It was a cold day for our first Sunday walk of 2023, a few degrees above freezing, but at least it wasn’t slippery underfoot. We had limited choice of where to go because all south-bound buses were diverted and disrupted by the Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown, all Northern Line trains were off because of engineering works, and we though it was too cold for anywhere on the coast, so we hopped on a bus to Birkenhead Park.
There was thin ice still hanging on in the middle of the lake, but around the edges there were the usual park denizens. Coots, Mallards, Moorhens, Canada Geese and Mute Swans. A Cormorant sailed by in breeding plumage, with striking white patches about its face. One Mallard flew in to splash down on the water, but hit an icy bit and executed a wonderful controlled slide of about 30m (100 feet), almost to the bank. A juvenile Herring Gull was strutting about on it.
There were Blue Tits and Great Tits flitting about, Starlings making whistling calls from high in the trees and a Song Thrush was foraging on the grass. We stopped to look at some Long-tailed Tits in some Holm Oak and Holly near the Boat House, and spotted a Goldcrest quite low down. It was in continuous motion, so impossible to catch in a good pose, but one of the pictures I took is at least recognisable as a Goldcrest.
The Visitors’ Centre has blue plaques to both of the famous landscape architects William Paxton and Edward Kemp, who designed and built the historic park from 1843 onwards. Some of the old trees may yet be their original plantings.
In winter it is easier to spot some strange root and trunk formations. There is a Yew with a twisted stem and some wonderful exposed Beech roots on a bank.
We saw only one newly-planted tree, which wasn’t possible to identify at a distance behind its elaborate four-stakes-and-chicken-wire cage, but a sign said it was part of the Queen’s Green Canopy, planted for the Platinum Jubilee in 2022. It will be something of a memorial, if it lives. One Hazel tree had its catkins out and we found the rather sick-looking Persian Ironwood tree in a little glade off the path north of the footbridge (by the exercise machine called Seated Chest Press). It had a few of its early crimson-in-black flower buds breaking open. Weeping willows are very “blonde” at this time of year, because the bark on the hanging twigs is surprisingly yellow.
After lunch we crossed Ashville Road to the upper park. There is a Turkish Hazel tree opposite the Victorian post box and it also had catkins out, but they are darker than those of common Hazel. Alder trees are easily identifiable at this time of year by their little cones and emerging catkins. One by the upper lake had Crows on it, apparently eating something. Was it the tiny seeds left in the old cones, or were they after the new catkins? They had to be pretty hungry in either case.
Quite a few people were putting out seed for well-loved resident Robins, but the hordes of pigeons soon descended and gobbled it all up.
The only new bird on the upper park lake was a single female Tufted Duck, but lurking in the far shrubbery was a Heron.
I claimed my first sign of Spring on 18th December, a Black-headed Gull at West Kirby with its black head coming in. Since then I have been keeping my eye open for others. Second was the Witch Hazel in my garden, flowering on about 7th January. A Silk Tassel tree had its long catkins dancing in the wind on 13th January.
Today we saw Hazel and Alder catkins, and Persian Ironwood flowers. I was also looking out for Snowdrops. The ones in my garden seem to be late, and there were none in Birkenhead Park. I spotted one just-emerging clump in a dark corner of Victoria Park on the way home.
Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.20, arriving Park Road N / Birkenhead Park at 10.35. Returned from Park Road N / Duke Street on 437 bus at 1.52, arriving Liverpool 2.05.
Anyone is welcome to come out with the Sunday Group. It is not strictly part of the MNA, although it has several overlapping members. We go out by public transport to local parks, woods and nature reserves all over Merseyside, and occasionally further afield. We are mostly pensioners, so the day is free on our bus passes, and we enjoy fresh air, a laugh and a joke, a slow amble in pleasant surroundings and sometimes we even look at the wildlife!
If you want to join a Sunday Group walk, pack lunch, a flask, waterproofs, binoculars if you have them, a waterproof pad to sit on if we have to have lunch on the grass or a wet bench (A garden kneeler? A newspaper in a plastic bag?), and wear stout shoes or walking boots. We are usually back in Liverpool City Centre by 4pm at the latest.
If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website www.mnapage.info for details of our programme and how to join us.