Gorse Hill Apple Festival, 14th October 2018

From Aughton Park station we turned right up Long Lane towards Aughton church. The gardens along here have some interesting plants including this yellow Buddleia, which was still flowering beautifully, although we saw no insects on it.

Then across Holborn Hill, the A59, up through the fields to the reservoir, then left to Gorse Hill reserve. Buttercup and Yarrow were still flowering by the wayside and there were Black-headed Gulls on the fresh ploughsoil, Starlings on Aughton church tower and many skeins of yapping Pink-footed Geese crossing the sky above. The house on Holly Lane that had one life-size Pangea metal sculpture of a giraffe in its garden now has two of them. They’re breeding!

We took the orchard tour to see their 43 heritage varieties of apple trees. Most of the fruit has been harvested, but some is still on the tree, including the late variety “Sunset”.

We walked through Cabin Wood, where they have old flagstones laid down as Newt shelters. Their “small mammal homes” are made from plastic tubes and hay, covered with carpet tiles then a pile of branches. We were also charmed by this splendid bug hotel which, according to the sign, includes a pair of the reserve manager’s old trainers, wellies full of old socks and a discarded upturned kettle.

After lunch overlooking Seldom’s Pond we sat in the bird hide for a while, but nothing came to the bird table with a tempting array of seed. Outside we picked up this huge fallen Horse Chestnut leaf, the biggest we’ve ever seen.

Back in the barns, the apple sale was ticking along successfully, and I got (clockwise from top) a Ribston Pippin, a Yorkshire Aromatic, a Sunset and a Galloway Pippin.

Then we watched the windfall apples being turned into fresh juice. (£2 for 500ml). They are loaded into a hopper and chopped, then emerge sloppily into a blue bucket. The pulp is then wrapped into sacking parcels and loaded into the press. The juice is bottled by hand, and the remaining pressed cake is saved for animal feed. Horses are very fond of it, apparently.

Then we walked out onto the open ridge. Gorse Hill is a mere 81 meters above sea level, but on the flat Lancashire Plain that makes for very long views. Through a gap in the hedge we could see Blackpool Tower on the right and the hair-raising funfair ride called The Big One on the left.

A Jay flew by and a Robin perched on a gate.  We wandered about a bit, looking for a Yellowhammer, but no luck today. We returned around the back of the reservoir and emerged to the lovely view over Ormskirk church, with its rare “double” of a tower and a steeple.

Public transport details: The Ormskirk train from Central at 10.17, arriving Aughton Park at 10.45. Returned from Aughton Park Station on the 15.40 train, due in Liverpool at 16.10.

Next few weeks:
21st October, Flaybrick Memorial Gardens with the MNA. Meet Sir Thomas Street at 10am.
28th October, no Sunday walk. MNA coach to Leighton Moss.
4th November, Hesketh Park Southport. Meet Queen Square at 10am.
11th November, Remembrance service at Hamilton Square. Meet Central Station at 10am.

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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Rimrose Valley Country Park, 30th September 2018

It’s definitely autumn now, with a chill in the air and the leaves starting to change colour and fall.  From the station we crossed the very busy Princess Way by the pedestrian bridge. Even by the roadside there were things to see – Ragwort blooming under some railings, a Wych Elm bearing the cast-off skin of a Ladybird nymph and a tall gone-to-seed plant which may have been a Canadian Fleabane. It’s an introduced weed, but not a recent one. The fluffy seeds are reputed to have been brought into the UK almost 300 years ago as the stuffing in bird skins mounted by taxidermists.

The southern entrance gate is flanked by two Lime trees, and the one on the right has turned a spectacular uniform yellow. I think they are both Small-leaved Limes.

Rimrose Valley Country Park was a council tip until 1978, but has been capped and planted to provide a welcome open space between Crosby and Litherland. The southern section is more wooded, with the Rimrose Brook winding through it, and it is called Brookvale Nature reserve. There are currently plans to route a new road to the docks right down the middle of it, which are being vigorously resisted by the Friends group.

