Victoria Park, Widnes, 14th July 2024

Victoria Park opened in 1900 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s a large park, with everything from the “municipal park” checklist : a lake, a bandstand with a live brass band playing, a war memorial with manicured flower beds, a fountain, tennis courts, and also more modern things like a skate park, a climbing boulder, a basketball court and a woodland walk. One interesting relic given pride of place is an old turnpike milestone from the 18th century which was bomb-damaged in the First World War from a Zeppelin airship that thought it was over Sheffield!  The distances on the milestone are given in Roman numerals, V (five) miles to Prescot and XII (twelve) miles to Liverpool.

Today’s big attraction was the walk-through Butterfly house, which we visited in 2017, before it closed. Happily it has now re-opened after years of disuse and decline, and is run by volunteers. They buy in pupae of exotic species and provide a warm, tropical environment for them. Often the pupae that arrive are a mixed lot, and they cannot predict what will emerge, so the signage doesn’t identify everything. In the pictures below, the one on the fruit is the Clipper Parthenos sylvia while the black, red and white ones are all different and are probably from the “Postman” group,  Heliconius sp.)

Outside they have a garden planted up for native butterflies. The flowers were pretty but the day was too cool and gloomy for anything to be on the wing.

We took a stroll around the lake, noting moulting Mallards, Canada Geese, Coots, Moorhens, and a glimpse of a female Tufted Duck. There was a family of Mute Swans, with Dad on patrol and Mum near four big cygnets, moulting out their grey feathers and looking itchy.

On the bank was a crowd of Black-headed Gulls and Jackdaws. Otherwise the birds on view were just the usual corvids, Magpies and Crows. Ring-necked Parakeets don’t seem to have colonised this park yet. We went in the Woodland Walk along the western edge of the park.

There were Robins on the path, a few Wood Pigeons, and something odd near where some grain had been scattered. I think this is a Stock Dove and it’s only the second time I have knowingly seen one.

It’s overlooked by many birders, as it is too like Wood Pigeons and Feral Pigeons, and birders’ eyes seem to slide over them. There used to be some in Sefton Park, but I heard that they have been out-competed there by Parakeets, who muscle them out of their favoured nest holes in trees. 

Public transport details: Bus 79C from Queen Square at 9.59, arriving Leigh Avenue / Appleton Village at 10.55. Returned from the opposite bus stop on the 82A at 1.45. arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 3.00.
Next week: Meet at Queen Square at 10 am. We plan to go to the Wildlife Recording day at Victoria Park, Crosby.

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.

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New Brighton, 7th July 2024

Off for a day at the seaside at New Brighton. The early rain cleared up and the sun shone. The tide was close to the top, so shipping was on the move, and we watched the Isle of Man catamaran “Manannan” heading out.

Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls were flying and calling, small flocks of Starlings perched on high points, Pigeons checked out opportunities for crumbs, and we had a couple of fleeting glimpses of two birds which might have been Rock Pipits. The best birds were a flock of about 50 Turnstones, which were prevented by the high water from foraging on the rocks and shore, so they were mooching on the pontoons on the Marine Lake.  They have returned from their breeding grounds in Canada or Greenland very early: we don’t usually expect them until late August. The chestnut colour of some of their feathers suggests they are still in breeding plumage, but perhaps these are the ones whose nests have failed.

Not many plants about. On the edge of the promenade were a few clumps of White Clover and Ragwort, while on the rocks by the lighthouse, which never get wet, was a small patch of dune specialists Marram Grass, Sea Holly and Sea Beet.

Sea Holly
Sea Beet

We did a bit of beachcombing on the remaining bit of sand under the lighthouse. All the patches of seaweed seemed to be Bladder Wrack, mixed up with black gull feathers, whelk egg cases and  Cockleshells.

There was one oval shell, about 5 cm (2 inches) across, which I hoped was a Piddock, but it was too even on each side to be that, so it was possibly a Carpet Shell. There was only one “Mermaid’s purse”, the empty egg-case of a Skate or Ray.

Carpet shell?
“Mermaid’s purse”

We lunched in one of the shelters on the prom, noticing the cheerfully-decorated skip belonging to the local volunteer litter-pickers, who call themselves the New Brighteners. Clever name!

