Friday, 8 June 2018

Catwoman and Potter take up residence at Butterfly Park


Hedgehog house. Photo: flyingcanadianphotography.com

Who are Catwoman and Potter? They sound like Batman’s archenemies. Well Catwoman is a 1,200g female hedgehog and Potter an 800g male hedgehog. They are rescue hedgehogs from Wirral Animal Rescue Centre based near Hoylake Station. Their names were pulled out of a jar when they arrived at the centre.

Hedgehog. Photo: flyingcanadianphotography.com

They were released on a fine summer evening at New Ferry Butterfly Park. They have been given their own hog house and bespoke hog feeding station just to help them get started off in their new natural habitat. Both the hog house and the hog feeder were expertly made by Martin Sharp of Wirral Animal Rescue Centre. Martin thought that the habitat at New Ferry Butterfly Park superb for hedgehogs. There are lots of mature dead wood habitat piles which they like and extensive woodland edge habitat as well as 400 metres of native laid hedgerow with dense bases. I was surprised at their limited lifespan of only two years in the wild. Martin brought leaflets about the danger of rubbish and litter causes to hedgehogs. It is good to be reminded.

Dusk at the Butterfly Park. Photo: flyingcanadianphotography.com

At dusk with hushed excitement, we put the hogs into the hog house. We left the newly arrived hogs snuffling in the hog house and occasionally sticking their noses out to sniff the new surroundings. We will monitor them closely but it is expected that they will leave the hog house and make their own arrangements.

Martin gruesomely warned us about the increasingly cunning foxes who play the long game and lay in wait behind the curled hedgehog and until it unfurls and catches the unsuspecting hedgehog by the hind leg as it moves off.

The centre rescues about 400 hedgehogs a year! If you see a hedgehog in the day it is it definitely in trouble. They are always looking for further support, financial, volunteer time, names for the hedgehogs and welcome visitors to the centre. In spring time they are looking for suitable sites to house the rescued hedgehogs. Please get in touch with them:

Paul Loughnane

For more photographs of Potter and Catwoman and their release, take a look at the Flying Canadian Photography blog:
flyingcanadianphotography.blog/a-day-in-the-life-of-wirral-animal-sanctuarys-hedgehog-centre/

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A New Welcome Awaits You at New Ferry Butterfly Park


Pam Brown MBE, Her Majesty’s Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside, unveiled a new interactive and exciting educational welcome board at New Ferry Butterfly Park. This was part of New Ferry Butterfly Park’s Opening Day. The event, which attracted 870 visitors, marked the start of the Sunday afternoon opening season which goes on until Wirral Heritage week in September. 

The Welcome Board. Photo Pam Sullivan



















The welcome board has been fashioned with all the familiar elements such as secret doors, the creepy crawly bucket and the newt pond, but also has some new features. Centre stage is a new bee jigsaw, asking important questions like, can bees dance?  

The Bee Jigsaw.  Photo : Pam Sullivan

























There are lots of new facts to learn about the insects in the park and an important message about recycling and not leaving rubbish lying around. The board has been designed and painted by artist Pamela Sullivan with thanks to Graham Smillie and Frank Moore for their help with the build and installation of the board and support with the more fiddly elements of the design. 

An earlier version of this welcome board was created by Pam Sullivan in 2013. It was a great focus for many of the beaver and cubs groups who visited the park in the last five years. Streams of 15 or so excited cubs and beavers all having a go at the board took their toll, wearing it out by their enthusiasm and love of it. This new improved version has more interaction components and is in a more robust and weather proof format which can be enjoyed by visitors over an extended number of years.

The welcome board is a brilliant addition to the park, and a great hit with children and adults. Being near the entrance, the welcome board sets the tone of the park as somewhere to explore nature thoroughly.  It will be wonderful when assembling visiting beaver/cub groups; a good starter for them to interact with before starting their nature sessions. 

The record breaking warm bank holiday weather meant there was a record breaking number of butterflies on the wing for the opening day. There was an increased number of stalls this year spread further round the park. There was a BBQ, cake stand, plant stall and the healthy cycle smoothie stand. There was Flourish promoting honeybees, a spider stand, local artists demonstrating their talents, spoon carving and, being the May Day bank holiday weekend, May Pole dancing was enjoyed too.  

Pond Dipping on Open Day



















Do come and visit on quieter days when there is more nature to see as the summer season progresses. 

Paul Loughnane

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Spring 2018 at Cleaver Heath


Cleaver Heath 1

Spring seems to have arrived several times this year – the temperatures rose, then dropped, rose, then dropped and so on, with bouts of hail, rain and snow and just a bit of sunshine. This has had obvious implications for our visitors both human and wildlife.

