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.

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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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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Landican Cemetery, 14th April 2024

We got off the bus a bit earlier than usual and entered Landican by the footpath at the northern end, off Woodchurch Road, just past the bus stop. It was a rough farm lane, with horses in the fields to the left. Along the edges the first Garlic Mustard, was in bloom, also early stands of Cow Parsley, some bluebells staring to flower and some Herb Robert. There was a bumble bee with a ginger thorax, which I guessed was a Carder Bee, but it’s too early for them, so it must have been a Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum. It’s a species which was new to the UK in 2001, and has been spreading northwards.

Early Cow Parsley

A pair of Dunnocks was investigating a thick hedge, and as we entered the cemetery we could hear a Song Thrush, high up and quite close, but we couldn’t find it in the tree we were sure the sound was coming from. All around were the calls of Robins, Blackbirds, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Blue Tits and Great Tits  A Rowan tree was about to bloom.

The main attraction of Landican at this time is the Cherry trees. Large pink ones everywhere, and some with white blossom. They have also planted lots of ornamental Crab Apples with red flowers.

The whole place appears very neat and tidy, mowed and weeded, with just Dandelions and Daisies in the lawns.  However, the eastern edge is far less manicured. Some areas are marked as “Biodiversity Buffers”, where they mow far less often, and signs explain that it might look less tidy but provides. homes, shelter and food for wildlife.

Another spot is the re-burial ground for St Mary’s Birkenhead, whose graves and markers were moved in the 1950s when Cammell Laird’s expanded their dry dock. This area is now designated as a wildlife conservation area. There were several butterflies speeding about –  a couple of Orange Tips and a grey-brown one, which might have been a Speckled Wood, maybe a moth.  A Pheasant called from the edge, and we saw him later, walking with a pronounced limp.

We were hoping for Hares, but we didn’t see any. However we fell into conversation with two fellows walking about, who said they see lots of them in the evening when they are in their cars, and sometimes the Hares are just sitting in the roadways. They also said the area is regularly used by Green Woodpeckers in the summer, who nest in Arrowe Park but come onto the cemetery lawns for the ants.  There was a Pied Wagtail on the chapel roof, and Greenfinch and Goldfinch on the feeders at the back.

We walked around the far southern end, now an active burial area, and a bit open.  New young trees are being planted here, including a young Tulip Tree. By the natural burial area, there was a young oak tree, hardly in leaf, but bearing last year’s marble galls.

Public transport details: Bus 472 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.14, arriving Woodchurch Road / Arrowe Park Road at 10.40. Returned from Arrowe Park Road / opp Landican Cemetery on the 471 bus at 2.25, arriving Liverpool 3.00.

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Botanic Gardens, Churchtown, 7th April 2024

Our first treat this morning had nothing to do with wildlife or the gardens, it was a crocheted post box topper on the corner of Preston New Road and Marshside Road showing Postman Pat, his cat and his van. The attached label said it was by crochet group, the Southport Hookers. Brilliant!

At the entrance to Botanic Gardens the border was an eye-popping mix of primulas and tulips in shades of red, yellow and orange.

Around the edge of the Fernery lawns some young trees with bronze leaves were in white flower. I guessed Snowy Mespil, Amelanchier spp. It’s a North American tree, very often recommended for small gardens, and also named Juneberry or Serviceberry.  The ID was confirmed by the memorial labels. Usually such tributes just name the deceased friend or relative, but these had the tree species name as well. Most commendable. It was strange that two apparently identical trees were said to be of different species. One was Amelanchier lamarckii, said to be the most sought after kind, spreading and multi-stemmed, with pendulous flowers.  The other was labelled Amelanchier canadensis, said to be a shrub with more upright blossoms. They looked the same to me.

Tree labelled as Amelanchier lamarckii
Flowers of A. lamarckii, said to have pendulous flowers
Flowers of A. canadensis said to have “more upright” flowers

It had been gusty in the morning, with Storm Kathleen just passing over, but the high winds eased off after lunch. The lake had a pair of Mute Swans, some Mallards and Moorhens, and about a dozen Tufted Duck, all apparently coupling up. Do they breed here? I don’t think I have ever seen Tuftie ducklings.

Horse Chestnut trees spread branches right over the water, and I spotted my first flower of the year.

