Our bus took us past the Cammell Laird’s shipyard and from the top deck we got a good view of the new polar research vessel Sir David Attenborough being fitted out in the dry dock. Eastham is on the west bank of the river Mersey, opposite Liverpool John Lennon airport. It was the site of the ancient first ferry, which ran until 1928. My mother remembered going to the pleasure gardens there. Since 1973 it has been a Country Park, with 100 acres of broadleaf woodland containing some of the largest mature trees in Merseyside, especially Oak, Beech and Sweet Chestnut. It also provides spectacular views across to Liverpool.
We walked alongside the Leverhulme Sports Ground but at the junction we didn’t go straight ahead to the Visitors’ Centre, as we usually do, but cut diagonally into the open field. We stopped to inspect the piles of wood chippings on the corner, hoping for fungi. There was a large ring of slim white gilled mushrooms on the top of one of the piles – they smelled like edible mushrooms but I bet they weren’t! Our route then took us into the southern part of the woods, following a path which looped northwards alongside Ferry Road. Considering it’s only July, there were many interesting fungi popping out all through the woods, which I’d usually expect to see in more autumnnal months. The bracket fungus with the chestnut top and white underside is Artist’s Bracket Ganoderma applanatum, I think, and we also saw Chicken of the Woods Laetiporus sulphureus and what appeared to be a Stinkhorn Phallus impudicus, which a previous forager had pulled up and carefully laid on a stump.
We also noted an unusual rounded red one growing out of the roots of an oak tree. It didn’t have gills, but felt spongy underneath. I think it’s the Beefsteak or Ox Tongue fungus Fistulina hepatica, which is said to infect oak.
Other signs of autumn included the first red berries of Rowan trees on sunny roadsides, conkers growing on Horse Chestnut trees and ripening blackberries.
Although the heatwave goes on, today started cooler. It was shady in the woods, but when we came out into the open area to have lunch on the picnic tables, we felt the strength of the sunshine. On the river side of the car park there is a notable tree, a Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla. The leaves are rather Yew-like, but scattered randomly along the twigs and it has little woody cones rather like Alder. The new green cones of this year were also amongst them.
We popped into the Visitor’s Centre to check out the birds. They come to feeders, set out behind a big picture window in the back room. Today’s visitors were nearly all Great Tits, Blue Tits and a few Coal Tits, either fledglings or scruffy-looking adults. I was told there had been a Siskin but I missed it! But if the birds were disappointing, we made up for it in butterflies. On the young oak scrub by a dead tree stump overlooking the river we spotted two or three Purple Hairstreaks. This one sat obligingly to be photographed, but wouldn’t open its wings to show the dark purple upperwings.
We have talked about Purple Hairstreaks before, and sometimes gone to where they were reputed to be, but this is the first time most of us have ever seen one. A lifer! They seem to be increasing locally – just in the last few days I have seen reports of them newly colonising Ainsdale Dune Heath and the footpath between Little Crosby and Ince woods. Other butterflies seen today included Small White, Speckled Wood and a Comma by the gate into the industrial estate. When I arrived home my Buddleia was hosting a shy Gatekeeper and a magnificent “in-your-face” Peacock.
Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving New Chester Road / opp Woodyear Road at 10.50. Returned from New Chester Road / Allport Road (outside Christ the King RC church) at 2.35, arriving Liverpool 3.10.