Kirkby, 28th May 2017

We went to Kirkby to follow up reports of nesting Peregrines on the church, but we had a good look at the trees in St Chad’s Gardens first. They have a fine young Deodar, a Laburnum arch that has just finished, a Red Horse Chestnut and one that I first mistook for a Japanese Maple, but it was an Oriental Plane, said to be rare north of the Midlands. The only other one I know of in Merseyside is on the central reservation of East Prescot Road near Springfield Park.

There was some sort of Lime, not sprouty at the base and showing a low graft. The leaves were glossy and papery and there were no seeds. I hoped that it was a Large-leaved Lime (worth 15 points) but it doesn’t match the book at all. It was more like a Small-Leaved Lime in features, except for the size of the leaves. These Limes are doing my head in!  We had more luck with the matching pair of youngish trees on either side of the gate. They were conical trees, no seeds, but with big alternate leaves with their stalks reddish and hairy. I think they are Turkish Hazels, which the Collins Tree Guide says are now a locally frequent street tree.

As promised, a pair of Peregrines were nesting in the church belfry. Neither of them were impressed when the church bells rang, and they flew away screeching, but one soon came back.

We met a local lad, who joined us in foraging for pellets. We broke open the only one we found, revealing the leg rings of a racing pigeon!

The young bird watcher also knew where all the birds’ nests were. He pointed out the tree hole which a Great Spotted Woodpecker had investigated, but was soon put off by a pair of Blue Tits who also fancied it. There is a Kestrel nest in a drainpipe hopper and he said he’d heard the chicks calling, but all we saw was a tail, and then the brooding adult flew off. The first of three Corpses of the Day was a Hedgehog, decomposing gently by the side of the path.

After lunch we went into the park behind the church, called Millbrook Millennium Green. A Song Thrush was singing loudly from a thicket and both Bramble and Dog Rose were coming into flower. The Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus was blooming well, but something was eating its leaves down to lace. On the undersides of the leaves were the culprits, larvae of the Viburnum Leaf Beetle (or Guelder Rose Leaf Beetle) Pyrrhalta viburni.

The bird-watching lad turned up again, and in his bag he had a brood of baby Blue Tits, which he’d found cheeping on the ground. Had they fallen from the nest? They had probably just fledged that morning. We urged him to take them back to the same place, where their parents could find and feed them.

There is a little wetland there, part of the Simonswood Brook. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds but we couldn’t see it. Flowers included Meadow Cranesbill, White Clover, Hemlock Water Dropwort, Yellow Flag Iris and Blue Iris.

We returned for a last look at the birds on the church. There was a young Starling lying dead on the path – Corpse Number Two. Both Peregrines were sitting by the belfry louvers, listening to the sounds of the young ones inside.

Our third corpse was a Wood Pigeon in a bus shelter in Kirkby bus station, a clean and perfect bird, but with a broken neck. We could see the imprint of its wings on the glass. Had it been chased by a Peregrine that morning, and went the wrong way in its panic? Near the bus station, more “birds of prey”, but this time they were dubious public sculpture. An artist called Geoff Wood has been allowed to set up three oversized armchairs, each with a huge pair of wings attached. The installation is called “Kirkby Thrones” and is labelled “Imagine these winged thrones giving flight to your ideas.” The white one was called “Osprey”, the dark brown one “American Eagle”, and the red-gold one “Golden Eagle”.

Our I-Spy points for flowers are going well. We doubled the 50 points for Freshfield’s Common Nettle to 100 because we got the question right. Q: True or False? The young leaves are good to eat. (Answer at the end).  We also got 65 points from five more flowers today, taking us to 410. There are questions on Meadow Cranesbill, Dog Rose and Bramble that I still have to ask, so we might increase to 400. We got 50 points for the Peregrine (a Top Spot) and I think John will also count the noisy Sedge Warbler, although we didn’t see it. Probably 1235 points by now. There was no advance on the tree points, still at 880. (A: True)

Public transport details: Bus 20 from Queen Square at 10.10, arriving Kirkby Row / James Holt Avenue (outside St Chad’s gardens) at 10.52. Returned on the 20 bus from Kirkby bus station at 2.25, arriving Liverpool City Centre at 3.10.

