Port Sunlight River Park, 13th August 2017

On the way from the bus, at the corner of Woodhead Road and Bolton Road East we stopped to look at a Snow Gum (a Eucalyptus tree) and a Contorted Willow, both  interesting choices for a suburban garden. One of the very new houses on Dock Road North had an empty House Martin’s nest tucked into the apex of the pediment, showing that they don’t need old houses to breed on. In the park the path edges were a profusion of flowers, with Fleabane, a long-flowered Mint (Apple Mint?), Tansy, Common Knapweed, Michaelmas Daisy, Ribbed Melilot, Wild Carrot, Teasel, the second flush of Bramble flowers,  Yarrow, Common Toadflax, Black Medick, Mugwort and Fennel.


Common Knapweed

Ribbed Melilot

Black Medick


One tree, which was definitely an Alder, had unusual rich brown bark with pale markings. It wasn’t a rare variant (our first thought) because now I see that Mitchell says young trees have purplish-brown bark, and the Collins tree guide mentions “pale horizontal lenticels”.

Autumn is coming on apace, with ripening Blackberries, red Rowan and Hawthorn berries, heads of Elderberries and the seeds of Creeping Thistle (Thistledown?)

The River Park was celebrating its third anniversary with a Birthday Party picnic. To encourage children to walk around and notice things, the Friends had put up a series of numbered signs, with easy questions (ludicrously so for adults) placed right in front of the plants with the answers.

John had spotted both Swallows and Swifts overhead. A young Warbler was hunkered down in an Elder, showing its white eye stripe but otherwise unidentifiable. There was a Cormorant perching on something in the river, and on the pond were Canada Geese, Mallards, a Mute Swan, a Little Grebe, Redshank, Teal and a few Black-tailed Godwits who appeared to be just flying in from their breeding season further north.

Butterflies were about in the sunshine, including Gatekeeper, Large White, Meadow Brown, Green-veined White and this rather worn female Common Blue.

Cheshire, Halton, Warrington and Wirral RECORD had a stall around the back. We checked some of the finer points of plant ID with them (Hop Trefoil or Black Medick? Which Melilot?) and we were able to add several things to their daily list.

It was sunny and dry, a great day for their picnic. Stalls included the RSPB, Merseyside and West Lancs Bat Group, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Chester Zoo, the Soroptomists, face painting, kids painting model animals, and a cake stall. The local bee keepers had a demonstration comb in a glass case, with the Queen Bee marked with a yellow dot.

Rockliffe Raptors were there, with a Red Tailed Hawk, a Little Owl, and a Kestrel called “Hettie”.

On the way back we spotted a huge stalk of Great Mullein growing out of the base of a new wall.  Several groups of Gulls were circling high up, possibly after flying ants. No new trees or birds today, but we added three new flowers, so our points are up to 1070.

Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20. It zooms along the New Ferry bypass, arriving at the first stop at New Chester Road / Pool Lane at 10.40. Returned on bus number 1 from New Chester Road opp Shore Drive at 2.40, arriving city centre at 3.05.

Next few weeks:
20th August, Birkenhead Park. Meet 10am Central Station.
27th August, Reynolds Park. Meet 10am Liverpool ONE bus station.
3rd September, Bold Moss. Meet 10am Lime Street Station.
10th September, Heritage Open Day. Meet at 9.45 at the Pump House by the Albert Dock.

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 www.mnapage.info for details of our programme and how to join us.

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Taylor Park, St Helens, 6th August 2017

We seem to go to a lot of parks during the summer, because there isn’t much going on in the woods or on the coasts. Taylor Park in St Helens greeted us with a fine display of pink flowers by the gates. Japanese Anemones?

There were Wood Pigeons in the trees and several spotty young Robins on the path. The lake itself had the usual Coots, Canada Geese, Mallards, Black-headed Gulls and one Muscovy Duck. On their notice board the park claims to get Kingfisher, Pochard and Goldeneye, but none of them were there today. But they had a pair of Mute Swans, one distant Tuftie, some House Martins swooping acrobatically over the water, and one Greylag Goose which looked like it had some White-fronted Goose in its ancestry.

We lunched in the sunken garden, which is an old quarry, and they have a collection of stumps of petrified trees known as Bog Oak.  We took a muddy side path and found a smaller lake used by fishermen, which I think was Eccleston Top Dam. It must be deeper than the main lake, because there was a Great Crested Grebe on it. The water lilies with their small yellow flowers and almost-submerged bottle-shaped seeds were Yellow Water Lilies, for which we get I-Spy points.

On a reed leaf was a Blue-tailed Damsel Fly.

Another good insect was this one on Hogweed, which I think is a Hornet Mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonaria, Britain’s largest Hoverfly, which is extending its range northwards as the climate warms.

