Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 31 July 2010 16:52

I found this Pointed Snail half way up our fire place this morning. Took me a while to figure out where it came from. I picked up a Rabbits skull from Malling Down a few days ago and it must have stowed away inside the brain pan, it must of been a tight fit! Apparently sheep selectively graze these snails.  They have a mostly southern and western coastal distribution but they are quite common on the chalk-grassland of the South Downs.

Whilst I am on the subject of wildlife in my house, this crisp Common Emerald came to a lighted window the other night too. It's rare to see them so fresh, the green pigment in moths seems to be quite unstable. I have seen a Small Emerald with entirely brown wings with the exception of the part of the hind wing that is hidden from view by the forewing. I would think then, that sunlight has some impact on this pigment.

Is it a harrier?!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 30 July 2010 13:13

Thanks to Oli for this photo. We watched this raptor in the Coombe at Malling on Wednesday. It's a leucistic/partly-albino Kestrel but if I saw this photo without seeing the bird, the first thing I would think of would be Pallid Harrier. It has some completely white feathers in the right wing but generally all the colours are there just totally washed out so it looks almost white in flight. I watched it interacting with two other Kestrels in the Coombe and it was behaving like it was part of a family so I suspect it may be a resident bird there. If you go up to Malling, keep an eye out for this very striking bird!

The Incredible Hulk

Posted by Graeme Lyons 12:48

Great Green Bush-crickets can be really hard to find but this one was just sat right out in the open on a Creeping Thistle and seemed to be munching on thistle seeds! This really is a huge insect, females can be 55 mm long. I have been at Malling Down for the last few days monitoring the chalk-grassland by quadratting and there are hundreds of Silver-spotted Skippers up there this year. This butterfly benefits from the same management that benefits the Adonis Blue, it likes tightly grazed warm slopes with lots of the food plant, Sheep's Fescue.

Who ate all the Prionus?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 28 July 2010 20:04

This is part two of yesterday's blog. Whilst servicing a subterranean trap late yesterday afternoon at Petworth Park we found all these parts of a number of the notable a Tanner Beetle Prionus coriarius. This huge deadwood longhorn develops in the bases of dead and decaying trees and is quite a beast. Mark suggested that this was most likely Hedgehogs. Based on the fragments there was a minimum of six individuals. That huge left-hand elytron was 28 mm long and does not match with any of the right-handed ones and must have been a massive female. 
Before this however, we saw some really nice living-deadwood inverts, considerably  more active than the Tanner Beetles! We spent the first hour in the car park. First off we saw a couple of deadwood hoverflies hanging around a log pile and Mark managed to confirm Xylota sylavrum. I had never seen this species before which has really smart golden-hairy tip to the abdomen. It's not scarce but it has got me thinking something about deadwood inverts. Why are so many of them Batesian mimics? In other words, why do so many deadwood inverts have red and yellow patterning to make them look like harmful aculeates?

Anyway, this beast was soon eclipsed by some tantalising glimpses of what I was sure was the Golden-haired Longhorn Beetle or Hornet Beetle Leptura aurulenta. They were just too fast and were disappearing out of site but after a quick lunch this huge female pretty much flew into my net. I saw these last year in the glades at Ebernoe when they were much more sedate. Watching the female walk was great, very jerky, quite like a Wasp Beetle adding to the aculeate disguise. It's got golden-hairs all around the pronotum that are really easy to see in this photo. I didn't realise that the females abdomen is almost entirely blood red too, pretty impressive in flight. This species is Na and is a real contender for the smartest of all the longhorn beetles.
Finally, on to a huge open-grown oak tree with a large exposed interior and there were signs of Deathwatch Beetle everywhere as well as these exit holes of the Na Oak Jewel Beetle Agrilus biguttatus. They are neat little D shaped holes coming out of thick oak bark. Also in this tree, tucked away out of view was this nationally scarce (Nb) saproxylic micro moth Esperia oliviella

An awesome day of natural history in the west Weald!