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Caergwrle, Wales 23rd May 2017

DaveB and I took the train to Bidston then changed to the Wrexham line alighting at Caergwrle in Flintshire, Wales. A Wildflower patch beside the station held Common Fumitory Fumaria officinalis a scrambling native annual with crimson-tipped pink flowers that is considered a weed by some. It has been used medicinally to treat a variety of ailments ranging from stomach and gall problems to migraines, being readily available in apothecary shops as ‘fumus terrae’ (Earthsmoke).

Common Fumitory Fumaria officinalis

Wandering down to the 17th century pack-horse bridge that crosses the debris strewn weir of the River Alyn we spotted a Dipper flying upstream and a Grey Wagtail chasing after insects. Further along at a quieter patch the gravelly river-bed held flowering Common Water-crowfoot Ranunculus aquatilis and a few Brown Trout Salmo trutta were mooching in the shadows and being the ideal habitat Dave kept his eye in on his continuing quest for Lamprey. Along the banksides the leaves of Butterbur Petasites hybridus were still visible plus flowering Common Comfrey Symphytum officinale and Water Forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides attracted a male Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines.

We crossed into a meadow area, a Kestrel perched in the hedge taking flight, and wandered through flowering Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Common Nettle Urtica dioica Yorkshire-fog Holcus lanatus Soft-brome Bromus hordeaceus Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris, Pignut Conopodium majus and the dark stems of Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre

We crossed Fagyl Lane and turned into Pigeon House Lane were the lane edges held flowering Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum, Wood Avens Geum urbanum, Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea, Cuckoo Flower a.k.a. Lady’s Smock Cardamine pratensis, English Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta and Wood Spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides. Corpse of the Day turned out to be a dead chick – feather quills clearly visible. Not all ‘doom and gloom’ though with lots of birdsong by Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Song Thrush, Robin and good views of Nuthatch.

Corpse of the Day – Dead Chick

We soon reached the 120 acre site of the former aggregate quarry at Hope. An ambitious project here named ‘Park In The Past’ is planning to feature a life-size Roman fort and a reconstruction of an Iron Age farm. Snipe Flies Rhagio scolopaceus were dotted around the vegetation waiting for any unsuspecting prey items to come within their range whilst a couple of faded Small Tortoiseshells Aglais urticae and Peacocks Inachis io flitted by along with a Yellow-tail Euproctis similis Moth.

Snipe Fly Rhagio scolopaceus

The site features a 35acre lake which held Mute Swans, Great-crested Grebes, Moorhen and Coot. We watched as a young Coot that swam out from the lake edge, dived in deeper water but never surfaced again and questioned whether it had been taken by a Pike.

We sat and ate lunch amongst Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis, Crosswort Cruciata laevipes Wild Teasel Dipsacus fullonum Fox-and-cubs Pilosella aurantiaca Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata Common Milkwort Polygala vulgaris Bugle Ajuga reptans and flitting Common Blues Polyommatus icarus. Both Great-spotted and Green Woodpeckers called whilst a Buzzard circled in the distance.

The Alder leaves Alnus sp. were taking an absolute battering from the vast numbers of Alder Leaf Beetles Agelastica alni. Their larvae happily munch the leaves causing gaping holes – and given the bonking activities of the adults more offspring were on the way!

Alder Fly Sialis lutaria

Spring was also in the air beside the lake where a couple of the newly emerged Alder Flies Sialis lutaria, were wasting no time in their karma sutra antics. Other Invertebrates included Common Red Soldier Beetle Rhagonycha fulva, Soldier Beetles Cantharis pallida and Cantharis nigricans, a lone Red-and-black Froghopper Cercopis vulnerata, a lone Common Green Shieldbug Palomena prasina, a couple of Red-headed Cardinal Beetles Pyrochroa serraticornis, Scorpion Fly Panorpa communis, Green Lacewing Chrysoperla sp. and Green Dock Beetle Gastrophysa viridula.

