Kirkby, 28th June 2015

It had rained in the night and was still heavily overcast when we set out, but apart from a few scattered spots of rain later, it was a warm and humid day. Before we got to Kirkby John took us on a detour to Orrell Park Station to see the display of flowers. Over 100 yards of bank on the Ormskirk-bound platform has been planted with both wild and garden flowers, and it looks fantastic.

25 Kirkby Orrell Park station

It’s the work of a group called the Orrell Park Regeneration Group, Station Volunteers, who have been working there since 2006. They were awarded a pair of third prizes in Network Rail’s “Best Station Garden” and “Best Station Adoption Group” competitions in 2011. The flowers we noted (amongst many others) were Feverfew, Campanula, Poppies, Oxeye daisies, Foxgloves, Marigolds, Fox-and-Cubs, Begonias, and the Greater Quaking-grass Briza maxima.

25 Kirkby quaking grass

Then we hopped back onto the bus and continued to Kirkby, first visiting the small woodland called Lime Tree Park. The understory was Nettles, Brambles, Dog Rose and Buttercups and the trees included Ash, Hawthorn, Field Maple, Beech, Rowan and Horse Chestnut – but no Lime trees anywhere to be seen. We heard the squawks of Magpies and saw a Blackbird on the verge as we arrived, but heard nothing else. Near the motorway bridge, on the corner of Burton’s Way, we saw a dead Pigeon, looking from the scatter of feathers to be a Sparrowhawk kill, although not much had been eaten. At the time I didn’t notice the red ring on its leg, but now I think it must have been someone’s prized racing pigeon.

25 Kirkby dead pigeon

Last year we were a bit too late for the best of the wildflower planting along Valley Road, and this year they have left it to its natural succession so it isn’t as eye-catching. There was lots of Corncockle, Poppies, Oxeye Daisy, Ragged Robin, a large pink Mallow that must have been a Musk Mallow, Self-heal, Meadow Sweet and Cornflower.

25 Kirkby cornflower

Amongst the flowers were some huge fresh Molehills. Top spots were a pair of Orchids amongst the Clover and a Bee Orchid in the Buttercups.

25 Kirkby orchids

25 Kirkby bee orchid

We lunched in St Chad’s gardens, spotting a Mistle Thrush, a Speckled Wood and a spotty young Blackbird on the lawn. We admired a very handsome young conifer with drooping tips to its branches. After struggling with the Larches in the tree book, I now realise it was a young Cedar of Lebanon, hard to identify because it hasn’t yet developed its characteristic shape with spreading horizontal branches. The pale green barrel-shaped upright cones, easily 4 inches tall (10cm) gives it away.

25 Kirkby cedar

25 Kirkby cedar cone

We had a quick look inside St Chad’s church, although there was a service going on. Their leaflet says their font is the oldest in Britain, perhaps Norman, possibly Saxon.

25 Kirkby font

The oldest gravestones were submerged in a lovely froth of wildflowers. One fallen stone had several broken snail shells and we wondered if it was a Thrush’s anvil. Millbrook Park lies behind the church, and has a Viking theme. The gate evokes a longship and the “Viking Bridge” seems to be made from broadswords.

25 Kirkby viking gate

25 Kirkby Viking bridge

A Heron flew over the wetland area, which was surrounded by masses of Meadow Cranesbill.

25 Kirkby Millbrook pond

25 Kirkby Meadow Cranesbill

We heard a Sedge Warbler and saw a pair of Coots feeding three noisy, peeping young ones. Other flowers included Flowering-rush, Yellow Flag Iris, Water Lily, Fringed Water Lily, and Marsh Woundwort.

25 Kirkby woundwort

There has been a lot of fuss in the local press about some public sculpture put up in Kirby, so we went to see them  The metal tree stump caused much controversy in February – see this Echo article. It’s intended to honour the oldest tree in Huyton, which was dying when it was cast in iron, and the words on the base of the sculpture describe some of the historical events it had “seen” in its 400+ years of life.

25 Kirkby metal tree

The other piece is called Edward’s Elephant, by GG Wood, B Fell and G Fell, and refers to a line by the nonsense poet Edward Lear (who has Knowsley connections) “The Enthusiastic Elephant who ferried himself across the water with the Kitchen Poker and a New pair of Ear-rings”. Notice that the boat is another Viking longship!

25 Kirkby Edwards Elephant

Public transport details: Bus 20 from Queen Square at 10.10, arriving Rice Lane / Wasdale Road at 10.35. After visiting Orrell Park Station we returned to the same stop and got the 21 bus at 11.05, arriving Valley Road / Aintree Lane at 11.15. Returned from Kirkby Civic Centre on the 21 bus at 2.08, arriving Liverpool at 2.55.

