Landican Cemetery and Arrowe Country Park, 26th November 2023

It was a cold and still day, overcast but dry. Landican is a lovely cemetery, neat and symmetrical, beautifully kept, and all the trees grow perfectly, with plenty of room to show off their characteristic forms.

There were birds about, but not in any abundance. A Buzzard drifted over the trees and a Mistle Thrush on a tall bare tree was silhouetted against the grey sky. Crows and Magpies went about their business, and we spotted a Robin, a Blackbird, a female Pheasant crossing a path, Great Tits in a Golden Yew and a party of about a dozen Goldfinch busy around a Lawson’s Cypress, picking  the seeds from the little cones.

Most of the berries were already gone from the trees. The only ones left were in places that are hard for birds to get to, like these Rowan berries on very thin branches.

On the far eastern side John spotted a Brown Hare, glimpsed between headstones and heading for the brackeny edge. There are open fields beyond the hedge, reaching towards the Asda supermarket on Woodchurch Road. We should come back here in spring, when the hares are most active and all the cherry and crab apple blossom is out. But even at this time of year the planting around the central chapels is lovely, with even the almost-bare deciduous trees having colour to show.

The planting goes on, and many new saplings still bear their nursery labels. This one with yellow leaves, on a corner near the chapels, was marked as “Ulmus Lobel”. Ulmus is the Elm genus, but I don’t know what Lobel is, so I looked it up. It’s a hybrid cultivar from Holland, with no proper species name, developed to have good resistance to Dutch Elm disease. One parent was Field Elm Ulmus minor while the other was itself a hybrid of Exeter Elm and Himalayan Elm. Grow well, little tree!

After lunch we crossed the road to Arrowe Country Park. There is a lawn with several true cedars on it. One was definitely an Atlas Cedar, with blueish foliage and dimples in the top of its cones, and I’m pretty sure this one is a Cedar of Lebanon, now a rare tree on Merseyside. Right opposite was a lovely spreading tree with yellowing leaves – a Turkey Oak. There was a Jay in it, foraging for acorns.

By keeping an eye on the fallen leaves underfoot, I was alerted to a couple of unusual Oaks. This one is a Pin Oak Quercus palustris, with large deeply-indented and “pointy” leaves. (There is a Turkey Oak leaf included on the photo for scale).

And I think this one was a Hungarian Oak Quercus frainetto, also with large deeply-indented leaves, but a far more rounded outline. Sadly, neither tree had any acorns below it, or even any empty acorn cups.

By the side of a wooded path was a long curved row of big grey-and-white fungi, looking like a segment of a huge fairy ring. They had white gills in funnel shape, and after looking it up later, I think it might possibly be Clouded Agaric Clitocybe nebularis.

On the way out to the bus, a man coming in the other direction said we had just missed a Fox.

Public transport details: Bus 472 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.12, arriving Arrowe Park Road / Landican Cemetery at 10.45. Returned on 472 from Woodchurch Road / Church Lane at 2.16, arriving Liverpool 2.40

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West Kirby, 19th November 2023

Our goal today was to look for several unusual birds, occasional winter visitors to the local coastline, which had been reported on various birder’s websites. It was a miserable day for it, with drizzly rain nearly all day, but at least it wasn’t cold. The tide was well out, with a few people on the wet sands out towards Hilbre Island, but they were on their way back, as high tide was due at 14.48.  We ticked our first target bird almost right away, a juvenile Great Northern Diver on the Marine Lake.

It wasn’t at all bothered by the wind surfers, but just came up, looked around for a second or two, then dived again. It’s a blink-and-you-missed-it sort of bird when feeding. It has been here for about three weeks, so it is getting plenty to eat – some sort of shellfish on the bottom, I suppose. It is the same species as the bird known in North America as the Common Loon.
The same birder’s website had reported a Common Scoter on the same lake on Saturday, but it was gone today. Pity that, as I have never seen one.  The only other birds about were a Cormorant, the usual gulls, and a Redshank and Turnstone foraging by the edge.