We wandered around the edge of the lake taking a detour around an area which was fenced off to prevent disturbance to nesting birds. A flock of Greylag Geese hastily took to the water with their goslings and a Lapwing called overhead. Sedge Warblers non-stop song belted from the scrub along with the scratchy notes of Whitethroat. In a sandy area where a number of small Wasps with red on their predominantly black abdomens were hyperactively running around. DaveB collected a specimen in a tube to drop off at the entomology section of Liverpool World Museum for identification.

All too soon we had reached the entry point again and it was back along Pigeon House Lane before crossing Fagyl Lane and into the meadow area where we took a slightly different route the short distance to Hope Station. Swallows and House Martins were joined by a few Swift who were silently scything the air around the new housing development adjacent to the opposite platform.

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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MNA Coach Trip Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey 21st May 2017

A change of venue for our MNA coach trip to Anglesey. We decided to visit the stunning location of Llanddwyn Island (Ynys Llanddwyn) at the far end of the beach at Newborough Warren. After being refused entry down to the car-park with the coach at the barrier to Newborough Forest we disembarked the coach and crossed a pasture field with flowering Meadow Saxifrage Saxifraga granulata before a rather pleasant wander down through to the beach. Plenty of birdsong with Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Great Tit, Wren, Prune and Chaffinch. There were the faint calls of Goldcrests from the conifers along with Coal and Long-tailed Tit.

Broom Cytisus scoparius ssp. scoparius

Plenty of flowering Common Vetch Vicia sativa, Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys and Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus along with Broom Cytisus scoparius growing quite tall up to 2m along with a few shrubs of Gorse Ulex europaeus. A couple of Broom shrubs of the subspecies Cytisus scoparius ssp. scoparius had pronounced red on the flower wings. I noted a Red-and-Black Froghopper Cercopis vulnerata and a small Beetle with black head and red elytra – Poplar Leaf Beetle Chrysomela populi that was also seen by Margaret Parry and co.

They are generally found in pasture areas feeding on all sorts of herbivorous dung. ChrisB overturned a log and a Ground Beetle Carabidae sp. quickly scurried away whereas the log DaveB and Les Hale overturned produced a Paper Wasp nest. A few more plants were noted with the fluffy catkins of Creeping Willow Salix repens, Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris, Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata and Mouse-ear-hawkweed Pilosella officinarum.

Common Blue by Barbara Lee

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

There were four Common Blues Polyommatus icarus and half a dozen Speckled Woods Pararge aegeria flitting in the sunshine but it was a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria selene that caused a flurry of camera activity. This species is a priority species for conservation which has suffered a long-term decline in distribution and population. Habitat management such as woodland coppicing that encourages growth of the larval foodplant Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana and those nectar producing plants that the adults avidly feed from such as Blackberry Rubus fruticosus, Bugle Ajuga reptans, Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus and Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta.

Native Oyster

We stopped for a bite of lunch noting a Garden Tiger caterpillar Arctia caja moving at full pelt across the path before jumping down the dunes and wandering along the high tideline of the beach towards the Llandwyn Island. Masses of Kelp Laminaria sp. had been ripped from their rocky holdfasts out at sea and were lying in curved Seal-shaped masses on the beach. There were a few dead Common Shore Crabs Carcinus maenas, shells of Common Limpet Patella vulgata, Common Cockle Cerastoderma edule, Common Mussel Mytilus edulis and Native Oyster Ostrea edulis. Margaret Parry found the carapace of a European Spider Crab Maja squinado and a Mermaid’s Purse from a Lesser-spotted Dogfish a.k.a. Small-spotted Catshark Scyliorhinus canicula.

Pillow Lava

As we approached the island we passed several large rocks in the sand which are basaltic pillow lavas, part of the Pre-cambrian Gwna Group. They were formed by undersea volcanic eruptions; as the molten rock billowed out meeting the cold sea water the rock solidified producing this pillow shape. Lichens on the lava included Calcoplaca marina and Sea Ivory Ramalina siliquosa.

Thrift

We climbed the steps onto the island and noted the variety of plant species Sea Campion Silene uniflora, Red Campion Silene dioica, Thrift Armeria maritima, Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa, Thrift Armeria maritima, Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana, Silverweed Potentilla anserina, Creeping Cinquefoil Potentilla reptans, Burnet Rose Rosa spinosissima, Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias, Bloody Crane’s-bill Geranium sanguineum, Common Stork’s-bill Erodium cicutarium, Spring Squill Scilla verna and Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta.

