East Head Case

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 11 September 2019 12:16

My first season as an almost full time entomologist is drawing to a close. It's been an incredible summer and one of the most exciting surveys has been the East Head survey I carried out for the National Trust in West Sussex. On Saturday I finished the sixth and final visit. It was one of those visits where you don't really feel like you've found very much, until you get home!

First off I thought I had found a new spider for me, being Agroeca inopina. After I got this male home, it was evident that this was actually the much more widespread Agroeca proxima. I did take the time to get some photos though. These late summers spiders look quite like small skinny wolf spiders with slightly wrong proportions. I took a female from a few metres away too. And I was really surprised that that one turned to be Agroeca inopina. This spider was new to me but known from the site. That makes 306 spiders for me this year. I am still way behind Matt. The spiders are done for the site with 13 of the 61 species recorded having conservation status! A whopping 21.3%. Here are the rare and scarce spiders for the site.

Alopecosa cuneata (NS)
Araneus angulatus (NS)
Argenna patula (NS)
Ceratinopsis ramosa (NR)
Crustulina sticta (NS)
Enoplognatha mordax (NS)
Nigma puella (NS)
Pardosa proxima (NS)
Phlegra fasciata (NR)
Sibianor aurocinctus (NS)
Sitticus saltator (NS)
Thanatus striatus (NS)
Zelotes electus (NS)

I could not find Marpissa nivoyii at this site but a more striking absence is that of the wolf spider Xerolycosa miniata which is usually common in sand dunes. This spider remains absent from West Sussex.

I still have 30 tubes of invertebrates to identify over the winter but this survey is definitely one of the most distinctive in terms of its statistics. It's by far the lowest in terms of overall diversity (I'm currently on 298 species) but the proportion of species with conservation status continues to be the highest I have ever surveyed. It's currently at 49 species, that's 16.4%! It was 17.4% after July, 16.2% after August so feels like it's oscillating around this area and won't change massively with the addition of the microscope work.

Under some tidal debris I found this this lively noctuid larva, which I believe to be Sand Dart. A Nb coastal specialist.

Other new species with status for the survey included Protapion difforme, Orthotylus rubidus and Sibinia arenariae. However, the highlight of the day and possibly the whole survey came in the last hour when I ran the suction sampler through some short sandy turf at the end of the dune slack. A funny orange carabid which turned out to be Bradycellus distinctus. This is Nationally Rare and Endangered and Mark Telfer says he can't recall hearing of any records  since he wrote the carabid review in 2016! Last recorded in Sussex was in 2000 at Rye Harbour and only known from there and Camber Sands in Sussex. Here it is!

The next day I was at the Secrets of the Heath event and the first family that came up to look at the inverts in the tray asked "were you at East Head yesterday hoovering up the dunes?"

Secrets of the Heath exposed

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 9 September 2019 13:42

I helped out yesterday for the second year in a row at the Secrets of the Heath event at Petersfield Heath. It was really great seeing so many kids getting into entomology and it was particularly nice to tell them when they had found a scarce invertebrate. The idea that you can do either public engagement or rigorous and complicated recording and not both is simply not true. I filled four pages in my notebook and recorded seven species with conservation status and used scientific names all day long. Not one kid questioned the use of scientific names, taking it all in their stride. The enthusiasm was incredible and we didn't stop from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm! 

First up though is a lifer for me. Above is the nationally rare Rhopalus rufus. I am pretty sure I picked one up last year but was not as convinced by this one and Tristan gave it the thumbs up too. This next photo was from last year but they were also present this year, the closely related Rhopalus maculatus.

These two were both caught by children with sweep nets. A real smart looking beast and one of my favourite bugs, the nationally scarce Alydus calcaratus. This one kept still enough for some photos.

And Sibianor aurocinctus is now turning up on nearly every site I survey in the south east. This is an adult male taken down the microscope, the one caught yesterday was a sub adult male.

And in the suction sampler, a completely green Cassida prasina. Also nationally scarce. Also recorded in the suction sampler was the tiny Nb ladybird Scymnus schmidti.

There is masses of Sheep's Sorrel there that wasn't present last year, something I have seen on a few sites this year. We think that it's likely due to Wavy Hair-grass being burnt off in last year's heat wave. I have looked at a few large patches of this and ran the suction sampler over it looking for Spathocera dalmanii and after quite a lot of effort, I found it in a tiny patch of the food plant right behind the Trust's stall. Another nationally scarce species that seems to be on rise. For a day's recording in September, considering the primary focus was public engagement, 63 species wasn't bad. Coupled with seven species with cons status, that comes out at 11.1% which suggests a pretty good site indeed!

