Birkenhead Park, 13th October 2019

Birkenhead Park was opened in 1847, and is the world’s first publicly-funded civic park, open to all. It is said to have inspired New York’s Central Park, and is a Grade I listed landscape. It’s over two years since we were last there. In light rain we walked down from the massive arched Grand Entrance, looking at the gulls on the muddy field on the left: Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls, a few young Herring Gulls, one or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Magpies beyond. The droopy evergreen there is a Brewer Spruce, I think.

Many of the red-berried trees have fruited well this autumn, especially the Hollies and Yews. Several birds were after the Yew berries, including a Great Tit, a very fast and elusive Goldcrest and a Mistle Thrush at the top of a neighbouring Beech. There isn’t much autumn colour yet. The Limes are going yellow, the Horse Chestnuts are brown from the leaf miner infection, but there is still lots of green. We made an anti-clockwise circle around the lake, seeing only the ubiquitous Pigeons, Mallards, Moorhens and Coots. A bit more exciting was a Treecreeper. Some of the trees bore bat roosting boxes, and there are said (in the poster in the Visitors’ Centre) to be five species of bat here, although they weren’t named. We looked at the Mulberry tree, but there was no fruit left on it. At the west end of the Lower Lake, just past the rockery corner, is one of the park’s star trees, the Cucumber Tree Magnolia accuminata, with its huge leaves hanging over the path, at least a foot (30cm) long.

There’s a Monterrey Cypress by the Swiss Bridge, with large clusters of scaly woody fruits.

We looked at an interesting tree over the water, on the south east side of the lake. It’s only a small one, with bluey green compound leaves and rounded leaflets. The leaflets are the wrong shape for a Pagoda tree, so it is possibly a Locust tree, a False Acacia, Robinia pseudoacacia. Mitchell’s tree book describes the leaves as greyish green, so that might be it.

By the bridge at the north east end of the lake we checked to see if there were any survivors of the distinctive brood of five tall thin black Mallards, which we first saw in November 2011. In August  2017 we found one still alive on the other side of the park, but we didn’t see it today.  But there was a family of Mute Swans with three big brown cygnets, several Canada Geese and a Cormorant.

Behind the Visitors’ Centre was a very strange wooden structure, labelled sternly “not a playground or a toy”, so I think it must have been Art.

In the far corner was a glade full of little fairy houses.

On some old branches left on the grass nearby to decompose were some interesting small fungi. Some were chalk-white flat ones with a hint of a stalk, maybe 1cm across. They looked like little white flowers. My friend Google Images suggests they might be Plicatura crispa (no common name), which is more usually found in Scotland, or northern English counties. The most southerly report is from Richard Fortey, (yes, THAT Richard Fortey), from a wood in Oxfordshire.

Further along the same log were some small bracket-types, again about 1cm, with white edges, fawn gills on the top side, and smooth below. The log didn’t appear to have been turned or moved recently, so that’s the way they had grown. Back to my friend Google Images, which suggests they are Split Gill Schizophyllum commune, which is common and widespread.

We found a Spindle tree in a shrubbery on the west side of the Visitors’ Centre, its four-sided red seed cases opening to reveal the hard round red seeds inside, one to each section. Later, on the way back to the station, we noted another of the Park’s star trees, the Hybrid Strawberry Tree inside the fence by the traffic lights, with dark evergreen leaves and red peeling bark. But before that it had started to rain hard, so we retreated to the Visitors’ Centre for shelter, spotted their table tennis table, asked at the desk and were entrusted with some bats and balls. It’s a long time since any of us have played table tennis. We found that we could serve as we used to, but the return strokes went all over the place!

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.19, arriving Park Road North / Park Road East at 10.35. Returned on the train from Birkenhead Park station at 14.36, arriving Liverpool 14.55.

