Tuesday 30 June 2015

The Recording Team

Tom’s Paddock - the view from the gate. Photo: Mike Griffiths

Our recording team survey some lovely sites round Wirral. Mike Griffiths did a survey of Tom's Paddock last year, a small species-rich grassland next to Foxes Wood, Thornton Common Road, Clatterbridge. If you are in the area, do stop and look over the gate into the field. The orchids are a hybrid swarm of southern marsh, common spotted and everything in between – a taxonomic nightmare!

Scorpion fly. Photo: Mike Griffiths.

Mike is skilled in naming various insects as well as plant identification. He found a bee new to Cheshire, delightfully named the sleepy flower bee (Chelostoma florisomne), as reported in our Spring 2014 newsletter. He also took some photos of other invertebrates - look out for similar ones in your patch this summer. They include a scorpion fly (Panorpa communis), lacewing (Chrysocopa perla), cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) and Silver-ground Carpet Moth (Xanthorhoe montanata).

Lacewing. Photo: Mike Griffiths.

Tom's Paddock is managed by Tom McCullough, with help from Wirral Countryside Volunteers. A third of it has to be scythed and cleared every year to keep the flowers thriving. If you would like to help, do get in touch by email or through Wirral Countryside Volunteers or ring Hilary on 0151 327 5923.

Cardinal beetle. Photo: Mike Griffiths.

If you would like to train as a biological recorder with our volunteers, contact Ed Samuels on 334 4617 or by email.

Silver-ground carpet moth. Photo: Mike Griffiths.

Hilary Ash

Monday 29 June 2015

Changing Times for Wirral’s Breeding Birds

A most unusual swallows’ nest. Photo: John Elliott.

The picture of the motor bike wheel hanging on the wall of a barn at a farm in Hoylake shows the most unusual swallows’ nest I have ever monitored. It was used every year from 2006 until 2012 and young fledged every time. I was always thrilled to turn up at the end of May and find the swallows there again. The swallows did not turn up in 2013, were not there in 2014 and now that I have checked again this year I finally have to admit that they will never be back. It is not all bad news though. There are nests in other parts of the farm now; none with young but four with eggs that are being incubated so I feel confident that the farm will add to this year’s generation of swallows.

Thinking about this I was struck by how fortunate we are on the Wirral that the farmers and land owners are so supportive of wildlife conservation and so positive about helping. Everybody at the Hoylake farm is interested in the progress of the swallows and goes out of their way to support the monitoring of the nests. This happens all over the Wirral so I was horrified to hear from a ringer in Burton that the nest box scheme he had set up in a wood near Burton had been vandalised. Around 20 nest boxes that he had made and installed a couple of years ago had been knocked off the trees at the end of April this year. There were nests and eggs in many of them and one box was a specialised box for little owls. The farmer was annoyed and pointed out that he does get unwelcome visitors on his land from time to time but it is still difficult to understand the mentality of people willing to behave like this. I can report that the ringer in question does have other nest boxes and the little owls shown were ringed on 24th May this year, five healthy young.

Little Owl chicks. Photo: Phil Woollen.

Skylarks have long been a cause for concern in the UK with a huge decline in farmland breeding being recorded in the past twenty or thirty years. However Wirral does not have to rely on farmland for skylarks as the River Dee, with its salt marshes and dune systems, provides the perfect breeding habitat. Anywhere from the North Wirral Coast right down to Burton, it is hard to avoid singing skylarks at this time of year. Everywhere, that is, apart from Hilbre. Skylarks bred on the island up to 2002 but have not bred there since then. The reasons for this are probably complex but we were told that skylarks are very sensitive to the presence of crows when selecting nesting sites. Crows started to breed on the island in 2000 and carried on until 2013. However they were not about in 2014 as a breeding species, are not there this year and we have had a skylark singing regularly over the islands this year. We hope that the presence of crows was the main driver behind the skylarks failure to nest and that their disappearance this year will lead to a skylark recovery.
John Elliott

Another unusual nest was spotted by Richard Ash at Capenhurst Industrial Estate: a blue tit making good use of a cigarette box! 

Sunday 28 June 2015

Frogspawn Rescue

I have to admit to a bit of ‘eco-meddling’. It happened several years ago and concerned a frogspawn-filled, tractor tyre rut on the Welsh coast near Portmeirion. The water the puddle contained was only a few inches deep and drying out rapidly. I decided to fill a plastic bag with spawn and water, take it back to where we were staying, transfer it to a more robust vessel, then transport it back to the small pond in the garden of our house.