High Plain Drifter

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 27 August 2019 12:06

I've just got back from another trip to Ken Hill. Along with the structured surveys I am doing there, building a site list is also a key task. That means that casual records of species made when you are doing different jobs, or moving between plots, are extremely important. Such as this emerging Humming-bird Hawk-moth recorded on a large area of acid-grassland with some heath known as the Plain. Now these are not all that scarce as a migrant but I have never seen this before, an adult that had clearly still not taken its maiden flight. Last summer I saw an adult ovipositing on Lady's Bedstraw at Heyshott Down but this was a first for me. Annoyingly, my memory card broke so I only had my phone camera for much of this trip. However I took this shot and posted it on Twitter not thinking that much of it, three days later it reached 1000 likes and over 150 retweets. I think even the Calosoma sycophanta event only got about 300. Anyway, not bad for a phone shot!

I've now recorded over 700 invertebrates there this year and the list is rising all the time. Highlights included a new location on the site for Breckland and Fallen's Leatherbugs, the impressive wasp Podalonia affinis (also on the Plain), the Scarab Shieldbug, the unpronounceable Sphragisticus nebulosus (a new species for me). Also on the Plain (and cathartic as I caught one last month but it flew off before I could pot it) were my first stiltflies. They turned out to be the notable Micropeza lateralis. Also on the Plain, quite a few Hedychrum nobile. A not very impressive camera photo of a very impressive jewel wasp.

To the north of the site this very late Agapanthia villosoviridescens. It's usually a late May to June species.

We ran a moth trap on the Plain which would have been more successful if the generator hadn't kept cutting out. We did add a few species to the list such as this Vestal.

Always a pleasure to see Antler Moths (below) and True Lover's Knots too.

However it was the by-catch that proved most interesting. There were lots of aquatic bugs and beetles that were all new to the site, hundreds of Water Veneer moths too. Quite a few carabids came to light  but the best was Harpalus froelichii which I have only seen in the Brecks so far. Talking to Steve Gale I was expecting to see this at Ken Hill but as yet I had not knowingly picked it up. It's Nationally Rare, Near Threatened and S41 and adds to the Breck-like nature of the site's flora and fauna.

The vegetation structure and composition plots are now complete. I added a couple more arable plants to the list including another good one which was also a lifer and a 7 point scorer. This is my new favourite grass, Rye Brome which was confirmed by vice county recorder Richard Carter when we met up in the field. It's Vulnerable and nationally scarce. Along with Corn Mint (scores 1) that gets the site index for arable plants up to a whopping 113!!!

A couple of veteran trees were really impressive. This 6.5 m+ (that doesn't even include the 2.3 m branch on the right) girth Pedunculate Oak is one of the biggest I have ever seen.

And this Common Lime Tilia x europea was 4.31 m girth!

And a few fungi were about too, such as this Dyer's Mazegill on pine. I've started the NVC map now, so I will be doing some series footfall (this last trip was 42 miles) for the last two visits. Whatever will we find next month?! A huge thanks to the Padwick's, Richard Carter and everyone else at the Estate for their support and time and making it such a fun project.

Weevil genius

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 9 August 2019 18:30

Last Saturday I completed visit 5 of 6 of the invertebrate survey of East Head and it was a great day, I had to reschedule at short notice due to poor weather and was expecting to be doing the survey alone but I was wrong. Mark Gurney, Lee Walther and his family were all able to join in at short notice

Working in conservation, I have been lucky enough to work with so many of the great naturalists of our time and Mark Gurney has got to be up there. The last time we spent the day entomologising was about 2012, you can read about it here. Here is Mark with his legendary weevil fork.

Seven years later and Mark has levelled up becoming a national specialist on weevils. His weevil guides are making this unnecessarily difficult group much more accessible, even the apionids. In the field, Mark now uses multiple forks and has a new outfit. Seriously though it's great to still be working together all these years later after our RSPB days, even though we are both in different roles now.

The highlight for me was the weevil Protapion dissimile. I mentioned there was a big patch of Hare's-tail Clover over there. We got to it, turned the suction sampler on for 30 seconds and there was a male, complete with funny tarsi and swollen first antennal segments. It's great when it all fits together like that. This was a new beetle for me and only the 7th Sussex record. 

We found some living specimens of Dicranocephalus agilis. This is the only known site for this bug in Sussex. So far I have only found a dead adult, so it was good to find these nymphs on the fixed dunes where more dead litter builds up beneath the plants.

