Festival Gardens, 29th October 2017

What a gorgeous day for late October!  Bright and sunny, with only a slightly chilly northerly breeze. The Festival Gardens are the remaining portion of the old Garden Festival from 1984. Liverpool Council have a new £700m plan to build on and around the site, but say they will keep the Festival Gardens.

To our surprise there were dozens of young Strawberry trees in the shrubberies. They are a rarity elsewhere, and one of the “special” trees of Birkenhead Park, but they are common in the Festival Gardens. This is the best time of year to see them, when last year’s fruits are turning from yellow to red, while this year’s white bell-like flowers are in bloom. The fruits are said to be unpalatable and the Latin name is Arbutus unedo, “unedo” meaning “You’ll only eat one!!” However, they apparently make good jam and the Portuguese make an alcoholic drink called Medronho from them.

The park is a sheltered, sunny, south-west-facing spot, and there were many flowers still in bloom including Ragwort, Bramble, Meadow Cranesbill, Herb Robert, Daisy, Dandelion, Evening Primrose, Hedge Bindweed and Marjoram.

The duck pond had a couple of sleeping Mallards, a Coot and a Moorhen and, oddly, a Heron up a tree.

On a lawn was one pretty little fungus, which I think was the Grisette, Amanita vaginata.

One small Pedunculate Oak tree had just a few Spangle Galls on the underside of the leaves but lots of what I am used to calling Oak Apples, but they are really Marble Galls. (Oak Apples are bigger, up to 4 cm, whereas the Marble Galls are about 1 or 2 cm.) They are caused by the wasp Andricus kollari, and you can see on one of the galls the little hole where the adult wasp has emerged.

We lunched on the jetty overlooking the main pond. What was probably the same Heron was there, hunting in the water very close by us.

Although we saw it catch a fish, there can’t be many others, because the pond looked pretty barren. Food for all the birds must  be scarce, because we watched a multi-species competitive drama unfold. One of us threw a small piece of bread out and a Mallard cruised over, but the Heron got there first and grabbed the morsel. After the Mallard had left we put some more small scraps of bread in the water but the Heron wasn’t interested in them. The scraps just floated there on the water. However, a Magpie flew slowly over,  clearly interested, but not able to figure out a way to get them.  It pondered the situation from a rock, but that wasn’t near enough.

It waded from a small island, but it became too deep.

Then it tried landing gingerly on a precarious twig, but that was still too far away, and it eventually gave up, completely frustrated by the out-of-reach bread. Suddenly, over on the other side, it spotted a Moorhen which had found a different, very big piece of bread. The Magpie hurried over but the Moorhen retreated fast and jerkily, with the bread still in its beak, and it hid behind some rocks. Then there was some squawking, and the Magpie emerged with the bread. It flew up with its prize to the top of the waterfall, whereupon the Heron’s interest was revived, and it followed the Magpie up there. We couldn’t see the final outcome, but the big chunk of bread wasn’t seen again.
Meanwhile a Grey Wagtail was pottering along the shallow edge.

It was warm and sunny enough to tempt some butterflies out, and we saw both Speckled Wood and Red Admiral on the wing. Then we climbed the hill, up through the woods, to the top where there a views over to Moel Fammau. A Buzzard cruised up from the river, and a dragonfly perched helpfully on a piece of old white wood. It was a Common Darter male I think.

The floor of the woods was clothed in the fern-like new leaves of Cow Parsley. Are they supposed to be out already? Do they think it’s Spring? The wild flower book by Blamey, Fitter and Fitter says the leaves appear in January or even earlier, so it’s not unheard of, but still far too early. It’s a very peculiar autumn for most things. There are hardly any red colours in the leaves, perhaps only in Cherries and Azaleas. The leaves of Birch, Ash, Field Maple, Alder, Willow and Lime are still green and are staying on the trees. There is some yellowing of the leaves of Oak, Norway Maple, Sycamore and Hazel, and only the fallen leaves are brown.
The river was low and the water was like glass. We lingered for a while, hoping to see Harbour Porpoises, Killer Whales or even a Seal or two, but no luck. Then we walked southwards.

