Wirral Way, 22nd May 2022

Our train was late leaving Central Station, so to catch up it ran non-stop from Birkenhead Central to Hooton, whizzing past eight intervening stations on the way and putting on an unusual turn of speed. That was exciting!  It’s only a few weeks since we last did this walk (3rd April), but it was a special request from Sheena, who has recently re-joined the group. What a difference a few weeks makes to the growth of the wayside plants. Then it was light and open, but today it was a green tunnel, calm, warm and humid.

The flowers have really come on, displaying Buttercups, Herb Robert, Green Alkanet, Red Campion, Wood Avens in the shade, a pretty little patch of Speedwell, Dog Rose on the higher bushes, Hogweed, and the shining triangular leaves of Black Briony.

Wood Avens
Red Campion

Edging the path was a magnificent display of Cow Parsley.

There were small flying insects (gnats?) in the shadiest patches, not exactly clouds of them, perhaps just dozens, but enough to make us wave our hands in front of our faces.  By the side of the path we spotted a small hole and its excavations. It was perhaps the thickness of a thumb and seems to have been a Bumblebee nest. At least two bumblebees entered and left, but never when I had my camera trained and focussed. I think they were workers, smaller than the queen bumblebee who digs the nest in early spring.

All the young Oaks were in fresh leaf. The Yews had pale green new growth at the ends of their branches and the first Elder flowers were out. Most of the Hawthorn blossom was going over, and we wondered if it was really pink, or if it was just an optical effect of the browning of the petals. But these look pink enough. That’s a bit odd, because you’d have thought the path edges would have been planted up with pure native trees.

Another puzzle were the two or three Horse Chestnuts that frame the path near Hadlow Road. Do these look like double flowers to you?  There is a known special variety called Baumann’s Horse Chestnut whose double flowers are sterile, and thus produce no conkers. They are in demand for street planting, because they stop people complaining about the mess on the pavements, but as with the Hawthorn, you’d have thought they would plant pure natives on the Wirral Way. But it is well used by horses and cyclists and you can see why “no conkers” would be easier. This calls for an autumn inspection, I think.

We saw several mammal signs. Molehills, of course, and a narrow path down the bank that could have been made by a Fox or a Badger, but very few birds were on view. We heard a Song Thrush, a Chaffinch and one (perhaps two) Chiffchaffs out of the eight that had been singing in April. They are probably all busy nesting. Four baby Robins were hopping about in a tree, perhaps just fledged.  Unusually, a Goldfinch was on the ground at the path edge, where it had been eating seed from a Dandelion clock. We found where all the birds had gone when we had our lunch at Hadlow Road Station. All the cheeky ones were hanging about for picnic crumbs. A Robin, of course, and House Sparrows, but also a Dunnock and a fearless male Blackbird coming within two or three feet of us.

On the return journey it was warmer and sunnier, and the butterflies were out. There were a couple of Small Whites, and then the star of the show, a male Orange-tip. It was small and rather ragged, feeding on Herb Robert. Interestingly its proboscis isn’t in the very centre of the flower, but down the side of a petal, clearly showing it knows exactly where the nectar is.

The train home was packed with people in red scarves, heading for the Liverpool FC football match. There had been a stall in Williamson Square this morning, selling celebratory scarves and flags.  I include this picture of it to draw your attention to the six Ginkgo trees outside the old Stoniers glass and china shop. When they were planted, they were all the same size, but look at them now!

No walk next week because Liverpool FC are having a big parade right through the city, and we will never be able to get home, no matter where we go.  

Public transport details: Train towards Chester from Central at 10.20, arriving Hooton 10.40. Returned from Hooton on 2.15 train, arriving Liverpool 2.45.

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 www.mnapage.info for details of our programme and how to join us.

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Calderstones Park, 15th May 2022

Our visit to the wonderful Calderstones Park was to see some specific trees for their leaves or flowers in May, but we were also delighted to see the magnificent Rhododendron and Azalea walk at its best.