People with kids were catching crabs off the wall of the Marine Lake. “Crabbing” is such an established pastime here that the local shops sell crabbing kits – a bucket, a line, a dipping net and little fabric bags like teabags for putting the bait in. Most people use bacon, although I’m not sure if the same shops sell that!  Most crabbers were successful, nearly all having one or two Shore Crabs in their buckets.

Shore crab
Crabbing kit
Lines out over the railings

Public transport details:  Train from Central at 10.20, then a rail replacement bus from Birkenhead North at 10.40, arriving New Brighton at 11.00. Returned on bus 432 from King’s Parade / Morrison’s at 1.55, arriving Liverpool 2.30.

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Toxteth Park Cemetery, 30th June 2024

Toxteth Park Cemetery was opened in 1856, and although it is now in the built-up area a couple of miles south of the city centre, it was then just outside the boundary. It is full of ornate Victorian Gothic memorials to the great and good of Liverpool in those days, and is Grade II listed. Many years ago I was on a walking tour of the historical graves and remember seeing the final resting place of James Dunwoody Bulloch, the Confederate spy. We didn’t see it today, because none of us could remember where it was.  
The lovely sunny weather we had in early June has turned, and it was overcast, with a cold wind and blustery showers. A bright spot was this lovely pink-flowered shrub by the entrance gates, which seems to be a member of the pea family.

The gate lodge seems to be occupied, with a pretty container garden by the front door.

There was very little wildlife about. The derelict old chapel was overgrown with Buddleia, where we might have hoped to see butterflies, but it was too cold and windy today.

Not many birds, either. A flock of Herring Gulls were wheeling and calling over the distant graves, as if they had found something edible. There were Carrion Crows, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and the occasional Blackbird. Someone had scattered grain which attracted feral Pigeons, and also a Grey Squirrel and a timid Rat.

There were a fair few trees, but even they didn’t seem to harbour much wildlife. They were a mixed selection, mostly natives, including Turkey Oak, Sycamore, Norway Maple, a few ornamental Cherries and Hawthorns. Also some Weeping Ash, which are very appropriate for a cemetery but now looking rather leggy. Has Ash Dieback got to them? The best were the Lime trees, mostly Common Lime and others which might have been Silver Pendent Lime. They seem to have flowered very well this year.

There were hardly any proper seats to be had so we lunched on some fallen gravestones in the shelter of a big spreading Turley Oak. On the way out, we admired the disused pub on the other side of Smithdown Road, the Royal Hotel, with wonderful tiles on the front and a fantastic lantern over the door at the right-hand corner.

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Elliot Street, supposed to be 10.16 but was actually 10.25, arriving Smithdown Road / Salisbury Road at 10.45. We all returned at different times after visiting the Asda supermarket.

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Waterloo seafront gardens, 23rd June 2024

Today started misty, overcast and damp, but the sun came out about 11 am. Waterloo seafront gardens sit between the large houses that used to be right on the beach, and the Marine Lake. It is a conservation area, not far from the city centre, and close to the world-famous Antony Gormley ‘Another Place’ statues which stand in the sand. There are four separate gardens in a row and today we visited Crescent Garden, Adelaide Garden and Beach Lawn Garden, built between 1932 and 1939. Here’s an old postcard of Adelaide Garden when it was opened in 1935 and a look along the same path today after 90 years growth of shrubs.

Some of the shrubs in flower were Jerusalem sage, Broom, Buddleia, Yellow Bush Lupin, Privet, Mock Orange, Japanese Snowbell and New Zealand Daisy Bush. We saw no butterflies, not even on the Buddleia.

Jerusalem sage
New Zealand Daisy Bush

Flowers included Poppies, Valerian, Bramble, Meadow Cranesbill, Dog Rose, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Daisies and Buttercups in the lawns and also the tall yellow Hawkbeard (probably Smooth Hawkbeard).

Bramble was popping out of the shrubberies everywhere. The council don’t garden much any more, apart from cutting the grass occasionally, and the volunteer Friends do their best, but sometimes the neglect of “tidying” makes patches of loveliness.

There is a thriving colony of House Sparrows, cheeping loudly in the dense bushes, but rarely seen. Goldfinches were coming to the pond to drink. Swallows were swooping low over the grassy mounds. Although we saw hardly any insects of any kind, just a few Bumble Bees visiting flowers, the Swallows must have been finding something. Elsewhere there were Wood Pigeons, Magpies, Carrion Crows, and Gulls calling overhead.