The rain was getting quite persistent so we headed up to Victoria Gardens, where there are little shelters, and sat to wait out the rain and have an early lunch.

The third uncommon bird species we were looking for was a pair of Snow Buntings which had been reported on the rocks by the Dee Lane slipway for a week or two. They occasionally foraged further north along the narrow beach, but had decamped to Little Eye island on Saturday. Had they come back? They weren’t near the slipway, so after lunch we wandered northwards about 500 yards up the beach. No sign of them. There was a Stonechat on the fence at the top of bank and a Little Egret in the saltmarsh, but no Snow Buntings. A dog ran out into the marsh and put up a flock of 20 or so little brown birds. They wheeled around with a raggedy up-and down flight pattern, then settled. We could see where they landed, but they just disappeared into the vegetation. After they came up again they settled on the seaward edge of the marsh, and we could get a look at them at a distance. Hard to make out, but the behaviour and the bouncing flight suggests they were Linnets.

On the way back to the station we cut through Sandlea Park. Their roses are still blooming, some clumps of Feverfew were still in bloom and in the “Incredible Edibles” bed there were a couple of pink strawberry flowers, some sheltered Nasturtiums and a sprig of late raspberries trying to ripen.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.05, arriving West Kirby 10.35. Returned on the 2.05 train, arriving Liverpool 2.35.

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Sudley House, 5th November 2023

Sudley House is a Victorian merchant’s house and grounds in south Liverpool, built in 1821 by people with connections to the slave trade, but bought in 1882 by ship-owner George Holt, who was also an art collector. When his surviving unmarried daughter Emma (a pioneer of women’s education) died in 1944 she left the house to Liverpool on condition that the grounds were to be used as a public park, and her father’s art collection was not dispersed.

It was a showery day, more wet than dry, but we were able to look at some of the old trees in the gardens. The two huge old beeches have been lost to storms, but the imposing Tulip tree remains, with just one branch missing.

There are good younger trees, too. Near the Tulip tree is a baby Monkey Puzzle, and opposite the front of the house is a Sweet Gum, Liquidambar styraciflua, known for its spectacular autumn colour.

My nearly 50-year-old Mitchell’s Field Guide (of 1976) says the spiky fruits of Sweet Gum are “Not often seen”, but we are finding them more and more often nowadays, probably as a result of climate change.

A heavy rain shower drove us indoors. George’s Holt’s pictures are now the only surviving, intact collection of artworks once owned by a merchant family. He had a couple of Turners and works by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Millais and more. Behind a curtain is this lovely “Angel playing a Flageolet” by Edward Burne-Jones, which you probably know well from Christmas cards.

We lunched in shelter on the south-facing covered terrace. In front of it are some small plants I know as Cordyline Palms, but they aren’t palms, they are member of the Asparagus family and more properly known as the New Zealand Cabbage Tree Cordyline australis. They are endemic to New Zealand, and the first specimens known to Europe were collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander, naturalists on the ship Endeavour, during Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific in 1769.

I am used to seeing plumes of mystery flowers high up overhead, but these plants were low enough to see they had ripened to white berries, each with two seeds.

After lunch the rain cleared a bit and we ventured along the southern edge, passing a solitary Larch tree. They don’t do well this far south, and there aren’t many of them, but this one looked better than most.

The Larch is the tall thin one on the left

A volley of squawks alerted us to about five Ring-necked Parakeets which were coming to a bird feeder in the hedge. After they flew off we spotted a Nuthatch, and some Blue Tits and House Sparrows, coming to feed after the green thugs had gone.

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Elliot Street at 9.55, arriving 10.15 at Aigburth Road / Chequers Gardens. Returned on 61 bus at Mossley Hill Road / Elmswood Road, changing to an 86A at Mather Avenue / Rose Lane and arriving city centre 2.15.

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New Brighton, 29th October 2023

High tide today was about 11 am, just around the time we arrived. The sea comes right up against the sea wall and creeps up the boat slipways.