There is an unusual maple tree at the Ballantrae Road entrance. It’s definitely some sort of Acer because the winged “helicopter” seeds are developing, but the leaves aren’t sycamoreish at all, and the bark has coloured stripes. I think it might be Grey-budded Snakebark Maple Acer rufinerve.  Mitchell’s tree book says a snake-bark maple with grey and pink bark is always this species. There is another one with the same bark and leaves near the walled garden.

On the corner of the Text Garden is a Dove or Pocket-Handkerchief tree, which only blooms at this time of year, and which some people travel miles to see. Below it is a carpet of Wild Garlic and Three-cornered Leek.

In the old Rose Garden was a small Judas tree in flower, which we appreciated, but we were really looking for the young, very rare Pecan nut tree Carya illinoinensis. We spotted it last autumn as a new sapling with a nursery label, otherwise we’d have had no idea what it was. Unfortunately we didn’t make a careful note of exactly which young sapling it was, and there were two possibilities, both with the required pinnate leaves. Was it the bigger flourishing one or was it the weedy one? I think it was the weedy one, as Google Images shows yellowish new leaves on the ones in America.

Then we went to look at the Golden Rain tree, the main purpose of our visit today. A couple of tree-book authors have been almost rapturous about the new foliage. Mitchell says “unfolding dark red in late May …” while Paul Wood in London’s Street Trees gushes “… delicate rose- and bronze-tinted foliage emerges to compete with cherry blossom.”  We were disappointed to see that although some new leaves were a bit salmony or bronzy, the tree definitely wasn’t pink all over. We hadn’t missed it: Margaret has scouted the tree a couple of times since early spring but she didn’t find it pink all over at any stage. This picture is of the one near the Calder Stones, showing some pinkish shoots, but nothing to match our expectations.

We found ourselves by the gate to the nature reserve area, which is still under development. That side of the park was originally an adjoining gentleman’s estate, Harthill. Liverpool Council bought it in 1914 as an addition to the park and to prevent any “speculative builder” from buying it. From 1964 to 1984 it was the site of famous greenhouses containing a nationally important orchid collection as well as the plants for Liverpool parks. Derek Hatton had them all demolished, and the orchids were dispersed. The area was used as a green waste recycling centre until the Council decided to sell the area for housing development, in direct contradiction to the purpose of buying it in the first place. The Friends of Harthill and Calderstones Park protested vigorously, raised money and eventually forced and won a Judicial Review, keeping the land as part of the park. Now a group of volunteers is working to turn the area into a nature reserve, which is scheduled to open this summer.

Dotted around the park are several Chusan Palms, Trachycarpus fortunei. From the growing tops some were producing the most peculiar curved yellow structures, like fat triangular bananas or bent corns on the cob. It seems that Chusan Palms are dioecius, with separate male and female plants. What we saw were the emerging flowers of the male tree. How weird they are.

In preparation for the Jubilee someone has been crocheting red-white-and-blue bunting and a wreath for the railings of the Mansion House.

Some very knobbly trees caught our eyes. There were three or four of them, all with burrs protruding from the striated bark. They were leafing feebly, but looked like False Acacia Robinia pseudoacacia, native to the southern states of America, where they are known as Black Locust. Were they infected or infested with something?  I asked on the Facebook tree experts group, and was told ” If the top dies back for any reason, the knobbly lumps will sprout new shoots to replace the canopy and keep the tree going. Survival adaptation. I am not sure that all Robinias do it, but a great many do.”

Near the Rhododendron walk is this Giant Sequoia. It looks old, but it was planted to commemorate Churchill’s funeral in 1965, so it is only 57 years old. What a whopper!

As we headed back to the bus we reflected that we hadn’t seen many birds. There were Crows, Magpies, Wood Pigeons, a couple of Robins and Blackbirds, but not even a Treecreeper today. I suppose that all those exotic alien trees, interesting as they are, won’t be supporting much in the way of native insects, so they provide very little food for birds. A comparably-sized area full of native trees would be alive with birds. The Nature Reserve ought to help out with that.  