One fisherman said he had caught a Whiting about a foot long which he had put back. The others said they were waiting for the tide to turn when the incoming flood would bring them Cod weighing up to 12lb.

There were more flowers along the riverside path, Yarrow and Common Mallow. At the bottom of Jericho Lane was a tree that looked like Hawthorn, but it had huge Haws, less-indented leaves and two seeds in the fruit. It was probably Midland Hawthorn but the fruits aren’t supposed to be that big!

The Otterspool café had dubbed itself the “Ottersghoul Halloween Experience” and was running a Ghost Train for the kids and providing Zombie cocktails for the grownups. We took the lovely wooded path through Otterspool Park, which was once the driveway of a gentry house, so it is lined with interesting trees. Just before the railway bridge was a Persian Ironwood, normally famous for its autumn colour, but today just managing some vaguely orange tips to some yellow leaves.

A Hornbeam still bore most of its seed clusters, and we could find only one on the ground beneath.

Several Cut-leaved Beeches made golden carpets of fallen leaves.

Deep in the woods off the path there was a possible Swamp Cypress with a lovely rusty colour, but it was too far back over boggy ground for me to investigate. There were also some Cedars, tall and scrubby-looking things bearing masses of bright light-green baby cones. The cones of Atlas Cedars are purplish, and the needles of Deodar Cedars are of uneven lengths, so I think these were Cedars of Lebanon, despite not showing the majestic “flat-plane” shapes of trees which grow in open situations.

The path through Otterspool Park ends at the corner of Jericho Lane by the gates of the old house.

Public transport details: Bus 82A from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.15, arriving Riverside Drive / St Michael’s Interchange at 10.30. Returned from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane on the 82 at 2.33, arriving Liverpool ONE at 2.50.

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Eastham, 22nd October 2017

This morning we were still being thrashed by the squally showers of Storm Brian, but by lunchtime the sun had come out. The only bird to be heard as we set off down the path past the Leverhulme Sports Field to the Eastham Country Park was a Carrion Crow, loudly cawing as we passed. The remains of the old Beech stump, once Wirral’s tallest tree and now being left to rot naturally, were covered in Puff-ball fungi. There were plenty of  copper-coloured fallen leaves of Oak and Beech on the path, and masses of fallen acorns underfoot, but the leaves on the trees are still green. The only autumn colour was on this young Red Oak.

From the jetty by Eastham Ferry Hotel we could see white caps on river, with just a few gulls fighting the strong winds. The views down to the Liverpool waterfront are amazing.

We had lunch on the sheltered benches there, and watched the oil products tanker EK-STAR (registered at Arendal in Norway) come out of the Manchester Ship Canal. Three Redshanks followed it out.

Our last wildflower points of the year are from this Old Man’s Beard, also known as Traveller’s Joy. There aren’t any flowers left, of course, just the hairy seed clusters. It’s worth 20 points and takes us to 1130.

They feed birds at the back of the Visitors’ Centre, and there were plenty of seed-eaters coming for the easy pickings – Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches, a Robin and this matching pair of Greenfinches.

Above the feeders was this splendid male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

It all went quiet for a while as a Sparrowhawk flew overhead, but then they all popped out again.  One of the birds we are missing on our I-Spy list is a Bullfinch, and Eastham is a likely place. We sat and watched for quite a while but, frustratingly, none appeared. So we headed off to the old Pleasure Gardens. They are now very overgrown. Look at this mossy old wall with a tree growing out of it!

We kept going southwards along Ferry Road, and spotted a flock of dozens of Curlews in the field opposite the Golf Club. We came out at Eastham Village, where we went to look at the old Yew tree in the churchyard.  A sign attached to the fence around it said it is believed to be about 1600 years old.