Dingy Skipper by Barbara Lee

ChrisB found a Welsh Chafer Hoplia philanthus and I showed members a Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris and Drinker Euthrix potatoria caterpillar. Barbara photographed a Dingy Skipper Erynnis tages – the most widely-distributed skipper, despite its decline due to changes in farming practice. I also photographed a blue-black larvae with a red tail protuberance – assistance with its identity appreciated!

Larvae

 

A beacon, called Tŵr Bach, was built at the tip of Llandwynn Island to provide guidance to ships entering the Menai Straits with a more effective lighthouse, Tŵr Mawr built nearby in 1845. The lighthouse was a great place for a bit of sea-watching a number of small islets held Cormorants, Shags and Oyks. The odd Gannet and Common Guillemot passed by and other members noted Eider and Common Scoter.

Rock Pipit by Hugh Stewart

On the island were numerous Meadow Pipits and ascending Sky Larks, pairs of Stonechat, Pied Wagtail and Linnets. Hugh Stewart photographed one of the Rock Pipits with a beak packed full of insects, a growing brood nearby. On a shady rock face was growing Sea Spleenwort Asplenium marinum. Close-by are the ruins of Llanddweyn Chapel built in the 16th Century dedicated to St. Dwynwen – who lived on the island in the 5th Century and is a patron saint of lovers, making her the Welsh equivalent of St. Valentine. Growing from the Holy well Margaret Parry noted Hemlock Water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata.

Returning back to the path leading through the woodland we added Small White Pieris rapae, Peacock Inachis io and Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans plus had good views of a bubbly voiced Garden Warbler. DaveH noted a Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas, Wall Lasiommata megera and Chimney Sweeper Moth Odezia atrata.

All too soon we were rounding up the straggler MNA members for the return journey after a wildlife-packed day.

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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Freshfield, 14th May 2017

From Freshfield Station we walked down Victoria Road, entertained by a succession of Blackbirds who sang to us all the way along. In estate-agent-speak it is “one of the best roads in the north west”, meaning it is lined by detached houses, all different, many with security gates and CCTV, and some with fanciful  names like “Windwhistle”. There were several Red Squirrels running about in the National Trust reserve. One particularly busy little fellow was up and down trees, collecting nuts from the feeding cages and scampering off to bury them, one at a time.

Then we threaded through the pinewoods and open spaces, noticing that there were many areas of younger trees, all apparently Corsican Pines, the dominant species of this sandy area. The male flowers are in clusters, while the female flowers are reddish, at the tips of the shoots.

The only other common trees were Poplars, especially in the more open areas. Some were Grey Poplars Populus canescens, a hybrid of  White Poplar and Aspen. The leaves have the white undersides of the White Poplar, but the scalloped edges of Aspen.

The other widespread Poplar had large soft leaves, with very long points on their otherwise typical “ace-of-spades” outline, and which weren’t white underneath. There were large clumps of them near the picnic tables, with broken, recumbent trunks and gnarly bark. They seem to be the Wild Black Poplar Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia, which is considered uncommon, but “locally abundant in floodplains and old parks”. They must like this light sandy soil.

The National Trust makes much of the history of asparagus-growing in this area, and there is a new wooden sculpture of three enormous asparagus stalks, apparently growing right out of the ground.

We noted some distant rabbits, and then took a path up and over the dunes to the shore.

Lots of people were enjoying the beach, and as we returned via Formby beach car park, even more vehicles were coming in. It must have been a very good day for the National Trust, at £6 per car. There were Swallows in the air over the shore, and near the tollbooth as we returned to the station, a Jay popped over the fence out of the pinewoods, grabbed something edible from the ground, then melted back into the trees. None of today’s birds were new, and although Swifts are back in the area, we didn’t spot any. I-Spy bird points now up to 1170. No new trees today, either, and we didn’t get last week’s Field Maple question. (Q. What is the type of Maple wood used by furniture makers? Answer at end.) Our tree points are stalled at 880.

