Croxteth Park, 19th March 2023

It always seems to rain when we go to Croxteth Country Park, but it wasn’t forecast for today, although it was grey and overcast. Instead of entering from the West Derby end, we took a different bus to the furthest entry point, the Kirkby Drive Gate, which leads to a large woodland area.  A Great Tit was calling and a Robin was singing. The woods were mixed Scots Pine, with tall bare twisty Oaks and a lot of straggly Rhododendrons, some being cleared. John, who used to be a volunteer warden here, said the Rhododendrons were originally planted when it was a shooting estate, to give cover to the baby pheasants.

The pale green Hawthorn leaves were coming out. We noticed several tall Lime trees next to the main path, with twiggy untrimmed (“epicormic”) growth around the bases of the trunks. Had this been a Lime avenue once upon a time?

It’s definitely spring now. In the gardens near me, the Magnolias are starting to flower, and also Forsythia and Camellia. In the woods we came cross a patch that had been a bit “gardened” as well, with patches of daffodils, primroses, spent snowdrops and some lovely blue Glory-of-the-Snow.

There was Dog’s Mercury at the edges of the paths, but not obviously in the woods themselves.  The Woodland Trust says it is “A poisonous coloniser of ancient woodland, quick to sweep over the wood floor, sometimes outcompeting more delicate ancient woodland species.” I didn’t know until today that there are separate male and female plants, and these are the male flower spikes. I didn’t notice the females.

The main tarmacked paths were well-used by dog walkers, but when we headed into the muddy and little-frequented area, we had it to ourselves. It all seemed very silent. Then we heard a woodpecker drumming, quite close. John used a stick on a log to drum back, and it worked. The bird drummed again in answer and came closer, inspected us from behind a tree, then flew off in disgust. No rivals here! There was a Tree Creeper dodging around the trunk of a tall tree and a Buzzard flew over. Evidence of the storms of a couple of years ago was still about, including this snapped and fallen oak.

We emerged from the woods opposite the Gamekeeper’s cottage near the old kennels. Daffodils and Primroses were scattered over the grass, making it as pretty as a chocolate box.

After a visit to the loos by the café block, we noticed a Monkey Puzzle tree in the shrubbery. The weak sunshine was catching what appeared to be new female cones at the ends of the branches, and making them look bright yellow. We knew that Monkey Puzzles come as separate male and female trees (dioecious), so we assumed the browner hanging structures further back were older female cones. However, I see on the Wild Flower Finder website that male cones look exactly like that. The website says “occasionally it is possible to find individual trees bearing both types of cone”, so that tree appears to be a special and unusual one.

There were Wild Garlic leaves sprouting by the Long Pond, and also this early Wild Cherry.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

There were Primroses on the bank by the way out to West Derby village, and Summer Snowflake on a corner near the car park.

The Highland cattle have had a productive spring, and we spotted five calves in a field with three adults, so there are probably two sets of twins. One of the calves was very pale-coloured.

The patch of wet grass near the village now looks almost like a proper pond. We looked for frogs or spawn, but no joy.

Public transport details: Bus 18 from Queen Square at 10.12, arriving Oak Lane North / Abbeyfield Drive at 10.35. Returned from Mill Lane / Town Row (West Derby village) on bus 12 at 2.33, arriving Liverpool at 2.55.

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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Ormskirk, 12th March 2023

What a mild day in comparison to the snow and ice we had in the week! My first (and only) interesting bird of the day was a Common Gull (which aren’t common at all nowadays) on the pavement in Queen Square in the city centre. At first glance it looked like an ordinary Herring Gull, but it was looking around with a bemused air, as if it was wondering how it got there, and then I noticed the dark eye and yellow-green legs. I wonder what made it stop in a bus station? Common Gulls are usually found in the middle of big playing fields or golf courses. Our destination today was Ormskirk, but we hopped on the Kirby train for a couple of stops to Sandhills, so we could ride on one of the fancy new ones, the first time for most of us.

