Birkenhead Park, 23rd February 2020

Himalayan birch trees near to the Visitors’ Centre

Hallelujah! A day when it wasn’t raining! The sun even came out, although the wind was still chilly. The open fields in the park had unintended ponds, rainwater streamed off the banks in gurgling brooks and the ground was squelchy under the grass. Little lakes obstructed the paths, but the packs of runners splashed through them as if they were steeplechasing. We found that if we stopped to consider a tree, we were soon surrounded by the bolder kinds of wildlife, hoping for food. They must all have been hungry since there can’t have been many visitors to the park during all the recent storms. Pigeons, Mallards and Canada Geese all homed in on us, Grey Squirrels peeked out of the shrubbery and even the Robins became almost tame.

The Daffodils were out, the Flowering Currant was breaking into bloom and the first red Rhododendrons made high splashes of crimson in the dark shrubbery. A small tree by the lake was blossoming, looking a bit like some kind of Crab Apple, and on the bank was a single stalk of a flower head that looked like Betony. Had it struggled through the winter? It had a square stem about a foot long, which seems right.

Flowering currant
Crab apple?

There were Mallards, Coots, Moorhen, Canada Geese, two Muscovy ducks and a Mute Swan family on the lakes. A couple of Cormorants were flying about. There were Carrion Crows high in the trees, and a Jay put in a brief appearance. Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long-tailed Tits were popping around overhead, the loud song from a dark bush turned out to belong to a Song Thrush and two Nuthatches were poking about industriously in the knobbly Black Mulberry. The birds were too quick for me, but here’s the wonderful warty bark.

The male Yew trees were covered with pollen balls, which I have just learned are are properly called strobilii, looking like little Brussels sprouts.

There are lots of Monterey Cypresses near the Swiss bridge, and also a possible Cedar of Lebanon on the opposite bank. We stopped to admire a wonderfully shaped bare tree and guessed from the look of it that it was an Oak. Then we found mounds of dead Oak leaves under it, so our guess was right.

After lunch we crossed into the upper park. They had a banner up announcing the park’s bid to be named a World Heritage Site. You know when you wish you had a marker pen in your pocket to correct spelling and punctuation errors?  How did anyone authorise THAT? (Clues – “publicly” and “its”).

The sticky buds were still developing on most of the Horse Chestnuts, but one bud had broken early and there were a few young leaves unfurling. One Hawthorn was also leafing. Very strange seasons!

Early leafing of Horse Chestnut

Around the upper lake there is a very small Monkey Puzzle, a Strawberry tree and an elegant young Bhutan Pine with its long, soft, 5-in-a-bunch needles and huge curved cones.

One dead tree was covered in small bracket fungi, head to toe right up the trunk.

Along Ashville Road there was a Cherry Plum in flower, which is usually the earliest of the small white blossoms, coming out a week or two before the Blackthorn. Someone has told me that you can positively distinguish it from Blackthorn because the Cherry Plum flowers are stalked. Yes, we noted that they do have stalks, about a quarter of an inch long (6mm). In a week or two we will look at the Blackthorns to see if their little white flowers spring straight from the bark.

The last tree species of note was this clump of five or six very rare Hybrid Strawberry trees Arbutus x andrachnoides on the corner by the Duke Street crossing. It’s a natural cross between the Irish and Grecian Strawberry trees. Like the “ordinary” Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo, it’s an evergreen and doesn’t look very exciting at this time of year, and could be mistaken for a Holm Oak until you spot its patches of bright red peeling bark.

Public transport details: New Brighton train at 10.18 from Lime Street lower level, arriving Birkenhead Park station 10.30.  Returned on the train from Birkenhead Park station at 2.21, arriving Liverpool just after 2.30.  

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