On an even keel

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 25 March 2017 15:51

What a keel! So not even a triple 50th birthday party last night could stop me from getting out in the field this morning. I joined Huw Morgan and his work party again at the Deneway in Brighton. I added 35 species to the reserve including this Sowerby's Keeled Slug. I also saw Iberian Threeband Slug. Both these species were new to the whole reserve network. We are currently on 9834 species across the 32 sites! Only 166 to go. Pretty sure it will happen this year now.

Also picked up the spider Amaurobius ferox.

100 species an hour

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 19 March 2017 12:12

Yesterday Dave Green and I tested out the recording forms I put together for the 1000 species challenge. It was an AMAZING day and we got a 100 species from the car before we even got to Levin Down. The recording forms worked well but this test run was a great way to see what works and what doesn't. Keeping a running count is harder than you would think though. Sieving moss (above) and beating Juniper yesterday was extremely productive, unlike the suction sampler.

We managed about 250 species in the first 2 hours 30 minutes. Not bad for an overcast windy day in March! I had two lifers, we go lots of species new to the site and one species new to the reserve network found by Penny! Now on the day, it's just gonna be Dave and I recording but it's so much fun doing this there is no way we could have all the fun on our own. Some interesting facts, our first raptor was at species 85 and that was Red Kite! We didn't see or hear a Dunnock all day nor a single migrating Meadow Pipit but that might be down to the breeze. The first species was Cuckooflower and the last was Pied Wagtail. 

We are pretty sure this species is Cordyceps gracilis, a rare parasitic fungus that we have seen at Mill Hill years ago. Have a look here for the post I did at the time. Yesterday there were two of them. There were also LOADS of Platyrhinus resinosus. 14 on clump of Cramp-balls! I've only ever seen three before! Thanks to Penny and Dave for the photos. I found this new to West Sussex (and only the 2nd Sussex record) at Levin last year. It's clearly done very well up there. Look out for it in the area.

The final score was 294 species comprised of:

Vascular plants 126
Bryophytes       13
Lichens             2
Birds                 39
Mammals          5
Beetle                26
Centipede          2
Millipede           5
Crustacean         5
Springtail           1
Earwig               2
Tick                    1
Hymenoptera     9
Moths                2
Bugs                  11
Flies                   4
Molluscs            16
Spiders               19

So, aiming for a 1000 species in a 24 hour period isn't looking quite so daunting now!

What's that coming over the hill?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 16 March 2017 10:28

This post is mostly about the value of casual recording. On Monday and Tuesday this week I need to walk around our three chalk-grassland sites Southerham, Malling Down and Ditchling Beacon on a compartment by compartment basis to check on our winter grazing. Now I've also been a fan of casual recording on top of the more structure monitoring and surveillance but since I put the spreadsheet together, it's really made me realise how little we know about our sites. So where ever yo are, if you always record the most interesting species of the day, you'll likely be recording something significant.

On Monday I walked up Southerham and the first beetle I encountered was new to the reserve, the common dung beetle Aphodius fimetarius flying around a cow pat. Not much happened then until I got to Bible Bottom where I saw my first Wheatear of the year on top of an isolated Hawthorn. I lifted my binoculars to this larger and paler than usual Wheatear to see it was a Great Grey Shrike! The first for the reserve and my first self found one. Amazingly we now have records of Great Grey Shrike at 10 out of the 32 sites. That's the same as Curlew, Med. Gull, Teal and Woodlark and more than Golden Plover. We only have records of Lesser Black-backed Gull at 11 sites!

Then on Tuesday I was walking up the Coombe at Malling Down when I saw a huge ungainly spider walking awkwardly towards me over a ridge. I was amazed to see it was a male Purse-web Spider Atypus affinis on a spring vacation from its subterranean lair! What a treat, I've only seen this spider twice before but in quite different circumstances so this was really exciting! We haven't had a record of this before at Malling and it's the first record on a reserve since 1968 at Iping and Stedham!

Here is another shot from the side. The Coolpix isn't doing too well these days since I dropped it in a rock pool. I'm planning on getting a new camera next month though and it's NOT going to be another Coolpix!!! Anyway, love this shot as you really can see how odd this spider. Even the male's abdomen has like a weird armoured cap on top. Huge pits in the cephalothorax too. Whatever will turn up next?

