Port Sunlight and New Ferry Butterfly Park, 24th July 2022

New Ferry Butterfly Park doesn’t open until noon, so we strolled through Port Sunlight looking at some familiar trees. Many of them seemed very dry and drooping following the extreme heat earlier in the week. There were hardly any birds to be seen, just a brief Blackbird, the odd Wood Pigeon and Magpie and a few gulls passing overhead. We saw only one butterfly there, a white one patrolling up and down the rose beds. The effects of the heatwave were also showing in the  Butterfly Park, where the pond had dried to a small puddle. I hope the Newts are all OK!

We walked along the mown path through the tangle of grass and wild flowers. A sign asked us to keep to the path to avoid the butterflies breeding in the grass. The flowers were supporting a great variety of insects. The Wild Carrot had the usual “bonking” Soldier Beetles.  A Red-tailed Bumble Bee was visiting a Teasel and a clump of Tansy had an unidentified slim black beetle (on the left) and many tiny insects like wasps on the developing flowers.

Bonking soldier beetles on wild carrot
Red-tailed bumble bee on teasel
Insects on tansy

There were signs of autumn too. The Blackberries had ripened in the sunnier spots, the Guelder Rose berries were reddening up and an oak bore many immature acorns.

Blackberries
Guelder rose berries
Immature acorns of pedunculate oak

There were butterflies about, but not very many of them. However, in comparison to their almost complete absence elsewhere, this was a bonanza. Because it was so warm they were all very active, and refused to sit still to be observed.  Three dark ones were either Gatekeepers or Skippers. There was one Large White, several Common Blues and one Meadow Brown. Two Speckled Woods were flying around each other, and now I know they aren’t courting couples but males fighting for territory. One of them did eventually sit still for a few seconds.

We were surprised to see a clump of Mistletoe growing on a Hawthorn.

Then it started to drizzle so we made a quick stop at the plant sales table then headed back.

I should also give news of the Swifts that visit the area near my house in Crosby each year. This year they arrived on 14th May, and there seemed to be only two. They never screamed low past my rooftop in the evenings so I assumed they weren’t breeding. However, on 18th July there were seven or perhaps eight flying fairly low over my garden. I can only assume that there were two nests nearby, that the Swifts I had been seeing during the summer had both been males foraging for their confined mates, and that three or four chicks had fledged. Another successful year, apparently.    

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.30 towards Ellesmere Port, arriving Port Sunlight 10.48. Returned on train from Bebington at 1.42, arriving Liverpool just before 2.00.

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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Shakespeare North Playhouse, Prescot, 17th July 2022

Not much wildlife this week, as we went to see the new Shakespeare North Playhouse on their “come and see us” opening weekend. Their centrepiece is the 470-seat Cockpit Theatre built of English Oak, by craftsmen using hand tools, to a design of Inigo Jones.

Their outdoor performance space is called the Sir Ken Dodd Performance Garden, with seats like steps. The risers of the steps have quotations from both Shakespeare and Doddy.

Tangential wildlife interest was given by a series of animal sculptures dotted about the theatre and the town. In Prescot itself there are fourteen creatures featured in the Witches’ Chant from Macbeth. (“Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork and blindworm’s sting, Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing.”) In and around the theatre we spotted some other creatures from Macbeth.

“Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined”
“The raven himself is hoarse, that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements.”

We walked over to the church, spotting another animal reference, part of a series celebrating Knowsley as the Liverpool City Region’s Borough of Culture this year. This is the “Midsummer Night Owl” in front of what claims to be a native wildflower area, but nothing much was growing in that dry shade.

Sunday had been the first of three days with a red weather warning of a heatwave, but it wasn’t too bad on the bus out or in the theatre, although it got quite uncomfortable on the bus home.
 
Public transport details: Bus 10A from Queen Square at 10.08, arriving High Street Prescot / Atherton Street at 10.52. Returned on bus 10 from High Street Prescot / Church Street at 1.45, arriving Liverpool 2.35.