When the beach is covered, some of the shorebirds come to roost on the pontoons of the Marine Lake.

Today there were only about 200 birds, dozing Redshank and Turnstones. We sometimes see Dunlin in the flocks here, and even Purple Sandpipers, but not today.

Redshanks with long legs, Turnstones with short legs and darker backs

There were no unusual birds around.  Cormorants flew past and others perched on the gantries marking the shipping channel. Pied Wagtails bustled about,  Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls mooched along the prom, keeping a look-out for discarded crumbs or even fish and chips. We checked them for leg rings, but no discoveries today.

Black-headed gull showing that he ,too, has red legs

A small flock of Starlings whirled about, cheeping and whistling from occasional perches and looking lovely in the right light with their winter-flecked, bandit-masked plumage.

As more visitors arrived, the busy life of the Marine Promenade on a sunny day developed, with buskers, a ventriloquist in one of the shelters, and troops of little girls from dance schools (and one boy) crowding the foyer of the Floral Pavilion, apparently for auditions.  As the tide receded happy dogs chased balls into pools and a lone metal detectorist started working the high water line.

Just to the side of Fort Perch Rock there is a place among the sea defence boulders where the highest water must never reach. Various uncommon and specialist plants have a foothold there, including Marram Grass, Sea Beet, Tree Mallow, and (still flowering) Sea Mayweed and Sea Rocket.

Sea Rocket

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.20, arriving New Brighton 10.40. Returned on bus 433 from Kings Parade / Morrisons at 1.45, arriving Liverpool 2.15.

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Parkgate, 22nd October 2023

What a change after Storm Babet! It was dry and sunny with no wind, and the air was clear and sharp over the Dee Estuary to Wales. High tide wasn’t due until about 4pm, but it doesn’t come up high nowadays, not since the RSPB dug out some pools to cure the mosquito problem. It used to overtop the low sea wall at high water and flood the road. Some of the old houses on the front seem to indicate the size of flood they were once prepared for.

Within 20 yard of the bus stop we could see six Little Egrets, but we are getting blasé about them nowadays. They bred at Burton this summer, just down the coast, and this might have been that family. A man and his dog ventured onto the marsh and flushed a female Pheasant. Further out we spotted a Heron and possibly a Great White Egret flying by. In the pools were Mallards, a Moorhen, possibly Teal, Widgeon, Shovellers and some Geese, but they are just too far away to be sure. Many more birds are deep in the long vegetation, only visible when they fly up, like Lapwings and Starlings.

The advantage of the long grass and scrub growing up is the smaller birds it attracts. We spotted both male and female Stonechats and several Reed Buntings.

Male Stonechat
Female reed bunting

We lunched at the picnic tables at the Old Baths, pausing to admire the recently-installed hazel sculpture of a Short-eared Owl.

Just behind picnic area was a small broad-crowned tree with lots of red fruits. I think it’s a Broad-leaved Cockspur Thorn Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’, a North American species, usually planted in parks and gardens and rarely found growing wild. Had it been planted here, or had a bird dropped a seed?

There appeared to be a Hawthorn growing through it, sticking out at the top and on one side around the back. The Hawthorn had the usual single seed in each Haw, while the fruit of the Broad-leaved Cockspur Thorn had two. None of my books says how many seeds there are supposed to be, to confirm the identification.

Hawthorn berry and one seed on the left, thorn berry and two seeds on the right

It was too nice a day to go home on the 1.30 bus, so we decided to stay until the 3.30. We walked up to the Wirral Way and then southwards, all around the back of the village. A few times we thought we spotted butterflies, too fast moving, but possibly a Red Admiral and a couple of Speckled Woods. The path was lined with new shoots of Alexanders and Cow Parsley, and this year’s Hogweed and Herb Robert were still in flower.

Despite the path being in an old railway cutting, it was dry underfoot, the old railway drainage system still functioning efficiently. Little waterfalls were babbling off the surrounding fields, into ditches and culverts, and flowing away who knows where.