Here is the plan for the next few Sundays:
5th July, Gorse Hill Open Day – meet 10am Central Station
12th July, Victoria Park, Crosby – meet 10am Central Station
19th July, The Dream – meet 10am Lime Street Station
26th July, Royden Park – meet 10am Sir Thomas Street
2nd August, no walk – MNA coach trip.
9th August, Seaside Fun Day, Thurstaston – meet 9.50 Central Station (train 10.05)
16th August, Croxteth Hall Park – meet 10am Queen Square
23rd August, Trans-Pennine Trail 9, Broadway to Knotty Ash – meet 10am Queen Square
30th August, Ainsdale-Freshfield – meet 10am Central Station

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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Conwy Valley 20th / 21st June 2015

MNA Conwy Valley1

Spent a wonderful weekend at a wedding reception at Plas Maenan, a beautifully restored Edwardian mansion on a bluff 300 feet above the Conwy Valley. Managed to drag myself away from the champagne to have a wander around the grounds.

MNA Conwy Valley GS Woodpecker1

Coal Tits and Nuthatches were calling along with Great Spotted Woodpeckers and I came across one hunkered down in a crevice near the base of a Fir tree. It had a broken wing although could still manage to grip onto the trunk and hop around using its tail for support. A Red Kite glided over the valley and three vocal Buzzards mewed as they circled eye-level to the terrace. Later three Ravens croaked above the woods to the rear of the Country Mansion. Rabbits galore burrowing into the sloping lawn – I counted eighteen in the evening as well as couple of Grey Squirrels. I found a Red-legged Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes and Hoverflies feeding on a fragrant white flowered shrub included Eristalis sp. and Volucella pellucens.

MNA Conwy Valley Moth1

MNA Conwy Moth2

I found a friendly Moth – I’d be grateful if anyone can identify it as my wildlife guides are packed for an imminent house-move.

MNA Conwy Valley Roses1


MNA Conwy Gunnera


Plants included garden plants such as Gunnera sp. and Roses as well as Tutsan Hypericum androsaemum, Dog-rose Rosa canina, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Ground-ivy Glechoma hederacea, Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa, Foxglove Digitalis purpurea, Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys and English Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta that had gone to seed.

MNA Conwy Valley Tutsan1


MNA Conwy Valley Common Figwort1

Common Figwort

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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Childwall Woods and Fields, 21st June 2015

It was a breezy day, warm when the sun came out but cool and overcast in the woods.

24 Childwall woods

At the entrance to Childwall Woods there was a Lime tree with bright red nail galls starting to show. There used to be a tight pair of tall conifers on this corner, perhaps Lawson’s Cypresses, but one has been cut down, leaving the side of the other brown and dead. It may not fill in again. Where another stump used to be, there is now a Bramble thicket, being visited by a Bumble Bee, perhaps a worker Buff-tailed.

24 Childwall bee in bramble

Childwall Woods are mostly Beech and Sweet Chestnut, with an understory of Rhododendron and Holly. Below that are Nettles, Brambles and masses of Wood Avens. Some Wood Avens flowers were still out, but plenty of heads of hooked seeds were hanging out into the paths, “hoping” to catch onto something to aid dispersal. I wonder what they co-evolved with? Wolves? Deer?

24 Chlidwall wood avens seed head

A fallen branch of Sweet Chestnut had over 20 holes in it, roughly circular, about 1½ inches (4 cm) across and only about an inch (2.5 cm) deep. The dead tree it had fallen from had a few more. They clearly weren’t nest holes, because they were too shallow. We speculated that they were holes made by feeding Woodpeckers.

24 Childwall tree holes

Under one leaf we found the tiny spider and egg-case Theridion pallens which the MNA found at Delamere in August 2013. Many Rhododendron leaves looked quite black and sick, and on the undersides we found these odd beige-and-white blobs. It’s the Cushion Scale Insect Pulvinaria floccifera, which the Americans call Cottony Camellia Scale. The fawn bit is the female insect and the white bit is the fluffy egg case. We found it later on Holly, too, so it clearly likes evergreens. Here’s another account of it from the “Nature Notes from Argyll” blog, with some photographed in Kent in 2007.   It’s also described on the RHS website.

24 Childwall cushion scale insect

In a buttercup meadow near a tall Yew tree we spotted a Speckled Wood butterfly and this orchid. The leaves weren’t spotted, and we guessed Early Purple or Marsh, but we have no idea, really.

24 Childwall orchid in meadow

We had lunch in sunshine in the memorial garden at the far end of the graveyard of Childwall All Saints. A Greenfinch was calling and a young Robin was hopping about. There was a tall white Foxglove by the fence, and the Bird Cherry tree was coming into flower.

24 Childwall bird cherry

By the church we spotted the OS bench mark carved into the church wall, the Leper’s Squint and a lovely red Japanese Maple tree. In amongst the graves were large clumps of the wildflower Fox and Cubs.

24 Childwall fox and cubs

As we made our way back to the woods we noted a mass of Hop Trefoil along the north side of Childwall Abbey Road, beyond the pub. Back in the woods we heard a Chiffchaff and possibly also a Song Thrush. It was doing repeats in threes and fours, but wasn’t very melodious. Perhaps a young one practising? Through the cathedral-like avenues of big old Beeches we came out into Childwall Fields, hearing calls of Crow and Chaffinch. There were more orchids here. The pair had plain leaves, while the more pointy one was spotted.

