New Ferry, 24th October 2021

We really ought to come here more often. The terminus of the 464 New Ferry bus is at Shorefields Nature Park, south of Rock Ferry, which has been an SSSI since 2002. A grassy open space overlooks an area of Mersey mudflats which are a nationally-important feeding site for wading birds. Adjacent southwards is Port Sunlight River Park. The two sites combined give stunning views over the river to Liverpool and the chance of some pretty good birds.

It was a windy day, but mild and sunny. This stretch of foreshore is where Brunel’s huge ship, the Great Eastern was broken up in 1888, but now is home to feeding birds. The tide was out, so there were lots of Black-headed gulls, a few dozen Lesser Black-Backed Gulls of the dark Baltic race, hundreds of Redshank along the tideline and a handful of Curlew, which occasionally made their evocative bubbling calls.

It is a wonderful place for views of Liverpool, showing the waterfront almost side-on.

At the south end of Shorefields there used to be an Isolation Hospital, to cater for sailors returning from abroad with tropical diseases like cholera, smallpox and leprosy. It was in use from 1875 to the early 1960s. It had to be destroyed by fire after contractors refused to demolish it in case they caught something. The site is now covered by a small woodland. We saw Magpies flying in with sticks, so they are nest-building already. Two Ravens flew past, cronking.
Down steps then up again, and we were at the north end of Port Sunlight River Park, planted up over an old tip about a decade ago. There is a sheltered lake there, and much of the surrounding vegetation has now grown up so high that it is difficult to see what birds are there. We definitely saw a small flock of Shovellers, some Teal and Widgeon, a Redshank and several Black-tailed Godwits. The paths are lined with native trees and a surprising variety of wildflowers were still in bloom. We noted Dandelions and their lovely seed heads or “clocks”, Hogweed, some kind of Hawkbit, Michaelmas Daisies, Bindweed, Red Campion, Herb Robert, some kind of yellow crucifer, Tansy, Evening Primrose and a white Buddleia still flowering.

Dandelion clock
White Buddleia with Michaelmas Daisies behind

At the picnic area we spotted a Kestrel hovering over the higher ground. We decided not to climb to the summit in view of the strong winds, but to go around the sheltered woodland side of the hill and back the way we came. There were Coltsfoot leaves in abundance, very large red berries of Black Bryony and early Hazel catkins. One Ash tree had lots of the seed clusters called “keys”, but we haven’t seen many other Ashes that have fruited so well this year. There was also a native Spindle tree with its distinctive lobed red fruits.

Ash keys
Spindle tree fruits

There were occasional very big bumble bees gathering the last of the flower nectar. Probably fertile queens stocking up for their winter sleep. They were either White-tailed or Buff-tailed, which are very hard to tell apart.  We also spotted a very small Ladybird on some Hogweed. It was red with black spots, about 4 mm, and were there 16 spots? 19? At home I looked at the FSC leaflet, and decided it was possibly the 24-spot Ladybird (which most commonly has 20 spots), as it was about the right size and colour, is said to live on low vegetation, and is common and widespread. However, these small native species are becoming rarer due to the competition from the thuggish invasive Harlequins.

Public transport details: Bus 464 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.15 arriving Shorefields / Pollitt Square, New Ferry at  10.55. Returned from same place on the 464 at 2.32, arriving Liverpool at 3.05.

Anyone is welcome to come out with the Sunday Group. It is not strictly part of the MNA, although it has several overlapping members. We go out by public transport to local parks, woods and nature reserves all over Merseyside, and occasionally further afield. We are mostly pensioners, so the day is free on our bus passes, and we enjoy fresh air, a laugh and a joke, a slow amble in pleasant surroundings and sometimes we even look at the wildlife!
If you want to join a Sunday Group walk, pack lunch, a flask, waterproofs, binoculars if you have them, a waterproof pad to sit on if we have to have lunch on the grass or a wet bench (A garden kneeler? A newspaper in a plastic bag?), and wear stout shoes or walking boots. We are usually back in Liverpool City Centre by 4pm at the latest.
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.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on New Ferry, 24th October 2021

Freshfield, 10th October 2021

From Freshfield station we turned towards the sea, down Formby’s “Millionaire’s Row”, Victoria Road.  It was a fine warm autumnal day, with the leaves beginning to fall and to rustle underfoot.  We were aiming for the National Trust Formby Pinewoods reserve, hoping to see Red Squirrels.

