Newsham Park, 15th July 2018

Another hot and sunny day, no surprises there! The main fishing lake in Newsham Park was clogged with an algal bloom, which uses up the oxygen available for other life. There were two dead birds in the water, one was probably a Coot, the other a young Mallard. There weren’t many live birds on the water, no Mallards, just a few Coots and Moorhen, and a small family of Canada Geese which appeared to be munching on the algae.

Otherwise there were only the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons, Wood Pigeons and several Grey Squirrels. A Speckled Wood butterfly flitted past and a large, fast Dragonfly might have been an Emperor. On the other side of the bridge we had more bird variety with a Mute Swan and we were surprised to see a Heron above it, perched on a Weeping Willow.

One Horse Chestnut tree was showing an early infestation of the leaf miner, but another tree further on was almost free of it.

Swifts were flying over the model boating lake, which is much more wildlife-friendly than it used to be, with patches of reed on the eastern side, interspersed with Great Willowherb and Purple Loosestrife. There was a Common Blue Damselfly poised on a dead reed.

A tree next to the fence had a dead trunk and crown, but new growth was sprouting from the base, and it looked like Wych Elm. There was a Jay on the parched grass at the junction of Lister Drive and Orphan Drive.

By the entrance to the boating lake, opposite the café, is a small flower garden. There was a huge numbers of bees on the Lavender and one of many Large White butterflies on the Lace-cap Hydrangea.

Last week in my garden I saw one each of Red Admiral, Peacock and Painted Lady, but there have been dozens of Large Whites. It’s a good year for them. After lunch we walked through the streets of Fairfield, impressed by the superb avenue of mature Common Lime trees lining Elm Vale.

We finished the day at St Sebastian’s church barbeque and garden party in Lilley Road, where a friend was manning the plant stall.

Public transport details: Bus 13 from Queen Square at 10.05, arriving West Derby Road / Windsor Road at 10.20. Returned from Prescot Road / Lilley Road on the 10A at 2.35, arriving Liverpool 2.50.

Next few weeks:
22nd July, Eastham Woods. Meet 10am Sir Thomas Street.

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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Coach Trip Conwy Valley Change of Time


Sat 14th July Coach. Cwm Penamnen – Blaenau, Conwy Valley.

Type: Coach Trip

Where we are meeting: 8.30 Rocket (Crimpers), 8.45 William Brown Street, 9.00 Conway Park Station, 9.15 Bromborough Village.

Cost: £20

Do I need to book? Yes with Coach Secretary Seema Aggarwhal Tel: 07984 231059 or if no answer with Christine Barton Tel: 07854 776421

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Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm and Flaybrick Cemetery, 8th July 2018

It’s been hot and sunny for several weeks, and we are apparently going through the longest dry spell since 1976. From the bus stop we walked through a shady woodland along King George’s Way. (King George V and Queen Mary opened the pathway to Bidston on Wednesday 25th March 1914, the same day they visited Port Sunlight.) The woods were oddly silent, with hardly any birds heard or seen. There was the odd cooing of Wood Pigeons, the distant cackle of a Magpie, the brief call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and we found a blue barred Jay feather on the path. We saw only a pair of Dunnocks in a tree and a Gull flying lazily over a meadow. There were lots of Large White butterflies on the wing, though, and we have all seen plenty of them in our gardens. A large Dragonfly went past, possibly an Emperor. All the trees were looking droopy and parched, with the younger saplings shrivelling up to a premature autumn. The Brambles have set plentiful seed, but if there is no rain soon the blackberries won’t be able to swell.

Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm started life as an old cottage, thought to be about 300 years old, built by a heath squatter. It was destroyed by fire in 1954 and 1975, then restored. Its name comes from a carving set into the wall showing Tam O’Shanter (from the Robbie Burns poem) escaping a witch by crossing water.

The farm now has goats, pigs, guinea pigs, ducks, turkeys and geese.

