A one man bioblitz on a wildlife friendly farm

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 5 July 2020 09:05

Rewilding features so prominently in the minds of conservationists right now, but we must not forget it's only part of the solution. Wildlife friendly farming can have huge benefits for conservation. I started this survey earlier in June. One big farm, split in two. One half on the Downs, the other half in the Weald. I am surveying as many taxa as possible as I can in six compartments in each half over six months from June through to May next year. So each round will take two days and be comprised of 12 hours solid recording.

Even though I have surveyed the top half of the farm for birds and arable plants before, I was blown away by how rich it was. I generated 1570 records during the first visit! All in all I recorded 532 species in 12 hours. That's 251 vascular plants and 203 invertebrates (that's just field dets and the spiders, all the others will be identified in the autumn and winter) and 48 birds. The unexpected highlight though is the umbellifer shown above. What I first thought had to be Corky-fruited Water-dropwort via a process of elimination (after some discussion with Frances Abraham and Nick Sturt of Sussex Botanical Recording Society) later turned out to be the nationally rare Great Pignut!!! A lifer! It's so hard to stumble on new, native plants like this. Some context; in 2018, SBRS discovered 12 plants only 175 metres from this site in an area of different ownership. A huge thanks to everyone for their help with the identification, Here are some more shots.

Other highlights included, a single plant of Narrow-fruited Cornsalad.

Just one Prickly Poppy but lots of Rough Poppy. This is one of my favourite plants.

White Horehound

And in the Wealden part, lots of Corn Spurrey.

And I really like this shot of Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet.

Three species of orchid (Fragrant-orchid, Common Spotted-orchid and Pyramidal Orchid). MASSES of Common Rock-rose.

Invertebrate wise, probably finding a new colony of Cistus Forester moths was the highlight.

And another Common Rock-rose specialist, Tinicephalus hortulanus. A very small mirid.

In the pockets of chalk-grassland, Omaloplia ruricola was locally frequent, a nationally scarce chafer. Not the best shot but you can see the variability here.

And the tiny Crytopcephalus bilineatus.

The site has dozens of territories of both Skylark and Corn Bunting. There was even a Corn Bunting holding territory on the Weald part of the farm, something I have not seen before. No doubt due to the population size on the top of the hill. Supplementary winter feeding and bird friendly stewardship options are really working. In the Wealden part, a Cuckoo was heard and a family of Nightingales seen with at least one fledgling spotted!

I really like this kind of approach to surveying, it's utterly exhausting but is a great way to make sure you get around a big site like this. And I wholeheartedly believe that this method ALWAYS gives you a bigger total (and a more structured and repeatable one) than if you had just wandered where you like, we have a tendency to go to the same areas after the initial period of exploration. It also means you are less likely to miss the best areas, which is always a possibility on huge sites. You don't get everything, you never can, but you if you want a good idea of what's on a site across a large number of taxa, this really works. Birds are almost entirely done by ear and switching between taxa can sometimes mess with your search image. The days go REALLY quickly when you are working with the timer on.

What's really interesting about this is after being fully booked by the end of January, my first full year as a freelancer, I soon lost half of my work by the end of March. Yet by May, much of it came back including some entirely new jobs. This one being a new job I would have had to turn down this year but due to Covid 19, I was able to take this job right on my door step! The fact the day was sandwiched between TWO twitches made it even more magical, my first in years. The Red-footed Falcon below was on the way to the site but the Blyth's Reed Warbler was a lifer at Beachy Head in the evening, my first new British bird in three years. Definitely one of the best days natural history in 2020. I can't wait for the next visits, with five more planned, is 1000 species possible on this amazing farm? I think so.

I love surveying farms, they are often full of surprises. Over the last 20 years, I have surveyed many farms, rewilding projects and nature reserves and one thing that is so important to remember is that they are all different. Not just between treatments but all farms are different from one another, all rewilding projects are different from one another. A one size fits all approach does not work. Neither does seeing anyone of these treatments as the answer to our problems, that's is a binary thinking trap, they are all important. If everyone did the same we would have a huge loss in diversity. That's why a spectrum of different approaches is so important, most of the interesting stuff happens in the grey areas and not the extremes. And without detailed and repeatable survey work, we are just uninformed doing what we think we should do without any real understanding, a bespoke and informed approach, in both space and time, is vital, as no site ever stays the same. My new motto, since I heard someone say it on the radio, is "Embrace complexity and nuance". Something that is sadly not popular in the days of  social media, snap judgements and binary thinking we find ourselves in.