We had time for a cup of tea in a corner cafe before the bus home.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.40 (10.25 but late), arriving Mostyn Square, Parkgate at 11.22. Returned on the 487 at 3.30 from Mostyn Square, arriving Liverpool 4.25

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Canal Towpath – Bootle to Waterloo, 15th October 2023

It was a lovely bright and sunny day, with the first feel of autumn. From Bootle Strand we took the canal towpath northwards, with the sun behind us.  John’s Weeping willows were looking good after their severe pruning a few years ago.

Canal birds were Coots, Mallards, Canada Geese and Moorhens, just the usual, with none of the surprises we sometimes see. We were amazed at all the new house along the east side, which have sprung up since last time we were along here. Many of the occupants have taken advantage of the canal at the bottoms of their gardens by making decks to catch the afternoon sun. Overhead, we were riveted by the sight of five blokes painting the tall radio mast at Marsh Lane, swinging from ropes. Eeek!

Apart from occasional cyclists and a few dog walkers, we had the towpath mostly to ourselves. Near Linacre Lane bridge there were big billows of Ivy coming into flower, attracting lots of hoverflies and three or four Red Admirals.

All alongside Mellanear Park were lots of kids games painted onto the towpath surface, like hopscotch and other counting games.  There are no new houses on THAT area because it is contaminated land. From the 1930s to the 1950s it was the site of what was known locally as the Arsenic Factory – the William Harvey & Co Ltd Mellanear Tin Smelting Works. The firm originated in Cornwall, but when the tin mines gave out they moved to Bootle and started importing tin ore from Bolivia. There was arsenic in it and several local workers died from Arsine (arsenic trihydride] Poisoning.

Just past the 4 miles marker (measuring from Liverpool) a brambly hedge on the opposite side was the source of a cacophony of bird cheeps and whistles. It really was noticeably noisy. We suspected a thriving House Sparrow colony, and we saw some of them hopping about within the hedge, but I have never heard them whistle before, so maybe there were Starlings in there too.

We had our lunch break on the terrace at Tesco Litherland. It is built on a the site of the old lead works. Other noxious businesses formerly lining the canal in the area were Litherland Tannery, the Sausage Factory and the Liquorice Toffee Factory. Happily those days are gone, and now the Canal and River Trust proudly advertise their Green Flag award. The fishermen say they catch Perch, Roach and Pike and we even saw a dragonfly speeding through the reeds, but we didn’t identify it.

After lunch, we carried on along the canal, spotting a pair of Mallards which head-bobbed then mated. What season do they think it is?  A dying Dragonfly was caught on the surface of the water. It was still alive, vibrating occasionally, and once we saw it struggle hard to break the surface tension. I think it was a female Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta. They are said to be found in “well-vegetated aquatic habitats, and on the wing July to early November”. That looks right. It used to be a migrant to UK before the 1940s (hence the name), but is now a well-established resident south of Scottish border. We looked for a long stick, hoping to rescue her, but she was too far out to reach so was destined to be Corpse of the Day, sadly.

We left the canal at Brook Vale, crossed Rimrose Valley Country Park to St Mary’s Road in Waterloo Park and came out by the Five Lamps on Crosby Road South.

Public transport details: Bus 47 at 10.14 from Queen Square, arriving Stanley Road / Bootle Strand at 10.35. The others returned to the city centre on the 47 bus at Crosby Road South / Great Georges Road (Five Lamps) at 1.37 while I took a bus homewards in the other direction.

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Calderstones Park, 8th October 2023

On a dry, sunny and unseasonably warm day we visited Calderstones Park, arriving at the Menlove Avenue side. For a change, we wandered to the right, through the shrubbery to the open southern field. There were at least half a dozen Ring-necked Parakeets squawking overhead and some lovely toadstools below, probably the Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera.