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Everton Park, 10th July 2022

On a hot and sunny day we went looking for wildflower meadows in Everton Park. Many areas have been left unmowed and there are many bright patches of yellow, complementing the marvellous views over the city and beyond.

There were some Poppies, Ox-eye Daisies, Cornflower and Corncockle in the mix, but the flowers in other areas were more interesting. There were patches of Viper’s Bugloss, mostly going over, some Mallow, and this Wild Carrot with its distinctive upstanding central floret in dark reddish purple, almost black.

There were very few butterflies, just a few Large Whites and about a dozen Meadow Browns, which were very active in the warm sunshine, never settling down. This Scabious was being visited by what I think is a honeybee.

On a shady bank was a single orchid, which I think is a Pyramidal, even though it was about 18 inches (45 cm) tall. They can be up to 55 cm, and the early pyramidal shape turns to oval as they mature.

We noted that the Horse Chestnut trees were mostly clean of the leaf miner which has prematurely browned the leaves of trees in other areas of the city. Overall the tree planting was quite imaginative, with Red Sycamore, Variegated Sycamore, Turkish Hazel and Cut-leaved Alder in amongst the commoner tree species. We came to the spot where there is a parking area and a wonderful viewpoint. The top of the sandstone ridge is 245 feet above sea level, making it the highest point in Liverpool. There is an almost 180 degree panorama from the city centre on the left, past the docks, Wirral, the Welsh mountains and Snowdon, the Great Orme, New Brighton, and out to the mouth of the Mersey. The sign marking the view adds a jokey marker at that point saying “Turn left here for New York 3305 miles”.

New Brighton lighthouse and Fort Perch rock on the right, and leftwards almost to the Black Pearl
Bidston windmill

There were very few birds about in the heat. We saw the usual Magpies, Crows, Herring Gulls and Wood Pigeons, but nothing else. Corpse of the day was a mystery dead bird, dry and well-decomposed, all feathers and bones.  There were no feet or head, just rich brown wings and a white breast and back. The wings appear to have been cut off short. This isn’t a British wild bird, there is nothing that size or colour. Is it some sort of pet hawk, pinioned?  Was it a domestic fowl decapitated by a fox, or had the wing ends been chopped off by a mower?  No idea.

There is a “portrait bench” with cut-out metal images of three local heroes, chosen by the local community. The man is a generic dock worker, a vital labourer in the port’s heyday. On the right is Molly Bushell, founder of the celebrated Everton Toffee Shop. In the centre is Kitty Wilkinson, a public health pioneer. She was an Irish immigrant, wife of a labourer.  In 1832, during a cholera epidemic, she had the only boiler in her neighbourhood, so she invited those with infected clothes or linens to use it, thus saving many lives. This was the first public washhouse in Liverpool. Ten years later her efforts resulted in the opening of a combined washhouse and public baths, the first in the United Kingdom. She became known as the Saint of the Slums.

As it was the nearest Sunday to 12th July, the local Orange Lodge marching bands were planning to parade into the city. We heard them forming up and drumming. We decided not to risk the buses, which would be all over the place, and walk back into town, downhill all the way. On North Heyworth Street we spotted an overhanging Eucalyptus tree which was in flower. We haven’t seen that before.

Down Roscommon Street and along St Anne Street. There were lots of wild Buddleia bushes in flower, but no butterflies. The unkempt verges were full of Bramble and Poppies.

Near the corner of Mansfield Street we spotted two old business signs, possibly painted over in grey but still clearly legible. One said “Wedding Equipages, Broughams, Phaetons, Private Omnibuses, Waggonettes”. The other said “Funeral Carriages and All Requisite Appointments of a Superior Description”. These sound like horse-drawn carriages, although when my mother married in 1941 her big wedding cars were referred to as “Broughams”.

I should just add here some further thoughts on the mystery pines in Royden Park which I puzzled over on 26th June and thought might be Table Mountain Pines Pinus pungens. The experts on the Facebook group British and Irish Trees were also mystified (not just me then!) and wondered if one could be Lodgepole Pine, which also has spines on its cones. However that tree is very tall and thin, not like the ones I saw. They asked if there was evidence of them having been taller trees which had been lopped or broken.  I went again to look, and no, these look to be in their natural proportions. That rules out Lodgepole, I think.

