An Alternative Natural History of Sussex.
This blog shows the highlights of my day to day findings as a naturalist and ecologist living and working in Sussex. Delivered with a pinch of nihilism, a dash of sarcasm and absolutely no tweeness, here is my attempt to show natural history as it really is: Brutal, beautiful, uncompromising and fascinating...and occasionally ridiculous.
I have been studying natural history for some twenty-eight years, fifteen in a professional capacity. I currently work in Sussex as the Senior Ecologist for Sussex Wildlife Trust where I advise on the management of reserves based upon the results of the ecological surveys I carry out. Views here are my own however. I run a number of identification courses and I also do a small amount of freelance ecological consultancy. My main areas of interest are birds, plants and invertebrates and a lot of my spare time is spent in the field. I don't look like a birdwatcher.
Whilst surveying the ditch flora at Amberley I spotted this Dotted Fan-foot. Like the ones I saw at Woods Mill two years ago, it was very close to some Brown Sedge. We didn't see much today that we hadn't already seen but Flowering Rush is always a welcome sight. A juvenile Marsh Harrier provided the air support and the only new beetle I had was Scirtes hemisphericus (thanks to Mark Gurney for guiding me away from the leaf beetles on this one). I didn't manage a really decent shot of the rarest plant, Cut-grass. as it is not really in flower yet. It's quite hard to pick out from other non-flowering grasses but once you get your eye in it is easy enough. Here is a nice patch growing on the edge of a ditch, its typical habitat. We must have walked miles along those ditches and I'm feeling pretty knackered now!
Another great day at Amberley with six more vascular plant species I have added to my list. First up though, I found a couple of Wasp Spiders over one of the more peaty ditches. In the same ditch we found Marsh Cinquefoil, Bogbean and Floating Club-rush.
In this chalk stream that passes through the brooks you can see a large patch of Narrow-fruited Watercress. Other plants new to me today were Fan-leaved Water-crowfoot, Short-fruited Willowherb, Opposite-leaved Pondweed (first photo below) and this Almond Willow (bottom two photos below). A big thank you to Frances Abraham for helping me out with some of the more difficult plants. We even spotted the naturalised Juneberry on the way back to the pickup. One more day ditching then back to my chalk-grassland quadrats next week.
I'm at Amberley Wildbrooks this week carrying out a joint monitoring project with the RSPB, with one of my old colleagues, Mark Gurney. We are looking at aquatic macrophytes in the ditches and it is incredibly diverse, I have been quite surprised at how many new species of vascular plant I have had there. Eight in the last two days alone!
However, it as this beetle that I really wanted to see. It's Donacia dentata, a Na reed beetle that is known from Amberley. It feeds on Arrowhead of which the ditches are full. We only saw two and this one that Mark caught was obliging enough for a photo. A big thank you to Sam and Seth for lending me the literature! I also saw Narrow-leaved Water-plantain with a Water Ladybird on, both species were new for me but I knocked th ladybird off before I could get a photo!
The list goes on and on but highlights include Cut-grass, Great Water Parsnip, Lesser Water Parsnip, Sharp-leaved Pondweed, Hair-like Pondweed, Marsh Stitchwort, Creeping Yellow-cress, Fine-leaved Water-dropwort, Unbranched Bur-reed and Least Water-pepper. I end the day on 3583 species. Oh I totally forgot that I kicked up a Wood Sandpiper too, first one I have seen for years! Also the moths Lesser Cream Wave and Evergestis pallidata.
I have been falling behind with my blogging because I have been so busy. We had a great day recording at Parham Park yesterday. Best for me was this Cassida nebulosa that Peter Hodge swept, it being a first for Sussex and the only tortoise beetle that was not recorded in the county. The atlas states that the conservation status for this tortoise beetle is indeterminate, I'm not sure what this means but it's obviously not all that common looking at the distribution maps. I didn't see much more until later at night when we started moth trapping and I started searching oak trunks by torch light.