We spotted just one new flower today, but it was a good one – the Common or Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica. There was just one clump of plants in flower, at the base of the last (easternmost) wooden post past the squirrel reserve. Why was that one so early? A lot of cars queue here, and there may be something in the exhaust fumes that it likes. Alternatively, it was below the first wooden post that dogs find on the way down Victoria Road, so it must be well-supplied with nitrogen fertiliser!

When I checked my book I was amazed to find that nettles have separate male and female plants and the flowers are different. These whitish-looking ones are female, I think, while the male stamens are redder. You learn something every day! It is worth 50 I-Spy points, which we might double if we answer the related question. Flower points now 295.

On the way home through Crosby I photographed some unusual Hawthorns in gardens. The normal white “May” flowers are out, and they are mostly the common Crataegus monogyna, which as its name suggests has only one seed in the berry, and thus only one style in the flower (that’s the bit the pollen grains land on.) Usually un-noticed is the Midland Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, which has two or three styles and thus two or three seeds in the berry. It flowers a week or two earlier than monogyna and smells rather foul, aparently. But just now two red or pink varieties of Midland Hawthorn are in bloom. The red or pink double variety is ‘Paul’s Scarlet’, while the less common red single blossoms with white centres belong to variety ‘Punicea’. (Answer from above : Bird’s-eye maple.)

Public transport details: Train from Central towards Southport at 10.23, arriving Freshfield 10.55. Returned from Freshfield on the 2.11 train, arriving Central 2.43.

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Gorse Hill, 7th May 2017

Long Lane in Aughton has interesting and colourful gardens, with Rowan, Cherry, Lilac and Laburnum all in bloom and red Maples coming into leaf.

Even the Sycamores are interesting, with many of them being the variety ‘Brilliantissimum’. The leaves open bright pink, become yellow-green, and finally settle to dark green, mottled with cream. They don’t make many seeds, either, which is a bonus for garden owners.

There were the usual garden birds, Blackbird, Dunnock and Chaffinch, and as we climbed the hill to the pumping station we spotted several fast-moving butterflies – some kind of White and a dark one which was probably Peacock. There were Swallows overhead, and John spotted a Reed Bunting. Along the verge the Cow Parsley was coming out, and lower down were the first flowers of Creeping Buttercup, worth five I-Spy points.

We went down to look at the reserve’s “heritage varieties” Orchard. Last autumn they told us it was lovely when the blossom was out and the Cowslips were underfoot, but sadly the gate was locked and it wasn’t due to be open until later in the day.Too late for us. But we could see the distant blossom from the gate (and we claim our 10 points.)

An  Orange Tip butterfly flitted past as we headed back to the reserve. The woodland paths are bordered with lots of mini habitats for Newts and small mammals, plus bug hotels. Many of the trees are labelled (with children in mind) giving the name, description, ecology, use of the wood and so on. For instance “Crab Apple, Malus sylvestris. The flowers provide early pollen and nectar for insects and bees. The leaves provide food for the Eyed Hawkmoth. Fruit is eaten by birds – Blackbirds, Thrushes, Crows – and mammals like mice, voles and foxes. Humans eat Crab Apple jelly. Crab apple trees are good pollinating partners for apple trees and therefore useful to plant in an orchard. The name “crab” originates from the Norse word skrab meaning “scrubby”. The wood is excellent for carving and burning.”  It also gave us another 10 points!

Another sign said “Walk softly and listen, Mother Nature is at work.” Along the paths we spotted Hogweed, and also Red Campion, worth another 15 points.

We studied the labelled Downy Birch, (20 points), but we are no nearer to confidently distinguishing the Downy from the Silver Birch. No obvious downiness on the shoots that we could see, and it isn’t as simple as “weeping” or “not weeping”, either.

We sat by the pond in the strong sunshine for our lunch. A mother Mallard led a brood of eight ducklings along the path to the water. Had they just hatched that morning?  After a few minutes a kerfuffle of quacking and splashing broke out. Two Mallard Drakes were harassing a female, and we feared it was the same mother duck. Happily, it seemed to be another one and the little family were seen again later, all quite safe.