Just outside of Ormskirk station, past the park-and-ride car park, is a triangular wooded area called Station Approach. It’s a 7 acre mixed wood and wildflower area on the footprint of old sidings and the former branch line to Skelmersdale. The trees are mostly tall Birches and young Oaks and in a few weeks they will stand in a carpet of Bluebells, Lesser Celandine and Wild Garlic. The signboard also promises meadow flowers and butterflies in early summer, and also rabbits and weasels. Today we noticed the Hawthorn and Elder leaves breaking out, a few flowers of Lesser Periwinkle and this patch of Coltsfoot.

A few woodland birds were moving about – Robin, Goldfinch, Dunnock – and there were Magpies in an adjacent field. In some broken tarmac, Wood Pigeons were bathing in the dirty puddles, possibly the first unfrozen water they have had for several days.

There is a pretty little park at the junction of Ruff Lane and St Helens Road called Victoria Park and Garden. We had our lunch there, spotting a Buzzard high overhead. We hunted for the pair of Ash-leaved Maple / Box Elder trees, hoping to see the bright pink clusters of catkins that the male trees show off at this time of year. We think we found the female tree, but not the male tree we were hoping for. There is a memorial obelisk in the park to Sergeant-Major Nunnerley of the 17th Lancers, a local man who had participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and survived to become an Ormskirk shopkeeper and local celebrity until his death in 1905.

After a pit stop in Morrison’s supermarket we headed into Coronation Park. Families were “feeding the ducks”, and we noted lots of Mallards, some of which were the domesticated white type, Canada Geese, a few Moorhens but no Coots. There were also a couple of Herring Gulls and a few Black-headed Gulls, none with leg rings. A couple of the BHGs still had white heads so late in the season. Are these young ones?

Beyond the park lake is a wetland area, edged with coppiced willow, and which is good for butterflies and wildflowers in summer. The signboard boasts of bats, amphibians and water-loving flowers like Purple Loosestrife, but there was nothing like that today. However, along the recently-cleared watercourse we spotted many holes in the bank. What made those, I wonder? If it was Water Voles, wouldn’t the sign have said so?

We cut around a fence into the graveyard of Ormskirk Parish Church. There were carpets of Daffodils, Crocuses and gone-over Snowdrops around the old Victorian gravestones. On the far side was a Birch tree covered with Witch’s broom.

It is thought to be caused by a fungus called Taphrina betulina, which infects the lateral buds that make twigs and side shoots and causes them to lose control and grow multiple stems in a tangled, disorganised manner. It takes many years to make big brooms, and it doesn’t seem to harm the tree. One branch of this one had broken off and we were able to see the broom close-up.

The oldest gravestones have been used to pave the area surrounding the church, and one of the oldest I could find records a baby girl aged 11 months who died in 1787.

Public transport details: Train from Sandhills to Ormskirk at 10.23, arriving 10.50. Train back from Ormskirk at 2.37, arriving Liverpool 3.10.

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Chester, 5th March 2023

Grosvenor Park was full of early spring blossom, and would have looked magnificent in sunshine, but the day was dull and overcast. The best display was this Cherry-Plum in spectacular flower at the north east corner.

There was a Moorhen and a pair of Mallards on the pond, and elsewhere the usual Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Wood Pigeons, the odd Blue Tit, and several confiding Blackbirds hoping for a hand-out.

The Magnolias were about to break their buds and there was a lovely Azalea out near the Rose Garden. Two Ravens followed each other overhead, heading northwards. Twice in the past we have seen sculptures made of willow in the park, of WWII planes for the RAF centenary and birds for the RSPB. They are the work of Sarah Gallagher Hayes, a local sculptor. Today we saw another work which must be hers, although there was no sign, a head of the late Queen, put up for the Platinum Jubilee. More pictures of her work are at her Twigtwisters website.

We headed down Little St John’s Lane to The Groves next to the River Dee. A Dylan sound-alike was singing Mr Tambourine Man.

There were several young Herring Gulls there, and dozens of Black-headed Gulls. We were looking for legrings. One ringed bird flew off before we could make out its code, but this one sat still for us, number 297A.

Later in the day I reported it on the new Waterbird Colour-marking Group website.  Their report said it was ringed at Chester in November 2021 as an adult and re-sighted there about 20 times since then, two or three times a month. However, there was an interesting gap last spring, between 12 Mar 2022 and 27 July 2022. For four months last year it was absent from Chester, and had probably gone back to its breeding grounds, wherever they are. I imagine it’s about to go off to breed again. We have already seen BHGs at Chester that breed in Norway and Poland, and the website has an interesting map of all the places that BHGs ringed in north west England go to breed – all over Europe.