I have also been consulting the US website the Gymnosperm Database. Some other identification points. (1) The crushed leaves of the Royden pines didn’t smell of anything. Although I haven’t seen any information about it, you’d think something named “pungens” would smell distinctive. This is a point against it being Table Mountain Pine.  (2) Table Mountain Pine has needles in pair, but sometimes in threes. I could find no triplets at all. Another point against Table Mountain Pine. (3). The needles of Table Mountain Pine are said to be a maximum of 8cm long, but I found lots on the Royden trees up to 11cm. A third point against Table Mountain Pine.  The Royden trees clearly aren’t either Lodgepole or Table Mountain Pines. They are still a mystery.

Public transport details: The bus station at Queen Square was temporarily closed so we went to Victoria Street, temporary stop 4, for the 14A at 10.13, arriving Heyworth Street / opp Lloyd Close at 10.24. Walked back.

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Royden Park and Frankby Cemetery, 26th June 2022

Just past Frankby village is a bridleway which passes to the south of Frankby Cemetery, heading straight for Royden Park.  By the side of the path we spotted the protective tent of a nursery web spider, enclosing several Bramble leaves and a brood of young spiderlings.

There were young Swallows flying above the road called Montgomery Hill, and at the gateway into Royden Park, on the trunk of an old cut-down Sycamore, we saw an amazing stalked bracket fungus. I think it’s a Dryad’s Saddle Polyporus squamosus. This is an old one, starting to dry out, but fresh young ones are edible and recommended in forager’s guides. They are said to smell of watermelon!

It had been cloudy and breezy but the sun came out briefly as we wandered around an open grassy area. Lots of Meadow Brown butterflies took to the wing and a Song Thrush started calling.  By the path we spotted a Hawkweed flower covered in tiny beetles. They were probably Pollen Beetles, and there are dozens of species. They breed in the flower buds of brassicas, the larvae pupate in the soil, then the adults emerge from the ground in July and August and feed on flowers. They particularly like yellow ones. The RHS website says they are harmless in gardens, “just shake them off”, but one species is an important pest of Oil-seed Rape (Canola)

The park itself wasn’t looking its best. It was badly hit by the winter storms, and the remains of fallen trees were everywhere. Some fell onto the walled garden, damaging the walls. They had to get cranes in to lift out some of the dangerous trees, and the garden is still closed.

We lunched at the picnic benches near the miniature railway. There are two pine trees growing there on the grassy field, not crowded by anything else, and they definitely weren’t Scots Pines, because they were small, rounded trees. The needles came in twos, so they weren’t any of the unusual 3-needle or 5- needle pines. They had distinctive spiny cones, coloured a rich brown, and clusters of many female flowers. The bark was brownish, too, reticulated into small plates. Although I haven’t learned to identify many conifers, I though this one ought to be possible. However, I have studied the pines in all my books, and I’m none the wiser. (Added later: thanks again to Google Images, I think it might be Table Mountain Pine Pinus pungens, native to North America and the “Lonesome Pine” of the song. It isn’t in any of my tree books, which explains why I couldn’t find it. It must be quite rare!) (Added even later: see last two paragraphs of the blog for 10th July 2022 Everton Park, which adds more info but doesn’t solve the identification.)

We were charmed by a tiny Moorhen chick apparently stranded on a floating duck house in Roodee Mere. Then we saw that it and its siblings were perfectly able to jump off and climb on again. But was this one brood or two? There appeared to be more than two adults feeding them. Our highest count was four adults and five chicks, and we wondered if they were combining into crèches like some geese do. However, the website of Birds in Cheshire and Wirral says “Moorhens usually raise two broods of chicks, sometimes even three, and adopt an unusual breeding strategy in which the first-brood chicks help to feed their younger siblings from the second nest, thus helping to relieve the burden on their parents and giving themselves some practice for their own breeding attempts in the next year.” That was probably what we were seeing.