The Badger, the Polecat and the very rare beetle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 27 July 2010 20:40

Some days there is just too much natural history for one blog entry so today's epic bonanza is gonna be a two-parter! Mark and Jo Telfer came down to The Mens as part of the deadwood beetle survey we have been carrying out there all summer and the first thing we did was collect the interception traps. Whilst I was collecting the trap that hangs beneath the huge Idehurst Oak I noticed what I assumed to be a common soldier beetle trapped in a spider's web, how wrong was I!? It was the RDB2 saproxylic beetle Lymexylon navale (top photo). This is a really odd looking beetle, a little like a flying worm., long and thin with a protruding abdomen, a narrow thorax and a little black head. This species is a grade 1 indicator of ecological continuity, has the highest scoring index a beetle can have on the SQI spreadsheet and is new to The Mens and the West Weald Landscape Partnership project area so it's an important find on the survey. The literature states it feeds in living and dead standing oaks (sometimes chestnut) but always where the tree has been damaged in some way. It feeds in dried old wood feeding off the cellulose rather than fungus that most saproxylic beetles feed on.

Soon after we were all low to the ground looking at a beating tray when about 20 meters away through dense Holly we heard several large animals, I assumed it would be Roe Deer. You know something awesome is about to happen when someone shouts 'Mustelid!'. Suddenly a massive Polecat appeared in front of us in broad day light. We were able to bend down really low and look under the Holly and as ever I had my bins around my neck so I actually got to focus on it. So, for all the times I carry my bins and never use them, this was worth it and I will be carrying them to the loo from now on! Seriously though the Polecat was being pursued by a Badger! (I didn't get on to the Badger - too busy trying to follow the Polecat). It was huge, much bigger than a ferret, really fat at the back end with a pale face and all dark body.  Amazing! Last summer when Mark and I were taking the traps down at Ebernoe we saw a scat on the top of one of the traps that due to its size and arboreal location we concluded had to be Polecat but of course  we could never be sure. It's great to know they are in the area though and it is certainly the first time I have ever seen one alive.

Before all this happened we were looking at the nationally scarce (Nb) saproxylic beetle the Oak Pinhole Borer Platypus cylindricus boring into Beech. I managed to focus on the tiny beast as it 'fluked' into its hole and disappeared for good. This fallen Beech was covered in frass from what must have been hundreds of the holes this little beetle creates. The beetle is known to favour recently fallen trees and is about 5 mm long.
All this happened before 1.00 pm so for the equally exciting  second installment where we spent the afternoon  at the nearby Petworth Park, watch this space!

Chalk and cheese

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 26 July 2010 17:36

I finished the quadrats in the Friston Forest area today and there are many changes. The disturbance caused by the cattle is reflected in the flora, there is a great deal more Scarlet Pimpernel, Field Madder and Viper's Bugloss than usual. There is also more Long-stalked Cranesbill (top photo - with a free-loading Field Madder flower in the back ground!) which in my opinion is a really smart little plant. I also found some Trailing St. John's-wort (second photo). The variety of plants that grow at Friston is incredible, chalk heath is quite unusual, plants you would not normally see growing side by side are quite at home together. All of this is due to wind-blown deposits also known as 'loess' that sit on top of the chalk and have a much lower pH than the chalk due to their sandy nature. These deposits can be very thin so long-rooted calcareous species can grow in amongst short-rooted calcifugous species.
As I was leaving I noticed this social wasp mimic hoverfly nectaring on Hogweed by the gate. It's Chrysotoxum festivum. The habitat is grassy places near woodland rides and the species is widespread but never common according to  'Stubbs & Falk'. It has four pairs of curved yellow bars on the black abdomen, all yellow legs and yellowish wings with a dark spot.