We strolled back through the re-created Roman garden and past the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre.

Roman Garden
Roman amphitheatre

Rooks were nesting above the Cathedral and, along the canal, the Weeping Willow was just breaking into leaf.

Public transport details: Chester train from Central Station at 10.15, arriving 10.55.  Returned on 2.30 train, arriving Liverpool Central at 3.15.

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Royden Park, 26th February 2023

It was a good day for mystery trees, but our first corker was immediately identifiable, a yellow-flowering Mimosa seen from the bus, growing next to the Esso garage in Greasby. How did that get there? We took the bridleway west of Frankby Cemetery, sheltered from the chilly wind. Two horses and riders came past us. In the adjacent open field were Redwings, and a few busy Goldfinches. There is an old sandstone wall along Montgomery Hill, and we stopped to look at this fern emerging from it. Something unusual? No, I think it’s Common Polypody Polypodium vulgare.

Happily, Royden Park’s walled garden is open again now that they have repaired the damage caused by 2022’s winter storms (see my blog of June 2022). There were plenty of little birds flitting about – Robin, Dunnock and various tits, and it is ready for spring.

The shrubs are starting to sprout, including Forsythia, catkins on the Contorted Hazel and this red Dogwood.

Next to some old metal steps and doorway was a small tree breaking into blossom, looking rather Japanese. It’s the hybrid Viburnum bodnantense, one of the loveliest examples I have seen.

Just outside the gate are several very tall trees, which are some sort of conifer. The bark looked rather “primitive”.  The foliage was so high up we had to use binoculars, and it turned out to look a bit like Yew. Not that of course. Some sort of Redwood? After consulting books at home I am leaning towards them being one of the Silver Firs, genus Abies, which are known to grow straight to that sort of height. Perhaps Grand Fir because of the flattened Yew-like foliage. (Added later: more likely to be the European Silver Fir Abies alba, which has that white bark.)

On Roodee Mere were the usual Mallards, Coots, Canada Geese and Moorhen, one Common Gull and a Black-headed Gull with no dark head plumage at all.  A former park ranger of our acquaintance is said to have been on the radio last week, opining that the ones with black heads are the males! (In reality they all have the same plumage, they just change at different times, probably depending on their age.). A Buzzard called overhead. The park managers have been busy felling old trees and clearing Rhododendron, with patches of new tree planting. They have been clearing shrubbery in Frankby Cemetery, too, although we spotted a very pale shoot of Flowering Currant emerging from Laurel shrubbery.

The Cemetery lake had Moorhen, Coot and Mallard. This pond also had signs up warning passers-by not to feed the birds because of bird flu. We noticed that the Mallards had an early reflex to head towards us, but stopped very soon, and didn’t approach the bank, so it looks like people are complying. On the way out we saw a very odd tree. It’s the bare upright conical one with reddish bark, emerging from the shrubbery.

Closer up the bark looked even more orangey, and it was fairly soft. The trunk was wide and lumpy at the bottom. Oddest of all was the display of pink buds or catkins at the top, just on the sunny southern side. What on earth is that?  I wonder if it is a Dawn Redwood?  The shape is right, and soft orangey bark is right. As for the pink stuff, Mitchell says their shoots are “pinkish-green or pale purple”, so maybe this is an effect only seen fleetingly, perhaps just for a day or two. As always, we need to look at this tree again in a different season.

Public transport details: Bus 437 (West Kirby) from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Frankby Road opp. Frankby Stiles at 10.45.  Returned on 437 at 2.29 from Frankby Road opp. Frankby Green, arriving city centre at 3.05.

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Sefton Park, 23rd February 2023

This was an MNA midweek short walk, starting at the café at the south end of the lake at 11.00. There were 15 of us, including some newer members, although some had to leave early. It was a bright, brilliantly sunny day, and even the chilly northern breeze didn’t penetrate far into the park.

Birds on the lake included Mallard, Coot, Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls (a few with fully-“black” heads), immature Herring Gulls, Mute Swans, a few Moorhen, one or two Little Grebes, a Tufted Duck and the single male Gadwall, who has been there since early November.