We saw an amazing list of wild flowers today. As well as the Ragwort and Canadian Fleabane, we also saw Ivy, Himalayan Balsam, Michaelmas Daisies, Bindweed, Hemp Agrimony, Yarrow, Horseradish, Purple Clover, Ladies Bedstraw, White Campion, Evening Primrose, Black Nightshade, White Dead-nettle, late flushes of Dogwood, Dandelions and Brambles, Burdock, Shepherd’s Purse and one stalk of Fox-and-Cubs on the bank of the canal. Twenty-one!


Dogwood


Bramble


Fox-and-Cubs

We noted the red berries of Rowan, Hawthorn, Dog Rose and Guelder Rose, the latter glowing as if they were lit from within. There were also the black berries of Bramble, Dogwood and Elder.


Rose hips


Guelder Rose

The Ash trees had huge bunches of keys and the Field Maple’s winged seeds all stuck out horizontally as if they were one of those old toys with a string at the bottom, which you pulled, and it made the arms and legs shoot out sideways.

One fallen twig with scalloped leaves shouted “Aspen” to me, but after looking around at all the Poplars, I suspect it was from the only other scallop-leaved tree, the Grey Poplar.

There were also signs of spring, with three trees showing off early catkins – Birch, Hazel and Italian Alder.


Italian Alder catkins (with next year’s chunky cones)

Most of the Alders were Italian, and they were nearly all heavily infested with Alder Beetle. The leaves had been chewed to lace by the grubs, and the lovely shiny blue-black adults, about the size of ladybirds, were loafing around, their work done!

As part of their campaign to save the park, the Friends have invited several artists to put up open-air works as part of the Liverpool Biennial Fringe. Most appear to have disappeared, but we saw The Goddess Trail by Alice Lenkiewicz.

We lunched as the picnic tables and watched a Buzzard circle overhead, a Kestrel hover and the Police helicopter search for malefactors in Litherland. A flash of blue near the hedge was a Dragonfly, possibly a Migrant Hawker. Around the corner, the Kestrel was sitting on a street lamp, with the breeze fluffing his feathers. He was a male, probably a young one, as he was perfectly relaxed despite us walking all around and pointing cameras and binoculars at him.

We headed towards the canal and turned southwards. At the base of a tree near the junction were some toadstool-type fungi. They had brown speckles all over the tops, and I think they might have been Shaggy Scalycap, which the book says are found at the bases of trees, and can easily be confused with Honey Fungus. That sounds right.

On the canal were just a couple of Coots and a few skulking Mallards. I left to cross the park from the nearest spot to my home in Crosby, while the others continued southwards on the towpath to Seaforth.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Seaforth and Litherland 10.40.

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FUNGAL FORAY DATE CHANGE

CHANGE OF DATE FOR FUNGAL FORAY

DUE TO STATION CLOSURES DURING THE GIANTS EVENT THE FUNGAL FORAY HAS NOW BEEN MOVED TO THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY – 14th OCTOBER

Sun 14th Oct Dibbinsdale

Type: Outdoor meeting

Where we are meeting: Meet 10.30 at Bromborough Rake station.

Cost: Free of charge.
Do I need to book? No, just turn up.
What do we expect to see? Fungi, woodland Birds

Guided or free to roam: Guided, leader Sabena Blackbird

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Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, 16th September 2018

Since it was Heritage Open Day, the Flaybrick Chapels were open to the public from 2pm, but we had the morning to mooch around the gardens. I have been studying the tree survey in the Conservation Management Plan (CMP) (see the link to it in the report of our previous visit on 8th July) and cross-checking it against two previous tree lists. There were some discrepancies I wanted to check.

From the bus stop we strolled through King George’s Way woods and Tam O’Shanter’s car park. Rain had been forecast, but we got a dull and cloudy day instead. Our first stop was the grave of Edward Kemp. He laid out Flaybrick Cemetery and many local parks, including many of our favourite Sunday Walk destinations. We have to regard him as our patron saint!