The Lyons Den is three months old today!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 25 July 2010 12:34

I like statistics. Most of my summer is spent collecting data and most of the cold, bleak winters are spent indoors compiling, analysing and interpreting that data. So, I am going to give a brief update on some stats of my blog. I am going to continue to try and blog every day though I am not sure how this will work in the winter but I'll give it a go. As with most things in my life it has become an obsession but for the meantime, a relatively healthy one! Most days it's quite effortless to find a subject to blog about, occasionally I have to look a little harder but I do carry my camera more often than I used to now and 'what I'm going to blog about next' is always in the back of mind. I never intended to blog with such frequency when I set it up but it fits with my obsessive nature and seems quite natural.

So, in three months I have had 601 unique visitors from 20 countries and 29 people are following the blog. There have been 1579 visits and 2915 page visits. This is the 84th blog entry during this time. My most visited blog entries were 'When spiders look like green cats', 'Eight-legged Freaks!' and 'First for Sussex!'. This has really taught me that the naming of blog entries has a lot to do with how many people look at them. Using a Latin name (as I did with the entry 'Anaglyptus mysticus' - what I thought was a well cool Latin name and even smarter looking beetle) seems to be a great way to turn off the reader. As does not submitting a photo. My personal favourite blog was the one I named 'Size IS everything!' with the photo of a Stag Beetle running away from my new tattoo.
So what started really as a way to share my sightings and to create an on-line diary has actually taken on more substance than these original ideas. It already influences how I do natural history. One thing that I didn't really plan on was the content, I seem to particularly like blogging about small things that don't usually get much press (beetles and arable weeds for example) and anything that has unusual behaviour or a story to go with it (such as mimicry). Anyway, one of my main goals was to create a natural history blog without the tweeness, there will be no 'skipping through the bluebells' here. I hope I have achieved this! In three months time it will be the end of October and there will be very few plants, moth and beetles to blog about so things might be very different then but I hope to still be as active with it as I am now. Fungi and bryophytes here we come! Or maybe I should invest in a bigger camera and take photos of birds too?...

Well over 100 species of moth caught at Benfield Country Park last night

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 24 July 2010 12:49

I ran two MV traps for Benfield Country Park last night, the first time this excellent little downland site  just north of the A27 by Hove and Portslade had been moth trapped. We very quickly amassed a huge list of species and it would have been much  higher if I had the time to do all the micros. The best find for me was a Tree-lichen Beauty (top picture), I'm not sure how frequent these immigrants/new residents are now, I saw one about ten years ago at Dungeness, I think they are still quite scarce but they can turn up in twos and threes apparently and are most likely breeding in Sussex. There was a whole supporting cast of nice moths too, Kent Black Arches, Brussel's Lace (second picture), Hoary Footman, Galium Carpet (third picture), Reddish Light Arches, Small Purple-barred and White-spotted Pug (actually we had 7 species of pug) were some of the less often seen species. Other immigrants included numerous Diamond-back Moths, Silver-Ys and a Dark Sword-grass. Nice showy stuff included Small and Elephant Hawk-moth, a huge female Oak Eggar, Drinker, Peach Blossom, Ghost Moth and Buff Arches.
There were a few beetles too including several of this huge Geotrupes sp. (probably a Dor Beetle - need to key it out), several Summer Chafers and Lagria hirta. A great evening, it's always good to see your enthusiasm rub off on other people, there is no better way to spend an evening  in a field with complete strangers until midnight huddled round a light bulb!

26/07/10 UPDATE: I keyed out the large beetles, they turned out to be Geotrupes spiniger, very closely related to the true Dor Beetle, Geotrupes stercorarius. Still common though and associated with dung.

