Croxteth Park, 17th September 2023

Heritage Open Days gave us a treat: not only was Croxteth Hall open, but also the old walled garden, which used to provide flowers, fruit and vegetables for the Great House. An old photo on display showed a posed group of 28 gardeners about 100 years ago. Now there are only the students from Myerscough College to keep it under minimal control. Some areas had been tidied up for the occasion, but most are very overgrown.


One old bed had been planted some years ago by the Henry Doubleday Research Association to save traditional vegetables. This patch was also badly overgrown but there may still be some gems hidden under the wildness.

The dilapidated greenhouses hold a remnant of the Liverpool Botanical Collection, which was founded by William Roscoe in 1802 and long kept in Calderstones Park. It was one of the oldest botanical collections in the world. The radical local government of Derek Hatton had the Calderstones greenhouses demolished, and the botanical collection was broken up. Some of the remnants are now here but not on display.

There were a couple of well-tended beds of bright pink Dahlias, variety ‘Fascination’. They were hugely attractive to insects, and most of the open flowers had two bees competing for the pollen.  We also spotted a new-looking Red Admiral butterfly and a day-flying moth, too quick to catch on camera, which was grey-white, broader than deep, and possibly one of the carpet or wave moths in the geometrid group.

After lunch we toured the house, from the wine cellar and the old kitchens, to the drawing room and the Earl and Countess’s bedrooms. The volunteer in charge of the huge pedigree scroll of the Earls of Sefton, which was laid out on a table, was diverted to talk about the estate’s wildlife. He said there were now lots of Ring-necked Parakeets, which he had seen competing with Jackdaws for tree holes. As we made our way out along the main drive we saw some of the interlopers in the trees, being mobbed by Crows.   

Public transport details: Bus 13 from Queen Square at 10.03, arriving Mill Lane / West Derby Village at 10.25.  Returned on bus 13 from Mill Lane / Town Row at 2.58, arriving City Centre at 3.22.

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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Meols to Hoylake, 3rd September 2023

Meols pronounced “Mells” is a village on the north Wirral coast, once a Viking settlement. From the  station we walked along Dovepoint Road, Park Road (past a house claiming to have been built in 1649), and down Bennetts Lane to the shore. Interesting garden trees on the way included some heavily-fruiting Crab Apples and an amazing pair of Beech trees, clipped almost to unrecognisability. How much effort must THAT take?

From the start of Meols Parade it is a two-mile walk south westwards to Hoylake. It overlooks an expanse of sand on the north coast of Wirral and out to the wind turbines in Liverpool Bay. The Mersey estuary was behind us and the Dee Estuary in front. High tide was due at 1.15 and it was very warm and sunny. The sand was scattered with birds. Very many Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, two Greater Black-backed Gulls, many Redshank, large flocks of Oystercatchers and some Curlews. A Raven flew overhead towards Liverpool. Two Black-tailed Godwits circled then headed off. Some Carrion Crows were keeping watch from high vantage points. Two Little Egrets hunted by the pools, this one showing off its yellow feet.

TheHoylake Lifeboat hovercraft came out and patrolled the sand, perhaps making sure no walkers or fishermen were in danger at the water’s edge, because the tide flows in very fast over these shallow sands.

We lunched in Meols Parade Gardens, which was sheltered and very warm in the sun. Several very active butterflies were flitting over the Valerian and other flowers – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and Small Whites. There were also lots of bumble bees, some looking like quite big ones.

Even around high tide, the water didn’t come right up to the promenade, but large flocks of Oystercatchers had to walk quite fast to keep ahead of the advancing tongue of water.

Signs along the sea wall put up by the Dee Estuary Volunteer Wardens described some of the  “Wonderful Waders” and included a polite request to keep control of dogs near to high tide when the birds come near.

