Rotten Row, Southport, 26th July 2020

The Sunday group isn’t confident to meet again, so I ventured out on my own. A major consideration for us oldies, of course, is finding a public toilet. Two places I considered and rejected were Birkenhead Park (Visitors’ Centre still closed) and Flaybrick Memorial gardens (Tam O’Shanter urban farm next door still closed). But supermarkets are useful pit stops nowadays, and there is a Morrison’s at the north end of Rotten Row.

Rotten Row is long herbaceous border just south of Southport. At nearly half a mile, it is the longest in the country. It is indeed lovely, full of big showy garden-type plants but not really wildlife-friendly. Agapanthus, Fuchsia, Hydrangea, Hibiscus, Agave, Bear’s Britches, Hollyhocks, Cordyline Palms and various tropical grasses.

Hollyhock and Tansy

I found it all remarkably silent, with no insect buzz at all. I think I saw just three bee-sized insects in the whole 700-odd yards. This one is some kind of drone fly.

This one, in the middle flower, is probably some kind of bumblebee, but the identifiable abdomen tip is curled under and impossible to see.

This one MIGHT have been a honeybee, foraging in the Purpletop Verbena.

I also spotted two Ladybirds, both torpid dark-variety Harlequins. There were no butterflies at all. It was overcast and breezy, of course, so not the best butterfly weather, but even so it seems a very poor year.  There has only been one butterfly in my garden so far, a single Small White and I haven’t seen any on any of the Buddleias I have passed.

Rotten Row has a few trees scattered along the back of the border. Both red and white-berried Rowans had developing fruit. There were occasional Horse Chestnuts with their leaves chewed by the Leaf Miner. It doesn’t harm the tree, they say, but it makes the conkers smaller. Near the north end is a tree with an old plaque on it saying it was planted 1910. I think it was a Red Horse Chestnut, as the leaves were rather buckled and the fruits weren’t spiky. I was amazed to see  large clusters of fruits on short shoots growing straight out of the trunk, not at the ends of branches. Is this usual for Red Horse Chestnuts, or is it a response to its age?

Victoria Park was very open and well-manicured, with nothing wild about it. The bowling greens were mowed and edged to perfection. Jackdaws and Magpies poked about on the grass.

Two Swallows swooped low over the grass. I think they were homing in on places where dogs had just romped, probably hoping to catch disturbed insects. A little pond had a few moulting Mallards and a pretty patch of white Water Lillies.

After a visit to Morrison’s, I headed into King’s Gardens and along the southern arm of the Marine Lake. Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, feral pigeons, one Greylag goose, one Moorhen, a Cormorant diving for fish, just a few Black-headed Gulls and hordes of immature Herring Gulls.

On the far side were great flocks of Mute Swans, something like 100 of them altogether. They were mostly non-breeders, although there were six half-grown cygnets amongst them, so one pair has raised a family this year. Young Herring gulls, like the Swans, find Southport a safe place to hang around for handouts. The very brown spotty ones are this summer’s chicks, I think. It takes them four years to reach adulthood, and experts can tell their age at a glance. Not me, though. Are the slightly paler ones a year older or are they this year’s chicks too?

Tourism seems to be picking up. The Roundabout in the fairground was in use, complete with lights and music. The kid’s playground was open, and lots of school-age kids were climbing and romping. Plenty of people were walking in the gardens, none wearing masks, but there wasn’t a worrying crush – social distancing was working well. The motor bikers had turned up as usual, and at the Marine Lake café the punters sitting at the outside tables were being entertained by a live singer, doing Elvis Presley’s greatest. He wasn’t in costume, but giving his all to “You were always on my mind”. I think he was working just for tips. Several families were out on the water in the Swan and Flamingo pedalos.

Public transport details: Bus X2 northwards at 9.36 from Liverpool Road / Myers Road West, alighting 10.10 at Lulworth Road / Weld Road in Birkdale. Returned from Southport Monument on the X2 at 12.50, arriving Crosby 1.30.

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