Looking like lichen

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 23 July 2010 08:31

On the theme of moths I caught these two species the other night by leaving the light on and the bathroom window open. They both feed on lichens as larvae and both look like lichens as adults. The top photo is the local Marbled Green, looking like a midget Merveille du Jour, this smart moth is not that common, is usually coastal and really puts its much commoner cousin, the Marbled Beauty to shame. The larvae live inside a silken 'domicile' according to 'Porter' so they don't need cryptic camouflage. There are many moths that feed on lichens as larvae but do not mimic them as adults, most of the footman, many of which are increasing probably due to improvements in air quality over recent years. Some moths, like the Merveille du Jour look like lichen as an adult but do not feed on lichen as larvae. it would be interesting to look at this group of moths as a suite of species and see if they have increased due to the increased presence of lichen. Perhaps being a convincing mimic though does not require large amounts of  the 'model' material in order to fool predators. As you can tell I find mimicry fascinating no doubt due to the lichen mimics being some of the most handsome moths we have.

Is this the rarest moth I have ever found?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 22 July 2010 17:28

OK, firstly I have to say I cannot claim this record all on my own, Penny Green put the trap out for me last night but had the day off today so was not there for the discovery but I see this very much as a joint record. This Marsh Dagger is only the third in the UK since it went extinct in 1933. One was recorded at Rye Harbour in 1996, one was recorded this week (Monday 19th) at Pagham Harbour and then the Woods Mill moth are the only records since then. It was known from inland sites when it was resident up to its extinction and today's record is the only 'inland' (we are about 10 miles inland) record since then. According to 'Waring, Townsend & Lewington' the habitat is just right for it at Woods Mill, so I will do some trapping there on the wider reserve (not just near the plug socket) in the next few weeks. Also, in 'South' he states an alternative name for this moth is The Grisette which is way cooler than Marsh Dagger.
There was quite a list in the trap last night, 183 moths of 65 species. Other goodies included the nationally scarce Webb's Wainscot and this awesome Large Emerald. I also recorded a Marbled Green in my toilet last night by keeping the window open and light on for half an hour.

Green-eyed Monster

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 21 July 2010 17:28

Look at this beast! We saw these during the Friston invert survey but failed to confirm the ID. It is the RDB Four-lined Horsefly Atylotus rusticus. This is known only from the levels between Pevensey and Lewes and beyond that there are records from Monks Wood and that is about it. The females have HUGE eyes that basically take up their whole head, like a flying pea! I managed to catch one and confirm the ID when I went back to look for the clearwing. This is a much rarer find and softens the blow of me missing the clearwing.  This thing looks pretty well equipped to give you a nasty bite. Whilst I was messing around with the pheremones, another Nb beetle landed on my leg, it was Variimorda villosa.
This is a mordellid or tumbling flower beetle. The sharp pointed abdomen is diagnostic. They are quite an unusual shape for beetles, a little flea-like. Compressed laterally with a head that can tuck right under the pronotum giving them a hunched-back look.

Emergency-stop botany

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 20 July 2010 17:35

Just a quick one today, whilst on route to Friston Forest I noticed a large strip of what can only be Common Sea-lavender growing on the central reservation on the A27 between the universities and the Ditchling turn off. I have seen Danish Scurvy-grass and Reflex Salt-marsh Grass doing this for many years but never the sea-lavender. I love how these halophytes have found a way to grow in the most inhospitable of places. I guess all the salt that is put down on the roads builds up accumulatively, so soon we'll be able to pick marsh samphire by the motorway, not that you'd want to eat it though.

Crawling around the bend at Exceat I noticed what looked like Red Star-thistle growing right by the roadside and it was! Another new species for me.
I did not have so much luck trying to relocate yesterday's clearwing with pheromones although I did get another nationally scarce (Nb) beetle landing on me, Variimorda villosa. Whilst quadratting I had a Humming-bird Hawk-moth fly into my quadrat and nectar on Viper's Bugloss. I think this is the first one I have seen for two years.