We stopped to look at three dead trees in the open field, which had quite upright shapes, all looking like they had been the same species. One was sprouting from the base, and the leaves were shiny green, arranged alternately, coarsely toothed and very uneven at the base. Definitely some kind of Elm. I think they were the rare Huntingdon Elm Ulmus vegeta. They may have been planted as an experiment to see if they were resistant to Dutch Elm disease. Clearly they aren’t. A very big one at Flaybrick died a few years ago, too, after hanging on longer than most Elms.

Two of the three dead Elms, with the sprouting one in the foreground

We spotted a Nuthatch on ground and two Goldcrests in a Red Horse Chestnut. A Red Admiral and a distant white butterfly went past. It’s very late for them to still be on the wing.  One dead tree stump had another interesting fungus, but I have no idea what this one was.

On the lake were Mallards, Canada Geese, Coots, Moorhen, and a Robin in the shrubbery.

Next to the island, a Red-eared Terrapin was basking on a log, below a preening Moorhen.

The magnificent avenue of American Limes (or Basswoods) passes here. There are over a hundred of them lining the main drive through the park, sweeping south east to north west. One of them is the County Champion of its species, but they are all so perfectly alike it’s almost impossible to pick out the tallest or fattest.

The autumn fruits are very abundant this year. The Sweet Chestnut trees are full, although not many of the nuts are of edible size. The Deodar Cedar had more baby cones than I have ever seen, and this golden-edged Holly was full of berries.

The Chinese Dogwood in the ornamental garden was also full of red fruits, and in the Japanese garden, the rather garish oddity, Harlequin Glorybower Clerodendrum trichotomum, was doing its weird thing.

Chinese Dogwood
Harlequin Glorybower

They have a couple of Mimosa or Silver Wattle trees, which bear copious yellow flowers as early as February. They are in bud now outside the Japanese garden.

To celebrate autumn, there was a lovely display of sewn or knitted pumpkins on the mantelpiece in the Manor House.

Public transport details: Bus 86A from Elliot Street at 10.10, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.40. Returned on bus 86 from Menlove Avenue / Storrsdale Road at 2.08, arriving city centre 2.40.

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Childwall Woods, 1st October 2023

Despite its twiggy base (suggesting Lime), this appeared to be a Sycamore

Childwall Woods and Fields is a Local Nature Reserve, originally the woodland garden of local  lawyer Isaac Green, now one of the best semi-natural woodlands in Liverpool. Isaac planted young Beeches and Sweet Chestnuts about 300 years ago, and now some have survived to become recognised “veterans”. They also have a very rare tree, a Variegated Oak, described below.

Newly-sprouting leaves of the rare variegated oak

We spent the morning walking the paths in the fine drizzle and heavier, drippy showers, trying to avoid the muddiest areas. Not many birds around, but we spotted Nuthatch and Robin and heard a Buzzard. The Sweet Chestnuts have had a good year, and the fallen seeds and spiky husks were thick on the ground.

After lunch two of us stayed for a guided walk led by the Friends of Childwall Woods and Fields.   We covered much of the same ground, but learned more. The sun came out, too. Childwall woods aren’t old enough to qualify as ancient, but they have been largely undisturbed for centuries. The 300-year-old Beeches and Sweet Chestnuts are reaching the ends of their lives, but there are many younger trees growing amongst them, including Sycamore, Ash, Lime, Horse Chestnut, Holly Yew, Rowan and Hawthorn.

The woods are rich in fungi, with many puffballs underfoot, bracket fungi all over the dead and fallen wood, and this pretty pink one which might be very small young growth of Purple Jellydisc Ascocoryne sarcoides

The area has long been on my wish list because they have a pair of very rare trees. Variegated Oak Quercus robur ‘Variegata’. There are said to be only 68 of them in England. The Friends think they were planted about 100 years ago as prestigious garden features, bought as grafted trees. Sadly, one was blown over in Storm Arwen in  November 2021. It had been the Lancashire County Champion, but now the other one, still standing next to a path, has taken over that honour. Happily, the fallen tree has started to re-sprout, so isn’t quite dead. See the special page on the Friends website

The standing variegated oak, leaves too high to inspect
The fallen variegated oak, whose new leaves are pictured earlier in this post

This is the oldest veteran Beech, now hollow and shedding branches.