24 Childwall orchid pair

24 Childwall orchid pointy

There was plenty of Hogweed, smelling of the pigsty, and a great view eastwards past the pedestrian bridge over the motorway. Three churches were in view. The dark tower was Huyton Church, the “spire on a tower” on the skyline was Prescot Church, but the plain spire on the left remains unidentified. (Added later – probably Roby St Bartholemew.) There were a dozen or more orchids in a buttercup patch further down the bank, but it was too steep for us to dare it. Back in the woods, we looked at the coppiced Hazel, but there is never any sign of nuts forming. I wonder why not? Before we went for the bus we had a quick walk through the Black Wood, with more Beech and Sweet Chestnut, Bramble and Wood Avens. All the Bramble in both woods was rather strange-looking, with narrow petals. The only decent flowers we’d seen all day had been in the sunny Bramble patch when we set out. Perhaps this is how they grow in deep shade?

24 Childwall bramble

A Bumble Bee was attempting to dig a hole under some shrubs, but gave up and walked off looking for softer ground.  The big old Beeches here may be reaching the end of their life. One had started to drop branches, and another had a group of bracket fungi high on the trunk. We couldn’t see the tops of them, but the undersides were very pale and smooth. Perhaps the Hoof Fungus?

24 Childwall beech bracket

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Liverpool ONE at 10.02 arriving  Woolton Road / Cabot Green at 10.30. Returned from Woolton Road / Opposite Cabot Green on the 75 bus at 2.50, arriving Liverpool City Centre 3.15.


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MNA Coach Trip Aber Falls 14th June 2015

MNA Aber Falls

After dropping off the half a dozen members to explore the National Trust’s Bodnant Gardens the remainder continued the short distance to the village of Abergwyngregyn and a walk to Aber Falls . The Aber Valley is geologically rich with exposures of Ordovician and Cambrian rocks. The waterfall (Rhaeadr Fawr in Welsh) is formed as the Afon Goch plunges about 120 feet over a sill of igneous rock called Granophyre in the foothills of the Carneddau range.

MNA Aber Falls Red Valerian

Red Valerian

We walked up through the picturesque village with stone and slate built cottages and gardens containing some unusual architectural plants such as Gunnera sp. as well as native species adorning the verges – Welsh Poppy Meconopsis cambrica, Yellow Corydalis Pseudofumaria lutea, Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes, Wall-rue Asplenium ruta-muraria, Navelwort Umbilicus rupestris, Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre, Tutsan Hypericum androsaemum, Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa, Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis, Wood Avens Geum urbanum, Foxglove Digitalis purpurea, Red Valerian Centranthus ruber, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica and Ramsons Allium ursinum.

MNA Aber Falls Yellow-tail Moth1

Yellow-tail Moth caterpillar

We spotted a hairy caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth Euproctis similis the adults sport silky white wings and a white body with a yellow anal tuft. I also saw a Red-headed Cardinal Beetle Pyrochroa serraticornis.

We stopped at Bont Newydd bridge, a magnificent stone bridge that crosses the Afon Rhaedr Fawr and watched as a pair of Grey Wagtails were feeding in the pebbles adjoining the River then flew up and entered a crack in the stones on the bridge where judging by their beakfuls of food they must have a growing brood of chicks. Les Hale spotted a Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum visiting Honeysuckle Lonicera sp. in a garden beside the bridge. Map Lichen Rhizocarpon geographicum that favours mountainous areas of low air pollution was covering the bridge stone work and Shining Crane’s-bill Geranium lucidum and Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum were growing from any cracks.

A Wood Warbler gave a brief trill of song from close to the car park and Yellow Pimpernel Lysimachia nemorum and Ground-ivy Glechoma hederacea were noted. From here the track continued up the valley through Coedydd Aber National Nature Reserve consisting of oak and coniferous woodland and open grassland. Plenty of bird activity with Woodpigeon, Cuckoo, Common Redstart, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Eurasian Jay and Chaffinch. Dave B and co watched a Pied Flycatcher beside one of the excavated roundhouses of the small Bronze Age settlement. Ron Crossley and co had six Buzzards circling above the falls.

There were a few Knotting Galls on Male-fern Dryopteris filix-mas fronds caused by the Dipteron Gall Fly Chirosia betuleti and a number of members noted the Nettle Rust Puccinia urticata on Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica.

MNA Aber Falls Orchid Beetle1

Orchid Beetle

MNA Aber Falls Longhorn Beetle1

Two-banded Longhorn Beetle

I mooched around the vegetation finding a Longhorn Micro Moth Nemophora degeerella 30+ Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis 1, Two-banded Longhorn Beetle Rhagium bifasciatum 1, Orchid Beetle Dascillus cervinus 8+, Common Red Soldier Beetle Rhagonycha fulva 1, Soldier Beetle Cantharis nigra 12+, Green Dock Beetle Gastrophysa viridula 20+ Garden Chafer Phyllopertha horticola 20+ Weevil Phyllobius sp. 4+

MNA Aber Falls Garden Chafer1

Garden Chafer

MNA Aber Falls Robber Fly1

Slender-footed Robberfly

Common Red-legged Robberfly Dioctria rufipes 4+, Slender-footed Robberfly Leptarthrus brevirostris 1, Scorpion Fly Panorpa communis 2, Nursery Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis 1 and Wolf Spider 6+ females carrying egg sacs.

