Dibbinsdale, 29th September 2019

It had rained hard all week, and as we gathered outside Bromborough Rake station with members of the MNA for a fungal foray, one or two of the hardier souls trekked down the steep path on a recce to the deep valley of the stream and came back to report two inch floods on the bridges and much mud underfoot. The MNA decided to soldier on, but we weren’t feeling quite that adventurous, so we took the train one stop further back to Spital, where we entered the Brotherton Park and Dibbinsdale LNR from the north end, on a reasonably flat and solid path.

It was a narrow way, wet and drippy under the trees. The only fungi we saw were some big mushrooms, possibly the edible species, but we didn’t try them. Autumn continues to be fruitful, with many acorns underfoot, huge crops of dark red Hawthorn berries and the red fruiting spikes of  Wild Arum brightening the shadows under the hedge. There were still some plants in flower. The Bramble had put out yet another generation of blossom and the white trumpets of Bindweed were scrambling everywhere. Lower down were flowers of Hogweed, Dandelion, Wood Avens, Red Dead-nettle, a shy little geranium-type which was probably Dovesfoot Cranesbill, and down the bank was a stand of Himalayan Balsam.

We heard some strange noises, and decided it was either Magpies or Jays having a fight, but we saw nothing. Later a Jay flew off. Some of us caught a couple of brief glimpses of a Bullfinch, and on the way back we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker in an almost-bare tree, silhouetted against the leaden sky.

It was getting far too wet for comfort or pleasure, so we ate our sandwiches in the shelter on Spital station and decided to call it a day.

Public transport details: The Chester train from Central at 10.15, arriving Bromborough Rake at 10.35. Returned from Spital station at 12.50, arriving Liverpool at 1.15.

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Calderstones Park and Strawberry Field, 22nd September 2019

Right on cue for the equinox, we had rain and high wind on Saturday night, so Sunday morning looked like autumn, with turning leaves and the threat of rain.

We entered Calderstones Park from the Ballantrae Road end, and noticed for the first time several rare Maple trees bordering the path. One had 7-point leaves and sticky-out seed wings, so it might have been a Japanese or Korean Maple; another had little tri-lobed rounded leaves with chunky maple-type seeds, which looked vaguely similar to a Paperbark Maple, but it wasn’t; and one with leaves like Lilac, reddish leaf stalks and tiny fruits could have been Pére David’s Maple Acer davidii. The trouble with Calderstones is that it is so packed with rarities, many of them aren’t in any of my books. A tree near there that I DO know is the Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron gigantea, which despite its size, is younger than us all. It’s nicknamed the Churchill tree and was planted for his funeral in 1965.

In the Ornamental Garden we looked at a pair of Mimosa trees, showing the buds of their yellow pom-pom flowers, which come out very early, and the brown hanging pods of this year’s seeds. A small Katsura tree hadn’t started its leaf change to bright yellow yet. We also looked at what we thought was a Strawberry Tree with big red fruits. But the leaves weren’t serrated and now I realise it was a huge Chinese Dogwood Cornus kousa ‘Chinensis’.

The Common Walnut tree on the corner looked very sick, and hadn’t produced any nuts, even in this most favourable summer. It looks as if it has been infested with something, making the leaves spotty and prematurely brown.

They have finished refurbishing the Mansion House, and there are now magnificent loos and a much better café. The view out of the window of the Maple tree by the door is terrific.

They have also properly re-housed the Calder Stones, after which the district and the park are named. There is a good explanatory exhibition. They are believed to be the remains of an ancient tomb and burial mound, which stood on the border of Wavertree and Allerton.  An 1825 report on them says “… in digging about them, urns made of the coarsest clay, containing human dust and bones, have been discovered.” Modern archaeologists shudder!  They used to be set in a circle on a small traffic island, close to their original spot. They were moved some decades ago to an old greenhouse in the park for safe-keeping until they could decide what to do with them. It’s good to finally see them on proper display.

