Birkenhead Park, 25th February 2024

There was a frost last night, and the day was still, cold and misty although the sun came out in the afternoon. We went a different way than we usually do, halfway towards the cricket club then left. In the clumps of trees there we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, then another and then a third one in the distance. The first one was right over our heads but we still couldn’t find it. Then it flew ahead and we finally glimpsed it, doing an acrobatic upside-down walk along a horizontal branch. It appears to be a female as it has no red patch on the back of its neck. I thought it was only the males that drummed, but I was surprised to discover that both males and females do it.

Also among the trees were Magpies, Wood Pigeons, Crows, a Blue Tit, Grey Squirrels and Feral Pigeons. The daffodils are coming out, there were Primroses in the grass, and we puzzled over this twiggy Lime tree. They usually sprout profusely from the base, and you can see this one has done that, although the gardeners have trimmed it back neatly. But what’s that huge twiggy mass higher up? I have not seen a Lime tree do that before.

At this time of year the Yew trees are flowering in their idiosyncratic way. All the male trees bear clusters of tiny pollen sacs along the twigs, each about 2-3mm across. I thought they just broke open to release their pollen but now I see from my close-up photo that a sort of cauliflower-on-a-stalk emerges.

On the Lower Lake were Mute Swans, Coots, Mallards, Tufted Ducks and lots of resident Canada Geese making a racket and engaging in territorial fights.

Birkenhead Park has suffered recently from the storms, as have so many other parks. There were several trees down and tidied into piles of cut logs. We were shocked to see that the old Mulberry had disappeared from its well-foraged spot, up a bank on the northern side of the lower lake, about 50 yards east of the Rockery. No sign of the remains, so that one had been taken away. The ranger said they are planning to plant another, but probably not in the same place.  We did note that some fallen trees had made big dents in the railings as they fell.

On the bank opposite the Boat House we re-visited the tree planted for the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, not long before she died.

In a flower bed outside the Visitors’ Centre was a pair of small Camellias with mostly white flowers, but occasional red, pink or variegated ones. That’s quite special.  I think it’s variety ‘Angela Cocchi’.

After lunch we looked for the Paxton tree, planted in November 2022. It is a Chinese Tulip Tree Liriodendron chinense, one of a trio planted here, at Liverpool Princes Park and at Chatsworth by the Duke of Devonshire, to commemorate Joseph Paxton. He was head gardener at the Duke’s seat at Chatsworth and also designed Princes Park and Birkenhead Park, which had their 180th and 175th anniversaries in 2022. 

Around the Upper Lake one Horse Chestnut bud was just breaking, the Turkish Hazel was dangling its brown catkins, Rhododendron and Laurustinus were in flower and I spotted my first Lesser Celandine of the year.

More lovely trees. This clump reminded me of one of David Hockney’s first Yorkshire paintings.

The lakeside weeping willow was a beautiful golden yellow in the sun, with the buds just breaking.

The booklet “The Unusual Trees of Birkenhead Park” features their striking clump of Purple Cherry Plums Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardi’. We had never seen them in early spring before, and of course they aren’t purple yet, but covered in small white flowers. They are lovely in any season.

Public transport details: Train from Central towards West Kirby at 10.05, arriving Birkenhead Park station at 10.15.  Returned on the 437 bus from Park Road North / Asquith Avenue at 2.10, arriving Liverpool 2.25.

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