Wirral Way, Neston and Parkgate, 19th March 2017

Despite the colder turn, spring is still moving forward. I love this time of year, when the distant trees show faint washes of colour – misty greens and maroons – as they start to bud and leaf. There was a grey sky when I set out, and a gusty wind, but the sun soon made an appearance. In the churchyard of St Mary and St Helen in Neston, a tree had been blown down in Storm Doris: John saw it cordoned off  a week or so ago when he was there last. He thought it might have been a big old Holm Oak, but now it’s gone, reduced to a few logs and a patch of chippings. The wind was roaring in the tops of the other big bare trees. We headed down Church Lane then northwards along the Wirral Way.  The white blossom of Blackthorn and the pale green leaves of Hawthorn are out side-by-side.

We get 15 tree points for the Blackthorn and doubled it to 30 by correctly answering the question. Q1 “What is the name of the Irish hand weapon traditionally made from a Blackthorn branch?”  Hawthorn is worth only 10, but we doubled that too. Q2  “What other names do you know for this tree?” (Answers at the end.)  We also noticed the sticky buds of the Horse Chestnut breaking open, but we won’t count it until the leaves and flowers are out.

The Weeping Willows are greening and magnificent Magnolias are blooming in gardens. Many streets are adorned by early cherry blossom, and the Forsythia adds splashes of brilliant yellow.

The leaves of Wild Garlic showed in large patches by the wayside, but their flowers are still just buds, snuggled well down in the heart of the plant. There was a Bumble Bee, which looked like a Buff-tailed, flying low over the verge.  She will be a fertile Queen who has just woken from her winter sleep and is looking for a hole in the ground to establish a new colony.  As we reached Parkgate there were a few spots of rain. I was quite taken with this ornate inn sign outside The Red Lion, which I’ve never noticed before. (Too busy looking out over the marsh, I suppose.)

The tide was out and there were very few people or birds about. The main pool had a couple of  Oystercatchers, a few Canada Geese, half a dozen Black-headed Gulls, one Herring Gull and a  Moorhen. There were a few Teal on the far side and a Kestrel hovered over The Parade. Then a Little Egret flew in to a gully and caught a couple of fish.

We lunched in the little garden behind St Thomas’s church, sheltered from the gusty wind. They had a pretty display of early Tulips and Grape Hyacinths, and another Bumble Bee was prospecting in the flower beds. Then we walked up School Lane, where I spotted a shrub called Stag’s Horn Sumach in a garden, with last year’s dried-up flowers still showing well, reaching for the sky like a candelabra. The I-Spy tree book has made some idiosyncratic choices about what constitutes a tree, and this is one that they include, worth 25 points.

At the end of School Lane there is a footpath marked “3 miles to Thornton Hough”, and we went a few hundred yards along it. Perhaps we’ll explore it further another day. It was worth the short foray though, because we spotted a Chiffchaff, our first of the year. It wasn’t singing, and had perhaps just arrived from Africa . Then we returned to the Wirral Way and went back the way we came. A Robin was singing in the sunshine and the second Mistle Thrush of the day flew off as we passed. We heard the call of Great Spotted Woodpecker then spotted it in a tree. The early feathery leaves of Cow Parsley are shooting up all along the verges, and there was yet another Buff-tailed Bumble Bee. Less than a hundred yards from Station Road, Parkgate, there is big mound of red earth by the side of path, with several entrances on the far side. It is smooth by the entrance holes and there are some long scratch marks in the earth. There was no foxy smell. We think it’s probably a Badger sett, very near to houses and a busy road.

On a sunny tangled bank there was a carpet of Lesser Celandine, and in a shady corner what looked like Periwinkle but with oddly narrow petals. Was it an abnormal Lesser Periwinkle? The website English Wild Flowers, a seasonal guide, has a picture of a similar-looking Lesser Periwinkle Vinca minor, marked “Purple variety, Dorset”.

