Even more incredibly rare spiders found on an old conifer plantation!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 23 May 2017 18:59

Where do you start with a day like today? The invertebrates came thick and fast, as they so often do at Graffham Common. When we acquired the site in 2009/10, it was mostly conifer plantation with some nice heathy clearings and an old bog, that were quite rich with invertebrates. We were very keen to maintain and enhance this interest when took the trees off, so we left around 70% so that the site felt more structured. It continues to throw up surprises. The Philodromus margaritatus from last time has been confirmed. This time the star of the show was completely unexpected yet again being the bizarre looking Uloborus walckenaerius. This strange spider is known in Sussex from Ambersham Common and one other site up on the border with Surrey. Beyond that it's well established on the Surrey heaths with some older records in the New Forest. Now it's not that far from Ambersham Common to Graffham but we have looked at this site in detail (I have swept the Hell of the established glades and not seen a single Uloborus there). Today we found FIVE adults on the western side of Graffham, all in the building phase of Heather and none in the old established areas. This is hugely significant as the spider was only found today in areas of Heather that only five years ago were under pine and bracken. It's a great conservation Sussex story and shows the benefit of joining up sites! So it's a new species for the reserve network and a welcome RDB3 species to this surprising jewel of a site.

It was a fascinating spider to watch, pulling itself along upside down along lines of thread sent out from one patch of heather to the next. The underside of the abdomen is dark which seems like a way of breaking up the outline when it's at rest. They also don't keep still so I struggled to get that perfect shot. 

But the fun didn't stop there! On the east side I swept this HUGE Xysticus and it's Xysticus luctuosus. Now we found it at Graffham west in 2009 in pitfalls (it's still the only Sussex site for this species but we are the first to see it alive!) but I wasn't doing spiders then (Andy Phillips did the identifications) and it's took me this long to find a live one. This is a big Xysticus (9 mm this female). She was still enough to use the photo stacking function on the new camera and I was really pleased with it. This was a new species for me.

Right at the end we recorded Sibianor aurocinctus AGAIN. In fact I think we recorded eight species of jumping spider today which is a record for me.

Now for the beetles. This species is new to all our reserves, it''s the naturalised weevil Magdalis memnonius and feeds on pine wood.

And a trio of longhorns provided cameos throughout the day. Such as Pachytodes cerambyciformis.

Stenurella melanura
And Rhagium bifasciatum

This carabid has been recorded there before, it's the stunning Agonum sexpunctatum.

Jane accidentally swept this Golden-ringed Dragonfly, a stunning creature.

We also saw the first Dodder growing on the site, Woodlark with three fledglings, Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Firecrest, Hobby and Spotted Flycatcher!

Oh and in one small patch of Bilberry, clouds of this little tortix moth that I think is the Bilberry Bell Rhopobota myrtillana. IF it is this species, it will be a first for Sussex, having a very northwestern distribution. Watch this space for this one!

Not bad for an old conifer plantation hey? Well done Jane!

A new shieldbug for Sussex!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 20 May 2017 16:50

So this isn't my find, it's Derek Binns who got this smart looking beast. I was notified via Twitter of this and Tristan Bantock confirmed the ID, I've never heard of it! So, the following photos and words are all Derek's but as county record for Heteroptera, I thought I should promote this amazing find. What a smart looking beast, if you see one out there, please send in your records!

"Searching for invertebrates in the margins of the old quarry in Hastings Country Park has produced unexpected rewards. Whilst checking a reasonably large patch of spear thistle, two purple shieldbugs were found. One was the Hairy Shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum, an attractive native species that can be found in good numbers on woodland margins everywhere. The second shieldbug warranted more than a second glance. It was a species that is reasonably common in France but does not occur in this country. There are no more than one or two records of it getting across the Channel to our shores, and this was the first record for Sussex.