The pond in Beach Lawn garden has been cleared of choking vegetation by the Friends during the last couple of winters. All the weed they removed was carefully left on the banks to allow any creatures to get back into the water. But despite that precaution, we saw no dragonflies, no damselflies, and not even the tiny rare one, the Small Red-eyed Damselfly, that sits on mats of algae. But one beneficiary of that clear-out has been a small colony of orchids that have popped up out of nowhere. They are probably Southern Marsh orchids.

There are two islands in the pond, and the orchids are on the inner ends of each island, not far from each other but separated by several feet of pond water. Are they somehow connected under the pond liner? (But that’s probably concrete). Is it an effect of seed dispersal? Who knows why they have suddenly appeared just there.

Public transport details: Bus 53 from Queen Square at 10.02, arriving Waterloo Interchange / South Road at 10.39. I was able to walk home but the others headed for Waterloo station and the train back to Liverpool.

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Speke orchids and Calderstones nature reserve, 16th June 2024

Leading southward from the Speke Road roundabout (by Dobbies garden centre) is Speke Hall Avenue, a busy dual carriageway with a wide central reservation. For the last few years the local authority has allowed this to grow into a wildflower meadow, with spectacular results.  This year there are over 100 Bee Orchids scattered through it, especially opposite the Travelodge hotel. Several MNA members have been to see them, and none have ever seen so many before. It’s a good year for them apparently, and there are reports of lots on the Sefton coast too.

Famously, they are showing Reproductive Mimicry, where the flower looks (and smells) like a female bee, inducing a male to attempt to mate, and after he fails, carries pollen to the next flower. But there didn’t seem to be any bees approaching these. Which bee have they evolved to fool? The books say that most UK Bee Orchids self-pollinate as the right bee (and most of the orchids) live further south in Europe. However, the Long-horned Bee Eucera longicornis is occasionally found here. There is a blog by a south Devon naturalist about a small colony near him and I found a picture of a female on Flickr, photographed at Pevensey Levels in 2011.  She does indeed look like a Bee Orchid.

The same wildflower verge had Buttercups, Ox-eye daisies, Knapweed, Red and White Clover, Ribwort Plantain, Ragwort, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Self-heal, lots of lovely grasses, but we didn’t see any Yellow Rattle.

Ox-eye daisy

One butterfly was, appropriately, a Meadow Brown and we also spotted this small beetle, bronze with a dark green head, probably a Garden Chafer.

Further south on the verge were more orchids, one each of a purple one, which might have been a Southern Marsh orchid, and a tall white one which might have been a Common Spotted orchid.

There were two dead animals on that busy road, a gory Grey Squirrel and a bundle of fluff and feathers which was probably a young Lesser Black-backed gull.

We lunched on a bench in the business park, by the side of the road called Estuary Banks, then caught a bus to Calderstones Park, where the Nature Reserve was having an Open Day. The site is a former Council brownfield site, partly concreted over and used as a dump. The park Friends started work in 2021. Despite their magnificent success so far, it has not yet become part of the wider park. It is usually locked up and is only open on special days.

Part of it is a huge Bramble and Nettle patch. They have left it as it is, not wanting to use harsh chemicals to remove it. It towers above head-height and is a fantastic bird habitat. We could hear a Song Thrush singing deep inside it, and the Merlin phone app also detected the otherwise invisible Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird and Blackcap.

The Friends had lists on display of everything seen in the last two years. They noted 30 bird species, about 25 invertebrates plus 12 butterflies and moths, six mammals (fox, hedgehog, grey squirrel, rat, field mouse and an unspecified vole) and over 60 species of wild flowers.

Viper’s bugloss

To one side a little path leads to Hartley’s Stone, named after Jesse Hartley, the Victorian engineer who designed the Albert Dock. He called for samples of granite from several suppliers, and this was the one from the winning bidder. His daughter Fanny gave it to the city.

I always look at trees, and noticed that the Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus seems to be producing very copious seeds this year. They have typical “helicopter” seed pairs, but note that the wings usually point straight down. By contrast, a small Field Maple Acer campestre, also in the Acer genus, had seeds with the wings pointing straight out.