Near the northern gate is an open area with some unusual conifers planted there. On the southern edge of that area we spotted what appeared to be a tree signboard, but we had to duck below overhanging branches to reach it. Amazingly it was a Paperbark Maple Acer griseum tucked away close to some other trees and overshadowed by Rhododendron. It is growing tall and thin, high up into the canopy, trying to get some light. We never saw any leaves.

Why on earth would it be planted there? It can’t be an accidental germination. On Countryfile this weekend they showed a scientist at Westonbirt saying germination of Acer griseum is so low they have to X-ray the seeds to see which ones are viable. To further add to the mystery, there is a large sign below it, implying it’s number 11 on a Tree Trail. On the way out we asked in the café if they had a tree trail leaflet, but the staff looked quite mystified at the very idea!

Also on the way out we looked over the racks of plants for sale, There are always bargains to be had. I came home with an unusual Aubrietia ‘Blue blush bicolour’, while another of the group got eight Primulas for a pound.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards Southport at 10.24, alighting Hillside at 11.01. Bus 47 from outside Hillside Station at 11.18, arriving Preston New Road / Marshside Road at 11.36. Returned from Botanic Road opp Gardens on the 49 bus at 2.05, arriving Lord Street / Monument at 2.19, just in time for the 2.27 train to Liverpool.

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Greenbank Park, 31st March 2024

Greenbank Park is on land formerly belonging to the Rathbone family, Liverpool philanthropists for nearly 200 years. Their residence, Greenbank House is nearby, and bears a blue plaque.  Liverpool Corporation bought some of their land in 1897, with the stipulation that it should be maintained as an open space for the public.

It was a bright and sunny Easter Sunday, with Norway Maple starting to bloom on Smithdown Road, and more Willow catkins in the park.

There were Pied Wagtails on the lawns, Canada Geese sleeping on the edge of lake, Mallards, Moorhen, and Coots.

A Blackbird and two Blue Tits were rummaging on a chippings pile, which must have had worthwhile insects to forage for.

A pair of Ring-necked Parakeets were seeing off an interloper, and then they returned to their inspection of a hole on the side of a large Plane tree overhanging the lake.

Nuthatches were calling, but we didn’t see any of them. However, there was a very alert Mistle Thrush on the open playing field next to the park.

In the Old English Garden, a lady was “hiding” egg-shaped toys for a toddler’s Easter Egg Hunt later in the day. They were really in plain sight at toddler’s eye level, so none would be disappointed. The garden has been smartened up recently, but still has some filling-out to do.

After lunch we headed down Greenbank Lane to Sefton Park. The old Cherries are blooming well.

On the MNA short walk to Sefton Park on Tuesday 12th March we stood and watched a juvenile Swan being pursued around the boating lake, probably by its father, who was urging it to go away and start a new life. It may be the very same young bird which is now hanging about on the small waterway between the William Rathbone Statue and the Palm House. It is still being harassed. As we watched, a Canada Goose flapped at it, and even a Coot made an aggressive rush at it. Poor cygnet, not one of life’s adventurers, obviously.

There were two Great Crested Grebes on the main lake, a few Tufted Duck, and a couple of  Coot’s nests.

The great masses of Daffodils up on the banks at the southern end were looking terrific, and some young people were looking for Instagram moments.

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Elliot Street at 10.02, arriving Smithdown Road / Borrowdale Road at 10.20.  Returned from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane on he 82 bus at 1.55.

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Wirral Way, Hooton to Hadlow Road, 24th March 2024

We were at the West Kirby (northern) end of the Wirral Way a couple of weeks ago, but the southern end starts next to Hooton station. We have never walked the whole length in one go, it’s 12 miles, but we dip in and out at various places. It was dry today, with occasional sunshine and a cold wind. There was a notice on the access path, saying rangers will be doing work on the trees during the year. We saw cut scrub and piles of wood chippings, but work has now stopped until the birds have finished nesting. Later in the year they will be renovating and widening the path surface. Several tree species are already bursting into bud and flower, including this lovely Blackthorn.

The Hawthorn is greening and in a sheltered spot one tree had produced very early buds. Those shallowly-lobed leaves suggest it’s a Midland Hawthorn, but that isn’t supposed to be flowering this early either.