Next few weeks:
20th October, Taylor Park, St Helens. Meet at Queen Square at 10 am

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

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

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Sat 26th Oct Beacon Fell CP. Type: Coach Trip Where we are meeting: 8.30 Bromborough Village, 8.45 Conway Park, 9.00 William Brown Street, 9.15 Rocket (start M62) Cost: £20. Do I need to book? Yes with Coach Secretary Seema Aggarwhal Tel: 07984 231059 or if no answer with Sabena Blackbird

Guided or free to roam: FTR or Guided, leader John Clegg

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New Brighton, 6th October 2019

It was forecasted to be a very wet day, so we thought we needed to be near shelter. West Kirby or New Brighton sprang to mind, and the first bus that came was for New Brighton. In the event it was dry and occasionally sunny, so we were overdressed! But it was very windy on that exposed corner of the Wirral.

Our first stop was the pontoons on the Marine Lake, which are always good for shorebirds sitting out the rising tide. Would there be a Purple Sandpiper or two? Sadly not. But there were many little red-legged brown and white Turnstones, taller Redshanks, a Black-headed Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and near the back, a couple of Knot. On this picture one is stretching up and preening its breast.

We walked along the north edge of the Marine Lake. Far out on the beach by the lighthouse were lots of gulls and a small group of Oystercatchers. We stopped to look at the small mound of dry beach and rocks near the corner of Fort Perch Rock. It was topped with clumps of Marram grass, which is often the first coloniser of bare sand, and its roots stabilise the young dune.

A couple of other plants were colonising this marginal habitat. I think this is Sea Beet, although the leaves don’t quite match the book. Much in demand by trendy foraging restaurants, apparently.

On the sheltered side under the railing was a crucifer with white flowers. Probably Sea Rocket, whose flowers can be purple, but lilac and white are known variations.

In the open tarmac space in front of Fort Perch Rock, some recent high tides had thrown up lines of drying seaweed, with the egg cases of Whelks caught amongst them, like lumps of bubble wrap. There were also a couple of “mermaid’s purses”. I looked them up on the website of the Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt.  The smaller brown one was just under 9 cm, so it was too big to belong to the Small Spotted Catshark or Dogfish, whose egg cases are only about 4 cm long. I think it came from a Nursehound, another kind of dogfish or catshark, Scyllorhinus stellaris.

There are about four different square black ones, but the case of the Thornback Ray Raja clavata looks like about the right size and shape.

After lunch in a shelter near the Floral Pavilion, we decided it was too windy to stay, so we headed back to Morrison’s for the bus home.

Public transport details: Bus 432 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.18, arriving King’s Parade / Robson Street (Morrison’s) at 10.43. Returned on the 432 bus outside Morrison’s at 1.25, arriving Liverpool 1.51.

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MNA Fungi Foray Dibbinsdale 29th Sept 2019

The hardy members of the MNA who ventured into a rather wet and squelchy Dibbinsdale for the annual fungi foray were rewarded by a few nice mycological finds. Stump Puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme, Dryads Saddle Polyporus squamosus, King Alfred’s Cake’s Daldinia concentrica, White Brain Exidia thuretiana, Southern Bracket Ganoderma adspersum, Deciever Laccaria laccata, Amethyst Deciever Laccaria amethystine, Wet Rot Coniophora puteana, Scaly Earthball Scleroderma verrucosum, Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa, Glistening Inkcap Coprinellus micaceus, Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare, Coral Spot Nectria cinnabarina, Crested Coral Clavulina coralloides, Rancid Bonnet Mycena olida, Iodine Bonnet Mycena filopes, Golden Waxcap Hygrocybe chlorophana and the beauties below:-

Jellybaby Leotia lubrica
Twig Parachute Marasmiellus ramealis
Tan Ear Otidea alutacea
Yellow Club Clavulinopsis helvola
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Dibbinsdale, 29th September 2019

It had rained hard all week, and as we gathered outside Bromborough Rake station with members of the MNA for a fungal foray, one or two of the hardier souls trekked down the steep path on a recce to the deep valley of the stream and came back to report two inch floods on the bridges and much mud underfoot. The MNA decided to soldier on, but we weren’t feeling quite that adventurous, so we took the train one stop further back to Spital, where we entered the Brotherton Park and Dibbinsdale LNR from the north end, on a reasonably flat and solid path.