And the field season starts with a bang!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 12 March 2017 21:00

So yesterday was the first proper day out in the field in 2017 and what an awesome day it was! Andy Phillips organised a BAS day to our Old Lodge reserve Our Mission; to find Thanataus formicinus, a spider not seen in Britain since 1969. We didn't find it but it didn't matter as we found loads of other cool stuff and I soon forgot I was even looking for it. What was great for me about this day is it's the first day out in the field on one of SxWT's reserves since I created the spreadsheet. It's changed the way I do natural history!

So far we added 14 species to the site list (but expect this to go up as the other's identifications come in). Even better though, three of these species were new to my own list and two of these were entirely new to any Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve. So here is a breakdown of those 14 species and some notes on them. What's even more remarkable is that Chris Bentley and I did a very detailed invertebrate survey on the site in 2013, just shows you can never cover a site enough.

Aculeates (both of these are common and shows the site is quite under-recorded for aculeates)
Andrena bicolor
Andrena nitida

Aphodius sphacelatus (common as muck - literally being a dung beetle)
Anisotoma orbicularis (new for me and the site)
Acalles ptinoides (Nb - I've only seen this once at Iping in 2012. This time it was in the suction sampler)
Stenus kiesenwetteri (IUCN VULNERABLE. New to me. Old Lodge and any Trust reserve. The highlight of the trip...so far. Again it was in the suction sampler but spotted in the tray by Laurie Jackson)

Livia junci (AKA Mr Weird - a very odd looking psyllid)

Ixodes ricinus which was everywhere.

Stygnocoris sabulosus

Blaniulus guttulatus (sieved from Spahgnum)

Nesticus cellulanus (first time I've seen this away from caves)
Pholcomma gibbum (that's the photo above taken by Evan Jones - I've only seen it once before at Selwyn's Wood)
Ozyptila atomaria (an adult female in the suction sampler below)

Hypselistes jacksoni (a new one for me and any SxWT reserve. I thought that this was going to be a Hypomma but I soon realised it had a pair of eyes on top of the butt on its head that Hypomma bituberculatum doesn't have. It's clearly uncommon with a north western distribution. This fits with Old Lodge being higher and colder, it's a bit more like an upland moor than the West Sussex heaths.

This is Salticus cingulatus, a nice jumping spider not new to the site but the first time I've photographed it. A big thanks to everyone for an awesome day in the field.

...it was my ear and it came off when I fell out of a tree

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 10 March 2017 12:46

It's been a while since I posted one of my 12 year old bird diary entries and this is a corker. I have been looking forward to this one (hence skipping out the Snow Goose entry which was a bit boring really). So, it's 24th November 1990 and I'm fond of copying pictures from the Reader's Digest bird book. However, I think was my finest hour...

Very windy and cold with snow and hail now and then. We split up with Mr Berry at Park hall and went looking for the long eared owls. Then we saw a man with a strange cross bread dog (half dog, half bap), we asked him and he said that he had just saw one (in half) roosting in a tree and he marked a circle in the floor (AKA as ground Little Graeme) around the tree, we saw the bird but it was a bad view. We could make out the ear tufts.

So far so good and not that weird. Then we went looking for mushrooms...

              Then we whent to Shugborough for an hour, looked at some books had our dinner, there was some good books on fungi (I distinctly remember looking at the first edition of Roger Phillips and being amazed), and there was a disc on the computer called 'camping', which I was sent to hospital for drinking contaminated water. 

What?!?! This makes no sense to me, clearly there is a missing sentence and punch-line here. I have never been sent to hospital for drinking contaminated water. There is a slim chance Ewart will be able to shed some light on this but I think we might have to just accept that for what it is. Nonsense!

We saw some fungus, mycenas, parousel mushrooms and Jew's ear (that's Jelly Ear in the civilised age) fungus, which is very damp and soft and looks like someones ear (who knew?!). I pretended to Mr Berry that it was my ear and it came of when I fell out of a tree. Ha ha, I bet I thought he'd fall for it, I was totally convinced it looked identical to a human ear. The power of suggestion to a 12 year old!

Next up a Sociable Plover for an antisocial 12 year old...