On the way back to Frankby we went to see their prize rare tree, a Madrona, Arbutus menziesii. It has evergreen leaves with finely serrated edges and red bark which peels off.

We went through Frankby Cemetery on the way back to the bus. We heard a lot of squawking of young Jays, just fledged, which were scrambling around in a dark hedge. The fine old building there was once Frankby Hall, centre of an estate which was acquired for the cemetery by Wirral Corporation in 1933. It was once home to a woman called Maude Royden, suffragist and campaigner for women’s ordination, and there is a recent blue plaque commemorating her.

Public transport details: Bus 437, the West Kirby bus, from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Frankby Road / opposite Frankby Stiles at 10.45. Returned on the 437 from Frankby Road / Frankby Green at 2.15, arriving Liverpool 2.50.

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Pickering’s Pasture, 12th June 2022

We had a long run on the bus, almost to Widnes. It was an interesting ten miles or more, through Aigburth, Garston, the airport and Hale Village with its thatched cottages. The sun shone most of the day, but there was a strong cold breeze. Pickering’s Pasture Local Nature Reserve was originally a saltmarsh, but it was used as a tip by Halton Borough Council from the 1950s to the 1980s, until it was reclaimed. Now it is mostly a huge wildflower meadow, edged with native trees, which looks out over the River Mersey and the Widnes-Runcorn bridges.

Most of the interest today was in the flowers. Their meadow isn’t a showy “poppies-and-cornflower” type, but one that has been slowly maturing for several years. At first glance it was simply Clover and Buttercups, mixed with Yellow Rattle and patches of Ox-eye Daisy, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Meadow Cranesbill, but more was revealed as we ambled slowly along the western edge. There were hundreds of Orchids scattered through the tangle. I make no attempt to identify the commoner ones, and they are all said to hybridise anyway.

Our best find was a little crimson pea-flower with leaves like grass. I think it was Grass Vetchling Lathyrus nissolia. It’s a native annual, said to be scarce, and it’s on the Rare Plant Register. Some websites say it seems to be on the increase, possibly because it is included in wildflower seed products.

A low-growing red flower was probably Red Bartsia Odontites vernus. It thrives on low-fertility soils and like Yellow Rattle is partly parasitic, gaining extra nutrients from the roots of its nearby host grasses.

We puzzled over this long yellow flower head. These tall yellows always confuse us. It wasn’t Melilot, Weld or Mignonette and I looked it up at home, deciding it was Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria.

There was a single patch of Lesser Stichwort, with its tiny white flowers, less than a centimetre across.

The western edge is mostly Brambles backed by Field Maple. The maples were setting seed already, and the wings on the pairs of seeds stick straight out to either side, like arms spread wide.

There is a patch of Aspen here,and I’m sure there wasn’t as much of it a few years ago. It reproduces by suckering, and seems to be spreading rapidly, now stretching about 30 meters (90 feet) along the edge of a copse.

The Bramble was supporting several butterflies. We spotted a Speckled Wood, possibly a Gatekeeper, a Large White, a very ragged Small White, and this Meadow Brown, identified by the single white “pupil” in the black eye-spot. (Gatekeepers have two).

Meadow Brown
Small White

Both Swallows and Swifts were feeding over the meadow, but there were no birds of note viewable from the bird hide at the southern end. Nothing in the pool at all, but on the grassland beyond was a large flock of grazing Canada Geese. A few Shelduck, a couple of Greylag Geese and two Lapwings which flew over. Amongst the Canadas was one white goosewhich looked like it had escaped from a farmyard.

We returned along the river front. They had lit a beacon here for the Jubilee weekend, and the fire basket was still standing on its pole.  Much of the shrubbery here was Japanese Rose Rosa rugosa, which is considered undesirable and invasive on the Sefton Coast, but is unobjectionable here.

These lovely Foxgloves were in a wildflower garden area by the visitors centre.

Public transport details: Bus 82A from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.14, arriving Halebank / Mersey View at 11.15. Returned on the 82A from the opposite stop at 2.54, arriving Liverpool ONE at 3.50. 