There were interesting wild flowers near that fishing lake and in the damp woods around it. Himalayan Balsam , of course, Self-heal and Water Mint. I wanted one of the small Dandelion-ish flowers to be Smooth Hawk’s Beard, which is in the I-Spy book, but now I have looked at all the dozen or so Hawk’s Beards, Hawkbits and Hawkweeds I realise that they are very hard to identify and I’m not so sure. There was also this plant gowing in the shade. Not Enchanter’s Nightshade, which I know, and too late for  Dog’s Mercury, so was it Wood Sage? But the leaves weren’t crinkly like the other sages. No idea what it was, but there was quite a lot of it.

There were White Water Lilies on the main lake, with just the flowers poking out of the water and no apparent leaves. There were two broods of young Mallards, still being shepherded by their mothers.  One pair were a bit fluffy, but other brood of four teenagers looked fully grown. A well-grown young Coot was begging food from its mother, but she looked fed up and kept fending it off. The Purple Loosestrife was in fine bloom.

The Oak trees in the park seemed to have been badly infected with Knopper Galls, and we saw no developing acorns at all.

Today’s bus journeys were long ones, so we did some spotting from the top deck. One major road junction had a flock of several dozen Starlings on a roundabout, and we saw two Swifts on the way home.  Praise is due to Knowsley or Rainhill Council for a lovely display of wild flowers in sinuous beds along Warrington Road near Rainhill station. They have planted the standard mix of Poppy, Cornflower, Ox-Eye Daisy and Corn Marigold, but the effect is very pretty.

No additional trees or birds today, but we got five new flowers worth 110 points and so we are now officially I-Spy Super Spotters with 1005 points. Today’s surprising score was greatly helped by the 50 points for the Corn Marigold, which is rare in the wild but common in the roadside wild flower mix. That feels a bit like cheating, but we will take it!

Public transport details: Bus 10A from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Prescot Road / Toll Bar at 11.15.  Back from the stop opposite on bus 10A at 2.22, arriving Liverpool 3.20.


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Victoria Park, Widnes, 30th July 2017

The Park lake had great numbers of birds, but no unexpected species – just Mallard, with the moulting males and females now almost indistinguishable; Canada Geese and a few Greylag Geese; many Black-headed Gulls, now starting to moult out their black heads; a handful of Mute Swans, none apparently with rings, and no cygnets from this year; just a few Coots and one or two Moorhens. This young Moorhen was sitting calmly on the walkway next to the reeds.

In the Woodland Walk we noticed that the bat hibernaculum was still standing and that there were bat boxes on the trees. We spotted just one more wild flower for our list, Lords and Ladies, although it was berries, of course, rather than the flower.

We ate our sandwiches in Appleton gardens, with beds of cultivated flowers like the tall Acanthus mollis, known as Bear’s Britches, and a scattering of Primulas, which were way out of their normal flowering time. A wild patch had some splendid poppies and a poor, raggedy bird-pecked Speckled Wood.

There were some Lime trees with no twiggy sprouts at their bases so were they Small-leaved? They had the tufts of brown hairs at the bases of the leaves, which is said to be diagnostic, but the little seeds, supposed to be hairless in Small-leaved Limes, were definitely fuzzy. Drat!  The leaves were sprouting nail galls, which occur on all Limes, so that was no help either.

Then we went into the Butterfly House, where exotic species fly about freely. The rangers who supervise it aren’t always sure what species they have, as they buy a job lot and see what they get!  The ID pictures on the wall definitely didn’t cover everything that was there. But there were the usual Blue Morphos, which hardly ever sit still, and when they do they fold up their wings to show off their eye-spots.

This one is a Chequered Swallowtail Papilio demoleus, whose caterpillars look like bird droppings. It is widespread from the Middle East to the Far East and is considered invasive in Australia.

This one is The Blue Clipper Parthenos sylvia subsp. lilacinus, which comes from Malaysia.

There were some caterpillars which looked like they were going to be hawkmoths, and these very odd-looking ones which looked like tiny bananas.

They have to keep the Butterfly House very hot, so by the time the perspiration started running out of my hair and dripping off my nose, I had to make a break for the outside. Gosh it was hot in there! On a bank of pink cultivated Meadow Cranesbill we watched a White butterfly flit from flower to flower, and after some debate we decided that it was probably a Large White.

Near the station we were amazed to see a very late-blooming Magnolia in a garden, and on the road we found another cluster of mating bumble bees. There appeared to be three of them this time – a female Red-tailed, a male of the same species in the wrong position, and an interloping male of another species which looks to be getting the best of the deal (but not from an evolutionary perspective, of course).

No new trees or birds today, but the Lords and Ladies got us 15 points and we correctly answered the question on last week’s Foxglove (What part of the body does the medicine derived from Foxglove treat? The heart.) So we are up to 895.

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street at 10.26, arriving Widnes 10.58. (This is one stop outside the Merseytravel area, so we had to buy return tickets from Hough Green to Widnes.) Returned from Widnes at 14.17 (delayed to 14.26).