There was an ominous sign saying that four dead squirrels have recently been found showing signs of Squirrel Pox. People should report any sick or dead, red or grey squirrels, and we are asked not to leave food.  We had a good look around, but didn’t see any red squirrels at all. More worryingly, there were no squirrel-chewed pine cones. There were thousands of cones underfoot, but all were untouched.

Nearer the beach we found just one that had been slightly dismantled, but it wasn’t typical of the damage caused by a healthy animal. This looks like very bad news for the current population of red squirrels. Are they all sick and dying?

The other claim to fame of this area is its history of asparagus farming. Pioneering farmers like Jimmy Lowe of Pine Trees farm started growing asparagus here in about 1925, and Formby asparagus is now exported to top restaurants all over the world.

We hoped to see some late butterflies today, but there were none, just a few distant dragonflies including a mating pair. The only flowers in bloom that we could find were Common Cranesbill and Evening Primrose. Not many birds either, just Crows, Wood Pigeons and various gulls, with a flock of Jackdaws in the woods, and a single Curlew seen from the train in a farmer’s field.  We made the hard climb over the soft sandy dunes to the beach, coming out just north of Formby Point.

The tide was coming in and was near its top. The storm last week had thrown lots of shells and other bits of sea creatures up to the top of the beach and we made a small collection.

There were plenty of Razor shells, possibly of three species. The dark bivalves are Mussels, while the pale triangular shells are probably Rayed Trough Shells. There were a few broken whelks, and surprisingly few Cockles. The odd big one was broken, and only the tiny ones (half an inch, 1.5 cm) were intact. What kind of heavy sea would leave the thin Rayed Trough Shells untouched but break the tougher Cockles? One small Cockle at the middle right of the picture appears to have a “driller killer” hole in it.  We also found a piece of coal (there was a coal ship wrecked off here once upon a time), a very small flattened Sea Potato and some oddments with Barnacles attached. Some of the Barnacles might still have been alive, so we made sure they went into the water.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Freshfield at 10.55. Returned from Freshfield on the train at 2.40, arriving Liverpool 3.10.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Freshfield, 10th October 2021

Port Sunlight, 3rd October 2021

We had planned to go to Gorse Hill Apple Festival but we found that there were engineering works on the Ormskirk line, and since there was to be a big football match later in the day, the rail-replacement buses coming home would be full. We made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to Port Sunlight instead.

Port Sunlight is a model village on the Wirral, built by the Lever brothers for the workers in the Sunlight soap factory. Building started in 1888. The houses are all in Arts and Crafts style, and the whole village is a conservation area and potential World Heritage site. Even the railway station and the Tudor Rose tea rooms reflect the prevailing style.

We headed straight down to the Dell, which separates the factory from the housing. We are familiar with many of the specimen trees there – Brewer’s Spruce, Honey Locust, Dawn Redwoods, and two huge Tulip trees, although we were a bit early for their famous autumn colour. We suspect one young tree is a Dove or Handkerchief tree, but it is some years off producing its distinctive flowers.

A wooden bench was full of multi-coloured Ladybirds and some of their larvae. Going by their size and the variety of colours, they were almost certainly all the invasive Harlequins. The distinctive feature is that Harlequins have brown legs, whereas our natives have black legs. This is hard to see in life, in dappled shade, but I can see brown legs on my photos. I am not quite sure about the red one, which may be a native 7-spot.

On the bank around the eastern end of the Dell we noticed the Rowan trees for the first time. They appear to be a planned group of several different varieties, with cream, orange or red berries.

The rain was holding off, and the sun even came out.  In the graveyard of Christ Church United Reformed Church (where the Lever family worshipped) there is the grave stone of Mabel Beatrice Cooper who died in 1969 aged 81, noted as “One of the first, and a life-long employee of Lever Brothers”. The stone also commemorates her son John, a Flight Sergeant in the RAF, who was killed in action in 1942, aged only 22, and buried in Germany. He was probably piloting a bomber that was shot down.  We had really come to the church to see a notable tree just inside the railings. A sign says it was planted by the Women’s Institute, but doesn’t say what it is. It has huge leaves and is probably a Foxglove tree, although we couldn’t see any gone-over flower spikes. They are easily confused with Indian Bean trees, especially when young, but there weren’t any beans either. We took a leaf over to the garden centre, where there is a definite Indian Bean and laid one leaf of each side by side. The one on the right is definitely an Indian Bean leaf, about 1.75 pens wide (9 inches, 23 cm) and I’m pretty sure the one from the church (on the left) is a Foxglove leaf. The clincher is the short but sudden fine point on the Indian Bean leaf (short accuminate).