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Birkenhead Park, 5th June 2022

We were hoping to attend the Picnic in the Park, part of the Big Jubilee Lunch, organised by the Friends of Birkenhead Park to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the 175th anniversary of the opening of the park. Sadly after three days of lovely weather, on Sunday it rained nearly all day. There was no sign of any gathering, and we were later told it had been officially cancelled that morning, and clearly nobody would be lounging on the grass with bubbly in that weather! But it was interesting to visit the park at a different season and see things we had never noticed before. One was by the obelisk called the Jackson Memorial. An unassuming pair of bushes turned out to be Chinese Dogwoods with their gorgeous flowers.

There were no interesting birds on the lake, just Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, Coots and Moorhens. At the west end of the lake, near the rockery, the Cucumber tree was in subdued flower.

On the opposite side of the lake a pair of Moorhens were building a nest about 10 feet (3 meters) above the water on an overhanging branch of a Deodar cedar. It will be fun when the chicks have to jump!

The drizzly rain became heavier, so we sheltered in the Visitors’ Centre where there was an art exhibition.

“Magic Forest” by David Venables
Photograph “Puddle Duck” by Roger Ellison (with reflections on the glass, sorry)

When the rain eased off, we headed back out.  Near the Swiss Bridge was a yellow-flowered ground-cover plant on the lakeside, with the rain beading prettily on the leaves. It’s Garden Lady’s Mantle Alchemilla mollis, not strictly a wild flower, but a “neophyte”, which has naturalised in the last century. The Victorians kept it in their gardens, and it escaped in WWII. This has probably been planted in the park, rather than arriving at random.

The trees flowered early this year and good numbers of seeds are already forming. We noted both Sycamore helicopters and Horse Chestnut conkers growing well, and this Beech was getting heavy with seed cases.

Another example of us previously overlooking something was a modest small tree on a path corner. It was blossoming rather like Hawthorn, but the flowers were bigger and later than hedge mayflowers. I think it might be Hybrid Cockspur Thorn Crataegus x lavallei. The leaves are the right shape (not broad-leaved) while Mitchell’s tree book mentions the prominent red disc in the centres of the flowers as a key identification feature. No thorns, though.

After lunch in the Boat House (the only available shelter) we went around the Upper Park, where a Song Thrush was singing. We had seen Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeons, but all the little birds were hiding away. Grey Squirrels seemed to be very hungry, because they gathered around us, three or four at a time, whenever we stopped to look at something.  Something brown flashed across the path in front of us. A Stoat? Or was it just a Rat? Through the thick shrubbery a tall Laburnum tree was blooming magnificently. It’s rather late, so maybe the shady position has held it back.

Across the big field the clump of Purple Cherry Plums Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardi’, were floating serenely in the slight damp mist. They feature in the Friend’s big leaflet “The Unusual Trees of Birkenhead Park”.

We returned on the train from  Birkenhead Park Station, where the railsides were lovely with wild flowers. The westbound side was all dainty white, with white Dog Rose, Ox-Eye Daisy and Cow Parsley, while the eastbound side was more dramatic. I can’t identify most of this, and at first I thought the lowest plant was Shining Cranesbill because it was so red, but it is probably just Herb Robert, reddening under the influence of all that limestone ballast.

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street towards West Kirby at 10.19, arriving Park Road North / Park Road East at 10.32. Returned on the train from Birkenhead Park Station at 2.21, arriving Liverpool Central at 2.34

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Calderstones Park, 27th May 2022

The Sunday group didn’t meet on Sunday 29th May, as we were avoiding the Liverpool FC (partial) victory parade. However, on Friday 27th I went to a tree walk in Calderstones arranged by the park Friends and led by Colin Twist. He was formerly the park’s Ranger, an expert on its trees, and who has recently returned to Merseyside after an absence of 25 years.  In all we looked at 46 different species of tree, four of them completely new to me, and another three which I had seen elsewhere but didn’t know were in Calderstones.

The rarest was a Spur-leaf Tetracentron sinense. It is a primitive deciduous tree with heart-shaped leaves on red stalks, each growing from a spur. Each leaf spur is supposed to have a single hanging catkin, but there were only a few on this tree.

