Royden Park, 26th July 2015

The forecast promised rain, and it wasn’t wrong. It started while we were on the bus, and poured all day.

29 Royden Roodee Mere

From the bus stop just past Frankby we took the footpath southwards to Birch Heys and Montgomery Hill. Horses were sheltering from rain under a tree, but we carried on, noting Ragwort, Red Clover, a pinkish Yarrow, and some early signs of autumn. The Bramble’s first berries were starting to ripen to dark red and the Herb Robert leaves were also turning.

29 Royden Herb Robert reddening

Another footpath took us southwards to Royden Park. I saw no birds in the heavy rain, but John said he’d spotted a Jay, a Wood Pigeon, a Blue Tit and a Blackbird. We were very happy to arrive at the shelter of the Visitor’s Centre and the café.

29 Royden tea shop

A sign in the Centre explained Royden Park’s woodland history, mentioning that they have some rare specimen trees here – Madrona, Cedar of Lebanon, Deodar and Grand Fir – but it was too wet to look for them. Perhaps another day.

29 Royden woodland sign

We mooched about in the Walled Garden. They have a Laburnum arch, but it was well gone over. There were bird tables and feeders but no food had been put out so there were no birds. There was a beehive in the glade and an old cast iron blacksmith’s forge made by the Birmingham engineers Alldays and Onions in about 1890.

29 Royden old forge

We lunched in the shelter of the gazebo, which, according to a plaque, was originally from the Garden Festival Victorian Garden in 1984, and was donated to Wirral Council by Unilever. A Dunnock emerged briefly, but then retreated to the shrubbery. There was a gorgeous ornamental Maple with its leaves just starting to take on autumn colours. There was a row of fresh Molehills across the same lawn.

29 Royden autumnal maple

Roodee Mere is a fishing lake, with only Mallards as far as we could see. The verges had Rosebay Willowherb and Himalayan Balsam, while great piles of Water lilies were stacked up in the water, both the white and the yellow species, but not the smaller Fringed Water Lily. Then we spotted a Moorhen hopping on one leg, with the other leg drawn up. A ranger told us they had found it a few days before, entangled in fishing wire, and freed it. It was a female, with two chicks to look after. She swims well, they said and feeds OK. She’s very ungainly on land, though, and before she can muster the oomph to hop, she needs to put her beak down almost to the ground and get on the tips of her toes. But she chose to move into cover when disturbed, not to go for the water, so she appears to be managing.

29 Royden hopping moorhen

We returned to Frankby via Hillbark Road, noting Honeysuckle and Greater Willowherb in the verges. There was a huge infestation of Horse Chestnut leaf miner Cameraria ohridella on one unfortunate tree, which we first noted in Reynolds Park in August 2014.

29 Royden horse chestnut leaved mined

Another sign of approaching autumn was on a rather muddy-looking Copper Beech, which had started withdrawing the green pigment from the leaves at the tips of its branches, leaving them bright pink.

29 Royden copper beech tips

It was still raining, so instead of getting the bus back to Liverpool we chose the bus stop with the  shelter, and the bus going in the opposite direction, into West Kirby for the train.  By the time we got back to Liverpool the rain had stopped!

Public transport details: Bus 437 towards West Kirby at 10.18 from Sir Thomas Street. Arrived Frankby Road / Baytree Road at 10.58. Returned on the 437 from Frankby Village at 1.28, arriving West Kirby station at 1.35, then the 14.01 train, arriving Liverpool 14.35.

Here is the plan for the next few Sundays:
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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Powdery Mildew Project

Tony Carter asked me to circulate this to members regarding research into Powdery Mildews. Please contribute if you are able :)

Powdery mildews commonly occur on garden plants, are unsightly, and can cause serious damage. To help understand how widespread powdery mildews are, both in terms of geography and hosts, the Royal Horticultural Society and University of Reading are working together to identify and map as many powdery mildews as possible over the next two growing seasons. You can help by supplying us with infected plant samples and in exchange we will do our best to tell you what mildew is infecting your plant.

Resize P1010449

Figure 1: Geranium sp. infected with Neoerysiphe geranii in the University of Reading, Harris Gardens

With over 900 named species, occurring on more than 10,000 different plant hosts, evenexperts struggle to ID them effectively. I am able to collect and analyse many powdery mildew samples around the University campus and further afield in Reading. However, it is necessary to gain more samples, from more UK locations, on more host plants, in order to better understand the problem in UK gardens.