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Minera Quarry, Wales 25th July 2017

Late July saw Harry Standaloft, Ron, DaveB and I visiting Minera Quarry to indulge in the rare and threatened wildlife and plants this specialist limestone grassland and wooded area has on offer. After disembarking at the village triangle we wandered down to the River Clywedog which despite recent heavy rains was barely a trickle. An energetic Grey Wagtail was frantically bobbing and chasing after insects along the river edge to feed its fledgling that was sat expectantly on a rock in the shade. We turned into Ty Brith Ln and through the gate onto the track leading through umbellifers including Rough Chervil Chaerophyllum temulum, Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, Pignut Conopodium majus, Yarrow Achillea millefolium and flowering plants such as Field Bindweed Convolvulus arvensis, Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica, Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia, Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, Harebell Campanula rotundifolia and Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra. Red Campion Silene dioica was suffering from a smut Fungus Microbotryum silenesdioicae which infects the anthers of male flowers causing them to become black.

Knotweed Leaf Spot Fungus

The leaves of Japanese Knotweed Fallopia japonica were suffering from Leaf Spot Fungus Mycosphaerella polygoni-cuspidati. This Fungus along with the sap sucking Insect Aphalara itadori are being used as potential control agents to this Invasive Plant. We chased after the first Butterflies of the day with Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta, Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus, Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina and Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus.


A detour through the woodland growing on the old lime slag heaps was productive with Common Twayblade Neottia ovata, Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis along with numerous spikes of Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Dappled sunlight backlighting the Moss cushions below the Trees was magical indeed. Further along more magic where rainwater had flowed through the limestone dissolving then re-precipitating the calcite present as stalagtites – whose name is traced back to the Greek word ‘stalassein’ which means ‘to drip’. This mini grotto held a number of fairies, angels and a somewhat incongruous Pterodactyl!

Fairy Grotto

Dave noticed a single stalk of Round-leaved Wintergreen Pyrola rotundifolia arising from four shiny basal leaves. Unfortunately the white flowers had not yet opened from their round buds.

We watched a pair of Spotted Flycatchers that had nested this year at the old Quarry buildings. Nearby the tall candle-like flower spikes of Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus lay collapsed on the ground and a clump of the hemi-parasitic Red Bartsia Odontites vernus was stealthily gaining nutrition from the roots of grasses.

Common Darter female

A couple of Graylings Hipparchia semele were basking in the sunshine on a scree slope, with the native perennial Field Scabious Knautia arvensis flowering on a ledge above. We climbed the path through woodland noting the juicy fruits of Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca and the rounded achenes with feathery hooked styles of Wood Avens Geum urbanum as well as yet more flowering Broad-leaved Helleborines. We entered the gate through to a wildflower bank over-looking the main Quarry complex. Flitting amongst the Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor, Common Milkwort Polygala vulgaris, Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis and Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum were three female Silver-studded Blues Plebejus argus along with Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus and Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus.

Mating 6-spot Burnet Moths

We ate lunch beside the small pond fringed with Marsh Horsetail Equisetum palustre and Lesser Spearwort Ranunculus flammula. Twenty or so Water Boatman a.k.a. Backswimmer Notonecta glauca were floating at the surface of the water – a lone Tadpole was certainly doomed. Odonata included Emerald Damselfly Lestes sponsa, Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella, Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans, Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta and Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum.  The shrill ‘kee-kee-kee’ of the nesting Peregrines echoed around the Quarry accompanied by the ‘chack of Jackdaws and the throaty ‘crrrawk’ of a Raven.

Emerald Damselfly

Meadow Grashopper

We wandered across the Quarry’s grassland amazed at the number of Autumn Gentians Gentianella amarella – unfortunately not yet in flower but whose reddish stem with opposite pairs of narrow pointed leaves made it quite prominent. We noted quite a number of mating Six-Spot Burnet Moths Zygaena filipendulae, a few male Common Blues Polyommatus icarus, boinging Meadow Grasshoppers Chorthippus parallelus and Red-tailed Bumblebees Bombus lapidarius one of whose pollen basket or ‘corbicula’ on the tibia of the hind legs was bright red in colour. Harry spotted a small caterpillar on a Rush Juncus sp. stem – an early instar Large Yellow Underwing Noctua pronuba that feed on a variety of herbaceous Plants and Grasses.

Large Yellow Underwing caterpillar

We met a couple of naturalists from the North Wales Wildlife Trust who told us that after many years of negotiations Tarmac, Minera Quarry’s current owners are signing the contract to transfer the land to the Wildlife Trust. This will allow better management of the site including scrub clearance and controlled grazing as well as improving access with nature trails and community engagement events. They were excited with our sighting of the Silver-studded Blues – possibly a first for the site. We bumped into them again back at the pond where they had seen Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula and Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura pumilio whose status is near threatened on the GB Red List. The species was considered almost extinct in Britain at the turn of the 19th Century but has recently been undergoing a period of range expansion. They also showed us a couple of Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanaea exuvia.