Black-headed Gull with fully “black” head

Around the park we saw Blackbirds, Goldfinch, a Greenfinch, a Ring-necked Parakeet, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker near the Fairy Glen, after we heard it drumming. The Kingfishers are said to be back, but although we looked, we saw no flashes of blue. There were also reports of even more exciting birds. Jenny had heard that a Water Rail had been seen recently somewhere in the park, and somone else had heard that one Monk Parakeet had joined the Ring-necks. It is similar, with green plumage, red beak and a long tail, but it has no neck ring and it has a barred front. We didn’t see it, but keep a lookout!

A few trees strut their stuff at this time of year and become easily recognisable. The Hazel has catkins, as do the Common and Italian Alders.

Italian Alder catkins and last years’s cones

The male Yew trees have their tiny clusters of poilen sacs, and shed clouds of pollen when shaken. There is a Winter-flowering Cherry by the Gothic Fountain. The Persian Ironwood on the bank by the Fairy Glen had its flowers just going over.

The biggest tree surprise was a very early Norway Maple, which had burst into flower in a south-facing corner by the path junction below the Palm House.

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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Walton Park Cemetery and Rice Lane City Farm, 19th February 2023

It’s been nearly eight years since we were last here, not sure why.  The land that is now Walton Park Cemetery was once the Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, then became the burial place of the poor who died in Liverpool and Walton Workhouse hospitals. It is consecrated ground, not available for development, so part of it is the city farm and the rest is recreational woodland.  Some old graves still line the two main paths.

The small birds were getting busy, including Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Greenfinch, Long-tailed Tits, a Coal Tit and some Chaffinches feeding on the ground. Robins were singing and a Wren flashed across the path. Magpies flew between the distant trees and a Sparrowhawk cruised overhead. The woodland is mostly Oak and Ash with an understory of coppiced Hazel, Holly and Ivy. Bluebell leaves were pushing up everywhere and there were large patches of Snowdrops.

There was a row of very old gravestones laid flat next to the woodland path. The oldest commemorated “Henery son of Henery Tyrer died September ye 18th 1746”. The parents and another sister and brother are recorded as dying in 1758, 1766 and 1767.

The most famous grave is that of the socialist author Robert Tressell, who wrote The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists. He died of TB in 1911 and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave along with 12 others.  The location of his grave was re-discovered in the 1970s and is now marked with a large stone under an overhanging Hazel. Flowers and tubs of plants are still being left in his memory.

His grave is near to the back entrance gate on Hornby Road, opposite Liverpool prison, with the old Walton Gaol buildings standing like a castle keep beyond the modern prison walls.

Scattered in amongst the Victorian graves are some of the simple markers of fallen WWI soldiers put up by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Unusually, there are also about a dozen Dutch War Graves from WWII, clustered in a neatly-mown area next to the farm pastures. They seem to have been naval labourers originating from the Far East (Indonesians?), and appear to have had only one name. A Commonwealth grave is there too, to a “fireman and trimmer” (= stoker) called Ali Mohamed, whose stone bears wonderful Arabic calligraphy.

Dutch war graves
CWGC gravestone, Muslim and Arabic.

There is a newly-planted orchard, and the labels on the saplings promise Pear, Apple, Cherry and Damson. When the sun came out around lunchtime we spotted a Red Admiral butterfly on the wing, which must have been tempted out of hibernation by the spell of warm weather. The rare-breed Ryeland sheep are all expecting lambs in April.

After lunch we went into the farmyard, observing their boot-disinfection measures to protect against bird flu. The poultry are all enclosed, as they were at Tam O’Shanter last week. They have some chickens, doves and Guinea Fowl as well as the sheep, pigs, a pony and a donkey. The two Saanen goats (sisters called Iris and Daffodil) have been given some old children’s playground equipment to climb on, and I wondered if this one was going to slide!

We left the farm and took the short footpath along the railway line to the residential street also called Walton Park, crossed Rice Lane and went into the little park on the corner of Evered Avenue by the old Library. A tree there was just bursting into flower. This must be Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera, which has the first white blossom of spring, blooming a couple of weeks before Blackthorn. Cherry Plum flowers have stalks (as these do) while Blackthorn flowers don’t, apparently. I have never inspected Blackthorn closely enough and I ought to do.

