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.


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Heritage Open Day, 10th September 2017

Not much nature-watching today, although we did spot some in the end. Our plan was to squeeze in three free events, a dock tour on the Floating Grace, a ride on a vintage bus to Knotty Ash and another attempt to get into Bright Park, which was closed this time last year, despite being listed as a Heritage Open Day attraction.

The Floating Grace is a restaurant boat, available for hire, but giving free rides today. It took us around Salthouse, Albert, Wapping, King’s, Queen’s, Coburg and Brunswick Docks. In the Albert Dock all the supporting pillars are cast iron, painted red, except for three made of granite in one corner. That was where Prince Albert, Jesse Hartley and the other dignitaries stood on the day it was opened. Cast iron not good enough for most of them, obviously.

Near the Keel Wharf flats, where the hairdresser Herbert of Hackins Hey used to live, his cream Cadillac is still parked.

At the Water Sports Centre, some young paddle boarders were taking their dog for a ride.

After lunch outside the Maritime Museum, we mingled with the vintage bus spotters at Mann Island and admired the well-remembered old buses and their cheery volunteer conductors.

Taking an old blue 320 bus at 12.30 to Knotty Ash, and hurrying along Thomas Lane, we got to Bright Park just in time for the guided walk at 1pm. Oh no!  It was cancelled again. That’s two years running they have failed to meet their promises, and I have complained to the Heritage Open Day HQ. But all was not lost. On a gravestone in St John’s churchyard was a Painted Lady butterfly, the first and only one most of us have seen this year.

In the garden off Springfield Park, next to the new Alder Hey Hospital, the shrubbery held several large Garden Cross Spiders Araneus diadematus, waiting patiently, heads down, for something to blunder into their webs.

The young trees are lovely there – Ginkgo, Locust, Pear and this one with bright red fruits which we thought at first was a Cherry, but they were Crab Apples.

Heavy rain started then, and two opportunistic Lesser Black-backed Gulls and one Herring Gull came onto the lawn immediately, hoping for worms.

Public transport details: Out from Pier Head on a special vintage bus. Returned from Knotty Ash on the 10B bus from East Prescot Road / Rudyard Rd at 2.27, arriving Liverpool 2.55.

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Colliers’ Moss, 3rd September 2017

We haven’t been to what used to be called Bold Moss for at least seven years, and now all the signs call it Colliers Moss Common Local Nature Reserve (with no apostrophe!).  The way in is different, too. From St Helens Junction Station it’s a bit of a trek (well, 600 yards!) along Leonard Street and Hoghton Road until the public footpath sign on the right, just before Hoghton Close, leading to Sutton Car Spares. Then right again. Our efforts were rewarded with two good garden trees on the way. One was this rare and lovely yellow-berried Rowan Sorbus aucuparia ‘Xanthocarpa’.

The other was a Common Pear in a garden near the junction of Hoghton Lane. It was fruiting well, and the householder has strung a net underneath, as the Olive farmers do. It gains us 10 I-Spy points, taking the total to 1180.

Suddenly, it’s autumn!  There were masses of ripe Blackberries, and bright red berries were popping out everywhere – Rowan, Rose Hips, Guelder Rose, Honeysuckle and Hawthorn.



Guelder Rose

It was cooler, with a fine drizzle, but there were still some flowers out: clumps of  Himalayan Balsam and one patch of Everlasting Pea, Rosebay Willowherb and Great Willowherb, Ragwort and Evening Primrose, and the remains of Tutsan, Mullein and Teasel. The damp grass and clover was dotted with low-growing little white flowers, which turned out to be Eyebright, as we had guessed. It’s semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses, all parts are edible, and it has been used in folk medicine since the Middle Ages to treat eye inflammations and infections, coughs and poor memory.

The trees were mostly young Birch and Alder, which might have  regenerated naturally, but at a bend in the path we spotted an unusual little sapling with leaves like a Locust Tree (Robinia) but with quite long (2 cm) thorns at the bases of the leaves. The thorns made me wonder if it might have been a Honey Locust (Gleditsia), but I see that Locust is supposed to have thorns, too, although they are described as being shorter. Either way, it’s an unusual tree for a reclaimed common.

There is a small pond by the Millennium bridge where we have seen Damselflies and Dragonflies in the past, but it was too damp and overcast today. Apart from the Rabbit droppings and a single Goldfinch, there wasn’t much going on. But it was refreshing to have the place almost to ourselves, with hardly any people, dogs or bicycles. From a steep viewpoint hill there was a splendid vista to the southwest, and we could see “The Dream” at Sutton Manor, the distinctive profile of Frodsham Hill, the old Runcorn-Widnes Bridge almost end-on, the suspension pillars of the new bridge, and Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station. There were no seats for lunch, so we sheltered from the light drizzle on dry moss under a little grove of Ash trees.

Further east there’s a deep lake, which seemed almost deserted at first, just two Coots and one Moorhen, with two or three Mallards. Then a Cormorant appeared, diving for fish, then drying its wings.  A Little Grebe popped up too.

