Leasowe, 9th April 2017

Leasowe on the north Wirral coast is a good place to find spring migrant birds, so we hoped to make our 1000 I-Spy bird points today: only 50 to go. We got off to a good start in Berrylands Road with a Collared Dove on a lamp post, a bird we really should have seen already this year, but inexplicably hadn’t (5 points). It was another warm and sunny day and the butterflies were on the wing even in the suburban streets – Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood. By the stairs up from Bramble Way to Moreton Station we spotted our first Bluebells, but they weren’t “proper” native ones. The  Woodland Trust are currently running The Big Bluebell Watch, and are encouraging everyone to enter any they see onto a map, marked as “English”, “not English” or “neither”, which could mean hybrid, or “don’t know”.  I have entered all the ones we saw today.

It was a good day for wild flowers, which are all now starting to bloom. There was Red Dead-nettle by the wayside on Pasture Road and Garlic Mustard at the base of a telegraph pole. There is a question on that one “”Do you know any other names for this plant?” (Answer at the end.) We got it right so doubled the points from 15 to 30.

Red Dead-nettle

Garlic Mustard

We spotted a row of White Poplars on the corner of Tarran Drive (15 tree points) and then turned onto the Wirral Circular Trail along the river Birket. Birds included Goldfinch and Blackbird, two Mistle Thrushes in a field, a Chiffchaff and a pair of Mallards on the water. We spotted out first Coltsfoot of the year, distinguished from Dandelion by their scaly stems, also our first Cowslips and lots of Green Alkanet in the shade of the hedge.



Green Alkanet

A male Orange Tip butterfly flew past us, heading towards the lighthouse, and there were lots of Harlequin ladybirds on the plant called Alexanders, some mating. This one has an unusual pattern – a black spot within a red spot.

There were several Wheatears in the rough fields. We got 15 points for that, so now we are up to  970 and closing in on the magic 1000 points.

I think these buds are of Wych Elm.

Previously I commented  that we were unlikely to see English Elm any more, and someone asked me why. They all succumbed to Dutch Elm disease, sadly. See this post by Bryony Rigby “Remembering the Elm” from the Manchester Museum’s “Stories from the Museum floor” blog.

We lunched by the lighthouse and watched a man in the field opposite, who was probably our well-known local ecologist Jeff Clarke, using a modified leaf blower to suck up insects from the long grass: he then carefully inspected his finds. Under our feet by the benches was Common Chickweed, another wildflower “tick”. On the path to the pond we saw more Speckled Woods, another Orange Tip, a Peacock and more Bluebells, probably hybrids. A Bumble Bee was humming on the path edge, probably a Queen White-tailed Bumble Bee. Then we took the long path through the horse fields, admiring how the empty ones were carpeted with Daisies.

The Gorse was in full bloom, giving off a strong almondy smell. There were a few Linnets bobbing up and down, giving us another 15 points, now 985. We were really hoping for a Swallow or a House Martin soon, to take us over the finishing line. There was a White Wagtail by the fence (but it’s not in the I-Spy bird book, drat it). We studied two mystery birds on a distant post, right against the sun, but we couldn’t identify them. There was a Tree Sparrow at the back of the hedge opposite the farm, but that’s not in the book either. A Kestrel was hovering almost motionlessly in the updraft from the bank, and we stopped to admire its skill, (but we’ve already had a Kestrel).

Sadly there was no sign of any Hirundines (Swallows or Martins), just a Pied Wagtail, so we climbed the bank and made our way back eastwards towards the Lighthouse. Off on the sandbanks in the water were three or four Little Egrets (we’ve had them). In one spot there were several hundred Coltsfoot flowers on the sloping side of the bank. We rarely see so many all together. We also commented on the abundance of Alexanders here, one of the only places we see it. It has a warm caramelly scent, classically likened to myrrh.  It is said to be found mainly close to the sea in the south of England and East Anglia, but it’s also found all around the Wales and Lancashire coasts. It’s native to the Mediterranean and was brought to the UK by the Romans, for cultivation as a food crop.

Then to our surprise a pair of birds settled on the cycle track along the sea wall. A pair of Bramblings! They are supposed to have migrated north already. They flew off before I could get a picture, but they are worth 30 points so we get our 1000 bird points in some style, overshooting to 1015. I have sent off for our certificate and badge.