We lunched by the pond in the Old English Garden, a popular sandwich-eating spot. The local birds know this, of course, and we were treated to close views of Robin, Chaffinch, Great Tits, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and a cheeky Grey Squirrel. Then we went to look for the rare Golden Rain tree, which until this year was hemmed in by dark Hollies and Yews. They were removed during the refurbishment of the Mansion House, and I hoped it had flourished in the new light conditions. We couldn’t find it. The narrow trunk that last winter I thought was it turned out to be a Wild Rose, so, sadly, I think the Golden Rain tree has been removed. That’s a loss, as it is the only one I knew of in the Liverpool city region. We did spot a Persian Ironwood, though, and what appeared to be a variegated Sweet Chestnut, with green glossy leaves with white edges, and typical, but small seeds. I’ve never read that such a variety exists, but that’s what it looked like.

Then we walked in the rain, through the park and up Beaconsfield Road to Strawberry Field. It’s the old Salvation Army orphanage immortalised in the Beatles song, and the site was always closed.  Beatles tourists have written on the ornate gates and the gateposts for many years.

The Salvation Army have finally cottoned on to the revenue potential of the site, and have landscaped the grounds and built a new modern café, exhibition space and gift shop. The income will fund a programme to help young people with leaning difficulties get into work. It opened last weekend, and all areas except the exhibition itself are free to enter. We wandered around the rather raw new grounds, and admired the group of raised beds, full of Strawberry plants. The front gates are now replicas, and the old gates are being set up as a shrine in the gardens.

The gift shop was selling the usual t-shirts, greetings cards, mugs, fridge magnets and similar nick-knacks. But we were charmed by small jars of Strawberry Jam (£4). I hope they do well. When we arrived a coach party was just leaving, and as we headed to the bus stop a taxi marked “Fab Four Taxi Tour” was just drawing up.

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.25, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.55.  Returned from Menlove Avenue / Yewtree Road on the 76 at 2.20, arriving Liverpool 2.55.

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Lister Drive Library and Newsham Park, 15th September 2019

It was Heritage Open Day, a chance to see inside buildings that are usually private. From the bus stop in Tuebrook we walked up Green Lane in a fine drizzle, past my old primary school. In the corner of the lawn of Stoneycroft United Reform Church was a Hazel tree, bearing just a few sparse poorly-formed hazelnuts. I have been told that the nuts don’t develop in Liverpool, the soil is wrong, but this Hazel is trying!

We were heading for Lister Drive library, the public library that my brother and I went to every week when we were children in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s one of the libraries donated by the millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and it opened in 1905. It was wonderfully ornate, and is a Grade II Listed Building. Sadly, by 2006 it had deteriorated due to underfunding, and was closed. Now, with the help of a grant of £3.9 million from the National Lottery (with additional funding from Liverpool City Council, the Hornby Trust and the Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust) it has been leased to the community group “Lister Steps” and is being renovated for use as a children’s nursery and Community hub.

We headed to the nearby Newsham Park for lunch. The small boating lake was being used by some members of the model boat club, who were driving their model battleship about. Happily, they were careful not to disturb several Mallards, a family of Coots with three young ones, and three Mute Swans, one with a blue Darvic ring 4DCP on its right leg. It  was reported to Steve Christmas of the NW Swan Study, who replied that 4DCP was ringed as a male cygnet on 19 Sep 2018 at Sefton Park and was also recorded at Newsham Park on 13 Jun 2019.

Then we walked along Gardner’s Drive. There was a call of a Ring-necked Parakeet and then we spotted a couple of them flying overhead. That’s the first time we’ve seen them in Newsham Park, although they are spreading rapidly through Merseyside. A Robin was singing from the shrubbery. Is it starting to establish a territory already? There was a dark-backed gull on the grassy verge, stamping its feet to bring up the worms. Most of us were sure it was a Lesser Black-backed Gull but our expert John was adamant that if it had pink legs and a red spot on its beak it was a Herring Gull, darkish back notwithstanding.

There were a few young trees which had been planted two or three years ago in fencing cages. Such protective cages prevent normal mowing of the grass around the trees, so they get ragged, untidy weeds filling the inside space. To our surprise, each of the six young trees seemed to have different plants growing around them. One looked like it had had yellow Rapeseed flowers, while another was still blue with Borage. The others were different again, but we couldn’t tell what they had been from the gone-over remains. Is this guerrilla planting? A project by the Friends of the Park?