Other plants noted included Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris, Climbing Corydalis Ceratocapnos claviculata, Sessile Oak Quercus petraea, Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea, Hybrid Campion Silene latifolia x dioica = S. x hampeana, Red Campion Silene dioica, Broad-leaved Dock Rumex obtusifolius, Tormentil Potentilla erecta, Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca, Broad-leaved Willowherb Epilobium montanum, Wood-sorrel Oxalis acetosella, Pignut Conopodium majus, Hemlock Water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata, Wood Forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica, Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus, Foxglove Digitalis purpurea, Wood Speedwell Veronica montana, Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile, Cleavers Galium aparine, Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre, Daisy Bellis perennis, English Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis.

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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Bodnant Gardens 14th June 2015

This was a dual-destination MNA coach trip, and six of us softies were dropped off at Bodnant, then the coach carried on with the hardier souls to Aber Falls. As naturalists, we were not particularly interested in Bodnant’s exotic garden plants, so we mostly concentrated on the trees, although the planting is marvellous and the setting is wonderful.

23 Bodnant view

In contrast to bird reserves, where you get a chalkboard of the best birds seen in the last few days, they have “Head Gardener’s Notes”. The Davidia tree (Dove Tree or Handkerchief Tree) was said to be out, but regrettably, we didn’t spot it.

23 Bodnant Head gardeners notes

The Laburnum arch was, however, flowering in glory.

23 Bodnant Laburnum

On the top lawn there’s a huge Monterey Pine Pinus radiata, a Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipfera and a massive straight-boled Common Beech Fagus sylvatica. On the far side we spotted a Blackbird and there was a pair of Buzzards against the clouds. Then we examined a Paper-bark Maple Acer griseum and a bent and twisted Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa, said to be over 200 years old and carrying a sign begging children not to climb or swing on the low branches. The bark was a marvellous twisted network of ridges.

23 Bodnant Sweet Chestnut

23 Bodnant Sweet Chestnut bark

On the Lily Terrace are specimen trees of Blue Atlas Cedar Cedrus atlantica “Glauca” and Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani, sadly damaged in a storm some years ago.

23 Bodnant Blue Atlas Cedar
Blue Atlas Cedar

23 Bodnant Cedar of Lebanon
Cedar of Lebanon

The long pond by the Pin Mill had delicately placed, perfect water lilies at each end, and also Water Boatmen and Whirligig Beetles. There was a Song Thrush in the shrubbery and a roped-off edge had a sign saying it contained wildflower seedlings. “See our exciting new planting scheme next year”.  Don’t tell me they are going to plant out some wild flowers!

Our next interesting tree was a Magnolia accuminata, the Cucumber Tree. The flowers aren’t very spectacular, but in early autumn it bears erect, shocking-pink “cucumbers”.

23 Bodnant Cucumber tree

Another part of the shrubbery had three or four big fungal fruiting bodies, not long emerged and not yet fully spread out. Although we didn’t notice a ring on the stem (stipe), which there ought to have been, the stipe did have the scaly “snakeskin” pattern which makes me think this was the Parasol, Macrolepiota procera. It was a bit early for it (it’s not supposed to be out until July) but everything else matches.

23 Bodnant Parasol

We lunched in the Dell, where there was a Red Admiral, a Mute Swan on the water and John saw a Raven flying over. Someone had found the empty skin of a Dragonfly nymph at the edge of the river. A volunteer guide, who wasn’t a naturalist of course, was exclaiming on its size and suggesting it was an Emperor. Out came the FSC guide, and we concluded it was something broad-bodied, possibly a Broad-bodied Chaser. Notice the white threads on its back, which are on several other photos of shed skins which I looked up. They must be part of the emergence process.

23 Bodnant dragonfly skin

Amongst the Hostas was a very weird flower spike, labelled Arisaema victoriae. It’s a rare Chinese Arum which is IUCN Red-listed. What an alien monster it is!

23 Bodnant rare Arum

Along the bottom of the Dell is the Redwood collection. One is a California Redwood Sequoia sempervirens, planted in 1886 and which is now 129 years old. It is the tallest in Britain, last measured at 49 meters, 160 feet 9 inches.

23 Bodnant Champion California Redwood

They also have Giant Redwood Sequoiadendron gigantea, Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron gigantea “Pendulum” and Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides, one of which is the golden variant “Goldrush”, which we have also seen in Chester Cathedral cloister garden. One Giant Redwood had a sign asking people not to touch the bark “to prevent further damage” and there was a bee nest high up in a hole in the soft bark. It might be on its way out.

At the Waterfall Bridge there were Red-tailed Damselflies in their mating dance. John and Frances saw a mammal swimming under the water to the far bank and then it disappeared. It was about eighteen inches long including the tail, dark brown, almost black, with white feet. Was it a Polecat? Or a feral ferret? They thought it probably wasn’t an Otter (too small) or a Stoat (wrong colour).

As we climbed up the opposite bank of the Dell on the way to the “Poem” (the Mausoleum) we spotted a Treecreeper and one of the only really wild flowers of the day, Wall Pennywort Umbilicus rupestris.

23 Bodnant Wall Pennywort

In the Shrub Borders there was a spotty young Blackbird which dived out of sight into the undergrowth, a Chiffchaff calling, a Speckled Wood and two Blue butterflies over the grassland and a cheeky Robin. The Robin at the Dell had been pretty tame too, so it looks like they are indulged here.