There is also a model cow with fake udders and a piped water system, designed to show children where milk comes from.  Not from bottles in a supermarket!

We lunched at their convenient picnic tables, where a Robin was hanging around for crumbs. Another of the farm buildings is an old Nissen hut, with an amazing white blossomy dome over it. It’s some sort of Rose, apparently, and this hot weather is really suiting it.

Flaybrick Memorial Gardens started life as a prestigious High Victorian cemetery for the merchant classes of Birkenhead. It was designed by Edward Kemp, a leading designer of parks and gardens, who was also responsible for Castle Park in Frodsham, Anfield Cemetery, Grosvenor Park in Chester, Newsham Park, Stanley Park and Hesketh Park in Southport. It is Grade II listed.

It is now treated as a nature reserve and has an active Friends group who have been planting interesting trees in the last few decades, turning it into a mini-arboretum. The current Conservation Management Plan has a guide to the trees in “Volume 4 Appendices“. Go to Appendix C, which has a comprehensive tree survey from page 29 onwards, with a useful map. We walked a different way than we usually do, heading towards the north end. We had a fleeting glimpse of a Comma butterfly. One of their signature tree species is the Silver Pendent Lime Tilia tomentosa ‘Petiolaris’, with many examples around the chapel end. One is the County Champion for girth.

Other notable trees were several Pyramidal Hornbeams and the Pear tree which produces copious edible fruits later in the year. There were plenty of baby pears on the tree, but many had fallen and some were quite shrivelled up.

There is a rare Orange-berried Service Tree by a large war grave, a Champion Tibetan Cherry and a young Swamp Cypress. The pair of Cut-leaved Beeches at the main crossing have produced a bumper crop of small seed cases, but will the drought allow them to develop?

On the way home I had another look at the mystery tree in Queen Square next to New Look. I once  thought that it might be a Pagoda tree, but now I think it’s a Honey Locust Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’. This week it was putting out stalks of small red flowers and some of them appeared to be developing into pods.

Liverpool buys new street trees from Barcham’s tree nursery, and I recently bought myself a copy of their catalogue, reasoning that any unidentified newly-planted tree in Liverpool ought to be shown in it. ‘Sunburst’ is a new variety of Honey Locust, with no spines, yellow young leaves and is said to do well in a hard-surfaced area with lots of glare. That sounds right, and we will be keeping an eye on the developing seed pods later in the year.

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.19, arriving Upton Road / Boundary Road at 10.41. Returned on the 437 from Upton Road / Boundary Road at 2.17, arriving Liverpool 2.40.

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MNA Coach Trip Miller’s Dale Derbyshire 23rd June 2018

A wildlife packed day walking the Monsaldale Trail along Miller’s Dale – the third in our series of Derbyshire Dales. Some of our long standing members mentioned that we had in fact visited here before – way back in 1994! Good views of an adult and juvenille Dipper and Grey Wagtails on the River Wye. Woodland birds are now singing less but we did hear Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler along with a Sedge Warbler in a reedy area. A really extensive wildflower list, butterflies including Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Common Blue, Speckled Wood and even Brown Argus. Insects were enjoying the sunny glades and umbellifer heads with Ichneumon Wasps, Sawflies and gazzilion Hoverflies.

Dyers Greenweed

Greater Knapweed

Bloody Cranesbill


Devil’s-bit Scabious

Rust Fungus Puccinia poarum on the leaves of Colt’s-foot Tussilago farfara

Blue Bottle Calliphora vomitoria

Sawfly Tenthredo livida

Lime Green Sawfly Tenthredo mesomelas

Red Legged Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes – final instar nymph

Drone Fly – Eristalis tenax – female

Tachina fera

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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MNA Coach Trip South Stack 9th June 2018

Fabulous visit to South Stack RSPB reserve with some lucky members viewing Orcas! As well as the tiers of nesting Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittewakes, Fulmars etc. there was plenty of activity from Choughs and a whole host of minibeasts and wildflowers. Here’s a few pics from the day.

