A Norwegian commuter

Remember this Black-headed Gull that John C spotted in Chester before Christmas? I have just heard back from the ringing group in Norway, and it seems J4U8 is a regular commuter between Stavanger and the River Dee, a journey of around 1000 miles each way. It’s a male bird, and was ringed in March 2012 in southern Norway. It was then estimated to be three years old. Since then it has wintered every year in Chester by the River Dee, occasionally straying into Grosvenor Park, and has gone back to the Stavanger area each April, presumably to breed.
If you go to Chester, keep an eye out for this amazing little gull.

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Parkgate, 16th December 2018

Yesterday we were subjected to Storm Deirdre, which lashed Liverpool with wind and rain, but it was comparatively mild today. After getting off the bus at Parkgate Mostyn Square we walked along the quayside to the so-called Donkey Stand, where there was the usual civic Christmas tree.

The tide was out, but we scanned the marsh for birds. There were some Oystercatchers on a grassy bit and a distant bird of prey sitting up above the reeds on a higher twig: perhaps it was a Buzzard but it was too far out to identify. Two or three Little Egrets were poking about. One flew up and came down in a different place and disturbed a dozen Lapwings, which we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. A smart-looking Heron was close in.

In the pools were the usual Mallard, Teal, and various gulls. Then northwards from Burton came a male Hen Harrier, being mobbed by gulls and Crows. Eventually he dropped whatever it was he had caught, and he flew off. One Carrion Crow went down into the reeds to find the prize the Harrier had dropped.  After all that excitement,we strolled along to the Old Quay restaurant for our Christmas lunch.

Afterwards we walked back up to Neston for the bus. In the churchyard of the Parkgate and Neston United Reformed Church we stopped to look at two handsome trees, a Monkey Puzzle and a bare Weeping Ash.

The Sunday Group’s tally for 2018  is 84 species of birds, 163 species or varieties of trees and 5 species of mammal (if we are allowed to count molehills!), all seen within the range of our Merseytravel pensioners’ bus passes. Not bad for parks, cemeteries and odd woody corners in an urban area.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.30, arriving Mostyn Square Parkgate at 11.25. Returned from Brook Street, Neston, on the 487 at 14.36, arriving Liverpool 15.30.

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Chester, 9th December 2018

The morning was bright and sunny, but the rain came down heavily after lunch and washed us out! We started in Grosvenor Park, and noticed that they have re-instated their very smart tree nameposts, probably related to their tree trail leaflet. This Indian Bean tree was festooned with hundreds of hanging pods.

There were several Cedars. The Blue Atlas Cedar and the Deodar had nameposts, but two or three others might have been green Atlas Cedars or Cedars of Lebanon (I favour the former) but they weren’t identified. Perhaps they aren’t sure either!  Amongst the flowerbeds were four willow Spitfire sculptures, built to mark this year’s centenary of the RAF. They are by local artist, Sarah Gallagher-Hayes.

The Grey Squirrels were very bold, scampering right up to us and trying to climb up our legs! The park has a Weeping Beech, and we were amused to see it had a row of birds perched on top, just like the one in Sefton Park, which is always “owned” by a gang of gulls. Oddly, birds don’t seem to like Weeping Ashes quite so much. Another star tree is the Strawberry Tree by the lookout at the south eastern corner of the park. That too had a prominent namepost.

We lunched at The Groves, overlooking the Dee, and hoping to see the Black-headed Gull from Norway, but it wasn’t anywhere near us. One young BHG was squawking and begging like a chick from all the adults, and also from us and our lunchboxes!

After a brief heavy shower we strolled up to the Roman Garden, and admired the tall narrow Italian Cypresses Cupressus sempervirens, which are fairly rare trees, but an entirely appropriate choice here.

We walked along the walls from Newgate to the Eastgate clock and then headed towards the Christmas market. Unfortunately, our plans were foiled by the biggest shower yet, which was torrential. We sheltered under the covered Rows, listening to the Carol Singers, and as soon as we could, headed back to the station.