There was a Field Maple by the pond, worth another 15 points. We might double that next week when I remember to ask the associated question! The leaves are fairly small, while the bark is very interestingly gnarly.

We also admired the bark of a Rowan tree. It is characteristic of Sorbus to have white  patches on the trunks, and I always thought it was a feature of the tree itself, but it is clearly white and yellow lichen on this one. Is it always lichen?

We dawdled in the big field, hoping to see the Yellowhammers which are usually there, but no luck. There was a Whitethroat up on a hedge, then it did a song flight, followed by a dive back into the Bramble. There was also a Willow Warbler singing beautifully from the top of a bare Ash tree.

John thought he spotted a small brown mammal scurrying across the path a way ahead of us. We investigated, but it must have gone into another Bramble patch, because we couldn’t find or hear it. However, there was a little path beaten through the grassy verge, about two or three inches wide. Too big for a mouse or vole, I think, and too small for a rabbit, so had it been a weasel?

We took the path around the back of the pumping station. In one small glade an oak was just coming into brownish leaf, making the whole tree look golden in the bright sunshine.

Then back through the cultivated fields to Aughton Church and the station.

We continue to collect bird points, and we are now up to 1130. Four new trees today, taking us to 880 points, while the slow-to-start wild flowers are so far only up to 245.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.10 towards Ormskirk, arriving Aughton Park at 10.37. Returned from Aughton Park at 14.53, arriving Central at 3.23.

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Hale, 30th April 2017

Hale village is a little bit of Old England, boasting over a dozen listed buildings, many of them 17th century thatched cottages.  Its most famous resident was John Middleton, 1578-1623, who was said to have been nine feet three inches tall and was known as the Childe of Hale. He was the servant and bodyguard of Sir Gilbert Ireland, Lord of the Manor of Hale Hall. The house below is where he lived, and the local joke is that the two little windows in the gable end were for his feet to stick out of when he was in bed.

His grave is in the churchyard, with the archaically-spelled carved words picked out in white. It is protected by railings, and many sight-seers feel the urge to throw coins onto it, as if it was a wishing well.

We headed past the church down towards the point. There were House Sparrows in the gardens and House Martins overhead, our first of the year. Along Lighthouse Road the St Mark’s Flies were hovering about, a Willow Warbler was singing in a tree by the kissing gate, there was a Wheatear on the path, Swallows and Skylark overhead, and a cock Pheasant was prancing about in the adjoining field.

Hale Point is the most southerly point in the old county of Lancashire, but now it’s officially just outside Merseyside and part of Cheshire. It overlooks Stanlow near Ellesmere Port. The lighthouse here was decommissioned in 1958.

The tide was going out strongly and there was a gusty wind, but it wasn’t cold. Two Canada Geese flew in, there was an Oystercatcher at the water’s edge and flypasts of Cormorants and 20 or 30 Dunlin. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly hunkered down in the rough grass, trying not to be blown away.  We took the path northeast around the point, and lunched on a bench opposite Helsby and Frodsham. Then we set off again around the headland, opposite Weston Point in Runcorn, with a field of oil-seed rape (which the Americans call “canola”) in bloom on the left, and the estuary to the right. It was very windy indeed, definitely blowing away any cobwebs we might have had left.

A huge dark Bumble Bee was foraging low down on a Dandelion, and she must have been a Red-tailed queen.

Under the edge of the bright yellow blossoms were lots of wild flowers. Does that mean the farmer hadn’t used pesticides and the crop was organic? There were masses of Speedwell and Red Dead-nettle, lots of Cow Parsley (5 points) and occasional Hogweed. Dandelions, of course, and some Ribwort Plantain.

There were Canada Geese and Shelduck on the mud towards Pickerings Pasture, where we turned back to the village along Withins Way. Masses of Hawthorn were blooming, and we spotted this amazing small fly with a red-bronze reflective abdomen and thorax, which were almost phosphorescent. It had what looked like white eyes at the front and a hairy rear end. It was on a Bramble leaf. The picture is horribly out of focus, sorry, but my best attempt at identification suggests it’s one of the Long-legged flies, the Dolichopodidae, perhaps of the genus Dolichopus.