It was a narrow way, wet and drippy under the trees. The only fungi we saw were some big mushrooms, possibly the edible species, but we didn’t try them. Autumn continues to be fruitful, with many acorns underfoot, huge crops of dark red Hawthorn berries and the red fruiting spikes of  Wild Arum brightening the shadows under the hedge. There were still some plants in flower. The Bramble had put out yet another generation of blossom and the white trumpets of Bindweed were scrambling everywhere. Lower down were flowers of Hogweed, Dandelion, Wood Avens, Red Dead-nettle, a shy little geranium-type which was probably Dovesfoot Cranesbill, and down the bank was a stand of Himalayan Balsam.

We heard some strange noises, and decided it was either Magpies or Jays having a fight, but we saw nothing. Later a Jay flew off. Some of us caught a couple of brief glimpses of a Bullfinch, and on the way back we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker in an almost-bare tree, silhouetted against the leaden sky.

It was getting far too wet for comfort or pleasure, so we ate our sandwiches in the shelter on Spital station and decided to call it a day.

Public transport details: The Chester train from Central at 10.15, arriving Bromborough Rake at 10.35. Returned from Spital station at 12.50, arriving Liverpool at 1.15.

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Calderstones Park and Strawberry Field, 22nd September 2019

Right on cue for the equinox, we had rain and high wind on Saturday night, so Sunday morning looked like autumn, with turning leaves and the threat of rain.

We entered Calderstones Park from the Ballantrae Road end, and noticed for the first time several rare Maple trees bordering the path. One had 7-point leaves and sticky-out seed wings, so it might have been a Japanese or Korean Maple; another had little tri-lobed rounded leaves with chunky maple-type seeds, which looked vaguely similar to a Paperbark Maple, but it wasn’t; and one with leaves like Lilac, reddish leaf stalks and tiny fruits could have been Pére David’s Maple Acer davidii. The trouble with Calderstones is that it is so packed with rarities, many of them aren’t in any of my books. A tree near there that I DO know is the Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron gigantea, which despite its size, is younger than us all. It’s nicknamed the Churchill tree and was planted for his funeral in 1965.

In the Ornamental Garden we looked at a pair of Mimosa trees, showing the buds of their yellow pom-pom flowers, which come out very early, and the brown hanging pods of this year’s seeds. A small Katsura tree hadn’t started its leaf change to bright yellow yet. We also looked at what we thought was a Strawberry Tree with big red fruits. But the leaves weren’t serrated and now I realise it was a huge Chinese Dogwood Cornus kousa ‘Chinensis’.

The Common Walnut tree on the corner looked very sick, and hadn’t produced any nuts, even in this most favourable summer. It looks as if it has been infested with something, making the leaves spotty and prematurely brown.

They have finished refurbishing the Mansion House, and there are now magnificent loos and a much better café. The view out of the window of the Maple tree by the door is terrific.

They have also properly re-housed the Calder Stones, after which the district and the park are named. There is a good explanatory exhibition. They are believed to be the remains of an ancient tomb and burial mound, which stood on the border of Wavertree and Allerton.  An 1825 report on them says “… in digging about them, urns made of the coarsest clay, containing human dust and bones, have been discovered.” Modern archaeologists shudder!  They used to be set in a circle on a small traffic island, close to their original spot. They were moved some decades ago to an old greenhouse in the park for safe-keeping until they could decide what to do with them. It’s good to finally see them on proper display.