Using DNA sequences I will be able to identify and map which powdery mildews occur where and when they are most prevalent and ultimately develop short DNA sequences allowing for easy ID of similar samples in future.

Quick, accurate and efficient identification of these garden, fungal foes will help to track the presence of British based species on their host plants, perhaps discovering new species invasive to this island. It will also allow us to track which have recently expanded their host ranges to infect new plant species.

UK gardeners and plant enthusiasts can help to build the global knowledge of Fungi and plant diseases. To help this important research please collect and send your infected plant material to me (please try to follow the steps below)!

Resize New-Picture

Figure2: Please try to pick a significant portion of the infected plant: an entire leaf (such as that of this Geraniumsp.) or shoot (like this Myosotis arvensis (Field Forget-me-not)) is best.

I will record the appearance of your fungi, and then pulverise a small part of it to analyse its DNA. Once identified your sample will be added to a national powdery mildew database and you will be sent a link to the relevant record.

Resize New-Picture-1

Figure 3: Adding fresh leaves to a ‘slightly inflated bag’ will help to preserve the sample.

How to…pick and send a powdery mildew sample:

  1. Locate powdery mildew on plant host.
  2. Prune off several whole leaves (fig. 2)
  3. Put the fresh leaves in a slightly inflated sealed bag (fig. 3).
  4. Send to:

Oliver Ellingham School of Biological Sciences Harborne Building University of Reading Whiteknights Reading Berkshire RG6 6AS

United Kingdom 

…along with the postcode/grid reference of where the sample was found, your email address and the host plants name. If you can add a GPS location and/or photograph of the plant in growth this would be most helpful.

  1. We will email you when results are available. This may take several weeks.

This information will help to form a more complete picture of powdery mildew presence in the UK and to develop cutting-edge, molecular identification techniques.

Many thanks to all!


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The Dream, 19th July 2015

28 Dream sculpture

It’s five years since we’ve been to The Dream. On a blustery day, warm in the sunshine but chilly when the sun went behind clouds, we set out that way again. At Lea Green station we waited for a few minutes for a Steam Train excursion to come through, and we were amused to see a Grey Squirrel run up the ramp and disappear into the hedge.
We turned right out of the station, south along Chester Lane then turned into the Forestry Commission’s Brickfields Daisyfield reserve. To our delight we found that the Hazel trees bore many clusters of young nuts. Why don’t we see them anywhere else?

28 Dream Hazelnuts

Other signs of approaching autumn included Rowan berries beginning to turn red, and green sloes on the Blackthorn. There were plenty of summer flowers out, though. Lots of Ragwort, although we noticed that there have been hardly any Cinnabar Moth caterpillars this year. Oxeye daisies, Spear Thistle, Creeping Thistle, Evening Primrose, Himalayan Balsam, Rosebay Willowherb, Common Centaury, Common Vetch, Ribbed Melilot, and Bird’s Foot Trefoil growing tall in the tangle. There were a few Marsh Orchids by a ditch, and lots of Greater Willowherb.

28 Dream Great Willowherb

A young Cherry tree was exuding gleaming black droplets of sap. Had it been punctured by some boring insect?

28 Dream cherry sap

A Robin and a Goldfinch were singing, there were Rabbit droppings beside the path, a fast-moving Dragonfly which we couldn’t identify, and butterflies were everywhere. Large Whites, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Small Skippers and Small Heaths. They were all very active, so they were hard to catch sitting still, but here’s a Gatekeeper.

28 Dream Gatekeeper

On a Creeping Thistle we found a very strange insect, about the size of a Ladybird, orange and black with white bristly ends. It wasn’t moving, and now I see that it must be a shed skin, probably of some kind of Bug, but I can’t find a match. Does anyone recognise it?

28 Dream bug skin

One young Alder tree had many brown and curled up leaves. Inside were black larvae which I think belonged to the Alder Leaf Beetle Agelastica alni. It’s on the increase in the North West of England. Later we saw an adult beetle with a swollen orange abdomen, which was a pregnant female.

28 Dream Alder beetle larvae

28 Dream Alder beetle adult

In places there were great swathes of Rosebay Willow Herb.

