Speke orchids and Calderstones nature reserve, 16th June 2024

Leading southward from the Speke Road roundabout (by Dobbies garden centre) is Speke Hall Avenue, a busy dual carriageway with a wide central reservation. For the last few years the local authority has allowed this to grow into a wildflower meadow, with spectacular results.  This year there are over 100 Bee Orchids scattered through it, especially opposite the Travelodge hotel. Several MNA members have been to see them, and none have ever seen so many before. It’s a good year for them apparently, and there are reports of lots on the Sefton coast too.

Famously, they are showing Reproductive Mimicry, where the flower looks (and smells) like a female bee, inducing a male to attempt to mate, and after he fails, carries pollen to the next flower. But there didn’t seem to be any bees approaching these. Which bee have they evolved to fool? The books say that most UK Bee Orchids self-pollinate as the right bee (and most of the orchids) live further south in Europe. However, the Long-horned Bee Eucera longicornis is occasionally found here. There is a blog by a south Devon naturalist about a small colony near him and I found a picture of a female on Flickr, photographed at Pevensey Levels in 2011.  She does indeed look like a Bee Orchid.

The same wildflower verge had Buttercups, Ox-eye daisies, Knapweed, Red and White Clover, Ribwort Plantain, Ragwort, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Self-heal, lots of lovely grasses, but we didn’t see any Yellow Rattle.

Ox-eye daisy

One butterfly was, appropriately, a Meadow Brown and we also spotted this small beetle, bronze with a dark green head, probably a Garden Chafer.

Further south on the verge were more orchids, one each of a purple one, which might have been a Southern Marsh orchid, and a tall white one which might have been a Common Spotted orchid.

There were two dead animals on that busy road, a gory Grey Squirrel and a bundle of fluff and feathers which was probably a young Lesser Black-backed gull.

We lunched on a bench in the business park, by the side of the road called Estuary Banks, then caught a bus to Calderstones Park, where the Nature Reserve was having an Open Day. The site is a former Council brownfield site, partly concreted over and used as a dump. The park Friends started work in 2021. Despite their magnificent success so far, it has not yet become part of the wider park. It is usually locked up and is only open on special days.

Part of it is a huge Bramble and Nettle patch. They have left it as it is, not wanting to use harsh chemicals to remove it. It towers above head-height and is a fantastic bird habitat. We could hear a Song Thrush singing deep inside it, and the Merlin phone app also detected the otherwise invisible Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird and Blackcap.

The Friends had lists on display of everything seen in the last two years. They noted 30 bird species, about 25 invertebrates plus 12 butterflies and moths, six mammals (fox, hedgehog, grey squirrel, rat, field mouse and an unspecified vole) and over 60 species of wild flowers.

Viper’s bugloss

To one side a little path leads to Hartley’s Stone, named after Jesse Hartley, the Victorian engineer who designed the Albert Dock. He called for samples of granite from several suppliers, and this was the one from the winning bidder. His daughter Fanny gave it to the city.

I always look at trees, and noticed that the Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus seems to be producing very copious seeds this year. They have typical “helicopter” seed pairs, but note that the wings usually point straight down. By contrast, a small Field Maple Acer campestre, also in the Acer genus, had seeds with the wings pointing straight out.

Sycamore seeds
Field Maple seeds

Public transport details: 82 bus (towards Speke, not the ones to Hunt’s Cross) from Elliot Street at 10.17, arriving Speke Road / Speke Hall Road at 10.45. Then bus 86A from Estuary Bank / opp Leeward Drive at 1.08, arriving Mather Avenue / Rose Lane at 1.26. Returned from Mather Avenue / Rose Lane on the 86A at 3.11, arriving city centre at 3.25.

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