The value of casual recording

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 24 May 2018 17:43

I've recently stumbled across quite a lot of good species whilst doing other things. Firstly, I noted this Field Mouse-ear while mapping Chalk Milkwort (below) at Southerham this week. It turned up on the site in 2016, a record came in via Dave Bangs when I did the review of the species list but I have never found it on the site, so I was pleased to find it there!

There is masses of Chalk Milkwort in this really rich area and more Adonis Blues than I have ever seen there before, all down to finally being able to fence out this compartment from the arable reversion and gain better control of the grazing. It's looking great!

When I was showing Steve the mouse-ear, he spotted something shiny in the short turf! We managed to get it, a Scarab Shieldbug! A new record for the site of this now Nationally Scarce species, despite a thorough survey with a suction sampler here a few year ago.

Then yesterday I was at Amberley Wildbrooks helping the RSPB with a CBC there. Right at the end I stumbled on a field with about 100 Narrow-leaved Water-dropwort or Sulphurwort (Near Threatened and Nationally Scarce) plants in! It's been a few years since this was recorded here. Being an early flowerer and growing in the field centres (not the ditches), it's not one we pick up on the ditch survey.

Best of all though was last week. Jane and I were finishing a bird survey when I noticed a plant on an area that we couldn't access some distance away. I thought it was Large Bittercress. A really uncommon plant and it would be a new record for the site. So I rested my elbow on Jane's shoulder and took this terrible photo through my binoculars. Never had to do this before!

Frances went and had a look and found another plant nearby and confirmed it and while she was there, found the first Subterranean Clover there in 40 years. These surprises at Waltham are a direct response to the better graze it has been having the last few years. Jane took this photo of the Large Bittercress. The moral of the story. Always have a GPS and a notebook with you, whatever you are doing. And recording to eight figures IS really useful despite what some people say. Eight figures can always be turned into six but you can't do that the other way around. Additionally, I'm very fond of mapping plants using the basic unit of a 10 x 10 m square (or to eight figures) on the British National Grid in GIS.

Potter Flower-bee (Anthophora retusa) thriving at Seaford Head in areas managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 12 May 2018 16:55

Last week I started a survey of the rare Potter Flower-bee Anthophora retusa at Seaford Head. Coincidentally, there is also a PhD study being carried out by Gigi Hennessy so we joined forces to get a more thorough idea of where the bee is on the site. As Gigi has some transects concentrated on the key areas, I was keen to have a look at areas away from these transects.

My approach was to GPS every individual found and map them. I also wanted to sex them and record what they were feeding on. That last was easy, all 12 we saw were feeding on Ground-ivy. The problem with recording retusa is the abundance of plumipes still present. The first we recorded last Thursday was a female at the top of the west ride. This is great news as this was just solid scrub only five years ago. This fantastic ride created by SWT and the volunteers has produced plentiful forage for this rare bee. We also saw another male there. Now the female is a little smaller (although this isn't enough to clinch ID in the field - some plumipes are smaller) so you have to catch them and look for the red spines present on the hind leg. This is a bit of a faff. You can see them clearly in the image below but that's after catching the bee and getting it into this cage or small glass tube. The females are faster than the males too.

I went on to catch a male. Much more gingery and lacking the long hairs on the legs of the male plumipes

Here is the habitat showing the wealth of Ground-ivy.

We caught a male plumipes and put it next to the retusa. That's when it hit us, retusa has green eyes just like Anthophora bimaculata while plumipes are black. Actually this is so much easier than trying to see the red spines in the female!

We then went a walk along the coastal grassland where the Anthophora petered out as the Ground-ivy stopped. We saw clouds of very worn male Andrena haemorrhoa flying around the edge of the cliffs. A single Ophonus ardosiacus ran across the cliff top grassland, a new carabid for the site. Dingy and Grizzled Skippers were everywhere. There were however, no Anthophora at all on the golf course side. All but Alex and I headed off and despite a cool westerly breeze, we decided to head to the one other suitable area that Gigi is not covering; the cattle grazed area to the east of Hope Bottom...