I was amazed at how Helops caeruleus appeared on nearly every tree, one had at least five on! I also found several beetles that I do not recognise that are still to be identified including an Aphodius that came to light that is not Aphodius rufipes (there were many of those though), a tenebrionid I netted in flight and a water beetle from outside one of the traps. I didn't really see too many interesting moths but we did net a couple of Evergestis limbata, the moth that is the Sussex Moth Group's logo! I will have to wait to ID everything, I have had another epic day in the field at Amberley today. It's all happening too quickly to process!
Well, to accommodate Bombus hortorum's long tongue. Why the long tongue then? So that it can get into long flowers such as the labiates and legumes. Yes, I've been on a bumblebee course ran by Mike Edwards on behalf of the Trust at Lewes Railway Lands and the Linklater Pavilion today. Bumblebees have always been a bit of a blind spot for me but I have definitely made progress today. Bombus hortorum was a new one for me although it is very common. We saw one queen Bombus hypnorum but it got away.
We also saw lots of Bombus lapidrius, a very common bee that I have seen before but it's nice to know how to recognise the males too. The top photo is of a queen, the bottom one a male.
We spotted a few other things around the site that I had not seen before including a bee specific to Red Bartsia called Melitta tricincta and a small dark cranefly called Nigrotipula nigra.
However, this photo is best of all. This poor little sucker (I have no idea what species of fly this is) flew straight into a spiny bract on some Teasel and impaled itself! Flying is dangerous business and you should always look where you are going.
A Chalk Carpet of course! I have always wondered why I have not seen this moth because I always spend a lot of time on the chalk during its flight season. As I walked towards a quadrat at Ditchling Beacon today, I kicked up what I thought was going to be a Treble-bar but as it settled I recognised it as a Chalk Carpet. It was quite well hidden against the chalk. The small black twin-spots are an ID feature. This moth is both Nb and on the BAP list but there are old records for the site. Nearby I saw the remains of a Musk Orchid.
I added two other species today too, the small tortrix Acleris aspersana and the leaf beetle Sermylassa halensis which in hindsight I have seen before at Castle Hill and probably other places too. That leaves me on 3562 species. Someone mentioned to me today about me stopping listing. Just to reiterate, I have not stopped listing! All I have done is ease the pressure of trying to get to 4000 by the end of the year. I don't think I could ever stop wanting to see new things, nor will I ever forget what I have seen. Anyway, three new species just by walking between quadrats is pretty good going I reckon!
I saw these strange looking snails on the edge of an arable field this morning. I'm pretty sure that this is Candidula gigaxii, a species I have not seen before. The shell is less wrinkled and with a more rapidly expanding outer whorl than it's close relative the much commoner Candidula intersecta. They were also climbing around in rank herbage which also fits, as intersecta is meant to prefer shorter turf. I was surprised that there was no reference in the literature to how white the body was. I'd be interested if anyone has seen this species for their comments.
Finding things in quadrats is proving quite a good technique to add to my pan-species lit without having to really do anything. I added two species today. First off, what I am fairly sure is Cryptocephalus bilineatus. This is a Nb species that seems to have a concentration of records on the Downs, I was indeed at Southerham today.
Also in the quadrat, this gall on Hedge Bedstraw. In it was the larvae of the fly Geocrypta galii. Just a short one tonight as it's moth group and there is yet another exciting publication to get my hands on being unveiled tonight!
That's just a name I made up for this little leafhopper that I found in one of my quadrats today but you can see why. I didn't notice the markings until I blew the photos up on the screen. I'm pretty sure it's the rather common Allygus mixtus but I have used nothing more than the British Bugs website to come to this conclusion, not a key, so I make the identification tentatively. I was at Badlands today, monitoring vegetation. I decided to try and identify any invertebrates that I did not recognise within the quadrats but apart from a very wet bee, this was all I managed to get a photo of.
On the way past the big Aspen where I saw the Light Orange Underwings in the spring I spotted what looked like berries on some of the leaves. I thought that this gall looked easy enough to identify, it keyed out to the fly Harmandiola globuli. Frustratingly, there was no one home in the single specimen I collected so I can't even tick it.