The bee with the pink pants

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 19 July 2010 19:24

Visit 4 of the Friston Forest invertebrate survey and we turned up a number of good species. Firstly though, on our way out of the forest we stopped by a large patch of Field Scabious, the sole food of the large mining bee Andrena hattorfiana. A RDB3 species known from this area for some forty years. As the bee takes pollen only from Field Scabious (and sometimes Greater Knapweed - two plants that are flowering well this year), the pollen has a very unusual colour, pink! The amount that these bees pile up on their legs looks ridiculous. This is a large mining bee with a reddish abdomen (I think Mike Edwards said it also comes in a black form). We saw perhaps 6 or 7 without any real effort. A really unusual looking invertebrate with its big pink bloomers!
Butterflies today were great, there were Chalkhill Blues (photo), Dark-green and Silver-washed Fritillaries, Brown Argus, White Admirals, Red Admirals and Marbled Whites everywhere.

What caused the most excitement today though was a clearwing I spotted nectaring on Creeping Thistle. I am pretty sure it was either Sallow Clearwing or Orange-tailed Clearwing. As I missed it with my net though, I can't be sure.  It was very small, all black with two creamy-white bands on the abdomen and thick dark borders to the translucent wings. I am going to try and go back with pheremones to the spot. I also saw a Kent Black Arches.

Spreading the word

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 18 July 2010 18:18

Thanks to Peter Whitcomb for giving me the gen on this endangered plant, Spreading Hedge-parsley. A new species for me and separated from the much commoner Upright Hedge-parsley by having only 3-5 rays per umble (compared to 5-12 rays in Upright). It also has 0-1 bracts (4-6 in Upright). The leaves are also more open with greater spaces between the leaflets. The jizz of the plant is totally different, much shorter and more spreading than Upright Hedge-parsley. A nationally scarce and BAP species associated with  heavy  calcareous soils on arable land and occasionally road verges, here it was found on the edge of Falmer pond, directly in front of the gate of the Church and being very easy to find, Jo spotted it first! The constant clambering of people down to the waters edge is keeping the sward open and emulating the bare/disturbed conditions this annual plant needs. Yet another rare plant kept going by people pressure, whether a God-fearer, duck-feeder or a plant-twitcher, we all leave our mark but this time it seems to be positive!

The edge of the pond has an interesting draw-down zone with Fiddle Dock, Toad Rush and the invasive Button-weed. I could imagine there might be something of note here too but I am trying to avoiding micro-botany at the moment as it's not good for back ache so I let it be.

A clown in the saddle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 17 July 2010 19:09

I found these large Dryad's Saddles at the base of a dead tree at The Mens by the side of the road last week. There were some really mushy old ones there too and it is these older fungi that often have more inverts in or on them, you can see one at the bottom of the second photo, it just looks like mud or tree roots. I flipped one over and saw what I thought was a beetle's pronotum but it was actually still alive, it's a histerid. or clown beetle. There about 50 species in the UK with 9 on the saproxylic list so I need to key it out. for the deadwood beetle survey we are doing there this year. That means working my way through Joy using a key that I have not used before without any reference specimens so I will have to get someone more experienced to check the ID. Histerids can retract the head in and fake death (hence I thought it was a part of the beetle when I saw it first). The last few segments of the abdomen are exposed, the antennae are clubbed and the tibia are flattened. They are predatory species occupying many different niches. I'll report back with what I think it  is at a later date. Lets hope its a rare one!

Cricket Club

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 15 July 2010 18:57

My first day back at work and I spent half the day by the side of Wisborough Green cricket field as the Subaru broke down on me. Fortunately after I had collected the interception traps from The Mens. I was waiting for an hour and half but I had my camera on me so I was not completely out of things to do. I had also conveniently broken down right in front of the village stores so I could stuff my face with junk food. Whilst I was shoving my Almond Magnum wrapper into the bin I saw this bad boy, an Oak Bush-cricket whom I got to pose on a bench for me and kept me company whilst roadside assistance turned up. It seemed to like the camera and jumped onto my lens three times in a row. Common enough but I like the way the light shines through the translucent parts! Later on I spotted this odd plant, Stone Parsley. This and the scarcer Corn Parsley look quite unlike umbellifers, perhaps more like bedstraws at first glance and quite easy to completely overlook due to the tiny and very diffusely arranged flower heads.
The traps from The Mens looked fairly empty this time although there was a click beetle in one of them I did not recognise and I found a histerid that I will try and key out hanging around some Dryad's Saddle. I will have to do the sorting tomorrow now.