It is turning out to be a very good year for the autumn berry crop. Several Swedish Whitebeams were heavy with berries, which were still orange, not yet red. A nearby tree was thickly covered with red berries like Haws, but the leaves were wrong for Hawthorn, not lobed at all. Each fruit had a single large seed. I think it was probably a Broad-leaved Cockspur Thorn Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’.

Then we made our way back over the big field to the bus stop. A flock of about 30 Starlings flew up into the trees and made a lot of twittering and whistling.  Several dozen Black-headed Gulls loitered in the open field, and there was one Common Gull standing off on its own, as is typical for the species.

Public transport details: Bus 15 from Queen Square at 10.01, arriving West Derby Road / Green Lane at 10.15. Returned from West Derby Road / New Road on the 12 bus at 1.38, arriving Liverpool City Centre at 2.05.  

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Sefton Park Gardens, 8th September 2019

Today was another National Garden Scheme day, when members of the RHS with extraordinary private gardens open them to the public for a small fee, proceeds to charity. Nothing starts until noon, so we dawdled outside the Museum of Liverpool to see the old Ribble buses that had drawn up there for the company’s 100th birthday

Princes Park, where we had an early lunch, has a wealth of unusual trees, but we only puzzled over one of them, a young conifer that looked like some kind of Cypress. It had unusual fruits shaped like bells which came apart into separate slices, which were the seeds. Happily the Friends of the Park have numbered all their star trees and labelled them with QR codes that link to their website. It says that tree number 3 is an Incense Cedar Calocedrus decurrens. It isn’t a true cedar.  The sweet-smelling wood is used to make pencils.

Our first garden was the marvellous Park Mount at 38 Ullet Road. A large traditional garden with sweeping curved lawns and little plots of ornamental trees and shrubs.

They had a young Indian Bean tree by the side of the house, and small tree on the edge of a lawn with pretty opened seed heads like little lanterns. It looked rather like a Spindle, but we have never seen the native Spindle Tree open its fruits like that. The owner agreed, rather vaguely, that it was a Spindle, but I think it was a decorative “garden” species, the Korean Spindle Tree Euonymous oxyphyllus.

All around the edge was a woodland walk with odd little nooks containing a temple here, a barbecue there, and statuary in odd corners. Altogether an astounding garden.

The next one was Sefton Villa at 14 Sefton Drive, a lovely small garden with a secluded shady area containing four or five big bonsai trees, which must have taken years of careful nurturing.

Then we walked around to Sefton Park Allotments. It was a riot of sheds and greenhouses, Sunflowers and Nasturtiums, and some serious vegetable growing.

One greenhouse had a successful crop of tomatoes coming on, but also an unexpected row of ripening red grapes.

Do you remember the old TV series “Bread”, about a fictional Liverpool family? The father of the family had an ongoing affair with a woman from these allotments known as “Lilo Lil”. Her shed has survived, the owner is about to restore it, and he is thinking of putting a blue plaque on it!

Lots of vegetables were on sale (also for charity) and I bought an unusual spiky thing called a Bolivian Cucumber, also known as an Achocha, about the size of an egg. It is said by the botanist James Wong to be very good fried, sautéed or baked. We shall see!

Public transport details:  Bus 80A from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.50 arriving Princes Avenue / Kingsley Road at 11.08. Returned on the 86 from Smithdown Road / Greenbank Road at 15.47, arriving City Centre at 16.05.

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Festival Gardens, 1st September 2019

If the cooler weather hadn’t told us, we would have known it was the first day of autumn because workmen in Tarleton Street in the city centre were putting up the Christmas lights. Although we were planning to go to Festival Gardens, our first stop was a nearby patch of sown wildflowers which John had spotted from the bus along Riverside Drive. We found it, on the west side of the road between the ends of the curved Bempton Road.

It appeared to have been sown with a more varied mix than the one at Rimrose Valley last week. There were no Ox-eye Daisies but we noted the usual Poppy, Cornflower and Corn Marigold. White was provided by Wild Carrot and Yarrow, and height by Evening Primrose, Great Willowherb and what we have been calling Mugwort, but was really Fat Hen. In amongst the other flowers were occasional Scabious, Self-heal, Mallow, Redshank, Nettle and Dock. One of these Poppies appears to have four bees in it, scrambling for nectar.