But there are always some who don’t heed. Several dogs were running out to the flocks of birds, or frolicking in the shallows. To our horror, one loose dog near the lifeboat station plunged into a small group of Oystercatchers and after much flapping and splashing caught one. The young man who was the dog’s owner was calling “Arthur!  Arthur!” to no effect. The dog eventually dropped the bird and came to heel, but the bird was a goner.

As we neared Hoylake we could see that Hilbre Island and Middle Eye were surrounded with water.

The Spartina grass that has been spreading along the sand has made a dry grassy area there, and people were picnicking and sunbathing. Other local residents are furious that the council isn’t sending machines to dig it all out, Canute-like, and they have banners up outside their houses. It isn’t all bad, because the new land is providing habitat for non-waders like Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits. But I was surprised at how fast it has spread. The grassy area goes as far as King’s Gap, and it feels like only a year or two ago there was sand right up to the sea wall there.

In Hoylake Village the municipal flower holders along the road were golf bags, in homage to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where The Open took place in July.

Public transport details: West Kirby train from Central at 10.05, arriving Meols 10.30. Returned on the train from Hoylake at 2.34, arriving Central 3.08.

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Southern Grasslands Park, 27th August 2023

The Southern Grasslands is a new park in Liverpool, south of the Festival Gardens on the Mersey riverfront. The press release says “Over the last two years, over 400,000 cubic metres of soil and waste have been removed from the Festival Gardens development zone, which had previously served as a public waste deposit facility for over 30 years. Over 95% of this material has been recycled, including 100,000 cubic metres of earth that will become an eco-haven for wildlife. The radically redesigned 24-acre green space, which now rises more than 30 feet to provide views of the city centre and the River Mersey, also includes more than 5,700 new trees and shrubs, as well as 2 kilometres of walking paths near the shoreline.”

It’s easy enough to get to. Take the train to St Michael’s, turn right through Priory Woods, left along Riverside Drive and right at the Bempton Road roundabout.  The park is still quite young and raw, and full of tiny new trees in protective tubes, plus some older ones which must be remnants from the Garden Festival. The new trees were almost exclusively natives –  Hawthorn, various Willows, various Oaks, Birch, Scots Pine, Rowan, Alder, Holly – and shrubs Dogwood, Guelder Rose, Broom, Gorse, Buddleia, Dog Rose. Sea Buckthorn was an unusual one, and we did see the small red leaves of Purple Cherry Plum, Prunus cerasifera.

There were very few birds using those tiny trees, although we did spot a Magpie and a Carrion Crow. To our surprise a bird clinging to the top of a slightly larger sapling, then coming down to bare earth, turned out to be a Wheatear. Best bird for several weeks!

There was a huge variety of flowers along the path edges. Mostly the early colonisers (which some call weeds) – Red and White Clover, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Yarrow, Evening Primrose, Wild Carrot, Hop Trefoil, Ribwort Plantain, Mugwort, Black Nightshade, Woody Nightshade, Scentless Mayweed, one of the Sow-Thistles, one of the Melilots, Michaelmas Daisies, Ragwort, Rosebay Willowherb, Purple Loosestrife. So far, so ordinary.


But there were some more unusual ones scattered about, like one that looked like a yellow Mugwort. I have had a good rummage, but I can’t see a wild yellow variety, unless it’s some “garden” type.

Yellow Mugwort??

There was lots of Redleg, Perrsicaria maculosa, identified on iNature as “Lady’s Thumb”, which is an alternate name, but not from around here! Some of it was looking a lighter pink, with green stems and some were clearly the related white species called Pale Persicaria, Persicaria lapathifolia. Perhaps the seed was from a mixed hybridised source.


Then, on the berms around the car park, many of the plants were looking very garden-ish. Were the banks built up from garden compost? There were Wild Strawberries, an unusual Dark Mullein and a couple of Tomato plants, which are very definitely not wild natives.  

Dark Mullein

There were interesting views of the river and the Wirral from the top, but they will disappear as the tree grow.

When we thought about lunch a cold drizzly squall blew in, and we retreated.