We lunched by the pond in the Old English Garden, a popular sandwich-eating spot. The local birds know this, of course, and we were treated to close views of Robin, Chaffinch, Great Tits, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and a cheeky Grey Squirrel. Then we went to look for the rare Golden Rain tree, which until this year was hemmed in by dark Hollies and Yews. They were removed during the refurbishment of the Mansion House, and I hoped it had flourished in the new light conditions. We couldn’t find it. The narrow trunk that last winter I thought was it turned out to be a Wild Rose, so, sadly, I think the Golden Rain tree has been removed. That’s a loss, as it is the only one I knew of in the Liverpool city region. We did spot a Persian Ironwood, though, and what appeared to be a variegated Sweet Chestnut, with green glossy leaves with white edges, and typical, but small seeds. I’ve never read that such a variety exists, but that’s what it looked like.

Then we walked in the rain, through the park and up Beaconsfield Road to Strawberry Field. It’s the old Salvation Army orphanage immortalised in the Beatles song, and the site was always closed.  Beatles tourists have written on the ornate gates and the gateposts for many years.

The Salvation Army have finally cottoned on to the revenue potential of the site, and have landscaped the grounds and built a new modern café, exhibition space and gift shop. The income will fund a programme to help young people with leaning difficulties get into work. It opened last weekend, and all areas except the exhibition itself are free to enter. We wandered around the rather raw new grounds, and admired the group of raised beds, full of Strawberry plants. The front gates are now replicas, and the old gates are being set up as a shrine in the gardens.

The gift shop was selling the usual t-shirts, greetings cards, mugs, fridge magnets and similar nick-knacks. But we were charmed by small jars of Strawberry Jam (£4). I hope they do well. When we arrived a coach party was just leaving, and as we headed to the bus stop a taxi marked “Fab Four Taxi Tour” was just drawing up.

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.25, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.55.  Returned from Menlove Avenue / Yewtree Road on the 76 at 2.20, arriving Liverpool 2.55.

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Lister Drive Library and Newsham Park, 15th September 2019

It was Heritage Open Day, a chance to see inside buildings that are usually private. From the bus stop in Tuebrook we walked up Green Lane in a fine drizzle, past my old primary school. In the corner of the lawn of Stoneycroft United Reform Church was a Hazel tree, bearing just a few sparse poorly-formed hazelnuts. I have been told that the nuts don’t develop in Liverpool, the soil is wrong, but this Hazel is trying!

We were heading for Lister Drive library, the public library that my brother and I went to every week when we were children in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s one of the libraries donated by the millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and it opened in 1905. It was wonderfully ornate, and is a Grade II Listed Building. Sadly, by 2006 it had deteriorated due to underfunding, and was closed. Now, with the help of a grant of £3.9 million from the National Lottery (with additional funding from Liverpool City Council, the Hornby Trust and the Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust) it has been leased to the community group “Lister Steps” and is being renovated for use as a children’s nursery and Community hub.

We headed to the nearby Newsham Park for lunch. The small boating lake was being used by some members of the model boat club, who were driving their model battleship about. Happily, they were careful not to disturb several Mallards, a family of Coots with three young ones, and three Mute Swans, one with a blue Darvic ring 4DCP on its right leg. It  was reported to Steve Christmas of the NW Swan Study, who replied that 4DCP was ringed as a male cygnet on 19 Sep 2018 at Sefton Park and was also recorded at Newsham Park on 13 Jun 2019.

Then we walked along Gardner’s Drive. There was a call of a Ring-necked Parakeet and then we spotted a couple of them flying overhead. That’s the first time we’ve seen them in Newsham Park, although they are spreading rapidly through Merseyside. A Robin was singing from the shrubbery. Is it starting to establish a territory already? There was a dark-backed gull on the grassy verge, stamping its feet to bring up the worms. Most of us were sure it was a Lesser Black-backed Gull but our expert John was adamant that if it had pink legs and a red spot on its beak it was a Herring Gull, darkish back notwithstanding.