Many photographs were taken so as to get sufficient detail to allow accurate identification as there is taxonomic debate about certain species in this difficult genus. A note was sent to the national recorder for heteroptera to ask for confirmation that this was Carpocoris purpureipennis, and after some discussion and reference to specific details on the pronotum and scutellum, the identification was confirmed, The county recorder was included in the discussion, and he confirmed it to be a first record for Sussex. If you start with a mental picture of the native Hairy Shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum, this species seems at least half as big again and the pronotum shoulders project noticeably, also the scutellum is very obviously different from the Hairy as colouration of the top of the scutellum blends into the pronotum which has longitudinal stripes that continue onto the head. The wingtips extend to a buff point beyond the body. The striped connexivum around the sides of the rear half of this bug are a very bold cream and black stripe and is a lot more convex than the black and white striped connexivum of the native Hairy Shieldbug. In the field this area appears to be a striped circle that is broken by a “tail” formed from the wingtips.

As many species of shieldbug are at the northernmost edge of their range in this country, the prospect of global warming gives potential for some european species to cross the Channel. A site such as the quarry which provides sheltered warmth close to landfall after migration might be considered to have potential for a colony to establish. Further observations will be made as the summer progresses to see if this shieldbug is a lone record or not."

Caput

Posted by Graeme Lyons 15:17

Caput
Latin dictionary: head
Urban dictionary: done with, over, dead broken, the end of, no more

Last week, Alice and I did a 'mini-bioblitz' at Gillham Wood. One of our smaller sites with no designations (in over seven years of blogging, this is my first post about the site!), it's much lower down the priority list for monitoring. This means we don't do much structured monitoring there, it's simply not going to greatly inform management. It's at sites like this that casual recording is welcome though, so we attempted to see if we could beat the 108 species noted on the spreadsheet. We did, with 145 species in just over two hours. The highlight was this micro moth which I beat from a Hawthorn on the southern edge of the wood. It's Spuleria flavicaput (what an awesome scientific name?) or the Yellow-headed Cosmet. The are only six records in the county so it's quite a goody abd it's new to the whole reserve network.  It's my 1045th moth and 6545th species. It's the 1233rd moth on our reserves and the 9846th species we've recorded on our reserves so far. We also recorded a few nice ancient woodland indicators such as Pignut, Wood Speedwell and Butcher's Broom.

Now for the bad news. My back has gone again and this time it's pretty bad. I had thought that last week's flare up had resolved itself as yesterday I mostly felt fine but this morning the disc has got much worse and my left lats have gone into spasm. It's pretty bad when both happen at once. I have only three weeks left before the 1000 species challenge! Dave has suggested he'll be carrying me around on a stretcher. Maybe we could get some Segways?

This post has been brought to you by the medium of opiate based pain killers and Libby's birthday cake which has more sugar in a slice than I've eaten all year. Now to catch up with entering some records, my 40,000th record is coming up!

Please sponsor us for the 1000 species challenge!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 17 May 2017 07:56

A couple of weekends ago, Dave and I had another go at limbering up for the 1000 species challenge (that's the two of us aiming to see and identify 1000 species or more in a 24 hour period on the 10th June). We did 400 species in 4 hours and 16 minutes which I am pretty pleased with. Most of this was from two sites with a bit of Burton Pond tagged on at the end. The highlight for me was this mystery caterpillar that I had to admit defeat on. I ended up going right up to the top of Butterfly Conservation to get a species name. It's none other than a Pale Eggar. This was my bogey moth for a long time. This was beaten from oak in Dennis's Croft in Ebernoe. It's quite a scarce moth that I have only seen once or twice before.

Anyway, four hours was hard work but I reckon we are going to make it on the day, weather permitting! We will have our hands full but are hoping somehow to do social media and photographic updates on the day but this might need the help of some other friends. We have our (top secret) route planned and we think it's a good one but time will tell. So don't forget the 10th June 2017, we certainly won't!