The Hunchback of the High Weald

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 23 June 2020 14:20

The last time I saw a hunchback fly was five years and one day ago on 21st June 2015 when I last surveyed the private estate of Wadhurst Park. This is the nationally scarce Ogcodes pallipes and yesterday I beat this adult from there. Reading up in Stubbs & Drake, it's interesting to find out that this clumsy looking thing is a parasite of spiders! Unlike the more familiar external parasites though, this one develops inside the abdomen. The host spiders listed seem to be mainly ground-dwelling species. The grassland where I found this (actually it was beaten from an elm) was thick with spiders in the sward, overwhelmingly dominated by Neoscona adianta. I would say at a greater density than anywhere else I have surveyed. All the ID features to key this out from the other two in the family are visible in this photo. 

Very soon after this, I swept what I assumed was a male, as it was half the size. I actually realised that this was one of the other species of hunchback fly! This is the nationally scarce Acrocera orbiculus, and a new one for me! Later on that day I beat another one of these from Gorse, actually it was dead in a spider's web. A weird kind of symmetry there. So three hunchback flies in one day. Why here? I have surveyed plenty of dry grasslands with a wealth of spiders over the last decade and have not seen one of these anywhere else. Is it because of the altitude and actually these are more north western species? 

Other highlights included Andrena labiata, Stelis ornatula, Theridion pinastri (new to East Sussex!) and this striking little micro Euspilapteryx auroguttella that I swept off Slender St. John's-wort. It's much more metallic than I was expecting and seems to be quite scarce in East Sussex.

Is this the UK's strangest spider!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 19 June 2020 15:50

So I wasn't even going to year list spiders this year but it started happening without my consent in early January. I got quite a list together by early March but have not been out doing spiders for fun since then. As a freelancer though, I have been out doing fieldwork full time since 1st April, so as of 15th June I hit 300. It's now 301 with Enoplognatha latimana yesterday.

The 300th was a corker though. Ever since I first opened Roberts on the Walckenaeria page, I've always wanted to see 'the one with a duck on its head' as I called it. This is the nationally scarce Walckenaeria furcillata. What on Earth does it use this for!? Holding files together? A hair clip? The best thing about this though, as it's really not clear from the illustration in Roberts, IS THAT THE DUCK APPENDAGE IS FORKED! Look! It has these kind of backwards-pointing flaming hair-like scales at the tips of the fork, a bit like angel's wings, just about visible in this microscope image. There is so much going on with this spider!
The only thing I was a bit gutted about was not realising what I had picked up in the field, I would have loved to try and get some live shots. It was quite small for a Walck.

I imagine the 'duck' kinda has semi-independence. "It's so stimulating being your head!"

While actually Mark Gurney said "it looks like it's got an iron for a head" (backwards pointing for those that can't see it). And now I know that Rob Zombie and Ozzy Osbourne were singing about this spider all this time! I bet you didn't know they are keen arachnologists either?

So 300 spiders is possible in six months. I only need 92 spiders to beat last year's total, which feels extremely doable at present. I might even go out looking for spiders again away from work sometime very soon...

Chonky, cryptic, rare, tufted and saproxylic; can you ask any more of a beetle!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 30 May 2020 20:38

On Friday I beat this amazing little anthribid from a dead oak limb in East Sussex. This is Pseudeuparius sepicola, something I have wanted to see for some time since Peter Hodge mentioned there was an old record from the Mens. This was on a farm in East Sussex, where it is the first record for the county, and the first in Sussex since the 1960s. It's listed as RDB2, Vulnerable. Mark Gurney said it rarely turns up in the same place twice, so it must be really hard to find. I feel really lucky as, although it was a great site for wildlife, it wasn't a particularly good site for saproxylic beetles; this species was NOT on my radar. Here are some more shots of what is a frustratingly mobile beetle to photograph.

