace which overlooks the canal. Then we headed past Litherland Town Hall (now a Health Centre) and into Hatton Hill Park. We haven’t been there before, and there’s not much to see, although a small Quince bush was flowering profusely.

Not far away, in Seaforth, is the old music venue, Lathom Hall, where the early Beatles played several times. Sadly, it closed a couple of years ago. Just by Hatton Hill Park is Black Dog salvage yard, and we spotted the old “hippie” sign that used to be a landmark outside Lathom Hall. It must be 7 or 8 feet tall. If anyone wants it ….

Public transport details: Bus 47 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Stanley Road / Bootle New Strand at 10.25. Returned on the 52 bus from Hawthorne Road / Marina Avenue at 1.25, arriving Bootle New Strand at 1.35, where we all changed for other buses.

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Birkenhead Park, 23rd February 2020

Himalayan birch trees near to the Visitors’ Centre

Hallelujah! A day when it wasn’t raining! The sun even came out, although the wind was still chilly. The open fields in the park had unintended ponds, rainwater streamed off the banks in gurgling brooks and the ground was squelchy under the grass. Little lakes obstructed the paths, but the packs of runners splashed through them as if they were steeplechasing. We found that if we stopped to consider a tree, we were soon surrounded by the bolder kinds of wildlife, hoping for food. They must all have been hungry since there can’t have been many visitors to the park during all the recent storms. Pigeons, Mallards and Canada Geese all homed in on us, Grey Squirrels peeked out of the shrubbery and even the Robins became almost tame.

The Daffodils were out, the Flowering Currant was breaking into bloom and the first red Rhododendrons made high splashes of crimson in the dark shrubbery. A small tree by the lake was blossoming, looking a bit like some kind of Crab Apple, and on the bank was a single stalk of a flower head that looked like Betony. Had it struggled through the winter? It had a square stem about a foot long, which seems right.

Flowering currant
Crab apple?
Betony?

There were Mallards, Coots, Moorhen, Canada Geese, two Muscovy ducks and a Mute Swan family on the lakes. A couple of Cormorants were flying about. There were Carrion Crows high in the trees, and a Jay put in a brief appearance. Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long-tailed Tits were popping around overhead, the loud song from a dark bush turned out to belong to a Song Thrush and two Nuthatches were poking about industriously in the knobbly Black Mulberry. The birds were too quick for me, but here’s the wonderful warty bark.

The male Yew trees were covered with pollen balls, which I have just learned are are properly called strobilii, looking like little Brussels sprouts.

There are lots of Monterey Cypresses near the Swiss bridge, and also a possible Cedar of Lebanon on the opposite bank. We stopped to admire a wonderfully shaped bare tree and guessed from the look of it that it was an Oak. Then we found mounds of dead Oak leaves under it, so our guess was right.

After lunch we crossed into the upper park. They had a banner up announcing the park’s bid to be named a World Heritage Site. You know when you wish you had a marker pen in your pocket to correct spelling and punctuation errors?  How did anyone authorise THAT? (Clues – “publicly” and “its”).

The sticky buds were still developing on most of the Horse Chestnuts, but one bud had broken early and there were a few young leaves unfurling. One Hawthorn was also leafing. Very strange seasons!

Early leafing of Horse Chestnut

Around the upper lake there is a very small Monkey Puzzle, a Strawberry tree and an elegant young Bhutan Pine with its long, soft, 5-in-a-bunch needles and huge curved cones.

One dead tree was covered in small bracket fungi, head to toe right up the trunk.

Along Ashville Road there was a Cherry Plum in flower, which is usually the earliest of the small white blossoms, coming out a week or two before the Blackthorn. Someone has told me that you can positively distinguish it from Blackthorn because the Cherry Plum flowers are stalked. Yes, we noted that they do have stalks, about a quarter of an inch long (6mm). In a week or two we will look at the Blackthorns to see if their little white flowers spring straight from the bark.

The last tree species of note was this clump of five or six very rare Hybrid Strawberry trees Arbutus x andrachnoides on the corner by the Duke Street crossing. It’s a natural cross between the Irish and Grecian Strawberry trees. Like the “ordinary” Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo, it’s an evergreen and doesn’t look very exciting at this time of year, and could be mistaken for a Holm Oak until you spot its patches of bright red peeling bark.

Public transport details: New Brighton train at 10.18 from Lime Street lower level, arriving Birkenhead Park station 10.30.  Returned on the train from Birkenhead Park station at 2.21, arriving Liverpool just after 2.30.  

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Sudley House, 16th February 2020

Even though we were in the middle of Storm Dennis, it was dry and mild, if a bit gusty. We got off the bus near the Liverpool Thorn Collection, a set of rare trees planted on the central reservation between Templemore and Rathmore Avenues. There were lots of large red haws and apple-type fruits still on the trees, but no leaves or blossom yet, of course. Then we climbed up to Sudley House, to the sound of the bell of Mossley Hill Church. From the top of Holt Field there is a wonderful view to the south. On the skyline were three churches. The church tower in the Italianate “campanile” style, could be All Souls, Mather Avenue. To the right of it were  two narrow church spires which we couldn’t identify.

