What makes Sussex Moth Group tick!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 30 January 2012 15:25

I was very  proud to give this talk on Saturday at the National Moth Recording Conference in Birmingham. Putting this talk together made me realise just how active the group is and also, how lucky we are in Sussex. Some of the comments I got after giving the talk supported this further. I think that the most important thing with any such group is openness and inclusivity. Everyone and every group is talking to every other person and group. Strong relationships between the Sussex Moth Group and Sussex Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation and particularly the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre are in my opinion (after an enthusiastic membership) the reasons why our group works so well.

I still get nervous before talking to this many (200) people and I think I always will but I do my best to hide it. I think the nerves keep you on your toes.
It was great to see some old friends and we came up with all sorts of ideas for field trips and holidays for the summer. I also spent over £100 on books...
My favourite talks were about the forthcoming micro moth book and the evolution of bats and moths. Oh yeah, the kites. On my north bound journey I saw 80, that's not a typo, 80 kites! On my way south today, I saw only three.

Dust N' Bones

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 29 January 2012 08:00

I was at Butterfly Conservation's National Moth Recording Scheme's annual conference in Birmingham yesterday but on the way up I stopped off just inside the M25 at Epsom Common to meet two strangers in a car park. I was in fact there to meet two pan-species listers who I have been in regular contact for nearly a year now online, Seth Gibson and Danny Widerscope (Danny, as I can't remember your surname and thought it was Widerscope anyway, I'm gonna stick with that).

It was quite interesting swapping a few ticks, something I greatly enjoyed and I got three out of it (a vascular plant and two micro-moths) while Seth got 13 (10 bryophytes, two vascular plants and a lichen). It's quite interesting how pan-species lister's lists change when they briefly meet, I could quite get into this side of natural history.

Anyway, first up was Barberry. It's not often that I actually tick twigs but this was clearly alive. Strange three sided thorns, I am rather surprised I have not seen this before. Seth's also pretty good on his psychids (far better than I) and I was impressed that he showed me two dust covered balls of fluff that actually contain the larvae of tiny little moths. Firstly are these strange little galleries that are tightly adpressed to the bark, winding their way through Lepraria lichens, it's Infurcitinea argentimaculella and I wonder whether I have completely over looked this in the past.
There's more though. This psychid was one with a three living case but it's a similar idea. This one is Narycia duplicella. I ended the day on 3749 species. After this I head north up the M40 and beat my record for the number of Red Kites I have ever seen in one journey but that will have to wait for another post...
A big thank you to Seth and Danny for showing me around, I look forward to heading back that way in the summer for some Dicycla oo action.

Lichens on twigs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 25 January 2012 21:09

I tried something new today after finding some FSC lichen ID sheets that I bought a few years ago and lost in my office. We have a lot of mature Blackthorn at Woods Mill. It's covered in lichens and I can only identify a few of them. After a little staring at the lichens, I started to see patterns that I recognised. I knew a few of them already but there was one new species for me there. This is Physcia tenella as far as I can tell and at Woods Mill it was perhaps the most abundant lichen growing on Blackthorn twigs. It's the first lichen I have added to my list since June 2011 and puts me on 3746 species. It's only my 28th lichen species. I will be going back for more lichens on my lunch breaks in the next few months. I figure that the species growing on Blackthorn are perhaps going to be common species as it's not a rare plant and will be a good place to try and get back in to lichens.

Return to the Valley of the Lost Raptors

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 22 January 2012 20:28

Stumbled upon this Red Kite today as we arrived at the Burgh. It seemed to be eating a partridge and was very keen to do so, allowing us to walk very close to it. I was searching for the Rough-legged Buzzard today and shortly after the kite I got a distant view of it before losing the damn thing in a maelstrom of Rooks. We also saw a Barn Owl and the usual bombardment of Grey Partridge. The very pale Buzzard was also showing well there.

This is the fourth Rough-legged Buzzard I have seen and my first in Sussex. I self found my first ever bird ten years ago when I was working at Titchwell. I think they are a massive improvement on Buzzards. I have a thing for pied birds and this bird was very obviously pied even at a distance but the dark sides to the belly and white tail were also easy to see.

Snail fail

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 21 January 2012 17:46

Can't win 'em all. I went searching for a live Helicella itala today but failed. I did find a few more empty shells but found no live snails on the chalk except those under fallen wood. The above photo is a very common and easy to identify snail that I see mostly under logs in woods, it's Discus rotundatus. Here is today's snail list:

Cepaea hortensis
Helix aspera (alive)
Cochlodina laminata (alive)
Discus rotundatus (alive)
Pomatias elegens
Cernuella virgata (one alive)
Helicella itala (only two more shells)
Candidula intersecta (alive)

So I didn't add anything new in the field. The mosses there were pretty boring for a chalk grassland site with Fissidens taxifolius, Bryum capillare and Pseudoscleropodrum purum being very common and just the occasional bit of Homalothecium lutescens. I did however get three retrospective ticks looking through old notebooks. I found my notes from a trip to Abernethy when I was working at the RSPB. I had a day in the field looking at Sphagnum with Andy Amphlett and I saw Sphagnum fuscum, russowi and inundatum. That puts me on 3745.