Sycamore seeds
Field Maple seeds

Public transport details: 82 bus (towards Speke, not the ones to Hunt’s Cross) from Elliot Street at 10.17, arriving Speke Road / Speke Hall Road at 10.45. Then bus 86A from Estuary Bank / opp Leeward Drive at 1.08, arriving Mather Avenue / Rose Lane at 1.26. Returned from Mather Avenue / Rose Lane on the 86A at 3.11, arriving city centre at 3.25.

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Gorse Hill, 9th June 2024

It was a day of dark skies, blustery winds and sharp showers, just a typical June day!  We saw two notable trees today. The first was in a Long Lane garden, a Red Snake-bark Maple Acer capillipes. It has a distinctive leaf, dark green, with those small lobes on either side. The pale green stripy bark is equally distinctive and the long strings of small “helicopter” seeds clinch the ID.

The main area of Gorse Hill reserve was closed until 1pm so we took a public path northwards, through the painted gate off Holly Lane. There are tall hedges on either side, casting shade good for Foxgloves and Hogweed.

We could hear lots of birds – Blackbirds, Robin, Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, but we didn’t see any of them. This area of shrubby farmland is known for the now-uncommon Yellowhammer. The Merlin app on my phone heard one a couple of times, and also a Whitethroat, but all were invisible.
After lunch we looked at the main reserve’s new 5 acre wildflower meadow. They use it as a crop, cutting it in July or August to sell the sweet meadow hay in the local area. To stop it being trampled, they have cut paths in it to discourage off-piste wanderings.

It isn’t the showy “poppy and cornflower” municipal planting, but a quieter and more natural assemblage of Buttercup, Yarrow, Knapweed, Yellow Rattle, Common Sorrel, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Restharrow, Common Vetch, Scabious, mixed grasses, and many more.

Yellow rattle
Common Sorrel

Just inside the gate shown on the photo above, on the edge of the woodland, was our second Tree of the Day, a Wayfaring Tree Viburnum lantana. It is a British native, found most often in the south of England on chalky soils, and quite rare in Lancashire and Cheshire. There are two or three clumps of it on both sides of the woodland path.  It isn’t particularly pretty, but in autumn the berries ripen at different times, showing both red and black fruit in the same cluster.

Wayfaring tree – immature berries
Wayfaring tree leaves

We supported their café by having tea, and bought some freshly-harvested veg from their kitchen garden, then headed back to the train.

Public transport details: Ormskirk train from Central at 10.17, arriving Aughton Park at 10.45. Returned from Aughton Park at 3.10, arriving Sandhills 3.32.

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Birkenhead Park, 26th May 2024

We had planned to go to Gorse Hill, but a yellow weather warning of thunderstorms sent us to Birkenhead Park instead, a much shorter journey, and plenty of shelter if necessary.

We had a look at the detached triangular bit of the park along Park Road North called the Holts Garden. There were lots of Foxgloves planted in flowerbeds, magnets for bumble bees.

We also considered a huge White Willow with three trunks, looking as if three saplings were deliberately “bundle-planted” a long time ago. The Park opened 1847, so was this tight tree group planned by the designer Edward Kemp and is it now 177 years old?

There were Magpies on the grass, a Blackbird singing and a Mallard walking purposefully towards a flower bed, a long way from any lake. We also saw Robins and a Nuthatch later in the day and heard a Song Thrush.  We looked at the Stone Pines and the sick-looking Gingko and then our attention was drawn to three small trees covered with small white flowers like Hawthorn, but there were no obvious thorns, the leaves were different and they were flowering later than Hawthorn.  Clearly one of the rarer thorns. I think they were Hybrid Cockspur-Thorns Crataegus lavallei, because of the glossy leaves and absence of thorns, although the book says the flowers are supposed to have a red disc in the centre. However, the flowers were fading, possibly losing that spot.

Lots of lovely wild flowers in the lawns and verges. Ribwort Plantain, Bramble, Red Campion, Yellow Flag Iris on the lake verges, Daisies, Buttercups, Cow Parsley. On the Upper Park Lake we noted Moorhen, Mallard, a single Cormorant and several young families of Canada Geese. On the edge was a crèche of eight goslings, looking super-cute. They were probably two merged broods, because there were four adults around them.

This leaf of Field Maple had a scattering of yellow spots, probably the early sign of Red Pustule Gall, Aceria myriadeum.