We came off the Wirral Way at Station Road, Neston. There was Shepherd’s Purse blooming at the edges of the pavement and some early Dandelions. High Street Gallery in the town had this painting of Parkgate Panorama, about 6 foot (2m) wide, marked “Limited Edition, only available here, £150”

The I-Spy bird points were up to 695 last week and we got at least 50 more today (including Teal, Chiffchaff and Mistle Thrush plus Rooks in the rookery in Thornton Hough as we passed on the bus.) The tree score is now up to 620.  (A1 Shillelagh, A2 May or Quickthorn).

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Neston Brook Street at 11.20. Returned on the 487 from Neston Brook Street at 2.40, arriving Liverpool City Centre at 3.25.

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Wigan Flashes 18th March 2017

Seven hardy souls braved the atrocious weather for today’s MNA walk around Wigan Flashes. We met up near Wigan Pier that despite reports of it being demolished looked reasonably intact. We wandered along a short section of the Leeds-Liverpool canal noting a Grey Wagtail near Trencherfield Mill that was enticing us with its call before we eventually had flight views. A Collared Dove was feeding on the balcony on one of the nearby canal-side apartments. We crossed the footbridge turning right onto the Leigh branch of the canal. Shepherd’s Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris, Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys and Red Dead-nettle Lamium purpureum were eking out a meagre existence along the canal path and the Blackthorn Prunus spinosa were covered in delicate white flowers. A few Chaffinch were flying around the bare trees and a Greenfinch uttered its nasal ‘dzwee’, Blackbirds and Robin were singing from the far bank while on the canal were a few Mallard and Canada Geese. Across the canal beside Pearson’s Flash eight Lesser Redpolls flitted around before giving good views perched on top of the Alders Alnus sp. On the water Tufties were joined by Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Mute Swan and a male Pochard. A few of the male Goldeneyes were displaying throwing back their heads whilst the females were adopting a subservient pose lying with their heads low to the water. The driving rain made observations on Scotsman’s Flash problematical – there was a close Cormorant, more Coot, a lone Moorhen, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in a gang towards the back of the Flash and Hugh noted a gathering of Hirundines – probably Sand Martin.

We dropped down the path SW at the bottom of Scotsman’s Flash where I heard a brief chunter from a Cetti’s Warbler. Into the woodland a scattering of Fungi with Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae, Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus, Yellow Brain Tremella mesenterica and Scarlet Elf Cup Sarcoscypha coccinea. Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa and Primrose Primula vulgaris were the only Spring-flowering plants. Birdlife included Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits, Prune, Song Thrush, a calling Chiffchaff, Woodpigeon and Magpie. We stopped for lunch on the picnic tables at Ochre Flash. A cob Mute Swan (sporting a blue darvic 4BDI) was all fluffed up for the pen he was re-establishing bonds with. I wandered along the track sighting a pair of Bullfinch. We continued along to Bryn March where a Kingfisher zipped across the reedbed. Another Chiffchaff was calling and a Cetti’s gave a burst of song. We returned to the canal track avoiding the deep puddle before crossing over a footbridge where a few Goldfinch were twittering and continuing back towards Wigan – another Chiffchaff calling and Cetti’s singing. Pearson’s Flash was productive again with ten pairs of Goldeneye now visible, Gadwall, Teal and Grey Heron overhead. A few metres along at Westwood Flash I stopped to check whether the Mute Swan was wearing a darvic ring – though it wasn’t –however three Snipe took off one after the other from the reeds – one of them circling around.

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Calderstones, 12th March 2017

When we entered the park near the south east corner, at the Allerton Road / Ballantrae Road junction, we found a new path going off to the left, through some shrubby woods. There were clumps of Three-cornered Leek and a sunny bank full of Lesser Celandines. Hooray! Another sign of Spring!

In the area of lawns and shrubs north of the text garden we admired a Corkscrew Willow, a Tibetan Cherry tree with its peeling mahogany-brown bark, a blooming Forsythia and the shrub Pieris japonica. The common garden variety has bright red new leaves and is called ‘Flame of the Forest’, but this one had no red on it at all, just the hanging clusters of white bell-like flowers. I think it’s probably variety ‘Purity’.

Roses in a long bed were all sprouting, and some early Cherry trees were starting to bloom.

