Award for founder of New Ferry Butterfly Park

The Prime Minister has recognised Dr Hilary Ash, from Cheshire, for founding the ‘New Ferry Butterfly Park’ on an abandoned railway depot, creating one of the North’s most biodiverse urban areas.  See this post on the Cheshire Wildlife Trust website

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Pickerings Pasture, 1st October 2017

Pickerings Pasture, on the Mersey estuary near the Widnes-Runcorn bridge, is the site of the old Widnes tip which was reclaimed in the 1980s and declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1992. The Mersey Estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Ramsar site. It is internationally important for Dunlin, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Teal, Pintail and Shelduck.  Improved water quality in the Mersey has led to over 50 species of fish being found in recent years, encouraging fishing birds like Cormorant, Heron and Great Crested Grebe. It is also occasionally visited by Common and Atlantic Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoises and once each of Minke and Killer Whales. We saw nothing as exciting as that today, sadly.

It was a couple of hours after high tide, and the sandbanks were emerging from the river, holding only Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Cormorant drying its wings.

It was still warm for the time of year, muggy and damp, with threat of rain later. We had seen lots of autumn colour from the bus on the way, especially in the ornamental roadside trees in Estuary Business Park, but Pickerings Pasture was still almost completely green. We made our way along to the bird hide at the southern point for lunch, despite the wind blowing fiercely through the viewing ports. There was nothing out there but Cormorants and Mallards, with a few Shelduck on the field.

We had hoped for some woodland birds on the feeders there, but they are all broken and empty. The bird table outside the hide was empty, too. The MNA makes a regular donation towards the cost of bird food here, and the “thank-you” sign is still up, but we weren’t getting our money’s worth today!

When they reclaimed the tip they planted wildlife-friendly native species such as Oak, Ash, Alder, Birch, Willow. Aspen, Larch and Scots Pine, with an underplanting of Sea and Alder Buckthorn, Field Maple, Elder and Dogwood. Other species have either arrived naturally or been planted since then. There are some Spindle trees on either side of the path to the hide, and although they never make big trees, we thought these were quite small, spindly things, perhaps not thriving in the shade. We were happy to see the Aspens, though, one of the few remaining tree species on our I-Spy list, worth 20 points and taking us to 1200. The ones on the side of the path by the hide were blowing wildly in the strong wind, but the tree by the Control Meadow was more sheltered, and the leaves were fluttering beautifully on their long red-brown stalks. They reminded me of the line in Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott -“Willows whiten, aspens quiver, little breezes dusk and shiver …”

Also by the path side were these lovely smoky purple leaves, which I think belong to the Grey Dogwood Cornus sanguinea.

There were big white mushrooms in the wood, and one fence had a sign showing that Pickerings Pasture are now also getting donations from Tesco. Do they still need our regular donation?

The flowers in the meadows had nearly all finished, but we spotted a late Small Scabious Scabiosa columbaria. No points for that, though. The old seed heads were very attractive to Goldfinches, and a charm of over 100 birds was lifting and falling, then twittering prettily whenever they returned to the surrounding trees.

The Alders bore their unripe cones and the Hazels were showing next year’s catkins, but there are never any nuts where there are squirrels.

The only autumn colours were the Lime trees near the exit, dropping gold and yellow leaves.

Public transport details: Bus 82A (Halton Hospital) from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.15, arriving 11.05 at Hale Gate Road / Mersey View Road. Returned from the opposite stop on the 82A at 1.51, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 2.40.


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Freshfield Fungal Foray 30th September 2017

Here’s a few pics from a very sucessful fungal foray around Montagu Triangle woodland and Freshfield Dune Heath. Thanks go to Tony Carter of the North West Fungal Group for his expertise during the foray 🙂

Bay Cup Peziza badia

Conifer Mazegill Gloeophyllum sepiarium

Earpick Fungus Auriscalpium vulgare

Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria

Rufous Milkcap Lactarius rufus

Earthfan Fungus Thelephora terrestris

Common Puffball Lycoperdon perlatum

Smoked Oysterling Resupinatus applicatus

Frosty Webcap Cortinarius hemitrichus

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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Marshside, 24th September 2017

An odd day at Marshside, with an almost deserted Sandgrounders hide, both inside and out, but all the excitement at Nel’s hide, where there were two Cattle Egrets. However, even this late in the season there are still flowers to be found. Near the bus stop in Elswick Road there was a low four-petalled yellow flower at the base of a garden wall which might have been Annual Wall Rocket. On the bank on the south side of the reserve were Ragwort, Poppies and White Dead-nettle. Large numbers of snails were clinging to the nettles. I wonder why they climb up like that?