We added 15 tree points for the White Poplar, taking us to 660. We got 135 points for wild flowers, taking us to 180.  A:  Jack-by-the-Hedge or Jack-among-the-Hedgerow

Public transport details: We would normally get the train to Moreton, but because of the rail tunnel closure, we opted to avoid the rail replacement bus and got the 423 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.10, arriving Maryland Lane near Moreton Cross at 10.55. Returned from Moreton station on the 2.42 train, arriving Birkenhead North 2.50. Then onto the rail replacement bus which got us to Moorfields at 3.10.

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Haskayne, 2nd April 2017

Today we walked the section of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal from Halsall to Downholland Cross. Bright sunshine all day, with just an occasional chilly breeze. In the gardens the Magnolia petals are dropping and the Forsythias are past their best, but the common deciduous trees are coming into leaf. These new Sycamore leaves were shining in the sun as we got off the bus.

Jackdaws were foraging amongst the gravestones of St Cuthbert’s Halsall, where the lych-gate is flanked by two statuesque Irish Yews.

We headed east down Summerwood Lane, seeing Blackbird, Wood Pigeon and a Wren. Then we turned south onto the canal by the sculpture of the Halsall Navvy (a tribute to the men who dug the canal). We heard a Chaffinch and a Skylark, and had a glimpse of a possible Kingfisher flying low over the water. A Reed Bunting popped up briefly out of the reeds. Soon we came to the Haskayne Cutting – dead straight for eight tenths of a mile, which was rock-cut by hand all those years ago. There’s a new sign marking the place where the first spadefull of earth was dug.

As well as the I-Spy tree and bird books, we have started on their wild flowers. So far this year we have spotted only Gorse, Daisy, Lesser Celandine and Dandelion. Here’s the question for the Dandelion: Where does the name come from? Answer at the end. We knew it and doubled our points, but only from 5 to 10.

Lots of wild flowers were in leaf or bud – Speedwell, Cow Parsley and Garlic Mustard, but the only  “tickable” addition was White Dead-nettle, which was flowering all along the bank. We have a meagre 45 points for the year so far, but they will soon come thick and fast.

We lunched by bridge 23, Harker’s Bridge (which carries Plex Lane). There were no ducklings today, just small groups of loafing drake Mallards, waiting for their hidden mates to hatch the eggs. I think we saw only one Coot, and no Moorhens, so they must all be hunkered down too. But the butterflies and other insects were all responding to the warmth.

South of the Ship Inn an unidentified dragonfly zoomed past, one of the increasingly scarce native 5-spot Ladybirds sunned itself on a mixed bank of Cow Parsley and Cleavers (Goose Grass), several Bumble Bees droned around and we spotted both Peacock butterflies and several Small Tortoiseshells.

They are refurbishing the old canal mileposts to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the canal. All the remaining ones are Grade II listed, apparently. We found this one with the plate missing, but it must have been out for repair because someone has scribbled “Leeds 110¼” to assist whoever brings the new one back.

The old 17th century farmhouse called Downholland Hall is also Grade II listed.

One of the trees I was hoping to find today was a Wild Cherry. All the garden Cherry trees are either out or coming out, depending on the variety, so Wild Cherries should be in flower. The old hedges of the canal are likely spots, and although it’s very hard to distinguish the members of the Prunus genus, this one wasn’t a Blackthorn, or anything else I could positively identify, so I tentatively suggest it was a Wild Cherry and claim my 15 points.

We had walked for three miles by then, and some of the older members of the group had begun to flag. We revised our plan to walk as far as Lydiate (another two miles), and got the bus at the New Scarisbrick Arms, rode it for just two or three stops, and went for tea and cake in the Hayloft tea shop. Afterwards we visited their farm shop, where I got some duck eggs. They keep Peacocks here (the exotic birds, not the butterflies), and they were all lounging about in the sun, taking the weight off their tails.

From the bus on the way home we saw several of the common street trees Norway Maple, which are just coming into flower. At this time of year the bare trees put out a sudden froth of acid-yellow flowers before the leaves. Here’s one from my neighbourhood. (It’s the one on the right.)

It isn’t in the I-Spy tree book, sadly, so today we got just 25 points from two tree species, taking the total to 645. Last week’s good birds actually took the score to 950 (when John got his glasses on and counted them up properly). We may not have seen anything new today but we hope for some spring migrants next week. We could hit 1000 points with just one or two good birds.
A: from Dent-de-Lion (French for “lion’s teeth”) which refers to the toothed leaves.

Public transport details: Bus 300 from Queen Square at 10.25, arriving St Cuthbert’s church Halsall at 11.25. Returned on the 300 bus at the Scarisbrick Arms at 2.27, although we got off three minutes later at Hall Lane, then came back to the same stop an hour later for the next 300 bus to Liverpool at 3.27.