It has a hollow and broken trunk, but it seems to be healthy, producing a bumper crop of berries this year.

Public transport details: Bus 1 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.23, arriving New Chester Road opp. Woodyear Road at 11.00. Returned on the 1 from New Chester Road opp. Eastham Village Road at 2.52, arriving Liverpool 3.25.


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Mossley Hill, 15th October 2017

On a wonderfully warm and sunny day before Storm Ophelia hits us on Monday, we returned to the Liverpool Thorn Collection on Templemore Avenue. We went there in May 2016 when the trees were flowering, but now we wanted to see them in autumn. They are various rare relatives of the Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) or Medlar (Mespilus sp.) and some are hybrids of the two.  The “Grignon Hawthorn”, Crataegus x grignonensis, bore fairly normal-looking Haws, with the usual single seed.

The Medlar Mespilus germanica was full of fruit, none of which had fallen. It’s a handsome small tree, now taking on its autumn colours.

We were keen to see it because it is on our I-Spy list and worth 25 points, taking us to 1225. I was also interested to see what the fruit was like inside so I took some home. One was starting to “blet” (go brown, when it becomes edible), but the unripe flesh is white like an apple, and oxidises to brown very quickly. They are very hard to cut in half because the central five-lobed core is hard like a stone.

The Fireberry, Crataegus chrysocarpa was next on our list, and we hoped to see some spectacularly-coloured golden berries. Sadly, it appeared to be dead, bare of leaves or any fruit. There are several other dead-looking trees nearby, or perhaps they all drop their leaves very early.  A different nearby tree was flourishing, though. It had very dark red Haws, nearly black.

When we opened one we were amazed to find it had four seeds inside, each with a triangular point, like segments of an orange. Apparently the Fireberry has three or four seeds too, so was this a living specimen? No, because C. chrysocarpa has oval leaves, hardly indented at all, but we thought this tree had leaves which were more indented, not less. No idea what it was.

Then we walked up to Sudley House and had our lunch on the south-facing terrace. In the grounds we spotted our best autumn tree yet, this lovely young Sweet Gum Liquidambar styraciflua. Despite its initial appearance, this isn’t a Maple. Its leaves are all alternate whereas on Maples they are opposite. Sweet Gum leaves smell aromatic when crushed, which is another way to distinguish them from Maples.

Here’s an unusual shrub, with hanging racemes of claret bracts and shiny purple berries. It is  Pheasant Berry Leycesteria formosa which was a favourite of the Victorians but is now out of fashion.  Hessayon’s Flowering Shrub Expert says “The berries are attractive to birds and it has long been a favourite for pheasant coverts, hence its name.”

We had hoped to go into the walled garden, but it was closed due to vandalism. They run gardening sessions there for local people with “significant health issues and disabilities” but recently found evidence that someone had been camping, leaving rubbish and making a fire from some of their posts and canes. They had to lock it up. Nearby was our last interesting shrub, with white and orange seeds.  It’s the Japanese Spindle Euonymus japonicus.

Public transport details: Bus 80A from Liverpool ONE at 10.34. (We had intended to get it at Great Charlotte Street but buses were diverted because of a Fun Run). Arrived Rose Lane / Templemore Avenue 11.07. Returned on 80A from Rose Lane / Mossley Hill Station at 1.55, arriving City Centre at 2.25.

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Gorse Hill Apple Festival, 8th October 2017

There was a “V” of about 50 Pink-footed Geese flying north over Aughton church, identified by their high-pitched contact calls. On the way up to the reservoir the field to the left of the path was ploughed, and several Black-headed Gulls were pecking about in it. On the other side, a crop of carrots had been harvested, but there were plenty left.

There was a Pied Wagtail on the reservoir roof, a Robin on a wire and the riding ponies were watching us closely from under a windswept tree.