So we headed back to the Festival gardens and found a dry spot for lunch after the rain had stopped. Then back up through Priory Woods, a quick look at St Michael’s-in-the-Hamlet church, then home.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.13, arriving St Michael’s at 10.20. Returned from St Michaels at 13.46, which took me all the way home.

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New Ferry Butterfly Park, 20th August 2023

The park doesn’t open until 12, so we wandered around Port Sunlight village and had lunch in the sunny rose garden. New Ferry Butterfly Park occupies the site of the former goods yard of New Ferry and Bebington railway station. The poor-quality coal- and lime-rich soil is ideal for growing wildflowers and other butterfly food plants, and was leased from British Rail in 1993. Now it is a thriving wildlife area.

Our first sight was the pond, half-empty because of damage to the pond liner. They had put out a donations bucket. Although the remaining half-pond was edged with old carpet tiles it still supported much of its wildlife, including this Common Darter dragonfly.

Small white and blue butterflies were fluttering about, hard to identify while on the wing, and also a little brown one which might have been some kind of Skipper. The only larger butterfly which sat for its picture was a Speckled Wood.

I think we have seen more butterflies there in previous years, but going by the signs asking us not to walk off the paths, there are butterflies breeding everywhere in the tangled meadows.

The wild flowers were rampant and included Rosebay Wiillowherb, Hemp Agrimony, Wild Carrot, Ragwort, Teasel, Honeysuckle, Toadflax, Scarlet Pimpernel, Hop Trefoil and many more. We were also interested in these Rose Hips, which were an unusual shape and strangely hairy.

One corner had a colourful bed of culinary herbs, including lemon balm and purple sage.

We were also looking at some of the trees with black and red berries, which were probably some of the hard-to-identify natives. Many years ago the ranger said there were definitely no Wayfaring Trees in the park, so we could cross that off our list. But they do have both Alder Buckthorn and Common or Purging Buckthorn.  Here are my best guesses, but not with much confidence, I have to say.

This might be Common or Purging Buckthorn, but maybe it’s just Dogwood.
And this one MIGHT be Alder Buckthorn.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.15, arriving Port Sunlight at 10.35.  Returned on the train from Bebington at 2.55, arriving Central 3.15.

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Shorefields and Port Sunlight River Park, 6th August 2023

The terminus of the bus to New Ferry is on the edge of an open field facing a view over the river from some of the Mersey’s last natural shoreline. The tide was well out and the mud flats were dotted with gulls and a few Redshank on the shoreline. It was too early for Curlews, but we see them here in winter. On the edge of a grassy island was a single Little Egret.

We walked south through the woods and onto the paths around Port Sunlight River Park. There were lots of white butterflies, one probable Holly Blue and this single Comma on a Buddleia bush, perched high up.

The wildflowers were all out along the path edges: Ragwort, Yarrow, Wild Carrot, the yellow Hawkbit or Hawkweed, Mugwort, Fennel, Common Knapweed, Tansy, Teasel, Great Willowherb, Rosebay Willowherb, Red Campion, St John’s Wort, Musk Mallow, Viper’s Bugloss, Tufted Vetch, Fleabane, Bird’s foot Trefoil, Hop Trefoil, red and white Clover and our first Michaelmas Daisies of the year.

Wild carrot seed head forming
St John’s Wort
Michaelmas daisies

Autumn is coming on apace. The Blackberries are ripening. I ate one, and it was sweet but bland. Hawthorn berries and Rose hips were reddening and some Elder berries were fully ripe.

The small lake had just a family of Coots, but a Blackbird and a Dunnock flew in and out of the shrubbery and a Swallow cruised along the path. A Buzzard was soaring overhead. The café is closed at weekends, but around the back we spotted a pair of artificial nest cups for House Martins. They look used, but perhaps not this year.

We climbed to the top of the hill, where it is surprisingly wet underfoot. A sign says they have ground-nesting birds up there in the damp rough grassland. It’s also a great perspective on the city centre.