There were a few young trees which had been planted two or three years ago in fencing cages. Such protective cages prevent normal mowing of the grass around the trees, so they get ragged, untidy weeds filling the inside space. To our surprise, each of the six young trees seemed to have different plants growing around them. One looked like it had had yellow Rapeseed flowers, while another was still blue with Borage. The others were different again, but we couldn’t tell what they had been from the gone-over remains. Is this guerrilla planting? A project by the Friends of the Park?

It is turning out to be a very good year for the autumn berry crop. Several Swedish Whitebeams were heavy with berries, which were still orange, not yet red. A nearby tree was thickly covered with red berries like Haws, but the leaves were wrong for Hawthorn, not lobed at all. Each fruit had a single large seed. I think it was probably a Broad-leaved Cockspur Thorn Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’.

Then we made our way back over the big field to the bus stop. A flock of about 30 Starlings flew up into the trees and made a lot of twittering and whistling.  Several dozen Black-headed Gulls loitered in the open field, and there was one Common Gull standing off on its own, as is typical for the species.

Public transport details: Bus 15 from Queen Square at 10.01, arriving West Derby Road / Green Lane at 10.15. Returned from West Derby Road / New Road on the 12 bus at 1.38, arriving Liverpool City Centre at 2.05.  

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Sefton Park Gardens, 8th September 2019

Today was another National Garden Scheme day, when members of the RHS with extraordinary private gardens open them to the public for a small fee, proceeds to charity. Nothing starts until noon, so we dawdled outside the Museum of Liverpool to see the old Ribble buses that had drawn up there for the company’s 100th birthday

Princes Park, where we had an early lunch, has a wealth of unusual trees, but we only puzzled over one of them, a young conifer that looked like some kind of Cypress. It had unusual fruits shaped like bells which came apart into separate slices, which were the seeds. Happily the Friends of the Park have numbered all their star trees and labelled them with QR codes that link to their website. It says that tree number 3 is an Incense Cedar Calocedrus decurrens. It isn’t a true cedar.  The sweet-smelling wood is used to make pencils.

Our first garden was the marvellous Park Mount at 38 Ullet Road. A large traditional garden with sweeping curved lawns and little plots of ornamental trees and shrubs.

They had a young Indian Bean tree by the side of the house, and small tree on the edge of a lawn with pretty opened seed heads like little lanterns. It looked rather like a Spindle, but we have never seen the native Spindle Tree open its fruits like that. The owner agreed, rather vaguely, that it was a Spindle, but I think it was a decorative “garden” species, the Korean Spindle Tree Euonymous oxyphyllus.

All around the edge was a woodland walk with odd little nooks containing a temple here, a barbecue there, and statuary in odd corners. Altogether an astounding garden.

The next one was Sefton Villa at 14 Sefton Drive, a lovely small garden with a secluded shady area containing four or five big bonsai trees, which must have taken years of careful nurturing.

Then we walked around to Sefton Park Allotments. It was a riot of sheds and greenhouses, Sunflowers and Nasturtiums, and some serious vegetable growing.

One greenhouse had a successful crop of tomatoes coming on, but also an unexpected row of ripening red grapes.

Do you remember the old TV series “Bread”, about a fictional Liverpool family? The father of the family had an ongoing affair with a woman from these allotments known as “Lilo Lil”. Her shed has survived, the owner is about to restore it, and he is thinking of putting a blue plaque on it!

Lots of vegetables were on sale (also for charity) and I bought an unusual spiky thing called a Bolivian Cucumber, also known as an Achocha, about the size of an egg. It is said by the botanist James Wong to be very good fried, sautéed or baked. We shall see!

Public transport details:  Bus 80A from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.50 arriving Princes Avenue / Kingsley Road at 11.08. Returned on the 86 from Smithdown Road / Greenbank Road at 15.47, arriving City Centre at 16.05.

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Festival Gardens, 1st September 2019

If the cooler weather hadn’t told us, we would have known it was the first day of autumn because workmen in Tarleton Street in the city centre were putting up the Christmas lights. Although we were planning to go to Festival Gardens, our first stop was a nearby patch of sown wildflowers which John had spotted from the bus along Riverside Drive. We found it, on the west side of the road between the ends of the curved Bempton Road.

