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John Dempsey on country matters ... travel/country.

Byline: John Dempsey

THE best place to look for the unusual is the natural world, no doubt about it - just ask the folk who released a yellow nosed albatross found in Somerset at the weekend.

Shame none of us got to see this incredible vagrant from the southern hemisphere (oh, the pain of it!), but you never know, it might just be lurking in the Irish Sea somewhere, waiting to make some sea watcher's day - or life for that matter.

Yet it's not just the truly unexpected that can be fascinating.

Witness the picture above, kindly sent tome by regular column contributors Nick and Cherry Bowmaker, of a robin's pincushion, which they discovered beside the Macclesfield Canal recently.

Nick and Cherry found the strange growth on a wild rose bush, and commendably set about trying to find out what it was.

It was John Negus who helped them out, explaining that this amazing mossy growth is the host rose's reaction to a bed guar gall wasp laying its eggs in buds during June.

Within the red "pincushion" are around 50 separate larval chambers from which the adult wasps will emerge next year.

The growth doesn't do the wild rose any harm, but it certainly makes for a more interesting floral display.

"We thought it was exceptionally beautiful and very weird," Cherry explains.

Easily overlooked, the robin's pincushion is fairly widespread, and starts off a green colour before turning bright red as the summer moves on.

My attention was drawn to the sea this week (long before the brief appearance of the yellow nosed albatross sent my twitching genes into frustrated overdrive), when I went for a sea watch off Formby Point with Barry McCarthy and Neill Hunt.

Although the westerly looked good after smooch heavy rain, we were surprised to be confronted by a constant procession of gannets and Manx shearwaters heading steadily south.

Our total of 1,630 manxies represents a new Lancs maximum, but with such an unsettled summer ahead, I suspect that record stands to be broken.

Three arctic skuas were offshore too, including a fine pale phase adult, cutting along behind the surf.

With the failure of the Azores high pressure system this year for the first time since 2001, we can expect to find many more Atlantic fronts bearing down on us, bringing rain and strong winds - bad news for sunbathers, great news for sea watchers - and you never know, one day that albatross might be out there...

Chris Felton found many stink-horns during a fungus hunt at Mere Sands Wood near Rufford, amongst the bracken.

A roe deer was recently seen again at this site, where they are occasionally glimpsed in quieter parts of the woodland.

Last month on Kirkby Moss, Chris had buzzard, oystercatcher, two jay, blackcap, corn bunting, stock dove and 200 woodpigeons.

Unfortunately roadkill included a tawny owl there.

Gorse Hill nature reserve, Aughton, had hobby, yellowhammer, jays, two large skipper butterflies, a pair of emperor dragonflies, two broad bodied chasers, 20 common blue damselfly, four blue tailed damselfly and 30 azure damselfly - thanks for recent records sent from Gary McLardy and Derek Williams.

Submit an item of news for the column by calling John Dempsey on 0151 472 2408, or e-mail him at You can visit John's blog online at


Robin's pincushion
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 7, 2007
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