23 Bodnant Robin

From high on the north side of the Dell we looked back over the giant trees in the sunshine on the south side. For scale, notice the very small people at the path junction at the bottom right.

23 Bodnant Valley of Giants

We looked at a pretty young Judas Tree Cersis siliquastrum “Bodnant”, planted in honour of Lord Aberconway of the resident family, who died in 2003.

23 Bodnant Judas Tree flower

What about this! A Chilean Fire Bush Embothrium coccineum.

23 Bodnant Chilean Firebush

One tree was labelled Tetradium danielliae, which is a very rare tree from China and Korea, with no English common name. Its leaves were like Ash leaves, and it has white flowers. The one at Bodnant wasn’t flowering, sadly, and it looked a bit hidden and overshadowed. There were two species of Sweet Gum, the more common Liquidambar styraciflua, and the rarer Oriental Sweet Gum Liquidambar orientalis. Both had leaves which gave off an aromatic smell when crushed.

23 Bodnant Oriental Sweet Gum
Oriental Sweet Gum

23 Bodnant Oriental Sweet Gum foliage
Oriental Sweet Gum foliage.

Nearby was a Smooth Japanese Maple Acer palmatum “Atropurpureum”, whose leaves look very similar to the Sweet Gums, but have no smell. The young seeds are obviously Acer/Sycamore type, too.

23 Bodnant Smooth Japanese maple
We couldn’t avoid all the “garden” plants, and we admired this Kousa Dogwood Cornus kousa, which is native to Japan and Korea.

23 Bodnant Dogwood

Our last bird was a briefly-spotted Bullfinch, and then we gave ourselves up to tea, cakes and shopping!

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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Victoria Park Widnes, 7th June 2015

22 Widnes lake view

At last, a sunny day, but it’s still not as warm as it should be. Victoria Park is just down the road from Widnes station, with a small lake and a fountain. There was a big group of juvenile Herring Gulls in a gang on the on the banks of the lake, perhaps last year’s chicks, with no adults to be seen. On the lake were Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls, Moorhens and Coots. The male Mallards are just starting to moult. A Mute Swan was showing off three very cute cygnets, and her nest was in the reedbed at the eastern end of the lake, with last-year’s juvenile still hanging around.

22 Widnes Mute Swan cygnets

The park has a Green Flag, and is well-stocked with visitor amenities – a children’s play area and swings, an ice cream parlour, a bandstand, a Café, exercise machines dotted about, a skateboard park, where two lads were swooping skilfully on small scooters and a climbing boulder, for which you would need very long legs. (Yes, one or two of us tried it – but not me!)

22 Widnes climbing boulder

The greenhouses near the southern end are supposed to be open to the public and one is said to specialise in butterflies. Sadly, they weren’t open. We met a ranger who said they are having some work done, but he will ring us when they are open again. There was a Mistle Thrush on the lawn, and the imposing War Memorial has ornamental trees at two corners, which were Weeping Beeches, most appropriate.

22 Widnes war memorial

Also sited here is an old milepost bearing the scars of a WWI Zeppelin raid. The informative sign says “Zeppelin Bomb Damage: This was the fifth milestone standing beside the A57 Prescot to Warrington Road at Bold on 12th April 1916, when five German Naval Zeppelins made the last effective airship raid on England. Zeppelin L61 from Wittmundhaven, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Ehrlich with a crew of 19, crossed our coast at Withernsea and flew almost to Crewe before turning north and crossing the Mersey at 18,000 feet above Halton. At 11.17 pm the first of its bombs fell, damaging the milestone, the road surface, a water main and doing some minor damage to adjacent property. There were no casualties here. A second bomb dropped three minutes later made a crater seven feet deep and fifteen feet across in a field at Abbots Hall Farm, Bold. The Zeppelin went on to bomb Ince and Wigan before returning safely to her base. The night was dark and overcast, added to which the effectiveness of the official blackout prevented accurate navigation, so that the airship commander reported in his log that he had bombed Sheffield. The light from blast furnaces of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company, which had received no air raid warning, attracted L61. Seven people were killed and twelve wounded at Wigan, and a further four injured at Aspull. The milestone was kept for many years in Victoria Park at Widnes as a reminder of the second of the only two Zeppelin raids in Lancashire

22 Widnes milepost

We lunched at the southernmost end of the park, near Appleton Village. A small apple tree in the centre of the circular lawn had patches of white fluff on the bark, which appeared to be caused by the Woolly Apple Aphid Eriosoma lanigerum, also known as American Blight.

22 Widnes bark fluff

22 Widnes wooly apple aphid

The tree expert Alan Mitchell, who hates Red Horse Chestnut, also has an aversion to Copper Beeches, complaining that they disfigure our landscape and are grossly overplanted. He does, however, relent a little for the “superior dark red form” of the cultivar “Rivers Purple”. The one in the park was a very dark and handsome tree, so it may be of that better type.

22 Widnes copper beech

The western edge of the park has a wildlife area and woodland walk. There was a thick carpet of  Daisies as we entered the shady area, and alongside the path were Forget-me-nots, Buttercups, Wood Avens, Red Campion and Elder just coming into flower. There were Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and a Blackbird, and a several Grey Squirrels. One bench had a lovely carving of a sleeping squirrel.