The second Sunday in October is always the Apple Festival at Gorse Hill, and we joined the orchard tour which was setting out just as we arrived. They have 105 trees of 30 varieties, planted 15 years ago on semi-dwarfing rootstocks. That has encouraged them to fruit early and they are easier to harvest, without needing ladders. The volunteers there are very proud to have the variety “Isaac Newton”, which they say is a cutting from the original tree in the Newton family garden at Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham, and which is apparently still alive. The fruit of almost all the varieties at Gorse Hill ripened early this year, so most of the trees are now bare, with just some late trees still to harvest.

We lunched by Seldom’s Pond, watching Blue Tits and a Coal Tit on the bird feeders. There was a Brown Hawker dragonfly still flying over the reeds. Then we strolled through the lovely woodland paths.

Many of the trees there are labelled, and one was a Spindle tree, which had no fruit, so we wouldn’t have known. We’ve seen them three weeks running now. The woods are full of bug hotels, newt shelters (they say they have all three species), wood carvings and small mammal piles, made from plastic tubes stuffed with hay, covered with carpet squares then pegged down and piled over with branches.

At the barn area they were selling apple juice (but no cider this year), local organic veg and their own apples. I got some runner beans, some Cavolo Nero kale, a wonky cucumber and two apples each of varieties “Katy” and “Sunset”, to add to the windfall “Yorkshire Aromatic” and “Egremont Russet” which I’d picked up earlier.

The Northern Fruit Growers had an interesting display showing “Bismark” apples, said to be all from the same tree. Some were perfect, some were frosted, some had insect damage, some had scab fungus and some were just funny shapes. How many apples from commercial growers are wasted because they aren’t perfect?

Gorse Hill is known for its Yellowhammers, a bird that we’d still like to bag for our list. We wouldn’t have turned our noses up at a Bullfinch, either. No sign of either, to our regret. All was very still and quiet, apart from a gas gun bird scarer going off in the next field, so all we saw were wheeling flocks of disturbed Wood Pigeons. No new flowers or trees today, either. There are wonderful views overlooking Ormskirk church from the top of Gaw Hill. It’s one of only three churches in England to have both a tower and a spire (the other two are in Wiltshire) and the only one which has them both at the same end of the church.

At Aughton Park Station we were amused to see the tough-as-old-roots Himalayan Balsam sprouting out of the gabions of stone which support the banks of the cutting.

Public transport details: Ormskirk train from Moorfields at 10.12, arriving Aughton Park 10.40, Returned on the 2.52 train from Aughton park, arriving Moorfields 3.18.


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Award for founder of New Ferry Butterfly Park

The Prime Minister has recognised Dr Hilary Ash, from Cheshire, for founding the ‘New Ferry Butterfly Park’ on an abandoned railway depot, creating one of the North’s most biodiverse urban areas.  See this post on the Cheshire Wildlife Trust website

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Pickerings Pasture, 1st October 2017

Pickerings Pasture, on the Mersey estuary near the Widnes-Runcorn bridge, is the site of the old Widnes tip which was reclaimed in the 1980s and declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1992. The Mersey Estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Ramsar site. It is internationally important for Dunlin, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Teal, Pintail and Shelduck.  Improved water quality in the Mersey has led to over 50 species of fish being found in recent years, encouraging fishing birds like Cormorant, Heron and Great Crested Grebe. It is also occasionally visited by Common and Atlantic Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoises and once each of Minke and Killer Whales. We saw nothing as exciting as that today, sadly.

It was a couple of hours after high tide, and the sandbanks were emerging from the river, holding only Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Cormorant drying its wings.

It was still warm for the time of year, muggy and damp, with threat of rain later. We had seen lots of autumn colour from the bus on the way, especially in the ornamental roadside trees in Estuary Business Park, but Pickerings Pasture was still almost completely green. We made our way along to the bird hide at the southern point for lunch, despite the wind blowing fiercely through the viewing ports. There was nothing out there but Cormorants and Mallards, with a few Shelduck on the field.

