Whitley Bay rocks!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 31 May 2013 17:21

We've just got back from four days in Teesdale but before that we spent a great few days at Rachael's folk's new house in Whitley Bay. I hadn't prepared myself for how much wildlife, literally just on their doorstep, we were going to see. Within fifteen minutes of arriving we were sat in the garden when a Spoonbill flew over flying north! the next morning I was up early for a sea watch in the hope of a skua or two but sea watching into the Sun isn't much fun. I was rewarded with a Hen Harrier flying north out to sea being mobbed by terns. Close in Eiders remind you of how far north you are.

I soon discovered that the rocks around St Mary's Lighthouse are pretty good for rockpooling and on Monday at about lunch time a very low tide was due. We headed out and found quite a few goodies but the net that I bought on the sea front lasted me about 5 minutes. The above Common Sea Urchin Echinus esculentus was a new species for me. I caught a Shanny which bit me. We also saw Long-spined Sea Scorpions and Butterfish.

The strange Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab put in a show.

And the first squat lobsters I have seen in almost a decade, this one is Galathea squamifera and looks like the ones I saw on Anglesey in 2003.

Strangest of all though was this 'armoured worm'. I have keyed it out tentatively to Lepidonotus squamatus. The plates are referred to as elytra in Hayward & Ryland.

Next time I go though, I will be prepared for some serious rock pooling as I suspect that Lumpsucker is not out of the question. It's pretty amazing having all that on your doorstep!

Amazing massive luminous green spider

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 21 May 2013 19:34

This year Chris Bentley and I are carrying out an invertebrate survey at Old Lodge and today I finally managed to catch up with a species I have wanted to see for some time. It's a female Micrommata virescens. It's not all that scarce and is known from the Ashdown Forest but it is one good looking spider, it almost appears luminescent. It certainly caught me by surprise as I was sweeping Bilberry and didn't see it in my tray hidden amongst the Bilberry leaves at first. Despite the cold weather, we still managed some good records with some good looking species like Sericomyia lappona and Ampedus sanguinolentus. We have recorded over 130 species so far there this year and I suspect it will be closer to 200 when all of today's specimens have been identified. Here are some more shots of Micrommata.

But the spider action doesn't stop there! I was packing some equipment away in the garden when I spotted what looked like a pirate spider. I potted it up and had a look through the microscope and it was indeed a mature female Ero furcata, a species I had not seen before. Pirate spiders actually predate other spiders, paralysing them before sucking them dry through a hole in their leg. What a way to go! It might be small compared to Micrommata but it's pretty cool up close.

Taking things littorally

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 12 May 2013 15:13

Last Wednesday I went down to the rock pools off of Saltdean as part of another Shoresearch event. I find it hard to learn seaweeds when there is bigger game to catch so I didn't try and learn any plants and spent the whole time catching fish and crustaceans. I didn't see any that I hadn't seen before but I did catch this cool Shanny which changed colour and pattern after a bout five minutes in this white tray. It's hard to believe it's the same individual fish! I also caught a Corkwing and a Long-spined Sea Scorpion. Crabs included Edible, Shore and Velvet-swimming. Gerald Legg showed me a tiny brittle star called Amphipholis squamata which is the first starfish on my list.

These polychetes were quite unusual too. Known as Sand Masons Lanice conchilega, I would easily recognise these species again. 
My list is currently stands at 4245 species. I'm not spending as much time out in the field this year, instead I'm trying to process a huge backlog of records into my Recorder 6 data base. There are 1655 records in there so far, but there are tens of thousands to be entered! Better get back to it then...

Lyons, tigers and bare ground

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 2 May 2013 13:58

Many of you will be familiar with the common Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris but it has a much scarcer cousin, the Heath Tiger Beetle Cicindela sylvatica which probably went extinct in Sussex several decades ago. This species is a Biodiversity Action Plan species and is nationally scarce (Na) with the major population centres being the New Forest and Surrey Heaths. The last unconfirmed sighting in Sussex was at Iping in the 1980s, so it was decided that this would be a good place to reintroduce it. Often confusingly called the Wood Tiger Beetle, this species is very much restricted to lowland heathland and is not really a woodland species. Here it is again in all its glory.
And the smaller and more brightly coloured Green Tiger for comparison.
Prior to the reintroduction, the reason the species went extinct on the site needed to be addressed first. This was loss of bare ground and pioneer heathland. We create this at Iping in a number of ways such as burning, scraping and turf-stripping but it is the turf-stripping that seems to produce the best results for the Heath Tigers and a suite of other scarce invertebrates. In 2007, six females were introduced followed by a further 16 in 2009. The species has been recorded annually in small numbers each year since then and would appear to now be established on site. Turf-stripping is carried out annually to ensure that there is always some suitable habitat and the turf is sold on to golf courses whereby new heathland is created there. Everyone is a winner! Here is the small turf-stripped area I saw the Heath Tiger on, immediately adjacent to the original release site.

When I came to write up this work over the winter, it became clear that we hadn't been keeping track of where and when this management had occurred so I went out there on the 1st May to digitally map and 'age' the scrapes. I also wanted to see what else was benefiting from the management. Heath Tiger emerges a little later in the year than Green so I was surprised to see one. I kept hold of it for an hour or so to cool it down and show the volunteers and it kept still enough to allow the above shots. Proof that the Coolpix 4500 consistently produces good macro shots! Not bad for a ten year old camera.

I picked up a few carabids on the turf-stripped areas but it wasn't until this morning that I realised that the Pterostichus I had picked up on one area only put in this winter was in fact the Heath Short-spur Anisodactylus nemorivagus! This generic looking carabid has as many letters after its name as the Heath Tiger Beetle (BAP and Na) and would appear to be only the third Sussex and second West Sussex record! I trapped it in a pitfall trap at Graffham Common in 2009 and Mark Telfer identified it. Peter Hodge also pitfall-trapped it in Ashdown Forest. This means that I am the only person to have seen this beetle alive in Sussex!

Anyway, after mapping and monitoring 55 turf-stripped scrapes, I recorded about 90 Green Tigers to my one Heath Tiger but it is still early in the season so I hope to see more spreading around the site later in the year.

Birds were good too with a singing Redstart in the same place it was recorded last year and a Hobby catching bumblebees on the wing.

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