Only 196 species to 10,000!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 8 March 2017 10:09

I had ten minutes before a meeting yesterday to try and find some interesting wildlife at Woods Mill and I managed two species new to the reserve network! Well, nearly. First up is Alder Tongue, a fungus that grows out of Alder cones. I have looked for this in the past but yesterday I simply reached up and pulled the nearest cones down and it was on the first twig I looked at! Obviously, this is more impressive when the cones are green. I will have to go back. Barry has since confirmed he had it last year at Castle Water but he hasn't put the record in yet so, technically it was still a first for the reserve network!

Then this fly. Not quite new as I have seen it here before but somehow didn't manage to get the record in! This is Phytomyza hellebori, a fly that mines the leaves of hellebore, this being Stinking Hellebore. It's just around the back of the workshop at Woods Mill. It just goes to show, even when you don't have much time you can still find significant records. The reserve network species list is now on at least 9804 species. Only 196 to the 10,000 mark!

Saltmarsh Short-spur

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 25 February 2017 13:40

I love this time of year. Specimens that have been sitting on your desk for six months or more suddenly remind you about how much you love natural history. I always get a bit jaded in the winter but there is nothing like a stonkingly rare carabid that I just can't key out to get my blood pumping.

I couldn't get beyond the key in Luff which said "upper surface golden metallic green", mine certainly was not. Purple/metallic black would fit better and I then did something I do a lot of with keys when I've been at the microscope all day; think the couplet is referring to the illustration in the margin when it's not. The answer, as is almost always the way in these cases, is hiding in plain sight. I find with times like this you need to either stop or call for help and as I was swinging towards a first for Britain in my head, so I needed an answer fast after two hour of going around in circles.  So I sent the above image to Mark Telfer who got it pretty much immediately. It's the Saltmarsh Short-spur Anisodactylus poeciloides. It WAS an RDB species but it's dropped to NS (nationally scarce) in a review by Mark last year. It is however, still a BAP species I believe. On a recent survey, it was one of seven nationally scarce or rare carabids from a tiny section of saltmarsh at Seaford. Having two Section 41 species present shows just how important this tiny portion of habitat is. It shows how important this kind of survey is. Without it, how can we possibly know what to conserve or where to target habitat management?

It's a cool beetle with a glossy purple elytra and a rather funky three-horned spur at the front of the front tibia. The short-spur in the name is actually on the hind leg, you can't see that above. Best of all though it was new to Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves (I'm amazed it's not been recorded at Rye Harbour). It was our 9797th species and 1839th beetle. It's the first record in East Sussex since 1914 and I believe the first in Sussex since the 1970s. A big thanks to Mark as ever for being an inspiration.

Stupidly confused with sandpiper's knots

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 22 February 2017 21:49

I'm going back a little further, right to the point when I made my first notes and illustrations of birds. This time to see leach's Storm-petrel on the Wirral, yet another bird I have not seen since (bar a dead one in Henfield). So, I'm 12, it's the 22nd September 1990 and I'm still in my pencil crayon phase...

  1.  Leach's Storm-petrel:- 1st one seen seemed to be trying to land on the sand, the less prominent white wing bar led us to think it was a Storm-petrel (I should add this was the first petrel I'd ever seen but glad I had an opinion on what it was) but the fact that yesterday there was 170 Leach's storm petrel  and 1 Storm petrel ensured us (ensured? Try suggested. Pragmatic but not very rigorous Little Graeme) that it was not the latter (note: I no longer use this method to identify things). The second bird got considerably closer the weather conditions where more comfortable and the scope didn't woble. We could now make out the bill and the wing bars where now fairly prominent. It got closer still until the forked tail was visible. Note sharp pointed wing tips and the way they seem to "vanish" into the waves  reapear seconds later. It has to be the best bird of the year.
  2. Gannet:- One gannet extremely far out to sea I thought was a gull untill it droped out of the sky vertically into the water. Nothing els it could be of that size.
  3. Rocky island:- Included twenty to thirty cormorant (adults and juveniles) these seemed to stay away from the over birds. Large flock of bar-tailed godwits flew over but only several landed roughly 200-250 + Oystercatcher on the island along with one Knot and three sandwich terns.
  4. Stop by blue railings:- Knots, dunlins, sanderlings and ringed plovers where sheltering in tussocks of grass. 1 golden plover and 1 dunlin  feeding with Grey plover later they met up with redshank. The dunlin was stupidly confused with sandpiper's knots (I was confused THEN?!) and  even a broad-billed sandpiper.
  5. Plants:- Greater sea spurrey, sea rocket, sea plantain, sea purslane.
Here's a close up of the 'Rocky Island'...