Public transport details: Train from Liverpool Central at 10.15, arriving Chester 11.00. Returned on the 1.55 train from Chester, arriving Liverpool 2.40

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Croxteth Hall, 2nd December 2018

Croxteth Hall Country Park was once the country estate and ancestral home of the Molyneux family, the Earls of Sefton. It is now managed as a park by the City of Liverpool. It is said to be one of the “finest working country estates in the North West” (of England) and has the historic Hall, the home farm with rare-breed cattle, a Victorian walled garden, 500 acres of country park and nature reserve, an outpost of Myerscough Agricultural College and a (horse) riding school.

In a mild drizzle we set off from West Derby village on the long walk up to the Hall. Some of the old fungus-ridden Birches along the path have disappeared, no doubt finally felled. On the north side of the avenue the ground is wet and becoming rough and sedgy. “A good spot for Snipe”, said John. New bird boxes had been put up, and a charm of Goldfinches flew between the bare wintry trees. On the ground were Magpies, Carrion Crows, Wood Pigeons, a Pied Wagtail and Black-headed Gulls, with a solitary Common Gull contemplating the possibility of worms. About halfway along we came to the fields with Highland Cattle and red-and white Irish Moiled cows, while the Highland Bull bellowed at us from its separate enclosure on the other side.

In the courtyard there were two Starlings on the weather vane.

Opposite the children’s play area we spotted a gate with the sign “Wildflower Glade and Minibeast Area” with a muddy path leading into the trees on the west of the Long Pond. So that was where all the woodland birds had gone!  The glade and surrounding trees were very busy indeed, especially around a big Larch. I have always thought Larches were scruffy, no-account trees, but the copious cones and seeds on this one were attracting all sorts of wildlife.

Several Redwings and a Mistle Thrush were flying around it, and within the branches we spotted a Long-tailed Tit and a tiny, always-moving Goldcrest.

Further on was a Nuthatch, a Treecreeper and a Grey Squirrel keeping watch. A Jay flew quickly away from us, but we spotted it later. Around the corner was a single Mallard on the pond, and Blackbirds and Great Tits in the trees.  After lunch we admired some of the park’s notable trees, including a rare Lucombe Oak Quercus x hispanica, (a hybrid of the Turkey Oak and the Cork Oak) on the lawn opposite the west front of the Hall. Around the back are a huge Pin Oak and a lovely rusty-red Swamp Cypress (I love a Swamp Cypress).

We went snooping around into gardener’s territory, along the path behind the walled garden. Nobody usually comes this way on a Sunday. There is a wonderful long Beech hedge, and at the base of it was a Nuthatch, which is rarely seen on the ground. There was a Robin further along, too, both on this picture.

The only splashes of real colour all day were these Iris berries on the edge of the River Alt, and a Rhododendron bush starting to flower. It’s ahead of its time, but the weather has been so mild.

As we headed back towards West Derby Village we came across a young man with a female Harris Hawk, 22 weeks old, which he had bred himself and was just starting to train.

Just to add that John had been to Chester in the week, and he spotted one of the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls by the Dee at The Groves which had a leg ring – right leg, black on white, four digits beginning with a J. I looked it up on the Euring website and found that “J” BHGs are being ringed by the Lista Ringing Group of Vanse, southern Norway. I have mailed them to say bird J4U8 has been spotted a very long way from home! (See report on this bird, posted 4th January 2019)

Public transport details: Bus 12 at 10.20 from Lime Street (it’s usually from Queen Square but the bus stop was moved today because of the Santa Dash), arriving Mill Lane / West Derby Village at 10.35.  Returned from Mill Lane / Town Row on the 13 bus at 2.25, arriving Liverpool 2.55.