And this is their largest veteran tree, a 300-year-old Sweet Chestnut, 4.6m in diameter.

Public transport details: Bus 75 from Gt. Charlotte Street at 10.02, arriving Woolton Road / Childwall Park Avenue at 10.27. I returned on bus 81 from Childwall Abbey Road / Taggart Avenue at 3.55, then another bus north from Bootle. Long day.

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Gorse Hill Apple Festival, 24th September 2023

We have passed the autumn equinox, and as we walked up Long Lane, Aughton, ripe conkers were falling around us. The Rowan and Guelder Roses are full of bright red berries. We thought we glimpsed either a Swallow or a House Martin over the houses, quite a late stayer. Then we crossed the A59 Liverpool Road and headed up Gaw Hill Lane and Holly Lane to Gorse Hill nature reserve for their annual Apple Festival.

They used to have their apple weekend in mid-October but now the apples are ripening two or three weeks earlier, another sign of climate change. The orchard wasn’t looking its best. A group of Roe Deer visited last winter and barked a lot of the trees. The affected trees have survived but are now protected with tree guards around the trunks. They have borne smaller apples this year. Then they had a shortage of volunteers in the spring to thin the apple buds, so even on the undamaged trees, they have more and smaller apples than they would have liked.

But there were still plenty of apples on display in the sales barn, of dozens of varieties.

We mad a quick visit into the woods to look at the rare (for Lancashire) Wayfaring Tree, which was starting to fruit. We also admired a Pedunculate Oak with its acorns forming well. It had fewer knopper galls than we see in Liverpool parks (possibly because the wasp’s co-host, Turkey Oak, hasn’t been planted here.) The little red structures in the middle are next spring’s buds.

We returned over the fields, passing the ponies from the nearby riding school, who were posing prettily as if for a family portrait.

Public transport details: Ormskirk train from Central at 10.17, arriving Aughton Park 10.45.  Returned from Aughton Park at 2.40, arriving Central 3.10.

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Croxteth Park, 17th September 2023

Heritage Open Days gave us a treat: not only was Croxteth Hall open, but also the old walled garden, which used to provide flowers, fruit and vegetables for the Great House. An old photo on display showed a posed group of 28 gardeners about 100 years ago. Now there are only the students from Myerscough College to keep it under minimal control. Some areas had been tidied up for the occasion, but most are very overgrown.

Tidiness
Wildness

One old bed had been planted some years ago by the Henry Doubleday Research Association to save traditional vegetables. This patch was also badly overgrown but there may still be some gems hidden under the wildness.

The dilapidated greenhouses hold a remnant of the Liverpool Botanical Collection, which was founded by William Roscoe in 1802 and long kept in Calderstones Park. It was one of the oldest botanical collections in the world. The radical local government of Derek Hatton had the Calderstones greenhouses demolished, and the botanical collection was broken up. Some of the remnants are now here but not on display.

There were a couple of well-tended beds of bright pink Dahlias, variety ‘Fascination’. They were hugely attractive to insects, and most of the open flowers had two bees competing for the pollen.  We also spotted a new-looking Red Admiral butterfly and a day-flying moth, too quick to catch on camera, which was grey-white, broader than deep, and possibly one of the carpet or wave moths in the geometrid group.

After lunch we toured the house, from the wine cellar and the old kitchens, to the drawing room and the Earl and Countess’s bedrooms. The volunteer in charge of the huge pedigree scroll of the Earls of Sefton, which was laid out on a table, was diverted to talk about the estate’s wildlife. He said there were now lots of Ring-necked Parakeets, which he had seen competing with Jackdaws for tree holes. As we made our way out along the main drive we saw some of the interlopers in the trees, being mobbed by Crows.   

Public transport details: Bus 13 from Queen Square at 10.03, arriving Mill Lane / West Derby Village at 10.25.  Returned on bus 13 from Mill Lane / Town Row at 2.58, arriving City Centre at 3.22.

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