The meadows are looking great this year, with more Betony than I have ever seen. I'm surprised how lush it looks compared to this time last year.
Now, I have had two new books arrive today so I will be immersing myself in those for the next few hours. I think there may have to be several book reviews in the near future.
I'm always pleased when I see a new plant and it's bigger and more impressive than I expected. After work I popped into the edge of an arable field in the West Weald where I was told some Weasel's Snout was growing. Easy enough to find on the edge of a sandy flax field. Unlike the arable plants that grow on the Downs, you get a very different assemblage on sandy, more acidic ground. Another welcome addition to my list and a plant that I was quite taken with. It's got a ridiculous name to boot, word play in this instance seemed irrelevant.
Whilst visiting Filsham today, I spotted a few plants in a nearby field that were new to me. First off is the nationally scarce Broad-leaved Spurge with its warty fruits and (in this instance) bright red stems.
Nearby (and not unexpected after the above) is the local Field Woundwort, one I have always wanted to see and a bit of a midget compared to many other labiates. I also spotted Fine-leaved Water-dropwort, one that I don't see often. Beetle-wise, I have not seen much lately but I did find the nationally scarce (Nb) Crudosilis ruficolis. Despite not making a real effort to list, I am currently on 3554 species and 1126 vascular plants. This means that 31.7% of my list is made up of vascular plants.
I've been at Friston today and spotted a few nice moths. The highlight was my first Sussex Scarlet Tiger. I have not seen this since around 1994 in Cornwall (ouch, that's 17 years!). It is turning up in gardens in Brighton now but as I don't currently have a garden (Sussex is my garden!) I haven't seen one until today. There were quite a few Hummingbird Hawkmoths out there too.
I did have one tick, the local Pammene aurana that feeds on Hogweed, it seems both as a larvae and as an adult. If all tortrix moths stuck to simple blocks of colour in childish shapes like this one they would be so much easier to identify! I'm getting a little more used to the Canon G12 now too having found a few functions that are resulting in better shots.
Went for a nice stroll around Old Lodge this afternoon with Jo. I was hoping to catch up with Small Red Damselfly which we did but that wasn't the highlight for me. On our approach to the bog I turned to Jo and sitting on her coat was this False Ladybird Endomychus coccineus. This is a new species for me, I was reading about it only earlier this morning and thought it odd that I had not seen it yet. Anyway, it's on the list now! I noticed that the camera wasn't picking up the true scarlet of the beetle, the photo makes it look much more orange than it was.
Whilst standing around one of the acid pools waiting for a Keeled Skimmer I saw lots of backswimmers and suddenly remembered there is a distinctive one in acid pools. I hoyed a couple out and indeed it was Notonecta obliqua. Easy to id in the field on the white markings. I managed to add three species in about two hours, not a bad afternoon in all.
I've had a rather eventful morning surveying arable birds on a farm just outside of Brighton. First off, I have seen THREE Quail! I flushed one and then later flushed a pair whilst walking the survey. I took one more step and flushed a pair of Grey Partridge. Amazing. If at any point in my life someone told me that one day I would see three Quail in a single day, I would not have believed them! I was a bit gutted that I didn't manage a photo but they were pretty fast. I added Little Owl to the survey list too.
The plants today have been exciting also. I am fairly sure the above photo is of Purple Viper's Bugloss. It certainly looks the part and has only two projecting stamens. I know this is a real rarity known only from Cornwall and the Channel Islands. Wilson and King notes that it does turn up as a casual elsewhere on arable land. I wonder where it came from? Is this still a significant record? Can anyone out there shed any light on this, possibly in a Sussex context?
The list of arable plants on this farm is impressive (species in bold I added new to the site today)
However, on the last field I cam across a single flower of Cornflower! Growing with Rough Poppy and Night-flowering Catchfly. It was the only plant there and there were no signs of other 'seed-mix' species. I can't help but think this was a genuine record.