The tree was an open-grown oak between two fields at the end of a thin strip of scrubby-woodland. Here is the tree.

And the branches I tapped it from. So really nothing hugely different to almost every decent sized oak tree! Probably my find of the year so far. I was at the time walking along the other side of the fence and had a lot of ground to cover but at the last minute I decided to make a short diversion to beat the oak foliage of this tree. As I was leaving the tree, I noticed the small dead limbs underneath and had a bash. It's amazing how so much of entomology is chance! The previous day, yet another Cantharis rustica tanked overhead and I figured I should check it just in case, I turned and dashed after it. It was only Stenostola dubia! I always think it's worth going that extra mile. If something pops into your head or makes you think about it, ALWAYS go for it. I think there is a great deal of room for creative thinking in entomology, more often than not, this is where the unusual findings are. So it's not just chance. I suppose you make your own luck.

I might as well go through the other anthribids I have seen, as there are only four in all. They are all such smart beasts. Chonky, cryptic, scarce, mostly saproxylic and highly photogenic. What's not to like? Anthribus fasciatus, I have only seen this once, at Knepp in 2015. This is the only one of these four that's not saproxylic.

Platystomos albinus, an annual encounter in Sussex. I have 11 records for this, seen it once already this year.

And Platyrhinus resinosus, still surprisingly rare in Sussex, I have nine records but only one of these is from Sussex. As soon as you go into Surrey or Kent it becomes much commoner.

For the love of longhorns

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 23 May 2020 09:18

When I first started this blog ten years ago, saproxylic beetles featured really heavily. In fact, the first time I went out looking for a beetle on a hunch was 2009, when I figured I might have a chance of seeing Leptura aurulenta at Ebernoe and I found it! I was hooked. Over the last few years though, spiders kind of took me away. This year though, I've really started getting back into them. Earlier this month, at an undisclosed site in Surrey, I found a new one. I beat the Nationally Rare Grammoptera ustulata from Hawthorn and I could not believe how beautiful it was! Look at those gold hairs!

I have now seen 38 species.

I have not seen, any species of Saperda, Grammoptera abdominalis or Molorchus minor.

I pulled out how many records I have of longhorns, 349 in all. Now this is a bit behind, as I am still to enter most of last year's records and this years but it gives a good indicator. Here they are in reverse order.

Acanthocinus aedilis (Timberman) - Nationally Rare - 1 record
WOW! Look at its antennae!!! I picked this up in the wood yard at Abernethy when Mark Gurney and I were doing bird surveys for the RSPB way back in spring 2007.

Asemum striatum - 1 record
I have only ever picked this up once, way back in 2010 at Iping Common where several were flying around pine trunks. Didn't get a photo.

Glaphyra umbelletarum - Nationally Scarce - 1 record
Another one I have only ever seen once. This time feeding on Hemlock Water-dropwort in Furnace Meadow at Ebernoe Common. I have a rubbish photo but it's on my old work computer.

Mesosa nebulosa - Nationally Scarce - 1 record
Recorded in April 2016 by a young lad on a BMIG weekend at Sheffield Park, semi-emerged in a fallen log. This is one of the smartest beetles I have ever seen.

Rhagium inquisitor - Nationally Scarce - 1 record
Also at the wood yard at Abernethy back in 2007. I found a hard copy of the photo!

Aromia moschata - 2 records
I have definitely seen this three times, the first being in flight at Lakenheath around 2005. Such an impressive beetle.

Arhopalus rusticus - 2 records
I last recorded this under pine bark at Old Lodge in 2013.

Paracorymbia fulva - Nationally Scarce - 2 records
I first picked this up in Jersey in 2017, recorded twice since in Surrey in 2018.

Poecilium alni - Nationally Scarce - 2 records
This doesn't seem right to me, I am sure I have seen this more than this and I have recorded it at least twice this year already. Like a tiny budget version of Anaglyptus.

Pogonocherus fasciculatus - Nationally Rare - 2 records
It's only known Sussex site is Graffham Common where it's not hard to find on low pine branches.