We had hoped for some woodland birds on the feeders there, but they are all broken and empty. The bird table outside the hide was empty, too. The MNA makes a regular donation towards the cost of bird food here, and the “thank-you” sign is still up, but we weren’t getting our money’s worth today!

When they reclaimed the tip they planted wildlife-friendly native species such as Oak, Ash, Alder, Birch, Willow. Aspen, Larch and Scots Pine, with an underplanting of Sea and Alder Buckthorn, Field Maple, Elder and Dogwood. Other species have either arrived naturally or been planted since then. There are some Spindle trees on either side of the path to the hide, and although they never make big trees, we thought these were quite small, spindly things, perhaps not thriving in the shade. We were happy to see the Aspens, though, one of the few remaining tree species on our I-Spy list, worth 20 points and taking us to 1200. The ones on the side of the path by the hide were blowing wildly in the strong wind, but the tree by the Control Meadow was more sheltered, and the leaves were fluttering beautifully on their long red-brown stalks. They reminded me of the line in Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott -“Willows whiten, aspens quiver, little breezes dusk and shiver …”

Also by the path side were these lovely smoky purple leaves, which I think belong to the Grey Dogwood Cornus sanguinea.

There were big white mushrooms in the wood, and one fence had a sign showing that Pickerings Pasture are now also getting donations from Tesco. Do they still need our regular donation?

The flowers in the meadows had nearly all finished, but we spotted a late Small Scabious Scabiosa columbaria. No points for that, though. The old seed heads were very attractive to Goldfinches, and a charm of over 100 birds was lifting and falling, then twittering prettily whenever they returned to the surrounding trees.

The Alders bore their unripe cones and the Hazels were showing next year’s catkins, but there are never any nuts where there are squirrels.

The only autumn colours were the Lime trees near the exit, dropping gold and yellow leaves.

Public transport details: Bus 82A (Halton Hospital) from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.15, arriving 11.05 at Hale Gate Road / Mersey View Road. Returned from the opposite stop on the 82A at 1.51, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 2.40.


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Freshfield Fungal Foray 30th September 2017

Here’s a few pics from a very sucessful fungal foray around Montagu Triangle woodland and Freshfield Dune Heath. Thanks go to Tony Carter of the North West Fungal Group for his expertise during the foray 🙂

Bay Cup Peziza badia

Conifer Mazegill Gloeophyllum sepiarium

Earpick Fungus Auriscalpium vulgare

Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria

Rufous Milkcap Lactarius rufus

Earthfan Fungus Thelephora terrestris

Common Puffball Lycoperdon perlatum

Smoked Oysterling Resupinatus applicatus

Frosty Webcap Cortinarius hemitrichus

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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Marshside, 24th September 2017

An odd day at Marshside, with an almost deserted Sandgrounders hide, both inside and out, but all the excitement at Nel’s hide, where there were two Cattle Egrets. However, even this late in the season there are still flowers to be found. Near the bus stop in Elswick Road there was a low four-petalled yellow flower at the base of a garden wall which might have been Annual Wall Rocket. On the bank on the south side of the reserve were Ragwort, Poppies and White Dead-nettle. Large numbers of snails were clinging to the nettles. I wonder why they climb up like that?

Along Marshside Road we usually see lots of birds on the grass and in the gully, but it was all very quiet, with just cows doing conservation grazing and some small flocks of Pink-footed Geese dropping in. But there were more flowers to note – Evening Primrose, Comfrey, Yarrow, Tansy and this distinctive raggedy-looking “dandelion” which is Perennial Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis, also known as Corn Sow-thistle or Field Milk-thistle. We get ten points for that, taking us up to 1110.

There were a few more birds on the southern side of Marshside Road, including Greylag Geese, a few Curlew, some Black-tailed Godwits and the ubiquitous Mallards. Perhaps it was the man noisily strimming the long grass that was making most birds lie low. On the path down to Sandgrounders hide we found a small brown toad about three inches long, heading for the grassy verge. Not a Natterjack, because it had no yellow stripe down its back, so it was just a Common Toad.