The reason we double-checked the tall “Mugwort” and decided it was more likely to be Fat Hen was that Margaret found a patch of tiny eggs in a marvellously neat array on the upper side of one of its leaves. The leaf was only about three inches (8cm) long, so these are very small eggs.

We assume they were laid by a butterfly or a moth, so what likes Fat Hen Chenopodium album as its food plant? Internet searches found only four possible moths.
Bright-line Brown-eye Lacanobia oleracea is fairly common, and is found in this area, but it is said to lay eggs on the underside of leaves in loose clumps. Not that one.
Heart and Dart Agrotis exclamationis is said to be common and abundant, and it is found in this area. No idea what its eggs are like, but this might be what it was.
Heart and Club Agrotis clavis is said to be scarce, but there are records of it in the Merseyside area. I found no pictures of its eggs, and this MIGHT be the one, but is less likely.
Speckled Case-bearer Coleophora sternipennella is a rare micro-moth, said to be nationally scarce. The nearest records on the NBN Atlas are in the Llandudno / Colwyn Bay area. The odds aren’t good that the eggs would be of that particularly rare creature.

While we were hunting for the wildflower meadow along Riverside Drive we spotted lots of autumnal trees and shrubs. There were several Swedish Whitebeams by the car park at the bottom of Jericho Lane, with leaves like oak but berries like Rowan. Easy to get confused by that one.

Along Riverside Drive the Horse Chestnuts have been very strongly infested with the Horse-Chestnut Leaf Miner moth larvae, Cameraria ohridella, although it doesn’t seem to have stopped the production of big fat conkers. The moth is a new arrival to Britain, first seen in London in 2002 and I think we saw our first examples in Reynold’s Park in August 2014.

Some of the Alders were also infested, chewed to lace by the grubs of the rather handsome blue-black Alder Leaf beetles Agelastica alni. The adult beetles are only 6-7mm long. This is another newly-arrived tree pest, first observed in Manchester in 2004, and we saw our first in Chester in May 2014.

The Festival Gardens near Otterspool Prom are on the site of the former International Festival Garden, which opened to much fanfare in 1984 but closed in 1996. For several years it was a disappointing eyesore, but part of the site re-opened in 2012. The garden is now managed by The Land Trust, and some of it is pretty, and some still looks rather neglected. One of the best bits is the small wildlife pond, where we found a hunting Heron, belly-deep amongst the water-lilies and water mint, which caught a small fish.

The Guelder Roses are now putting out their lovely luminous red berries.

Around the back of the pond we found a Hop Vine scrambling over an old fence.

It was approaching high tide on the river and the stiff westerly breeze was piling the water up even more. Some large yachts were tacking alarmingly around the buoys, and we admired the fearlessness of the crew members hanging off the “up” sides.

We came back by the old Japanese Garden, looking for the Strawberry Tree hedging, but couldn’t find it. There were several other unusual trees there, though. One was either a Silver Maple or an Oriental Plane, but was showing early autumn colour which suggested Maple. A young white sapling looked dead, but it was sprouting vigorously from a low shoot on the left. A Foxglove Tree!

There was a Tulip Tree there too, and what we first thought was a Judas Tree, but that has alternate leaves and these were very similarly-shaped, but opposite. I think it is the lovely Katsura Cercidiphyllum japonica. It has wonderful autumn colour and the falling leaves are said to smell of  burnt sugar or candy floss.

Public transport details: Bus 500 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.20, arriving Jericho Lane / Riverside Drive at 10.35. Returned on the 500 bus from Riverside Drive / Festival Gardens at 2.30, arriving back at Liverpool ONE bus station at 2.40.

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Rimrose Valley, 25th August 2019

On a very hot, sunny and cloudless day – shirt sleeves and sun hats – we went to Rimrose Valley Country Park to see their wildflower meadow.