Southern Hawker exuvia

On the return walk Ron spotted a furry caterpillar crawling across the path that was dark brown with light orange bands along the body. It was later identified as an early instar Fox Moth Macrothylacia rubi. When fully grown later in the year the caterpillar will hibernate in readiness to complete their pupation the following spring.

Fox Moth Caterpillar

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

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MNA Coach Trip RSPB Leighton Moss 23rd July 2017

Disembarking at Leighton Moss a few members decided to head straight to Myer’s Allotment Reserve. We crossed over the railway bridge, turned left at junction and continued past the Silverdale Golf Club. The lane edge held flowering Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca, Meadow Crane’s-bill Geranium pratense, Amphibious Bistort Persicaria amphibia and Marsh Woundwort Stachys palustris. A raptor riding high on a thermal and heading north caught our attention – it didn’t look right for a Marsh Harrier and the outline & general jizz of the bird made us think Black Kite – this was later reported to the RSPB staff as a possible sighting. We mistakenly continued along the road before realising our mistake, retraced our steps noting a Dryad’s Saddle Polyporus squamosus and patrolling Brown Hawker Aeshna grandis before turning into The Row which had Yellow Loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris flowering on the lane edge and entering the reserve. Butterfly Conservation manage this 7 hectare site which is largely covered with scrub and secondary woodland, with areas of exposed limestone pavement. Continuing scrub clearance work is hoped to provide favourable conditions for a variety of butterflies including Fritillaries and Duke of Burgundy.

Nothing too rare today with Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, Large Skipper Ochlodes venata, Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, Silver Y Autographa gamma and caterpillars of Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae on Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea. Flowering Plants included Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria, Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis, Red Bartsia Odontites vernus, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre and Large Bindweed Calystegia silvatica. ChrisB pointed out the fluffy pom-pom Galls on Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys caused by the Gall Midge Jaapiella veronicae. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called, a Green Woodpecked yaffled and Blackbird and Song Thrush were in fine voice.

Currant Blister Aphid leaf damage

We returned to Leighton Moss and spent a little time watching the frenzied activity on the bird feeders with Blue, Great, Coal and Marsh Tit, Chaffinch and Bullfinch and the ever present Pheasants hovering up the scattered seeds. In the Wildflower and Herb Garden we noted the blistered and puckered leaves on a Blackcurrant bush caused by the Currant Blister Aphid Cryptomyzus ribis. The aphids cause the damage to the foliage in the spring then fly to Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica for their summer holidays before returning in autumn to lay their eggs. The fruit crop isn’t adversely affected though. A cuter than cute speckley fronted young Robin watched us.

Wandering towards the causeway there was flowering Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, Rosebay Willowherb Chamerion angustifolium, Greater Burdock Arctium lappa and a cluster of ripening berries of Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum. The recently opened boardwalk section allowed us views of a scattering of marsh loving plants amongst the reeds including Purple-loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, Hemlock Water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata, Water Forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides, Marsh Woundwort Stachys palustris, Marsh-bedstraw Galium palustre, Unbranched Bur-reed Sparganium emersum and Bulrush Typha latifolia. We watched as a Common Shrew Sorex araneus scurried along negotiating the reeds seemingly unconcerned by our presence.

Hemp Agrimony

A Goldfinch and female Reed Bunting were in a Hawthorn bush beside the causeway. We ate lunch and watched the scene from Causeway/Public Hide. Two pairs of Marsh Harriers had successfully bred on the reserve this year with one pair rearing four young and the other pair with two young that had only just fledged the nest. We had great views of adult and female/juv birds both quartering the reeds and sitting in an area of recently cut reeds at the pool edge. A pair of Mute Swans had seven obedient cygnets swimming in line behind the pen. A Swift, a few Swallows and Sand Martins zipped above the water. The Ducks who were in eclipse mooched around the far side of the pond with Mallards, Teal and a few Wigeon along with Coot and Moorhen. Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were joined by a lone Great Black-backed Gull that casually glided around hoping to spot an unaccompanied duckling to grab. A Pied Wagtail juv landed on a half-submerged tree branch and chased insects. A Lapwing flew over and a Grey Heron was standing expectantly on the edge of the reed. Single Brown Hawker Aeshna grandis and Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta were patrolling the reeds in front of the hide that held flowering Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus.

We dispersed with some quickly heading to Lower Hide where Otters had been seen and DaveB heading to Trowbarrow Quarry and along to Haweswater. I ambled along towards Lower Hide, a Cetti’s giving the briefest burst of song before falling silent, a Sedgie non-stop rhythmically performing its repertoire, the odd Chiffchaff calling their name, Bullfinch softly ‘pheuing’ and a chattering party of Long-tailed Tits. Plants included Square-stalked St John’s Wort Hypericum tetrapterum, Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Wood Avens Geum urbanum, Tufted Vetch Viccia cracca, Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis, White Clover Trifolium repens, Enchanter’s-nightshade Circaea lutetiana, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara, Large Bindweed Calystegia silvatica, Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa, Red Bartsia Odontites vernus, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare, Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra, Beaked Hawk’s-beard Crepis vesicaria, Ox-eye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare, Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea and Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum.