There was more damage from Storm Doris – a Blue Atlas Cedar had lost a large branch, but instead of breaking off, it appeared to have “unplugged” from a conical socket in the trunk. Not the first branch to do that, by the look of the holey trunk.

The south-facing orangery was full of Camellias in magnificent bloom. There were red ones and white ones, but also this gorgeous pink candy-striped variety.

Just past the greenhouse sheltering the Calder Stones was a tall obelisk behind a fence, said to be the sample of Scottish granite that Jesse Hartley approved for the building of Liverpool Docks. It seems rather neglected here, and perhaps could do with being on display somewhere near the waterfront.

There were Grey Squirrels everywhere, and we spotted a Robin, Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits and a Jay in the woodland.  Then through the arch in the wall, which marks the boundary of Harthill, and we were in Calderstones proper, by the flower garden. Two Mimosa trees were in full bloom.

We lunched in the Old English garden, where there was a fine display of crocuses under a tree. Amongst them were going-over Snowdrops, and some Snake-head Fritillaries which weren’t quite out. Nearby were a few clumps of blue Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’. A shy Dunnock was pecking about under the seats. The morning’s sunshine had gone, and there was a hint of drizzle in the air. We heard the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and eventually spotted it in one of the tall bare tree on the Harthill side of the wall.

Calderstones is one of the best parks for trees in the north of England, so I had checked the I-Spy book for trees that we might only see there, and had recce’d them earlier in the week. (Some of my pictures were taken on that sunnier day.) Juniper was one of my targets. A list of Liverpool trees by Bob Hughes from about 2004 had suggested there were no Junipers at all in Liverpool because they prefer to grow on chalk, but Colin Twist’s Calderstones survey of 1999 said various Juniper species were “well-represented in the Old English Garden”. There appear to be two or three different types in the Japanese Garden. Several species are in the tree books, and I have no idea which was which, but they were definitely some kind of Juniper, so I claim my 15 points. We got the question right, too, so doubled it to 30 points. (Q1 “What are Juniper berries often used for?” Answer at the end).

The Magnolia buds are just breaking and there’s a magnificent spreading one outside the Mansion House. We get 20 points for that.

Another target was a Cedar of Lebanon, with one said to be near the Rockery.  I had hunted for it on my recce, without success. Today we approached the area from a different angle, past the Allerton Oak, where a storyteller was instructing a gang of children “now take your wands …”, and I finally spotted it. It’s a poor moribund thing, almost bare of leaves, with just a few distinctive cones clinging on near the top, and a big split in the trunk. It’s dead, or nearly so, but we claim our 15 points for it.

That area is also supposed to have a Douglas Fir, but I didn’t find it. Colin Twist tagged one there, but his list was compiled nearly 20 years ago, so maybe it has died, too, and been removed. But we did find the Paperbark Maple Acer griseum in the Rockery (20 points).

Uphill from there is a pair of Deodars and a clump of Larches. We debated whether they could be Japanese Larches, and decided probably not. But 15 points for European Larch anyway. The last target tree was a Coast Redwood, which is near the Calderstones Road entrance. It has red fibrous bark, Yew-like foliage, but with a pair of white bands on the undersides (see second picture below). It’s marked as a Top Spot, worth 25 points, which we doubled by correctly answering the question. (Q2 “How long can a Coast Redwood live? Answer at the end.)

We got 150 points from six trees today and now have 545 tree points. The birds are at 680 points, with very little new today. In Liverpool city centre on the way home I spotted these cheerfully-painted bird boxes on the London Plane trees outside the Bluecoat.

(A1 Juniper: Flavouring Gin. A2 Coast Redwood: 1000 years)

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Liverpool ONE bus station (bay 9) at 10.15, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road 10.50. Returned on the 76 from Menlove Avenue / Calderstones Road at 1.50, arriving Hanover Street at 2.28.


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Southport, 5th March 2017

Well, what nasty Sunday weather that was! A hard cold rain started at about 9.30 am and went on relentlessly all day. Even the city centre pigeons decided to take shelter inside Central Station.

Somewhere with plenty of cover was called for, and Southport fitted the bill. But I wish the weather had been like this!

