What a mild day in comparison to the snow and ice we had in the week! My first (and only) interesting bird of the day was a Common Gull (which aren’t common at all nowadays) on the pavement in Queen Square in the city centre. At first glance it looked like an ordinary Herring Gull, but it was looking around with a bemused air, as if it was wondering how it got there, and then I noticed the dark eye and yellow-green legs. I wonder what made it stop in a bus station? Common Gulls are usually found in the middle of big playing fields or golf courses. Our destination today was Ormskirk, but we hopped on the Kirby train for a couple of stops to Sandhills, so we could ride on one of the fancy new ones, the first time for most of us.
Just outside of Ormskirk station, past the park-and-ride car park, is a triangular wooded area called Station Approach. It’s a 7 acre mixed wood and wildflower area on the footprint of old sidings and the former branch line to Skelmersdale. The trees are mostly tall Birches and young Oaks and in a few weeks they will stand in a carpet of Bluebells, Lesser Celandine and Wild Garlic. The signboard also promises meadow flowers and butterflies in early summer, and also rabbits and weasels. Today we noticed the Hawthorn and Elder leaves breaking out, a few flowers of Lesser Periwinkle and this patch of Coltsfoot.
A few woodland birds were moving about – Robin, Goldfinch, Dunnock – and there were Magpies in an adjacent field. In some broken tarmac, Wood Pigeons were bathing in the dirty puddles, possibly the first unfrozen water they have had for several days.
There is a pretty little park at the junction of Ruff Lane and St Helens Road called Victoria Park and Garden. We had our lunch there, spotting a Buzzard high overhead. We hunted for the pair of Ash-leaved Maple / Box Elder trees, hoping to see the bright pink clusters of catkins that the male trees show off at this time of year. We think we found the female tree, but not the male tree we were hoping for. There is a memorial obelisk in the park to Sergeant-Major Nunnerley of the 17th Lancers, a local man who had participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and survived to become an Ormskirk shopkeeper and local celebrity until his death in 1905.
After a pit stop in Morrison’s supermarket we headed into Coronation Park. Families were “feeding the ducks”, and we noted lots of Mallards, some of which were the domesticated white type, Canada Geese, a few Moorhens but no Coots. There were also a couple of Herring Gulls and a few Black-headed Gulls, none with leg rings. A couple of the BHGs still had white heads so late in the season. Are these young ones?
Beyond the park lake is a wetland area, edged with coppiced willow, and which is good for butterflies and wildflowers in summer. The signboard boasts of bats, amphibians and water-loving flowers like Purple Loosestrife, but there was nothing like that today. However, along the recently-cleared watercourse we spotted many holes in the bank. What made those, I wonder? If it was Water Voles, wouldn’t the sign have said so?
We cut around a fence into the graveyard of Ormskirk Parish Church. There were carpets of Daffodils, Crocuses and gone-over Snowdrops around the old Victorian gravestones. On the far side was a Birch tree covered with Witch’s broom.
It is thought to be caused by a fungus called Taphrina betulina, which infects the lateral buds that make twigs and side shoots and causes them to lose control and grow multiple stems in a tangled, disorganised manner. It takes many years to make big brooms, and it doesn’t seem to harm the tree. One branch of this one had broken off and we were able to see the broom close-up.
The oldest gravestones have been used to pave the area surrounding the church, and one of the oldest I could find records a baby girl aged 11 months who died in 1787.
Public transport details: Train from Sandhills to Ormskirk at 10.23, arriving 10.50. Train back from Ormskirk at 2.37, arriving Liverpool 3.10.