Amphibious Bistort Gall

There were Galls on Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria leaves caused by the Gall Midge Dasineura ulmaria. The leaves of Amphibious Bistort Persica amphibia had marginal rolls that had become markedly thickened and spirally contorted. ChrisB ambling back from his enviable Otters sightings at Lower Hide confirmed that they were caused by the gall midge Wachtliella persicariae. He also pointed out the leaves of Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris – this was the wild variety that sports purple or mauve flowers – a greater selection of coloured cultivars are available of this popular garden plant. Chris along with Lynn and Hugh had heard a Redshank whilst wandering to Lower Hide. Catching up with DaveB – Trowbarrow held a few ‘past their best’ Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii and Common Twayblades Listera ovata.

Gannet Skull

The education room beside the visitor centre provided two contenders for ‘Corpse of the Day’ with an astray Northern Gannet Morus bassanus skull and a desiccated Newt.

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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Ormskirk Parks, 16th July 2017

There are more parks or wildlife areas in Ormskirk than we thought! If you turn left from the station doorway towards the car park, there’s an area called Station Approach, a 7 acre mixed woodland and wildflower meadow on the site the old sidings and branch line to Skelmersdale. We did well for flowers there, noting Spear Thistle, Ragwort, Viper’s Bugloss, Foxglove, Great Willowherb and Lesser Burdock.

After the sun came out there were lots of butterflies foraging for nectar, too. Large White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Brimstone and this Comma on Creeping Thistle.

There were Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on some of the Ragwort flowers, but they haven’t yet risen to the huge numbers we saw a few years ago. There was also a mating pair of Common Red Soldier Beetles Rhagonycha fulva.  Wikipedia tells me they are so often seen coupling on white umbellifers that their common British epithet is “Hogweed Bonking Beetle”.

We spotted a Song Thrush on the path and a Rabbit just disappearing as it heard us coming. Last night it rained, which had tempted out a huge variety of slugs onto the path, but they were heading back to the shade of the grass as swiftly as they could. Talking of bonking, we stopped to look at what appeared to be a copulating pair of Buff-tailed Bumble Bees on a shady part of the path. The one at the front was still, but the one at the back, presumably the male, was pulsating.

On a sunny corner a Common Hawker dragonfly was hanging vertically at head-height in the hedge, in amongst the Goose Grass.

The path brought us back to the station, and then John led us to a tiny formal park in a triangle between St Helens Road and Ruff Lane, where we had our sandwiches. The flower beds were bright with cultivated blooms, but some of the gardeners had skimped their work, because the “weed” Gallant Soldier flourished amongst the showier Geranium blooms. The little park seems to have been formed around an interesting pre-WWI War Memorial, because plaques on the obelisk named a local man who had participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade (but survived): “Sgt Major Nunnerley of the 17th Lancers, one of the Six Hundred” and also three men who had been killed in the Boer War. There was a young Weeping Birch next to it, which was appropriate.

One large Marigold had a Gatekeeper butterfly, while a Buddleia had a single Red Admiral, the day’s seventh species.

Then to Ormskirk’s principal park, Coronation Park. The lake was full of Black-headed Gulls, moulting Mallards, a surprising number of Moorhens and a pair of Coots feeding two ugly, baldy little chicks.

Beyond the Lake they have a wildflower meadow. Most of it was Creeping Thistle and Great Willow Herb, but there was also Cornflower, Meadow Sweet starting to bloom and a Wild Teasel showing how it flowers, in a wave of development climbing up the head.

Meadow Sweet

Wild Teasel

Across County Road is the showroom of a company called Pangea Sculptures. If you have ever wanted a life-sized metal elephant or hippopotamus on your estate (!), this is the place to come. They cost a few thousand pounds, of course, but now we know where the huge Giraffe in the garden by Gorse Hill came from.  I rather fancy a Cobra half-hidden in my shrubbery.

The Hurlston Brook runs through the park, north of the lake, and its banks had Hogweed and  Himalayan Balsam. A big old Willow tree had branches leaning over towards the opposite bank, and we were pretty sure it was a Crack Willow.

A Coot was busily refurbishing a nest on the lake. Is she going to have a second brood? It looked like it.

As we were leaving the park we stopped to admire this lovely flowering shrub, some kind of Hebe.

Our tree points continue to mount up, now at 1135. The Crack Willow was worth 10, and we doubled the points from last week’s Spindle Tree by correctly answering the question “How does the Spindle tree get its name?”  A: Its wood was used for making spindles for spinning fibres into yarn.  We are scratching around for new birds, and we have been stuck on 1285 since 11th June. The only reasonably-likely additions to the list are Treecreeper, Bullfinch or Spotted Flycatcher, but we just haven’t come across them. We did well with wild flowers though, claiming six new ones today. Still climbing towards 1000 and now up to 865.