The first retusa we had was a female which made for the photo at the top of this post and this video.

We caught a further six males but also three Bombus humilis! I was quite pleased with this, especially as Alex spotted the first one and we didn't see any humilis up there during a thorough survey two years ago. We may have also seen a Bombus ruderaius but we bungled it and the wind took it.

Here you can see a distribution map of what we recorded on Thursday. I will add to this with one more visit in just over a week's time and hopefully we can put all the data together and make this a really useful exercise. Interesting how the two females we recorded were the ones furthest from the coast and the loess they nest in.

Even an Early Purple Orchid has popped up in the grazed area.

So a big thumbs up from me and a male Anthophora plumipes to the work being done there! There is not much we can do about nesting habitat but we can create lots of forage, so thanks to the ride creation, its aftercare and the cattle-grazing and scrub management, we are creating more forage for this incredibly rare bee.

What's your favourite genus?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 5 May 2018 20:28

Too much natural history getting in the way of blogging at the moment! A crazy few weeks. Just a quick one of a new spider for me from a site in Surrey. The Nationally Rare Xysticus acerbus. The male is at the top and I also found a female (the bottom two photos). This is perhaps my favourite genus of spiders. In fact, there are now only two I haven't seen - robustus and luctator

Other favourites of mine include Andrena, Chrysolina, Cryptocephalus and Ampedus. I am sure there are many more. What makes for a good genus? A decent number of species with a mix of bright and varied charismatic species identifiable in the field and some only at the microscope. A mix of common species and rare ones so that they are not too elusive. That sort of thing for me. So what's your favourite genus? Meanwhile enjoy some more Xysticus acerbus.

If ET was a money spider

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 2 May 2018 18:41

Excuse the poor quality photo but I had to share this one. Last Sunday was our third Ditchling Beacon Conservation Super Squad and as my back is anything other than super, I was on light duties. Which involved finding wildlife to show the team on a freezing cold day. I had a go with the suction sampler in the quarry at Ditchling and picked up a tiny (1.5 mm) spider. It wasn't until I got home and looked down the microscope that I saw this...

I am still terrified of ET as a 40 year old 'man'. I've gone all jittery looking through photos just to write this post. Anyway, money spiders with freaky heads are pretty cool but this one is really weird. What looks like nostrils are actually one of the four pairs of eyes. The palps (External Testicles) were pretty weird too. This is Panamomops sulcifrons (my 373rd arachnid). It's a bit of a chalk-grassland specialist but what's strange is that I didn't pick it up at all last year during a survey there, in fact there were only three species of spider with conservation status that went into the management plan. Even though I was using a suction sampler in that exact same spot. It just shows that ongoing casual recording is also a great way to add to our knowledge of sites. The only other record on a Trust reserve is from Malling in 2009.

This is the second Nationally Scarce species we have added to the site list whilst scrub bashing up at Ditchling. A great way to do practical conservation and learn about wildlife at the same time. Have a look here if you want to sign up. It's always the last Sunday of the month and involves some steep and challenging work but is really rewarding. We also found three other species new to the site. Yellow Archangel, Moschatel and Palmate Newt!

Purple Haze

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 20 April 2018 15:35

I've just spent a very informative few days on Steven Falk's bee course hosted by the University of Sussex. The second I was able to guide people around Seaford Head and show everyone the fantastic work we have been doing there to improve the habitat for wildlife. The eastern ride in Hope Bottom is looking incredible at the moment (above) with a carpet of Ground-ivy flowering and a host of bees and flies feeding on it in the warmth of the sinuous ride. This was just solid scrub a few years ago. We got a big thumbs up from Steven for this. This is a great place to see Hairy-footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes (below) and Dotted Bee-fly.

You can see where it gets its English name from!

But things got really exciting when we got to Hope Gap and stopped for lunch. I was buzzed by a big shiny black bee and managed to net it. It was a male Black Mining-bee Andrena pilipes (my 35th Andrena - although I am already on 36 but that's another story!). A new species for me and a really scarce bee on the Downs. Although there is one record from Steven back in 2008 for this species, it may actually have been new for the reserve. I love Andrenas so finding a new one is always a great moment. I also caught a funny looking Nomada but hold that thought...