Our second tree puzzle was on the edge of the Upper Park Lake, definitely some relative of the Horse Chestnut, but the leaflets were longer and thinner. Was it an American Yellow Buckeye or an Indian Horse Chestnut?  I think it was probably Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus flava, because the flowers had been yellow and there was no trace of pink in the leaf midribs.

At the western end of the lake a Dad and kids were throwing food to the birds on the bank, some kind of grain or seed mix. There were the usual Mallards, Canada Geese and Feral Pigeons muscling about after it, To our surprise a pair of Moorhens and their two half-grown chicks, usually so shy and retiring, were boldly going into the fray, hoping to get a share.

The parent Moorhens on the left, with red beaks, just one chick, front centre, head behind a leaf.

Just over the railings was a newly-planted tree with a nursery label.  We can never resist taking a look. It said Cydonia oblongata ‘Vranja’, half standard. I looked it up later and was surprised to see that it was Quince.  It used to be classified in the Pyrus genus, the pears, and there are pictures on the internet of profuse pear-shaped quinces. So what is the one with early red flowers and thorns that I call a quince? It seems the red-flowered shrub is the Japanese quince, Chaenomeles japonica. Its fruits are smaller and apple-shaped. So are they related? Yes, the next taxonomic step up from genus is sub-tribe and they are both in the Malinae. They are species “cousins”, not “siblings”.

There were plenty of Grey Squirrels around, approaching us in the hope of hand-outs.  There were also four large terrapins hauled out on a log. A passer by said there are a lot more in other places in the park. All terrapins and turtles in British park lakes are aliens, abandoned pets, and most are Red-eared Slider terrapins, popular since the Ninja Turtle boom of the 1980s. When the little ones bought for the kids’ home aquariums get too big, Dad sneaks them out to the park and dumps them. They say it is too cold here for them to breed, so they won’t become pests like Grey Squirrels are, but the world is warming …

As we headed to the visitors’ centre there were a few spots of rain, but there were no thunderstorms after all. We were amazed by the magnificent flower beds outside, full of tall high-quality bedding plants. They were far showier than we usually see in municipal parks with their tight budgets. A small sign revealed that they were sponsored by the Showtime ice-cream company, whose products are sold in the café.

As we ate our lunch, a Mistle Thrush was hunting on the hillock by the picnic tables.

On the corner by the Jackson memorial obelisk is a gorgeous Chinese Dogwood Cornus kousa. We usually come here in the autumn or winter, when it is uninteresting, so it is a treat to see it in flower.

Public transport details: New Brighton train from Central at 10.20, arriving Birkenhead Park Station 10.32. Returned on the 437 bus from Park Road North / Trinity Street at 1.35, arriving Liverpool 1.50.

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Ainsdale to Freshfield, 19th May 2024

We walked southwards today, along the inland edge of the Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR, which is about a mile from the sea. It was a hot and sunny day, but sometimes we were in shady woods.

Most of the early blossom has gone over, but a few of the Hawthorns were still in flower in shady sites. We thought these shrubs were also in bloom, but as we got closer we could see it was fluff, so these are probably female Goat Willows, sending out their floating seeds.

Ainsdale Pine Woods were on our right, and they were mostly all Corsican Pine, not the common Scots Pine. Corsican Pine is one of three varieties or subspecies of Pinus nigra. Corsican is var. maritima, Austrian Pine is var. nigra while the uncommon Crimean Pine is var. caramanica. I’m not sure why they aren’t different species, just varieties, and it’s all quite confusing. But Corsican Pine, as its variety name maritima suggests, does well on the coast, which is why it was planted here, to stabilise the back edge of the dunes. All the path edge was scattered with fallen cones.

This area isn’t far from the Formby Red Squirrel reserve, and the wayside signs say they also use these pinewoods. Some of the fallen cones showed signs of having been partially stripped for seeds by the squirrels, perhaps 10-20% of them, and I only saw one that was completely nibbled down.  So there are Red Squirrels here, but not as many as there could be.

Complete cone
Cone nibbled by squirrels, probably reds

Another common tree here was Sycamore, which we usually pass without comment. But I noticed that there is quite a lot of variability in the time of flowering and setting seed. All three of these are from different trees, but on the same day, in the same conditions.