The proportion of species with conservation status has dropped slightly but is still incredibly high at 16.2%. Here is one of Mark's photos, the Nb Anerastia lotella. A mainly coastal pyralid that feeds on grasses. I also found a dead Shore Wainscot which was cathartic as I thought I had the larva earlier in the year but couldn't confirm it. I also found another Hypocaccus dimidiatus in the mobile dunes.

And another one of Mark's, a plant tick for me. Lax-flowered Sea-lavender.

Who needs a moth trap when you have a pair of eyes?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 1 August 2019 13:18

Or as I initially called this blog post: Passive sampling vs. active sampling.

I am a big fan of moth-trapping, don't get me wrong. It's a great way of racking up vast numbers of records for a site in a short space of time without leaving the comfort of your home but just how valuable are these records? The moth trap we run at Southerham picks up lots of moths off the chalk but it also gets lots of moths from the nearby Lewes Brooks wetland that are definitely not breeding on site. There was even a Pine Hawk-moth recently and there is very little pine nearby.

When I am doing surveys of invertebrates, I treat moths like any other taxa. You never catch a 100 species in a day, no way near that, but the moths that you get are almost always species that are breeding on a site. In the last month Glenn and I have been carrying out a vegetation survey of Malling Down and I have been constantly distracted by moths during these surveys. Although this site is extremely well recorded, we have added quite a few rare and scarce species.

First is Mecyna flavalis. This pRDB3 species is known really only from Deep Dean in Sussex, I went there with Michael Blencowe to look for it eight years ago and have not seen it since. It occasionally turns up in moth traps but this is the first record in the field of a specimen away from Deep Dean. Frustratingly I did only see one, which is a lot less significant than two, but the habitat was exactly the same. Extremely tightly grazed south facing chalk-grassland. This moth was not here by mistake and I would expect we will see this moth here again soon.

Yesterday we found the smart looking Moitrelia obductella (pRDB3). It would seem that this is the first record in Sussex that wasn't in a moth trap and it was also new to Malling Down.

Also yesterday were two Chalk Carpets (known from the site but I always get an eight-figure grid ref for these as they are on the real S41 list).

And the nationally scarce b Dingy White Plume which is common enough on the Downs where there is Marjoram, also new to the site.

Yet finding larvae in the field is even better. You're guaranteed it's breeding on site if you find larvae. Not rare but Glenn spotted this Small Elephant Hawk-moth in a plot last week, the first I have seen of this species. It really does look a bit like a Grass Snake! It lacks the spine at the back of Elephant Hawk-moth but also the eye spots are more detailed and a bit more like Peacock butterflies eye spots.

I would love to see more people finding larvae and adults in the field. And just so you know you don't need a trap to find rarities, here is a quick reminder of the Purple Marbled I found at Seaford Head a few weeks ago when I didn't even have my net to hand, just a tiny glass tube.

And out of county but last week I found a Vestal in a bog in the middle of nowhere.

And if you target a specific food plant for inverts that only eat that plant then you often turn up the goods. I beat a Crab Apple at asite in Surrey recently and this Argyresthia ivella came off it, the only time I have ever seen this Nb species. What was perhaps more unusual was the bare-footed man who appeared out of nowhere playing the theme tune to Lawrence of Arabia on a flute. I would like you to appear doing this whenever I get a lifer from now on please. It was magical.

And I got a lifer in my own house yesterday morning whilst brushing my teeth. I looked up next to my dried Hops to see a little pyralid I didn't recognise. I had the back door open the night before so it must have come in that way. Or so I thought. On closer inspection it was an Indian Meal Moth Plodia interpunctella (it was neither spicy or filling I should add. Om nom nom). An adventive species, I think I found it right next to its food plant. They must be eating my dried Hops! It's quite a smart little beast though.

So you don't need a moth trap to find rare and unusual moths, but they will probably be mainly micros!

Moffs of the Britain Islands - No. 2

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 31 July 2019 21:33

The Butt-tip (Phalera nicotina), or Greater Snout as it is colloquially known, is a common urban moth. It has evolved to hide in plain sight among discarded cigarette butts. It can therefore be found in pub gardens, high-streets and (in abundance) in lay-bys. Attracted to lighters. Occasionally they will drink from water-filled ash trays. Anyone expecting to get one last drag from this 'cigarette' will get a nasty surprise though as the moth will emit a hot, foul liquid from its back end. The adults find their only food-plant, broom, when they are swept up after last orders.

Moffs of the Britain Islands - No. 1

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 30 July 2019 20:21

The Atomic Kitten (Furcula katonaii) is a recently described species new to science in the family Notodontinae. The larvae are reported to feed only on enriched uranium and the adult is readily attracted to limelight. If threatened, the moth can emit an ear-shattering screech on three frequencies simultaneously. It was particularly abundant in the late nineties/early naughties but is now much scarcer, probably extinct. 