Public transport details: Train from Central Station at 10.10 to Ormskirk, arriving 10.40. Returned on the 2.50 train, arriving Central at 3.20.


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Port Sunlight and New Ferry Butterfly Park, 9th July 2017

We started with a quick look at the site of the explosion on Boundary Road in March this year, which injured 33 people and also destroyed a dance studio. The houses and shops around it are still fenced off and boarded up.

North of the Port Sunlight Museum there is an open field on which they have recently planted some interesting young trees, including a Sweet Gum Liquidambar styraciflua, a Tree of Heaven Ailanthus altissima and this one with yellow-green pinnate leaves which has us baffled. It looks the same as the one at Queen Square, in the corner next to the New Look shop. We guess it’s some new variety of Locust (Robinia) or Honey Locust (Gleditsia) but I can’t find it in any of my tree books.

They have a splendid “hanging basket tree” there, though!

When the sun came out we spotted a very fast-moving Dragonfly over the fountain pond and we stopped to admire the annelematic sundial, where your own shadow forms the gnomon. (See top picture.)  At the back of the garden centre, behind the sheds for sale is their Indian Bean tree with its hanging pods. (Worth 25 tree points)

On either side of the garden centre doorway were two bamboo-ish plants in huge pots. To our surprise the name tag said they were Frangula alnus variety ‘Fine Line’. That’s Alder Buckthorn! They didn’t look anything like the wild Alder Buckthorn, because they were quite tall (fastigiate) with spotted bark and finely-cut leaves. I wonder if they would also act as a food plant for Brimstone butterflies?

Port Sunlight was full of marvellous flower beds, and the bowling greens were mowed to perfection, but the roses in the Rose Garden were in dire need of dead-heading.  In the Dell where we ate our lunch, we renewed our acquaintance with some old favourite trees, the Honey Locust with the long thorns on the trunk, the young, rare Antarctic Beech Nothofagus antarctica, the Swamp Cypress and the two Tulip trees, one of which had a low-growing flower for us to inspect at close quarters.  Then we headed back north to the New Ferry Butterfly Park.

Several groups of kids were pond-dipping under the supervision of rangers from the Wirral and Cheshire Wildlife Trusts.

Their top find was a group of  three Smooth Newts in their tray and there were plenty more in the pond. They were smaller than I expected, about three or four inches long (10cm) including the tail.

Both Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies were flitting about. This is a Common Blue.

The  butterfly park has really come on since it was founded some years ago. We noted Comma, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper and Gatekeeper. They have White-letter Hairstreaks here too, but we didn’t see any. The wild flowers were growing profusely, and we made great progress with our I-Spy list, including Wild Carrot, Tufted Vetch, Red Clover, Hemp Agrimony, Purple Loosestrife, Musk Mallow, Arrowhead leaves, Small Scabious, Wild Teasel, Scarlet Pimpernel. Some of the Selfheal was very tall, perhaps 12 inches (30cm) and we wondered if it was really Betony, but the leaves didn’t have scalloped margins, so it was Selfheal. There was one tall, mauve, cylindrical orchid in the long grass, and they also have Bee Orchids here, but they were all long gone. We should visit in June next year.

Small Scabious

Scarlet Pimpernel


The only notable birds were the Swifts flying high overhead. They will be returning to Africa soon. Other signs of the end of summer were the first blackberries ripening at the tips of the shoots, red rose hips, berries of Guelder Rose turning, white immature Hazel nuts in the hedge, and a good display of bright red Rowan berries.

We were keen to find some of the last odds and bods from out tree list. We asked the ranger, rather jokingly, if she had any English Elm, and she mentioned the Exeter Elm at Flaybrick and said there’s a Huntington Elm near Brimstage and Thornton Hough. To our surprise she said some older English Elms, which should be all dead, are suckering. One patch is near Claremont farm by the Clatterbridge roundabout and the other is at the bottom end of Rivacre Valley by the visitors’ centre, near the motorway. We might try looking for them!  We also asked her about Wayfaring Tree, but she knew of none locally: they are all in the south of England on chalk. She took us to two of our targets, though, a Spindle Tree and a Common/Purging Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica.

Spindle tree with immature four-lobed fruits

Purging or Common Buckthorn

It was our best day this year for flowers, so we are up to 770 points. Three new trees, now up to 1110, but we are stalled on birds, with no new ones for several weeks.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards Chester at 10.15, arriving Bebington 10.30. Returned from Bebington at 2.55, arriving Central 3.15.

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Dinas Dinlle, Caernarfon 3rd July 2017

Views from Dinas Dinlle beach towards Llŷn Peninsula

Whilst visiting family in North Wales for a few days I had a walk around Dinas Dinlle near Caernarfon which offers views towards the Llŷn Peninsula. The route headed past Caernarfon Airport and the Morfa Lodge Caravan Park before heading northwards along the saltmarsh inlet of Y Foryd towards Fort Belan. Returning south through the sand-dunes before walking along the beach back to Dinas Dinlle.