We spotted a Pied Wagtail and a Dunnock in King’s Gardens and the usual suspects in the Marine Lake. One Coot had a Darvic ring BNJ (black on white, left leg), which has been reported to Kane Brides.  (Added later: She turns out to be a Geordie Coot ! Kane passed the sighting on to Andy Rickeard of the Northumbria Ringing Group who responded “Coot BNJ was ringed at Killingworth Lake in North Tyneside on 17/11/2012 as a young female. Since then she’s been sighted at Southport Marine Lake on 13/12/15, 21/2/2017 and now your sighting as well. Thanks again for the information, it’s really appreciated.”)
A very young (and hungry) Herring Gull was begging from its mother, but she was having none of it.

We wandered a little way northwards along the Lower Promenade to the back of the Ramada Plaza, where there are sheltered seats overlooking the islands. Good spot for lunch. Lots of Mute Swans about, including an adult couple who were seeing off a brood of about 5 young ones from last year. On the island was a Greylag Goose (10 I-Spy points) and some Greater Black-backed Gulls (GBBs, 15 points). Two of the GBBs appeared to be courting. They were parallel swimming and calling, and one, presumably the female, was paddling in an oddly low and arched-back position. When they got to the island the leading bird seemed to lower herself into an inviting posture, and I was convinced they were going to mate, but nothing happened.  They faced away from each other and eventually one flew off. It’s easy to anthropomorphise this as a “slow” male not enterprising enough to get on with it, but I wonder what was really happening?

But that was quite enough out-in-the-rain for us, and we retreated to the Atkinson. Their “Between Land and Sea” exhibition had a display about the Lunt Meadows excavations and a diorama of how the encampment might have looked.

On the way in we had looked at a blue plaque to F J Hooper, “Southport’s Polar Hero”, who had been on Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1910-1913. He helped to find Scott’s body and came home with Titus Oates’ skis (which are in the museum). In later life he was the “Mayor’s Officer” in Southport. Here he is in a shameless plug for Heinz Beans, who were one of the expedition’s sponsors.

On the way home we did some birding from the train windows, and spotted Pheasant and Curlew north of Hightown and some Lapwings before Hall Road. More bird points, but no tree points today.  Earlier in the week there had been sunnier days. On Wednesday 1st March I joined the MNA short walk to Stanley Park. Here’s a Mistle Thrush and a Great Crested Grebe on a nest.

And on Friday the crocuses in Alexandra Park were outstanding!

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Southport at 11.09. Returned on the train at 2.28, due in Liverpool at 3.14.

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Landican and Arrowe Park, 26th February 2017

Our plan for Landican Cemetery was to look for Brown Hares, which are known to be there, occasionally nibbling the freshly-offered bouquets of flowers. In the event only two of the group saw one (not me, so no picture). It loped off from a lawn near the CWGC enclosure into the woody cemetery edge. The rest of us were too busy looking at a fallen tree.  Storm Doris passed through last Thursday, and we saw several trees down by the roadside on the way. There were some spectacular casualties in Landican, including this snapped-off Leyland Cypress.

In the corners of the CWGC area they have planted some small ornamental trees which had clusters of bursting pink buds. Too early for cherry. Almond? But there was a single long-stemmed fruit looking like a spotty orangey rose hip, about the size of a hawthorn berry.  One of the Service Tree group?  No idea.

There were Irish Yews dotted about. They are classed as the same species as Common Yew Taxus baccata, but of the variety ‘Fastigiata’ (meaning upright or vertical). I checked about a dozen of them as I went past, to see if they were male or female. All the ones I looked at were male, with clusters of “blobs” full of pollen sporangia. When I looked them up at home the book said Irish Yews are usually all female. Huh? Then I looked at the picture again and noticed that they had yellow-edged leaves, which makes them variety ‘Fastigiata Aurea’, which are all male clones. Puzzle solved.

There weren’t many birds about. We saw the odd Great Tit and Crow, and a Buzzard passed overhead. Last week’s star turn Buzzard was worth 25 I-Spy points and took the bird total to 585 but we added no new ones today. As for mammals, there was the Hare, the odd Grey Squirrel and lines of fresh Molehills. We remarked that many of the trees had bird boxes but, unusually, they were all different shapes and sizes. All of them had memorial plaques on them, so they must be the latest fashion in remembrance.