Fund raising for the 1000 species challenge has now started, so please sponsor us what you can here at our Just Giving page.

Rare spider with comedy face on abdomen

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 20 April 2017 18:33

Last year I beat two immature Philodromus of the low branches of a pine tree at Graffham Common. I was convinced then that it was the Lichen Running-spider Philodromus margaritatus. However, I couldn't be sure. I started an invertebrate survey there today and found this immature female on the same branch! And nowhere else on the site. Now this is a BAP species (Nb) but with very few records. Check out the BAS page on the species here. It has only two records in Sussex both from Lavington (very close to Graffham) in 1979 and 1984. It's not been seen since in the county and this means it's a new species for any Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve. 

Although it's not adult and I can't be 100% sure it's that species, I really can't see what else it is. I'll go and look for it again next month but who really cares when it has such a cute face on its abdomen?

Goodbye Nikon Coolpix 4500, hello Olympus TG-4

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 7 April 2017 16:39

I've finally got a new camera! And I don't mean a fourth Coolpix. I only heard about the Olympus TG-4 about three weeks ago and have been counting down the days until the next tax year to get one. It's insanely good and easy in macro function, check out the awesome Horsetail Weevil Grypus equiseti which I found in a pile of litter at Waltham Brooks yesterday. This is the first record in Sussex since 1985.

Also yesterday was Philorhizus sigma, this being only the 2nd site for this (outside of Amberley next door) for this Na carabid.

This is the very cool Prasocuris phellandrii, which was all over one compartment yesterday. I've only seen this once before at Pevensey Marshes.

And here is a comparison between the normal macro and the photo stacking functions. Gotta learn my way around it but I'm pretty pleased with half an hour messing around in the garden.

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 3 April 2017 21:41

So Evan Jones has been to the exact spot and found a number of what must be Pardosa paludicola. There must be quite a population established there that are thriving under the pulsed grazing regime. I'm going to keep this brief and just use this post to show off Evan's shots of this impressive spider. What a beast!

When the Mouse ate the Wolf

Posted by Graeme Lyons 09:42

Last week we started a new invertebrate survey of our Butcherlands site, part of the wider Ebernoe reserve. This is an interesting project with a heavy 'rewilding' approach. The grazing is pulsed and has been mostly carried out over the winter months over the last three years with cattle, no other management currently occurs. In some places, the cattle were still on, so there was little to sweep and nothing to beat. Mostly we were looking at blackthorn and sallow blossom.

The site is a complex of fields on Wealden clay with thick hedgerows. Some sixteen years ago it was all arable. Hilland is the field that often throws up the most surprises. It has the nationally scarce specialist heathland spider Evarcha arcuata which I have only ever seen on heathlands before. It has Wild Service Tree naturally regenerating in the open. We had literally turned the clock on when I spotted what looked like a black Trochosa (a large wolf spider) so I took the specimen. It wasn't until I got home that I realised it was a mature female Pardosa paludicola. This RDB3 species is genuinely rare having not been seen in the UK since 2004. I must admit I hadn't even heard of it. I was working late at this point, maybe 9.00 pm and fortunately managed a record shot of the distinctive epigyne above. Exhausted, I went to bed and left the spider under my microscope.

When I went to look at it a few days later and put it in alcohol, I found the specimen had gone. Several legs were still there. In the middle of these legs was a tiny poo. Now I did see a mouse in the kitchen a couple of weeks ago but I wasn't expecting that! The little bugger kept me awake all last night too rooting around in my bin.

Anyway, it would seem that the exact habitat requirements of this species are not clear. It was last seen in Sussex in at Plaistow (date unknown - the record is not with SxBRC but is mentioned on the BAS wesbite), which as the crow flies is only around two miles from where I found it. And this being only one of seven sites it has ever been recorded at. What a great find for what was just arable fields several years ago. Who needs to introduce wolves when we already have them running through our grasslands? I look forward to seeing what else we find this summer...

