Wirral Way, 21st May 2023

On a lovely warm and sunny day we set out on a simple, straight, flat walk along the Wirral Way. Its full length is 13 miles from Hooton to West Kirkby, but we only walked from Hooton to Hadlow Road and back, 1.7 miles each way. We met some walkers and cyclists, but it wasn’t busy, just a cool green tunnel.  The billowing Cow Parsley wasn’t fully out yet, but there were plenty of other flowers, including May (Hawthorn) blossom, Forget-me not, Speedwell, Wood Avens, Dog Rose, Red Campion and Buttercups.

Red Campion
Some kind of Speedwell
About a week too early for the best billowing Cow Parsley

The Elder was in bud, but not yet flowering, while the Hogweed was sending up strong shoots. By contrast, most of the Dandelions are over, and here is half-blown seed head showing how it is made.

The female Goat Willow trees were shedding their fluffy seed everywhere, and looked like they were covered in blossom.

Seed fluff, not white blossom
Goat willow seed heads, one with the fluffy seeds emerging, one yet to open

All through the tangled hedgerows were the winding and climbing tendrils of Black Briony, with tiny new leaves and panicles of male flower buds. We are used to seeing the red berries in autumn, but I don’t think I have noticed it at this time of year before.

We spotted some Alder leaves with yellow bumps on them, which appear to have been caused by one of the Alder Gall Mites, possibly either Eriophyes laevis or Eriophyes inangulis. Pictures online seem confused, and neither of those species’ galls show the pale yellow margin on the leaves we saw.  Maybe the culprit is something different.

We remarked on how young Horse Chestnut saplings often put out huge leaves next to paths, presumably to capture maximum light as they attempt to get up to the canopy.

Talking of Horse Chestnuts, I had speculated last year that the two huge trees near to Hadlow Road station might be the special variety called Baumann’s Horse Chestnut. They have double flowers and are sterile, producing no conkers or their spiky cases. This is very useful when the path beneath is used by horses and bikes. This time I had had a good look at the flowers and I am sure they ARE Baumann’s. There is no natural way they could have got there, so they must have been deliberately planted when the path was laid out in 1973. They are now 50 years old and are magnificent towering specimens.

Along the way we heard several Chiffchaffs. There were Robins singing, Blackbirds on the path and at one point we could hear a loud and complex song, probably made by some sort of warbler. We looked at all the trees in the direction of the song but we couldn’t find the bird. As for mammals, the verges had some narrow trails which might have been badger or fox paths.  Further on I spotted a movement low down and was rewarded by the sight of a small Field Mouse scurrying away into the undergrowth. We also spotted two Corpses of the Day – a dried-up Grey Squirrel and a recently-dead Hedgehog on which flies were settling.

We lunched at Hadlow Road station, preserved as would have been in about 1952, complete with old ticket office, timetable and old money!

On the way back, it turned out that Sheena had a plant photo-ID app on her phone and it identified Cock’s Foot grass. I was still a bit sceptical so we tried it on the immature and unpromising-looking tendrils of Black Bryony, and it got that right, too. Maybe we should get a birdsong app to help with mystery warblers.  Several butterflies were on the wing, including three Speckled Woods competing for space in a sunny glade (probably all males), an Orange Tip, and this Speckled Wood which sat still for its portrait.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards Ellesmere Port at 10am, arriving Hooton 10.25. Returned from Hooton at 14.14, arriving Liverpool 14.45.

Anyone is welcome to come out with the Sunday Group. It is not strictly part of the MNA, although it has several overlapping members. We go out by public transport to local parks, woods and nature reserves all over Merseyside, and occasionally further afield. We are mostly pensioners, so the day is free on our bus passes, and we enjoy fresh air, a laugh and a joke, a slow amble in pleasant surroundings and sometimes we even look at the wildlife!
If you want to join a Sunday Group walk, pack lunch, a flask, waterproofs, binoculars if you have them, a waterproof pad to sit on if we have to have lunch on the grass or a wet bench (A garden kneeler? A newspaper in a plastic bag?), and wear stout shoes or walking boots. We are usually back in Liverpool City Centre by 4pm at the latest.
If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website www.mnapage.info for details of our programme and how to join us.