The garden centre is a convenient pit stop, and it has a wonderful old Olive tree in a pot in the restaurant courtyard.

We lunched in the Hillsborough memorial garden overlooking the War Memorial and the Lady Lever Art Gallery. A young Blackbird was digging a hole on the edge of shrubbery. Was it excavating an ant nest?

Then we walked along the rose garden. Many were still in bloom and most were scented and lovely.

There was no sign that the New Ferry butterfly park was open, so we headed back to town.
Public transport details: Train from Central towards Chester at 10.15m arriving Port Sunlight 10.31.  Returned on train from Bebington at 1.58, arriving Liverpool 2.15.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Port Sunlight, 3rd October 2021

Calderstones Park, 26th September 2021

We had another opportunity for a rummage around the trees of Calderstones today, because our leader (who loves to identify fast-moving birds and butterflies but is bored by sedentary trees) was recovering from a family celebration. Our first discovery was a surprise – the original Golden Rain tree, which we had thought had been cut down a couple years ago, is still there! For anyone looking, it is near the gates to the private garden at the back of the Mansion House. The tree is still hemmed in by a Yew, but the leaves are visible high in the canopy, reaching for the sun.

Then we headed into the Harthill area of the park and the triangular field which old maps call the Rose Garden. There are some interesting young trees there, and it’s good that the park is being renewed. Two young saplings next to each other were a Judas tree and a Foxglove tree, and nearby was one of about the same age which still had its nursery label attached, saying Carya illinoinensis. I racked my brains, knowing I’d seen the genus Carya somewhere, and guessed it was a Wingnut by the pinnate leaves. But now I look it up I see that it isn’t a Wingnut, it’s a Hickory, and not just any old Hickory but a Pecan nut tree! I think it’s another gamble with climate change, similar to the planting of olives and vineyards in the south of England. Maybe as the seasons get warmer, it will produce nuts. I haven’t even taken a picture of it, but it’s near the Judas and the Foxglove.

Young Foxglove tree (centre) and young Judas tree (right)

Then we had a look at the Golden Rain tree near the pony paddock. The seed-bearing lanterns are developing but aren’t pink yet and none appear to have fallen.  We tried to gently pull some down with a hook and string, but only got one. They clearly aren’t ready yet and we’ll have to try again later in the year.

On our way to lunch we stopped to admire a shrubby tree with clusters of small bell-shaped flowers, each with a very narrow opening at the bottom. Despite that, the bees were on them, so their tongues must be long enough to reach the nectar and pollen. I haven’t identified it, but it looks like some kind of Pieris to me, although all of them flower in Spring, not late summer.

After lunch at the north end of the picnic field we rambled slowly back towards the Mansion House, continually distracted by interesting trees. These lovely little red and purple fruits are Korean Spindle Euonymus oxyphillus.

A huge old evergreen tree is a Coigue or Dombey’s Beech Nothofagus dombeyi. It’s the height and girth champion of Lancashire at 16.5 m (54 ft) and 267 cm (8 ft 8 in).

Another pretty little fruit belonged to the Japanese Snowbell Styrax japonicus.

Thick ivy grows on the wall opposite the side of the Mansion House, and over it was growing this lovely late-flowering white Clematis, covered with insects and bees. It must be a cultivated form of the wild Old Man’s Beard Clematis vitalba. It is said to be common in central and southern England “but records quickly diminish as you go north”. Another species on the march northwards, perhaps.

Near the 1000-year-old Allerton Oak the Virginian Witch Hazel was looking sick but the Persian Ironwood was starting to put on its intense autumn colour.

We were intrigued by this lopped knobbly tree trunk, with one or two good branches surviving. Some sort of Maple by the look of it.

Then, after noting a yellow-berried Holly, we headed back to the bus.

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Gt Charlotte Street at 10.10, arriving Menlove Avenue / Compton’s Lane at 10.32. Returned on 75 from Beech Lane / Crompton’s Lane at 2.35, arriving Liverpool 3.00.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Calderstones Park, 26th September 2021

Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, 19th September 2021

On a fine sunny morning we got off the bus at the southern corner of Bidston Hill Nature reserve and threaded through King George’s Way. It’s a footpath through the woodland, part of which climbs to Bidston Hill, but our section skirts the allotments and comes out by the car park of Tam O’Shanter’s urban farm. It’s a little bit of old woodland in a busy suburb.