The valley of the old Rimrose Brook is the border between Crosby and Litherland, on the west side of the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and it was used as a council tip until 1978. In 1993 they covered it with soil and put a north-south path down the centre. It has become very popular as a walking, cycling and dog-walking area. Then, in 2016, Highways England proposed to run a new road down the middle to relieve congestion on the A5036 Dunnings Bridge Road, which takes international lorries to Seaforth docks. Sefton Council counter-proposed building a tunnel and a dispute has been rumbling along for several years, most recently in the High Court. Meanwhile local residents have formed a Friends group and are campaigning hard to save the park.

Looking southwards to the Port of Liverpool cranes

The wildflower meadow in the centre of the old running track is their latest scheme to make the area indispensable. It was planted quite late this year, and so it has been slow to come into flower, but in the last week or two it has blossomed magnificently. It maybe the best we have ever seen. The mix was the usual Poppy (red), Cornflower (blue), Corn Cockle (purple), Corn Marigold (yellow) and the white one which I have seen called Corn Chamomile, but might just be Ox-eye Daisy. The understorey is mostly Ribwort Plantain.

It was very popular with bees, and there were a few Painted Lady and Large White butterflies taking advantage of this late bounty of nectar. Somebody had planted a few Sunflowers in the middle, and there are beaten tracks out to them, where people have been posing for Instagram!

As we headed northwards we met several people who had come to see it and were asking “Is it this way?”

The rest of the wild grassland wasn’t as spectacular, of course, but was well-supplied with Ragwort and Yarrow. There was a big thistle patch going to seed, which we inspected for the caterpillars of the next brood of Painted Ladies, but we couldn’t see any. Other occasional flowers were Birds Foot Trefoil, Great Willowherb, Red Clover, White Dead-nettle, Red Bartsia, St John’s Wort, Wild Carrot and Mugwort. After lunch we made for the canal towpath and on the way found an example of the latest “finding things” game for children – a book. Painted rocks must now be passé. This book was tucked under a bush, carefully encased in a plastic bag, and came with a note urging the child to read it and pass it on, signed by the Rimrose Valley Fairies!

There were lots of Dragonflies around the canal, all moving too fast for definite identification. We are supposing most of them were Common Hawkers or Brown Hawkers, but there were definitely two of them, one brown and one blue, who seemed to be following or chasing one another. That  suggests they were a male and female Common Hawker. There was also a Banded Demoiselle Damselfly.

There weren’t many birds on the canal, and no Mallards at all. They must all be skulking somewhere, moulting. There were only occasional Coots, but lots of Moorhens, some with quite small chicks, of the second or even third broods.

We looked at a couple of plants on the edge of the towpath that we didn’t want to approach too closely in case the canal banks were undermined. They were possibly Gipsywort and Marsh Woundwort. The surface of the canal was half-covered in the yellow Fringed Water Lily.

Autumn fruits are coming along in great abundance. We admired Hawthorn berries, Rose Hips, Elder and Rowan, and chatted to a lady out gathering blackberries.

Hawthorn berries
Rowan berries

Near the Cookson’s Bridge pub, in the shrubbery on the far side, was a colony of twittering House Sparrows. Then, unusually for us, we sat in the cool pub and refreshed ourselves with shandy and cider. 

Public transport details: 47 bus from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Crosby Road North / Plaza Cinema at 10.40. Returned on 55 at 2.25 from Gorsey Lane / Gorsey Avenue.

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Seacombe to New Brighton, 18th August 2019

It was a clear and sunny day with a brisk breeze, perfect for a trip on the Mersey ferry. We threaded our way through the city centre towards the Pier Head, via Mathew Street and its hordes of tourists, passing the Beetham Plaza bucket fountain, which wasn’t working today, but it has recently been saved from demolition by being Grade II listed.

More tourists were flocking around the Beatles statues at the Pier Head. We took the 11am ferry to Seacombe and walked 2½ miles along the front to New Brighton. I was hoping that we might see the little migratory birds called Turnstones, which return to the Mersey around this time of year. From Seacombe we got a great view of the cruise ship docked in front of the Liver Buildings, the Magellan of Nassau, which must have been the source of the gangs of tourists.