Strawberry fields

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 14 July 2010 15:39

I went to meet Jo for lunch on Brighton Uni's Falmer campus and found loads of cool and scarce plants. I was however hampered by things like forgetting my memory card so I didn't get photos of everything. At a bus stop I found this huge patch of Strawberry Clover, a plant I usually see in coastal grazing marshes. The flowers look like a small cross between Red and White Clovers but the fruiting head is something else, looking like a papery, bleached strawberry, it is this that gives the flower its name. It is surprisingly easy to walk right past this plant and I think it's the first time I have seen it in Sussex although I don't think it's that scarce.  This patch was perhaps a metre in diameter and roughly circular.

With all the development that is going on the campus, the site is like an arable plant nature reserve! In the half hour I was there I saw Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Babington's Poppy, Wild Pansy, Equal-leaved Knotgrass and most amazingly Dense-flowered Fumitory. This last one is nationally scarce, I have seen it before at Southerham and it looks quite different to other fumitories but I wish I had got a photo. I might try and get back to the spot. Jo found a Knotgrass moth larvae as well as a Forest Bug.

Big-bad-bug in Badlands

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 13 July 2010 17:08

I found this Forest Bug Pentatoma rufipes in Badlands last week. There is no other shield bug with shoulder projections with a rounded front edge (there is one with strongly pointed projections) so it is pretty easy to ID. I get this in moth traps quite a lot too. The other ID feature is the yellow (sometimes orange) tip to the huge scutellum that shield bugs have.
I can't wait to get back to work, only one more day to go and I can get onto our nature reserves! Fortunately, my back is feeling a lot better so it looks like all will be well although I think I am going to have to take things a little easier for a while.

Night-flowering Catchfly

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 12 July 2010 21:33

Back to the arable field by Devils Dyke again this evening for my evening stroll and as we arrived, clouds of dust highlighted the presence of a tractor slowly cutting its way through the poppies and all the wonderful arable plants I have been looking at recently. He soon left though and the whole field was still pretty much left untouched. I took Jo through the field down to wear I saw all the Narrow-fruited Cornsalad and further into the north east corner of the field, this plant formed a dense mat. There was also a lot of Common Hemp-nettle but the best find was spotted by Jo. A single specimen of Night-flowering Catchfly! The top three photos are of this specimen, yet another new species for me. It's much smaller than White Campion with narrower, deeply split petals. The flowers were very weakly yellow on the outside and almost pure white on the inside, quite unlike all the exaggerated pink/yellow illustrations shown in the books. The sticky stem is indicative, White Campion never has this. I have included a photo of White Campion below for comparison.
In 'Arable Plants - a field guide' it is shown as being a Species of Conservation Concern and in 'Sussex Wildflowers' it says there were only 11 records between 1984 and the time of writing (2004) with only 9 sites in East Sussex, although it is not now thought to be nationally scarce. I have always wanted to see this although it's a shame it didn't look like it did in the books!

Through the Looking-Glass

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 11 July 2010 19:41

I went back to the poppy field at Devils Dyke today with Oli and finally got as far as the far side of the field, via the Dwarf Spurge and Venus's Looking-glass. That is about as far as I can walk at the moment but it was good to get out of the house. I saw one plant new to me, Narrow-fruited Cornsalad. The top photo is the fruit, the shape of which separates it from the other cornsalads. The bottom photo shows the flower head. This species looks nothing like Common Cornsalad, it has a totally different jizz with a much less congested head and long spindly branching stems with much whiter flowers. I thought at first it was going to be one of the two small umbellifers, Stone or Corn Parsley. This species is listed as Endangered. I did see some Fool's Parsley nearby.

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