Stenostola dubia (Lime Beetle) - Nationally Scarce - 2 records
I beat one from foliage on the edge of the glades at Ebernoe back in 2009 and the nothing until May 2020 when I beat one from a veteran lime in West Sussex, amazingly I thought to my self, I wonder if this is how you get Stenostola?! It also flew off before I could get a decent photo! It was quite a lot bigger than the first one I saw.

Stictoleptura scutellata - Nationally Scarce - 2 records
I have only ever seen this in the New Forest, way back in 2011 and not seen since.

Agapanthia villsoviridescens - 3 records
Still not all that common in Sussex but spreading. Spectacular but not saproxylic.

Leiopus sp. - 3 records

This also seems wrong, I have definitely seen this more than this. Yet to pick one up this year though.

Obrium brunneum - 3 records
I have had this a further three times this year already, despite my last previous record being 2013.

Phymatodes testaceus - 3 records
A beetle I very rarely see. I see many species with status more then this in Sussex.

Prionus coriarius - Nationally Scarce - 3 records
This is one impressive beetle! Not seen it since 2015 at Ebernoe. Finding this one at rest at the Mens in 2010 was great fun!

Pyrrhidium sanguineum - 3 records
Spreading rapidly in Sussex, already had it twice this year. Lovely colour/texture, quite unlike any other beetle.

Phytoecia cylindrica - 4 records
Another non-saproxylic. I have never managed a photo of this species. 

Stenurella nigra - Nationally Rare - 4 records
Ebernoe, especially Furnace Meadow, and the West Weald is a stronghold for this beetle and it does seem to like the flowers of Hemlock Water-dropwort. Nice little red abdomen underneath not obvious from most photos.

Stictoleptura rubra - 5 records
Another one that has spread rapidly after first being recorded in the county at Iping Common. It's now well established at Graffham Common.

Pogonocherus hispidulus - 6 records
I can easily separate these two beetles but the names continue to frustrate me. Shorter name = shorter beetle should be an easy hint!

Pogonocherus hispidus - 6 records
Everything about these two beetles similar, including it would seem, how I often I record them!

Anaglyptus mysticus - 7 records
I have picked up this beetle twice this year. It is such a glorious beast. What's not to like about the magical wallpaper beetle?

Rhagium mordax - 8 records
Seen once this year so far, a Hawthorn blossom classic.

Pachytodes cerambyciformis - 9 records
Seen once this year so far. The tubbiest of all longhorns.

Leptura aurulenta - (Hornet Beetle) Nationally Scarce - 10 records
Despite being quite scarce, this is pretty widespread in West Sussex and even occurs at Graffham Common. I have a great photo of a female somewhere but I think it's on the Trust computer. This is the beetle that got me into beetling back in 2009 when I found it in the glades at Ebernoe. This is male, the females are much bulkier with more yellow on them.

Rhagium bifasciatum - 10 records
The pinewood classic. Had it twice this year already.

Alosterna tabaciciolor - 11 records
Thought I had a photo of this little brown job but obviously not! The common little wriggly ones clearly don't hold as much interest for me. Not seen it yet this year.

Leptura quadrifasciata - 11 records
Another one I can't find a photo for. Much less common in West Sussex where it is replaced by aurulenta. I picked up a male aurulenta attempting to mate with a female quadrifasciata at Knepp back in 2015!

Stenocorus meridianus - 11 records
Another big impressive beetle I can't find photos for. 

Pseudovadonia livida (Fairy-ring Longhorn) - 12 records
No photos again of this little grassland longhorn.

Tetrops praeustus - 18 records
Had this a lot this year already. A trend here, no photos again!

Stenurella melanura - 29 records
A big jump in records here.

Clytus arietis (Wasp Beetle) - 35 records
Everyone know this one!

Rutepla maculata - 52 records
And this one...

Grammoptera ruficornis - 66 records
The super abundant little black longhorn. Amazed I have a photo of this one.

They are such wonderful and charismatic beetles. I think their brief flight period also adds to their excitement value! They are also a great window into beetles in general. I would love to get Saperda populnea next, it's only known from one site in Sussex as far as I can tell. I think however, Saperda scalaris is my most coveted beetle but no chance of that down here.

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