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Elliot Street at 9.58, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.25. Returned from Mather Avenue / Storrsdale Road on bus 86 at 2.15, arriving city centre at 2.47. 

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Stanley Park, 8th May 2022

Stanley Park, 111 acres, was opened in 1870, and is Grade II* listed, with major historic features designed by Edward Kemp. The park is famous for dividing the home grounds of Liverpool and Everton football clubs. It is near to the city centre and to several deprived areas, so it had a fair bit of litter, and junk in the lakes, and there were a couple of groups of yobbish-looking lads with bikes, but they weren’t any trouble. There were also plenty of fishermen, and parents with little kids, all enjoying the open air, the fresh greenery and the beautiful profusion of flowering trees and shrubs.

It was grey and overcast, and cooler than we had expected, although it warmed up when the sun eventually came out. We were tree hunting, following up on the two rare thorns we had looked for on 1st August 2021.  We re-found the tree we think is the Altai Thorn Crataegus wattiana, on the north side of the lake, next to a bridge. It had the expected deeply incised leaves, although were surprised that it was still in bud, as the books don’t say it is late to flower. The height of 6 meters looked OK, and the girth was 77 cm, a reasonable increase on the 63 cm last time it was checked in 2004. The proof of the identification (or not) will follow in the autumn. If it’s the right one it should have yellow haws with five seeds.

Then we looked for the other one, Grignon’s Thorn Crataegus x grignonensis. We didn’t find it last time, and we didn’t find it today. We had thought that with all the Hawthorns out it would be easy to spot, but there was nothing likely-looking in the place indicated (“North bank of lake at east end, within the perimeter fence”).  We wondered if it had been lost during the remodelling of that end of the lake, but the restoration was in 2000, and the tree we were looking for had been seen in 2004. But blowed if we could find it. All the other trees and shrubs were in flower except the ones we wanted to see. For example, the picture at the start of this blog entry is a Bird Cherry Prunus padus, and here’s a Manna Ash Fraxinus ornus.

A small Scots Pine had its male flowers out, which released clouds of pollen when they were shaken.

All the Hawthorns were blooming sumptuously, and we admired this pink one, with flowers much paler than usual. Could it be a pink Midland Hawthorn, which looks a little like this?

Last year’s wildflower meadow hasn’t been re-sown, so it is tending to Dock, but there were Ribwort Plantain, Red Campion and this Wild Carrot covered with ladybirds. I think they are Harlequins. They nearly all are nowadays.

There were Swallows over the ornamental beds and the trees had Blue Tits, Great Tits, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tits. The usual Crows, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and Feral Pigeons were hanging about. On the lake there were plenty of Canada Geese, Mallards, Coots,  Moorhens and one Great Crested Grebe.  One duck was very odd-looking, white with a black eye, and he was head-bobbing hopefully to another very peculiar one.

A pair of Mute Swans had nested on an island. Had they chosen that rubbishy corner on purpose, or had the junky barriers been put in to protect them?

We often see Coot nests, but not Moorhens. However, one Moorhen appeared to have chosen an open ledge, right next to some pipework. I think the lake is currently very low, and if it rises she will be flooded. Her mate seemed to be bringing her all kinds of plastic as nesting material.

Around some of the shallow rubbishy bays was a Holly Blue butterfly, possibly looking for dampness or salts.

There was also a Speckled Wood basking on a Sycamore leaf, looking a bit ragged and bird-pecked.

Garden shrubs included Solomon’s Seal, Mexican Orange, and one I think was Wiegela. This pink Rhododendron was superb.

The best scent came from this yellow deciduous rhododendron Rhododendron lutea. Here’s an interesting snippet about it from Wikipedia. “Despite the sweet perfume of the flowers, the nectar is toxic, containing grayanotoxin; records of poisoning of people eating the honey date back to the 4th century BC in Classical Greece.”

Public transport details: Bus 19 from Queen Square at 10.24, arriving Walton Lane / Bullens Road at 10.42. Returned from Walton Lane / Priory Road n 19 bus at 2.20, arriving city centre at 2.40.