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Calderstones Park, 25th November 2018

We entered at the Crompton’s Lane / Menlove Avenue side, and explored the field on the western side of the car park. It is full of rare trees, which aren’t on any tree lists I can get my hands on!  I know there is a Foxglove tree and a Keaki there, and we admired an Alder with a magnificent gnarly trunk, a group of Bhutan Pines and one of the many unknowns which still bore most of its leaves, although they were yellow, and which had little brown berries with one hard seed close under the skin. It must have been some unusual kind of Cherry, although the bark was patchy and flaky, with no horizontal rows of lenticels (which is what most Cherry bark is like).

We spotted the remains of a Sparrowhawk kill, and later saw the predator itself soaring overhead. A Yew tree at the back of the ice cream parlour was being patronised by a Blackbird, who was tucking into the plentiful red berries.

The work on the old Manor House continues, and it is wrapped up like an artwork by Christo. Around the back, by the old toilet block, is a rare tree called a Golden Rain Tree or Pride of India. Until recently it was badly hemmed-in by dark Yews and had bolted for the light. To our delight, they seem to have removed the shading trees as part of the works, although there is nothing to see yet. We aren’t even sure which one it is now, but it’s probably the three-stemmed one just in front of that Birch with the white patchy bark. We shall see next spring!

There’s a Handkerchief Tree Davidia involucra by the path to the Old English garden. There were some seeds underfoot and the large leaves have turned autumnal in some interesting waves of colour.

Some of the very dark crimson leaves of the Japanese Maples have a surprising autumn habit. They shrivel up like crinkled tissue paper, starting while they are still on the tree.

Lunch was by the pond in Old English garden. We put out seed and mealworms and were rewarded with lots of little birds, Dunnocks, Blue Tits and a Chaffinch, and also two fearless Robins.

The Magpies, Wood Pigeons, Feral Pigeons and several Grey Squirrels also joined in the feast.

In the shrubbery on the edge of the path opposite to where the old café used to be there is a Snowdrop or Silverbell Tree Halesia monticola with its four-winged seeds hanging in rows from the twigs. Below it is the common Snowberry bush, one of the planters’ little jokes. Over by the Lucombe Oak there are two Swamp Cypress with their wonderful rusty-red needles falling in a carpet all around them, and a Douglas Fir whose cones have little bracts sticking out under every scale, like forked tongues.

A pair of trees in that same area caught our attention. They had huge oval leaves like Magnolia leaves, but the fruits were like little pears. Margaret broke open a fruit, and although it is hard to see on the photo, she said it seemed like an apple core inside. What on earth were they? There are no pears or apples like that in my copy of Mitchell. I have Colin Twist’s survey of the unusual trees in that area, but none of the names seem to refer to these trees. [Added later – thanks to the Fb group ‘British and Irish Trees’. It is very probably Tibetan Whitebeam ‘John Mitchell’, Sorbus thibetica]

The suburban gardens are starting to show winter-flowering shrubs and trees like Mahonia, the orange-on-bottle green Darwin’s barberry Berberis darwinii (named after the famous Charles), winter-flowering Jasmine Jasminum nudiflorum with its delicate yellow flowers and the pink and white tube-flowers of Viburnum bodnantense. I even have some roses still blooming!

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Great Charlotte Street at 10.05, alighting 10.25 at Woolton Road / Taggart Avenue (we overshot!). Returned on the 75 bus from Beech Lane / Crompton’s Lane at 1.38m arriving Liverpool 2.00.

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Allerton Tower Park, 18th November 2018

Allerton Tower Park is another remnant of a wealthy estate owned by a Liverpool baronet, businessman and reputed slaver called Hardman Earle. The estate was acquired by Liverpool Council in 1924 and opened to the public. The hall and tower, completed in 1848, were demolished in 1937 due to dry rot, but the lodge, stables, walled garden, former laundry and part of the orangery remain, as well as many mature trees which must be of Earle’s gardeners’ planting.  There is a tall Ginkgo in the walled garden, now with golden yellow leaves, which is probably of that vintage.

A couple of Cotoneasters were full of berries, so clearly no thrushes have found them yet.