Plenty of notable Plants with Spear-leaved Orache Atriplex prostrata, Sea-purslane Atriplex portulacoides, Sea Campion Silene uniflora, Thrift Armeria maritima, Wild Pansy Viola tricolor, Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis, Loganberry Rubus loganobaccus, Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis, Common Restharrow Ononis repens, Hare’s-foot Clover Trifolium arvense, Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias, Common Stork’s-bill Erodium cicutarium, Sea Carrot Daucus carota subsp. gummifer, Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea, Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara, Sea Bindweed Calystegia soldanella, Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus, Sea Plantain Plantago maritima, Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris, Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Scentless Mayweed Tripleurospermum inodorum and Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis.

Rabbit Skull

Corpse of the Day included a Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus skull in the dunes, the remains of a Lesser Spotted Dogfish Scyliorhinus caniculus on the beach and hundreds of dead Green Shore Crabs Carcinus maenus on the high tide line along the edge of the saltmarsh. A Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella had become stranded with the tide.

Compass Jellyfish

Only a few Butterflies and Moths with Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, Small White Pieris rapae, fifty plus Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae caterpillars on the Oxford Ragwort Senecio squalidus and a dozen or so Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae.

Mating Burnet Moths

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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Calderstones Park, 2nd July 2017

We entered the park from Ballantrae Road, at the south-west entrance. Just inside were two multi-trunked trees that appeared to be dead. A few leaves remained on one, which showed they were some kind of Maple. One had a clump of Pink Purslane at its base.

We walked in a vaguely anti-clockwise / easterly direction across the open south-central area, tree- spotting as we went. This Sweet Chestnut was in bloom, showing the long male catkins at the top and the smaller female flowers in the centre, which will become the nuts.

We also noted Hornbeam, Turkey Oak and Common Lime. We were really looking for the Black Mulberry Morus nigra which we found in the open area south-east of the Manor House, east of the ha-ha, near some Scots Pines. It looks like the upper branches have died, and it has been pruned back. It was still leafing bravely though, and bearing unripe fruit. That’s 20 I-Spy points, taking us to exactly 1000, so we savoured the moment.

Behind the bike racks next to the Mansion House we looked at what we remembered to be a Snowbell Tree, Styrax japonica, but it didn’t look like the small trees that I have been seeing blooming prettily in parks and gardens recently. Not a Snowbell after all, our memories were faulty, it was the rarer (Mountain) Snowdrop or Silver Bell Halesia monticola. There is a Snowberry bush in front of it, just to add to the confusion.

Along the wall of the Gent’s toilets is a patch of the rare parasitic plant Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae.  It has none of the green pigment chlorophyll so it cannot make food for itself, and is entirely dependent on the roots of the Ivy.

The Common Walnut tree by the flower beds had the Walnut Leaf Gall Mite Aceria erinea infesting the leaves.

We had lunch in the Old English Garden, entertained by the very tame or cheeky (take your pick) wildlife which gathers at butty time. There was a Grey Squirrel on the edge of the pond, and several more of them under the benches. A Dunnock ventured out and there were two Robins and a Great Tit trying their luck. There was also a rather tame Jay skulking about on the Pergola. One of the Robins looked quite scruffy, and I saw it take a fly-by dip into the pond, without landing on a leaf, just skimming the water and wetting its breast. Was that why it looked so scruffy, because it was wet? Or was it infested with something and trying to relieve an itch?

I thought there was a Large-leaved Lime opposite the old stable block (now the Gallery area) but all we found was a cut-down trunk. The one at Flaybrick will be our last hope for those points. One of us spotted a shield bug on a Maple. The British Bugs shieldbug page has a lot of pictures, and I think it was the Red-legged Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes. They are said to be widespread and common in wooded areas, orchards and gardens, and feed mainly on oak, alder, hazel and other deciduous trees including apple and cherry.

One of our target trees was this Japanese Red Cedar Cryptomeria japonica, which isn’t a Cedar at all, but a more primitive type of tree. It was worth 15 points.

Another target was the Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii (another 15 points). As far as I know this one in Calderstones is the only one on Merseyside, possibly at the southern edge of its range. It’s another tree with a misleading name, as it isn’t a Fir at all, but is also from a more primitive group. Its name honours two great Scottish plant hunters, David Douglas and Archibald Menzies. The easiest way to identify it is by the distinctive cones, which have a long tridentine (three-pointed) bract that protrudes over each scale.

In the Swamp Cypress near the Allerton Oak we spotted a couple of young Blackbirds, looking very brown and fluffy, who had perhaps just left their nest today. We were looking for a flowering Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipfera. We’d seen the small one on the lawn in front of the Mansion House and a much bigger one inside the Old English Garden, but there was hardly a flower to be seen. Had we missed them? Perhaps. They may start flowering as early as May. However, the big Tulip Tree near the Swamp Cypress still had some flowers so we claimed our 25 points.