Sycamore dangling flowers
Early seed pairs
Growing bunch of seeds

Further southward was a different group of Sycamores with noticeably red seed wings and some flowers still hanging below the developing seeds on the same panicle. Clearly a very variable species, but not “split” into varieties, like Pinus nigra, the pines mentioned above. The science of taxonomy is mysterious and impenetrable.

Seeds with red wings, and still flowers hanging on

We saw a Kestrel high overhead, and a Robin and a Carrion Crow hanging about the picnic tables.  We heard some Chaffinches, and some liquid song from top of a deciduous tree, which might have been made by a Mistle Thrush.  But birds kept a very low profile today. We did better with flowers. The Garlic Mustard is nearly finished, but we spotted Cow Parsley, Wood Avens, Buttercups, Daisies, one patch of Scarlet Pimpernel, Herb Robert, Red Campion and White Dead-nettle.

Cow parsley

A small plant by the wayside was similar to Bramble but it was lower, smaller and less aggressive. I think it was the uncommon Dewberry, which is a fixed dune specialist and known to be found here.

There were many butterflies about, but it was so warm, they were fast and active, too fast for me to photograph. Several Orange Tips, half a dozen Large Whites, two or three Speckled Woods. In one place there was a small butterfly, high-contrast orange and black, which we think was a Small Copper.  This path is known as the “Butterfly Route”, but we didn’t see as many individuals as we have seen in previous years. Numbers still declining, it seems.  

We crossed Formby Golf course, and emerged onto the closed end of a cul-de-sac called Montague Road. It’s one of the most expensive areas on Merseyside. The verge opposite the houses was semi-wild, but contained some garden escapes – Aquilegia and this lovely derivative of Meadow Cranesbill.

Public transport details: Southport train from Central at 10.23, arriving Ainsdale 1o.58. Returned on the 2.40 train from Freshfield.

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Fazakerley Bluebell woods, 28th April 2024

It’s Bluebell time, so we visited Liverpool’s best-known Bluebell Wood, tucked away behind Aintree University (Fazakerley) Hospital and HMP (His Majesty’s Prison) Altcourse. On the way down Higher Lane from the bus we spotted a wonderful combination of garden trees – a Laburnum in full bloom backed by a red Sycamore or Maple and the fresh green of what might be a Whitebeam.

The five hectares of old woods are now part of the NHS Forest, being gradually improved with new paths and new trees, and used for education and recreation. It’s a mix of mostly Beech, Oak and Scots Pine, with the Fazakerley Brook running eastwards through it towards the river Alt. Flowers underfoot included Lesser Celandine, Garlic Mustard, Hogweed and Red Campion.

Red Campion

The Bluebells were a mixture of the invasive Spanish types, with tall upright stems and flowers all around, and the native English Bluebells with nodding stems and flowers on one side. There are hybrids everywhere too, but this one seems mostly English.

The birds like this woodland. We spotted Wren, Blackbird, Blue Tits, Crows and a Collared Dove calling. A Buzzard crossed the path and disappeared, an unidentified little warbler (a Chiffchaff?) sat on a Bramble stem and in an area of pines we spotted one or maybe several Treecreepers.

It’s hard to say if this is an old or ancient woodland. Indicators of its age are the Bluebells, the Lesser Celandine and this quite old Yew tree, the largest tree we saw, which was probably several centuries old.

But in amongst the native trees were strange introductions, like Rhododendron, Cherry Laurel, a Monkey Puzzle tree, and a Red Horse Chestnut, as if this had been an estate of a rich Victorian gentleman. British History Online suggests there was once a Fazakerley Hall, possibly just a manor house, but it was sold soon after 1717 and not mentioned in historical records again. That’s too early for some of the introduced trees. A mystery. Here’s the Monkey Puzzle tree, not very old, badly shaded by the surrounding trees and sprouting new growth from low down on the trunk. They don’t usually do that.

There was a mystery about the Cherry Laurel too. It had grown with a pronounced lean, and the underside of the trunk was covered with large flat fungi, of a leafy or scaly type. The edges of it felt quite hard. I wonder what that is? (Added later: It’s Bleeding Broadleaf Crust Stereum rugosum. It’s supposed to “bleed” or turn red if you cut the surface. Thanks Sabena.)