Flaybrick Cemetery is just across Boundary Road. During the pandemic they have been doing lots more research on their historic graves, and signboards are popping up everywhere. We go there for the trees, of course. They have over 140 species, more than anywhere else on the Wirral after Ness Gardens. Many of them are original plantings from 1864, probably including their huge Chilean Pine (Monkey Puzzle), now fruiting magnificently.

As we were some of the earliest visitors on their Open Day we were accosted by the Bard of Flaybrick, Terry Briscoe, who recited some of his Wirral poems to us.

He also drew our attention to the grave of the first burial in the cemetery, of Francis Morton, a wealthy iron and steel manufacturer, whose company had provided all the ironwork on site, and who had laid the foundation stone. He died six months before the cemetery was consecrated and officially opened, so he was actually buried there twice, being the first and the second burial. His grave is now marked with an obelisk.

We looked at some of our favourite trees, and were relieved to find that the old Horse Chestnut by the Rowan avenue was still standing. It had been deemed diseased and dangerous a couple of years ago, but the park staff disagreed, and so they have compromised by lopping just the branches that overhang the path.

The labels on the trees themselves are evolving. Some have small QR codes pinned to them, saying “Scan me”, but since I didn’t have my smartphone with me, I have no idea what they lead to. A very few have proper tree labels, including one on the Fern-leaved Beech, fixed at a strange angle, but giving its scientific name, its origin, and the mysterious “TROBI Class 2”. TROBI is the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland, so I guess class 2 means it isn’t a champion, but just “remarkable”.

The third type of sign was more frustrating. Little blue plaques are popping up, probably issued by the Tree Register, saying the tree is a County Champion, but not giving the name of the tree or the reason for the designation. I suspect this is more likely to annoy visitors, rather that interest them, and it looks like a cheap and unsatisfactory project by the Tree Register.

In late morning it started to drizzle, then it came down more determinedly. What is it with Wirral lately? We hurried past some of our favourite trees, pausing only briefly at the rare Oregon or Big Leaf Maple Acer macrophyllum.

One other signboard caught our attention, marking a tragic grave. A man called Lock Ah Tam was attacked and beaten in 1918 by a gang of Russian sailors. He survived, but underwent a personality change and became a violent alcoholic. Eight years later he shot his wife and two daughters, was convicted of murder, and executed in Walton jail. Here is the grave of his murdered family.

We had another wet lunch, then a quick tour of the cemetery chapel (no shelter there – it’s roofless).  As the rain eased we looked at the animals in Tam O’Shanter urban farm, goats, sheep, and a few little fat Kunekune pigs.

Just behind the farm buildings Bidston Community Archaeology are digging the site of an old cottage, trying to find when the area was first occupied. Bidston village has pre-mediaeval origins, and some farmsteads in the area date back to the early 1500s. Finds so far include prehistoric flint tools, 17th century pottery and evidence of metal forging.

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 on the 437 at 2.45, arriving Liverpool 3.05

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, 19th September 2021

Parkgate, 12th September 2021

What a wash-out! I think Parkgate has a micro-climate all of its own, a wet one! It wasn’t supposed to rain until later in the day, and it was warm, dry and overcast in Liverpool, but while we were crossing Wirral on the bus its windscreen wipers started to swipe back and forth ominously. By the time we arrived at Parkgate it was raining hard.

In an attempt to find some shelter we walked up Coastguard Lane and Brooklands Road towards the Wirral Way. We noticed how the rain had highlighted all the spiders’ webs in the garden hedges.

The rain seemed lighter along the Wirral Way, although it was rather puddly and drippy.

We had to make way for cyclists quite often, but there was still a chance to look out for autumn fruits including these damp Rose Hips.

We walked north as far as the footpath leading to the Old Baths picnic area. The rain seemed to be going off so we made for our favourite picnic table, with a great view out over the marsh, but found it was being swallowed up by a Tamarisk tree.

The only birds in sight, except for a few crows, were about a dozen Swallows over the car park trees, probably juveniles. They will be leaving for Africa soon.