The tree plan in the CMP incorrectly identified several Deodar Cedars as Cedars of Lebanon, which we looked at, just to be sure. Yes, they are definitely Deodars. It also noted a Sawara Cypress in “shrubbery G44”, but that wasn’t marked on the map so we had to guess where it was. We rummaged in a likely place, but no obvious Cypresses. We had better luck with the tree said to be a “Weeping Large-Leaved Lime”. It’s a fine tree, but not obviously “weeping”. None of my tree books mention a weeping variety, either.

I’m still not sure about Large-leaved Limes. The books say that the fruits are “8-10mm” and “five-ribbed”, but I’ve never seen fruits like that. They all seem smaller and rounder, like the ones on this tree. Is it possible that we have a local variant in Merseyside, or is it hybridisation? They are very hard to definitely identify, anyway.

The CMP suggested that lots of the overgrown Hollies should be pruned, to let in more light. The volunteers have been heeding that advice, and we noted many severely-lopped Holly trunks, all sprouting exuberant new pink and white growth.

Two trees previously noted as Large-leaved Limes have recently been re-identified as American Limes or American Basswoods, Tilia americana. One is the National Champion for girth, and according to the Friends of Flaybrick Facebook page, was fitted with an official “Champion” nameplate several weeks ago. We went to see it, and hunted high and low on the trunk and through the low sprouts, but we couldn’t find it. Later a volunteer at the chapels told us that the label had been pinched, but another is on the way!

Our last tree before lunch was a huge Horse Chestnut, possibly an original Kemp planting, which has the disease “bleeding canker” and might drop large branches, making it a danger to passers-by. It is to be felled, which is sad, because it’s still a fine-looking tree.

We lunched on the picnic tables in Tam O’Shanter and then found a cluster of interesting trees we hadn’t noted before. At the back corner of Tam’s cottage, opposite the loos, some connoisseur has planted a Mulberry, a Gingko and a Contorted Hazel in the garden!  Since we still had some time before the chapels opened we went back into Flaybrick to pay our respects to the Exeter Elm, which has died in this summer’s drought. It had several claims to fame. It was a rare Elm variety which had survived Dutch Elm disease so was a tree of national significance, it was thought to be an original Kemp planting, and it was host to a colony of White-letter hairstreak butterflies until about 10 years ago. But now it’s bare, grey and dead.

But a dead tree is always an opportunity for something else. It has been claimed by a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which sat on the highest dead twig and watched us closely to make sure we were leaving!  Then we were distracted by a young Ash tree which looked a bit odd. The “keys” were a bit sparse, slim and pale, and there were only five leaflets on the leaves. It might have been just because it was a young tree, but I later found that the survey map identifies it as a Manna Ash. That’s quite gratifying, that we spotted something different about the Ash, even though we couldn’t say exactly what it was.

Our last rare tree was the Orange-berried Service Tree, which had me puzzling over my ID guides a couple of years ago. Now it has a tree label fixed to the trunk, saying it is Sorbus croceocarpa, a tree so rare it isn’t in any of my books. It is sometimes called the Orange Whitebeam and is thought to have been introduced from Southern Europe. Most of the British ones are in the North West of England, so I wonder if Kemp was responsible?

Then we had a look around the ruined chapels. The Friends had a display area, giving out their new leaflet and hoping for new members.

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Upton Road / Boundary Road at 10.28. Returned on the 437 bus from the opposite bus stop at Upton Road / Boundary Road at 3.17, arriving Liverpool 3.35.

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Hoylake, 26th August 2018

It was a wet, drizzly day as we trudged down Manor Road and Hoyle Road to the Lifeboat Station on North Parade, then along to the seafront shelter. There was a high tide due just after noon, which brings lots of waders close inshore. One advantage of the terrible weather was that there were no holidaymakers or noisy kids. We had it all to ourselves, apart from a couple of hard-core bird watchers with telescopes.

We settled into the shelter and just stayed there, watching the birds. To our initial dismay, a man with three dogs on leads walked out past the gulls, but he disturbed them only a little, merely making them walk aside nervously. When he was further out he let the dogs loose and they ran about and had fun, apparently not bothering any birds. Then the leads were re-attached and they all walked back. Although we were worried at first, it seems that the messages about not disturbing the birds are getting through to the locals. Well done that man! The birder with the top-notch telescope called out Grey Plovers on the distant tide line and later he reported Bar-tailed Godwits and a Whimbrel very far out, beyond our binocular range, but we were more interested in the little birds closer in. There were a surprising number of Pied Wagtails, all looking rather scruffy, and I suppose they were moulting.