Just north of the tunnel ventilation tower is a slope with an ascending path, going through rough grass and wildflowers. There were Chicory, Knapweed, Ragwort and Red Clover. It was a magnet for butterflies, and we noted several Large Whites, a Green-veined White, a Painted Lady, some Gatekeepers on the Ragwort and a probable Holly Blue, but it was distant and fast-moving. Painted Lady caterpillars are said to feed on Thistles, and we wondered if Knapweed counted, but it seems it doesn’t. The caterpillars eat thistles from the genera Cirsium and Carduum, but Knapweed is Centaurea. The butterflies like knapweed nectar, though. We also spotted a spider which had just caught a bluebottle and was wrapping it in silk.

It was coming up to high tide (due 1.44) and there were fishermen all the way along the railings (and one fisher lady). It was a competition, they said, and they were hoping for Dogfish or Thornback Ray, but all that most of them had caught were small flounders about 8″ (20cm) long. They were too small to take home and eat, so were thrown back alive.

We lunched at Egremont, and then stopped to watch an unusual gathering of what seemed to be a black evangelical church congregation having a baptism ceremony. They were on the beach tucked into the north side of the breakwater, dressed in white robes and bright headscarves. They were singing hymns in what sounded like a South African style. Two pastors stood in the breaking waves, risking being knocked off-balance. Two little lads of about 10 years old, and then an adult, were held and quickly triple-dunked.

On the breakwater by Mother Redcap’s care home there were lots of birds waiting for the tide to go out again. Many Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers. A Herring Gull, a Lesser Black-backed and several Black-headed Gulls. Amazingly there was a Little Egret. Not seen one of them here before. Also several Starlings and a couple of Redshanks. I thought I spotted a Turnstone, then it was gone and not seen by anyone else, but now I can see one or more on my photo, I think.

On the remnant of beach was a washed-up domed jellyfish about a foot across (30cm). I think it was Rhizostoma pulmo commonly known as a Barrel Jellyfish or a Dustbin-lid jellyfish, common in the  Irish sea and a favourite food of Leatherback turtles.

We had a look around Vale Park, knowing there was a Mulberry in there somewhere. Got it! It is bearing lots of berries, but they are still white or red, and not ripe yet. Mulberries are highly desirable to forage for, so no doubt plenty of local Mulberry-fanciers are watching it closely!

New Brighton was having a Pirate and Mermaid festival, and it was a lovely day for them. Many families and kids were out in fancy dress, and the driftwood Pirate ship the Black Pearl was well-patronised.

The container ship SM Vancouver had just come in on the high tide and was docked by the new red cranes at Seaforth. There was no sign of any unloading activity from the cranes, which we would have liked to watch.

On the pontoons in the Marine Lake was a huge sculpture, made of plastic bottles. It’s called ‘Message in a Bottle’ and is by artist Lulu Quinn. It is a 26ft (8m) bottle made entirely from recycled plastic, which at night becomes a beacon, illuminated from within. It’s message is to challenge our throwaway culture and spark positive environmental change.

Below the ‘Message in a Bottle’ were the hoped-for Turnstones, over 100 of them. They are little fat brown and orange waders with bright red legs. I think they are cute.

A further bulletin on that mystery tree in Queen Square, which we looked at again this morning. Someone suggested that it might be a Terebinth or Turpentine Tree Pistacia terebinthus. However, in view of that species’ extreme rarity (and presumably the great expense of a sapling), I didn’t think it was reasonable that Liverpool would have planted one of them in a bus station. It doesn’t smell of turpentine either. However, someone from the Facebook group about trees may have finally solved it, suggesting it is a Honey Locust Gleditsia tricanthos (which I had suspected already) and that the red bits aren’t flowers and fruit at all, but are leaf galls caused by the fly Dasineura gleditchiae. That sound more like it. I think you can see on this picture that the lighter lumps in the lower centre seem to be within the leaves (suggesting a larval parasite), not separate flowers or fruit. It’s a rare insect (or under-reported) if that’s right.

Public transport details: Mersey ferry at 11 am, arriving Seacombe 11.20. Returned from New Brighton / Morrisons on the 433 bus at 3.40, arriving Liverpool 4.10.

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Port Sunlight River Park, 11th August 2019

Port Sunlight River Park used to be the Port Sunlight factory’s private Bromborough dock, from where Sunlight Soap was exported worldwide. From 1995-2006 it was a landfill site, and then it was capped with an HDPE membrane, with clay and soil, and it is now a 37 meter mound which has been turned into a small Country Park, opened in 2014. It has a woodland, a wildlife lake and is a superb viewpoint for the river estuary.