We saw no new birds this week. No new wildflowers either, although we correctly answered two questions on last week’s flowers, and thereby raised our score to 600. How does Hedge Woundwort get its name? Because the leaves were once used to dress wounds. The Rosebay Willowherb is also called Fireweed; do you know why? Because it grows on burnt ground. Trees are up to 1055 and I-Spy badges and certificates for passing 1000 will follow!  There are only 18 trees left to spot, worth 350 points at most. It’s possible we might yet get them all (except the English Elm, of course.)

While we were on the bus on the way back, we noticed that many Rowan trees have their berries just turning brown, and some are fully red. So that’s it, autumn already!

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Liverpool ONE at 10.15, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.45. Returned on the 76 bus from Menlove Avenue / opp Druid’s Cross Gardens at 1.50, arriving Liverpool 2.25.

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Great Orme, Llandudno 1st July 2017

Alice’s Rabbit Pal

A small group of MNA members met at Chester railway station before boarding the train to Llandudno for our walk around the Great Orme. We admired the large carved wooden Rabbit – part of the Alice in Wonderland trail before heading down to the promenade.

Spear-leaved Orache

A variety of maritime Plants with Spear-leaved Orache Atriplex prostrata, Sea Beet Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, Sea Plantain Plantago maritima and a flowering clump of Viper’s-bugloss Echium vulgare.


We took the zig-zag path up the rocky slope opposite the Grand Hotel to Happy Valley noting a few dried-out spikes of Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae which is parasitic on the roots of Ivy Hedera helix, Tutsan Hypericum androsaemum, White Stonecrop Sedum album, Common Rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium, Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica, Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia, Ground-ivy Glechoma hederacea, Wild Clary Salvia verbenaca, Wild Privet Ligustrum vulgare Red Valerian Centranthus ruber. A wild patch near the Camera Obscura held Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Wild Carrot Daucus carota subsp. carota, Sea Carrot Daucus carota subsp. gummifer, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare, Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Oxford Ragwort Senecio squalidus, Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum. Ron Crossley spotted our first Humming-bird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum of the day hovering around a formal flower bed.

Smurf-free zone

We dropped down through the public park at Happy Valley stopping at Alice’s seat and the scattering of Fly Agaric mushrooms and noting Round-leaved Crane’s-bill Geranium rotundifolium and three Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera spikes in the unmown area at the bottom edge of the park. Billowing Altocumulus clouds above the limestone escarpments of the Orme made for an impressive view.


We were soon notching up the familiars of this limestone habitat Pellitory-of-the-wall Urtica pilulifera, Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre, White Stonecrop Sedum album, Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor, Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, Bloody Crane’s-bill Geranium sanguineum, Fairy Flax Linum catharticum, Thrift Armeria maritima, Dropwort Filipendula vulgaris, Harebell Campanula rotundifolia, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Red Valerian Centranthus ruber, Small Scabious Scabiosa columbaria, Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata, Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea etc.

Conditions were becoming more overcast and blustery which kept the Butterflies and Moths hunkered down – we did note small numbers of Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, Silver-studded Blue Plebejus argus, Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta, Grayling Hipparchia semele, Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus, Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae and Cistus Forester Moth Adscita geryon.

The Northern Fulmars were cackling away to their neighbours on their nest ledges, a Peregrine cried out as it zoomed over the escarpment summit. Out at sea predominantly Cormorants with the odd Shag flew by. Great views as a pod of a dozen or more Common Bottlenose Dolphins Tursiops truncatus and a few Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena. were swimming by off the end of the headland.

Whitethroats called from the scrub, Wrens and Dunnock added their songs and a pair of Stonechat ‘tacked’. A few Mepits parachuted down on their display flight and a Rock Pipit performed its best Flycatcher impersonation almost hovering whilst chasing insects. Along by the nesting cliffs beside the lighthouse were Guillemots and the odd Razorbill with a group of Cormorants loafing on their rock platform with wings-outstretched.

Further along more plants with Wild Marjoram Origanum vulgare, Common Milkwort Polygala vulgaris and Common Butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris growing in a damp area were water was oozing down the rock face. Plenty of Lichens patterning the rocks on the stone wall beside the path. The rocks also held a variety of fossils with corals, brachiopods, oyster shells etc.

Yet more Plants with Ploughman’s-spikenard Inula conyzae, Wild Madder Rubia peregrina that we have never knowingly seen before growing to heights of 3ft as it scrambled through the Privet and Loganberry Rubus loganobaccus beside the path. Small scrubs of Juniper Juniperus communis and Western Gorse Ulex gallii were holding their own in the blustery conditions. It was the antics of eleven Chough that provided a finale for the day – tumbling and playing in the wind, tucking their wings tight by their body and diving before spreading their wings fully out again the straggly end feathers like fingers. They even wished us ‘Ciao.’

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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