Cleaver Heath 2


Avian migrants

I have been keeping tabs on the arrival dates of our spring visitors from the south - these notes are being written at the end of April.

Swallow and House Martins

In order of arrival, I have observed singing Chiffchaff from March 25, Willow Warblers from April 8, pairs of Swallows at Oldfield Farm also from April 8 and singing Blackcaps from April 15. House Martins appeared locally on April 26. I have not seen or heard Whitethroats yet at Cleaver although they are already around elsewhere on Wirral. These photos are of ‘Oldfield’ Swallows and House Martins. The poor weather is presumably responsible for the roughly 10-14 days delay of most warbler arrivals compared with 2017. However, the Swallows bucked the trend by arriving a week early this year! I began this year’s Common Bird Census at Cleaver on April 5. I described the technique in last year’s Early Summer Newsletter. Basically I make 10 visits (roughly every week) noting on a large scale map where I see or hear the birds. The idea is to get a picture, for each species, of where the territories are. I reported the outcome from last year in the Late Summer Newsletter.

Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon

This year, the numbers so far seem to be quite a bit down. One new feature this year has been the observation of a few Collared Doves. These are quite common on Wirral but are a first for Cleaver Heath. Note how dainty they are compared with a Woodpigeon. There is no white on them, just a half collar of black. They have a wheezy flight sound rather than the clumsy clapping of the Woodpigeon. Their song is Coo-Coo-Coo rather than Coo- Coooo- Coo- CooCoo.

We will be holding our annual Dawn Chorus Walk on Cleaver Heath and Heswall Dales on Sunday May 6. This is an opportunity for us all to brush up our bird song and call ID skills and also marvel at one of nature’s spectacular sound spectacles.


Butterflies

If the crazy spring weather confused the birds, it was even more confusing for the butterflies. Nectar- bearing plans have been well behind schedule while the low temperatures and high rainfall have had also inhibited flight for the early butterflies including those over-wintering as butterflies (e.g. Peacock) or as pupae (e.g. Green-veined White and Orange Tip). We started our Butterfly transect survey on April 5 and the total sightings in the first 3 weeks were 0, 1 and 2 respectively! The three species seen were the three mentioned above. Last year, the corresponding 3 weeks resulted in sightings of 2, 9 and 6 respectively. We are currently struggling to find days in each week when the weather is butterfly-friendly. Today, the last day of April, it is 6 degrees and wind force 4. I don’t feel I should have to wear a woolly hat and gloves while I do a butterfly survey.


Plants

This month we completed the botanical survey of the reserve started in 2016. This meant gaining access to the NW corner of the reserve before the bracken started to grow tall again. There was little new there to add to our existing tally of around 140 species of plants, shrubs, trees and mosses. We keep records of species in each habitat area of the reserve as a way on monitoring its health and suitability for supporting wildlife.

The first bracken shoots are now pushing through. It does look like the annual Asulox spraying is having an effect.

Bracken

These photos show the same area in July last year before spraying (left) and as it looks now at the end of April (right). If there are new shoots there, I have not yet found any. The green and red shoots you can see are rosebay willowherb and bramble.

As far as the heathland birch control is concerned, it is also a bit early to assess properly the effectiveness of our stump treatment over the autumn/winter. However, I can just about convince myself that there is a difference in the extent of regrowth in those areas where we treated and in those where we didn’t get it done.

Birch Regrowth

This photo shows quite vigorous birch regrowth at the edge of the upper heathland where the stumps were deemed too small to cut and treat as compared with the surrounding area where we did treat. There are a few multi-stem stumps in the foreground which seem to have succumbed. The real test will be in the autumn when our work groups go over each heathland panel systematically. Will we have less work to do this year? I hope so.

Gorse

The dominant colour (and smell) on the reserve is currently provided by the European Gorse which is also providing nesting cover for the birds. The various shrubs and tree species add their own shades of green as they come into leaf. The ex-car park area is starting to look really colourful with whites, yellows and blues all around. The forget-me-nots are quite spectacular. What we really want now is some more warmth to bring out all the butterflies and other insects to take advantage of them.

Forget-Me-Nots

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath
April 2018

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Wildflower Hunt


Wildflower-Hunt-1

Do you love wild flowers? Would you like to know more about them? And help save them for the future? So would we.

Wildflower-Hunt-2

About the Wildflower Hunt

People have less contact with wild flowers than previous generations. There are fewer flowers around us and we seem to have less time to enjoy them.