The eggs were duly transferred and floated lumpily with the spawn already in my pond. In a short time tadpoles emerged from both sources but, to me, they were noticeably different. Small and black on the one hand, bigger and greener on the other. It could simply be that I was noticing different rates of development but I’ve always assumed that the more robust specimens came from the Welsh coast – hardiness there, it seemed to me, was a prerequisite for survival. And these tadpoles had certainly survived.

I hope I’m not misleading myself by saying that I’ve noticed this size difference in the years since the ‘rescue’. I’ve also noticed that some of the young don’t always mature in the current year but overwinter before disappearing.

The pond this spring was unusually green but it didn’t deter returning frogs. The number in the water seemed up on past years. I don’t know whether this was due to less predation by cats, foxes, etc., or because more tadpoles were successfully making their way through the transformation process. Greater numbers out mean greater numbers back.

The current tadpole batch is doing well......… and the water is clearing, slowly.

Les Roberts

Saturday 27 June 2015

Kestrel Nest at Royden Park

Anyone visiting Royden Park’s CafĂ© and Coach House at the moment will undoubtedly encounter the Kestrel camera. This was kindly installed by Ron Thomas (local photographer) last year and has provided a Springwatch insight to their nest since then. The camera shows live pictures of the nest located close to the Coach House from the Walled Garden.

This site has been used, by the same pair we think, over the last seven years. This year the adult pair of Kestrels returned again and a total of 5 eggs was laid between 23rd April and 5th May. The camera has provided good sights of the female bird sitting tight on the eggs with occasionally the male taking over these duties with a lot of commotion during this exchange.

The first egg hatched on the 26th May followed closely by the second, third and fourth. The fifth hatched on the 30th May. All five chicks are now being well fed by both parents and growing fast. There are clips on YouTube showing the parents bringing voles, mice and other prey such as a mole and even, we think, a small bird (although this is generally unusual for a Kestrel) to the nest and then plucking the kill and feeding it to their young. Normally they feed the young for about four weeks before they fledge the nest. Go to Ron Thomas’ You Tube page to watch the videos.

If you visit Royden Park in the next few weeks you should pop into the Coach House and take a look at the camera and hopefully see for yourself the chicks either with the adult or, as is often happening now, on their own while both parents are out feeding. You must be quick as once they are fledged they are gone until the adults return….. hopefully…. next year.

Paul Greenslade

Friday 26 June 2015

Reserve Management Groups

The management of our extended nature reserve at Red Rocks presents a number of challenges, especially on the inland dunes. A Management Group has now been set up to draw together as much expertise as possible, including local naturalists, wildlife experts and organisations such as the Royal Liverpool Golf Club (the landowners), Dee Estuary Conservation Group, Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society and the Amphibian and Reptile Group. To help guide the management, soil samples were taken recently in the inland dunes, including the former poplar area at the north end, to help decide what to do there.

Taking soil samples at Red Rocks. Photo: Hilary Ash.

The photo above shows Dr David Parker working hard with a soil auger to take the soil samples, watched by Matt Allmark, who is waiting take his turn. I chose the lighter task of taking the photos and labelling the samples!

A similar management group has now been set up to cover the woodland reserves (Thornton, Foxes, Intake and Patricks) and Cleaver Heath. New Ferry Butterfly Park has from the start had its own committee to run it - for over 20 years!

If you have suitable expertise to contribute to any of these groups, please contact Sarah Bennett by email.

Hilary Ash

Thursday 25 June 2015

Going Up In The World

The official opening of New Ferry Butterfly Park in 1995.
Photo: Michael Loughnane.

1995 was European Nature Conservation Year. This was when Mel Roberts, the Butterfly Park’s founder, invited Lyndon Harrison, West Cheshire MEP at the time, to preside at the official opening of New Ferry Butterfly Park to the public. Preparations at the Park had been going on for two years, securing the boundaries, setting out the paths and starting vegetation management. At the time Mr Harrison said “This seems to be a good example of what we are trying to do this year. When local communities get off their backsides to do something for the environment we all gain from it”. As a thank you Lyndon was presented with a picture of a clouded yellow butterfly, a very rare immigrant to the Park, but on the wing at the Park that year. The opening event was a proud moment for Mel, who had persistently campaigned for over two decades for this nature reserve to get under way. What patience!