Along Marshside Road we usually see lots of birds on the grass and in the gully, but it was all very quiet, with just cows doing conservation grazing and some small flocks of Pink-footed Geese dropping in. But there were more flowers to note – Evening Primrose, Comfrey, Yarrow, Tansy and this distinctive raggedy-looking “dandelion” which is Perennial Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis, also known as Corn Sow-thistle or Field Milk-thistle. We get ten points for that, taking us up to 1110.

There were a few more birds on the southern side of Marshside Road, including Greylag Geese, a few Curlew, some Black-tailed Godwits and the ubiquitous Mallards. Perhaps it was the man noisily strimming the long grass that was making most birds lie low. On the path down to Sandgrounders hide we found a small brown toad about three inches long, heading for the grassy verge. Not a Natterjack, because it had no yellow stripe down its back, so it was just a Common Toad.

Sandgrounders Hide was empty, and there weren’t many birds on the water outside, either, just Shelduck, Shoveller, Teal, possibly some distant Gadwall and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits on the far side. No sightings for that day (Sunday) had been entered in the hide record book.



Yesterday’s (Saturday’s) sightings included five Cattle Egrets from Nel’s Hide, and, to our amusement, someone had written “Golden Eagle, 8”. I think there would have been a huge scrum at the hide if that were true!

On the way back up to the road we kept a lookout along the bank for the plant Black Horehound, which I’d seen there once before, and would have been worth 30 points, but no luck. There were plenty of Michaelmas Daisies though, and I spotted this web of the Nursery Web Spider but there were no interesting spiderlings to be seen.

There are several Spindle trees flanking and overshadowing the path down to Nel’s Hide, and they have fruited very well this year.

There was a large flock of Godwits on the far side, with some Golden Plover next to them. The usual Shovelers and Lapwings. Near the water’s edge were two Little Egrets, with their black beaks.

The star birds were the Cattle Egrets. Five had been reported the previous day, but there was still definitely one, probably two, and as their name suggests, they were closely attending the grazing cows.

Our last wildflower was spotted as we returned to the bus. It was a clump of low pink flowers with frilly leaves (doubly pinnate), growing next to the path, and I think it was Common Storksbill.

Public transport details: Train from Liverpool Central to Southport at 10.08, arriving 10.55. Then bus 44 from Hoghton Street, stop HC (opposite the Little Theatre) at 11.20, arriving Elswick Road / Preesall Close at 11.30. Returned on the 44 bus from Marshside Road / Elswick Road at 2.25, arriving Southport at 2.38, then the 2.58 train from Southport to Liverpool.

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Sefton Park, 17th September 2017

The Model Boat Club meets at Sefton Park every Sunday morning, even in misty drizzle like today.

The usual birds were on the lake, Mallards, Coots and Moorhen, Canada Geese and Mute Swans. There seemed to be a lot of cygnets, which at this time of the year are full-grown but still fawny-grey. Later we were able to see there were NINE of them, a very good brood indeed! One pair of Moorhen appeared to be sitting on a nest, which will be a very late brood if the eggs hatch. Several Little Grebes were diving, a Great Crested Grebe was bathing itself, and there was a single Pochard.  A Grey Wagtail pottered about on the edge.

Little Grebe


Grey Wagtail

There were some large clumps of late-flowering Black Nightshade in the shrubbery on the west side of the lake, a plant we don’t see very often. There are several old Sweet Chestnut trees along that side of the lake, which are having a very good year for fruit. The trunks were very thick and gnarly, and showed marked spiral ridges. Could they be as old as the park? It was founded in 1872, so they might be 145 years old.

There are other splendid trees between the north end of the main lake and the “Oasis in the Park” café. There is a cluster of Narrow-leaved Ash Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’ on the grassy slope, which haven’t yet come into their autumn glory of purple and gold. One of them is the Lancashire County Champion for girth at 234cm, (7’ 8”).  Along the waterside verge are some wonderful old Cherries, and opposite the bandstand is a Black Walnut Juglans nigra, which is the Lancashire County Champion for both girth (270 cm, 8’ 10”) and height (20 m, 65 feet). Large fruit were falling, so it was rather reckless to have a park bench sited right underneath!