Dunlin were scurrying about, many with their summer-plumage black bellies.

There were huge numbers of Ringed Plover, most with black beaks and pristine plumage, identifying them as this year’s young. They were feeding in the shallow mud by foot-waggling, like Egrets do, to disturb the sand and reveal things to eat.

We ate our lunch there, revelling in the wonderful views of these little birds, all just by the sea wall, and nearer than we have ever seen them. They didn’t appear to be a bit bothered that we were there in the shelter so long as we didn’t get up and walk about. They seemed to like that particular spot, bickering occasionally over the right puddle, perhaps because a little stream of clean rainwater came out onto the beach there.

The tide didn’t come right in, so the gulls congregated further out – Lesser and Greater Black-backs, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. Out by the rocks off the Lifeboat Station was a long line of  Oystercatchers.

There was group of over 100 Terns, nearly all Sandwich Terns with black beaks. Amongst them were two or three Common Terns, which I can now pick out on my photo, with shorter legs, blacker heads and red beaks. There’s one on the left of the tuft of Spartina grass, two birds back from the gull.

We’d been sitting too long, and getting cold. Two of us had put their gloves on! We took a turn around Parade Gardens, noting the Tamarisk hedge. Some of it was just starting to flower. I thought it was an early spring bloomer, but the books say late summer into autumn, so it was just getting going.

Then we headed back to the station up Deneshey Road. In this more sheltered spot there were interesting things in the gardens, including a False Acacia tree (Robinia), a Rowan with lots of red berries, a  purple Hibiscus and lots of fruits of the Japanese Rose Rosa rugosa.

Public transport details: West Kirby train from Central at 10.05, arriving Manor Road at 10.30. Returned from Manor Road Station at 13.38, arriving Central at 2.10.

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Arrowe Park, 19th August 2018

Arrowe Park was once a farm owned by a wealthy Liverpool ship-owner and slave trader called John Shaw. His nephew John Ralph Nicholson Shaw inherited the land in 1829 and set about building Arrowe Hall and a country estate. Arrowe Hall (now a Grade II listed mansion) and its park were acquired by Lord Leverhulme in 1908, who subsequently sold the estate to Birkenhead Corporation in 1926. On 1 April 1974, ownership was transferred from Birkenhead Corporation to the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral and is now a public park. The Hall is now a private care centre.

We went in by the main entrance and lodge and headed southwards. It was damp, overcast and blowy, but happily the promised rain never came. As the woods opened out towards the tennis courts we found two less-common oaks next to each other, a Red Oak Quercus rubra (left leaf below) and a Pin Oak Quercus palustris (right leaf below).

Underneath them were these lovely acorns, which I think belonged to the Pin Oak.

The old clay tennis courts are now neglected, and overgrown with Ragwort and Yarrow, but a few of the grass courts are still in use. Between the clay and grass courts was a line of molehills, and at the end a pair of interesting trees. I think they are some kind of uncommon Elm. The leaves appeared to be long compound leaves like Ash, but there were dark brown buds in every axil, so all the “leaflets” were separate leaves, arranged alternately. The leaves themselves were shiny dark green with serrated edges and twisted irregular bases, which is a characteristic of Elm leaves. They weren’t rough like Wych Elm and there were no seeds underneath to give us a clue. They were mature trees, not young ones planted since the English Elms all died in the 1980s. It’s hard to identify unfamiliar trees on first sight but my favourite candidate is Smooth-leaved Elm Ulmus carpinifolia, but I can’t rule out Siberian or Chinese Elms.

As we crossed the open field towards the Arrowe Brook two Mute Swans flew over, followed by about 20 Canada Geese. The field was streaked with carpets of bright yellow flowers, giving a buttercups-in-spring effect, but they were one of the dandelion-ish flowers, perhaps Common Hawkweed.  Maybe they have all flowered together, refreshed by last week’s rain after the drought.