A lot going on today. I think this is Blue Pimpernell. This nationally scarce sub-species of Scarlet Pimpernel is meant to differ from the blue form of Scarlet Pimpernell by the fact that the petals do not over lap as in this photo. It was in the same field as the Cornflower, Rough Poppy and Night-flowering Catchfly.
Oh, I just found a VERY BAD photo of the pair of Quail in flight too (look very carefully in the bottom right hand corner). Now, I'm off to the pub.
Graffham yet again today. Just as I was leaving I decided to look on the trunk of a large, old, open-grown pine. I spotted a jumping spider that I had not seen before. The only other things on the trunk were dozens of Formica rufa ants and a Scoparia pyrallela moth. I thought the spider looked like a tiny Salticus and I had heard that two other species (beyond the common Salticus scenicus that is very common on walls) can be found on pine trunks on heaths. I was expecting it be the local Salticus singulatus but it was actually the much scarcer (Na) Salticus zebraneus. From the texts it does seem that this spider is increasing its range. Yet another nationally scarce invertebrate for Graffham though!
Graffham again today. I spotted this tiny Small Velvet Ant Smicromyrme rufipes (Nb) running across some bare ground. I thought it was a velvet ant at first sight but thought it looked a little small. I didn't realise there was another smaller species. It's actually a wingless female wasp that parisitises bees. Without any effort I also added the carabid Acupalpus parvulus. However, it was this male Evarcha falcata that stole the show. Jumping spiders are pretty amazing looking things and this is one of the most impressive species I have seen.
I have been NVC mapping Graffham today. I saw a few interesting inverts in the process including this odd spider, Cyclosa conica. I have seen it before at Friston but I have never seen its web with the strange 'stabilimentum'. Apparently, not used for stabilising the web but more for camouflage. This particular species decorates the stabilimentum with chunks of undigested prey. Awesome!
A nice surprise were two male Hornet Beetles Leptura aurulenta. I may start thinking this species is common.
Also got these shots of a male Downy Emerald, I was hoping for more yellow, that would have been brilliant.
Called into Cowdray for an hour after work and found the RDB2 Lymexylon navale within ten minutes when it flew into my net! It looked really weird in flight, like a flying worm. It was very lively so no chance of a photo. So much for scaling back the natural history.
OK, this might come as a surprise. It's time to scale back the listing and blogging. I feel that I could get to 4000 by the end of the year but the effort that this will take and and the strain this is likely to have on my social life are not worth it! I am also feeling that I may reach what I call 'natural history burn-out' sooner than usual this year because of the intensity of recording. So, and it's quite hard for me to say this, the challenge to 4000 is off! I have proved to myself that I could do it, I just don't want to lose my girlfriend and my sanity in the process! Also, 4000 was an arbitrary figure I grabbed out the air last winter, I will get there soon, just probably not this year. I will continue with the blog and the listing but I will be scaling it back to one or two posts a week and it's going to involve less of me going out looking for specific species and more of what I stumble across at work.
Saying that, I did go out earlier today with Michael and Clare Blencowe looking for Purple Emperors at an undisclosed site using a less than orthodox means. I had to leave early but I did get to see one high up in a tree. A first for me, I had always said I would like to bump into this species but after three years of living in Sussex, that had not happened. Whilst waiting for the butterfly I spotted this Four-banded Longhorn BeetleLeptura quadrifsciata. I used to see this a lot in Staffordshire but I don't see it in Sussex so much.
Michael then spotted this longhorn feeding on Hogweed. I new it was one I hadn't seen before. It is the Fairy-ring Longhorn Beetle Pseudovadonia livida. It's one of the few species that is not saproxylic, rather it's associated with fungi in the soil.
Clare also spotted this shield bug which was also new to me and one I have been looking out for this summer. It's Woundwort Shieldbug Eysarcoris fabricii. Not at all scarce but a smart little beast with an unusual colour combination. So, three new species and perhaps the last for a while. I end the day on 3528.
I hope people don't feel like I have let them down with my decision to abandon my challenge at this stage. I will aim to keep the blog as lively and up to date as possible, there just won't be quite as much stuff in it!