I heard last week that pundits think this will be an excellent spring for all types of blossom, as the weather conditions have been just right. The Quince bush in my front garden seems to be living up to those expectations.

Public transport details: Bus 21 (to Northwood) from Queen Square at 10.05, arriving Rice Lane / Rawcliffe Road at 10.25. We all returned on different buses from Rice Lane / Fazakerley Road at about 2.20

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Flaybrick / Tam O’Shanter, 12th February 2023

There’s not a lot to see at Flaybrick at this time of year, although we visited the Tibetan Cherry and stroked its lovely ruby-red shining bark.

Last February we spotted some newly-planted Holly trees, with oddly symmetrical leaves, and thought they were the variety ‘Nelly Stevens’, which is said to have lots of red fruit without the need for pollination. They appear to have lived up to expectations, with plenty of berries set in the first autumn since planting.

We went over to Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm for lunch. They seem to have had an infusion of new life, funding and enthusiasm. There was a new kids playground, new fences, new little huts being built, new walkways, fences and gates, more picnic tables, and many more families visiting. One area had marked-out vegetable plots with the names of local primary schools, and they have even cleaned out the pond, possibly for pond-dipping sessions.

There were half a dozen Redwings in the Alpaca field.

The first Hawthorn leaves were breaking.

A member of staff and three young volunteers were cutting Ivy in the enclosure of the Kunekune pigs. It wasn’t for the fat little pigs, but they eagerly snaffled any of the fallen bits.

The Ivy was a treat for the Alpine goats, Norma and Noel. It made me think of the old nonsense song “Mersey Doats” and the line “a kiddlea tyviettoo”

All the domestic birds were enclosed, and there were bowls of disinfectant dip for everyone’s boots, measures against the spread of bird flu.  They have ducks, chickens and Guinea Fowl and the ducks had a couple of tiny paddling pools to mate in. There was a sign up about it, for the benefit of the kids.

Public transport details: Bus 437 (West Kirby) from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Upton Road / Boundary Road at 10.30. Returned from the opposite stop on the 437 at 1.45, arriving city centre at 2.05.

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New Brighton, 5th February 2023

We walked down from the station to the seafront, where the tide was nearly fully in. The shorebirds can’t access the sand and mudflats then, and they used to gather on the pontoons in the Marine Lake. However, since the opening of the Wild Waves attraction next to their snoozing spot, the birds seem, not unnaturally, to have been scared off by the big blue inflatable platforms and frolicking families. Today we were happy to see that all the inflatables have gone, and the birds are coming back.

There were Redshank (the bigger ones with the long red legs), Turnstone (dark brown backs, shorter red legs) and Dunlin (the smallest ones, light brown, short black legs).

There were also two Cormorants and a juvenile Herring Gull, looking huge in comparison to the diminutive waders. A man passing by said porpoises (presumably Harbour Porpoises) are often seen around the Fort at high tide. We ambled along, watching the bay and the river, but no porpoises. But we did see a flock of about 30 Cormorants heading out to sea past the lighthouse. We haven’t seen so many together before. There wasn’t much more wildlife to see, but we mooched about, watching the life of the river. The New Brighton Lifeboat had gone out on a practice run into the bay and we watched it return to its trailer and being tractored back ashore.

After lunch we walked around the corner of Wirral, going south, and found there was a strong cold wind blowing into our faces. We hurried past the remains of the kid’s pirate ship, the Black Pearl.

Our destination was Vale Park, where we looked at their new Celebration Garden, where the bereaved can arrange to have memorial stone to their loved one set into the paving. This is just for remembrance, not ashes. We inspected the new flower beds, and found two newly-planted shrubs with tags saying they were Viburnum burkwoodii, new ones to us. They bear large pom-poms of white flowers and are said to be very fragrant. We also looked for the park’s Mulberry (on the corner of the path north west of the band pavilion) and also spotted a Camperdown Elm on the other side of the railings. Many that we knew of have died in the last few years, so it’s good to see a survivor. They also have a well-grown Silk Tassel bush Garrya elliptica, looking spectacular at this time of year.