At the end of Withins Way is an interesting sign about the old ford of the Mersey that used to be there, and was still in use until the mid 19th century. In 1644, during the English Civil War, some Parliamentary soldiers attempted to cross from Weston Point to relieve Prince Rupert’s siege of Liverpool, but they were intercepted. However, later in that same year two groups of Royalist troops successfully crossed the other way, those of Lord Molyneaux while being driven southwards from Kirkham near Blackpool, and some of the defeated troops from Marston Moor, who were routed at Ormskirk and fled in confusion towards Liverpool and Hale “and so quitted the county of Lancashire into Cheshire and Wales.” Hard to imagine soldiers along it nowadays.

Two Goldfinches flew across the path, we spotted a Song Thrush, and a Whitethroat popped up from behind the hedge, then dived back out of sight. At the end of the path was another interesting sign put up by the BASC. It’s the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, and they say they are all for conservation of course, as they would, but look how somebody has firmly crossed out the word “conservation” on this sign. It was either a BASC member opposed to conservation and determined to shoot anything in sight, or perhaps it was defaced by a proper naturalist objecting to their claim to have anything to do with conservation.

Our corpse of the day was a flattened and dried-up Hedgehog on the verge. Nearby was a surprising tree, a Japanese Larch Larix kaempferi (20 points). I know it by its light green foliage and curly cone scales.

In a garden opposite the Childe of Hale pub was a Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba just coming into yellowish leaf (25 points). Right behind it was a young Monkey Puzzle and on either side of them is what I strongly suspect to be a couple of Stone Pines. They are uncommon trees, supposedly not growing north of the Mediterranean, but there is definitely one thriving  in West Kirby, not too far away, so Stone Pines are possible. Perhaps they were planted from seeds gathered on holiday. It seems to be the garden of a connoisseur, at any rate.

From the bus home we noted a row of over a dozen Red Horse Chestnuts Aesculus x carnea (20 points) along the south side of Aigburth Road between Liverpool Cricket Club and Aigburth Vale.
Last week I forgot to ask the questions on two of the trees we ticked. Here they are.
Wych Elm: How does this tree get its name? Nobody knew the answer to that.
Horse Chestnut: Where does the name conker come from? We got that and doubled our points from 10 to 20. (Answers at the end.) We had three new trees today, so we are up to 825 points. The only new wild flower was the Cow Parsley, worth only 5 points, so we are up to 225. John continues to collect bird points, even though we have passed 1000, and further reports to come.
A1: “Wych” is a Saxon word for “bendy”. A2 “Conker” comes from Conqueror.

Public transport details: Bus 82A from Liverpool ONE at 10.15, arriving Hale Village Green at 11.02. Returned from the Childe of Hale pub on the 82A at 2.32, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station 3.15.

 

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A Foxglove Tree in Crosby

Thanks to a tip-off, I went to see this rare Foxglove Tree Paulownia tomentosa in a private front garden in Crosby this morning. It’s only the third one I know of in Merseyside. (There’s also a small weedy one in Calderstones Park and a large but shaded one in Henry Street in Liverpool city centre, outside the Chinese Arts Centre.) This one is the best!  It’s in magnificent full flower, covered in huge clusters of pale lilac blooms in upright panicles. It’s originally a Chinese tree, which was known there as the Empress Tree, because only an Empress could have one on her grave.


It seems to be flowering about a month early. Mitchell says it flowers in “late May”, while the Collins guide says “late Spring”. The flowers come out before the leaves (which will be over a foot long). If you want to see it, it’s in Eshe Road North, Crosby, opposite number 14 and between Elton Road and Linden Road.
(Added a couple of days later – the ones in Henry Street and Calderstones Park are both still in bud, so no idea what got this one going so early!)