It started to rain again while we were eating, making our sandwiches rather soggy.  There was going to be a good high tide in mid-afternoon, and if the weather had been better, we’d have stayed a bit longer to see the little voles and shrews pushed near to the road by the rising water. However, the return buses run only every two hours, and it was too wet to stay for the 3.30, so we headed back for the one at 1.30. As we walked along the quayside, there was nothing much to see over the marsh, although the hidden birds were beginning to shift as the water rose. We glimpsed a possible flight of a Great Egret, several strings of Canada Geese going north, what might have been Mute Swans on the edge of one of the distant pools, and two definite Herons flying quite close in, looking for small mammals near the old quayside wall. We were very wet and dripping naturalists as we boarded the very welcome bus to take us back.  As we suspected, it wasn’t raining in Liverpool when we arrived, and the pavements were quite dry. 

Other hedgehog news from my garden. On Saturday afternoon my left-hand neighbours Dave and Ann said they had just seen three small hoglets wandering on their lawn in broad daylight. Babies! I didn’t see them myself, and I haven’t yet caught them on the trailcam. They will need to feed up if they are to attain 600g in time for hibernation.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Parkgate Mostyn Square at 11.25. Returned on the 487 from Mostyn Square at 1.30, arriving Liverpool 2.20.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Parkgate, 12th September 2021

Prince’s Park, 29th August 2021

Prince’s Park is the oldest public park in Liverpool, designed by Joseph Paxton and opened in 1842. It was named after the young Queen Victoria’s first son, later Edward VII. It is the nearest major park to Liverpool’s city centre and is now designated a Grade II* historic park.

MNA member Katy is also a member of the Friends of Prince’s Park (FoPP), and they are doing wonderful work, planting a great variety of new young trees and identifying their veterans. Katy guided us around some of her favourite trees and we also tried to find some of the champion trees listed on the TROBI database. The Friends are marking many trees with numbered posts bearing QR codes, which lead to the names and descriptions of the trees on the FoPP website. Visitors with smartphones can immediately identify the tree and learn something about it. This is the way of the future!

Our first success was the Cricket Bat Willow Salix alba ‘Caerulea’. When last measured in 2015 it was 23m tall and 329 cm around the trunk, making it the girth & height county champion of Lancashire. We re-measured it at 359cm. On the FoPP website it is listed just as White Willow, their number 708.

We continued around the lake, admiring two young trees, a Foxglove tree (311) and an unusual and pretty variegated Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Variegata’. (314).

High on a bank west of the lake was another champion, Chinese Privet, Ligustrum lucidum. There are two of them here, rather shrubby, but the larger of the two is girth & height county champion of Lancashire, 8m, 187 cm. It flowers late, but we caught the buds just opening. The blooms are like ordinary English privet, but three or four times the size.

Many of the open grassy areas have been turned over to wildflower meadows, now past their best, but lovely in the sunshine.

Our third champion was the Willow-leaf Pear Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’. At 165cm, it’s the girth county champion of Lancashire.

Surprisingly, one of the numbered trees of the park is an English Elm. We thought they had all died and been felled in the 1980s. However, some of the stumps retained the ability to re-grow and are now living on as occasional shrubs in hedgerows. The one in Prince’s Park is next to a fence, so was probably difficult to cut right down when it was first infected, and is now quite a tall clump. Sadly, it isn’t the majestic tall Elm tree of old.

The young Wollemi Pine is doing well, now about 8 feet tall, still in its wire mesh cage, and is fruiting this year. It is the most recent “fossil tree” to be found in modern times, with just a handful of individuals found in a hidden valley in Wollemi Park in Australia in 1994. As a safety measure against extinction, young trees have now been planted all over the world.

Tree 701 is a gnarled old Oriental Plane near the Sunburst Gates.  It is thought to be the oldest tree in the park at around 220 years old.  Here’s something that might boggle your mind. The park itself is coming up to 180 years old, so how did a tree that is possibly 40 years older get there? Joseph Paxton was the head gardener at Chatsworth at the time, and was skilled at moving mature trees (he designed special apparatus for it).  Could it be that he moved several large trees from Chatsworth to Prince’s Park to enhance the landscape he was designing?

The last champion tree we found was an Indian Bean tree Catalpa bignonioides. It wasn’t measured in 2015 (the last time the recorders came around) and it appears that they couldn’t find it. It is deep in some overgrown woodland at the back of Devonshire Road, obstructed in Bramble and Ivy. In open situations Indian Bean trees make a low dome, but this hemmed-in tree has reached for the sky. It is the height county champion of Lancashire at 15m in 2004. We were able to get a tape around it, and since then its girth has increased from 135 cm to 188 cm.