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Allerton Cemetery, 7th May 2023

There was no rain today, it was warm and sunny for a change. In Allerton Cemetery all was calm and ordered, with manicured lawns, neat shrubberies and pretty flower beds outside the gate lodges.

The Cherry blossom is falling.

There were Blackbirds about, a Robin and this smart and alert Mistle Thrush.

We saw one or two white butterflies, and a single blue, but all were distant and fast-moving, so we couldn’t identify them. It was the flowering trees that were easier to examine.  Hawthorn, Oak, Sycamore and Hornbeam, as well as some lovely Rhododendrons and Azaleas. The Red Horse Chestnut, the Judas Tree and Laburnum were following closely behind. In a corner is a grafted  Manna Ash, with its white frothy flowers.

We also looked at the Bauman’s Horse Chestnuts,  a variety with double flowers. This interferes with their reproductive apparatus, meaning they are sterile and produce no conkers. They are favoured in town plantings because there are no messy conkers and cases for the council to clear up.

Along the path leading to Springwood we were surprised to see copious Oak Apples on the ground, much mashed by the passing cars. We haven’t seen them so abundantly before. They are caused by a tiny female wasp of the species Biorhiza pallida, who lays her eggs in the developing leaf buds of several species of Oak. The oak itself produces the spongy “apple”, which may contain quite a few developing wasps.

Springwood Avenue is lined by magnificent Copper Beeches.

Over the road is the main crematorium for Liverpool, and its gardens are very beautiful. We sat by the rose beds for lunch and found we were seated under a tree we had looked for earlier in the year without success. It was a Box Elder / Ash-leaved Maple Acer negundo. The male tree puts out clusters of bright pink tassels before the leaves. They have all gone dull and brown now, of course,

Behind the gardens is a small wild woodland called the Eric Hardy Nature Reserve. What a contrast to the neat lawns and shrubberies of the cemetery and crematorium! The woods are mainly Oak, Cherry and Hawthorn, with Bramble and Elder below. This is a young wood, so the floor is colonised by prolific “weeds” like Nettles, Goose Grass, Green Alkanet, Spanish Bluebells, Garlic Mustard, but also Wild Arum (= Lords and Ladies) and Cow Parsley.

A Jay flashed past, and as we emerged at the north end of Clarke Gardens we heard some Ring-necked Parakeets squawking. We walked along the edge, looking at the new trees planted amongst the daffodils. Some have been vandalised and snapped, some are completely gone with just the stakes to show where they had been, and the best survivors seemed to be the unstaked tiny “whips”. Then we headed back for the train. It was full of revellers heading for the Eurovision events in town, so we made the right decision to avoid the buses, which were all being re-routed!  

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.14, arriving Liverpool South Parkway 10.28. Returned from Liverpool South Parkway station at 14.46.

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Eastham Woods, 30th April 2023

Yet another wet and drizzly Sunday: the rain does seem to be seeking us out this year. Off to Eastham to check if the signposted bluebell wood lived up to its promise.

It did indeed, with large areas carpeted with the rarer native English Bluebells. They are an indicator species for ancient woodlands, which suggests Eastham wood has been undisturbed for at least 400 years. Half the world’s bluebells are found in the UK, and the English species can be distinguished by having their flowers just on one side, a nodding stem, curled-back petals, white or cream pollen and a sweet smell.

The bluebells in most gardens, including mine, are from Spain or Portugal, and have been imported for centuries, preferred because they were bigger and more upright. In a familiar sequence of events the Spanish bluebells have been out-competing and hybridising with our native bluebells. You will know the interloper by its tall straight stems, flowers all around, blue pollen and absence of scent.  There were a few clumps of them near the path edges, but the depths of the wood seemed to have the proper English Bluebells throughout.

All was green and growing, with that lovely fresh colour of spring. Lots of Garlic Mustard was flowering beside the paths and the Cow Parsley was just starting to bloom. The Hawthorn or “May” blossom was just coming out.