Suddenly there was a Kingfisher! It flew across the lake to the far side, just a glimpse, and we didn’t see where it went. Off in pursuit around the lakeside paths, and we found the inlet where it had probably been heading, somewhere around the back of the island, but nobody saw it again.

Later in the day we spotted just one brown butterfly on the wing. I find it hard to tell whether this is a  Gatekeeper or a Meadow Brown. Has it got one or two white dots in that black spot on the upperwing? You can only see one, but it’s half covered by the other wing. A second white dot would make it a Gatekeeper.

One shrub had some small black fruits like little plums. Were they Sloes? They had a bitter taste, apparently, although I didn’t try one. The twigs didn’t look like Blackthorn. I think they were either Purging or Alder Buckthorn, but I don’t know them well enough to be certain.  And a final treat, a Robin’s Pincushion on a Dog Rose twig.  It’s a lovely thing, and it’s surprising that it’s actually the gall of the Bedeguar Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae.

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street Station at 10.15, arriving St Helens Junction at 10.42. Returned from same station at 14.37, arriving Lime Street at 3.05.

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Reynolds Park, 27th August 2017

By entering Reynolds Park at the “wrong” (east) end, we came straight into their wild flower meadow. Much of the early blossom had gone over, but there was still a tangle of Teasel, Corn Marigold, Oxeye Daisy, Purple Loosestrife, Common Toadflax, Greater Willowherb, Creeping Thistle, Green Alkanet, Greater Plantain, Red Campion and Bird’s Foot Trefoil.  Amongst the trees, we spotted two young Dawn Redwoods, and the first fruits of the Yew were ripening.

There is a collection of tall columnar trees on the lawn north of Calvert Court, and I hoped one was going to be an Incense Cedar, one of the trees still outstanding on our I-Spy list. Incense Cedars aren’t cedars at all, they are in the Cypress group. The tree we looked at was the right tall thin shape, and was definitely a cypress from its cones, but the crushed foliage is supposed to smell strongly of boot polish, and this didn’t. No tick for Incense Cedar today!

The last time we were in Reynolds Park was August 2014. We followed their tree trail leaflet then, and found an error – the tree they had labelled as a Tree of Heaven (number 10) is now correctly marked as a Black Walnut. It’s on the left in the photo below, and the long leaves are very elegant, with the leaflets at the tips catching the light like a spear points.

There is an old sundial there, and written around it is the Latin tag from Virgil – Solem quis dicere falsum audeat. “Who will dare to say that the sun is wrong”. In British Summer Time in the UK the sun IS wrong, of course, or at least the clocks are. We admired the green and gold topiary “crown” garden, made with Yew and Golden Yew. It looks most effective on the aerial view.

The Deodar Cedars had some big cones, but the  cones on the Blue Atlas Cedar were still very young.

In the sunken garden Goldenrod was flowering in profusion. Regrettably, it was the Canadian Goldenrod, not the native plant we want for our list. There was a cluster of big fungi the size of saucers growing under a bush, looking and smelling very like edible mushrooms. We were tempted to snaffle one or two, but good sense prevailed. You never know …

A loud call made us look up to the top of a Cypress, and there was a Great Spotted Woodpecker silhouetted against the sky, probably a juvenile with that red cap.

The walled garden had a wonderful display of Roses and Dahlias, and there were white and blue butterflies on the wing. The young Indian Bean Tree in the eastern corner bed is growing well and the Judas Tree against the south-facing wall next to the central gateway was flourishing, with bigger leaves than I’ve seen on any other Judas Tree in Merseyside.  The Tulip Tree had flowered profusely, too, as there were very many young fruits.  In another corner bed was an unpretentious little tree or shrub, only about 4 or 5 feet tall, with droopy leaves with a yellow midrib, bearing gorgeous little red fruit looking like raspberries on cocktail sticks. Happily, there was a label by the base of the trunk. It’s a Chinese Dogwood, Cornus kousa ‘Chinensis’. The fruits are said by the RHS to be edible but insipid, but a US forager’s blog called Wild Harvests says “I found that they have a soft creamy texture and sweet flavor similar to papaya” and the author mashed them up to add to a smoothie.

South of the topiary crown is another lawn with specimen trees. There were a couple of dark rings of lush grass, probably made by some kind of Fairy Ring fungus, although there were no toadstools.  Trees included various Maples, a probable Oriental Plane and this little beauty with chocolate brown bark and small glossy crinkled leaves which I think is an Antarctic Beech Nothofagus antarctica.

Apart from the GSW, we saw hardly any birds today, just Magpies and Wood Pigeons in the park.  We had no new birds, trees or flowers for the I-Spy lists today, which is unusual. We are down to the hard-to-get ones now!  We ambled down Church Road towards Woolton Village. Since it was a Bank Holiday weekend there were groups of tourists about. The Eleanor Rigby gravestone in St Peter’s churchyard had two walking guides with their tour groups around the stone, and a Beatles Taxi Tour was just leaving.

In the park and on the bus journey home we noticed how badly the Horse Chestnut trees are being affected by the Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner. I don’t think we saw any healthy green-leaved ones anywhere.  The last time we were in Reynolds Park three years ago, it was new to us then, but now it’s a common feature of autumn.