On the opposite side of Arrowe Park Road is the old Ranger’s house, now sadly derelict.

We had our lunch on the bench there, where we were sheltered from the gusty wind. It had had a lovely garden once, with a tall Deodar, Jasmine by the door and masses of Snowdrops and Daffodils beyond the lawn. The gateway out to the Park was adorned with a huge twisted trunk of a climber, perhaps a Clematis.

The Common Yew there was also a male tree, and when it was shaken, produced clouds of pollen.

In the park, we found two more trees for our list. The first was a Lawson’s Cypress ‎Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, worth 15 points. It’s a tall, dense, columnar evergreen tree.

The foliage is dark green, said to smell a little like parsley, and the tiny leaves, pressed close to the stem, have white edges. The effect is to make each frond appear to have white diamonds or zigzags along it.

Further into the shrubbery was an even taller tree, a Giant Sequoia or Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron giganteum.

It’s another “Top Spot” 25-pointer, and we doubled those points by answering the question “The world’s most massive tree is in the Sequoia National Park in America. What is it called?” (Answer at the end). Our tree total is now 395 points. The cones are big, but not enormous, and the foliage is showing the male flowers at the tips. They ought to be yellow with pollen, but they might have been nipped by the frost.

The sun came out while I was on the way home. There was the unusual sight of all the deciduous roadside trees brightly lit by sunshine whilst still bare and grey.
(Answer: The General Sherman tree).

Public transport details: Bus 472 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.12, arriving Arrowe Park Road / Woodchurch Road at 10.48. Returned from Woodchurch Road / Church Lane, near the Arrowe Park pub, on the 471 at 1.35, arriving Liverpool city centre at 2.03.


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Kew Woods, Southport,19th February 2017

Kew Woods are under the management of the Forestry Commission, and are part of the Mersey Forest.  It’s a former landfill site off Town Lane, where 12,000 new trees and shrubs have been planted in recent years, although it’s still fairly bleak and open, with the young trees and shrubs clumped in rough grassland.

The plan today was to hunt for a small flock of six Cattle Egrets, which has been reported there for the last week or two. It was a mild day in Liverpool, but colder in the open area beyond Southport, and with the beginnings of a fine drizzle. But even the dead, damp and dormant vegetation sometimes has a strange elegance, such as this old seed head of Burdock.

On the edge of the football fields the hedges were thick with Bramble and the gullies bright with splashes of yellow reeds. A bush in the hedge was covered with tiny white buds: it wasn’t Blackthorn because the twigs weren’t black and there were no thorns. I need to look it up. The Goat Willows had red twigs, which bore the bursting catkin buds known as Pussy Willow.

There was no sign of the Cattle Egrets there, and after lunch and a loo stop in Dobbie’s Garden Centre, we headed back to the southern area of the woods.  Another tree which was sprouting early was this Elder.

We spotted a Buzzard on a fence, which was being pestered by a pack of 8 or 10 Magpies. They forced the Buzzard up into a small tree where they clustered around it, occasionally flying closely by and generally mythering it.

But the Buzzard stoically ignored them, and eventually the Magpies let it alone and it returned to its favoured spot on the fence.

Near a field with some ponies in it we met a lady who said the Cattle Egrets had been there up to Friday or Saturday, but today they had gone. Oh bother! We aren’t having much luck with our twitching this year. On the way back to the bus I stopped to admire this Hazel draped in its newly-emerged catkins.

On the way home through Victoria Park, Crosby, I found another of those shrubs with the white buds, and this one was partly out. I think it’s Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera, which is definitely said to flower before Blackthorn.

The Flowering Currant is breaking out, too.

For the trees on the I-Spy list we claim Goat Willow (10) and Elder (10) today. From the train window we also saw the masses of Corsican Pines (20) between Ainsdale and Freshfield. We are creeping slowly towards 1000, now up to 330. Last week the bird points were up to 560, but we may not have had anything new today.