It appeared to have been sown with a more varied mix than the one at Rimrose Valley last week. There were no Ox-eye Daisies but we noted the usual Poppy, Cornflower and Corn Marigold. White was provided by Wild Carrot and Yarrow, and height by Evening Primrose, Great Willowherb and what we have been calling Mugwort, but was really Fat Hen. In amongst the other flowers were occasional Scabious, Self-heal, Mallow, Redshank, Nettle and Dock. One of these Poppies appears to have four bees in it, scrambling for nectar.

The reason we double-checked the tall “Mugwort” and decided it was more likely to be Fat Hen was that Margaret found a patch of tiny eggs in a marvellously neat array on the upper side of one of its leaves. The leaf was only about three inches (8cm) long, so these are very small eggs.

We assume they were laid by a butterfly or a moth, so what likes Fat Hen Chenopodium album as its food plant? Internet searches found only four possible moths.
Bright-line Brown-eye Lacanobia oleracea is fairly common, and is found in this area, but it is said to lay eggs on the underside of leaves in loose clumps. Not that one.
Heart and Dart Agrotis exclamationis is said to be common and abundant, and it is found in this area. No idea what its eggs are like, but this might be what it was.
Heart and Club Agrotis clavis is said to be scarce, but there are records of it in the Merseyside area. I found no pictures of its eggs, and this MIGHT be the one, but is less likely.
Speckled Case-bearer Coleophora sternipennella is a rare micro-moth, said to be nationally scarce. The nearest records on the NBN Atlas are in the Llandudno / Colwyn Bay area. The odds aren’t good that the eggs would be of that particularly rare creature.

While we were hunting for the wildflower meadow along Riverside Drive we spotted lots of autumnal trees and shrubs. There were several Swedish Whitebeams by the car park at the bottom of Jericho Lane, with leaves like oak but berries like Rowan. Easy to get confused by that one.

Along Riverside Drive the Horse Chestnuts have been very strongly infested with the Horse-Chestnut Leaf Miner moth larvae, Cameraria ohridella, although it doesn’t seem to have stopped the production of big fat conkers. The moth is a new arrival to Britain, first seen in London in 2002 and I think we saw our first examples in Reynold’s Park in August 2014.

Some of the Alders were also infested, chewed to lace by the grubs of the rather handsome blue-black Alder Leaf beetles Agelastica alni. The adult beetles are only 6-7mm long. This is another newly-arrived tree pest, first observed in Manchester in 2004, and we saw our first in Chester in May 2014.

The Festival Gardens near Otterspool Prom are on the site of the former International Festival Garden, which opened to much fanfare in 1984 but closed in 1996. For several years it was a disappointing eyesore, but part of the site re-opened in 2012. The garden is now managed by The Land Trust, and some of it is pretty, and some still looks rather neglected. One of the best bits is the small wildlife pond, where we found a hunting Heron, belly-deep amongst the water-lilies and water mint, which caught a small fish.

The Guelder Roses are now putting out their lovely luminous red berries.

Around the back of the pond we found a Hop Vine scrambling over an old fence.

It was approaching high tide on the river and the stiff westerly breeze was piling the water up even more. Some large yachts were tacking alarmingly around the buoys, and we admired the fearlessness of the crew members hanging off the “up” sides.

We came back by the old Japanese Garden, looking for the Strawberry Tree hedging, but couldn’t find it. There were several other unusual trees there, though. One was either a Silver Maple or an Oriental Plane, but was showing early autumn colour which suggested Maple. A young white sapling looked dead, but it was sprouting vigorously from a low shoot on the left. A Foxglove Tree!

There was a Tulip Tree there too, and what we first thought was a Judas Tree, but that has alternate leaves and these were very similarly-shaped, but opposite. I think it is the lovely Katsura Cercidiphyllum japonica. It has wonderful autumn colour and the falling leaves are said to smell of  burnt sugar or candy floss.