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.20, arriving Rose Brow / Gateacre Brow at 10.50. Returned on the 75 from Woolton Village at 1.45, arriving Liverpool 2.15.

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Birkenhead Park, 20th August 2017

Another tree trail this week, following the plan in the Friends of Birkenhead Park’s “Unusual Trees” booklet (£2 from the Visitors’ Centre.) Our first target was the Black Mulberry Morus nigra, which is on the north bank of the Lower Lake, west of the Boathouse and on a bank near two park seats. It’s quite big for a Mulberry, and it’s intertwined with blackberries, but the red unripe Mulberry fruit were easy to distinguish. Several had fallen to the path below, probably bird-pecked. There’s a beaten track up the slope next to the tree, very probably made by foragers.

At the westernmost end of the Lower Lake, near the rockery, is a Cucumber Tree Magnolia accuminata.  The tree itself isn’t anything to look at, being tall and spindly, but the leaves are huge and the fruits are bright pink erect “cucumbers”.

There were some butterflies on the wing including Speckled Wood and Common Blue. On the lake were only Mallards, Coots, Moorhens, Black-headed Gulls and large flocks of noisy Canada Geese. Several young Robins darted onto the paths, just getting their red breasts so had probably been driven off by their parents. One of us caught the flash of a Kingfisher flying low over the water. We wandered all around the eastern corner of the lake but didn’t see it again. Lots of hungry Pigeons and cheeky Grey Squirrels, though!

Some of the trees are getting their autumn colours. In this view over the lake the droopy yellowing one on the right is probably a Silver Pendent Lime, while the one on the far side, turning red, appears to be a Norway Maple.

Some of the grass verges have been planted with tangled patches of flowers. There was the wild flower Redshank in amongst them, which we want for the I-Spy list. They weren’t strictly all wild flowers, because there was Alyssum, California Poppy and garden Marigold in there too.

As the others headed for lunch Margaret and I lingered over a Lime tree, checking the features in both our tree books. We really want to learn these Limes!  We noted hairs on the fruits, which were round, in 4s or 5s, and all hanging down; hairs on the undersides of the leaves and the leaf stems;  buff hairy tufts at the base of the leaf and in some vein axils; big cabbagey leaves on some low shoots. Can we claim it as a Large-leaved Lime Tilia platyphyllos? I have checked again, and apart from the suggestion in the books that the fruits ought to be ribbed, which I’ve never found, I think we have cracked it, and we earn 15 points.

There were wonderful gold and red bedding plants in front of the Visitors Centre. After lunch we  headed for the Upper Park. Opposite the Victorian letter box where Park Drive crosses Ashville Road, there is a cluster of interesting young trees planted on a stone-setted pavement. We noted a Tulip Tree, what might have been a Small-leaved Lime, a Turkish Hazel and something like an Apple or Medlar but no fruit to confirm it.

Floridly-bracted fruits of the Turkish Hazel.

On the north bank of the Upper Lake we admired a very young Monkey Puzzle, nearly dwarfed by its stake. Next to it was a handsome young Bhutan Pine, an uncommon five-needle pine.

The Horse Chestnuts along that path are very badly affected by the leaf miner, with all the lower leaves browning and droopy. There’s a Strawberry Tree along there, too, but bearing no fruit. A big old Grey Poplar had mixed bark – the lower portions were craggy like a Black Poplar while the bark higher up was showing rows of dark diamond shapes on a light background, like White Poplar.

We had been looking out for the two surviving tall thin black Mallards which usually swim under the  bridge at north-east end of the Lower Lake. There had been a brood of five when we first spotted them in November 2011, but only two survived to March 2013. We spotted the survivors again in early 2014 and late 2015, and one last November. We were pleased to find what might be the same one loitering on the bank of the Upper Lake, and it must now be at the end of its sixth summer.

There are some lovely specimen trees on the meadow in the Upper Park and we walked out to admire the grove of Purple Cherry Plums (Prunus pissardi or Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’).

On the left of Ashville Road, approaching Park Road North, was a very pretty young Japanese Maple in its autumn colours, which we also want for our list.

Our last tree was the Hybrid Strawberry by the traffic lights, with its interesting red peeling bark. We had two new trees today, so we are up to 1170. One new plant, taking us to 1085, but we have been stuck at 1285 on the birds since early June.

Public transport details: Train towards West Kirby from Central at 10.05, arriving Birkenhead Park Station at 10.15. Returned from the same station at 14.22, arriving Liverpool 14.35.


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Port Sunlight River Park, 13th August 2017

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


Common Knapweed

Ribbed Melilot

Black Medick


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Taylor Park, St Helens, 6th August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Victoria Park, Widnes, 30th July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Minera Quarry, Wales 25th July 2017

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

Knotweed Leaf Spot Fungus

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


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

Broad-leaved Helleborine

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

Fairy Grotto

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

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

Common Darter female

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

Mating 6-spot Burnet Moths

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

Emerald Damselfly

Meadow Grashopper

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

Sawfly larvae Dolerus ferrugatus

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

Southern Hawker exuvia

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

Fox Moth Caterpillar

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

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