The Lackey Malacosoma neustria

Leaf Beetle Cryptocephalus aureolus

Harry & Les examining a Rose Chafer Cetonia aurata

Rose Chafer Cetonia aurata

English Stonecrop Sedum anglicum

Yellow-tail Euproctis similis


Corpse of the Day – Common Shrew Sorex araneus

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


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Port Sunlight and New Ferry Butterfly Park, 10th June 2018

On another wonderfully warm and sunny day we went to Port Sunlight with yet more trees in mind. Port Sunlight is a model village built for the workers at the Sunlight Soap factory by William Hesketh Lever from 1888 onwards. It is now a conservation area with a wonderful stock of Arts and Crafts houses and the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Near the south end of the estate is a small valley called The Dell, with some fine specimen trees. There is a Gingko and a very large Tulip tree, which we were delighted to see was in flower. Amazingly, the flowers smell of chocolate!

Two adjacent Lime trees appeared to be from different species. The one with the sprouting, twiggy trunk and flower stalks hanging down was a Common Lime Tilia x europaea while the one with a clean trunk and sticky-up flowers was a Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata. Limes are very hard to distinguish, but they are easiest at this time of year.

Small-leaved Lime with flowers sticking up

Near the bridge was a small Swamp Cypress, with a Dawn Redwood on the opposite bank. By the side of the path was the only surviving puddle in the area, which was a magnet for a bathing Blackbird, a family of Blue Tits, a Chaffinch and a Goldfinch. Beyond the bridge was a Honey-Locust Gleditsia triacanthos with long, fierce spines on its trunk.  The Antarctic Beech, which we remember well from previous visits, was nowhere to be found (has it died?) and we have never spotted the Wollemi Pine, which is rumoured to be here. One tree, which we had never noticed before, is something of a mystery. It’s not much more than a rounded bush yet, bearing “ace of spades” leaves with red tinges and reddish stalks. The branches were notably smooth to touch and the leaves appeared to be arranged in threes. There was no sign of any flowers or fruit to give us a clue. It could be something quite unusual, because it’s in a place where they plant interesting specimens. I have an idea that it might be a young Dove Tree / Handkerchief Tree, which is just the sort of thing they would plant there, but we will need to keep an eye on it in the future.

As we were passing Christ Church we spotted a very large-leaved tree. Blow me, I think it was the very rare Moose-bark Maple Acer pensylvanicum! It’s by the fence off Church Drive, with a sign saying it was planted by the Women’s Institute. There were no visible seeds to confirm the ID, and the bark didn’t look like it belonged to the snake-bark group, but the large three-pointed leaves were very characteristic.

The churchyard had several Weeping Ashes, each with big bunches of forming seeds called “ash keys”. It seems to be a bumper year for Ash seeds. Were the Weeping Ashes all planted at the same time? They look similar to each other, but perhaps they aren’t as old as the church, which was built 1902-1904. William Hesketh Lever was a member of the congregation and both he and his wife are buried in “The Founders Tomb” attached to the church.

We lunched in the Rose Garden at the south end of the central drive. All along towards the Lady Lever Art Gallery is a double avenue of Limes. They weren’t twiggy at their bases so they weren’t  Common Limes, but the seeds were all hanging down, so they weren’t Small-leaved Limes. The leaves were dark green and dull, while the forming seeds showed signs of five ridges. Could they all be Large-leaved Limes?

In the sheltered central courtyard of the Garden Centre there is an old Olive tree in a huge planter, which may be the only Olive on Merseyside. It won’t fruit in this climate, though. There is also an Indian Bean Tree at the exit, near where they sell the garden sheds. The leaves are huge, and it is just showing early flower buds.

By the War Memorial and along The Causeway are five False Acacia trees Robinia pseudoacacia. They blossom like Laburnum, but all white. Their flowers are sometimes only thinly-produced, but they are having a spectacular year, and look magnificent just now.