Public transport details: Bus 500 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.20, arriving Jericho Lane / Riverside Drive at 10.35. Returned on the 500 bus from Riverside Drive / Festival Gardens at 2.30, arriving back at Liverpool ONE bus station at 2.40.

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Rimrose Valley, 25th August 2019

On a very hot, sunny and cloudless day – shirt sleeves and sun hats – we went to Rimrose Valley Country Park to see their wildflower meadow.

The valley of the old Rimrose Brook is the border between Crosby and Litherland, on the west side of the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and it was used as a council tip until 1978. In 1993 they covered it with soil and put a north-south path down the centre. It has become very popular as a walking, cycling and dog-walking area. Then, in 2016, Highways England proposed to run a new road down the middle to relieve congestion on the A5036 Dunnings Bridge Road, which takes international lorries to Seaforth docks. Sefton Council counter-proposed building a tunnel and a dispute has been rumbling along for several years, most recently in the High Court. Meanwhile local residents have formed a Friends group and are campaigning hard to save the park.

Looking southwards to the Port of Liverpool cranes

The wildflower meadow in the centre of the old running track is their latest scheme to make the area indispensable. It was planted quite late this year, and so it has been slow to come into flower, but in the last week or two it has blossomed magnificently. It maybe the best we have ever seen. The mix was the usual Poppy (red), Cornflower (blue), Corn Cockle (purple), Corn Marigold (yellow) and the white one which I have seen called Corn Chamomile, but might just be Ox-eye Daisy. The understorey is mostly Ribwort Plantain.

It was very popular with bees, and there were a few Painted Lady and Large White butterflies taking advantage of this late bounty of nectar. Somebody had planted a few Sunflowers in the middle, and there are beaten tracks out to them, where people have been posing for Instagram!

As we headed northwards we met several people who had come to see it and were asking “Is it this way?”

The rest of the wild grassland wasn’t as spectacular, of course, but was well-supplied with Ragwort and Yarrow. There was a big thistle patch going to seed, which we inspected for the caterpillars of the next brood of Painted Ladies, but we couldn’t see any. Other occasional flowers were Birds Foot Trefoil, Great Willowherb, Red Clover, White Dead-nettle, Red Bartsia, St John’s Wort, Wild Carrot and Mugwort. After lunch we made for the canal towpath and on the way found an example of the latest “finding things” game for children – a book. Painted rocks must now be passé. This book was tucked under a bush, carefully encased in a plastic bag, and came with a note urging the child to read it and pass it on, signed by the Rimrose Valley Fairies!

There were lots of Dragonflies around the canal, all moving too fast for definite identification. We are supposing most of them were Common Hawkers or Brown Hawkers, but there were definitely two of them, one brown and one blue, who seemed to be following or chasing one another. That  suggests they were a male and female Common Hawker. There was also a Banded Demoiselle Damselfly.

There weren’t many birds on the canal, and no Mallards at all. They must all be skulking somewhere, moulting. There were only occasional Coots, but lots of Moorhens, some with quite small chicks, of the second or even third broods.

We looked at a couple of plants on the edge of the towpath that we didn’t want to approach too closely in case the canal banks were undermined. They were possibly Gipsywort and Marsh Woundwort. The surface of the canal was half-covered in the yellow Fringed Water Lily.

Autumn fruits are coming along in great abundance. We admired Hawthorn berries, Rose Hips, Elder and Rowan, and chatted to a lady out gathering blackberries.

Hawthorn berries
Rowan berries

Near the Cookson’s Bridge pub, in the shrubbery on the far side, was a colony of twittering House Sparrows. Then, unusually for us, we sat in the cool pub and refreshed ourselves with shandy and cider. 

Public transport details: 47 bus from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Crosby Road North / Plaza Cinema at 10.40. Returned on 55 at 2.25 from Gorsey Lane / Gorsey Avenue.

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