Amongst all this tree-hunting, we were still aware of birds. On the ground were Magpies, Crows,  Wood Pigeons and Feral Pigeons, while the lake had just Mallards, Coots and Black-headed Gulls. We heard some Ring-necked Parakeets but didn’t see them. From the south side of the lake we were able to look over to the island and see the family of Mute Swans with six cygnets, dozing on a bank. Further along was a Heron.

We returned to our starting point along the Ullet Road edge. The hedgerow fruit are all ripening in abundance: Guelder Rose, Dogwood, Sloes on Blackthorn. It’s going to be a good autumn, they say.

Guelder rose berries
Dogwood berries

There were some Alders, and we hunted amongst the green cones for a fungal gall called Alder Tongue. See Jeremy Bartlett’s blog “Let it Grow”. It’s caused by a fungal infection from the Taphrina genus, and makes the Alder produce tongue-like galls protruding from the unripe cones. This one looks like a Cobra’s head.

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.06, arriving Aigburth Road / Parkfield Road at 10.25. (This was one stop too far, but the Ullet Road stop was, to our dismay, “out of use”). Returned from Park Road / Gredington Street on 84A at 2.15, arriving Liverpool ONE at 2.35.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Prince’s Park, 29th August 2021

Birkenhead Park, 22nd August 2021

Birkenhead Park, its lakes, ornamental buildings, bridges and trees, is one of our favourite destinations. We went in by the huge Town Gates archway and walked around the lakes in both the lower and upper parks. Before we noticed any living birds, we found a patch of scattered pigeon feathers on the path, probably a Sparrowhawk kill from earlier in the day. The usual lake denizens were hanging around for bread – Canada Geese, scruffy moulting Mallards and a few Coots. The resident pair of Mute Swans had three full-grown cygnets.

Later in the day we spotted a fleeting Grey Wagtail, but otherwise the land birds were just the usual Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeons, although we did encounter one scruffy and persistent Robin, who knew that if it stared intently at us for long enough, we would weaken and give it some bread. (One of us did, it was me.)

Although September is still over a week away, signs of autumn are increasing. This lovely Maple was turning colour at the ends of its branches, but remaining green near to the trunk.

Lots of nuts and berries were also starting to appear. We looked at ripening Turkish Hazel nuts and blackberries. Most of the mulberries are still red, but we spotted a few ripe black ones out of reach of the birds and the foragers.

These are lovely Hawthorn fruits, and now I look closely at the photo, I wonder if the tree is a rarer thorn, and not the common Hawthorn after all. Hawthorn berries aren’t usually slightly hairy, and the leaves look rather thick and waxy.

Although the day had started overcast, with rain forecast, eventually the sun came out and it became quite warm. Butterfly weather! We spent some time looking at a Holly Blue fluttering around in a patch of wildflowers, too distant and active to catch with a camera, but this Speckled Wood calmly sunned itself.

We had a list of eleven champion trees which we hoped to find, and we must have passed by six  of them in the Lower Park. There is said to be a Yellow Buckeye on the rockery somewhere, and although we didn’t scramble up the rocks, we still couldn’t see it. On the island by the Swiss Bridge, there is said to be a remarkable Willow-leaved Pear, almost 30 feet tall, but we couldn’t see that either. The only one we found was one we knew already, the Cucumber tree Magnolia acuminata on the side of the path near the rockery. Like many magnolias, it has huge leaves, and its fruit is a little pink upright “sausage”, about an inch long. It’s the Cheshire height champion at 15m (49ft).

There’s a newly-planted small tree on the lawn east of the visitors’ centre, a wonderful young Copper Beech. There isn’t a hint of purple about it, it’s just the true browny-copper. I’ve not seen one like it before. Is it a new variety?

We also admired one of the flower beds near the visitors’ centre, now called Marion’s Herb Garden. We spotted Nasturtium, Fennel, Chives, Marjoram, Lavender and several others we weren’t sure of.

After lunch we went into the Upper Park, where there were supposed to be three more champion trees. We spotted a possible Manna Ash up a bank, which did have a graft at its base, as the champion was supposed to have, but after scrambling up through Holly and Bramble and getting a  tape measure around it, we found its girth to be only about 150cm, not the 230cm+ the champion should have had.