I think Special Ops Mining-bee also works.

We went down to the tiny saltmarsh area but it was quite exposed. I did find a male Osmia aurulenta though and it behaved for some photos after being potted.

We headed back via Hope Gap again to check out the carpets of Ground-ivy and someone caught another funny Nomada. Steven then got really excited, with this being possibly the first record for Sussex. In all we saw at least three Variable Nomad Bees Nomada zonata and I have just keyed out two specimens from what I had collected. Quite the day! This is the 10,094th species and the 471st hymenopteran recorded on a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve.

Steven stayed on and found the first of the very rare Potter Flower Bee Anthophora retusa of the year (that the site is well known for and we'll be surveying for in a few weeks) and saw around ten Nomada zonata and has kindly let me use his photos here. A big thank you to Steven and Nick Balfour from the University of Sussex for such a great event.

Gray see slug

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 27 March 2018 07:54

Had an unexpected day free Sunday so headed to Seaford Head for a spot of bird-watching when I suddenly realised the tide was pretty good. Bird-watching soon turned into rock-pooling and about the third rock I turned over had a lifer on it! It was a Grey Sea Slug Aeolidia papillosa. It really reminds me of those weird floral vintage swimming caps that used to give me the creeps. It's my fourth sea-slug, all of which I have seen in the last two years and all from between Seaford and Beachy Head. 

I like this last shot. It looks like it's just devoured a tiny Human and the only bits left are two tiny fingers giving the peace sign as they too are slowly absorbed. So long, tiny Human!

Later on, I found this purple triangular crab under a rock. Pretty sure this is Pisa armata, not a species I have seen before.

This thing had me scouring the Handbook though. I thought it was some bizarre mollusc. Then I thought it was a pistachio macaron for a while. Now I believe it's actually a fossilised mollusc. Thanks to Robin Shrubsole for pointing me in this direction.

The Remains of the Day

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 23 March 2018 07:33

I have only ever seen Dendroxena quadrimaculata twice; in 2009 at Ebernoe and again in 2012 at Parham Park. Today I found a single elytron in a spider's web when servicing the data loggers at Ebernoe Common. There are less than ten records for this nationally scarce species in Sussex and all from the West, we didn't find it all during a repeat survey there in 2016. I love identifying beetles from body parts. It's like sea-watching for invertebrates. Distant and tantalising glimpses at the edge of your ability. This one is pretty distinctive though. A caterpillar-predating carrion beetle with unusual markings.

The most abundant beetle elytra behind the loggers in the spider's webs is what I am now coming to know as my least favourite beetle: Nalassus laevioctostriatus. A beetle that has way too many syllables for something so ubiquitous and dull. It truly is the Meadow Pipit of the beetle world. Most of the time if you find one intact, it's covered in fungus. I think they are so slow moving that they can't even outrun a fungus. What's your least favourite beetle?

Most of the spiders were Amaurobius but I did spot this HUGE Tegenaria gigantea which popped out from under one of the protective flaps hiding the loggers. I didn't jump at all.

Later on I noticed this mass of regurgitated beetles. Almost all of them looked to be the Woodland Dor Beetle Anoplotrupes stercorosus but there were a few carabids in there too. I wonder what had selectively sought these beetles out? It seems to have been lying here for some time. Hawfinch calling around the Brick Kiln too and my first Chiffchaff of the year at Woods Mill.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 15 March 2018 15:59

Today I decided it was time to go for along overdue walk around Woods Mill. I haven't been doing it half as much as I used to, work has just got so busy. So, I decided to head out after finishing my conservation committee work (which is on this evening). I didn't have my binoculars, yet I wasn't too worried about this. I kicked up a Jack Snipe in the valley field, first I have seen in years. I was heading back pleased with this record when at 1.45 pm I saw a butterfly in the distance. It's only the second butterfly I have seen this year so I was quite pleased. I walked past a Bombus hypnorum and eventually got closer to the butterfly. I was expecting a Peacock or a Red Admiral. It was clearly a Large Tortoiseshell. Now, I'm really regretting not having my binoculars at this point. My camera is in the bowels of my back but I managed to get it out and take a record shot before creeping forwards. This is the photo I took.