Taking part in the GBWFH is a great way to enjoy flowers, whether you’re familiar with them or not. And by letting Plantlife know what you’re found, you’ll help our work to make sure that there are more flowers and that people can enjoy them.

www.plantlife.org.uk/wildflowerhunt/

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Primrose Day


Primroses at Embankment Coppice 17th March

Tomorrow, 19th April, is Primrose Day. This is when primroses are placed by Disraeli’s statue outside Westminster Abbey. This is to commemorate the death of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, in 1881. Primroses were his favorite flower.

The name Primrose comes from the Latin meaning “first rose”; they herald in the spring season. At New Ferry Butterfly Park spring is well on its way, with primroses in full flower amongst the coppice stools in Embankment Coppice. There are approximately 45 primroses in flower. 50 primroses were plug planted into the embankment using money from a Love Wirral Grant in 2014. Nearly all of the primroses have survived and there are many small immature primroses coming up too. This planting has been very successful and they are starting to spread of their own accord. This location on thin skeletal soils in amongst the coppice stools with summer shade has proved to be ideal habitat for them.

The early nectar source provided by the primrose flowers is appreciated by early flying butterflies with long proboscises (tongues) such as Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell. Long tongues are required to reach down the 10mm long corolla (flower tube) to reach the nectar at the bottom of the flower. The early flying queen bumble bees, especially the common carder and the hairy-footed flower bee, a recent arrival at the park in 2014, will also make use of the primrose flowers.

Following this successful project, it is hope to extend this primrose area by further planting along the embankment. En masse they will produce a wonderful floral display. This area lies in the sanctuary area of the park, so the pale yellow flowers with the egg yolk centres will be enjoyed undisturbed by the wildlife and by Merseyrail passengers as the trains coast slowly past the railway embankment decelerating towards Bebington Station.

Paul Loughnane

Friday, 6 April 2018

Grafters


Apple grafting in the cold with David Ellwand. Photo: Paul Loughane

Hedge laying spectators are often surprised how much wood is cut through to bend down the stems. The hawthorn stem should be cut 80% through so that the upright stem can be bent over. There is enough of the cambium layer left for the bent stem to survive and give maximum regrowth from the stool. Even more of a miracle for them would be apple grafting, cutting an apple variety stem, the scion, completely and then grafting it on to a root stock. Wirral Countryside Volunteers and Wirral Tree Wardens held an apple grafting day at New Ferry Butterfly Park with an impressive total of 18 varieties of scions which came from orchards in Malpas, Willaston and Chester.

Apple Grafting - the cut. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Despite the cold, 3oC with snow and wind which made the fingers numb and stiff, under the gentle tutelage of David Ellwand 36 apple scions were grafted to either dwarfing or semi-dwarfing stocks. This was achieved using the whip-and-tongue groove method and then firmly bound with tape. Lining up the scion can be difficult and if the rootstock is larger than the scion you have to graft the scion to one side for the graft to be successful, making sure the cambium layers of both knit together so there is a free flow of sap.

Whip-and-tongue grafting sequence

Several Cheshire varieties of apple were grafted. There are no named Wirral apple varieties. The nearest name variety is the Elton Beauty, raised at Ince Nursery in 1954. However, one apple seedling at the park was thought worthy of grafting the “Adam and Eve tree” which produces a crisp dessert apple, with a good, sweet flavour. This was christened the “Adam and Eve” tree by raconteur Mel Roberts, the Park’s founder. The story goes the tree arose following a domestic argument; when the green grocer’s wife dumped the green grocer’s produce including apples in the park when it was abandoned land.

David Elwand took a tour of the park assessing the apple trees growing there. They were bought as wild crab apple trees but turned out to be varieties of apple trees. He gave us advice on pruning them. Right at the north end of the park up the steep embankment, David was rewarded; identifying a golden hornet crab tree, the apples of which would be very useful for his Pomona cider project.

Potted up grafted trees. Photo: Paul Loughnane

The grafted trees are well-labelled, potted up and placed in a shady corner in the park to slow growth just in time for the union to take before the scion comes into full leaf and draws on the rootstock. In addition to cloning the apple varieties, the dwarfing rootstocks were propagated by both coppice stooling and trench layering.

Paul Loughnane

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Wildlife Identification Workshops


Community Nature Hub

RECORD are very excited to announce they are now taking bookings for the first batch of Wildlife Identification Workshops as part of their new Community Nature Hub project.

To book onto the workshops please follow the links and book via Eventbrite.

14th April 2018 - Reptile Identification
23rd June 2018 - Shieldbug Identification
30th June 2018 - Wildflower Identification

If you would like to be kept informed about the project and upcoming Wildlife Workshops and Recording Days, please subscribe to the Community Nature Hub mailing list here.