22 Widnes sleeping squirrel

High in the trees were bird- and bat-boxes, one with its entrance hole roughly damaged, possibly by a Woodpecker.  In the sunnier areas we noted a Speckled Wood butterfly, a White-tailed Bumble Bee on the Rhododendron and Field Maple and Hornbeam in the hedge. Last time we were here I was impressed to see a Bat hibernaculum made of paving setts. There used to be a sign up about it, but that’s gone, and the top of the structure is damaged and open, allowing litter to accumulate, like a plastic spoon and a bottle top. It doesn’t seem to be considered viable any more.

22 Widnes bat hibernaculum

We were in time for a Brass Band concert by Mereside Brass, who were very good, with an interesting repertoire, a change from the usual brass band fare of military marches. They played The Pink Panther, Georgia on my Mind, Spartacus (the theme from Howard’s Way), Cruella de Vil, Game of Thrones theme, Niebelungen March.

At Widnes Station on the way home we looked for the plaque saying that Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound on the platform while waiting for the early-morning train back to London. It wasn’t there, but we saw a couple of places with empty screw-holes where it could have been. Has someone nicked it?  There is a picture of it on this Wikipedia page.

Public transport details: 10.26 train from Lime Street Station towards Manchester, arriving Widnes 10.55. (There’s a fare of £1.30 to pay for going one stop outside the Merseytravel area.) Returned from Widnes station on the 14.17 train, arriving Lime Street 14.50


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Great Crested Grebes at Carr Mill Dam

John Clegg took some pictures of Great Crested Grebes nesting at Carr Mill Dam in early May.

201505 Grebes and nest

201505 Grebe and eggs

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Trans-Pennine Trail, Rice Lane to Broadway, and Walton Hall Park, 31st May 2015

21 TPT8 Fingerpost

The last day of May started out overcast, cool and windy, with occasional drizzly showers. So much for spring! We crossed Rice Lane Recreation Ground and rejoined the Trans-Pennine Trail on the far side, close to the old chimney of Hartley’s Village. A Blackbird and some Magpies were foraging on the grass, the Bramble was just budding, and flowers included Buttercups, Cow Parsley, Lupins, early Elder blossom and Comfrey.

21 TPT8 Comfrey

We turned off the trail after just a quarter of a mile and threaded through Rosedale Close, Lavender Way and Freesia Avenue to the green space leading into Walton Hall Park. There were Wood Pigeons on the grass and a Robin by the allotments. At the north end of the fishing lake some adult Canada Geese were sheltering a large huddle of goslings against the cold wind.

21 TPT8 Canada huddle

On the grass nearby was the stripped skeleton of a large bird, probably a Canada Goose. Something had killed and eaten it, right down to the bone, but hadn’t carried it off to a den or lair. A  fox might have taken its kill away, unless it was too big, so was the killer a domestic dog? The carcase wasn’t rotten or smelly, so the bird had probably been killed the night before. As we walked away, an otherwise well-behaved pet dog came by and sniffed at it, then started to roll in ecstasy, covering itself in the smell of the corpse.

21 TPT8 stripped skeleton

Despite the cold, gusty breeze Swallows were swooping low over the water. We thought it must have been very hard for them to catch anything in that wind, but perhaps they were catching newly-emerged insects near the surface of the water. There were several families of young Coots about, and also a Pied Wagtail. On the larger lake, still called the Boating Lake on modern maps, we were intrigued by three geese keeping company with each other. One was a Canada Goose, another was a Greylag, but the middle one looked like a hybrid of the two, with grey and white “Canada” markings on its head. Was this an “odd couple” family?

21 TPT8 Odd goose family

A Chaffinch was calling, and a single Moorhen swam off nervously. A Mallard mother had six ducklings. We looked for the Great Crested Grebes without success. There was definitely one on guard a week or two ago, and we could see where the nest had been, but there was no sign of any adults or baby Grebes. The sun came out at lunchtime, thankfully, and as we made our way back out of the park, the chilly huddle of Canada goslings had unpacked, revealing a crèche of 24 youngsters, with four adults guarding them.

21 TPT8 Canada creche

A lovely pink Hawthorn was coming out. The flowers are always “double”, so does that mean that  pink Hawthorn trees are hybrids of single-flowered native white and ornamental red?

21 TPT8 Pink Hawthorn

Another flowering tree was a Red Horse Chestnut. Mitchell describes the tree as “a fertile true-breeding hybrid” between Aesculus hippocastanum (the European Horse Chestnut) and Aesculus pavia (the American Red Buckeye). “All too commonly planted in parks, gardens, avenues and streets and as a commemorative tree. An inherently dull, dark tree of poor crown, foliage and flowers, and fruit of no interest. It grows slowly and suffers from a canker disease so is, fortunately, not long-lived.” Despite Mitchell’s distaste, the tree we saw looked in fine fettle. I wonder if it was the variant “Briotti”, said to be “a definite improvement on the type and of better health”. The flowers are described as brighter red, with ruby-red peduncle (stalk) and a white style. I think that’s the one we saw.