We found a convenient log to sit on for lunch, and then visited the hospital facilities. On the other side of Lower Lane is “Fazakerley Hall and Recreation Ground”. It is just one path, with grass and shrubbery on either side, running for about half a mile along the banks of the Fazakerley Brook. The locals call it the “Donkey path” apparently, as someone once kept donkeys in a field on the other side of the brook.

It was surprisingly good for butterflies. There had been some Orange Tips in the woods and as we crossed the road a Brimstone flew past us. There was a Small White on a Dandelion and later we found a Speckled Wood resting on bare ground. That’s more species in one day than we’ve had for a while.

There was no special reason for the butterflies that I could see. Maybe it was just the first warm sunny day, perhaps the plentiful Daisies and Dandelions in the longish grass, with a few early Cuckoo flowers coming out. Or maybe it was the flowering native shrubs, like Hawthorn, Elder (just out) and the Dogwood in bud.

Early Hawthorn blossom

Public transport details: Bus 21 from Queen Square at 10.05, alighting Longmoor Lane / Seeds Lane at 10.36. We all went home different ways, but I took the 63 bus from outside the hospital at 2.02, which took me back to Crosby.

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Reynolds Park, 21st April 2024

We approached Reynolds Park from the back end, where the wildflower meadow is, but it was too early for much in the way of flowers. There were plenty of birds singing though, Blackbird, Robin, Wood Pigeon, a noisy Nuthatch and a possible Wren and a Blackcap. A passer-by mentioned Woodpeckers and Owls. As we headed towards the trees, there were Bluebells, looking like the invasive Spanish ones, and some clumps of Three-cornered leek.

In just a week the main deciduous trees have changed their bare winter appearance, and have started to put out their leaves. Here are Lime (Linden) and Beech with its flowers.

Breaking leaves of the Lime tree
Beech leaves and flowers

Some of the old Beech trees have marvellous networks of exposed roots while others have strangely lumpy trunks. You can see how legends started about wood fairies trapped in trees.

We spotted one very active blue butterfly heading up over a Holly hedge, so it was likely to be a Holly Blue. Nearby was a gorgeous red-blossomed Crab Apple and an unusual Sycamore, variety ‘Brilliantissimum’.  Its young leaves open a marvellous salmon-pink, before turning green in a week or two and becoming indistinguishable from an ordinary Sycamore.

Sycamore ‘Brilliantissimum’
Crab apple blossom

Another special variety (which we wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been labelled) was a Sweet gum Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’. This is a variety said to have particularly spectacular colour and also to reliably produce their spiky fruit in our climate.

On the sunken lawn was a tree we’d noticed before, with wavy vertical white stripes on its trunk and large three-pointed leaves. I think it’s the rare American snake-bark Maple called the Moose-bark Acer pensylvanicum.

At the entrance to the walled garden the Judas Tree was bursting with red flower buds. Some of the ornamental flower beds were finished, and over in the corner a Tulip Tree was putting out its distinctive leaves.

Judas tree buds
Emerging leaves of the Tulip Tree

We strolled down Church Road, past St Peter’s Church, where John Lennon was (briefly) a choirboy. There were no Beatles tourists in sight today.

After a stop in the big Tesco, we stuck our noses into the northern fields of Woolton Woods, but not the woods proper. In a shady spot was a Persian Ironwood tree, unfurling its new leaves.

Over beyond the mature trees lining the path were some young trees in planting cages. And they had labels, which always attracts our attention. They were called Ulmus lutece, and we eventually found eight of them dotted around the fields.

They are part of a huge experiment going on all over Europe, to breed new Elms to replace the mature ones destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s, an estimated 60 million in Britain alone. This new clone, sometimes called ‘Nanguen’ “has a complex parentage with Ulmus minor, galbra, Exoniensis and wallichiana all present in its genetic makeup.” It has been planted extensively in Paris, and rated 5 out of 5 on Dutch field tests.  This variety, together with the one called Lobel which we have spotted in Landican Cemetery, are ones to keep an eye on in years to come, in the hope they will live to become mature trees.

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Great Charlotte Street at 10.08, arriving Rose Brow / Seafarer’s Drive at 10.25. Returned from Woolton Village (Woolton Street / Allerton Road). We all got different buses, but I took the 75 at 2.11, arriving in the city centre at 2.45.

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