There is a stately Holly walk, interspersed with what appear to be old Hawthorn trees.

Two of them, near to the orangery, aren’t Hawthorn at all, and may be recent replacements. They are covered with large red berries. Definitely not Crab Apples, because the fruits had a single stone inside. They look most like Whitebeam to me, with that paler, downy underleaf, but the book says Whitebeam ought to have four or five seeds in the fruit. A mystery.

We disturbed a sluggish Harlequin ladybird while we were studying the tree, interrupting its search for somewhere to hibernate.

A Sparrowhawk flew overhead, and there were plenty of Wood Pigeons and Blackbirds. A Jay went quickly past, and most of us missed it, but later we could hear it squawking from deep cover. Over the wall of the estate was a tree whose fallen leaves looked like Cut-leaved Beech, but they were probably Turkey Oak. Here they are with some more “normal” Pedunculate Oak leaves, and some spiky Turkey Oak acorn cups from a different tree.

Beyond the orangery is a lawn with several tall trees. Two of them, which I once thought were Giant Sequoias, are Cypresses, probably Lawson’s. The one on the left was partially burned several years ago, but new foliage is gradually filling in.

There is the pruned triple trunk of an old Sweet Chestnut there too, and it is re-growing vigorously and producing lots of nuts. Most of the fruit cases on the ground were empty, but the few chestnuts we found were plump and edible. The foragers have been busy, I think.  Another tall one nearby is a great old Monkey Puzzle, with branches nearly all the way down the trunk.

In the shrubbery nearby was a lot of dead wood, and one log was covered with a white fungus with a frilly edge, looking rather like seashells, several inches across. Some smaller ones were pinker. I think it may have been one of the Splitgill group Schizophyllum commune, but that’s just an uneducated guess based on Google images and Wikipedia!

It was bright and sunny, but with a sharply cooler breeze. There wasn’t quite a frost overnight, but nearly so. All the red-gold cherry leaves have fallen, but we admired this wonderful Birch, still hanging on to its golden leaves.

There were lots of birds in a clump of Hollies, occasionally popping out and crossing a clearing. A female Blackbird, Magpies, possibly the Jay, and our first Redwing of the winter. One tree had yellow berries. It’s a variety of the common Holly Ilex aquifolium and is called ‘Bacciflava’. I don’t remember ever seeing one of those before.

Then to Olive’s to eat our lunch in her warm front room. Ta!

Public transport details: 76 bus from Great Charlotte Street at 10.02, arriving Menlove Avenue / Cheddar Close at 10.26. Returned from Woolton Street / Mason Street (Woolton Village) on the 75 bus at 2.05, arriving Liverpool ONE at 2.30.

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Birkenhead, 11th November 2018

Not much wildlife today, because we attended the Remembrance Service in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead. So often we have wet or freezing Remembrance Days, but it was brilliantly sunny, with just a chilly breeze. Half way through the service one of the Peregrines that nest on the station tower flew right past the Cenotaph, as if checking what all the unusual activity was about.

Afterwards we admired some of the trees in the square. On the south-east side of the central monument is a pair of Blue Atlas Cedars, and they also have some gorgeous weeping Cherries, in lovely autumn colour just now.

At the corner of Hamilton Street and Duncan Street is a new statue honouring the WWI poet Wilfrid Owen, who went to school in Birkenhead. The statue isn’t meant to be of him, but illustrates his poem “Futility”, and is unusual because the soldier depicted isn’t being heroic.

Then we trotted down to Woodside Ferry, admired the view over to Liverpool, and caught the razzle-dazzle ferry home.

A couple of other tree notes. The Sweetgums Liquidambar styraciflua in Lord Street and Church Street are just starting to turn red at the tops and should be spectacular in the next week or two if there are no high winds to strip them.