28 Dream Rosebay Willowherb

They have built a new housing estate since we were last here, but at the other end of Farndon Avenue we came to the path across the King George V playing field. There were Black-headed gulls on the grass, and Swallows and one House Martin in the air.  There is a row of young trees alongside the path that we couldn’t identify. They had big, almost cabbage-y leaves, bark like Rowan, but with rows of small holes, and young leaves sprouting out of the bole like they do on Limes. I can’t find anything like it in my tree book.

28 Dream big leaves

Just below the Dream there were Swifts, and when we got to the top, as well as admiring the sculpture itself, we took in the views. Looking southwards across the motorway, there was a panorama from Moel Fammau in the south west, past Runcorn Water Tower, Runcorn Bridge, Helsby Hill and Fiddler’s Ferry to the grey tower of the Daresbury Nuclear Physics Lab. Through a gap in the trees to the east there was the distant Peak District and a black church spire about 4 miles away, possibly in Warrington.

28 Dream view peak

On the way down we spotted Creeping Cinquefoil at the edge of path and Lady’s Mantle. A young Alder tree, this one free of the Alder Leaf Beetle, showed last year’s open brown cones and this year’s closed green ones.

28 Dream Alder cones

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street Station at 10.15 towards Manchester Piccadilly, arriving Lea Green 10.38. Returned on bus 194 from Jubits’s Lane / Chandler’s Way at 1.54 arriving St Helens bus station 2.05 (just missing the hourly train back to Liverpool), then bus 10A at 2.14, arriving Liverpool 3.15.


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Victoria Park, Crosby, 12th July 2015

It was a warm and humid day, overcast, with the promise of sunshine later. From Waterloo station we walked up Brighton Road, through the level crossing on St John’s Road and turned left into Somerville Road. Opposite Victoria Park, between Somerville Road and the railway, is some derelict land that a local group took over a few years ago. Some dedicated volunteers are gradually clearing it. It’s called Waterloo Community Forest Garden, and they are planting fruit trees, making woodland glades, and hoping for community allotments. There is known to be a fox living there.

27 Crosby Forest garden sign

Then we crossed into Victoria Park itself. Since the cutbacks in Council funding some years ago, less work is being done in all parks, with some happy results. One consequence is that the Privets aren’t trimmed so often, so they were all blooming, filling the park with their lovely scent.

27 Crosby Privet

The usual park birds were there – Wood Pigeons, Magpies, a Robin singing out of sight and a group of Long-tailed Tits in the trees above. A Blackbird was basking in the sun next to some shrubbery, with its beak open. This is a rubbish photo, I know, but I didn’t want to get any closer and disturb its siesta.

27 Crosby Blackbird basking

Less usual birds included a Mistle Thrush, lots of House Sparrows (there is a large colony here) and a very confiding fat pigeon in a branch right above us, which then flew onto grass, and we  realised it was a very young Wood Pigeon, probably just out of the nest. Some people wonder why they never see baby pigeons, but they are fully-grown by the time they emerge, and look just like the adults, apart from the detail of the plumage.

27 Crosby Young WP

One large field was ploughed up and seeded as a wildflower meadow about four years ago. It looks very rough and unkempt from a distance, but it bears closer inspection. We found an orchid in there with unspotted leaves, and a tall, thin, dark purple flower, just going over. I wonder if it came in with the wildflower mix, whether it was always under the grass, just waiting for the mowing to stop, or whether it had come from a wind-blown seed? The rest of the meadow contained various grasses, plus Ragwort, Musk Mallow, Red and White Clover, Knapweed, Buttercups, Lady’s Bedstraw, Cornflower, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Wild Carrot, and one delicate white frothy one we had to look up – probably Common Marsh Bedstraw.

27 Crosby Marsh bedstraw

In another field they have halved the mowing job by only cutting in a spiral, so now it looks like a maze, or a spiral walkway.

27 Crosby mowing spiral

On a wooded bank there were more wildflowers, those typical of shady edges. Corncockle, Ox-Eye Daisy, Feverfew, Foxglove, Red Campion and lots of tall Garlic Mustard with seed pods. A couple of Grey Squirrels scampered about. Scattered all around are wood carvings on old tree stumps, with lovely detailed workmanship.