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Gorse Hill, 1st May 2022

According to the Celts, the first day of May was Beltane, the first day of summer, when they started new fires, drove their cattle between two bonfires then led them out to summer pastures.  It didn’t feel much like summer as we walked up Long Lane, Aughton towards Gorse Hill Nature Reserve. It was cloudy, damp and drizzly, and the garden trees dripped on us as we passed.  They were lovely trees, though. The classic spring trees were blossoming – Horse Chestnut, Laburnum, Rowan, Whitebeam, Lilac and Hawthorn. Some of the early foliage was magnificent too, including this lovely Copper Beech and a Sycamore of the late-greening variety ‘Brilliantissimum’.

Gorse Hill NR was open for their “Blossom and Bluebells” day, and we walked some of the woodland paths before they officially opened at noon. Wildflowers were abundant along the edges, including White Dead-nettle, Herb Robert, Yellow Archangel, and some early Cow Parsley. Birds included Blackbirds, Robins and some singing Chiffchaffs. The Hawthorn or May blossom was out everywhere.

We lunched at Seldon’s Pond, spotting a Sparrowhawk cruising overhead. A minute or two later it came back, flying low and fast, chasing something, but we didn’t see what it was hunting. Then we assembled outside the café for the guided walk led by volunteer Su. She took us into the normally-closed Wilowbank Wood, former farmland which was planted with trees in 1996 and 1997 and had its hedgerows restored. Part of the area was crossed by a small stream and an old bank of native English bluebells, which is what we had come to see.  It is still thought to be growing pure English bluebells, although the pollen from the invasive Spanish bluebells wafts in on the wind from our gardens, and is brought in by wildlife.

There are Roe Deer in the wood, but we didn’t see any signs of them. They also have a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers who have taken a liking to the electricity pole and have excavated many nest holes in it. The reserve staff are watching closely, hoping the pole doesn’t get hollowed out, causing it to fall and the electricity to be disastrously disrupted.

We ended our tour in their heritage orchard, whose blossom was mostly over, but the carpet of Cowslips growing beneath the trees was lovely. Cowslips are the food plant of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly.

Finally, we went to see the rare native Wayfaring Tree Viburnum lantana, which I have mentioned before. (See the last section of my report on Allerton Towers on 13 Sep 2020). The multi-stemmed group on north side of the path was very sparsely leafed, with no sign of flowers, but there were some younger saplings on the opposite side in better light. It was still too early for full flowers, but the buds were well-formed.

In other tree news, I was on the MNA short walk in Newsham Park last Wednesday (27th April) and found what I believe to be a Wild Service Tree Sorbus torminalis, another rare native tree and another lifer for me. I was actually looking for the even rarer Service Tree of Fontainebleau (was Sorbus latifolia, now called Karpatiosorbus latifolia) which is said by the Tree Register to have several examples along the Gardener’s Drive / Carstairs Road avenue, one of which was a height champion. I thought I had found one of the ones I was looking for, but after consulting several tree books I can’t make it “Fontainbleau” and it seems to be a straightforward Wild Service Tree, although rare enough.  If you want to see it, it’s near the café and toilet block, opposite the skatepark and just west of the permanent table-tennis table. It’s on the south side of the path and is a leaning tree, which brings the leaves and flowers conveniently close.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards Ormskirk at 10.07, arriving Aughton Park Station 10.45. Returned from Aughton Park on train at 3.40, arriving Central 4.10. 

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Southport, 24th April 2022

Southport is a seaside resort north of Liverpool, which was founded in 1792 and had its heyday in Victorian times. It advertised itself as more genteel than Blackpool, with covered arcades and high-end shops. The era of foreign holidays hit it hard, but it has the second longest seaside pleasure pier in the British Isles and is still one of the most popular seaside resorts in the UK.  We don’t often go there in spring or summer, preferring to avoid crowds, but it wasn’t too bad today. The southern arm of the Marine Lake had a different population of birds than we see in winter. There was only one Black-headed Gull for instance, where we usually see hundreds. And all the Herring Gulls scrambling for bread seemed to be juveniles. Have all the adults gone back to their breeding grounds?