Public transport details: 300 bus from Queen Square at 10.25, arriving Town Lane Kew at 11.35. Returned from the same bus stop on the 44 at 2.03 towards Southport, arriving Eastbank Street at 2.20. Then to the station for the 2.28 train back to Liverpool.

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Bromborough 18th February 2017

An upsetting discovery when I headed out into the garden in the dawn gloom to top up the bird food. A Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus was lying dead in the metal seed tray. Although mainly nocturnal I’ve watched a pair of them on a number of occasions in the early morning since last November. Usually just a quick glimpse as they quickly run out from their hidey hole under the bottom of the fence, grab a piece of fat ball or seed before scurrying back behind the apple tree and under fence again. Their lifespan is a mere 1.5yrs, not left wanting for food let’s hope it merely died of old age, it certainly looked peaceful as if sleeping. ‘Corpse of the Day’ posed nicely on the Ivy at the base of the apple tree.

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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New Brighton (and Heswall on another unsuccessful Waxwing twitch) 12th February 2017

It was a terribly unsuitable day for New Brighton, really, with a raw north-east wind, but we wanted to see a small group of Purple Sandpipers which have been roosting at high tide on the pontoons on the Marine Lake. Our first sight was of two clusters of very similar-looking brown waders, all huddled together with their heads tucked in.

Closer inspection showed it to be a mixed flock of mostly Redshanks, with a small scattering of Turnstone, Dunlin and a few Purple Sandpipers on the edge. Occasionally one would hop about on one leg, as if they didn’t want to get their warm foot cold again!

On the picture above, all the birds on the left with the red legs are Redshanks. About two-thirds of the way to the right, the small bird in the front with the streaky breast is a Purple Sandpiper, and behind it are two or three Turnstones with their dark chest marks. The little bird on the far right with the white breast and dark legs is a Dunlin.

The Stena Line ferry to Belfast went out, past the red cranes on the docks. One tough photographer was standing on the point with a camera and tripod, getting his wellies wet, perhaps hoping for that award-winning shot.

Despite the cold we circled the Marine Lake, passing Fort Perch Rock.

There were hundreds of pigeons on the front, a pair of Mute Swans on the lake and hordes of gulls, mostly Black-headed gulls and juvenile Herring gulls.

Several Sanderlings pattered busily along the edge of the incoming tide.

It was far too cold to linger, so we executed the second part of our day’s twitching plan, Heswall, where a group of Waxwings has been reported for several weeks at the junction of Thurstaston Road and the A540. Eight were still there late yesterday afternoon (Saturday) so we thought there was a fair chance of spotting them. We got the 119 from New Brighton, which took a long and meandering route through Liscard, Birkenhead, Bidston and Upton (but at least it was warm on the bus) to Arrowe Park, where we changed to the bus for Heswall. And after all that, there were no Waxwings!  What a swizz! The Rowan the Waxwings had been in was stripped bare.

We had a late lunch in the little park there. I thought one evergreen tree was a Lawson’s Cypress (worth 15 “I-Spy” points) but now I think it was only a Leyland Cypress (worth no points at all). There was a clump of fine old Birches, but until the leaves come out and we can distinguish the Silver Birches from the Downy Birches, there are no points to collect on them either. The Rhododendrons were just starting to bud, and I don’t think I have noticed them so early in the year before.

We walked along to Tesco, hoping the Waxwings had decamped to the car park there (because supermarket car parks are a favourite Waxwing haunt) but there didn’t appear to be any berry trees, and definitely no exciting birds. At the bottom of Poll Hill Road there was a sad mutilated Scots Pine, the survivor of some extreme pruning.

The day wasn’t a complete wash-out for trees, as we saw a couple of Monkey Puzzle trees from the bus on the way home, worth 20 points, so now we have 290. The birds are doing much better.  John tells me we had 515 points up to last week, and we probably have at least 40 more today.

Near home I noticed a couple more signs of spring, this very early Camellia in flower, and the swelling furry buds of a Magnolia.