27 Crosby wood carving

There used to be a “notable” tree here, because there was a marked map at one of the entrances and an explanatory sign next to the tree itself. I looked at them two or three years ago. However, the map and the marker have both now disappeared. The tree was notable because it was planted to commemorate a Royal event for one of the 20th century Georges. I think it was for the accession or coronation of George V in 1910 or 1911. We pottered around the trees in the right area and wondered if it was the Oak, revealed to be a Pedunculate or English Oak Quercus robur, by its stalked young acorns. It’s less common in the north west of England than the Sessile Oak Quercus petraea. That might have been the special tree, but there was also huge old Black Poplar Populus nigra, a species which is rarer now that Hybrid Poplars are planted so widely. The bark was wonderfully fissured and ridged and the tree itself towered over the adjacent Sycamore (half in front of it on the left) and the English Oak (behind and right). I wonder if that was the one?

27 Crosby Black Poplar

27 Crosby Poplar trunk

Public transport details: The Southport train from Liverpool Central at 10.08, arriving Waterloo at 10.25. Returned on the train from Blundellsands and Crosby at 2.37, due Liverpool Central at 2.58.


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Gorse Hill, Aughton, 5th July 2015

26 Gorse Hill group at gate

Another warm and sunny day, with thin cloud and high humidity, although rain was forecast for later in the day. From Aughton Park Station we turned right onto Long Lane, crossed Prescot Road, then crossed Liverpool Road at Christ Church Aughton, and took the footpath up to the Reservoir. There was a Dunnock on the ramp at the station exit and a young Swallow on the wire by the church. The hay has been harvested, and there were huge wheels of it on the skyline.

26 Gorse Hill hay on horizon

On the verges of the wheat fields we spotted a Small Tortoiseshell, some Meadow Browns and a  Red-tailed Bumble bee. A large dragonfly flew past – probably an Emperor. A Skylark was singing overhead and a Kestrel was hovering. Along the footpath to Holly Lane the Elder and Honeysuckle were blooming in the hedgerow.

26 Gorse Hill honeysuckle

This summer, Gorse Hill is having open days on the first Sunday of each month. See their website and also their blog “Out and About at Gorse Hill” . They are particularly proud of having all three species of Newt on the site, and have built new ponds and connecting damp hedge lines to allow them to disperse. Along the sides of some paths they have laid flagstones with spaces below them to act as Newt shelters, and which are also used by beetles and spiders.

26 Gorse Hill newt shelter

Other man-made homes for wildlife included small mammal piles, made from plastic tubes filled with hay, covered in carpet squares pegged in place, then covered with branches, They say they are popular nesting and refuge sites for mice, voles and shrews.

26 Gorse Hill mammal pile
We were also impressed by the Bug Hotel with en-suite teapot!

26 Gorse Hill bug hotel

We lunched at the picnic tables alongside Seldom Pond. There were hundreds of Common Blue Damselflies, many paired and ovipositing in the water, others basking on the Bramble.

26 Gorse Hill damselfly

Tree Sparrows were visiting the bird feeders, and there were Blackbirds along the woodland edges. Several magnificent Teasel plants were towering over the plants at the water’s edge.

26 Gorse Hill teasel

Along the other side of the wood many trees bore signs identifying the species, whether it was native or not, and what the wood is used for. Speckled Woods were dancing in sunny spots, we spotted one Red Admiral and we heard the song of a Willow Warbler. The reserve encourages children from visiting school parties to write poems about the woods, and some are on display. This one is beautifully illustrated by its author.

26 Gorse Hill poem

We climbed up Gaw Hill and saw one of the reserve’s specialties, a bright male Yellowhammer, singing from a favourite tall branch. There is a great view northwards to Southport and further on to Blackpool Tower. Then we headed back to the Visitor’s Centre, admiring the large stands of Foxgloves in the shady spots.

26 Gorse Hill foxglove

They sell tea and home-made cake (recommended) and there is a stall where they sell some of their own garden produce such as rhubarb, beetroot, strawberries, gooseberries and red currants. They also have an orchard growing heritage varieties of apples, which will be on sale in the autumn. Just as we sat down for tea the heavens opened. It rained heavily as we walked back to the station, so we were soaked for the first time in ages. Still, the gardens need it!

Public transport details: The Ormskirk train from Central Station at 10.10, arriving Aughton Park station at 10.36. Returned from Aughton Park on the 15.23 train, arriving Liverpool 15.50.


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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.


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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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