There were the usual Mallards and Pigeons, just a few Canada Geese, one or two Coots and rather more Greylag Geese than we are used to. One pair had four little goslings while this group of six adults were shepherding a crèche of 18 little ones.

There were over 40 Mute Swans, many clearly last year’s cygnets, still showing some brown plumage, but others were all white so may have been sub-adults. Two of them were sitting on the edge, preening, and they bore white-on-blue Darvic rings. I reported them to Steve Christmas of the North West Swan Study, who said 4BXD was ringed as a cygnet at Leasowe, Wirral on 8/12/2015 (so is now six years old) while 4DNT was ringed as a cygnet at Parsons Meadow, Wigan on 22/10/2020 (so is now two years old).

The park around the lake is very “tidy” and we detected the liberal use of herbicide on the path edges. There wasn’t much in the way of “weeds” and we saw only one Bumble Bee all day. It may be tourist-friendly, but it’s not very naturalist-friendly. A raised corner bed by the miniature railway had escaped the gardeners’ attentions, and was lush with Bluebells and Dandelions.

Two Swallows swooped over the water, my first of the year. Over on the far side, where they moor the “swan” and “flamingo” pedalos, we noticed that one is now painted up as a Black Swan, in honour of the vagrant pair which are often seen here. That’s a nice touch.

In front of the new Big Wheel I spotted a very mutilated tree. It’s the one on the right against the wheel, a Cedar. It’s not a Deodar Cedar because the needles were all the same length. It might have been an uncommon green Atlas Cedar (most are blue) or even the now-rare Cedar of Lebanon, but it was impossible to get close to it, and it was very sadly cut about.

After a trip to Morrison’s we returned through King’s Gardens. The only birds were Starlings, one Blackbird and a Wood Pigeon. To be fair, it isn’t a good place for trees because of the strong, salty onshore winds, and the sparse well-trimmed shrubberies seem to be healthier. There are a few stunted Hollies and Scots Pines, but one other half-dead tree caught my eye. Some twigs seemed bare while others were producing growth. Blow me, it was an Elm, almost certainly a Wych Elm. There aren’t many full-sized ones of those left.

We went around the back of Southport Theatre, where the promenade overlooks the inaccessible islands in the northern arm of the lake. We were hoping for a Heron, or even Egrets, but there were just more Canada Geese, more young Herring Gulls, and an addition to the day’s list, a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.  
Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Southport 11.05. Returned on 14.28 from Southport station.

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Leasowe, 17th April 2022

It was Easter Sunday, and it had been a beautiful weekend so far and promised to be warm and sunny today. We chose Leasowe because it often gets good spring migrant birds dropping in, like Wheatear, and there has been a Ring Ouzel in the horse fields off Park Lane all week.  That would be a good tick! Where the old Cadbury factory used to be, north of Moreton Station, there is now a large estate of new houses. There was a Pied Wagtail on the lawns and Hairy Bittercress growing all along the fence at the edge of the pavement.  We turned off Pasture Road into the North Wirral Coastal Park, Kerr’s field, passing an apple tree which was just coming into flower.

Mallards were pairing up on the river Birket, a Chiffchaff was singing and a Heron flew over. A Mistle Thrush was poking about, and in the next field there were Carrion Crows, a Lesser Black-backed Gull in a puddle and two resting Canada Geese. Two more Canadas flew in, which prompted the first two to engage in some hostile running and honking, until the interlopers were seen off. The warm weather had brought out the butterflies, including some Orange Tips, and this Small Tortoiseshell sipping from a Dandelion.