Sandgrounders Hide was empty, and there weren’t many birds on the water outside, either, just Shelduck, Shoveller, Teal, possibly some distant Gadwall and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits on the far side. No sightings for that day (Sunday) had been entered in the hide record book.



Yesterday’s (Saturday’s) sightings included five Cattle Egrets from Nel’s Hide, and, to our amusement, someone had written “Golden Eagle, 8”. I think there would have been a huge scrum at the hide if that were true!

On the way back up to the road we kept a lookout along the bank for the plant Black Horehound, which I’d seen there once before, and would have been worth 30 points, but no luck. There were plenty of Michaelmas Daisies though, and I spotted this web of the Nursery Web Spider but there were no interesting spiderlings to be seen.

There are several Spindle trees flanking and overshadowing the path down to Nel’s Hide, and they have fruited very well this year.

There was a large flock of Godwits on the far side, with some Golden Plover next to them. The usual Shovelers and Lapwings. Near the water’s edge were two Little Egrets, with their black beaks.

The star birds were the Cattle Egrets. Five had been reported the previous day, but there was still definitely one, probably two, and as their name suggests, they were closely attending the grazing cows.

Our last wildflower was spotted as we returned to the bus. It was a clump of low pink flowers with frilly leaves (doubly pinnate), growing next to the path, and I think it was Common Storksbill.

Public transport details: Train from Liverpool Central to Southport at 10.08, arriving 10.55. Then bus 44 from Hoghton Street, stop HC (opposite the Little Theatre) at 11.20, arriving Elswick Road / Preesall Close at 11.30. Returned on the 44 bus from Marshside Road / Elswick Road at 2.25, arriving Southport at 2.38, then the 2.58 train from Southport to Liverpool.

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Sefton Park, 17th September 2017

The Model Boat Club meets at Sefton Park every Sunday morning, even in misty drizzle like today.

The usual birds were on the lake, Mallards, Coots and Moorhen, Canada Geese and Mute Swans. There seemed to be a lot of cygnets, which at this time of the year are full-grown but still fawny-grey. Later we were able to see there were NINE of them, a very good brood indeed! One pair of Moorhen appeared to be sitting on a nest, which will be a very late brood if the eggs hatch. Several Little Grebes were diving, a Great Crested Grebe was bathing itself, and there was a single Pochard.  A Grey Wagtail pottered about on the edge.

Little Grebe


Grey Wagtail

There were some large clumps of late-flowering Black Nightshade in the shrubbery on the west side of the lake, a plant we don’t see very often. There are several old Sweet Chestnut trees along that side of the lake, which are having a very good year for fruit. The trunks were very thick and gnarly, and showed marked spiral ridges. Could they be as old as the park? It was founded in 1872, so they might be 145 years old.

There are other splendid trees between the north end of the main lake and the “Oasis in the Park” café. There is a cluster of Narrow-leaved Ash Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’ on the grassy slope, which haven’t yet come into their autumn glory of purple and gold. One of them is the Lancashire County Champion for girth at 234cm, (7’ 8”).  Along the waterside verge are some wonderful old Cherries, and opposite the bandstand is a Black Walnut Juglans nigra, which is the Lancashire County Champion for both girth (270 cm, 8’ 10”) and height (20 m, 65 feet). Large fruit were falling, so it was rather reckless to have a park bench sited right underneath!

Today was the Food Festival and part of the northern field was fenced off. We could see lots of  marquees, music was playing and some interesting barbecue scents wafted our way, but we determinedly avoided it.  We hoped to see the Kingfishers which seem to have taken up residence north of the café, but the water was completely covered with green algae, so they had clearly gone off to a better fishing area. Autumn colours were just starting on some trees, including a Red Oak, and this one that looks like some sort of Maple.