There was gentle birdsong all along. We stopped to listen to one and couldn’t decide if it was a Great Tit (tea-cher, tea-cher) or a Chiffchaff. We know both, but it could have been either. I had just loaded the Merlin birdsong app onto my phone, and it said Chiffchaff. There were some other unmistakeable Chiffchaffs during the day, so no idea why this one was singing with an accent!  Merlin also correctly ID’d Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robin, Long-tailed Tits, Greenfinch and Goldfinch, and it also detected the song of a Blackcap that we were completely unaware of.

Wildflowers included Lesser Celandine and Coltsfoot, and a single patch of Wild Garlic, not yet in flower. A shy little Violet was nodding on a bank, which I think was Early Dog-Violet, but everything is early nowadays!

There were occasional groggy bumble bees, zig-zagging erratically. More tree flowers – I think these three are Wild Cherry, Cherry Laurel and Bird Cherry.

Wild Cherry Prunus avium
Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus
Bird Cherry Prunus padus

Hadlow Road station, now preserved as a relic of the past, was packed with people having coffee and cake. On the other side were some lovely Flowering Currant bushes.

On the way back we spotted a Brown Hare running through a field on the southern side. There were Buzzards over Hooton Station and the Horse Chestnuts were just breaking their sticky buds.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards Chester at 10.15,  arriving Hooton at 10.40. Returned from Hooton at 3.00, arriving Liverpool 3.35.

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Kew Woods, 17th March 2024

Kew Woods is a former landfill site off Town Lane, Southport, planted up by the Forestry Commission in 2001 as a community woodland. We came here in February 2017 and January 2018, before the pandemic, when there was a direct route by the 300 bus. That bus has since been re-routed, so we tried a different way, via Formby Station and the 44 bus. It took a bit longer but at least it gave us an opportunity to admire the spring shrubs at their peak in suburban gardens – Magnolia, Forsythia, Camellia and early Cherry blossom. It’s a lovely time of year.

Dobbie’s Garden Centre is right next to the woods, and as we passed we looked at this lovely clump of Snake-Head Fritillaries in the beds by the entrance.

The woods are a mix of open grassland and woody edges, and were planted with native trees such as Birch, Pine, Holly, Hazel, Goat Willow and Blackthorn. They still have plenty of growing to do. Some of the Hazel was multi-stemmed and planted in rows, looking as if it was intended for coppicing.

There are still some farm fields at the northern edge, and a couple of male Pheasants were strutting along.

Despite the occasional brief shower, the day was mostly sunny, encouraging the little birds to flit about their business. We spotted Blue Tits, Great Tits, a Greenfinch, some Long-tailed Tits, a few Robins, a Blackbird bathing in a puddle and this Dunnock in a prominent position on a bramble. Dunnocks usually skulk in the undergrowth all year round, except when they are forming territories and attracting a mate.

Early flowers included carpets of Lesser Celandine and several clumps of Coltsfoot.

Lesser Celandine

There was lots of “Pussy Willow” (Goat Willow Salix caprea) in late flower but we realised we were a bit perplexed about all the apparently different structures. Some were clusters of green spiky things, earlier ones are grey silky buds (the strokeable “pussies”), while others were obviously bedraggled pollen-bearing tufts. We had forgotten (if we ever knew) that Goat Willow is dioecious, meaning it has separate male and female trees. The spiky structures are the female flowers, which form the seeds. The silky ones are the male flowers before the yellow stamens emerge.

Female “flowers” of Goat Willow. The little brown tips are the styles where the pollen lands.
Male “flowers” of Goat Willow. On the left is a silky immature one with pollen anthers emerging.
On the right is one gone over and bedraggled by the rain.

On the northern edge, opposite a Blackthorn hedge, there was a carpet of Lesser Celandine on a north-facing bank next to Fine Jane’s Brook.  Surprisingly, several butterflies were on the wing. Two were Peacocks and two were Commas. Amazing what a bit of sun brings out!

Comma butterfly

On the way back to the bus we passed three old and rotted Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) under a small Hawthorn tree. Fresh ones emerge from June to September and are edible when they are white all over and all through. These were brown and weathered, although they still produced spores when kicked.

Public transport details: Southport train from Central at 10.23, arriving Formby at 10.53. Up the stairs and across the road to the bus stop at Formby Bridge for the 44 bus at 11.10, arriving Town Lane Kew/Bentham’s Way (outside Dobbie’s) at 11.35. Returned from the same bus stop on the 44 at 2.31, arriving Eastbank Street, Southport at 2.45, in time for the 2.57 train to Liverpool.

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Kew Woods, 17th March 2024