Today was the Food Festival and part of the northern field was fenced off. We could see lots of  marquees, music was playing and some interesting barbecue scents wafted our way, but we determinedly avoided it.  We hoped to see the Kingfishers which seem to have taken up residence north of the café, but the water was completely covered with green algae, so they had clearly gone off to a better fishing area. Autumn colours were just starting on some trees, including a Red Oak, and this one that looks like some sort of Maple.

We were stopped by a lady who had taken charge of a lost dog and was searching for its owners. Its tag said “Ozzie” and gave two mobile numbers. We rang them both for her, and texted one of them,  without success. Later we heard that she had met someone who knew Ozzie’s owners. Good, he was a lovely, friendly, trusting dog.

We lunched on the seats near the aviary, where there was a Large White butterfly visiting the flowers, now that the sun had come out. One of the flowers was Golden Rod, looking more like the native wildflower, so I think we will claim 15 I-Spy points for it, despite it probably being a cultivated variety.  That takes us to 1100.

Just on the corner of the aviary is a tall Indian Bean tree, which I hadn’t noticed before. They are easy to spot just now, because their big leaves are turning uniformly yellow. There was a shrub of the Physalis type, but as there are up to 90 species I have no idea which one it was. They are variously known as Chinese Lanterns, Ground Cherry or Cape Gooseberry.

A young tree on the corner attracted our attention. It had very big leaves and bore the remains of an upright multiple flower head. It was a Foxglove Tree!  That’s only the fifth one we know on Merseyside.

We looked in the Dell for the Kingfishers, but they weren’t there either. We noted the good trees there, Liquidambar, Deodar, Cut-leaved Beech and a Tulip Tree. Then we had a very brief glimpse of a Treecreeper. Hooray! That’s one of the few outstanding birds on our I-Spy list, the first new bird on that list since 11th June, worth 30 points and taking us to 1315. The only realistically possible bird left to tick in that book is a Bullfinch, and we haven’t given up hope yet. Then up to the Ring-necked Parakeet feeding station. They use a tree stump as a fruit table, and today it had half a melon and a broken-up coconut. A big Rat and several Grey Squirrels mooched on the ground below, a Jay watched us from a branch overhead and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed in the distance. Then we heard the characteristic squawk and a Parakeet flew in and perched over the melon.

At the top of the steps leading back down to the main lake is a tree with long strings of hanging seeds. It’s a Caucasian Wingnut Pterocarya fraxinifolia.

The rarest tree we saw today is a little sapling with huge leaves, on the bank opposite the island. I think it’s a Butternut Juglans cinerea which in my old Mitchell field guide is described as “Very rare, a few collections and gardens in S England, S Scotland and Ireland.” I saw one in Edinburgh Botanic Gardens last year and was impressed by the huge compound leaves, 60cm (2 feet) long, almost dwarfing the tree. Even the leaflets are about 15cm (6 inches) long. I asked John to lean in and grab a leaflet on this little tree to show the scale. From his hand into the trunk is one leaf!

Back at the lakeside we noted a large light-coloured fish near the surface of the water, easily a foot long. There was a fast-moving butterfly, perhaps a Comma, or possibly a Small Tortoiseshell. One Coot had coloured leg rings, left yellow over orange, right light blue over a BTO. This study was done several years ago, so this must be quite an old bird. I have sent the sighting to the BTO via the Euring website.  [Reply from the BTO 19th September: “This bird was ringed as age 1st year, sex unknown on 28-Aug-2011 Redes Mere, Siddington, Cheshire, UK, OS Map reference SJ8471.” So it is now six years old and ours was the first-re-sighting since it was ringed.]
The Mute Swan cygnets were flapping vigorously in a circle. The father of this huge brood was standing on the bank. He had a blue Darvic ring on his right leg, XA6.  We saw him here in early 2014. I have sent the sighting to the North West Swan Study.

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.03, arriving Aigburth Road opposite Ashbourne Road at 10.23.  Several returned on the 68 from Aigburth Vale, others got the 82 at Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane, arriving City Centre 2.48.