Next up we head to Blithfield to see a dodgy Snow Goose...

Extra virgin

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 19 February 2017 09:15

Last week I got a message from Mark Telfer saying he was coming down to look for Mediterranean Oil-beetles (or Olive Oil-beetles as I prefer) Meloe mediterraneus at Newhaven Fort. So, only the day after seeing Steve Teale at the Fort and then Sussex Moth Group, I was back with Steve for the third time in two days (prior to that I haven't seen him for about five years). Steve Teales are a bit like Bloxworth Snouts in that regard. 

Anyways, these beasts are known to be nocturnal so we recced the site about and hour before sunset and waited until dark. Amazingly Steve found a dead one just as it was getting dark.

It didn't take long before Mark found one at the base of the cliffs, much further down than I was looking. I thought they were would be further up the cliffs but they were all pretty much on the grassy area below which is mostly dominated by Yorkshire Fog. It appears there is a thick thatch here that they can retreat into in the day and then come out at night to graze on it! We recorded about 18 individuals and Steve and Thyone stayed a bit longer and recorded up to 28 I think, in two different 100 km squares (the colony is right on the edge of TQ and TV).

This species is quite close to the Rugged Oil-beetle Meloe rugosus that I saw seven years ago in Brighton in Woodvale Crematorium. I think that when I saw this in 2010, mediterraneus was thought to be extinct and it wasn't in the keys. It all comes down to a groove on the pronotum that you can just make out in my photos but it's not that clear. Have a look at John Walters' page for separating the oil beetles. Meloe rugosus has a much more strongly punctured pronotum too and that is visible in this photo.

With the Olive Oil-beetle, you can see the pronotum is much less punctured and clearly lacks the central groove. It's great to know these fascinating creatures are doing so well at this site. I think Mark said there are only two other sites in the UK for it! Here is Mark extracting some olive oil from one...

I can't help think that they look like that annoying man from that insurance comparison website. Or even better, Mr Creosote! I had no idea that these animals are such active eaters as adults but it's obvious now I come to think about it. Great to observe their behaviour and learn a bit more about them.

Fort Blox

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 18 February 2017 09:01

I had the day off on Wednesday and went and helped Steve Teale and Tony Hutson do a survey in the tunnels under Newhaven Fort. Steve's been doing moth surveys there for a few years and I love any opportunity to get underground. Now most of these tunnels are not open to the public so it really was quite exciting getting in there.

First up, a Pholcus phalangioides spider that has been infected with some strange fungus! Hanging in the air in the torch light, this really was a creepy site! Loved it. Here is our team entering the first tunnel.

Probably the highlight for me was seeing 13, yes that's 13, Bloxworth Snouts (above)! Counting these moths whilst listening to the unnerving sound of an air-ride siren was a rather odd experience. last time I heard one of them I was running for my life in a forest fire in Australia but that is a different story. I saw the 7th record for this moth in Sussex back in 2008 and then again in Waterstone's in Brighton in 2009 but I have not seen it since. Great to see so many of them there, they must be established close to the Fort. This moth must be a candidate for the most stupid name of any animal in this country, just brilliant. I do hope that we name less species in the future after people and places and instead leave behind a legacy of English names that have some use to aid identification. Bloxworth Snout is OK though for its outright daftness.

Great to see lots of Heralds too. Almost guaranteed in any kind of cave or tunnel.

There were lots of spiders but no Cave Spiders sadly. Amaurobius ferox (below) was perhaps the most common with Nesticus cellulanus and Steatoda grossa also present. A couple of Tegenaria silvestris were a surprise away from the woods.

Always nice to see this beauty too. It's the subterranean bristle-tail Trigoniophthalmus alternatus.

Only slugs I saw were Limax maximus and Limacus maculatus. One Brown Long-eared bat was the only bat action. Apparently it's THE only bat there which seems odd.

Here is some primitive cave art.

I got one lifer, the little moth Agonopterix purpurea. Thanks Steve for organising this, it was a great day!

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