Ainsdale to Freshfield, 19th May 2024

We walked southwards today, along the inland edge of the Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR, which is about a mile from the sea. It was a hot and sunny day, but sometimes we were in shady woods.

Most of the early blossom has gone over, but a few of the Hawthorns were still in flower in shady sites. We thought these shrubs were also in bloom, but as we got closer we could see it was fluff, so these are probably female Goat Willows, sending out their floating seeds.

Ainsdale Pine Woods were on our right, and they were mostly all Corsican Pine, not the common Scots Pine. Corsican Pine is one of three varieties or subspecies of Pinus nigra. Corsican is var. maritima, Austrian Pine is var. nigra while the uncommon Crimean Pine is var. caramanica. I’m not sure why they aren’t different species, just varieties, and it’s all quite confusing. But Corsican Pine, as its variety name maritima suggests, does well on the coast, which is why it was planted here, to stabilise the back edge of the dunes. All the path edge was scattered with fallen cones.

This area isn’t far from the Formby Red Squirrel reserve, and the wayside signs say they also use these pinewoods. Some of the fallen cones showed signs of having been partially stripped for seeds by the squirrels, perhaps 10-20% of them, and I only saw one that was completely nibbled down.  So there are Red Squirrels here, but not as many as there could be.

Complete cone
Cone nibbled by squirrels, probably reds

Another common tree here was Sycamore, which we usually pass without comment. But I noticed that there is quite a lot of variability in the time of flowering and setting seed. All three of these are from different trees, but on the same day, in the same conditions.

Sycamore dangling flowers
Early seed pairs
Growing bunch of seeds

Further southward was a different group of Sycamores with noticeably red seed wings and some flowers still hanging below the developing seeds on the same panicle. Clearly a very variable species, but not “split” into varieties, like Pinus nigra, the pines mentioned above. The science of taxonomy is mysterious and impenetrable.

Seeds with red wings, and still flowers hanging on

We saw a Kestrel high overhead, and a Robin and a Carrion Crow hanging about the picnic tables.  We heard some Chaffinches, and some liquid song from top of a deciduous tree, which might have been made by a Mistle Thrush.  But birds kept a very low profile today. We did better with flowers. The Garlic Mustard is nearly finished, but we spotted Cow Parsley, Wood Avens, Buttercups, Daisies, one patch of Scarlet Pimpernel, Herb Robert, Red Campion and White Dead-nettle.

Cow parsley

A small plant by the wayside was similar to Bramble but it was lower, smaller and less aggressive. I think it was the uncommon Dewberry, which is a fixed dune specialist and known to be found here.

There were many butterflies about, but it was so warm, they were fast and active, too fast for me to photograph. Several Orange Tips, half a dozen Large Whites, two or three Speckled Woods. In one place there was a small butterfly, high-contrast orange and black, which we think was a Small Copper.  This path is known as the “Butterfly Route”, but we didn’t see as many individuals as we have seen in previous years. Numbers still declining, it seems.  

We crossed Formby Golf course, and emerged onto the closed end of a cul-de-sac called Montague Road. It’s one of the most expensive areas on Merseyside. The verge opposite the houses was semi-wild, but contained some garden escapes – Aquilegia and this lovely derivative of Meadow Cranesbill.

Public transport details: Southport train from Central at 10.23, arriving Ainsdale 1o.58. Returned on the 2.40 train from Freshfield.

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