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MNA Coach Trip RSPB Fairburn Ings 16th September 2017

It has been four years since the MNA visited Fairburn Ings. Close to the visitor centre there was a small wildflower and herb area including Viper’s-bugloss Echium vulgare, Goldenrod Solidago virgaurea, Chicory Cichorium intybus and Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris. We wandered along the short section of boardwalk through the reedbed – a dozen or so Common Amber Snails Succinea putris were on the reed stems along with a lone Hawthorn Shieldbug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale. A shrub bearing bright pink fruits was identified as Spindle Euonymus europaea. I nipped along to one of the pond-dipping platforms where a pair of Mute Swans were begging food from one of the young visitors despite the vast covering of nutritious Duckweed Lemna minuta.

Mute Swan

We gazed over Big Hole pond with its flock of Lapwing, a couple of Little Grebes, lone BHG and Starlings.

The group split and along with ChrisB headed along the Lin Dike trail through predominantly Birch woodland and shrubs following the banks of the River Aire with Fungi including Brown Birch Bolete Leccinum scabrum, Scaly Earthball Scleroderma verrucosum, Purple Brittlegill Russula atropurpurea, Sycamore Tar Spot Rhytisma acerinum, Blackberry Rust Phragmidium violaceum and numerous unidentified species.

Brown Birch Bolete Leccinum scabrum

Scaly Earthball Scleroderma verrucosum

A couple of Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta and a Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria were on the wing along with Odonata – Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanaea and Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum. Birdlife was quiet but there were a few Bullfinch, Chiffchaff, various Tits, yaffling Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a bird call that had us puzzled for a while until the grey matter remembered juv Reed Bunting. We took a sharp right and climbed up the Coal Tips trail offering views of the reserve and a couple of the large ponds with gazillions of Coot, a few Tufties, Mallards and insect hoovering House Martins. On a couple of the fence posts were lone Red-legged Shieldbugs Pentatoma rufipes.

Red-legged Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes

Plenty of wildflowers with Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Dyer’s Greenweed Genista tinctoria, Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea, Red Bartsia Odontites vernus, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Wild Teasel Dipsacus fullonum, Greater Burdock Arctium lappa, Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus, Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Black Medick Medicago lupulina, Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata and Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis amongst others. Autumn fruits included Bramble Rubus fruticosus, Dog-rose Rosa canina, Blackthorn a.k.a. Sloe Prunus spinosa, Crab Apple Malus sylvestris, Rowan Sorbus aucuparia, Elder Sambucus nigra, Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus and Dogwood Cornus sp.

Reaching close to Big Hole again the flock of Lapwing took to the air – we bumped into Lynn and Hugh who had just seen the possible cause – a Sparrowhawk overhead. We checked out the Oak trees for galls and had pretty much a full contingent caused by various Gall Wasps with Oak Knopper Gall Andricus quercuscalicis, Oak Marble Gall Andricus kollari, Oak Artichoke Gall Andricus foecundatrix (formerly Andricus fecundator), Oak Common Spangle Gall Neuroterus quercusbaccarum and Oak Silk Button Gall caused by the Gall Wasp Neuroterus numismalis as well as Powdery Oak Mildew Erysiphe alphitoides.

Oak Silk Button Galls

We then bumped into DaveB and co who had taken the Riverbank trail through more mature woodland (evident through the leaves of Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum and Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa) overlooking the River Aire down a steep bank on the right and Main Bay and Village Bay ponds on the left. They’d had good views of a male Common Hawker Aeshna juncea that obligingly perched so that Ron Crossley could take a few shots. They’d also seen a few Fungi which we also found – Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria, Southern Bracket Ganoderma australe, Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus and a few Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius.

Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius

The ponds held Greylags and Canada Geese, great Crested and Little Grebes, Mute Swans, loafing Cormorants – plus Hugh had mentioned Shoveler and Pochard. As a finale ChriB spotted some nibbled leaves – the culprits Willow Sawfly larvae Nematus pavidus.

Willow Sawfly larvae Nematus pavidus

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


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Heritage Open Day, 10th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colliers’ Moss, 3rd September 2017

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

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

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



Guelder Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reynolds Park, 27th August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birkenhead Park, 20th August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Floridly-bracted fruits of the Turkish Hazel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Birkenhead Park, 20th August 2017