Then we wandered along Greendale Road to the Judas Tree between numbers 32 and 31. It is an unusually big tree for its species, but sadly it looks like it is in some distress. There were some late flowers still hanging on, though.

The New Ferry Butterfly Park occupies some old railway sidings just over the road from Port Sunlight. They have planted all the food plants required by our native butterflies, on the principle of “build it and they will come”. It seems to be working.

They also have a pond containing many Smooth Newts, which are regularly netted by kids doing pond-dipping, before being returned to the water. The poor creatures must be used to it by now. Two species of Damsel Fly, the Common Blue and the Blue-Tailed, were there in good numbers, some mating, and all moving far too fast for a picture. There were also several individuals of the dragonfly Broad-bodied Chaser, with blue males and brown females. Then our first butterfly, a Meadow Brown.

Dog roses were out, both pink ones and a dark red variety.

The meadows held both Marsh Orchids and this one, which some thought was a Pyramidal Orchid, but which might be one of the Spotted species.

Several Brimstone butterflies were seen in rapid flight, and we identified a small tree that is one of their food plants, the Alder Buckthorn. The leaves are wider near the tip and the flowers are clustered against the stem. Just as we had decided what the tree was, a Brimstone flew over and landed at the top, confirming our ID.

Wild flowers included Hogweed, Bramble, Valerian, and this lovely Viper’s Bugloss.

There were Speckled Woods in the shady areas, and our best find of the day was this splendid male Large Skipper, sunning itself on Bramble and hoping to attract a mate.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.15 towards Chester, arriving Port Sunlight station at 10.32. Returned on the train from Bebington Station at 2.52, arriving Liverpool Central at 3.07.

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Childwall woods and fields, 3rd June 2018

Childwall is a suburban village in south Liverpool, mentioned in the Domesday book and older than Liverpool itself. We wondered if Childwall Woods were ancient woodland, but the nature reserve signboard says they were planted in the 1700s as part of the garden of Childwall Hall. On a hot and sunny day we welcomed the cool shade with its continuous birdsong – Robin, Chaffinch and probably lots of other we couldn’t identify. The woods are mostly a mix of tall Beech and Sweet Chestnut trees, with an understory of Rhododendron and Privet. The leaves of the Rhododendrons were all clean, with no sign yet of the Cushion Scale Insect infestation Pulvinaria floccifera, which makes the leaves black and sticky. There was a lot of it about when we were last there in June 2015 and we have often seen it since when we were out and about, and some of us have had it in our gardens. The edges of the paths had lots of Wood Avens, also known as Herb Bennet Geum urbanum, with small yellow flowers and round heads of hooked seeds.

Then we emerged into the sunny open fields, which were covered in Buttercups.

The damp patches had clumps of Goat Willow and Yellow Flag, Brambles were starting to flower, and the drier parts had masses of Ragged Robin.

In amongst the tall grass and flowers were several orchids. The flower heads were purple and conical and some said they could see spots on the lower leaves. The signboard said the meadows supported both Common Spotted and Southern Marsh Orchids, and we thought they were probably the latter.

This is the sort of place where we would expect to see Swallows, Swifts or Martins zipping about for the insects over the meadows, but there were none. Are they still all held up by bad weather on their migration route? They are very late!  The Elder flowers were coming out, but they hadn’t started producing their scent yet. We thought that one of the small wayside trees was a Downy Birch Betula pubescens, with upright branches and brown bark. The Hogweed and Cow Parsley lining the paths made a marvellous display.

There are said to be 16 species of butterfly here, but all we saw was a small white one, whose underwings looked like it was a Green-veined White, but which had dark spots on the upper wings, so was probably a Small White. A Chiffchaff was calling, and we stopped to listen to a loud bird call from the trees below. It was repeating in threes and fours, but it wasn’t very inventive or melodious. Surprisingly, we heard the same kind of song in the same place three years ago, and thought it might have been an unskilled young Song Thrush. Could it be the same bird three years later, who has learned nothing, or a younger generation with the same poor taste in song, or is it something else altogether?  From that spot there is a good view north-eastwards over to Huyton Church tower in a wooded dip and Prescot Church spire on the skyline.