Manna Ash seeds (rather sparse)

I had hoped we would find more than one tree out of the eleven on our list. We didn’t think we were such poor tree-spotters. However, Champion trees are by their nature old, and are likely to fall or die. The last survey of the park was in 2015.  As we were looking we considered all the dead and broken trees we saw, and we wondered. There were signs up saying there was ongoing “essential tree safety work” on the lake banks, aimed removing dead or unstable trees. Perhaps many of the trees we were looking for have died and been removed.

We take heart from a great find in Calderstones Park earlier in the week. Margaret was walking some of the less-travelled paths there, and found a Golden Rain Tree Koelreuteria paniculata. We had known of one at the back of the Mansion House, which had been cut down during the recent renovations. As far as we knew, the only other one in Lancashire was in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester.  But now we find there had been a second one in Calderstones all along, in an obscure spot, next to the fence of the horse field belonging to Beechley Stables. It is in a good sunny position, and had just flowered.  It is about to be added to the database of the Tree Register, not as a champion, but as a remarkable tree nevertheless.

Golden Rain tree flower shoots (going over) with some papery “lantern” seed cases

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.05, arriving Park Rd N  / Park Rd E at 10.20.  Returned on bus 437 from Park Rd N / Duke Street at 2.37, arriving Liverpool 2.50.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Birkenhead Park, 22nd August 2021

Otterspool, 15th August 2021

On a warm and humid day with the threat of rain, we went down to Otterspool promenade on the banks of the Mersey to see the carpets of wildflowers we had been told were there.  And so they were, masses of them, quite pretty, mostly yellow, but not the best we have ever seen.

The predominant flowers were yellow Corn Marigolds, interspersed with a few Cornflowers, Poppies and Wild Carrots.

In amongst them were occasional clumps of something pink-and-purple. I think it was Viper’s Bugloss, but it was very pink. There seemed to be clumps of a white variety too, which doesn’t occur in the wild. You get some odd things in some wildflower mixes. But there were lots of bees and hoverflies enjoying them.

The tide was well out, exposing the mid-river sandbanks. There weren’t many birds loitering there, just a motley sprinkling of gulls and crows, one Greater Black-backed gull, a Common Tern with a fish, a Cormorant flying down river and a single Swallow. There were great views south eastwards to Garston, north westwards to Birkenhead and Cammell Laird’s shipyard, and way off to the south, Stanlow oil refinery with the Helsby and Frodsham hills behind it.

South to Garston
Birkenhead and Cammell Laird’s

We had a good look at the rocky mud at river’s edge. Picking about were the usual gulls, a few Oystercatchers, and also some autumn visitors – Redshanks and Turnstones, which have arrived very early.

Oystercatcher (left foreground), Herring Gull (the big one) and Turnstone (right, on the edge of the pool)

There is an old sewage outfall opposite Eastham. The river has now been cleaned up, but years ago, when the pipe was spewing out untreated sewage, this stretch of the Mersey was said to be the best place in the country to see large numbers of the uncommon duck, the Pintail. (Yuk!)

Walkers and cyclists can only go as far south as Grassendale, but a continuation of the prom can be seen past a fence and a gap. Rumour has it that the posh folk in Cressington and Grassendale didn’t want the public path joined up because they didn’t want all and sundry walking past their houses.

A squall of fine rain came up the river, so we took refuge under some trees, then headed up the  sheltered Beechwood Road South, past newly-built detached houses and up-market apartment blocks, north along the footpath by the cricket field, onto Riversdale Road and back down to the prom. The weather had cleared up in just those ten minutes, so we sat and ate lunch overlooking the Mersey with the tide coming in strongly, hoping for seals, porpoises or even a Killer Whale! No luck (although all those have occasionally been seen in the river.)

We retraced our steps back along the prom. During another heavy shower we sheltered under the awning of the Otterspool Adventure Centre café. Then, even though the sun had come out, we decided not to push our luck any further and call it a day.  On the way back to the bus we spotted some new plantings of Oak and Bird Cherry saplings and an orange-berried Rowan.

The most surprising tree was a Tamarisk in the centre of the busy roundabout at the bottom of Jericho Lane, leaning at an alarming angle. Its pink autumn flowers were starting to show and it will be splendid when it gets bigger, as long as it manages to stay upright.

