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.
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.