We lunched in the Garden of Remembrance behind Childwall All Saints church. It’s Grade 1 listed and the only mediaeval church in Liverpool, with a 14th century chancel and a 15th century south aisle and porch.

The Bird Cherry tree there was just past its flowering, but in late June 2015, nearly 3 weeks later in the year, it had just been coming out. We looked at several trees in the churchyard. A purple-leaved one seemed to be an obvious Sycamore variety, but the new seeds had their wings straight out, just like a Field Maple. The leaves were far too big for that, and there is no suggestion in any of my tree books of a purple form of the Field Maple, so I guess it was just an aberrant Sycamore.  Another tree had us foxed. It had narrow shiny green leaves, alternate, with pale undersides, and a few dangling strings of pale brown woody-looking catkins. We thought it was something from a hot climate, and at home I looked up things like Olive, Bay and Portuguese Laurel, but now I think it was just a Holm Oak, looking untypical because it was spring-fresh. Our third interesting tree was some kind of young Fir near the War Memorial. The upright fat cones near the top of the tree were covered in bracts and looked unstable, as if they were about to disintegrate. The needles were all upswept. Those cones suggest one of the Silver Firs, genus Abies, while the upswept needles mean it was probably the common Silver Fir Abies alba. However, all those conifers are still a bit of a mystery to me!

We headed up past the Childwall Abbey pub, with a Buzzard soaring overhead, and re-entered the woods by a different entrance. A pair of Speckled Wood butterflies were courting in a patch of sunshine. A Jay flew into the top of a nearby tree.  On the trunk of a fallen Beech was a couple of slimy yellow patches, each about 2″ (5 cm) across, probably the unpleasantly-named Dog Vomit Slime Mould, Fuligo septica.

Near the Woolton Road roundabout there used to be two huge and overgrown Leyland Cypress trees, a hazard to traffic when one fell, and its twin has now been cut down. They have recently been replaced by two much smaller and daintier trees, still with their nursery labels attached. One is a pink-flowering Cherry Prunus ‘Accolade’, while the other is a white-blossomed Pear Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’. According to “London’s Street Trees” by Paul Wood, the Chanticleer Pear is now much-planted in London and is one of the most common street trees in New York City. The “survivor tree” from the 9/11 attacks is a Chanticleer Pear. Finally, we hoped to “tick” Laburnum, which we have unaccountably failed to note for the last few weeks while it was flowering magnificently, and we still didn’t see any on our walk today, but there were plenty in the suburban gardens, spotted from the bus on the way back into town.

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.25, arriving Woolton Road / Childwall Park Avenue at 10.50. Returned from Woolton Road opposite Cabot Green on the 78 bus at 2.20, arriving City Centre at 2.45.

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Calderstones Park, 27th May 2018

Calderstones Park has the greatest collection of rare trees in the north-west of England. Everywhere you look there is something wonderful, and we have only scratched the surface in identifying them. The plant collector was called Charles McIver, a Liverpool shipping magnate, who was one of the founders of the Cunard Line. He lived on the Calderstones estate from 1875, and most of the rare plantings are thought to be his. Liverpool Corporation bought the estate in 1902, then the adjoining Harthill estate in 1913, making a park of 126 acres altogether.

We entered the park at the south-west entrance, off Allerton Road, where there is a carpet of Pink Purslane under the trees. It was another hot and sunny day, and we soon found we were all wearing too many layers! The flowers along the Rhododendron and Azalea Drive were superb, with the yellow ones producing a knock-out scent.

In the nearby shrubbery is a Giant Sequoia (Wellingtonia) Sequoiadendron giganteaum, with its lower branches sweeping the ground and rooting (called “layering”). Surprisingly, it is much younger than it looks. It is called the “Churchill Tree” because it was planted for the death of Churchill in 1965, which makes it only 53 years old, plus however old it was when it was planted. Younger than all of us!