Wildflowers lined the verges: Garlic Mustard, Yellow Archangel, Green Alkanet, a big patch of White Dead-nettle, Spanish Bluebells (mostly pink and white, not blue), masses of Dandelions and Daisies, Red Dead-nettle, Alexanders, Lesser Celandine, and we spotted the first Hawthorn blossom just opening. In the hedges the Alder leaves were coming out, but they were covered in Alder Beetles. The adults over-winter in the leaf-litter apparently, and the warm weather has woken them up, ready to get mating and laying.

We took the path parallel to the coast, leading to the horse fields off Park Lane. There was a Curlew in the field on our left, and the last of the Blackthorn was shedding its white petals onto the path.

We came upon two men with tripods and telescopic cameras. They confirmed that this was the field that the Ring Ouzel had been in all last week, but on Saturday evening it was chased off by a Sparrowhawk and hadn’t been seen since. Just our luck. But they pointed out two White Wagtails, which was a pretty good consolation tick.

We turned north towards the coast along the shady farm lane overlooked by a mountain of horse manure. There on the steep opposite bank was a large patch of an unusual plant. Each stem had a cluster of little white flowers surrounded by a single green leafy cup. This arrangement is called “perfoliate”. I identified it at home as Winter Purslane or Spring Beauty, Claytonia perfoliata. In the USA it’s called Miner’s Lettuce. It’s edible, rich in Vitamin C, and its seeds are sold as an ingredient of winter salads. I had already foraged some Garlic Mustard and the young stems of Alexanders, and I’m sorry I didn’t know enough to collect some of that, too.

We lunched up on the sea wall bank with a view of Liverpool Bay, then returned to the Lighthouse by a different path. More Orange Tip butterflies, a Peacock or two and a smart-looking Speckled Wood.

There was a patch of Greater Stitchwort under a hedge.

We were looking for Swallows (none), Wheatears (none), Stonechat (none either) although we did see a Skylark singing overhead. By the side of the road to the car park was a single clump of Lady’s Smock. It’s the food plant of the Orange Tip butterfly, but that one clump is not enough, surely.

A Blackbird was singing its heart out at the top of a shrub on Pasture Road.

Along the path that lines the Birket on the eastern side of the road, the just-leafing deciduous trees made a pleasing grey-green foil to the dark evergreen Scots Pines.

That was far subtler than the bright pink new leaves of the ubiquitous Sycamore, although those are lovely in their own way, too.

Public transport details: Train at 10.05 from Central Station towards West Kirby, arriving Moreton 10.25.  Returned from Moreton at 2.41, arriving Liverpool Central 3.10.

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Festival Gardens, 10th April 2022

The gardens are what remains of the Liverpool Garden Festival of 1984. By 1997 they were derelict, but a part was re-developed in 2010 and called “Festival Gardens”. It was sunny, but with a cold breeze. As soon as we got off the bus we spotted a Song Thrush rummaging in the road’s green verge, and we later heard it singing in the Japanese garden, along with Greenfinches and a Chiffchaff.

We found more building work going on. In the formerly inaccessible northern section, 28 acres are now deemed a Development Zone, where Liverpool hopes to build 1500 new eco-homes in the next few years. However, there is a big remediation job needed first, because this land was once a tip. Lots of machines are digging down to the rubbish layer. The progress report on the noticeboard by the entrance says they are “excavating to remove all landfill waste for processing and to expose areas of subformation.” This is fifth section of seven, with four sections already completed.

South of the gardens is an area called the “Southern Grasslands”, where they are building a new Landscape Mound. Perhaps this will be an extension to the park.

The overall standard of the current park is quite mixed.  The grassy areas are being mown and there isn’t too much litter, but the water in the lake is quite low, and everywhere Bramble is emerging from the shrubberies. There seems to be basic maintenance but no proper “gardening” going on. Of course, this is ideal for wildlife. The little ponds had Mallards, Moorhen and Coots. There were Magpies, Wood Pigeons and Carrion Crows. Two Goldcrests were busy in a Scots Pine and we thought we heard a Jay in the woods. One pair of Coots had four little red-headed chicks, the first young birds we’ve seen this year.

As well as the ubiquitous Dandelions and Daisies, the untended flights of steps were sprouting with all sorts of plants, including this Red Dead-nettle.