The brook and lake had Canada Geese, moulting Mallards and one young Moorhen. We hoped for Mandarins but there was no sign of any, and we are always alert to the possibility of a Kingfisher along the Arrowe Brook too, but there were too many people about. There was a Robin on the bridge where the birdseed is always scattered.  Is that a one-legged Robin?

Back in the woods we heard some noisy screeching and wondered if Ring-necked Parakeets had colonised the park, but it was coming from a pair of Jays having an argument over something. Blackberries are ripening everywhere and we saw our first red Hawthorn berries.

We were on the look-out for the Cedar of Lebanon said to be near Arrowe Hall. One promising-looking level-branched tree on the far side of the lawn turned out to be a Deodar Cedar, identified by its long and uneven needles.

There was another candidate tree just past the hall, and yes! the needles were darker green and they were all of the same shorter length. Hooray!  It’s the only mature example of a Cedar of Lebanon I know on Merseyside, now that the one in Calderstones has died. People don’t seem to have planted them in the last 50 or more years, preferring Deodars. (And as a bonus, right next to it was a Blue Atlas Cedar, so if you want to compare and contrast a set of three true cedar species, this is the place!)

We returned via the derelict Ranger’s Office, now overgrown with Ivy and Buddleia, vandalised and starting to fall apart.

Its garden is being swamped by Bramble and Himalayan Balsam.

Towards the main gate we spotted a young Indian Bean tree, with a few hanging bean pods. So Wirral have been planting some trees since they took over the estate.




Public transport details
: Bus 472 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.13, arriving Woodchurch Road / Arrowe Park Road at 10.40. Returned on the 472 bus from Woodchurch Road / Church Lane at 2.13, arriving Liverpool at 2.36.

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Hen Harrier Day, Parkgate, 12th August 2018

Sunday was a national day of protest to mark the opening of the grouse-shooting season and the associated illegal killings of Hen Harriers. Our nearest event was at Parkgate. The tide was out, but the marsh was surprisingly green despite the recent drought. We spotted Swallows chirping overhead, a pair of Herons, and there was a report of over a dozen Greenshank, but we weren’t looking that hard. We did see this Little Egret, though.

We had an early lunch in the garden of St Thomas’s church, then set off to the Old Baths area for the event. The RSPB, Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) had small tents set up and there were about 200 people, including several MNA members, milling about, buying raffle tickets and waiting for the speakers.

They included Iolo Williams, Mark Avery (blogger and former RSPB  conservation director), Jeff Clarke, someone from Burton Mere reserve, whose name I didn’t catch, and several others.  Mark Avery’s blog has a photo, and claims attendance of 300, making it one of the best-attended events in the country.

There were also a couple of non-wildlife distractions today. One was the Lost Castles Project – six cardboard-box castles dotted around Merseyside, designed by the French artist Olivier Grossetête. I spotted the one in Bootle North Park on my way in, and here’s the one in Williamson Square. Apparently two others had already collapsed after being weakened by the rain – the ones in Ashton Park West Kirby and in Knowsley Safari Park. By the end of the day, this one in town had also collapsed.

Some chartered vintage buses were coming in and out of Parkgate Mostyn Square, an orange and green Crosville and this lovely old Wirral blue-and-cream double-decker, which is the livery I remember from my childhood days out.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving at Parkgate Mostyn Square at 11.25.  Most of us returned on the 487 at 1.30, but the keenest ones looked set to stay until the 3.30 bus.

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Reynolds Park, 5th August 2018

Yet another hot and sunny day, so we ambled slowly down Woolton Hill Road and Church Road, past the water tower on Reservoir Road. That’s the highest point in Liverpool at 292 feet (89 m).

On that corner is a pair of old township boundary markers or “mere stones”. They are of unknown date, but probably ancient, and are now very hard to read. They show Much Woolton on the left and Little Woolton on the right.