North-west of the playground, near the Monkey Puzzles, there is a tall Oak stump with two outcrops of wavy yellow bracket fungi. It’s a rather splendid fresh-looking growth of Chicken-of-the-Woods, also known as Sulphur polypore. It’s edible, but you’d need a ladder!

There is a Grey-budded Snake-Bark Maple Acer rufinerve on the other side of the path, behind the fence around the shrubbery to the south-east of the flower garden.

The Mansion House is being refurbished, and about time too. The Reader Organisation has raised over £5 million for the project, and they are planning to convert the garden theatre around the back into a wedding venue, which will provide continuing income. Happily, they will also be providing new public toilets, as the old ones have long been a disgrace.

East of the Mansion House we spotted something with pale yellow flowers and five-fingered leaves that we identified as a Yellow Buckeye Aesculus flava.

It’s in the same genus as our common Horse Chestnut, and Mitchell’s book says many Buckeyes are grafted onto a Horse Chestnut rootstock. This one obviously was, with a very low graft, because Horse Chestnut leaves were sprouting out of the bottom. In fact, it was three trees in one because a tiny Yew had germinated in a fork at head-height.

The Black Mulberry tree Morus nigra looks half-dead, but plenty of leaves are coming out and it seems to be thriving.

Near to it was some kind of young Cypress, with cones about ¾ inch (2cm) across, which were almost dodecahedral, with a point in the centre of each scale. We opened one, and there were lots of seeds inside, and the broken scales exuded resin. There was no particular smell. I looked it up later, and I think it’s a Smooth Arizona Cypress Cupressus glabra, which isn’t particularly rare.

A clump of three Redwoods in the shrubbery south-east of the Mansion House had foliage a bit like Dawn Redwoods, so I think they are Coast Redwoods Sequoia sempervirens. We checked off some old friends for our year list: Douglas Fir; Japanese Red Cedar; the Golden Rain Tree, also known as Pride of India, which is hidden in a dark corner by the old loo block and shaded by Yews (this is tragic – someone should let some light in onto it); the Turkish Hazel outside the gallery; and the mighty Lucombe oak, Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’, a hybrid of Turkey and Cork Oaks.

The Dove tree / Handkerchief Tree Davidia involucrata by the path around to the Old English Garden is now shedding all its white bracts, which give it the “pocket handkerchief” nickname.

We lunched overlooking the flower garden, where the Corpse of the Day was a dead hedgehog on the edge of one of the lawns.

The Old English Garden is rumoured (by Richie the Ranger) to have once contained every plant mentioned in Shakespeare, but I have no idea if anyone has checked recently! We did a quick walk-around, looking for some real oddities mentioned in a very old leaflet, but didn’t find them. Then around by the Allerton Oak, which is at least 700 years old, but popularly reputed to be 1000 years old. It is now fenced off but still going strong, and produces thousands of acorns each year. Nearby is the moribund Cedar of Lebanon; the Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata, which is the Lancashire county champion for girth and height; and the young Paperbark Maple in the Rockery. We stopped by the big Tulip Tree, hoping to see it in flower, but no luck. We hope for some blossom in Port Sunlight in two weeks time.

There were slim pickings for birds on the lake. Moulting Mallards, two pairs of Coots noisily seeing off one poor timid Moorhen, Herring Gulls and feral Pigeons. One pair of Canada Geese had a single tiny gosling, and one of the proud parents was announcing it to the world.

Then we headed southwards towards the exit, by now hot and weary. The main path is lined by an avenue of notable trees, American Limes Tilia americana, also called the American Basswood. It’s listed in Mitchell’s book as rare, found only in a few collections, but here there are dozens of them. One of them is the Lancashire county champion for girth and height, although it’s hard to know which one, as they are all so uniform.

So far on our Sunday walks we have “ticked” 73 bird species and 110 kinds of tree. Not bad for an urban area!