We returned the way we came. An oak tree on the edge of Shorefields cliffs bore knopper galls, artichoke galls and also marble galls, all on the same tree. The oak wasps have done well this year, but on this tree, at least, a few acorns have survived.

A cluster of three marble galls (and an artichoke gall lower down)

Public transport details: Bus 464 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.14, arriving Shorefields Nature Park / Pollitt Square at 10.50. Returned on 464 from Shorefields / Pollitt Square at 2.02, arriving Liverpool 2.35.

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Princes Park, 30th July 2023

At the southern end of the park, the shrubberies have been cut back hard, which allowed the inner shrubs to show off. There were masses of ripening blackberries, just a few hazel nuts forming (although one appeared to have been gnawed by something), sloes and a lavish display of luminous red Guelder Rose berries.

Wildflower patches were scattered around, at this season showing mostly white Wild Carrot and yellow Ragwort. It’s been many years since we saw Ragwort infested with the yellow and black caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth. But there were plenty of bees and other insects on it, and during the day we saw several butterflies, mostly as single individuals – Common Blue, Speckled Wood, one of the Whites and a Gatekeeper. A couple of weeks ago we saw an oak tree at Waterloo heavily infested with Knopper Galls, and there was one here too, with hardly an acorn untouched. The tree also had a few artichoke galls, caused by a different parasitic wasp which attacks a different part – the buds in the leaf axils, not the developing acorns.

Knopper galls on acorns
Artichoke gall on leaf bud

Near the west end of the lake a young woman was communing with nature by feeding the pigeons. A gull was hovering nearby, wondering if he could join in without being noticed.

We were met by our friend Katy an MNA member also now the Chair of the Friends of Princes Park. Many of their recent tree plantings have posts with QR codes which link to the tree’s name and description on their website.  We looked for the young Foxglove tree, but it had died after developing a severe list. However, a couple of feet away from the cut stump sprouts are coming from the roots, and the namepost and cage have been moved to protect it.

Tree 315 is Toona sinensis, the Chinese Mahogany, Tree 316 is Cercis canadensis, an Eastern Redbud. It is called a Judas tree on their website, but it isn’t. All three of these trees are near to  the magnificent tall hedge of Chinese Privet, up on the western bank of the lake, just coming into bloom.

A interesting new planting is a Chinese Tulip Tree Liriodendron chinense. It was planted last November by the Duke of Devonshire as a link to Princes Park’s designer Joseph Paxton, who was head gardener at the Duke’s seat at Chatsworth. Paxton designed both Princes Park and Birkenhead Park, which had their 180th and 175th anniversaries in 2022.  Matching Chinese Tulip Trees have been planted in both parks, and also at Chatsworth, with special railings and commemorative stone ground markers.

Katy was keen to show us a pair of special newish trees. They are numbers  206 and 209 Eucryphia x nymansensis. The park calls them Leatherwood trees, but that is the name of one parent of this hybrid. They should be called Nyman’s Eucryphia, after the National Trust house and garden in Sussex, which was the source of the hybrid. When they were first planted, they seemed ordinary enough, but they have just burst out into white flowers all over, like Roses or Hellebores.

As we walked back to look at the lake, we peeked into all the tree cages as we passed them, and were rewarded by finding this one, number 215. It’s a young Golden Rain tree, the one we searched for so assiduously in Calderstones a few years ago. Good to know there is another one. The park’s website uses its alternate name, Pride of India, but it is actually a Chinese tree, so is mis-named.

We ended the walk with a stroll along the open side of the lake. Mute Swans had three cygnets. There were about a dozen Canada Geese and nesting Moorhens. A Little Grebe was followed by a single cute chick, paddling furiously to catch up with her, and a family of Coots had three noisy chicks.

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Elliot Street at 10.12, arriving Aigburth Road / Ullet Road at 10.25. Returned from Park Road / Gredington Street on the 82A and 1.42, arriving Liverpool ONE bus station 1.55.