The wilder pond edges had clumps of Marsh Marigolds.

We climbed the steps up to the woodland area. The first Bluebell of the year was nearly out, and the Hawthorns were covered in buds. From the top there are good views of Moel Fammau in North Wales, and the Port Sunlight River Park just across the Mersey.

We lunched in the warm and sheltered sunshine near the bottom of the main steps. A Heron flew in and studied one ornamental pond, had no luck, so tried the shallow edge of the bigger one.

Then we headed north along the promenade into Liverpool. It turned out to be a longer walk than we remembered (we are all older now, of course), and the day’s overall tally became five miles or more.

The inland side of the walkway has mowed lawns, then long banks of Bramble scrub in front of the backing trees. We decided this would be great habitat for Nightingales, although their arrival seems extremely unlikely!  However, it is known to be a good area for foxes, and we saw some foot-high “doorways” that could be entrances to their trails.

It was low tide, exposing several bits of stony foreshore, but we looked in vain for waders. There weren’t even gulls for the first mile. But once we got to the area of warehouses near Brunswick station both Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were pairing up and behaving aggressively to others. These two LBBs are very dark and I wonder if they are the Baltic subspecies?

Our final bit of airborne interest was the Coast Guard helicopter circling over Wallasey Town Hall and Seacombe Ferry.

Public transport details: Bus 500 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.29, arriving Riverside Drive / Festival Gardens at 10.50. Returned to the city centre on foot, arriving Albert Dock at about 3.15.

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Hooton to Hadlow Road, 3rd April 2022

We walked another section of the Wirral Way today, from Hooton to Hadlow Road Station and back. There was a chilly breeze when we started out, but it is sheltered in the sunken, tree-lined path, so once the sun came out it was lovely.

Much of the Hawthorn foliage is now well out, but other trees are slower. Some were still grey and bare. The Oak buds were just breaking, the first Sycamore leaves were out, but other trees are harder to identify when the foliage is new. There were lots of young saplings that we were calling “Hornbeam”, but now I think they might have been young self-seeded Birch of some kind (and later realised were Hazel, of course. )

Lots of birds were in song. Robins trilled everywhere, Blackbirds scuttled across the path, one or two Jays swooped past, Great Tits and Chaffinches were singing (as well as a distant rooster) and we counted eight singing male Chiffchaffs, one about every 350 – 400 yards. The Pussy Willow flowers were still out, full of pollen, and we spotted a small black wasp or bee foraging among them, although it was too fast-moving to catch a picture of.

There wasn’t much storm damage to see, just one or two snapped trees which were cut up and left as log piles. There has been lots of hedge trimming and clearing carried out this winter, so the path was wide and airy. Flowers were coming on well. We spotted Dandelions and Forget-me-Nots, Lesser Celandine and Dog Violet. The few Coltsfoot were closed, the Garlic Mustard and the Green Alkanet were only leaves yet, but higher on the bank some Yellow Archangel was in bloom.

Several white-flowered trees were out. This is Blackthorn, of course, which was a magnet for Bumble bees.

This was Wild Cherry, I think. Prunus avium.

This one must surely be Bird Cherry Prunus padus. My books say it isn’t supposed to flower until late May, so this must be just one aberrant tree. (By the way, look at those Latin names of the cherries, guaranteed to confuse. “Avium” means “of birds”, so what was Linnaeus thinking when he named those two?  The only lame excuse I can think of is that it must have been different in Swedish!)

Along the way we noticed that the Horse Chestnuts varied in their spring progress. Some had only breaking sticky buds, some had very droopy newly-emerged leaves, while the one by the steps at Hooton had abundant erect flower buds.

Hadlow Road was a station when the Wirral Way was a working railway line. It has been preserved in its 1950s condition as a handy stopping place, with café and loos. We ate our sandwiches there, at a picnic table well-patrolled by Robins, and with a well-fed House Sparrow colony in the adjacent hedge.