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.23, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.53. Returned on the 86 from Mather Avenue / Storrsdale Road at 1.55, arriving Liverpool City Centre at 2.25.

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Sherdley Park St Helens, 20th May 2018

I popped into St John’s Gardens on the way to Lime Street Station to check on a couple of notable trees. The Indian Bean tree, which is always one of the last trees in leaf, has just the first shoots breaking out amongst last year’s dangling bean pods. The Dove Tree / Handkerchief Tree has a few flowers out, with their lovely white hanging bracts, but not very many, sadly. (The two in Calderstones were flowering spectacularly last week.)

We were last at Sherdley Park on a freezing day last November, so it was good to see it when it was warmer and less muddy!  Behind the fence of Sutton Academy were some Red Horse Chestnut trees (Aesculus × carnea) in flower. It is an artificial hybrid between A. pavia (the American Red Buckeye) and A. hippocastanum (the English Horse Chestnut).

It was a hot and sunny day, so we were glad to walk the shady paths around the pond. There were the usual Mallards and Canada Geese, and a family of four young Coots. The air above the water had a blizzard of insects, but where are the Swallows? They do seem to be late this year. The trees were full of birdsong, and we spotted Mistle Thrush, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit and a Carrion Crow. In the autumn the paths are carpeted with fallen Beech leaves, but Beeches also shed vast quantities of unpretentious flowers in the spring, making a second annual carpet.

Another tree flowering just now is the familiar Hawthorn or May Blossom. There are also many Hawthorns in gardens with double pink blossom. It’s a different species, the Midland Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, which has white flowers in the wild, but the pink one is the cultivated variety ‘Paul’s Scarlet’.

Near the children’s playground is a Swamp Cypress, one of only two I know of in Merseyside parks. There were also plenty of Whitebeam, Rowan and Swedish Whitebeam in flower, and near the entrance to Delph Wood was a magnificent billowy Narrow-leaved Ash on the edge of the path called The Score. We noted all three common species of Oak. The English or Pedunculate Oak has acorns with stalks (“peduncle” is the botanical name for the stalk), while the Sessile Oak has unstalked acorns. Oddly, the leaves are the other way around, so Sessile Oaks have stalked leaves while Pedunculate Oaks have leaves that grow close to the twig.

Sessile Oak with stalked leaves

Pedunculate Oak with unstalked leaves

All Oaks have catkins, but they usually grow so high up that we don’t notice them. This Turkey Oak had several low branches and was flowering splendidly.

In Delph Wood we noted Specked Wood butterflies and an occasional Orange Tip. The trees are a typical mix of Beech and Hornbeam, Ash and Sycamore, Oak and Horse Chestnut, and lower down there is Hawthorn and Elder. In a damp spot by an open meadow we found a single orchid, still only a bud, but it seemed to be going to be dark purple and not very tall. One of the Marsh Orchids I imagine. Red Campion was popping up everywhere.

We came specially to look at the Bluebells. There wasn’t a huge carpet of them, but many scattered patches. They appeared to be hybrids, but with a lot of native in them. The flowers mostly drooped to one side and had curled-back petals and white pollen, which all suggests native Bluebells.

However, they weren’t deep blue, but rather pale.  Other patches were clearly Spanish, with upright stalks and flowers all around.

Just to note that there is a Wildflower Identification training day on Wednesday 6th June, on the  Liverpool Loop Line near Sainsbury’s on East Prescot Road. Organised by Sustrans and led by Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s senior ranger John Lamb. It’s free but you need to register.

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street towards Wilmslow, supposed to be at 10.30 but delayed by Arriva Northern until 10.48 because there was no guard. Arrived Lea Green 11.13. Returned on the train from Lea Green at 14.01, arriving Lime Street 14.28.

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Chester Zoo Nature Reserve, 13th May 2018

Chester Zoo has had a free nature reserve on the far side of its car park for a couple of years, but they have recently enlarged it to 14 acres, so we thought we’d take a look.