Another plant near the edge was Yellow Archangel with variegated leaves. This is a garden escape and the Wildlife Trusts say it is an invasive plant and should be removed from wild areas. We also spotted a few patches of Wood Anemone and a couple of clusters of Three-cornered Leek.

A fenced-off area was reserved for wildflower and (hazel) coppice restoration, and a single yellow flower was visible. Buttercup? Some kind of Poppy?  No, it was Greater Celandine, a member of the Poppy family, and no relation to the Lesser Celandine. It is thought to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans as a medicinal herb – its orange sap was used to treat warts.

Robins were singing everywhere. We saw both Song Thrush and Blackbirds on the path and heard the call of a Nuthatch, but we couldn’t see it. As we approached the Ranger Station we were shocked to see the yard gates closed and locked. We had been relying on using their loos. Happily the biker’s pub next door, The Tap, was happy to accommodate us. It looks like Eastham is another place we will have to delete from our list of suitable places to go on a Sunday.

There were no dry places to have lunch, but we found a Holly den which had suitable logs for seats but was a bit drippy!

As soon as we had finished eating, the rain stopped. It’s always the way. As we walked back out to the road we noticed logs and woodpiles everywhere. It’s the aftermath of storms Arwen and Barra in December 2021, when dozens of trees fell or snapped. I think there’s now a massive experiment going on. None of that old wood has been removed, it’s all being left as logs, branches, brash piles and woodchip to see what happens as it rots.

Public transport details: Bus 1 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.05, arriving New Chester Road opp Woodyear Road at 10.45.  Returned on the X1 from New Chester Road / Allport Road at 1.55, arriving Liverpool at 2.30.

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Otterspool Park, 23rd April 2023

The Otterspool area was once the home of fishermen, and of dissident Puritans (who named the little stream “River Jordan” and the lane “Jericho”). Later, a wealthy merchant built a snuff mill near the shore and a large house for himself. It was demolished in 1931 and all that remains are the gateposts and carriage drive.

We took the new Woodland Walk path, which climbs the right-hand bank and winds through Beech and Hornbeam, Sycamore and Norway Maple. Someone has been planting (Spanish) Bluebells, Daffodils and Narcissi. In this sheltered valley we saw our first Horse Chestnut flowers and the first May blossom. All the new leaves are a delicate green.

A Nuthatch was dodging about in the tree branches and we heard Great Tits and Blackbirds. A Jay flew over. At the base of one tree were some small excavated holes which we think were made by mining bees. They weren’t quite as big as bumble bee nest holes, the width of a pencil rather than a finger. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the residents, and since there are over 60 species of mining bees in the UK we can’t even guess who made them.

The woods aren’t completely native. The carriage drive must once have been lined with specimen trees. There is some kind of Redwood, a tall thin conifer, and a magnificent pair of Cut-leaved Beeches flanking the path. On the corner by the railway bridge we noted a small tree that we couldn’t identify. It had masses of small hanging buds, and what looked like black fruits or empty seed cases from last year, all turned up like little chandeliers. The good folks on the Facebook group Trees of Britain and Ireland promptly named it as the shrub Enkianthus campanulatus known as Red Vein Enkianthus. It is native to the open woodlands of Japan. Those little buds will become pink bells, and it has wonderful autumn colour, they say. Interestingly, there is a Persian Ironwood immediately opposite it, a tree also famed for its autumn display, so this is clearly a planned pairing.

We emerged from the woods near the skatepark. There are newly-planted trees on the lawn there, some still with their nursery labels. Two were Weeping White Mulberries, there were some lovely cut-leaved birches and multi-stemmed Hazels, one a purple variety. These are unusual plantings for a busy public park.

Nearby was a sign calling it The Otterspool Orchard and saying that it is part of an Urban GreenUP research project on climate change. They also mention one of the plantings was a pecan, a rare tree we have also recently seen planted in Calderstones Park. Is that part of the same experiment? Whatever is produced is free to harvest in any case.