Public transport details: Bus 500 (the airport bus) from Liverpool ONE bus station at 9.59, arriving Jericho Lane / Riverside Drive at 10.20. Returned from the opposite stop on the 500 at 1.25, arriving Liverpool ONE at 2.05.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Otterspool, 15th August 2021

Stanley Park, 1st August 2021

Stanley Park is a purpose-built city park, designed by our favourite landscape architect Edward Kemp (Flaybrick Cemetery, Grosvenor Park Chester) and opened in 1870. It’s located between Liverpool and Everton football grounds, which are less than half a mile apart across the park, one to the north and one to the south.

The park contains three trees listed by the Tree Register, and the first is our old friend the Weeping Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Pendula’) in the circle of Plane trees in the roundel at the northern end. It isn’t a champion, simply listed as “remarkable”.

The second is Grignon’s Thorn, Crataegus x grignonensis, which we weren’t able to find. It’s the height champion of Lancashire at 6 meters, and is said to be on the north bank of the lake. Unfortunately its leaves look just like those of ordinary Hawthorn, and it is distinguished by its large flowers and masses of dark red fruit. We are looking at the wrong time, of course, between the spring and the autumn, so we will have to look for it another day.  We think we DID find the third tree, and it’s a real rarity, an Altai Thorn Crataegus wattiana.  It is said to be by the path on the north of the lake, and we found it (probably) around the new lake path, by a bridge.  The leaves look right, with deeply-cut lobes, distinctly different from normal Hawthorns. To be really sure we need to see the fruit, which is said to be yellow, with five stones. Again, we’ll have to look again.

There was a sign on the railings confirming that this lake, too, has blue-green algae. The water wasn’t looking too bad, but it was a bit luridly green in some quiet corners. It didn’t bother the birds, though. There were plenty of Mallards and Coots and an occasional Moorhen. A Great Crested Grebe put in an appearance, but most of us missed it while we were looking at the trees.  The only land birds were Magpies, Crows and Feral Pigeons.  Some of the Rowan berries have already turned red, and the berries of the Guelder Rose are just on the turn. It’s autumn!

Last year they planted wild flowers at the edge of the football field and this year they have used that land to plant young native trees, while moving the wildflowers further out.

The trees were mostly Oak, Birch and Willow, with some others that were too small to identify. Several white butterflies were flitting over the flowers, but nothing else. John was in the park nearly every day during lockdown last year, and said he saw 11 species of butterfly on the meadow (not all at once, of course) but this year is very poor. The flowers were lovely, with a mix of Poppies, Cornflower and Marigolds, with the occasional huge Sunflower.

Swallows were flying low over the grass near the terrace and the formal beds. Several had nested under the roofs of the pavilions, and some were still lurking inside.

This marvellous shrub was near the Conservatory, and it looks like Smoke bush Cotinus sp., possibly the dwarf variety ‘Young Lady’.

Then we crossed into Anfield Cemetery. Earlier this year a Sparrowhawk nested in the spire of the old chapel, but there was nothing to see today. Other birds were scarce here too, with just the usual Magpies and Crows.

The Cemetery has many mature Silver Pendent Lime trees, filling the air with a lovely scent.

A recent addition is a number of signboards put up by the Friends, drawing attention to notable graves. One lists “Victoria Cross Heroes”, another is about the Chinese revolutionary Sou Zen Young, who drowned himself at Crosby beach after being exiled, and a third is about Michael James Whitty (1795-1873), who was a very important Victorian Liverpool worthy. He was Superintendent of the Night Watch in Liverpool’s first police force, later becoming the Head Constable of the Liverpool Fire Brigade and the Police (1836-1844). In about 1850 he founded the Liverpool newspaper, the Daily Post.

We were hoping to see a sign about James Maybrick, who was supposedly murdered by his wife Florence and is buried in this cemetery. She was the victim of a miscarriage of justice but escaped hanging.  We did see the grave of William and Julia Wallace. The nearby sign is headed “The Perfect Murder?” and goes into some detail about why William was suspected and convicted of Julia’s murder. Only at the very end does it say that his conviction was quashed, and the tone implies he “got away with it”. Now we know that he was innocent and was the victim of another miscarriage of justice.

Finally, we visited the grave of Norman Alexander Milne, 1924-1963, who was a famous British singer in the late 1950s and early 1960s under the name of Michael Holliday. You may remember him from “Starry Eyed” 1959 or the theme to the TV show “Four Feather Falls”.

Public transport details: Bus 19 from Queen Square at 10.04, arriving Walton Lane / Bullens Road 10.25. Returned on the 19 bus from Walton Lane / Priory Road at 15.10, arriving Liverpool City Centre 15.30

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Stanley Park, 1st August 2021