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Southport, 23rd July 2023

There are several pithy Scottish words for today’s weather, but the one that sums it up is dreich. Damp, drizzly and dismal. It made the ice cream and candy floss shops look particularly forlorn. The boat operators had tied up the swan and flamingo boats, not expecting any takers.

They were trying a new venture, aquacycles, two-seaters, at  £10 for 30 mins.

The southern arm of the Marine Lake had about 50 Mute Swans, all apparently adults or sub-adults, but only two cygnets, each with different parents. A poor breeding year for them. There were very few gulls, mostly juveniles, not the hordes we see in winter, a few Canada Geese and a small group of moulting Mallards. Someone was feeding them.

A Little Egret huddled on the far island in the misty rain.

At the southernmost end were the long-resident Black Swans, which are Australian birds, and which probably escaped from some collection. They have never bred here, as far as I know, and perhaps they aren’t a male and female. A pair of Greylag Geese had a small flotilla of four (or is that six) youngsters, so they have done better.

After lunch in one of the King’s Gardens shelters and a visit to Morrisons, we walked down Rotten Row, a long herbaceous border, now maintained by a group of volunteers. It ought to be at its best now, but some tall flowers like Hollyhocks had been blown over by recent high winds. And the fine drizzle made it too wet for any bees, butterflies, or insects of any kind

The border is dotted with Horse Chestnut trees every few yards. One had a plaque saying it had been planted by some local worthy in 1908. I wonder if that means they are all that age?

Towards the southern end, a path leads into the caravan park. We explored further, and it seems to cross three internal roads by kissing gates, as if it is an old right of way. It came out on the road called Esplanade, opposite a patch of sand dunes called the Queen’s Jubilee Nature Trail which leads back into Southport. The road was part-flooded, so we didn’t attempt the crossing, but it might be worth a look one summer’s day.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Southport at 11.10. Returned on bus 47 from Lulworth Road / Weld Road at 1.56, due in Liverpool at 3.08, but we all got off earlier than that.

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Waterloo, 16th July 2023

Crescent Garden, and beyond it the Marine Lake, the dunes, the Mersey hidden beyond the dunes and the Welsh coastline in the far distance. On the left is the radar tower for Seaforth docks, and the black rectangles atop the dunes are a coffee shop bus on the prom with its storage containers. 200 years ago the sea would have been lapping at my feet.

The coast at Waterloo isn’t just Crosby beach and the Iron men. Inland from the dunes is a row of early nineteenth century houses that were built on the seashore, fronted by four seafront gardens and a Marine Lake. It was too windy today for the beach, so we stayed around the garden area. The southernmost and oldest, Marine Gardens, was opened in 1932. It gets little attention from the council gardeners these days, but we found some interesting shrubs and trees just inside the gate and along the north eastern edge.  The first was this shrub with yellow leguminous flowers and inflated pods. I had to look it up, and it seems to be Bladder Senna Colutea arborescens. The descriptions say “Leaves and seeds have purgative properties” so this must be the famous “Senna pods”.

Next to it was a fully grown tree that I recognised as Box Elder Acer negundo. This isn’t an Elder at all and its alternative name is more sensible: Ash-leaved Maple. The seeds are clearly Acer-type, but the leaves aren’t like any Maple. This species is dioecious (separate male and female trees), and this is obviously the female tree, producing copious seeds. There must be a male tree around there somewhere, but we have never seen it. The male produces striking tassels of pink catkins early in the year. One for another time.

Just a little further along was a Pedunculate Oak smothered in Knopper galls. They are caused by the eggs and grubs of a parasitic wasp, which make the acorns develop into this overgrown knobbliness.

Knobbly Knopper galls on the right, undamaged developing acorns on the left

From the south end of Marine Gardens we poked our noses into the little nature reserve south of the sailing club. The MNA were here in late April and were concerned that one of the plants growing in the marshy ground below the boardwalks appeared to be Hemlock Water Dropwort, one of the UK’s most toxic species. Several people have asked the council about their policy on it, and whether it should be removed, but it was still there. Most of the stems were bent and broken by the wind, and the flowers have gone over, but the council must have decided to leave it, the “native plant in a nature reserve” argument clearly winning over any possible safety issues.