A tree that has been wrongly identified on several lists as a Plum-fruited Yew is really a Chinese Cow-tail Pine or Chinese Plum-yew, Cephalotaxus fortunei, looking just like a droopy Yew. Part of the confusion is because taxonomists have been arguing about where to classify it for many years. It is in the Yew group (not a Pine at all), and is next to the path behind ( = north) of the Allerton Oak.

In the Japanese Garden is a Japanese Umbrella Pine Sciadopitys verticillata, not a true pine at all, but a “fossil tree” known from 230 million years ago. This one appears to have a nest of a Crow or Magpie near the top of it.

The fourth tree new to me was a Maritime Pine Pinus pinaster. It leans over the Rhododendron walk in a particularly shady spot, not good to photograph, but I picked up two squirrel-chewed cones which are clearly longer than those of Scots Pines.

As for the three surprises, one was a Sweet Chestnut with white-edged leaves (variety ‘Albomarginata’) which I knew I had seen before but could never have found again. Now I know it is opposite the Rockery. In the shady area above the Rockery is a Large-leaved Lime. The best discovery was a young Aspen near the Text Garden, opposite the Handkerchief Tree: the only other one I knew in Merseyside was in Pickering’s Pasture.  

The day had a further treat in store, as some of the Friends offered a walk around the unfinished Nature Reserve to anyone who was interested. Yes please!  They unlocked the gate and several of us had a tour. About half of it is a stubborn Bramble and Nettle patch, with a path around the perimeter. (On the left on the picture below). It grows very vigorously from perennial roots, and is too big to dig out. They don’t want to treat it with strong herbicides, of course, so their only option is to cut it back from time to time.

The other half is a wildflower meadow, now in its second year and starting to look lovely. They could open the reserve any time, but there is a problem with insurance which they are working to solve. But the waysides are graced with Foxgloves, Red Campion and Viper’s Bugloss, which was attracting bees already.

Foxgloves
Red Campion
Bee on Viper’s Bugloss

For the record, here are the 46 trees spotted on the walk.
Turkey Oak Quercus serris
Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipfera
Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens
Holm Oak Quercus ilex
Yellow Buckeye Aesculus flava
Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba
Lucombe Oak Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’
Fern-leaved Beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’
Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa ‘Albomarginata’
Deodar Cedar Cedrus deodara
Swamp Cypress Taxodium distichum
Paperbark Maple Acer griseum
Manna Ash Fraxinus ornus
Red Horse Chestnut Aesculus x carnea
Italian Alder Alnus cordata
Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Broad-leaved (Large-leaved) Lime Tilia platyphyllos
Bhutan Pine Pinus wallichiana
Chinese Cow-tail Pine Cephalotaxus fortunei
Spur-leaf Tetracentron sinense
Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris
Sessile Oak (the Allerton Oak) Quercus petraea
Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
Fulham Oak Quercusx hispanica ‘Fulhamensis’
Pride of India / Golden rain Koelreuteria paniculata
False Acacia / Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia
Red Oak Quercus rubra
Sugar Maple Acer saccharinum
Handkerchief Tree Davidia involucrata
Common Walnut Juglans regia
Jacquemonti’s Birch / Himalayan Birch Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’
Table Dogwood variety Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’
Japanese Umbrella Pine Sciadopitys verticillata
Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas
Chinese Dogwood Cornus kousa
Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brillaintissimum’
Monkey puzzle Araucaria araucana
American Lime / American Basswood Tilia americana
Maritime Pine Pinus pinaster
Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron giganteum
Hornbeam Carpinus betulus
Aspen Populus tremula
Corkscrew Hazel Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’
Judas Tree Cercis siliquastrum
Pecan nut Carya illinoinensis
Dombey’s Southern Beech Nothofagus dombeyi

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Wirral Way, 22nd May 2022

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.

Wood Avens
Red Campion
Speedwell

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.

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Calderstones Park, 15th May 2022

Our visit to the wonderful Calderstones Park was to see some specific trees for their leaves or flowers in May, but we were also delighted to see the magnificent Rhododendron and Azalea walk at its best.