Sunday was the park’s 5th birthday picnic celebration. It wasn’t a good day for it, really, with lowering skies and spotty rain. We headed down Shore Drive, past the industrial estate, and started up the path leading through wildflower verges. They were thick with Bramble, Buddleia, Ragwort, Nettle, Michaelmas Daisy, Fleabane, Wild Carrot, Teasel, Tansy, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Comfrey, Rose Hips, Yarrow, Bindweed, Red Clover, Tufted Vetch and Knapweed.


The woods were of Ash, Oak, Rowan, Sycamore, Birch, Hawthorn and Elder. Many of the trees appear to be fruiting astoundingly well after this hot summer. A tiny Hawthorn, looking like it was only in its second or third summer, was bearing little single haws. A well-grown Rowan’s branches were bowing down with the weight of its fruit.

The pond at the northern end had just one Mallard and one Coot, but tucked away near the corner was a flock of 70+ Black-tailed Godwits, roosting and preening.

The RSPB had a tent there and one of their volunteers had a telescope on the Godwits and was telling their migration story to interested passers-by.

Part of the day’s fun and games was a “Scavenger hunt”, with quiz questions on laminated cards tied around the verges. We enjoyed question 2, especially the tongue-in-cheek suggested answer [c].  (It’s answer [a], of course).

The Mayor and Mayoress were there, introduced by a “town crier”, and invited to cut the celebration cake.

The local Bat Group had a stand, as did the bee-keepers and the Soroptomists, but some planned exhibitors had been put off by the weather. We ignored the Burger Bar and the Ice Cream van (we always have our own sandwiches) but were very happy to meet our old friend Vic. Then we all went up to the top to look at the views. When the sun came out very briefly we spotted a single Swallow, and then enjoyed the panorama from Rock Ferry beach below us, past Tranmere Oil Terminal and Cammell Lairds, then out to the mouth of the river, across to the red cranes at Seaforth Docks then rightwards to the Liverpool skyline.

Public transport details: Bus X8 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving New Chester Road / Shore Drive at 10.35. Returned from New Chester Road / Opp Shore Drive on the No. 1 bus at 2.35, arriving Liverpool 3.00.

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The Dream, St Helens, 4th August 2019

It’s a few years since we’ve been able to get to the Dream, but we’ve recently found a bus that runs there on Sundays. “Dream” is a piece of public sculpture resembling the head of a young girl with her eyes closed, presumably dreaming or meditating. It’s 66 feet (20m) tall and clad in very white stone. It sits at the summit of the old spoil tip of Sutton Manor Colliery and overlooks the M62 motorway. Sadly, 10 years on, it is no longer quite so clean and white. It was unveiled in May 2009, inspired by the old Latin motto of St Helens and of the colliery – Ex Terra Lucem (From the ground, light).

The bus dropped us close to the preserved wrought iron gates of Sutton Manor Colliery, which now lead into the Forestry Commission’s Sutton Manor Woodland, planted with over 50,000 trees, mostly native Birch, Oak and Poplar, although we did note an Italian Alder. In between are masses of wild flowers, and we were interested to note just how much of the tall yellow Common Melilot there was – great fields of it – so it must be tolerant of the coal waste beneath.

There was a pair of Kestrels hunting near the top, and wonderful views, southwards to Widnes and eastwards to the Pennines.

For scale, see the people sitting on the steps on the right. It’s BIG!

It was an overcast day, hot and humid, with the promise of thunder later, but it kept off as we descended the hill and found ourselves on a path along the southern edge of the woodland, right next to the motorway. The wildflowers were here in great profusion. Masses of Ragwort, Teasel, Great Willowherb and Yarrow.  Also occasional Hemp Agrimony, Wild Carrot, Rosebay Willowherb, Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Evening Primrose, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and what might have been the buds of Chicory.


Butterflies were well in evidence. There were still a few Painted Ladies persisting from the once-in-a-decade mass emergence earlier in the week. Also Red Admirals, Peacocks, a Gatekeeper and a Speckled Wood.

Painted Lady
Two Peacocks (and a Pained Lady!)

