Sefton Park, 24th November 2019

It was a mild and damp day, and some of the plants think spring is coming. The Sticky Buds are out on the Horse Chestnut, and the winter flowers of Viburnum bodnantense (no common name) and Winter Jasmine were out, together with the early Hazel catkins.

The park lake was, as usual, full of gangs of birds which (apart from those who dive for fish) must be entirely supported by handouts of stale bread, or anything better that the visitors and their kids bring. There were huge numbers of Feral Pigeons, Mallards, Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls, and smaller groups of Coots and Moorhens. A few Mute Swans were there too, and further out were Tufted Duck, a single Pochard, several first-winter Herring Gulls and a single Common Gull.  One Great Crested Grebe was gliding about on its own, looking quite austere without its breeding finery.

Some Cormorants were sitting on the chain posts.

The trees have now turned fully autumnal with striking copper carpets of Beech leaves under the trees. Here and there were splashes of different colours, like this bright butter-yellow Ginkgo, almost hidden in the Dell.

The County Champion Black Walnut (for both girth and height) which is opposite the bandstand had dropped a prodigious quantity of round black fruit onto the path and into the puddles under the nearby seat. Many of the Alder bushes around the lake were laden with cones, and some trees still had crops of berries (Whitebeam?).

At the top of the steps below the Rathbone statue is a clump of Caucasian Wingnuts, still bearing long strings of double-winged seeds.

Not far from the central café by the Eros fountain is a young tree that we had thought was a Foxglove tree, but now we see that not only are there two of them, but that they were bearing long pods. They must be Indian Bean trees Catalpa bignonioides, also known for their huge leaves. See this brown leaf, with a couple of pods and a normal-sized Hornbeam leaf for comparison.

An old rotting log had a marvellous crop of beautiful fungi. They looked like Oyster Mushrooms and smelt wonderful. They would be gourmet food if they were Oysters, but not being experts, we didn’t dare forage any.

Inside the Palm House we noticed for the first time a large tree with strange fronds. The sign said it was Araucaria heterophylla, origin Norfolk Island. Blow me, a Norfolk Island Pine! It’s a relative of the Monkey Puzzle, endemic to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific and vulnerable to extinction in the wild. They don’t grow in the open in Britain, they need hotter, drier summers, but there may be occasional ones in hothouses like this. I have glimpsed the odd ones in Mediterranean countries, catching the eye by their oddly symmetrical and primitive shapes, like children’s drawings of pine trees.

At the north-east corner of the lake is a young sapling on the bank that I check every time I pass it. I think it’s a Butternut, an American species of Walnut, Juglans cinerea. In the summer it has huge compound leaves, like Ash but at least 18″ long (50cm). The only other one I’ve ever seen was in Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Today I looked at the oddly-shaped leaf scars on the bare twigs, which reminded me vaguely of Munch’s painting The Scream. A bit of Googling confirmed that Butternut twigs and buds do indeed look like this.

There are three Kingfishers living in the Park nowadays, but they weren’t showing themselves today, sadly. However, we did see (and hear) more than half a dozen Ring-necked Parakeets. The prettiest bird of the day was a Little Grebe or Dabchick, with its fluffy powder-puff back end, and the bubbles showing it had just bobbed up from a dive.

One additional note, the two Black-headed Gulls which make international commutes in the winter are back on the Dee in Chester, J4U8 from Norway and T4R0 from Poland. They feature in this year’s MNA newsletter on page 18. Keep a look out for them!

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Great Charlotte Street at 10.03, arriving 10.20 at Aigburth Road opp Ashbourne Road. Returned on the 82 from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane at 2.40m arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 2.55.

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