There is an unusual maple tree at the Ballantrae Road entrance. It’s definitely some sort of Acer because the winged “helicopter” seeds are developing, but the leaves aren’t sycamoreish at all, and the bark has coloured stripes. I think it might be Grey-budded Snakebark Maple Acer rufinerve.  Mitchell’s tree book says a snake-bark maple with grey and pink bark is always this species. There is another one with the same bark and leaves near the walled garden.

On the corner of the Text Garden is a Dove or Pocket-Handkerchief tree, which only blooms at this time of year, and which some people travel miles to see. Below it is a carpet of Wild Garlic and Three-cornered Leek.

In the old Rose Garden was a small Judas tree in flower, which we appreciated, but we were really looking for the young, very rare Pecan nut tree Carya illinoinensis. We spotted it last autumn as a new sapling with a nursery label, otherwise we’d have had no idea what it was. Unfortunately we didn’t make a careful note of exactly which young sapling it was, and there were two possibilities, both with the required pinnate leaves. Was it the bigger flourishing one or was it the weedy one? I think it was the weedy one, as Google Images shows yellowish new leaves on the ones in America.

Then we went to look at the Golden Rain tree, the main purpose of our visit today. A couple of tree-book authors have been almost rapturous about the new foliage. Mitchell says “unfolding dark red in late May …” while Paul Wood in London’s Street Trees gushes “… delicate rose- and bronze-tinted foliage emerges to compete with cherry blossom.”  We were disappointed to see that although some new leaves were a bit salmony or bronzy, the tree definitely wasn’t pink all over. We hadn’t missed it: Margaret has scouted the tree a couple of times since early spring but she didn’t find it pink all over at any stage. This picture is of the one near the Calder Stones, showing some pinkish shoots, but nothing to match our expectations.

We found ourselves by the gate to the nature reserve area, which is still under development. That side of the park was originally an adjoining gentleman’s estate, Harthill. Liverpool Council bought it in 1914 as an addition to the park and to prevent any “speculative builder” from buying it. From 1964 to 1984 it was the site of famous greenhouses containing a nationally important orchid collection as well as the plants for Liverpool parks. Derek Hatton had them all demolished, and the orchids were dispersed. The area was used as a green waste recycling centre until the Council decided to sell the area for housing development, in direct contradiction to the purpose of buying it in the first place. The Friends of Harthill and Calderstones Park protested vigorously, raised money and eventually forced and won a Judicial Review, keeping the land as part of the park. Now a group of volunteers is working to turn the area into a nature reserve, which is scheduled to open this summer.

Dotted around the park are several Chusan Palms, Trachycarpus fortunei. From the growing tops some were producing the most peculiar curved yellow structures, like fat triangular bananas or bent corns on the cob. It seems that Chusan Palms are dioecius, with separate male and female plants. What we saw were the emerging flowers of the male tree. How weird they are.

In preparation for the Jubilee someone has been crocheting red-white-and-blue bunting and a wreath for the railings of the Mansion House.

Some very knobbly trees caught our eyes. There were three or four of them, all with burrs protruding from the striated bark. They were leafing feebly, but looked like False Acacia Robinia pseudoacacia, native to the southern states of America, where they are known as Black Locust. Were they infected or infested with something?  I asked on the Facebook tree experts group, and was told ” If the top dies back for any reason, the knobbly lumps will sprout new shoots to replace the canopy and keep the tree going. Survival adaptation. I am not sure that all Robinias do it, but a great many do.”

Near the Rhododendron walk is this Giant Sequoia. It looks old, but it was planted to commemorate Churchill’s funeral in 1965, so it is only 57 years old. What a whopper!

As we headed back to the bus we reflected that we hadn’t seen many birds. There were Crows, Magpies, Wood Pigeons, a couple of Robins and Blackbirds, but not even a Treecreeper today. I suppose that all those exotic alien trees, interesting as they are, won’t be supporting much in the way of native insects, so they provide very little food for birds. A comparably-sized area full of native trees would be alive with birds. The Nature Reserve ought to help out with that.  