During the return walk to Hooton the sun shone, and there were far more people about. A Wren was in a low branch and we thought we glimpsed a Treecreeper. Some early butterflies put in an appearance – a Speckled Wood and this rather slow-moving Comma.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards Chester at 10.15, arriving Hooton 10.48. Returned from Hooton on the 2.29 train, arriving Central 3.00.

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Neston and Wirral Way, 27th March 2022

Neston town centre

What a lovely day! I have been in Ireland, which has also had two weeks of sunshine, and it was sunny and warm again today. We rode the bus across the Wirral, looking at the gardens full of Forsythia, early white Cherry blossom, Magnolias, Flowering Currant and just-opening red Crab Apple blossom. The Norway Maple trees were starting to open their lime green flowers. St Mary and St Helen’s church in Neston has a picture-perfect little country village churchyard, with the peaceful old graves covered with Lesser Celandine and Forget-me-not.

We walked down Church Lane, but instead of joining the Wirral Way immediately we took the footpath south-west past the water treatment works. The hedgerows were alive with singing Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Robins and Chiffchaffs. We heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, the Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits were foraging in the trees, a Pied Wagtail and a Skylark were feeding in an open field and a Buzzard cruised overhead, hunting.  A Pussy Willow (Goat Willow) had its flowers out, and early bumble bees were buzzing around the pollen.

Daisies and early Dandelions were everywhere, and the hedges were full of Blackthorn.

We went as far as the broken walls of the old quay, where we had our lunch overlooking the marsh. There was no sign of the recent fire damage, just a distant Little Egret.  Then we retraced our steps to Old Quay Lane and along a footpath that took us to the Wirral Way.  

We spotted the earlier Buzzard on the ground, tearing at something, so it had its lunch, too.

The banks of the Wirral Way were full of Arum leaves and lots of Wild Garlic, some of it just in flower.

The Oak buds were breaking out their flowers and leaves.

The first Cow Parsley was in bloom.

We walked as far as the car park, then down Station Road to the Old Quay restaurant. On this Mother’s Day it was full to capacity, with a rope up to deter more arrivals. The fire damage was near there, with a large chunk of the marsh showing black from the charred vegetation. (Sorry about the blotches – I had to shoot right into the sun.)

There were hordes of people in Parkgate, with a big queue at the famous ice cream shop. We hurried along and were just in time at Mostyn Square for the 1.30 bus back to Liverpool.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Brook Street Neston at 11.20. Returned on the 487 bus from Mostyn Square Parkgate at 1.30, arriving Liverpool 2.25.

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Liverpool docks, 13th March 2022

We met at the Albert Dock, from where we had planned to walk south, but found that we were heading into the teeth of a very strong breeze with the sun in our eyes, so turned to walk the other way, past the cruise terminal and all the new hotels around Princes Dock. The “Dazzle” ferry was just coming in.

There was a big ship berthed at the cruise terminal, the Fred Olsen Borealis.

At first we saw very few birds, just the odd Gulls, Crows and Pigeons, with a pair of Mallards in the dock. There are very few trees along there, but suddenly four little sparrow-sized birds flew in and perched in a bare ornamental tree outside the Crowne Plaza hotel. Not Sparrows and not female Snow Buntings. We decided in the end that they were female Linnets, not what we would usually expect in the city centre. More good finds were two sleeping Lesser Black-backed Gulls, looking like porcelain ornaments, and a Turnstone pecking about in a bit of fenced-off waste ground, dwarfed by the Herring Gulls.

We turned around at Alexandra Tower. On the pontoons in Waterloo Dock were half a dozen Cormorants.

We could see though to Princes Half-Tide and Victoria Docks (see top picture) framed by the red cranes at Seaforth and Jesse Hartley’s octagonal clock tower. There were four distant Mute Swans, possibly juveniles, and some Canada geese on the far bank. We returned on the inland side of Princes Dock. Several Cormorants were swimming and diving in the dock, and were coming up with long, thin, silvery fish. Sand eels?  We lunched in St Nicholas’ churchyard then headed off home early.

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