The laminated book of dreams

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 20 January 2012 20:54

As a child, every Christmas, I would flick through the Argos catalogue dreaming about which Transformers I would get. As an adult, I flick through natural history books, dreaming about when I will see this species or that. Seriously though, there is a great benefit to this. If you read around the subject and gen up, just sometimes, you will recognise species before you have ever seen them. 

I've been looking for this rather large, flattened snail for a while since I acquired the FSC land snail key a few years back. Considering how much time I spend on the chalk, I'm surprised it took this long. Anyway, last night (whilst looking for something completely different) with Michael Blencowe and Mat Davidson, Michael found this shell. I can't tick it, as it was well dead like. It's the Heath Snail Helicella itala. I will be going back soon to look for a live one. Thanks to Michael for the photo and thanks also to Mum for getting me Optimus Prime.

Calling all pan-species listers

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 18 January 2012 12:39

I am giving a talk on pan-species listing at the next Adastra conference in Sussex and wanted to do some analysis of the pan-species listers themselves. Firstly, I'd like to make a distribution map of where you live so, if you wouldn't mind, could you email me the first part of your postcodes please? Of course, after the presentation, I'll be happy to put this on my blog and leave it in the public domain for all to use. The second bit of information is perhaps a little more sensitive and no worries if you don't want to give it, I'm after your ages! I'd love to do a correlation between age and your list and to show the age frequency distribution. I'd be happy not to show this on my blog if people didn't want it to. I don't need them all but a good representable proportion will probably do. Ha ha, I've just re-read this. As if listing wasn't nerdy enough, I intend to make it so nerdy that it pops right out the back of nerdy into the realm of cool. That's what's I think anyway.

Episode Four is out now!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 17 January 2012 21:04

Here it as at last. Our fourth offering and probably our best one yet, you can also hear it on iTunes. Hear what we get up to when we enter the SOS bird race and get up to all sorts of marzipan fuelled antics. Enjoy!

The Spaniard and the Yankee

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 15 January 2012 19:35

At shortly after 9.00 am this morning I found myself looking OUT of a stranger's house, bare foot and surrounded by even more strangers in matching waterproofs. What was I doing you may ask? Well, I headed to the New Forest today with Oli and my new house mate Simon on a double twitch in search of a Spanish Sparrow and a Dark-eyed Junco
Firstly to Calshot, a tiny little place where a Spanish Sparrow (species 3740) has taken up residence in, get this, a birder's garden! So, a bucket out of the front door for donations was filling up pretty quickly as the bird was well embedded in a trellised hedge and could only be seen from within the house. It all felt a little too easy and was perhaps the most strange birdwatching baptism that anyone could have. Assuring Simon that that was pretty odd, even for a twitch, we headed into the forest for the junco...
...Crossbills featured heavily throughout the day and were singing readily as I opened the car door. We walked the very short distance to where the junco had been hanging out only to see a stump metres from the path where it had been showing, you guessed it, minutes before we got there. A cold hour went by when we saw nothing but Chaffinches, Reed Buntings and Crossbills. Then I spotted the little bugger lurking in a fallen pine tree. It was just right of the knot in the lower branch in the crown and then it flew into cover. A few minutes later, it flew into a tree right in front of us. Here is the photo but it is pretty awful as ever. Nice bird though, great to hear it call too. My 340th bird and my 3741st species. I fell over, dropped my scope, landed on my cameras and looked like a right plonker in front of loads of birders. I rock.

But that's not it! I wasn't wasting anytime in the forest and we went for a walk. I spotted this amazing bryophyte growing on the sides of a ditch. I wasn't sure at first if it was a liverwort but I had a hunch I new what it was and it paid off. It's the rather smart looking moss Hookeria lucens and my third and final tick of the day leaving me on 3742 species. Also, I just listened to episode four of our podcast and Mat has done an amazing job, watch this space.

Hundred metre twitch

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 11 January 2012 20:51

OK so it's been a bit quiet recently with moving house and report writing. Today however, things notched up a gear at Woods Mill. Mike Russell rushed into reception after a walk around the reserve and announced the presence of a Woods Mill rarity on the lake. What was it? Only a Coot! I've been at Woods Mill three months shy of four years already and I was yet to add Coot to my Woods Mill list. I may have gripped Mike off with the first records of Merlin, Tree Pipit, Hawfinch and Crossbill in that time, but I needed Coot. Boy, did I need that Coot.