Public transport details: Bus 432 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.03, arriving Kings Parade opp. Morrison’s at 10.28. We left on bus 119 outside Morrison’s at 11.32, arriving Woodchurch Road / Church Lane at 12.20. We crossed the road and almost immediately got a 471, which took us to Telegraph Road / Quarry Road East in Heswall at 12.45. Returned on the 471 from outside Tesco at 1.40, arriving Liverpool city centre at 2.25.


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Waterloo, 5th February 2017

We started at Potter’s Barn, a Grade II listed building from 1841. It was intended to be the gate-house (with attached coach house and stables) for a larger estate, and was built as an intentional replica of the farmhouse on the battlefield of Waterloo. As we went in a Great Tit was singing very loudly from the other side of the very busy A565, competing with the traffic.  Inside the small park there was a Robin and some Magpies and House Sparrows.

We followed the path along the south side of Marine Lake. A couple of yachts were out, and the paddle boat team were training vigorously.

We peeked through the fence into Seaforth nature reserve, and spotted some rabbits, dozens of Cormorants, some Canada Geese, a couple of Skylarks pecking about, a Pied Wagtail ditto, some distant Shelduck and a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits.

As we headed northwards along Crosby Promenade we heard a Skylark singing overhead. The  Isle of Man ferry Ben-my-Chree was coming in, looming large against the Iron Men and the wind turbines.

Then back through the dunes and around the Boating Lake. Sometimes there are quite special birds dropping in, and I’ve seen a Long-tailed Duck and a Phalarope here, but today it was just  Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Mallards, Coots, a pair of Mute Swans and some Tufties. The only mild excitement was provided by two Pochards with their heads tucked in, apparently sleeping.

We lunched overlooking the Marine Lake then worked our way northwards through the four seafront gardens.

There were Daisies and Shepherd’s Purse flowering at the edges of the lawns, and some clumps of  Daffodils were a few days off flowering.

Garden birds included Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Blue Tit and Blackbird. A Dunnock sat on the top of a hedge flicking its wings, then another came along and they flew away together. Spring is in the air!  We were looking for more trees for our I-Spy list, although the pickings will be slim for a few weeks yet. We ticked this beautiful shapely Holm Oak Quercus ilex (worth 20 points).

There are several Silk Tassel trees in the seafront gardens and at this time of year, with their very long catkins out, they look extraordinary.

This shrub caught my eye, with its pretty red berries. Some kind of Laurel? No, I think it’s Japanese aucuba Aucuba japonica, a new one on me.

We returned up Harbord Road and in a garden we spotted another I-Spy tree, a Cordyline Palm, which the book (weirdly) calls a Cabbage tree. But it gives it the proper name of Cordyline australis, so it’s definitely right. It’s worth the maximum of 25 points, the first one of those we’ve ticked, and it’s marked as a “top spot!”

We were up to 225 points last week, and have 45 points today from just two trees, so now we have  270. John says we had 365 points for birds up to last week and thinks we got at least another 100 points today.  The bird-spotting will slow down soon, as new birds become harder to find, while the tree-bagging will become much easier when their leaves come out.
I walked home through Victoria Park, and spotted that the Snowdrops are now out.

Public transport details: Bus 53 from Queen Square at 10.20, arriving 10.50 at Crosby Road South / Marlborough Road. The rest of the group returned to Liverpool on the 53 from Oxford Road / Courtenay Road, due at 2.10 and arriving Queen Square 2.50.

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Sefton Park, 29th January 2017

There were Waxwings reported yesterday (Saturday) at the tunnel end of Scotland Road, so we headed that way in hope. However, although there were plenty of red-berried trees north of the JMU building, some with Redwings in them, there were no Waxwings. Maybe next week!  We jumped on a bus back to Queen Square, then immediately onto another for Liverpool ONE, and we were just in time for the bus to Sefton Park.

The Alders at the south end of the lake were looking very attractive with their cones of the old year and catkins of the new. There were about fifteen Wood Pigeons picking about under them, an unusually large number all in one place.

The lake had frozen overnight, but when we arrived it was partially melted and translucent, with many clear patches. The birds were the usual hordes of Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls, Coots and Mallards, with a few Moorhens. About 1 in 50 of the BHGs are starting to show their black heads, but not this group standing on their reflections.