21 TPT8 Red horse chestnut

Rather than returning by the same route to the Trans-Pennine Trail we walked in the sunshine along the eastern edge of the park, listening to the House Sparrows chirruping in the hedge. We passed the funfair and rejoined the trail at the dip at Blackthorne Road / Walton Hall Avenue.

21 TPT8 Path and Cow Parsley

The path was lined with huge masses of Cow Parsley, and we also noted the Japanese Rose, Rosa rugosa, which might be invasive on the dunes, but provides a splash of colour in the hedges along the trail.

21 TPT8 Japanese rose

On this eighth section of the Trans-Pennine Trail we walked a further 1½  miles of it, taking us to 18½ miles from Southport.

Public transport details: Bus 20 at 10.09 from Queen Square, arriving near Rice Lane station at 10.30. Returned from Townsend Avenue / Broadway on the 14 bus at 2.00, arriving Queen Square at 2.40.

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Coed Llangwyfan 21st May 2015

Richard Surman, Ron Crossley, DaveB and I headed over to Coed Llangwyfan, a broad-leaved and coniferous woodland below the Iron Age hillfort on Pen-y-Cloddiau in the Clwydian Range AONB.

A cool start as we parked up with Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren, Blackbird and Chaffinch in song and a Raven croaking further along the valley. A few common plants with Gorse Ulex europaeus, Wood Forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica, Red Campion Silene dioica and Daisy Bellis perennis. The trail took us up through a stand of Scot’s Pine noting Blue and Long-tailed Tits and our first Redstart of the day calling from one of the smaller deciduous trees towards the rear of the Pines.

A brief Geology interlude raking through the mound of Ordovician Siltstone weathered from an exposed outcrop. Some interesting egg-shaped and spheroidal iron-rich areas had formed within the beds. Unfortunately no fossil Graptolites though.

MNA Siltstone Iron Sphere1

A Siskin perched briefly on one of the Pines, A Whitethroat sung from a scrubby Gorse bush and a male Bullfinch flew ahead of us as an escort out of his patch. Pheasant, Robin and Linnets were added to the list along with Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys and Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis.

MNA Coed Llangwyfan Outcrop1

Silurian sediment outcrop

We headed out on the moorland passing outcrops of crumpled Silurian sediments. We found a number of delicate flowers of Wood-sorrel Oxalis acetosella looking rather incongruous amongst the Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus, Tormentil Potentilla erecta and mosses. It is considered an ancient woodland indicator – a possible clue to the area’s ancient habitat. A few murky bog pools had Floating Sweet-grass Glyceria fluitans with one home to a few Pond Skaters Gerris sp.

MNA Coed Llanwyfan Bog Pool

A Cuckoo shot across looking rather raptor-like being chased by half a dozen Meadow Pipits. Mepits were in great numbers over the moor along with Skylark, a few Wheatears, Mistle Thrush and Yellowhammer. Our ‘Corpse Of The Day’ was the remains of a lamb – skull missing. With spots of rain in the air we crossed the earthen mound defences of Pen-y-Cloddiau (Welsh for “hill of the trenches”). This is the second largest hillfort in Wales and the ramparts enclose an area more than a half-mile long.

MNA Penycloddiau Burial Mound1

Burial Mound

We continued along to the Bronze Age burial mound at the north end of the fort that was restored in 2010 where half a dozen Swifts were circling overhead and a Hoverfly later identified as Sericomyia lappona was resting on a stone. The larvae of which are of the ‘long-tailed’, aquatic type and are associated with peaty pools and boggy stream-sides in moorland.

MNA Coed Llangwyfan Hoverfly1

Hoverfly Sericomyia lappona

We began our descent noting a couple of Carrion Crows chasing a Buzzard close to a ramshackle farm with rusting vehicles piled outside the outbuildings. St. Mark’s Flies Bibio marci were on the wing legs dangling beneath them and a Garden Tiger Arctia caja caterpillar was spotted beside the path. A group of kids on their D of E sped past us carrying large rucksacks.

We stopped for lunch beneath a large Ash tree that was just coming into leaf. An idyllic spot with a Raven flying by, Swallows circling overhead, another Redstart giving brief snatches of song, Song Thrush belting out its repetitive notes, a Yellowhammer asking for its lunch of bread and no cheese and tinkling Linnets.

I spotted a pair of mating Soldier Beetles that were quite distinctive being all black, except for the edges of the neck shield which are red or orange. There are two identical species around fitting this description, which can only be told apart by examining their genitals: Cantharis obscura and Cantharis paradoxa.

MNA Coed Llangwyfan Bonking Soldier Beetles1

Mating Soldier Beetles

With the sun now peeking through the clouds we continued along the track which gave wide views across the Vale of Clwyd. A Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus flitted by, a Cuckoo called, another couple of Redstart sang but remained hidden, a pair of Stonechat perched obligingly on fence posts and thoughts of India flooded back as a Peacock called.

MNA Coed Llangwyfan Common Vetch1

Common Vetch

A few more plants were noted with Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana, Thyme-leaved Speedwell Veronica serpyllifolia and Common Vetch Vicia sativa.

