Books and Birds Field Trip

Posted on: 25 April 2019 in Ecology and Environment

Second year student Alice Burgess reports on the English department 'Books and Birds' field trip: A day on the Wirral explore birds on the page and in the sky.

English Department Books and Birds Field Trip


















Do you know your rhododendrons from your azaleas? Do you know your avocets from your bearded tits? (Hehe)

[Apologies. ‘Tits’ will only be used in the most mature sense for the remainder of this article.]

Well, neither did we (know the difference, I mean) until our attendance of the ‘Books and Birds’ trip with the University of Liverpool’s English department. Planned by Dr Bethan Roberts and chaperoned by Dr Greg Lynall, Dr Kelly Sultzbach and Professor Paul Baines, the eleven hour day was jam-packed with all things natural; birds, trees, flowers… Even a lizard at one point, to the astonishment of the entire group. The day consisted of three stop-offs surrounding and on the River Dee: the RSPB’s Burton Mere Nature Reserve, Ness Botanic Gardens, and finally Parkgate ‘coastal’ town. Admittedly, the initial selling point of the trip for me was the offer of Parkgate’s famous ice cream, however it soon became very apparent that there was much more to the day than food (although that was lovely.)


Flapping with excitement (sorry) a group of around twenty students from both undergraduate and postgraduate courses piled onto the coach at Abercromby Square. After a forty-five minute journey, (which strangely wasn’t as fun as those we took in high school… Apart from the tunnel bit, of course), we arrived at our first stop: Burton Mere Wetlands. We were met by an RSPB volunteer who was kind enough to give us talk upon arrival. She told us that the reserve was established in 1986 after the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) purchased an unused crop field from the local council, and since then the area had gone from strength to strength. The space now provides a safe habitat for birds rare and common, from the majestic hen harrier to the tufted duck, as you will be able to see in Alice’s excellent illustrated flowchart of our sightings of the day. The wetland is also home to the rare avocet, a species thankfully brought back from the brink of extinction by the RSPB. The avocet now provides the RSPB’s logo emblem. I suppose that’s a fair enough deal.


Myself and the group went on to trudge part of the ‘Reed and Fen Trail’ stopping at a few hides to spot all sorts of wonderful wild life. Rachael, Alice and I spent a while revelling in the serene slowness of a Drinker Moth Caterpillar, almost so slow it seemed to be totally still. It was a good while before we realised that we’d been observing and taking photographs of the poor deceased grub, whilst holding the entire group up. RIP.

At the end of the trail, we took some time to do what we do best. (Not eating, before you say it. But that bit’s coming up!!)

No, reading some poetry. We discussed Ted Hughes’ Hawk Roosting, and its many interpretations. As an undergraduate myself, it was fascinating to listen to discussions between lecturers and postgraduates; some interesting readings were being thrown around!

The next stop of the day was the university’s own Ness Botanic Gardens, and you guessed it: lunch! Piling out of the coach, picnic blankets at the ready, we were quickly presented with tickets to the gardens by the wonderful staff at Ness, who must have predicted our ‘hanger’.

Lunch time at Ness Botanic Gardens

After the much needed food and a quiet reflection on a prose piece about peregrines, we were guided around the extensive grounds of the whopping sixty-four acre garden. The guide explained to us that the gardens started to grow when successful Liverpool cotton merchant, Arthur Kiplin Bulley, took a keen interest in Botany and began to buy land from surrounding farmers. He imported ‘exotic’ plants from all over the world which happily still thrive in the gardens thanks to plant-friendly drainage systems. After Bulley’s passing, his daughter, Lois, inherited the land and get this GAVE it to the University of Liverpool on the understanding that they cared for the space in respectful tribute to her father. Rachael and Alice had the pleasure of hearing my uneducated commentary throughout the gardens, at one point stating ‘wow, loads of plants, aren’t there?’

Although, I was right.

There were loads of plants.

We saw all sorts; camellias, snowdrops, sorbus and the particularly beautifully named Pieris Floribunda or ‘Forest Flame’, with bright red leaves, which many mistake for the flowers of the plant. If there’s one thing that you take away from this, Reader, is please make the trip to Ness Garden while you’re at uni. It’s the most wonderful day out, buses run from the city every half an hour, and it even has Eduroam Wi-Fi. Wow.

The third and final stop of the trip was at Parkgate, where Rachael, Alice and I really shone (if I do say so myself). We were offered a few free minutes to wander around the picturesque ‘coastal’ town, yet in true Romantic poet style we sat and took in the nature. I use the quotation marks as the part of the Dee Estuary which Parkgate overlooks has dried up (to the delight of the Shelleys amongst us), almost making the Welsh Hills in the distance a little more reachable. The dried estuary now provides a wintering ground for rare birds (P.S. I learnt this phrase from a rather angry looking bird watcher who was chastising a timid-looking couple, who had taken it upon themselves to ‘go off-road’ on said near-sacred bit of ground.)

Short-Eared Owl

The bird watcher was justified in his telling off though, as moments later our resident Bill Oddie, Alice, managed to identify the short eared owl, which was flirtatiously perching on a branch, peering backwards towards an awe-inspired audience. We had just stumbled into all of the commotion, but of course we were happy to observe the magnificent bird, particularly in flight! A beautiful sight.

We ended the day with a delicious meal and cheeky pint at Parkgate’s Boathouse restaurant, where nothing remarkable happened (except for Bethan almost having to break her vegetarianism in order to escape the Boathouse staff alive.)

Thank you very much to the staff at Burton Mere and Ness for giving us a wonderful day, and Bethan, Greg, Kelly and Paul for giving us the fabulous opportunity to ‘get back to nature.’ Also, a special thanks to Alice Burgess for her Darwin-like documentation and diagram of the wildlife and Rachael Wass for her brilliant photography. In conclusion, around twenty students and tutors from the English department may be leaving to become ornithologists. Apologies UoL, I’d blame Bethan if I were you.


Keywords: ornithology , ecology.