We were stopped by a lady who had taken charge of a lost dog and was searching for its owners. Its tag said “Ozzie” and gave two mobile numbers. We rang them both for her, and texted one of them,  without success. Later we heard that she had met someone who knew Ozzie’s owners. Good, he was a lovely, friendly, trusting dog.

We lunched on the seats near the aviary, where there was a Large White butterfly visiting the flowers, now that the sun had come out. One of the flowers was Golden Rod, looking more like the native wildflower, so I think we will claim 15 I-Spy points for it, despite it probably being a cultivated variety.  That takes us to 1100.

Just on the corner of the aviary is a tall Indian Bean tree, which I hadn’t noticed before. They are easy to spot just now, because their big leaves are turning uniformly yellow. There was a shrub of the Physalis type, but as there are up to 90 species I have no idea which one it was. They are variously known as Chinese Lanterns, Ground Cherry or Cape Gooseberry.

A young tree on the corner attracted our attention. It had very big leaves and bore the remains of an upright multiple flower head. It was a Foxglove Tree!  That’s only the fifth one we know on Merseyside.

We looked in the Dell for the Kingfishers, but they weren’t there either. We noted the good trees there, Liquidambar, Deodar, Cut-leaved Beech and a Tulip Tree. Then we had a very brief glimpse of a Treecreeper. Hooray! That’s one of the few outstanding birds on our I-Spy list, the first new bird on that list since 11th June, worth 30 points and taking us to 1315. The only realistically possible bird left to tick in that book is a Bullfinch, and we haven’t given up hope yet. Then up to the Ring-necked Parakeet feeding station. They use a tree stump as a fruit table, and today it had half a melon and a broken-up coconut. A big Rat and several Grey Squirrels mooched on the ground below, a Jay watched us from a branch overhead and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed in the distance. Then we heard the characteristic squawk and a Parakeet flew in and perched over the melon.

At the top of the steps leading back down to the main lake is a tree with long strings of hanging seeds. It’s a Caucasian Wingnut Pterocarya fraxinifolia.

The rarest tree we saw today is a little sapling with huge leaves, on the bank opposite the island. I think it’s a Butternut Juglans cinerea which in my old Mitchell field guide is described as “Very rare, a few collections and gardens in S England, S Scotland and Ireland.” I saw one in Edinburgh Botanic Gardens last year and was impressed by the huge compound leaves, 60cm (2 feet) long, almost dwarfing the tree. Even the leaflets are about 15cm (6 inches) long. I asked John to lean in and grab a leaflet on this little tree to show the scale. From his hand into the trunk is one leaf!

Back at the lakeside we noted a large light-coloured fish near the surface of the water, easily a foot long. There was a fast-moving butterfly, perhaps a Comma, or possibly a Small Tortoiseshell. One Coot had coloured leg rings, left yellow over orange, right light blue over a BTO. This study was done several years ago, so this must be quite an old bird. I have sent the sighting to the BTO via the Euring website.  [Reply from the BTO 19th September: “This bird was ringed as age 1st year, sex unknown on 28-Aug-2011 Redes Mere, Siddington, Cheshire, UK, OS Map reference SJ8471.” So it is now six years old and ours was the first-re-sighting since it was ringed.]
The Mute Swan cygnets were flapping vigorously in a circle. The father of this huge brood was standing on the bank. He had a blue Darvic ring on his right leg, XA6.  We saw him here in early 2014. I have sent the sighting to the North West Swan Study.

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.03, arriving Aigburth Road opposite Ashbourne Road at 10.23.  Several returned on the 68 from Aigburth Vale, others got the 82 at Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane, arriving City Centre 2.48.