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street towards Blackpool at 10.16, arriving St Helens Central Station at 10.43. Then the hourly bus 17 from Bickerstaffe Street (outside TJ Hughes by the bus station) at 10.55, arriving Jubit’s Lane / Forest Road (at entrance to Sutton Manor) at 11.14. Returned from Jubit’s Lane / Forest Road (by the garage on the opposite side of the road) on the 17 at 1.41, arriving St Helens Bus Station at 1.55. Then the 10A bus at 2.05, arriving Liverpool at 3.12.

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Rotten Row, Southport, 28th July 2019

It was raining hard when we met in Queen Square. What a change after the record-breaking heatwave of last week! While we waited for the bus we looked again at the unidentified tree next to the New Look shop. It is in flower, with the seeds forming like little gooseberries. New leaves are growing out of the tips of the flower shoots. What an oddity it is. It can’t be either Honey Locust (Gleditsia) or a Pagoda Tree (Sophora), our previous guesses, because they both have seeds in pods. It’s really got us stumped.

In Birkdale, we walked in the rain down Weld Road and turned onto Rotten Row. Its claim to fame is one of the longest herbaceous borders in the country, at 746 meters (nearly half a mile.)  It was once an attractive promenade and a popular tourist attraction, but it was allowed to deteriorate and become overwhelmed with weeds and rubbish. In 2011 the Friends of Rotten Row began the restoration, with the help of the council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. A dedicated band of volunteers now keep it in its glory and continue to win many awards.

We strolled slowly along, admiring the plants. The little red and pink spikes are of the unusual Primula viallii. We also liked the Globe Thistle Echinops bannaticus, the Pheasant Bush Leycesteria formosa and the huge thistle-like Cardoon Cynara cardunculus.

The north end is the gateway into Victoria Park, where preparations for the Southport Flower Show were just starting. We dripped our way into Morrison’s for the loos, then into the shelters in King’s Gardens for a late lunch. The bowling green was waterlogged, and it was full of Carrion Crows, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, perhaps hoping that worms would come up. The rain went off a bit and we strolled around the south end of the Marine Lake. There was a Moorhen, Mallards, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese and about 40 Mute Swans. Four of the swans preening on the edge had blue Darvic rings (so belonging to the North West Swan Study, not the green rings of Cheshire.) They were 4CHS, 4CHP, 4CUA, VD4. (Added later. Steve Christmas from the NW Swan Study tells me that 4CHS and 4CHP were ringed as male cygnets on 21 Dec 2016 at Southport. 4CUA  was ringed as a male cygnet 4 Nov 2017 at Sale Water Park, Manchester and VD4 was ringed as a male cygnet 8 Oct 2016 at Greenbank Park, Liverpool. )

We thought we spotted a man and his wife picking up an oddly unresisting Greylag Goose from the path under the bridge. They said they had rescued it as a tiny gosling, hand-reared it, and now three months later were trying to let it go, but it had imprinted on them and just kept following them home. They plan to take it to Martin Mere.

Then there was a surprise, a Black Swan Cygnus attratus. They are native to Australia, so it hadn’t flown here all that way – it must be an escapee from some collection somewhere. John said it had been around for a while, and the obvious suspect for its source is the WWT reserve at Martin Mere, which keeps all kinds of exotic wildfowl. However, they deny it’s one of theirs.

The rain had eased a bit, but we sat in the shelter around the back of Southport Theatre. In the shrubbery were several Ladybirds on the Cotton Lavender plant, Santolina. They must have liked it there despite the rather antiseptic smell. One was definitely the common 7-spot Ladybird, but the other two were very tiny, just 3mm, and the spots weren’t as neat. I think they were 11-spot Ladybirds, Coccinella 11-punctata, whose spots are sometimes fused (looking like 7), and they are “widespread on various herbaceous plants”.

7-spot ladybird

Then it started to rain heavily so we gave up and headed back to the station, past all the ice-cream and rock shops which must have done a wonderful trade earlier in the week.

Public transport details: Bus 47 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Lulworth Road / Weld Road (Birkdale) at 11.18.  Returned from Southport Station on the 2.28 train, arriving Liverpool sometime after 3.

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