Port Sunlight and New Ferry, 5th May 2019

Overlooking the southern end of Port Sunlight’s dell, just outside the station, is this very droopy conifer, which we have never yet made a determined effort to identify. The most obvious candidate is the famously droopy Brewer Spruce, Picea breweriana, named after a Mr Brewer and nothing whatsoever to do with the effects of drinking too much beer.

I think it must indeed be a Brewer Spruce, everything matches the book. The twigs fall straight down from the branches, the male flowers were dropping copious pollen and last year’s cones were the typical leathery, curved spruce type, about 4″ (10cm) long with stains of white resin.

We noted the Honey Locust and a fastigiate Beech, and stopped again at a handsome small tree with green and brown heart-shaped leaves. This seems very likely to be a young Dove Tree Davidia involucra, also called the Handkerchief Tree. It doesn’t seem to be flowering this year, but they flower when quite young, so maybe one of these years it will positively identify itself!

In the tall Tulip Tree we spotted a fast-moving Grey Squirrel with a young bird in its mouth, possibly a Blue Tit nestling. We watched it to see if it would go back to predate another one from the same brood, but it was last seen being scolded by Blackbirds under the bridge, whose two young ones were fledged, hopping about and thus relatively safe.  There were three Mistle Thrushes on the lawn, two parents with a single fledgling. A poor brood for them. Did the Squirrel get the others? I love how they cock their heads as if they are listening for worms.

Past Hulme Hall, with their light-leaved ‘Brilliantissimum’ Sycamores in flower, and up to the Hillsborough Memorial Garden overlooking the Rose Garden and the Lady Lever art gallery. They usually plant it up in red and white, Liverpool FC’s colours.

On either side of the Rose Garden are long avenues of Lime trees. Their identification still eludes us. They have no twiggy growth at their bases so they aren’t Common Limes. The flowers are just coming out, and they aren’t sticking out in all directions, so they aren’t Small-Leaved Limes. The leaves are smallish and thin, so they probably aren’t Large-leaved Limes, and the undersides of the leaves aren’t noticeably white and downy, so they aren’t Silver Limes. Are they Caucasian Limes? American Basswoods? No idea. We were dragged away from this contemplation by loud bird calls overhead, where a Buzzard was being mobbed by a pair of Crows, and it was circling higher and higher to try and get away from them

After lunch we cut through to Greendale Road, where the Judas Tree Cersis siliquastrum, between numbers 32 and 33, was in full flower, the little pink blooms springing straight from the wood.

New Ferry Butterfly Park was having an Open Day. There were tents from the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Friends of Port Sunlight River Park and many others. They had plant sales, a Maypole, Morris Dancing and the Mayor and Mayoress were there to grace it all. The Butterfly Park has just won the Community Impact Award at the Echo Environment Awards, which might explain the attention. We have never seen it so crowded.

One of their volunteers, John McGaw, is an arachnophile, a Spider Man. He had several live specimens on display, which he had found in the park the day before and kept in kitchen containers for the show. Here are four of them.
A Woodlouse Spider, Dysdera crocata which has strong jaws which can crack and eat woodlice.

Woodlouse spider

A female Nursery Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis. Before mating the male brings the female a wrapped gift of food to reduce the chances of her eating him afterwards.

Nursery web soider

A Black Lace-weaver Amaurobius ferox, the one that makes lacy cobwebs in your old flower pots.

Black Lace-weaver

Finally, in a Kilner jar, a False Widow Spider, Steatoda nobilis. Overnight she had woven a nest and laid eggs.

False widow spider

We happily pottered about the wilder end of the area, noting Alder Buckthorn just coming into flower. The white flower in the herb garden wasn’t Cow Parsley as we first thought, but Sweet Cicely which smelled of aniseed. We appear to be at the peak of the Hawthorn (May) blossom, and it attracted several butterflies. As usual the Orange Tip was too fast for me but this Speckled Wood behaved more sedately.

And the pond was its usual interesting spot, with pond skaters, water boatmen and very many Newts, which I think are Smooth Newts.

Public transport details: Train from Central Station towards Chester at 10.15, arriving Port Sunlight 10.30. Returned from Bebington Station at 2.55, arriving Central at 3.15.

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