Further along we spotted some Mute Swans and a couple of well-grown cygnets. The park now has permanent signs around the railings asking people not to feed bread to the birds.

People weren’t taking any notice, though. One dad and daughter had at least four loaves of best sliced Warburton’s at their feet, and maybe more!

Too much bread is clearly a bad thing, but does it really cause Angel Wing? Some people say that it’s just a scam to make people buy the expensive bird food from the café. Most of the articles about it in the press just regurgitate RSPB press releases (which aren’t very definite), including these pieces from varied sources like the Guardian, the Express and “IFL Science”. Nothing especially authoritative.

We were bird-spotting and tree-spotting for the I-Spy lists today. We ticked off some very common trees including Holly, a Sweet Chestnut identified from the spiky husks on the ground and its spiralling bark, Turkey Oaks with their retained dead leaves and whiskery buds, Weeping Willow by the lake, a few Lombardy (Black) Poplars, and an Ash identified from the black, opposite winter buds. On the bank of the lake is a fine Atlas Cedar Cedrus atlantica.

The male Yews are showing their clusters of flowers, like little balloons of pollen sacs, each only about 3 or 4 mm across.

At the top of a tree there was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and we heard the Ring-necked Parakeets, but couldn’t see them at first, although two flew overhead later. By the Eros fountain a wonderful Witch Hazel was in flower.

We lunched by the old aviary, where there was a Blackbird on the path and a Rat in the shrubbery. Grey Squirrels were all over the place. On the island in the lake north of the aviary, we stopped to look at a Moorhen up in a tree and then we spotted a most exciting bird below it, a Kingfisher! It was a female, and she was quite comfortable and relaxed on her perch overlooking the water, not at all bothered by the people on the path only about 50 feet (15m) away. She was watching the water below very intently, hoping for a meal, but we didn’t see her dive.

Further north again we looked at a group of trees with lots of knobbles and burrs on their trunks, and amongst the higher branches. We couldn’t identify the trees, but they didn’t look healthy. One of the low knobbles had Judas Ear fungus on it, perhaps a sign that the tree is dying.

Near the top of the stream, where there’s a little weir and waterfall, a Heron was standing statuesquely amongst the reeds and red Dogwood stems.

We followed the long avenue of London Planes southwards to the Dell. On the field were Crows, Black-headed Gulls and some juvenile Herring Gulls. We got another tree tick with the Deodar Cedar, and also noted some good ones that aren’t in the I-Spy book (dammit!) – a Dove or Handkerchief tree, a  Sweetgum / Liquidambar and a Persian Ironwood with its black oval flower buds just bursting, showing the dark red stamens within.

In the Palm House there was a concert by some ladies who were singing songs from the shows, but it wasn’t our cup of tea, so we sneaked out by a side door. It was the “biology” door (flanked by the statues of Darwin and Linnaeus) and right opposite it was a Corkscrew Hazel which I’ve not spotted before, next to an evergreen shrub.

We returned along the lake. One Coot had a white Darvic ring on its left leg – CXT. It’s been reported to Kane Brides. (Added later. He reports that  CXT was ringed in Sefton Park on 09/09/2015, so it’s about 18 months old.) There was a Cormorant on a post, a couple of greyish-looking Lesser Black-backed Gulls, some black-and-white Tufted Duck and four fluffy brown Little Grebes diving near the island.

I had hoped to see a Monkey Puzzle tree for our list today, but there doesn’t seem to be one in Sefton Park, at least not in the areas we visited. However, the Beech tree we claimed at Eastham two weeks ago is now worth double points because one of us (not me!) could answer the related question – what was a chair maker called?  (Answer at the end). But we are up to 225 points (165 of them today), nearly a quarter of the way there!  (The man who made chairs was a bodger.)

Public transport details: Bus 82 at 11.13 from Liverpool ONE bus station, which was diverted via Hope Street because of Chinese New Year, and arrived Aigburth Road / Ashbourne Road at 11.35. Returned on the 82 from Aigburth Vale / Jericho Lane at 2.50, arriving City Centre at 3.15.

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