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Marshside, 26th March 2017

It was dazzlingly sunny as we left the bus in Preesall Close, and it stayed that way all day. We wondered if the House Martins who nest under the eaves there would be back and building, but there was no sign of them. From up on the bank overlooking the reserve we could see Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck, a few Lapwings and a big flight of Pink-footed Geese far off to the north. Closer in was a Hare!

Little Egrets were displaying, and in and around the gullies along Marshside Road were Teal, Gadwall, Black-tailed Godwits, Moorhen and some Wigeon.

Next to Sandgrounders hide, in that warm sheltered corner, there was a Peacock Butterfly on a Dandelion. (Next to it is the fertile stem of Field Horsetail Equisetum arvense.)

There were huge numbers of Black-headed Gulls displaying, bickering and generally making a racket. Amongst them were Canada Geese and the odd Oystercatcher.

Some people there told us that earlier they had seen a Hare swim from an island just north of the hide to the bank next to Marine Drive. Didn’t know they could swim!


Then we walked along to Nel’s Hide. We had hoped to see the Cattle Egrets which had been reported here on Friday, and which were probably the same ones we had hunted in vain at Kew Woods on 19th February. They weren’t at Marshside, either. But there were lots of other birds worth looking at, including just a few Avocets, with Pintail, a distant Snipe, and elegant Gadwall.



adwall pair

The Shelduck were feeding by upending (“dabbling”), and it was so quiet we could hear their feet paddling.

On the way back we spotted this Black-tailed Godwit feeding on its own by the side of Marshside Road. It appears to have colour rings on both tibias (above the “knees”). The colours are hard to distinguish but I think they are Left – green above white, and Right – white above yellow. There is a large international study of their migration patterns, and this bird has been reported (with photo) to Prof Jenny Gill at the University of East Anglia.

She responded quickly, saying  “Very many  thanks for reporting this sighting – we are always keen to receive these records as they are invaluable for our research. I think that the yellow ring on this bird is actually a flag, which means it is one that was ringed in Iceland. I am therefore copying this to Böddi, who runs those schemes, and he will send details. If you would like to know more about our research into godwits (and other waders), please see our blog series: https://wadertales.wordpress.com/category/black-tailed-godwit/.  Thanks again, Jenny”

By Tuesday morning I had heard from Bodvar Thorisson of the University of Iceland. He said “Thank you for this sighting and image. The top ring on left tibia is a white ring, it is just in shade. It is bird WW-WYflag.  Böddi.” He sent me a file of the bird’s life history. It is still a young bird, nearly four years old. It was ringed in the nest on 11th July 2013, sex unknown, at Reykholar, A-Bardastrandarsysla, NW Ice, Iceland. (He gave me the co-ordinates, so the spot is marked with an orange pin on the map below.) Then it disappeared for nearly 2 years until it was spotted in May 2015 on the Loughor Estuary in South Wales. Since 5th September 2016 it has been spotted 12 times locally at either Marshside, Thurstaston or Newton Marsh on the Ribble Estuary. (Well done that team at East Anglia and Reykjavik for their fast response.)

We just missed the 2.25 bus so we walked along the eastern bank again. There were six or more Small Tortoiseshells all darting about in a group, in some sort of mating dance or display. Another Hare was about, and a Meadow Pipit flew quickly away. This Redshank was feeding near the edge of a pool.

John had hoped to crack 1000 I-Spy bird points today, but we didn’t quite make it. We were up to 775 last week and got 160 today, making 935, so it can’t be long now. There are several common-ish birds which we still haven’t seen during Sunday Group walks, including Wheatear, Great Crested Grebe and Treecreeper. We counted no additional trees today, but here’s a fine young Monkey Puzzle in Preesall Close, to compensate for the one we counted in January which was only seen from the bus!

On the way home I stopped to look at a luxuriant growth of various mosses on the coping stone of an old wall near Blundellsands and Crosby Station. I have no idea of mosses, but this one might be Capillary Thread-moss Bryum capillare, said to be common in urban areas.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Southport 11.09. Then 44 bus at 11.20 from Hoghton Street, stop HC (opposite the Little Theatre), arriving Elswick Road / Preesall Close at 11.30. Returned on the 44 bus from Elswick Road / Pilling Close at 2.54, arriving Hoghton Road 3.04. Then the train at 3.28, due back in Liverpool at 4.14.

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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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