In the grounds of Sudley House the Snowdrops were looking ragged, while the crocuses and daffodils were not quite out.

A Robin was singing from the hedge and there were Wood Pigeons and Magpies on the fields. Near the house someone had put out a pile of chopped apples by a stump. There was a Rat tucking in when we first looked, and later there was a queue of a Common Gull and a Carrion Crow, with a Grey Squirrel making off with its booty.

We went into the house to see their current exhibition of etchings by Whistler and Pennell “Etching the City”, then set off early after lunch, as several of us had other plans.

Public transport details: Bus 80A Great Charlotte Street at 10.13, arriving Rose Lane / Templemore Avenue at 10.40. Returned on the 61 bus from Elmswood Road / North Mossley Hill Road at 12.55 to various destinations.

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Liverpool Museum, 9th February 2020

Pyjama Cardinalfish Sphaeramia nematoptera

It was the day of Storm Ciara, with high winds, gusty rain showers and weather warnings. It was too risky to go anywhere near a park, where there might be falling trees, and we didn’t fancy dodging high waves on  the coast, so we played safe and went into the World Museum for a look in their Aquarium. They have some tropical fish, but they mostly specialise in species that can be found in local waters, like dogfish and wrasse. One tank had skates, rays and these Lesser-spotted Dogfish (aka Small-spotted Catshark) Scyliorhinus canicula, which live in shallow water all around the British coastline. We often see their egg cases thrown up on local beaches.

They have a few of the lovely Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aurita, wafting lazily around their tank. The signage said they live in the Albert Dock and we often see them stranded on local beaches.

The best treat was a Short-snouted Seahorse Hippocampus hippocampus. It looked like there was only one in the tank, clinging to some vegetation which it exactly matched. The camouflage was so good, that there could have been more hiding somewhere. This one was tiny, perhaps 2 or 3 inches long (about 7 cm), but it could have been longer if its tail was uncurled. The caption didn’t say it was local, but they are British, found off the south coast and the Channel Islands.

We had a quick look around the Egypt exhibition, where we learned how to write Liverpool in hieroglyphics, then had lunch and headed home early.

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Eastham Woods, 2nd February 2020

It turned out to be a lovely mild, sunny day, feeling like spring. Eastham Woods are mostly Beech and Sweet Chestnut, and the thick carpet of spiky husks showed that the Sweet Chestnuts had had an excellent year in 2019. On the ground were two Robins and a Blackbird, and higher up was something chucking, whistling and tweeting in an ivy-covered tree. It was a Song Thrush, perhaps looking for a sheltered nest hole. Nowadays the woods aren’t kept too tidy, and much of the fallen branches are left to rot, producing interesting crops of fungi.

Many people were out walking their dogs, including the local Pug club. We saw 14 of them in one group and more later on. One young Mum was scattering nuts and attracting wildlife for her toddler. A Jay came down for them, and all the nearby Grey Squirrels homed in on the free food.

The bird feeders at the back of the Visitors’ Centre didn’t have any Woodpeckers or Nuthatches today, just Blue Tits, Great Tits and the occasional Coal Tit, with a Dunnock on the ground and a Chaffinch in the shrubbery. We crossed the car park to the picnic tables, noting the evergreen Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla with its little woody cones.

I hoped to see lots of Hazel catkins today, but the young saplings in the woods didn’t have any. Instead they had held onto their green leaves through the winter. But a big old tree in a hedge was putting on a show for us.

The railings overlooking the river were entwined with the fluffy seed heads of Old Man’s Beard Clematis vitalba, also known as Traveller’s Joy.

Down on the little beach a couple of Redshanks were probing the muddy sand.

Opposite the Eastham Ferry Hotel there are interesting views one way to Liverpool City Centre, Stanlow oil refinery the other and right opposite is Liverpool John Lennon Airport. It’s a great spot for aeroplane fanciers, and one man had a walkie-talkie which seemed to be picking up the pilot’s conversations with the control tower. He told us the plane just leaving was going to Geneva, while the one coming in to land was from the Isle of Man. The railings have recently sprouted some engraved padlocks – “love locks” – although some were combination locks, which we thought was cheating! Lovers are supposed to fix the padlock and throw away the key, symbolising that their love is eternal. On the way back to the bus, we noticed a splash of pale green next to the path and discovered two flimsy young Hawthorn bushes which had already put out their new leaves. That’s very early.

Public transport details: Bus X1 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.22, arriving New Chester Road / opp Woodyear Road at 10.45. Returned on the no. 1 bus from New Chester Road / Allport Road at 2.10, arriving Liverpool City Centre at 2.45.

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