Around 200 people attended the opening event. There was a double decker bus, which impressively turned around on the road in the Park. The bus brought a troupe of players from St John Plessington High School who performed a play on railway line safety entitled “Do not cross the lines”. At the time the railway fencing at the park was not as secure as it is now and the park and railway line was used as a shortcut to Plessington High School.

The hedges then were merely whips barely poking above the competing grass. Only the lower section of the Park had paths. The grass was rather rough tussock grass without sight of a buttercup or red clover. In many ways a rather rough looking reserve.

The Park has been transformed tremendously in the last 20 years. Mel’s dream has carried on beyond his wildest expectations. Lyndon Harrison’s confidence in opening the Park in 1995 has been amply repaid; who knew at the time how it would develop or even how long it would continue?

On 9th August at 12 noon, to celebrate 20 years of the Park being open to the public, there will be a community BBQ. Please join us and bring along a contribution. There will be garden and environmental games to play and a display on the development of the Park over the last 20 years. 

Lyndon Harrison will return to help us celebrate. Like New Ferry Butterfly Park, he has come up in the world, as Lyndon is now Lord Baron Harrison of Chester. We hope to see as many of you as possible there. It has been a long and successful project, but there are still many opportunities to increase both the habitat quality and the participation of the public and volunteers at the Park. The initial enthusiasm for this project has not diminished over the last 20 years. In fact it has burnt even brighter as the Park’s potential has been recognised.

Mel Roberts (right), and his granddaughter Hanna,
presenting Lyndon Harrison with a picture of a Clouded Yellow butterfly
Photo: Michael Loughnane.

Paul Loughnane

Monday 22 June 2015

Help Required

Saturday 12th September
Wirral Earth Fest, West Kirby

Wirral Wildlife runs a stall at this event with children’s craft activities, plant and pocket money toy sales. We also distribute information on gardening for wildlife and about Cheshire Wildlife Trust and its reserves. This needs several people to transport, set up, staff and take down. Hilary Ash has co-ordinated it for the last two years, but would dearly like some help. Members in West Kirby and Hoylake - please offer to help! Phone Hilary on 0151 327 5923 or email.

New Ferry Butterfly Park

The Park continues to be very busy, and we could do with a few more voluntary wardens on Sunday afternoons, either 12 - 2 p.m. or 2 - 4 p.m. No particular knowledge needed - just a willingness to oversee pond dipping and learn how to open or close the park. Offers to Linda please - telephone 0151 342 1395 or email.

Friday 19 June 2015

Butterfly Park Inspired Artwork

When you next come to visit New Ferry Butterfly Park, don’t forget to have a look at the new artwork decorating the subway at Bebington station.

The Park is open every Sunday afternoon from 12 until 4 p.m. from now until September 13th.

Friday 12 June 2015

River Park Task Day - 13 June

If you would like to help out at the River Park, come along on Saturday 13th June where volunteers will be cutting back the vegetation by the paths.

Places must be booked in advance.

Please call 07587550060 or email Anne Litherland to book your place.

You can come from 10 a.m. - 12 noon or 1 - 3 p.m. or bring lunch and stay for both sessions.

Thursday 4 June 2015

John's Wirral Coastal Walk Fundraiser

John Gill, our treasurer, is once again taking part in the Wirral Coastal Walk to raise money for Wirral Wildlife (the Wirral Group of Cheshire Wildlife Trust). He has taken part so many times now that he is starting to lose count but we think he has completed at least twelve.

The walk takes place on Sunday 28 June 2015.  It is a total of 15 miles starting at Seacombe Ferry and finishing at Thurstaston Country Park Visitor Centre.

If you would be willing to sponsor John’s walk please send him an email stating your name, first line of your address, postcode, the amount of money you pledge to give, and (if you are a UK taxpayer) whether you are willing to Gift Aid* your donation.

* If you ask for the money to be Gift Aided this means that you want the charity (Cheshire Wildlife Trust) to reclaim tax on the donation. You must have paid, or will pay, an amount of Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax for each tax year (6 April to 5 April) that is at least equal to the amount of tax that all the Charities or Community Amateur Sports Clubs that you donate to will reclaim on your gifts for that tax year. Cheshire Wildlife Trust will reclaim 25p of tax on every £1 that you give.