On the other side of the river we spotted Everton Football Club’s new stadium under construction at Bramley-Moore Dock.

There’s a large plant growing in the rocks and sand on the corner opposite the Floral Pavilion theatre. I think it’s a Tree Mallow Lavatera arborea.

It’s close to the finger post showing “New Brightons of the World.”

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.20, arriving New Brighton 10.45. Returned on bus 432 at 2.24 from King’s Parade / Morrisons, arriving city centre at 2.50.

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Sefton Park, 29th January 2023

Back to Sefton Park on a mild, overcast day, with an occasional chilly breeze. Just by the path descending to the southern end of the lake was a lovely surprise, a small tree with emerging pink blossom. I think it is Winter-flowering Cherry Prunus x subhirtella, a hybrid originating in Japan, and unknown in the wild.

People were feeding the birds, as usual, and the Canada Geese and Coots were fighting to get it.

Several of the Coots were ringed, and we managed to read a couple of the codes. Later I discovered there is a much-improved system for reporting them, a website called the Waterbird Colour-marking Group.  It allows you to report British-ringed Coots, Black-headed-Gulls, Curlews, Barnacle, Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese, Moorhen, Shelduck and Wigeon. And it returns the results immediately from their database.  The Coots we saw, LRF and LAN, had both been ringed in the park within the last few years, so weren’t exciting wanderers. 
The usual birds were present in big numbers. Coots, of course, Feral Pigeons and Mallards. Spring was stirring up the Canada Geese, and many of the males were trying to impress their partners by honking for all they were worth.

Further out were two Mute Swans, last year’s cygnets apparently gone. Some Moorhens were pottering about on quiet grassy banks, minding their own business. One solo male Gadwall, possibly the same one as we saw on 6th November, was attracting the interest of a female Mallard. There were about a dozen male Tufted Ducks, but only one female. What’s happening there?

The female is second from the left

A lady passing by, seeing our binoculars, directed us up the western bank to a spot where there were bird feeders which usually attracted Ring-necked Parakeets. A couple of them were perching high in the trees. We also spotted this interesting fungus on a fallen log. It was some sort of small white bracket, frilly and looking rather like scallop shells. The older ones were a browner colour, but all were soft and flexible.  I’m not good at fungi, but it might be from the genus Seletocutis, although they are said to be hard to differentiate.

The Witch Hazel near the café was in full bloom and nearby was the bushy evergreen Sweet Box, Sarcococca confusa. It blooms in winter, and its white flowers have a strong sweet scent likened to honey or vanilla.

The lady who had directed us to the Parakeets had also said she thought Kingfishers were back in the park. We went along past the aviary but saw no sign of one. There might have been a Goldcrest in a Scots Pine overhead, but it was too deep in the foliage to be sure. There was another flowering tree on the corner by the Eros fountain, a Bodnant Viburnum Viburnum x bodnantense, and the sun also caught the wonderful stems of the Red-stemmed Dogwood.

After getting cold while sitting for lunch, we went into the Palm House to warm up. Our impression was that many of the plants seemed to have had a recent problem, with sections of dry, brown leaves.  There were also biological pest control tags hanging among the branches, containing tiny pupae of a parasitic wasp used to control whitefly.

South of the Palm House is an area where there are bird feeders on both sides of the path. A Jay flew in and looked at us, but when we scattered seed on the path, all we got was this poor male Chaffinch, with something wrong with his feet. It appears to be something well-known in Chaffinches, and is caused by either a papillomavirus, or by Cnemidocoptic mites. The BTO says about 3-4 per cent of Chaffinches get this, and it is more common in winter, suggesting the affected birds are from the seasonal influx of migratory birds from mainland Europe. This poor little fellow was gobbling the easy food we had supplied and seemed less timid than usual. Hunger had overcome caution. 

There was a very decorative feeder hanging on the other side of the path, well patronised by Blue Tits and Great Tits, and also a few Long-tailed Tits.

A small Hazel shrub was showing off its catkins (male flowers), and also the tiny female flowers with their protruding red stigmas.

