Birkenhead Park, 26th May 2024

We had planned to go to Gorse Hill, but a yellow weather warning of thunderstorms sent us to Birkenhead Park instead, a much shorter journey, and plenty of shelter if necessary.

We had a look at the detached triangular bit of the park along Park Road North called the Holts Garden. There were lots of Foxgloves planted in flowerbeds, magnets for bumble bees.

We also considered a huge White Willow with three trunks, looking as if three saplings were deliberately “bundle-planted” a long time ago. The Park opened 1847, so was this tight tree group planned by the designer Edward Kemp and is it now 177 years old?

There were Magpies on the grass, a Blackbird singing and a Mallard walking purposefully towards a flower bed, a long way from any lake. We also saw Robins and a Nuthatch later in the day and heard a Song Thrush.  We looked at the Stone Pines and the sick-looking Gingko and then our attention was drawn to three small trees covered with small white flowers like Hawthorn, but there were no obvious thorns, the leaves were different and they were flowering later than Hawthorn.  Clearly one of the rarer thorns. I think they were Hybrid Cockspur-Thorns Crataegus lavallei, because of the glossy leaves and absence of thorns, although the book says the flowers are supposed to have a red disc in the centre. However, the flowers were fading, possibly losing that spot.

Lots of lovely wild flowers in the lawns and verges. Ribwort Plantain, Bramble, Red Campion, Yellow Flag Iris on the lake verges, Daisies, Buttercups, Cow Parsley. On the Upper Park Lake we noted Moorhen, Mallard, a single Cormorant and several young families of Canada Geese. On the edge was a crèche of eight goslings, looking super-cute. They were probably two merged broods, because there were four adults around them.

This leaf of Field Maple had a scattering of yellow spots, probably the early sign of Red Pustule Gall, Aceria myriadeum.

Our second tree puzzle was on the edge of the Upper Park Lake, definitely some relative of the Horse Chestnut, but the leaflets were longer and thinner. Was it an American Yellow Buckeye or an Indian Horse Chestnut?  I think it was probably Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus flava, because the flowers had been yellow and there was no trace of pink in the leaf midribs.

At the western end of the lake a Dad and kids were throwing food to the birds on the bank, some kind of grain or seed mix. There were the usual Mallards, Canada Geese and Feral Pigeons muscling about after it, To our surprise a pair of Moorhens and their two half-grown chicks, usually so shy and retiring, were boldly going into the fray, hoping to get a share.

The parent Moorhens on the left, with red beaks, just one chick, front centre, head behind a leaf.

Just over the railings was a newly-planted tree with a nursery label.  We can never resist taking a look. It said Cydonia oblongata ‘Vranja’, half standard. I looked it up later and was surprised to see that it was Quince.  It used to be classified in the Pyrus genus, the pears, and there are pictures on the internet of profuse pear-shaped quinces. So what is the one with early red flowers and thorns that I call a quince? It seems the red-flowered shrub is the Japanese quince, Chaenomeles japonica. Its fruits are smaller and apple-shaped. So are they related? Yes, the next taxonomic step up from genus is sub-tribe and they are both in the Malinae. They are species “cousins”, not “siblings”.

There were plenty of Grey Squirrels around, approaching us in the hope of hand-outs.  There were also four large terrapins hauled out on a log. A passer by said there are a lot more in other places in the park. All terrapins and turtles in British park lakes are aliens, abandoned pets, and most are Red-eared Slider terrapins, popular since the Ninja Turtle boom of the 1980s. When the little ones bought for the kids’ home aquariums get too big, Dad sneaks them out to the park and dumps them. They say it is too cold here for them to breed, so they won’t become pests like Grey Squirrels are, but the world is warming …

As we headed to the visitors’ centre there were a few spots of rain, but there were no thunderstorms after all. We were amazed by the magnificent flower beds outside, full of tall high-quality bedding plants. They were far showier than we usually see in municipal parks with their tight budgets. A small sign revealed that they were sponsored by the Showtime ice-cream company, whose products are sold in the café.

As we ate our lunch, a Mistle Thrush was hunting on the hillock by the picnic tables.

On the corner by the Jackson memorial obelisk is a gorgeous Chinese Dogwood Cornus kousa. We usually come here in the autumn or winter, when it is uninteresting, so it is a treat to see it in flower.

Public transport details: New Brighton train from Central at 10.20, arriving Birkenhead Park Station 10.32. Returned on the 437 bus from Park Road North / Trinity Street at 1.35, arriving Liverpool 1.50.

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