Reynolds Park in Woolton in south Liverpool was once the private 14-acre garden of the wealthy Liverpool cotton traders, the Reynolds family. The last owner gave it to the city in 1929 and it is now a very well-manicured little public park. There is a published tree trail, and we spotted many of their signposted trees as we went around – Common Walnut with lots of seeds, an elegant Black Walnut, some oaks and an Italian Alder. At the eastern end they have planted a wildflower meadow, and we noted Cornflower, Toadflax, Teasel, Ragwort, Corn Marigold, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Ragwort, Wild Carrot and a new one on me, Sneezewort, also known as Bachelor’s Buttons.


Cornflower


Sneezewort

Several butterflies were flitting about over the meadow, including some whites, a probable Common Blue and this lovely Small Copper on a Ragwort.

At the far eastern end are the splendid Queen’s Jubilee gates, installed in 2012 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of her reign.

Overhanging the Jubilee gates is a big old Poplar tree. Is that a rare native Black Poplar, or the more common hybrid?  In 18th century France the Black Poplar met the American Eastern Cottonwood, and now there are very few pure Black Poplars left. The hybrid is said to be taller and straighter than the native, and this tree was definitely low and spreading, suggesting a native. The other distinguishing feature is that the hybrid has no burrs on its trunk. Sadly, we didn’t look that closely, so we can’t be sure which it is.

We lunched in the magnificent Walled Garden, a sun-trap of roses, dahlias and a colourful herbaceous border. There are several notable trees here, including a Tulip Tree, a Chinese Dogwood, a huge Judas Tree by one of the gateways and a young Indian Bean. Outside, on the sunken lawn below the ha-ha there is a collection of specimen trees, including several Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua and a wilting Persian Ironwood Persica parrotia. It is known for its magnificent bronze autumn colour, but it’s hard to tell if this one is just suffering from the drought or starting to turn for the autumn.

There was a young Pin Oak Quercus palustris in an upright cage. The leaf is obviously oak-like, but deeply indented with points or pins at the ends of the lobes. I’ve never seen or heard of an upright or “fastigiate” variety, as this one appeared to be, and there are none mentioned in my tree books, so maybe this one will grow outwards as it matures.

The final tree tick for the day was an Antarctic Beech Nothofagus antarctica, with tiny leaves about an inch (2.5 cm) long and seed cases only a quarter of an inch (7 mm) across. It appears to have fruited well in this hot summer.

Then we walked down Church Road to Woolton Village for the bus. We often see hordes of “Beatle” tourists about in Woolton, but there were none today.

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Great Charlotte Street at 10.06, arriving Woolton Road / Rockbourne Road at 10.30. Returned from Woolton Village on the 75 at 2.05, arriving City Centre at 2.25.

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Southport, 29th July 2018

Well, that’s the heatwave broken, and it was pouring with rain. We had planned to go to Freshfield  but we stayed on the train to Southport, where there was a least some chance of shelter. The rain had reduced to a drizzle by the time we arrived at the southern arm of the Marine Lake. No exciting birds, just lots of fed-up-looking ones loafing on the edge – Mallards (including two tall black ones), Canada Geese, Herring Gulls, Black-backed gulls and Black-headed Gulls – and a large flotilla of Coots out in the middle. Over 50 Mute Swans were clustered and preening, so we recorded all the Darvic ring numbers we could see, all blue on the right leg: 4BUA, 4CHU, 4CSF, 4CLH, 4CSJ, 4CLI. They have been reported to the North West Swan Study.

We greeted a large party of Asian mothers (many in saris) who had brought their children on a day out from Birmingham. Not a good day for the seaside!  The Swan and Flamingo pleasure boats and the water bikes were moored and unwanted on the other side of the lake.

It started raining heavily again so we huddled in a shelter to eat our lunch. A Heron and two Swifts flew over. As the clouds started clearing from the south we crossed the Venetian Bridge and noted that one of the supporting islands had a few Greylag geese which were sitting amongst Ragwort and Burdock. One Moorhen bobbed about and a Swallow flew past. There were more Greylags around the Ocean Plaza retail park, a Dunnock, flocks of Starlings and one chirpy Pied Wagtail.

To our surprise, the tide was in. You don’t often see the sea at Southport!  The Spartina grass is spreading, and the beach might be a salt marsh soon.

The best birds were a small whirring flock of Dunlin. Then it started raining again, so we called it a day.