There was plentiful Great Willowherb, sedges and reeds, but no obvious birds. Low down we spotted a Speckled Wood butterfly and there was a Gatekeeper further along.

Out on the Marine Lake a keen windsurfer was taking advantage of the strong gusts.

There were 11 Mute Swans on the Boating Lake, in full white plumage so not this year’s juveniles, but probably sub-adults of one or two years old. A flock of Canada Geese occupied the far end. A gang of juvenile gulls were hanging out together on one of the mounds.

A bit further along a couple of dozen Black-headed Gulls were in another group, probably adults back from their far-flung breeding areas and starting to moult. They were accompanied by a few  Starlings.

In Adelaide Gardens a blackbird had a worm, and a colony of House Sparrows cheeped cheerfully. One of our goals today was to look in the pond in the northernmost garden, Beach Lawn. This spring it was found to have a colony of the rare Small Red-eyed Damselfly, only the third site in Sefton.

This isn’t MY picture, sadly, it’s just to show what we were looking for

The species is another that has moved north from the Continent in the last 20 years.  It is a very tiny creature, only 11mm long (half an inch) so is easy to miss. We looked and looked, but there was no sign of them. The sun was out, but perhaps it was too windy for them.

We returned to Waterloo Station through Crescent Garden,  and I walked home through Victoria Park. On the edge of a path was a part-complete Fairy Ring of toadstools.

On my Buddleia at home was the first butterfly seen on it this year – a Small White.  What a sad comment on our times that seeing three different butterflies on one day could be considered special.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.08, arriving Waterloo 10.23. The next train for the others was the 13.39 from Waterloo, arriving Central 13.58.

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Hale gardens, 9th July 2023

Another day of looking around private gardens with the National Garden Scheme, which raises money for good causes. This time we were in Hale, a village south of Liverpool, an oasis of thatched cottages, which the modern world seems to have overlooked. These are not, of course, tiny labourers’ hovels, but very desirable residences indeed. The bus dropped us in the village centre and we headed for the churchyard for an early lunch. Some of the gravestones are very old, and the most famous of them is that of the Childe of Hale, a man called John Middleton (1578-1623) who was said to have grown to 9 feet 3 inches.

There has been a church on this site since at least 1081, and we looked for an ancient Yew tree. There IS a Yew next to the church, but it only looks a few hundred years old.

As we headed down Church Road towards the first of our five open gardens there were Greenfinches calling and Goldfinches on the TV aerials. The open garden at number 54 was hard to miss, with a yellow direction sign and a welcoming scarecrow.

It was a very long garden, with a wonderful view from the back end, over the Mersey to Wirral, with the Welsh hills beyond.

There were hazel nuts ripening and a couple of Comma butterflies, my first of the year.

The second garden, at 4 Church Road, was notable for its curved flowerbeds at the back and the lovely border at the front.

The third garden, 33 Arklow Drive, was a modern garden divided into “rooms”. I don’t really like what is done to trees in these sorts of gardens. It had three “pop-pom” Gingkoes, where a tight ball of foliage was grafted onto a tall bare trunk of something else. I wish they would just leave them alone! But the two young Indian Bean trees on either side of an archway were being left to grow more naturally.

A nearby house at 2 Pheasant Field belonged to the mother of the previous gardener, and collectively they are Radio Merseyside’s “Garden Girls”. This garden had more grafted and severely-pruned trees, but the pond and its cascade were amazing, and the Sea Holly (Eryngium sp.) was attracting hordes of bees.

Then we had a long walk along Hale Road, past the really wonderful houses. One had very cute curvy thatch and another was rendered in pink with a pink car outside. Very Lady Penelope!  I suspect the residents were less than pleased when Liverpool airport expanded some years ago, and now they get low-flying planes passing right overhead every few minutes.