There was a tense few seconds as I waddled the 100 m up to the edge of the lake after a heavy lunch. There it was, resplendent in the afternoon sun. A Coot really is a beautiful bird, with so many colours and patterns that it's sometimes hard to take it all in at once. I must have sat there by the lake for a good three seconds before I returned to my desk. As I was nearing reception I heard the bird's delightful call. It would shame a Nightingale. Who needs all that fancy fluting and warbling when you could listen to the ear-splitting, monosyllabic, 'hammer striking stone' sound of a Coot? Thanks Mike, you've given me a contender for the natural history highlights of 2012 already!

Context collapse

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 8 January 2012 19:14

Why do people blog? For me, it's for many reasons but two things in particular. To show what I find in the natural world through the written word and the photograph and to have a laugh in the process. But almost as importantly is the need to encourage and help others on their own personal natural history quest. We all want to make a difference in our own way and this is something I have taken a lot of enjoyment from.

I know that people enjoy the blog and have benefited from it, so therefore I have fulfilled both of my major reasons for doing this in the first place. However, is my life richer for it? I think I am spending too much time on line these days, not just with Blogger but also Facebook and Twitter, not to mention all the emails. Have a look at this interesting lecture on Youtube. 
The idea of 'context collapse' disturbs me. In the world of Web 2.0, we find ourselves talking to a faceless amalgamation of many different people. For me, these 'entities' are slightly different on Facebook (mostly people I know), Twitter (mostly people I don't know but share a common interest) and Blogger (anyone who cares to look at the blog). But when you talk face to face with someone, you constantly adjust what you say and how you say it for the person or audience you are speaking to. When blogging, who am I talking to? A projection of my own ideas of who is listening? Sometimes my own subconscious? The best of me? I think that spending more time on the Internet may have had a detrimental effect on the rest of my life by changing the way I communicate but I am not sure. As my life passes through different stages, I unexpectedly found my blog was capturing these changes. This was not a direct conscious decision. The feeling of living a very 'public' life has also got to me recently. It's been both good and bad for my reputation but the homogenising of my messages to friends, colleagues and strangers alike, feels wrong somehow.

I think an experiment is in order. I don't want to stop blogging or completely lose my on line presence but I definitely feel a change is needed. Firstly, I don't get many comments but I think this is due to how I write with very much a one way flow of information. I'd like to try and change this and I know that shouldn't be too hard. I intentionally kept it that way so that I didn't spend forever responding to comments. I'll try and keep the balance then by posting a little less frequently and putting more questions, quizzes and interactions into the mix. 

The Internet is changing so quickly that the spellchecker in Blogger doesn't even recognise the words blog and blogging, so what chance do we stand to keep up with these changes and remain unchanged and intact?

Taxa return

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 3 January 2012 22:00

It's that time of year again. So, I didn't get to 4000. Things didn't exactly go to plan this year, hence the blip in August. Without that, the data would have shown a much more 'normal' distribution curve. Anyway, I added 714 species last year (19% of everything I had ever seen was new last year, nearly one in five!) and I am pretty pleased with that.When I get more time I'll, show a break down of the taxa that I have added the most species with and in which month. It must be beetles but what will be the second highest after that be?

Unwanted baggage

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 1 January 2012 18:40

Anyone who has spent time with me in the field in the last nine years will have seen this bag. I bought it whilst working for the RSPB on Anglesey from a shop in Bangor for about £25 and it's served me well. Very well in fact. The zips have gone, the clips have broken twice but now the draw strings and the lining are coming away so I needed a replacement. I know this is a boring post but I suddenly realised that the cells in my body have almost been completely replaced over the lifetime of this bag. In other words, it's actually been more consistent in my life than I have! It's also the one piece of kit that I use every day but I rarely acknowledge that.

I asked Mum for a new bag for Christmas and guess what I got? Exactly the same bag! It's not that I don't like change but if it ain't broke, don't fix it! It has a few new improvements, like a built in water proof cover that folds out of the top of the bag which is gonna come in really handy.
The last year has been incredible. I have seen so many new species and places. It's also been incredibly testing at times. So, what's in store for 2012 I hear you say? Well I am going to carry on with the listing, blogging and podcasting but it's all going to be a little less targeted and a lot more opportunistic so I can free up some more time for writing my novel and other such unnatural history activities. I'm also going to be going abroad and out of county more often so there will be some 'exotic' coverage too.
I made some peace with the past too this Christmas break and spent a lot of time on my old patch, San's Brook. Not birding like I would of when I was a kid but running. I was pleased to complete a five mile run this morning but even better were the birds I heard and saw. Goosander, Kingfisher, drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redpoll, Siskin and Crossbill. I did go for a walk there too with my family and realised that I have not been back there for many years to take photos. I didn't however see/hear the Willow Tits that used to be so frequent there. Anyway, I'm about to move house (where I will have a garden again!) and I'm rather looking forward to making the most of 2012, posts are likely to be a little thin on the ground for a while though. Happy new year to you!

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