By the way, some of us had heard an item on Radio Merseyside in the week about the planting of a rare tree in Speke Hall, that the report called only “the dinosaur tree”, saying there were only 12 of them left in the world. I looked the news up, and it was about the Wollemi Pine. There are only 12 in the wild, but since they were discovered in Australia in 1994 they have been widely propagated world-wide. It’s still a pretty rare tree, though. Speke Hall’s website says it is in the “secret garden” through a tunnel off the North Lawn.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Southport 11.15. Some returned to Liverpool on the train but three of us got the X2 bus from Lord Street at 1.44, which got me home at about 2.45.

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Eastham, 22nd July 2018

Our bus took us past the Cammell Laird’s shipyard and from the top deck we got a good view of the new polar research vessel Sir David Attenborough being fitted out in the dry dock.  Eastham is on the west bank of the river Mersey, opposite Liverpool John Lennon airport. It was the site of the ancient first ferry, which ran until 1928. My mother remembered going to the pleasure gardens there. Since 1973 it has been a Country Park, with 100 acres of broadleaf woodland containing some of the largest mature trees in Merseyside, especially Oak, Beech and Sweet Chestnut. It also provides spectacular views across to Liverpool.

We walked alongside the Leverhulme Sports Ground but at the junction we didn’t go straight ahead to the Visitors’ Centre, as we usually do, but cut diagonally into the open field. We stopped to inspect the piles of wood chippings on the corner, hoping for fungi. There was a large ring of slim white gilled mushrooms on the top of one of the piles – they smelled like edible mushrooms but I bet they weren’t!  Our route then took us into the southern part of the woods, following a path which looped northwards alongside Ferry Road. Considering it’s only July, there were many interesting fungi popping out all through the woods, which I’d usually expect to see in more autumnnal months. The bracket fungus with the chestnut top and white underside is Artist’s Bracket Ganoderma applanatum, I think, and we also saw Chicken of the Woods Laetiporus sulphureus and what appeared to be a Stinkhorn Phallus impudicus, which a previous forager had pulled up and carefully laid on a stump.


Chicken of the Woods


Stinkhorn

We also noted an unusual rounded red one growing out of the roots of an oak tree. It didn’t have gills, but felt spongy underneath. I think it’s the Beefsteak or Ox Tongue fungus Fistulina hepatica, which is said to infect oak.

Other signs of autumn included the first red berries of Rowan trees on sunny roadsides, conkers growing on Horse Chestnut trees and ripening blackberries.

Although the heatwave goes on, today started cooler. It was shady in the woods, but when we came out into the open area to have lunch on the picnic tables, we felt the strength of the sunshine. On the river side of the car park there is a notable tree, a Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla. The leaves are rather Yew-like, but scattered randomly along the twigs and it has little woody cones rather like Alder. The new green cones of this year were also amongst them.

We popped into the Visitor’s Centre to check out the birds. They come to feeders, set out behind a big picture window in the back room. Today’s visitors were nearly all Great Tits, Blue Tits and a few Coal Tits, either fledglings or scruffy-looking adults. I was told there had been a Siskin but I missed it!  But if the birds were disappointing, we made up for it in butterflies. On the young oak scrub by a  dead tree stump overlooking the river we spotted two or three Purple Hairstreaks. This one sat obligingly to be photographed, but wouldn’t open its wings to show the dark purple upperwings.

We have talked about Purple Hairstreaks before, and sometimes gone to where they were reputed to be, but this is the first time most of us have ever seen one. A lifer! They seem to be increasing locally – just in the last few days I have seen reports of them newly colonising Ainsdale Dune Heath and the footpath between Little Crosby and Ince woods. Other butterflies seen today included Small White, Speckled Wood and a Comma by the gate into the industrial estate. When I arrived home my Buddleia was hosting a shy Gatekeeper and a magnificent “in-your-face” Peacock.

Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving New Chester Road / opp Woodyear Road at 10.50. Returned from New Chester Road / Allport Road (outside Christ the King RC church) at 2.35, arriving Liverpool 3.10.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Eastham, 22nd July 2018