Holme again Holme again jiggity jig

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 27 July 2019 10:45

Last week when I was up at Ken Hill I went and met fellow top-ten pan-lister Steve Lane at Holme Dunes with the warden Gary Hibberd. Steve has rocketed up to 7th place in recent years and I have not met him before this point. Three years ago there was a PSL event at Holme that at the last minute I was not able to attend due to freelance commitments down here in Sussex. So when everyone up there was ticking Natterjack Toads and Clanoptilius barnevillei beetles, I was stuck in Sussex slumming it with the first Calosoma sycophanta in Britain in over 25 years. Gutting. So there is some catharsis for me here. And I wonder who gets the post title reference?

Anyway. I think this might be my first time at Holme since I was a kid. So, I raided my childhood notes and bring you a blast from the past in the from Little Graeme's notebook entry from 22nd October 1990 when I was 12!!! This is taken directly from my notes, anything in square brackets are my comments now. It's here in its raw form, spelling mistake and grammatical errors left in for your  pleasure.

"We pulled along the drive all hoping to see the juvenile Pied Wheatear, but as we paid the man he said 'the Pied Wheater whent overnight, but the Great-grey Shrike, Jack snipe and the Parrot Crossbill are still here'. he also said 'The shrikes still here showing well and there are four crossbills (3m's and 1f) and, luckily there not with other crossbill's of different species

[I wonder, was 'the man' Gary Hibberd?! Gary were you there then? That would be bonkers if it was you!]

We drove along the drive hoping we would catch a glimpse of the shrike, but only Mr Berry and .Mr. Gardner saw it from the care (because it flew behind a sand bank), quickly we pulled into the car park and I ran out and asked a man and woman where it had gone [nice work Little Graeme, I can imagine the panic in my voice]. They said 'It flew from that bush, to that bush to that bush but now its gone down that bank".  Me, Mr Gardner and Paul climbed the bank and looked around the bushes and saw a glimpse of white, there it was showing well, extremely conspicuous because of the white underparts showing up on the dark vegetation. it had a slightly buffy breast, less black than I expected and smaller as well (I was expecting it about Magpie size. Overall a very unelusive bird with prominent wing markings. [I was often very keen to start brackets as a child but then would forget to close them afterwards! Fortunately I grew out of that habit.

We went past a bush on the way back  and saw a mass of Goldcrests in it. I walked close to them until I was about three foot from them, I could see see white wing markings and black around the gold crest. Very tame.

Then we went into the hides and in the first one two Jack Snipes and four Snipes, they were very well camouflaged against the reeds and I noticed some important differences between the two snipes which I'd never seen before [no surprise there Little Graeme as you had never seen Jack Snipe before this day!!!]. I've listed them below:-

1) Overall smaller body, much more stocky
2) Shorter bill
3) Bobs up and down (hole body not tail, like sandpiper)
4) Has central black crown stripe and black eyebrow.
5) It has four gold stripes down back (golder than Snipes)  and two glossy green Stripes down neck.

Then as we walked down the track we noticed a bird with it's head ripped of probably done by a Sparrow Hawk then we saw some large Horse Mushrooms. Then I got a head ache. We went looking  for Parrot Crossbill's, my head ache build up and I felt sick we did not see the crossbills [I remember that head ache. Nothing could stop me bird watching but this was the time in my life when I was suffering from severe migraines that would totally knock me sideways, they stopped when I was 17]. Then I threw up and couldn't stop, I had to stay in the car when they went round Titchwell.

We also saw a Robin's Pin-cushion (a kind of oak gall [almost spot on Little G but I'll give you that]).

Fast forward 29 years an I am back at Holme. Steve Lane is an absolute legend in the field. I got 10 beetle ticks in an incredibly short time. The highlight for me was however catching up with Natterjack Toad, a bogey of mine for many years. We only saw toadlets but I was very happy with this!

We saw some good spiders in the dunes but no year ticks for my spider list. Possible Clubionia frisia were all immature. Here is a lovely Marpissa nivoyi, the biggest I have seen.

Steve showed me these striking Chrysopa dorsalis by beating the pines.

Gary showed me this gall caused by the mite Aceria hippophaenus on Sea Buckthorn, another lifer!

Nice to see some Marsh Helleborines too.

And Coranus woodroffei too!

It was great to meet Steve and Gary and I do hope to do some more natural history up there on my next visit, a massive thank you to both of you for you time. I dare say Steve will be overtaking me in the next few years with the rate he is shooting up the rankings and rightly so, he's a brilliant entomologist!

Nature Blog Network