The original reserve is a small planted woodland, still with only very young trees. They all appear to be native species, as they should be. I noted lots of Cherry and Crab Apple; Birch, Oak, Beech and Ash; Rowan, Field Maple, Hornbeam, Willow and a few very small Scots Pines. The Hawthorn “May blossom” isn’t yet fully out, but the Bird Cherry has loved this late winter and sudden spring and is flowering most profusely at the moment.

Near the “grass amphitheatre” we spotted what looked like an animal track detector. Some sheets of white A4 paper were either side of some pink, slightly sticky dye with an attractant in the middle.

We looked closely at the paper with the footprints, and there were plenty of them, but it was hard to say what had made them. They were under an inch wide, say about 2 cm, and had three forward- pointing toes and one on either side. Too small for a Rat and too far from the canal for a Water Vole, so I guess they were made by some kind of mouse. Later we met the local naturalist Jeff Clarke and asked his opinion. “Indistinguishable!”, he said.

Many of the path verges were planted with masses of Red Campion and something with tall pointed leaves. It took a while to recognise them as Teasel, before their flower heads have come up.

The leaves of the young Cherry trees were well-marked with holes and chewed edges, so there is plenty of small insect life about. There was a Harlequin ladybird on one, and a native Two-spot lower down on the same tree. The Two-spot Ladybird is common, but thought to be declining.

There weren’t many birds there, as it was a pretty flat, open area and a bright sunny day. We heard a Great Tit calling and spotted a Buzzard overhead. It felt like a day for Swallows and House Martins, but we saw only one fleeting Swallow later in the day. They are late this year. One pond held a single bathing Mallard, while the lowest pond, overlooked by a hide, had a Moorhen and a family of Coots, with three black and red chicks.

Near the edge of the canal they have an old Black Poplar, which they are very proud of.

A signboard told us that there are currently only about 7000 Black Poplar trees left in the UK. 95% of them are old trees, most are genetically similar, and to make it worse 90% are male trees, too far away from the few remaining female trees to fertilise them. Chester Zoo is part of a team working to save these native trees. They have planted over 1000 young ones in the last 15 years, propagated by cuttings from as diverse a population as possible, and they have put male and female trees close together. The little plot with the signboard had two of these young Black Poplars side by side, one male and one female.

There were plenty of Molehills in the grass, and we saw Small and Large White butterflies and an Orange Tip. They are running a meadow experiment on this former fertilised farmland. One plot has been left to its own devices, and they expect it to grow only thick grass. The second has been harrowed and planted with wildflower seeds, but they expect the grass to out-compete them. On the third plot they have removed the fertile topsoil, but added no seed. They expect this one to  grow both grasses and flowers, but it will take a long time to become a proper meadow.  It’s a bit early for their proper wildflower meadow yet, but there were Buttercups and Ribwort Plantain along the edges.

As we were leaving, I was still checking the young trees, and I found a young Elm. Hooray! It was almost certainly a Wych Elm, not the now-scarce English Elm, but Wych Elms are also susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease and are in decline, so it was good to see a young one.

Before we left we popped into the part of the zoo before the pay gates and had a look at the elephants. A wild Rabbit loped up the path to the elephant house, so that’s another mammal tick!  We intended to get the very fast X8 back to Liverpool, but it was late. When it was 15 minutes overdue, we gave up and got the number 1 to Bache Station and then the train. As we left the zoo on the bus, we saw our X8 heading in, so we should have trusted it would come!  At Bache Station a Chiffchaff was singing from the opposite shrubbery, and we saw a Holly Blue and an Orange Tip flitting about the rails and hedges.

Public transport details:  Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving Chester Zoo 11.20. Returned on bus 1 towards Chester at 2.32, arriving Liverpool Road / Countess Hospital at 2.40. Around the corner to Bache Station, and train to Liverpool at 15.03, arriving Central 3.45.

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