Our last call was 33 Hale Road, a house with a huge garden, clusters of seats scattered around, and a roaring trade in tea, cake and Pimm’s. All proceeds go to the group of medical charities supported by the scheme, and last year the Hale gardens group raised £6,242.72.

In the back of the garden there was a huge old Oak with a seat built around it, and a tool-shed with a sedum roof. The large pond had Emperor dragonflies on it, with a female laying eggs.

It had been dry, hot and humid all day, but now clouds were gathering. We managed to get the bus back while it was still dry, but it rained torrentially while we were on the bus back to town.

Public transport details: Bus 82A from Liverpool ONE at 10.12, arriving Hale Village Green at 11.05. Returned from Hale, Bailey’s Lane on the 82A at 15.02, arriving Liverpool 3.50

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Sefton Park, 2nd July 2023

Sefton Park has everything we look for in a Sunday walk: lake birds and woodland birds with occasional rarities, interesting trees, and the occasional surprise. (And, importantly, a set of reliable public toilets!) Today didn’t disappoint. Even the weather had cooled down a bit.  As usual, the southern end of the lake was full of water birds. Mallards, including one creamy-coloured one that we haven’t seen before. Coots and Moorhens, Canada Geese, crowds of gulls including Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a few juvenile Common Gulls and one Black-headed Gull in summer plumage, who had probably returned early from its breeding area. There was one female Tufted Duck, a lone adult Great Crested Grebe and a pair of Little Grebes without chicks.  The male Mallards were noticeably scruffy as they have started to moult.

A pair of Mute Swans were shepherding five half-grown cygnets, still a little bit fluffy.

One Mallard mother had four ducklings, three blond ones and one normal brown one. We thought we could guess who was the Daddy.

Mallard family (photobombed by two Little Grebes)

Behind the champion Black Walnut, opposite the bandstand, are at least two Silver Maples Acer saccharinum, which we went to look at. They don’t seem to have set seed this year and the leaves are partly turning red. We were surprised to find lots of red bobbles on the leaves, which must be some sort of infestation. I found later that they were maple bladder galls caused by the maple bladder-gall mite Vasates quadripedes. They occur on silver, sugar and red maple – irregular, spherical growths usually found on the upper surfaces of the leaves. The hosts are all North American trees, of course. In Britain, the mite affects introduced silver maple and is relatively new to Britain, first recorded in London in 2002.

Lurking between the mite-infested leaves was a splendid insect, the Red-legged Shield Bug Pentatoma rufipes. It is a native species, widespread and common. New adults are said to emerge  from July onwards, so this must be a fresh new one.

Some other trees we checked were the Indian Bean tree behind the central café, now in lovely flower, and we confirmed that it wasn’t the rarer Western Catalpa.

The Atlas Cedar on the south western bank of the lake was growing its new cones. The fresh ones have the diagnostic dimples in the top, which you can see in the ones tilted forward (Cedar of Lebanon cones are pointed) and this photo also shows the remains of the old cones on the left – just a stalk and a base, with the seed-bearing scales all flaked off.

A cold wind blew up as we ate our lunch so we headed to the woods south of the Palm House. There were plenty of Grey Squirrels about, and also the ubiquitous Magpies, Wood Pigeons and Feral Pigeons. In the trees near the bird feeders we saw small parties of mixed Tits and a couple of Goldfinches. Several Ring-necked Parakeets were squawking and seemed to be in dispute with a gang of Magpies.

As we headed back around the east side of the island we found a man with a camera, and he was patiently observing a Great Crested Grebe nest on the edge of the island. There are four eggs, he said, he had seen the last one being laid, and it was probably a couple of weeks to hatching. The singleton bird we had seen earlier must have been the other partner, on patrol.

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Elliot Street at 10.02, arriving Aigburth Road opp. Ashbourne Road at 10.17. Returned from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane on the 82 at 1.55, arriving city centre 2.15.

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