We lunched overlooking the river, watching a group of yachts with colourful sails.

With dark clouds threatening we returned along the path on the south side of the carriage drive, designated a Nature Reserve. There were lots of wild flowers out including Wild Garlic, the first Cow Parsley, Garlic Mustard, White Dead-nettle and Marsh Marigolds on the banks of the Water Retention Ponds.

Marsh Marigold
Wild Garlic

We also admired many of the tree flowers, Hornbeam, Cut-leaved Beech, and thickly growing Elm seeds.  The books are never very clear about how to distinguish English Elm from Wych Elm by the position of the seed in the wing, but this is very probably Wych Elm because of the abundance of the seeds, and the unlikelihood of an English Elm of that size surviving to flower and fruit so copiously.

Early seeds of Elm
Hornbeam early seed tassels and some brown developed ones from last autumn
Flowers and emerging leaves of Cut-leaved Beech

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Elliot Street at 9.55, arriving Aigburth Road / Lisburn Road at 10.15. Returned from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane on the 82 at 2.05, arriving city centre 2.25.

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Gilroy Nature Park, West Kirby, 16th April 2023

It was grey and damp as I set out, and it settled into a persistently dismal drizzle all day. Our plan was to walk across the fields from Hoylake to Gilroy Nature Park, near West Kirby.  Along New Hall Lane there were plenty of wayside “weeds” doing well at the edge of the pavement – Shepherd’s Purse, Green Alkanet, Goose Grass, Mallow, Scarlet Pimpernel, many of them not in  flower yet, but there was a gorgeous crimson Crab Apple tree blooming near the entrance to New Hall Farm.

We passed Whitegate Animal Sanctuary and stopped to gawk at the pigs and poultry. Then along the path between the fields, the route we had attempted on 18 December last year, but had been defeated by the ice.

A Wren dived out of sight into a ditch as we approached and seven or eight Shelduck flew over in a tight flock, heading south. All the Dandelion flowers were closed up tight in the cold rain, but there were large patches of Red Dead-nettle, the Elder flower buds were well formed, and the earliest flowers of Garlic Mustard were just showing.

It had been cold and bleak between the open fields, but as we approached Gilroy we were at last sheltered by overhanging trees and the path was lined with the coastal plant known as Alexanders.

A huge carpet of Lesser Celandine stretched right back into the woods.

Inside the Nature Park bluebells were coming out under the trees. A Chiffchaff called, and there were a few Mallards out on Gilroy Pool, but then we spotted a fast-moving bird – a Swallow over the water.  But the rain was dripping down our necks, so we knew that one Swallow definitely doesn’t make a summer! (It was too fast to be in this picture, in case you are squinting.)

Around the edges of the pool were clumps of a grass-like tussocky plant, with black flower buds opening to yellow. It appears to be Black Bog-Rush Schoenus nigricans, a native plant. It is said to be common in Scotland and East Anglia, but the NBN Atlas doesn’t show any records of it between Formby and North Wales.  The Freshwater Habitats Trust says “Black Bog-rush is not a rush but a sedge! This beautiful species can be recognised for its almost 1m in height and its dense tufts with dark fruiting heads. Black Bog-rush flowers from April to June, and it is the host plant for various moths and flies, and food for mammals such as rabbits.”

The last section of the path to West Kirby runs next to some allotments, and is bordered by an avenue of newly-planted Apple trees of many varieties, some with legible labels. We could read the ones for Egremont Russet and Laxton Fortune. They were all starting to blossom.

A sign for “Incredible Edibles” says “When it’s ripe, feel free to pick some fruit” and adds “This apple avenue is an invitation to consider where our food comes from”.

By then it was nearly noon, but with no shelter in sight we got the bus a few stops into West Kirby, dropped into Morrison’s for the loos, then had a late lunch in the shelters in the ornamental gardens at the corner of Victoria Drive.  It was still raining, and we were getting cold and bedraggled, so it was time to go home. We had time to look into Sandlea Park on the way to the station.  It’s only a tiny park, but pretty. There were more Bluebells coming out, a mix of blue and white, and they looked lovely, especially against some old beech leaves.