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Port Sunlight Bioblitz 26th & 27th May

Port Sunlight River Park will be holdiing a Bioblitz on 26th and 27th May 
On Friday 26th there will be an opportunity for recorders to record and also there will be several school visits. There will be a bat walk and moth trapping planned that evening and mammal traps overnight. On Saturday there will be several walks, as well as seeing how successful the moth traps have been. Hilary Ash is leading a wildflower walk at 10.30am. There is an Family fun nature walk planned in the afternoon from 1.30-3pm.
Record are involved and other organisations will have stalls with family friendly activities.
As it’s a new site we lack records in many groups so it’s an opportunity both to fill some gaps and to involve the local community. 
The next planning meeting is on Tuesday 2nd May at 2pm in the site office.
There will be an induction for recorders on Monday 22nd May, meeting at 6.30pm in the car park.
Please contact Anne Litherland – the Park Ranger for more information or with any queries?
Anne.Litherland@autismtogether.co.uk
T: 07587 550060
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Frankby Cemetery and Royden Park, 23rd April 2017

We entered Frankby Cemetery at the north-east end, near Frankby Green. A Robin greeted us from a low branch and a Chiffchaff was calling. There is a Hillsborough gravestone on a corner there, which we stopped to look at. By the pond a Rowan tree was showing its buds, as were the White Water Lilies. The only birds were Mallards, Coot and Moorhen, but we saw a Mandarin here once, so we always hope for another. Some Speckled Wood butterflies were dancing in the dappled light, and one landed amongst the fallen Cherry petals.

They have several varieties of Cherry trees here, so following the inspiration of the recent Springwatch in Japan, where the blossoming of the cherries is a great national event, we sniffed and tasted, but couldn’t detect the promised delicate perfume, and the chewed petals were underwhelming, sadly.

On a field near the south-west corner a Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush were pecking about in the dry soil and allowing us to see how they differ from each other. A Jay flew through the trees on the far side. Then we walked along Montgomery Hill and crossed into Royden Park, heading for the car park and café. Some of us saw a brown furry bee which they later identified as Tawny Mining Bee from a leaflet in the ranger barn. For lunch, we headed to the walled garden. It has a huge Wisteria trained along a wall trellis, which will be magnificent in a few weeks. We were too early for the Laburnum tunnel as well: the flower buds are just beginning to show.

They make an effort for wildlife, and we checked out the small wildflower area, noting Cowslips, Greater Stitchwort, Wild Strawberry and some kind of Speedwell, probably Common Field Speedwell with the white lower petal. We want Germander Speedwell for our I-Spy “tick”, but this wasn’t it. The Bluebells were coming out.

Plenty of butterflies about, including an Orange Tip and a Blue (probably a Holly Blue), neither of which sat still for us. The Bird Cherry tree was putting out its flowers, so that’s another tree in the bag.

On Roodee Mere a Heron was perching very close to the “feed the ducks” platform, just far enough away to be quite relaxed.

The Royden Park Miniature Railway was in full swing, and four of the group took a ride.

After a walk through the pinewoods and over a bit of heathland, where we spotted a Sparrowhawk overhead, we headed back to the café block. There was a Peacock butterfly on the big field and a Grey Squirrel in the trees. The Wych Elms now have their clusters of winged seeds and their leaf shoots sprouting.

We returned to the bus via the footpath off Birch Heys.  More butterflies (it was a very good day for them) included a Comma on bare ground, a Large White, and more Orange Tips and Speckled Woods. We were interested in an orange ladybird sunning itself on Ivy, but it turned out to be yet another variety of Harlequin. An early-blooming clump of Herb Robert in a shady corner was an addition to the wildflower list.

We came out on Frankby Road opposite Frankby Stiles. There was a Whitebeam tree in leaf and bud, and some early Hawthorn blossoming. The Horse Chestnuts are also coming into flower, and there were plenty of fine ones in view from the bus back to Liverpool.

Here is our I-Spy certificate and badge for 1000 bird points.

We added six more trees species today, worth 90 points, taking us to 750. There are two questions that I forgot to ask (on Horse Chestnut and Wych Elm) so we may be able to add another free 25 points when I remember to ask them! We also had three new species of flower, worth 40 points, so we are up to 220.

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Frankby Road / Frankby Green at 10.40. Returned on bus 437 from Frankby Road / opp Baytree Road at 2.59, which arrived Liverpool City Centre at 3.38.

 

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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.


Coltsfoot


Cowslips


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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