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Elliot Street at 9.58, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.25. Returned from Mather Avenue / Storrsdale Road on bus 86 at 2.15, arriving city centre at 2.47. 

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Stanley Park, 8th May 2022

Stanley Park, 111 acres, was opened in 1870, and is Grade II* listed, with major historic features designed by Edward Kemp. The park is famous for dividing the home grounds of Liverpool and Everton football clubs. It is near to the city centre and to several deprived areas, so it had a fair bit of litter, and junk in the lakes, and there were a couple of groups of yobbish-looking lads with bikes, but they weren’t any trouble. There were also plenty of fishermen, and parents with little kids, all enjoying the open air, the fresh greenery and the beautiful profusion of flowering trees and shrubs.

It was grey and overcast, and cooler than we had expected, although it warmed up when the sun eventually came out. We were tree hunting, following up on the two rare thorns we had looked for on 1st August 2021.  We re-found the tree we think is the Altai Thorn Crataegus wattiana, on the north side of the lake, next to a bridge. It had the expected deeply incised leaves, although were surprised that it was still in bud, as the books don’t say it is late to flower. The height of 6 meters looked OK, and the girth was 77 cm, a reasonable increase on the 63 cm last time it was checked in 2004. The proof of the identification (or not) will follow in the autumn. If it’s the right one it should have yellow haws with five seeds.

Then we looked for the other one, Grignon’s Thorn Crataegus x grignonensis. We didn’t find it last time, and we didn’t find it today. We had thought that with all the Hawthorns out it would be easy to spot, but there was nothing likely-looking in the place indicated (“North bank of lake at east end, within the perimeter fence”).  We wondered if it had been lost during the remodelling of that end of the lake, but the restoration was in 2000, and the tree we were looking for had been seen in 2004. But blowed if we could find it. All the other trees and shrubs were in flower except the ones we wanted to see. For example, the picture at the start of this blog entry is a Bird Cherry Prunus padus, and here’s a Manna Ash Fraxinus ornus.

A small Scots Pine had its male flowers out, which released clouds of pollen when they were shaken.

All the Hawthorns were blooming sumptuously, and we admired this pink one, with flowers much paler than usual. Could it be a pink Midland Hawthorn, which looks a little like this?

Last year’s wildflower meadow hasn’t been re-sown, so it is tending to Dock, but there were Ribwort Plantain, Red Campion and this Wild Carrot covered with ladybirds. I think they are Harlequins. They nearly all are nowadays.

There were Swallows over the ornamental beds and the trees had Blue Tits, Great Tits, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tits. The usual Crows, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and Feral Pigeons were hanging about. On the lake there were plenty of Canada Geese, Mallards, Coots,  Moorhens and one Great Crested Grebe.  One duck was very odd-looking, white with a black eye, and he was head-bobbing hopefully to another very peculiar one.

A pair of Mute Swans had nested on an island. Had they chosen that rubbishy corner on purpose, or had the junky barriers been put in to protect them?

We often see Coot nests, but not Moorhens. However, one Moorhen appeared to have chosen an open ledge, right next to some pipework. I think the lake is currently very low, and if it rises she will be flooded. Her mate seemed to be bringing her all kinds of plastic as nesting material.

Around some of the shallow rubbishy bays was a Holly Blue butterfly, possibly looking for dampness or salts.

There was also a Speckled Wood basking on a Sycamore leaf, looking a bit ragged and bird-pecked.

Garden shrubs included Solomon’s Seal, Mexican Orange, and one I think was Wiegela. This pink Rhododendron was superb.

The best scent came from this yellow deciduous rhododendron Rhododendron lutea. Here’s an interesting snippet about it from Wikipedia. “Despite the sweet perfume of the flowers, the nectar is toxic, containing grayanotoxin; records of poisoning of people eating the honey date back to the 4th century BC in Classical Greece.”

Public transport details: Bus 19 from Queen Square at 10.24, arriving Walton Lane / Bullens Road at 10.42. Returned from Walton Lane / Priory Road n 19 bus at 2.20, arriving city centre at 2.40.

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