I took one step and it was off! It flew past me to the left at an incredible speed. I took this photo as it flew by me...

Now at this point I drop my bag and ran (in wellies) as fast as I could as it flew south east. I got half way down the valley field before I lost it. It was zigzaging so much I must have looked like I was dodging a sniper. I was thinking that my shot was not going to be good enough to separate Large from Scarce (not realising the Scarce influx was likely a one hit wonder). I got everyone excited looking for it but it wasn't seen again. Turns out that the above photo is enough to clinch the I.D. This is the 50th butterfly species on a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve and my 56th.

I can't remember the last time saw a new butterfly, it might even be the Long-tailed Blue back in 2014, let alone a self found one when you're not expecting it! This is definitely the way to start the field season!

Spring into action

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 10 March 2018 14:49

Alice and I had a recording day yesterday for the volunteers of the new Flatropers Wood volunteer group to excite them about wildlife and biological recording. For a site with no designations that's so far away, Flatropers is really well recorded so to record at least four species new to the site was pretty good. Including one that is nationally scarce that I have only seen once before. 

Why is that? The answer: recording in March. It's a great time of year to find stuff that many naturalists and even entomologists don't usually pick up. It's also a time of year I am at my most DESPERATE to do some recording. It's also the time of year I (usually) have the most free time before the field season starts.

I love finding moths at rest. It's such a rare event, I'm certain that is the first time I have ever found a Yellow-horned moth at rest (and might even be the last). Although it's a well known location for moths since the Victorian era, this early spring species (along with Tortricodes alternella) were also new to the site. We swept a tiny (almost) mature male spider which I am pretty sure is Dipoena tristis (which IS known from the site). Turning logs in the wood provided only my second ever record of the Nb weevil Caenopsis fissirostris. The only other time I saw this was on the 17th March last year under a damp log looking rather soggy and dead, just like this one. I wonder if it is typically found like this?

We had a new bird for the site too. Hawfinch! At least five of them that took a bit of stalking but eventually perched high at the top of a tree.  At the start of this winter we had records for 6/32 sites, it's now at 11/32 sites and that's just the ones we know about! It's now been recorded on as many reserves as Greylag and Teal and Marsh Tits were also good value. 

So why not get out there and do some early spring recording? You never know what you might find!

There's a tramp in the compost bin!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 6 March 2018 17:29

A Tramp Slug Deroceras invadens in fact. You can tell it by the pale patch around the breathing pore. I think it was 'compost bin assisted' in its provenance though. 

The reason I am posting this is I have finally got round to putting my garden on the PSL location rankings. You can see it here. The garden is currently ranked 63rd out of 66 (albeit 64 to 66 have no records yet, so effectively I'm at the bottom). You have to start somewhere though. I need to add 28 species to go up a rank. I bought the flat back on the 13th November and made my first records that day. Today I have added a few bits just by being on the phone in the garden and finally got Sparrowhawk on the list. So as of today I have recorded 61 species in my 36 square-metres of garden. There is no lawn by the way and until very recently it was mostly covered in palms and non-native ferns. This is all changing though.

Probably the commonest invertebrate at the moment is Girdled Snail. My highlight though so far has been a Stock Dove that landed on the shed for 15 second and the obligatory Psilochorus simoni that seems to follow me around in boxes of books. I am yet to add a beetle or a moth to the list! the garden STINKS of Red Fox. Here is the breakdown:

Birds - 27
Plants - 12
Molluscs - 5
Spiders - 5
Mammals - 3
Crustaceans - 2
Springtails - 2
Bryophytes - 2
Butterflies - 1
Bugs - 1
Hymenoptera - 1

So why not start a list for your garden? It's a great way of getting records in. You can do this in iRecord and set up your list total by joining the pan-species listing website here.

I forgot this. I was Googling Tramp Slug as I forgot the scientific name and this came up...

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