Birkenhead Park, its lakes, ornamental buildings, bridges and trees, is one of our favourite destinations. We went in by the huge Town Gates archway and walked around the lakes in both the lower and upper parks. Before we noticed any living birds, we found a patch of scattered pigeon feathers on the path, probably a Sparrowhawk kill from earlier in the day. The usual lake denizens were hanging around for bread – Canada Geese, scruffy moulting Mallards and a few Coots. The resident pair of Mute Swans had three full-grown cygnets.
Later in the day we spotted a fleeting Grey Wagtail, but otherwise the land birds were just the usual Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeons, although we did encounter one scruffy and persistent Robin, who knew that if it stared intently at us for long enough, we would weaken and give it some bread. (One of us did, it was me.)
Although September is still over a week away, signs of autumn are increasing. This lovely Maple was turning colour at the ends of its branches, but remaining green near to the trunk.
Lots of nuts and berries were also starting to appear. We looked at ripening Turkish Hazel nuts and blackberries. Most of the mulberries are still red, but we spotted a few ripe black ones out of reach of the birds and the foragers.
These are lovely Hawthorn fruits, and now I look closely at the photo, I wonder if the tree is a rarer thorn, and not the common Hawthorn after all. Hawthorn berries aren’t usually slightly hairy, and the leaves look rather thick and waxy.
Although the day had started overcast, with rain forecast, eventually the sun came out and it became quite warm. Butterfly weather! We spent some time looking at a Holly Blue fluttering around in a patch of wildflowers, too distant and active to catch with a camera, but this Speckled Wood calmly sunned itself.
We had a list of eleven champion trees which we hoped to find, and we must have passed by six of them in the Lower Park. There is said to be a Yellow Buckeye on the rockery somewhere, and although we didn’t scramble up the rocks, we still couldn’t see it. On the island by the Swiss Bridge, there is said to be a remarkable Willow-leaved Pear, almost 30 feet tall, but we couldn’t see that either. The only one we found was one we knew already, the Cucumber tree Magnolia acuminata on the side of the path near the rockery. Like many magnolias, it has huge leaves, and its fruit is a little pink upright “sausage”, about an inch long. It’s the Cheshire height champion at 15m (49ft).
There’s a newly-planted small tree on the lawn east of the visitors’ centre, a wonderful young Copper Beech. There isn’t a hint of purple about it, it’s just the true browny-copper. I’ve not seen one like it before. Is it a new variety?
We also admired one of the flower beds near the visitors’ centre, now called Marion’s Herb Garden. We spotted Nasturtium, Fennel, Chives, Marjoram, Lavender and several others we weren’t sure of.
After lunch we went into the Upper Park, where there were supposed to be three more champion trees. We spotted a possible Manna Ash up a bank, which did have a graft at its base, as the champion was supposed to have, but after scrambling up through Holly and Bramble and getting a tape measure around it, we found its girth to be only about 150cm, not the 230cm+ the champion should have had.
I had hoped we would find more than one tree out of the eleven on our list. We didn’t think we were such poor tree-spotters. However, Champion trees are by their nature old, and are likely to fall or die. The last survey of the park was in 2015. As we were looking we considered all the dead and broken trees we saw, and we wondered. There were signs up saying there was ongoing “essential tree safety work” on the lake banks, aimed removing dead or unstable trees. Perhaps many of the trees we were looking for have died and been removed.
We take heart from a great find in Calderstones Park earlier in the week. Margaret was walking some of the less-travelled paths there, and found a Golden Rain Tree Koelreuteria paniculata. We had known of one at the back of the Mansion House, which had been cut down during the recent renovations. As far as we knew, the only other one in Lancashire was in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester. But now we find there had been a second one in Calderstones all along, in an obscure spot, next to the fence of the horse field belonging to Beechley Stables. It is in a good sunny position, and had just flowered. It is about to be added to the database of the Tree Register, not as a champion, but as a remarkable tree nevertheless.
Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.05, arriving Park Rd N / Park Rd E at 10.20. Returned on bus 437 from Park Rd N / Duke Street at 2.37, arriving Liverpool 2.50.