On Saturday, I went looking for a very rare tree, the River Birch Betula nigra said by John Moffat in his essay “Great Trees of the Wirral” (see MNA newsletter end 2013) to be “on a traffic island” in Heswall. I think this is it, at the junction of Telegraph Road and Thurstaston Road. The fallen leaves, “elegantly doubly-toothed” match the picture in Mitchell and there were birchy-looking catkins developing on the branches.

Public transport details: Train at 10.30 from Central, arriving Hamilton Square station at 10.35. Returned on the 1.40 ferry from Woodside.

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Hesketh Park, Southport, 4th November 2018

Hesketh Park in Southport is another one of Edward Kemp’s designs, and it was opened in 1868. It features a rather splendid lake and several specialist areas – a Rose Garden, a Sensory Garden and an area of specimen trees.

We didn’t see any small birds all day, but may have heard a Robin singing from the deep shade of some  evergreens. However, the lake had the expected Mallards, Coots and Moorhen, together with Black-headed Gulls and a dozen or so Tufted Duck.

A family was introducing their youngest to the pleasures of “feeding the ducks”, but with stale bread, regrettably.

The Rose Garden will be beautiful in summer, with a sign naming all the rose varieties on display. There were still a few of them in bloom, including this lovely single-flowered one.

There are two Weeping Ashes placed symmetrically between the Rose beds, and because most of the foliage has dropped you can see the place where the drooping and contorted “weeping” branches were grafted to the straight trunk.

In the Specimen Garden is a tall Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides, with lovely rusty-red autumn foliage.

There were also two Persian Ironwoods, Parrotia persica, known for their autumn colour. The leaves still on the trees were green and yellow but the ones with the tinges of crimson had already fallen.

There are three Japanese Pagoda trees Styphnolobium japonicum in the park. There is a dead one at a path junction, a big labelled one near a gazebo, and very neat small one by the floral clock.

We have never been to the area where the Stansfield Rock Garden used to be, but wandered that way this time. We chanced upon a row of three mature Cedars on the slope below the absent rockery. The one on the right was definitely a Blue Atlas Cedar Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’, the middle one with spring-green foliage and drooping branch-tips was definitely a Deodar Cedrus deodara but what was the other one on the left?  Could it be a Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani?  If I had been planting three Cedars, that’s what I would have planted there!  The foliage was right, with short even-sized needles, but counting against that ID was that it was slightly blueish green, and the branches weren’t noticeably level. It didn’t have multiple vertical trunks either. If it wasn’t a Lebanon it must have been the rarer green (not blue) Atlas Cedar, but my money is on a Cedar of Lebanon, just for the symmetry of the group.

Drizzly rain started so we hopped it back to the bus. There are still a lot of leaves on the trees.  Limes and Norway Maples are yellow, Planes are still mostly green but the stars of this autumn’s show are the Cherry trees, bearing brilliant red-gold leaves. Strangely, we saw none like that inside the park, just the garden and street trees noted from the bus. Why? Is there a different micro-climate inside the park?

Before I met the others in the morning I photographed the five Ginkgoes in Williamson Square. One is leafless, three have orange leaves and one is still green. They were all planted together, presumably from the same batch, but now they are showing great variation in height and foliage.

Public transport details:  47 bus from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving next to the park at Albert Road / Park Road West at 10.28. Returned on the 47 at 1.50 from Albert Road / Park Road, due in Liverpool at about 3pm.

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Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, 21st October 2018

This was a joint Sunday group / MNA walk, but only one additional MNA member joined us – Roger – so we were a small group.  Since we have been to Flaybrick recently, I won’t mention all the trees we saw again, but add just one or two new observations.  The morning was dry and lovely, with crunchy fallen leaves underfoot, but it started to drizzle while we were having lunch in Tam O’Shanter, and got rather damp and drippy during the afternoon.  Can we have a mammal tick for Tam O’Shanter’s Alpacas? (No, didn’t think so!)