MNA Vale Of Clwyd

Vale Of Clywd

A few Jackdaw joined a clamour of Rooks sporting this Spring’s latest look of black feather trousers. At a small deciduous copse Richard had a brief glimpse of a Redstart, a Great-spotted Woodpecker briefly drummed; Wren, Willow Warbler and Great Tit were in song. I continued and had a couple of Ravens overhead, a hovering Kestrel and two Red-legged Partridge which shot up from an adjacent field and flew off low to the ground.

As the habitat became more wooded we added a few more sightings with Blackcap and Garden Warbler in song, Noonday Fly Mesembrina meridiana, Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria, Hoverfly Heliophilus pendulus, Hoverfly Rhingia campestris on Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum and Cranefly Tipula sp.

Continuing along on the edge of a coniferous plantation there was the ubiquitous Coal Tits also Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea, Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria, English Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta the odd Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica, Hart’s-tongue Phyllitis scolopendrium, Broad Buckler-fern Dryopteris dilatata, Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis and Holly Ilex aquifolium.

We stopped at the base of the hill admiring three flitting Orange Tips Anthocharis cardamines before the final climb back to the car park. A Damselfly flitted overhead and landed – despite quickly changing to macro lens it flew off again high into the trees. Absolutely gutted! it was a teneral male Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo a stunning sight. A Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae was sunning itself on the path and a day-flying Moth hunkered down in the grass. All too soon we were heading back to civilisation.

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.

A wide photographic selection of birds, marine life, insects, mammals, orchids & wildflowers, fungi, tribal people, travel, ethnography, fossils, hominids, rocks & minerals etc. is available on my Alamy webpage

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Leasowe, 17th May 2015

20 Leasowe lighthouse
It was a blow-your-hat-off sort of day, and some of the group put on scarves and gloves, even though it was mid-May. From Moreton Station we walked north along Pasture Road and turned into the North Wirral Coastal Park and along the Birket. The banks were lined with white Cow Parsley and yellow  Rape, while the path edges had Garlic Mustard, Green Alkanet, Buttercups, Ribwort Plantain, Alexanders, loads of Goose Grass and the pink flowers of Honesty.

20 Leasowe Honesty

There were lots of Robins and Starlings about and a Whitethroat was skulking in the verge. There was a Mallard on the Birket, a Skylark and Swallows overhead, a Blue Tit flitting about, and we heard a Sedge Warbler. We could also hear something making short churring noises in the grass, not too far off. Despite the jokes about a Corncrake, nothing flew up when John walked that way. Was it a frog or toad? I have since checked the sounds of Common Frog, Common Toad and Natterjack, but it wasn’t any of them. It must have been an insect.

20 Leasowe coastal park sign

High in a tree a Crow was on its nest, standing still for a long time, with something white and fluffy at its feet. Did it have a newly-hatched chick and was it guarding it?

20 Leasowe crows nest

The Wych elms near the Lighthouse had bunches of young immature fruits, while the Sycamores had their flowers out, in the type of pendulous groups called panicles.

20 Leasower Sycamore flower

In the lanes west of the Lighthouse we were looking for a Turtle Dove, which had been seen here in the last few days. There were a few birders scouting about for it, including the fellow who first saw it, but there was no sign today. A local also told us there had been a Little Owl nearby but a fox got it. We had to be content with a Blackbird, two Greenfinches on the wires, Canada Geese in a field, a Mistle Thrush and three Wood Pigeons on the ground, and a Collared Dove. One area of verge appeared to have been recently cleared of Japanese Knotweed, but new shoots were poking through.

20 Leasowe Knotweed

At Lingham Farm we looked at their raised pond / fountain, which was full of huge goldfish. Some of them were well over a foot long, and there were perhaps 30 or even 50 of them. They have a thriving colony of House Sparrow here too.

20 Sparrow

We lunched by the Nature Pond, which had Coots with chicks and some Mallards. A small bird flitted quickly across a gap in the reeds, which was probably a Sedge Warbler, although we never could quite see it. A Kestrel was hanging on the wind above and a Pheasant called. By the sides of the path along the horse fields, there were hundreds of Dandelion clocks, some perfect, even in the stiff breeze, while others blew away as we brushed against them. How do the yellow petals change into the white parachutes? Is it metamorphosis like the way a caterpillar turns into a butterfly? Some of the closed ones had yellow petal tips, while others had the white fluff showing.  This YouTube time-lapse of a dandelion clock forming shows that the petals don’t turn into the parachutes at all, the parachutes grow up from below while the flower is closed.

20 Leasowe dandelion heads

Near the river we noted Kidney Vetch, robust Spanish Bluebells with blue anthers, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and large clumps of Alexanders.

20 Leasowe Alexanders

The tide was in and we could see the three Hilbre Islands. A Shelduck flew past, low over the water. There were Linnets on the grass and Cormorants standing on posts. On a small sandbank a Greater Black-backed Gull and a Lesser were waiting for the tide to turn. We turned back towards the Lighthouse, noting a Heron over the Nature Pond, a Carder bee on some Green Alkanet and the lovely lilac anthers on freshly-blooming Hawthorn.

20 Leasowe may blossom

Public transport details: The West Kirby train at 10.05 from Central Station, arriving Moreton at 10.25. Returned from Moreton station on the 2.12 train, arriving Liverpool Central at 2.35

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