Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 17 March 2014 12:47
It's that time of year when suddenly so much natural history is happening that I don't have time to blog about it. Last Thursday I was lucky enough to go into assorted dark dank places in West Sussex including railway tunnels, ice house and cellars. It was a pan-species lister's dream with Tony Hutson on bats and fungus gnats (Tony literally wrote the book on fungus gnats) and Tom Ottley on bryophytes, I had high hopes from the outset. My first record of the day was a singing Firecrest and I went on to record six singing birds throughout the day, amazing how common they are in this part of the world. I only heard one Goldcrest all day! Anyway, bryophytes. You may be forgiven if you thought the above photo was just a bad paint job, it was in fact the tiny moss Eucladium verticillatum. When this moss first starts growing (called protonema) it does look like a wash of green paint so Tony, I am sure Tom will forgive you for dismissing his taxanomic group in one sentence!
Invertebrates were few and far between for me, I only saw one Tissue all day and a few Heralds. This was the fate of one Herlad moth and no, it's not having a bubble bath!
In all of the places we went, the spider Metellina merianae was present but I am yet to see the larger Meta in Sussex, it must be rare down here as these sites are perfect for them. In one place I saw about ten Nesticus cellulanus too which was great. Other than that, the only spiders we saw was a single Pholcus and a female Labulla thoracica. In one wet tunnel, there were pools of water with Water-crickets Velia caprai happily spinning about in the dark! I think my invertebrate of the day though was a stonking Hypera nigrirostris that I caught in flight with my hand walking to one of the sites. That is one good looking beetle! I always remember Mark Telfer telling me you should always try and catch beetles in flight as they are often interesting and it certainly does pay off. In the last two days I have seen two new beetles doing this and I didn't even have my net!
Tony identified this strange larvae as Speolepta leptogaster and it's apparently the closest thing we have to a true cave specialist fungus gnat!
It was a great day out, I love getting into extreme environments, you don't see huge amounts but what is there is usually very interesting and highly specialised. Alas, this was almost certainly a one off opportunity for me, as access into these areas is greatly limited due to the importance of these sites as bat roosts. A huge thank you to Tony and Tom and also to Sue Harris for organising the day!