A pink tree was just coming into leaf, probably an otherwise-ordinary Sycamore, but of the variety  ‘Brilliantissimum’, in which the green chlorophyll is late to develop.

Finally, a lovely white Cherry with its characteristic hanging blossom.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards West Kirby at 10.05, arriving Hoylake 10.30. Returned on the train from West Kirby at 2.30, arriving Liverpool at 3.10.

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Taylor Park St Helens, 2nd April 2023

Our intention today was to go to Carr Mill Dam, hoping we weren’t too late to see dancing Great Crested Grebes, but we had to change our minds quickly at St Helens bus station. We found the half-hourly bus we though we would get (the 352) had been reduced to hourly and we would have had to wait for 40 minutes. Blow that! So we hopped on the next 10A and went to Taylor Park.

Taylor Park is on land formerly part of the Eccleston Estate. In 1892 the landowner gave 47 acres to St Helens Town Council for use as a public park. It was never manicured “parkland”, with exotic foreign plantings, but its woods appear to be made up of mostly native trees, with only the shrubberies holding alien plants like Rhododendron and Cherry Laurel. Most mature trees were still bare, but the Daffodil displays were looking lovely.

The moles seem to be active at this time of year, and there were plenty of molehills on the grass, mostly flattened by the gardeners. Twice we came upon mounds of earth with small holes or tunnel entrances next to them. Have the moles been poking their heads out to check the lie of the land?

There were masses of Sycamore seedlings under the shrubs, throwing up their strap-like first leaves. Along the woodland paths we noted Elder and Hawthorn well in leaf, young Hornbeams  and Horse Chestnuts breaking their buds, but no sign yet of Beech or Oak. We heard or saw plenty of woodland birds – a Chaffinch singing, two Treecreepers, Robins, Great Tits and a fast-moving Goldcrest heading for a Scots Pine. A Nuthatch was calling its loud wheep! wheep!  Later, near the Visitors’ Centre, we heard our first Chiffchaff, but couldn’t see it. Around the lake a Willow had some past-their-best catkins of the pussy willow type, but it‘s hard to say if they were from Grey Willow Salix cinerea or Goat Willow Salix caprea.

The only “wild flowers” apart from the Dandelions, was this patch of Red Dead-nettle.

It was still grey and overcast by lunchtime, although the forecast had promised sunshine. We wanted to sit in the Quarry Garden, but it was closed, so we found seats up some steps, opposite a massive Cherry Laurel. A Blackbird came to crumbs. Many of the passing dogs were of the type we call sandwich sniffers, and we had to be on our guard.  Behind us was an evergreen shrub with white flowers emitting a lovely scent. It looked similar to Sweet Box, but this one’s flowers were bigger and wider, and Sweet Box is definitely a winter flowering plant – January and February only. So I don’t know what this was, but it was lovely.

There weren’t many birds on the lake. The Black-headed Gulls all seem to have gone away to their breeding grounds but there were plenty of Canada Geese and Mallards, two or three pairs of Tufted Ducks and gangs of fighting Coots.

In a quiet corner were these three oddly-marked patchwork Mallards, probably brothers and sisters from the same brood. These groups of distinctive ducks often stay together for all their lives, and we will look out for them again.

We struck off the path across the big field to see a magnificent white Cherry in blossom on the boundary with the golf course. The flowers were so dense they almost obscured the branches beneath. It’s some sort of cultivated early variety, I think.

There was one Mute Swan on the lake, hanging around by some bushes. As we came around the back of them we spotted the other Swan, probably the female, sitting on a nest. It’s a pity about the rubbish and litter they have collected, but it probably does them no harm.

Also loitering by some different overhanging bushes was a single Great Crested Grebe. It’s very likely his mate was sitting on a nest, well-hidden and further back.

Near the Visitors’ Centre, on the fenced-off bank, were several Moorhens, and two of them bore orangey-red rings on their legs. They were D33 and D34, probably ringed at the same time. I reported them, but the website didn’t return a report, perhaps because this is a new study, with only 47 birds ringed so far.