When I did my recce a few days ago I spotted an uncommon tree that isn’t mentioned on the Conservation Management Plan’s tree map and list (how did they miss it?). Today we confirmed that tree and spotted another, also omitted from the plan. They are Oregon Maples (or Big-Leaf Maples) Acer macrophylla. Mitchell in his 1974 Field Guide called it “Infrequent” and said it was in just a few large gardens. Bob Hughes, in his 2005 tree map, noted one with a question mark, and we think he was right. One is in a clearing in section CE11, on the other side of the path from the Tulip Tree in section CE 16A. The other (the one Bob spotted) is in section CE 5A, on the corner of the ramp leading down to the Rowan walk. They are unmistakeable when you look at them, with very large classically-maple-shaped leaves, deeply indented, and with very long 20-30 cm leaf stalks.

We also looked at the Rowans. On his 2005 map Bob Hughes listed the names of the ten different varieties that were supposed to be planted, but didn’t say which was which. There are still ten trees there, five on each side of the path, but the only one that is identifiable with that early list is the cream-berried ‘Joseph Rock’. There should be two Whitebeams amongst them, and one with doubly-pinnate leaves, but none like that were in evidence. I suspect they couldn’t get the varieties on their wish list, or the trees they did plant were mis-labelled. But they are a fine double row of red-berried trees, and if it had been less drizzly we could have spent more time on them.

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Upton Road / Boundary Road at 10.28. Returned from the opposite stop at 2.25, arriving Liverpool at 2.50.

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Gorse Hill Apple Festival, 14th October 2018

From Aughton Park station we turned right up Long Lane towards Aughton church. The gardens along here have some interesting plants including this yellow Buddleia, which was still flowering beautifully, although we saw no insects on it.

Then across Holborn Hill, the A59, up through the fields to the reservoir, then left to Gorse Hill reserve. Buttercup and Yarrow were still flowering by the wayside and there were Black-headed Gulls on the fresh ploughsoil, Starlings on Aughton church tower and many skeins of yapping Pink-footed Geese crossing the sky above. The house on Holly Lane that had one life-size Pangea metal sculpture of a giraffe in its garden now has two of them. They’re breeding!

We took the orchard tour to see their 43 heritage varieties of apple trees. Most of the fruit has been harvested, but some is still on the tree, including the late variety “Sunset”.

We walked through Cabin Wood, where they have old flagstones laid down as Newt shelters. Their “small mammal homes” are made from plastic tubes and hay, covered with carpet tiles then a pile of branches. We were also charmed by this splendid bug hotel which, according to the sign, includes a pair of the reserve manager’s old trainers, wellies full of old socks and a discarded upturned kettle.

After lunch overlooking Seldom’s Pond we sat in the bird hide for a while, but nothing came to the bird table with a tempting array of seed. Outside we picked up this huge fallen Horse Chestnut leaf, the biggest we’ve ever seen.

Back in the barns, the apple sale was ticking along successfully, and I got (clockwise from top) a Ribston Pippin, a Yorkshire Aromatic, a Sunset and a Galloway Pippin.

Then we watched the windfall apples being turned into fresh juice. (£2 for 500ml). They are loaded into a hopper and chopped, then emerge sloppily into a blue bucket. The pulp is then wrapped into sacking parcels and loaded into the press. The juice is bottled by hand, and the remaining pressed cake is saved for animal feed. Horses are very fond of it, apparently.

Then we walked out onto the open ridge. Gorse Hill is a mere 81 meters above sea level, but on the flat Lancashire Plain that makes for very long views. Through a gap in the hedge we could see Blackpool Tower on the right and the hair-raising funfair ride called The Big One on the left.

A Jay flew by and a Robin perched on a gate.  We wandered about a bit, looking for a Yellowhammer, but no luck today. We returned around the back of the reservoir and emerged to the lovely view over Ormskirk church, with its rare “double” of a tower and a steeple.

Public transport details: The Ormskirk train from Central at 10.17, arriving Aughton Park at 10.45. Returned from Aughton Park Station on the 15.40 train, due in Liverpool at 16.10.

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