As we made our way back along the east side of the lake, we spotted a single Little Grebe by the island, and we were struck by how many people (and dogs) were out, and also how many more birds had congregated since the morning. There must have been getting on for 300 Black-headed Gulls wheeling above the places where people were scattering food. Very few had black heads coming in, but not all had juvenile plumage. Perhaps one- or two-year olds, not yet mature?

On the far side of the lake a young man was sitting on a bench playing a guitar and singing “The Fool on the Hill” (quite well). His song carried gently over the water. 

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Elliot Street at 10.10, arriving Aigburth Road opposite Ashbourne Road at 10.30. Returned on 82 bus from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane at 2.50, arriving city centre 3.10.

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Birkenhead Park, 22nd January 2023

It was a cold day for our first Sunday walk of 2023, a few degrees above freezing, but at least it wasn’t slippery underfoot. We had limited choice of where to go because all south-bound buses were diverted and disrupted by the Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown, all Northern Line trains were off because of engineering works, and we though it was too cold for anywhere on the coast, so we hopped on a bus to Birkenhead Park.

There was thin ice still hanging on in the middle of the lake, but around the edges there were the usual park denizens. Coots, Mallards, Moorhens, Canada Geese and Mute Swans. A Cormorant sailed by in breeding plumage, with striking white patches about its face.  One Mallard flew in to splash down on the water, but hit an icy bit and executed a wonderful controlled slide of about 30m (100 feet), almost to the bank. A juvenile Herring Gull was strutting about on it.

There were Blue Tits and Great Tits flitting about, Starlings making whistling calls from high in the trees and a Song Thrush was foraging on the grass. We stopped to look at some Long-tailed Tits in some Holm Oak and Holly near the Boat House, and spotted a Goldcrest quite low down. It was in continuous motion, so impossible to catch in a good pose, but one of the pictures I took is at least recognisable as a Goldcrest.

The Visitors’ Centre has blue plaques to both of the famous landscape architects William Paxton and Edward Kemp, who designed and built the historic park from 1843 onwards. Some of the old trees may yet be their original plantings.

In winter it is easier to spot some strange root and trunk formations. There is a Yew with a twisted stem and some wonderful exposed Beech roots on a bank.

We saw only one newly-planted tree, which wasn’t possible to identify at a distance behind its elaborate four-stakes-and-chicken-wire cage, but a sign said it was part of the Queen’s Green Canopy, planted for the Platinum Jubilee in 2022. It will be something of a memorial, if it lives. One Hazel tree had its catkins out and we found the rather sick-looking Persian Ironwood tree in a little glade off the path north of the footbridge (by the exercise machine called Seated Chest Press). It had a few of its early crimson-in-black flower buds breaking open. Weeping willows are very “blonde” at this time of year, because the bark on the hanging twigs is surprisingly yellow.

Hazel catkins
Persian Ironwood flowers
Weeping willow twigs

After lunch we crossed Ashville Road to the upper park.  There is a Turkish Hazel tree opposite the  Victorian post box and it also had catkins out, but they are darker than those of common Hazel.  Alder trees are easily identifiable at this time of year by their little cones and emerging catkins. One by the upper lake had Crows on it, apparently eating something. Was it the tiny seeds left in the old cones, or were they after the new catkins? They had to be pretty hungry in either case.

Quite a few people were putting out seed for well-loved resident Robins, but the hordes of pigeons soon descended and gobbled it all up.

The only new bird on the upper park lake was a single female Tufted Duck, but lurking in the far shrubbery was a Heron.

I claimed my first sign of Spring on 18th December, a Black-headed Gull at West Kirby with its black head coming in. Since then I have been keeping my eye open for others. Second was the Witch Hazel in my garden, flowering on about 7th January. A Silk Tassel tree had its long catkins dancing in the wind on 13th January. 

Witch Hazel
Silk Tassel tree catkins

Today we saw Hazel and Alder catkins, and Persian Ironwood flowers. I was also looking out for Snowdrops. The ones in my garden seem to be late, and there were none in Birkenhead Park. I spotted one just-emerging clump in a dark corner of Victoria Park on the way home.

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving Park Road N / Birkenhead Park at 10.35. Returned from Park Road N / Duke Street on 437 bus at 1.52, arriving Liverpool 2.05.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Birkenhead Park, 22nd January 2023