Public transport details: Train from Lime Street station (towards Blackpool) at 10.17, arriving St Helens Central at 10.45. Then bus 10A at 11.00, arriving Prescot Road / Toll Bar at 11.10. Returned on the 10A from Prescot Road / Toll Bar at 2.20, arriving Liverpool 3.17.

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Mayer Park and Port Sunlight, 26th March 2023

On a sunny morning, when we had all successfully managed to change our clocks, we took a bus across the Wirral.  The gardens on the way were showing off their Forsythia, Camellia, early Cherries and their just-breaking buds of Magnolia. It’s over ten years since we went to Mayer Park. It was once owned by Joseph Mayer of Liverpool, silversmith, antiquary and philanthropist. He lived in Bebington, and in 1869 bought the building next door, with five acres of land, and transformed them into a library and public park for all the people of the area. I imagine some of the older trees may be Mayer’s originals, perhaps now 150 years old. We didn’t examine the Cedar in the top photo, but it might be a now-rare Cedar of Lebanon, while a couple of Yews with gnarly trunks might also be that age.

Grey squirrels were scampering up and down the trees. The only birds about were Blackbirds, Magpies and Wood Pigeons. Daisies and the first Dandelions were in flower on the lawns and we spotted a big Bumble Bee quartering the ground beneath shrubbery, looking for a hole to start her nest. The “sticky-buds” of the Horse Chestnut were just breaking.

We poked about in the woodland area on the eastern edge, which may once have been allotments. In amongst the overgrown bramble and scrub were some remnants of cultivated flowers, such as these double Daffodils.

In the bare flower beds around the paved circle near the southern end we spotted Jelly Ear fungus emerging right out of cleared soil. They normally grow on dead Elder branches. The fungi weren’t attached to any underground roots, so we guessed they had grown from the woodchip mulch. (Added later: Sabena commented “…you have a pic of what you thought were Jelly Ear fungi … They’re actually Peziza – a saprophytic cup fungi that grow on the ground or woodchips. There are a lot of similar species – you really need a spore test to distinguish between them.”)

There was Periwinkle growing on a low wall, and flying all around it were bees with ginger thoraxes. Probably Common Carder bees Bombus pascuorum. They must have been queens emerging from hibernation, but were they feeding from the flowers or were they looking for places to nest in chinks in the old wall? They didn’t seem to settle for either purpose, and I never caught one sitting still for a photo.

After lunch we went under the railway tunnel to Port Sunlight and visited the garden centre. Outside there was a lovely shrubby border, and we found wintering snails tucked up in the  Hellebore.

The southern arm of Port Sunlight Rose Garden has recently been re-worked as a memorial garden for the late Queen. They took out the old roses and replaced them with the variety “Queen Elizabeth”, surrounded by low hedges and clipped conifers.

Along the junction of Church Drive and The Causeway there used to be a row of tall Lombardy Poplars. One came down in the storms of December 2021, and most of the others were found to have rotten cores and were felled. But the living cambium layer just under the bark persists in pushing out new shoots.

Outside Christ Church is a tree, planted by the WI, which we have variously mis-identified over the years. A Moosebark? A Foxglove tree? Something with huge leaves, anyway. Today we finally nailed it down as an Indian Bean tree, because we saw last autumn’s remaining bean pods.

A Mistle Thrush sang from the top of a churchyard tree, a Robin from lower down, and Jackdaws pecked about on the lawn. The Quinces in the hedge are magnificent this year.

It looks like Spring in the Dell.

Public transport details: Bus 487 (the Parkgate bus) from Sir Thomas Street at 10.38 (should have been 10.29), arriving The Village opp Civic Way at 11.04.  Returned on the train from Port Sunlight station at 14.36 (that was late too!), arriving Liverpool 15.00

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Croxteth Park, 19th March 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ormskirk, 12th March 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Sunday Group | Comments Off on Ormskirk, 12th March 2023

Chester, 5th March 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman Garden
Roman amphitheatre

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

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

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