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MNA Coach Trip RSPB Fairburn Ings 16th September 2017

It has been four years since the MNA visited Fairburn Ings. Close to the visitor centre there was a small wildflower and herb area including Viper’s-bugloss Echium vulgare, Goldenrod Solidago virgaurea, Chicory Cichorium intybus and Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris. We wandered along the short section of boardwalk through the reedbed – a dozen or so Common Amber Snails Succinea putris were on the reed stems along with a lone Hawthorn Shieldbug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale. A shrub bearing bright pink fruits was identified as Spindle Euonymus europaea. I nipped along to one of the pond-dipping platforms where a pair of Mute Swans were begging food from one of the young visitors despite the vast covering of nutritious Duckweed Lemna minuta.

Mute Swan

We gazed over Big Hole pond with its flock of Lapwing, a couple of Little Grebes, lone BHG and Starlings.

The group split and along with ChrisB headed along the Lin Dike trail through predominantly Birch woodland and shrubs following the banks of the River Aire with Fungi including Brown Birch Bolete Leccinum scabrum, Scaly Earthball Scleroderma verrucosum, Purple Brittlegill Russula atropurpurea, Sycamore Tar Spot Rhytisma acerinum, Blackberry Rust Phragmidium violaceum and numerous unidentified species.

Brown Birch Bolete Leccinum scabrum

Scaly Earthball Scleroderma verrucosum

A couple of Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta and a Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria were on the wing along with Odonata – Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanaea and Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum. Birdlife was quiet but there were a few Bullfinch, Chiffchaff, various Tits, yaffling Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a bird call that had us puzzled for a while until the grey matter remembered juv Reed Bunting. We took a sharp right and climbed up the Coal Tips trail offering views of the reserve and a couple of the large ponds with gazillions of Coot, a few Tufties, Mallards and insect hoovering House Martins. On a couple of the fence posts were lone Red-legged Shieldbugs Pentatoma rufipes.

Red-legged Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes

Plenty of wildflowers with Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Dyer’s Greenweed Genista tinctoria, Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea, Red Bartsia Odontites vernus, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Wild Teasel Dipsacus fullonum, Greater Burdock Arctium lappa, Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus, Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Black Medick Medicago lupulina, Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata and Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis amongst others. Autumn fruits included Bramble Rubus fruticosus, Dog-rose Rosa canina, Blackthorn a.k.a. Sloe Prunus spinosa, Crab Apple Malus sylvestris, Rowan Sorbus aucuparia, Elder Sambucus nigra, Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus and Dogwood Cornus sp.

Reaching close to Big Hole again the flock of Lapwing took to the air – we bumped into Lynn and Hugh who had just seen the possible cause – a Sparrowhawk overhead. We checked out the Oak trees for galls and had pretty much a full contingent caused by various Gall Wasps with Oak Knopper Gall Andricus quercuscalicis, Oak Marble Gall Andricus kollari, Oak Artichoke Gall Andricus foecundatrix (formerly Andricus fecundator), Oak Common Spangle Gall Neuroterus quercusbaccarum and Oak Silk Button Gall caused by the Gall Wasp Neuroterus numismalis as well as Powdery Oak Mildew Erysiphe alphitoides.

Oak Silk Button Galls

We then bumped into DaveB and co who had taken the Riverbank trail through more mature woodland (evident through the leaves of Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum and Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa) overlooking the River Aire down a steep bank on the right and Main Bay and Village Bay ponds on the left. They’d had good views of a male Common Hawker Aeshna juncea that obligingly perched so that Ron Crossley could take a few shots. They’d also seen a few Fungi which we also found – Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria, Southern Bracket Ganoderma australe, Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus and a few Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius.

Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius

The ponds held Greylags and Canada Geese, great Crested and Little Grebes, Mute Swans, loafing Cormorants – plus Hugh had mentioned Shoveler and Pochard. As a finale ChriB spotted some nibbled leaves – the culprits Willow Sawfly larvae Nematus pavidus.

Willow Sawfly larvae Nematus pavidus

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.


Posted in MNA reports | Comments Off on MNA Coach Trip RSPB Fairburn Ings 16th September 2017