Gherkins, lemons and lobsters: the best rock pooling I've ever had!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 29 March 2017 18:12

Last night was the biggest low tide of the year and a few of us (Evan Jones, Tony Davis and Oli Froom) decided to go and have a look at the Pound at Holywell, Eastbourne as in January we found a sea slug there and I was taken by how rich and easy to work it was. It was amazing! I don't even know where to start. Maybe with the star of the show above. It's not too hard to guess what it is but I just love this photo taken by Oli.

Every rock we turned over seemed to have a Shanny or a Rock Goby under, like this stunning male. We did see one Tompot Blenny but I didn't even get around to photographing that one.

We saw all manner of weird and wonderful worms including bootstrap worms which I have never seen before. Then Evan turned a rock over and I couldn't believe what I was looking at!

We believe this huge (15 cm) 'thing' is a Sea Gherkin Pawsonia saxicola. It's way east of its known distribution but we don't think there is anything else it can be. It retracted when we put it in the tray rather than unfurling its tentacles. Quite disgusting. I love it!

Then Evan struck gold again with as you've guest it, my first ever Lobster!!!

Tony had more luck picking it up than me as it nipped me straight away much to his amusement. Here it is next to a Squat Lobster. This is an unbelievable beautiful animal.

And the Squat Lobster too. 

And Oli's tail shot again as it's so great!

Under the same rock as the Lobster, Evan turned up a Yellow-plumed Sea-slug Berthella plumula!!! Another new one for me and quite uncommon.

Then Evan...wait a minute, if you're thinking, why are the other three of you not turning anything up, you'd be kinda right. Evan was a total machine and we were left in wonder at his finds to the point that he had turned up the next mega before we had finished photographing the last. Such as these mating Sea Lemons Archidoris pseudoargus, yet another type of sea slug!!!

We reached the point at which the Pound was draining out to sea through a series of weirs. We are in the kelp zone here, a zone only revealed at very low tides.

Actually I didn't need to find anything as I had an 'Evan on a stick' as can be seen in the photo below.

Then Evan on a stick found yet another exciting species, this Snapping Prawn! Sadly missing its claws.

It was quite simply the most mind-blowingly awesome rock-pooling I've ever had! A massive thank you to Evan for finding...EVERYTHING! So much so that I rushed down to Seaford Head before my meeting in the morning to get another fix but it wasn't anywhere near as good. These Dahlia Anemones though were stunning!

On an even keel

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 25 March 2017 15:51

What a keel! So not even a triple 50th birthday party last night could stop me from getting out in the field this morning. I joined Huw Morgan and his work party again at the Deneway in Brighton. I added 35 species to the reserve including this Sowerby's Keeled Slug. I also saw Iberian Threeband Slug. Both these species were new to the whole reserve network. We are currently on 9834 species across the 32 sites! Only 166 to go. Pretty sure it will happen this year now.

Also picked up the spider Amaurobius ferox.

100 species an hour

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 19 March 2017 12:12

Yesterday Dave Green and I tested out the recording forms I put together for the 1000 species challenge. It was an AMAZING day and we got a 100 species from the car before we even got to Levin Down. The recording forms worked well but this test run was a great way to see what works and what doesn't. Keeping a running count is harder than you would think though. Sieving moss (above) and beating Juniper yesterday was extremely productive, unlike the suction sampler.

We managed about 250 species in the first 2 hours 30 minutes. Not bad for an overcast windy day in March! I had two lifers, we go lots of species new to the site and one species new to the reserve network found by Penny! Now on the day, it's just gonna be Dave and I recording but it's so much fun doing this there is no way we could have all the fun on our own. Some interesting facts, our first raptor was at species 85 and that was Red Kite! We didn't see or hear a Dunnock all day nor a single migrating Meadow Pipit but that might be down to the breeze. The first species was Cuckooflower and the last was Pied Wagtail. 

We are pretty sure this species is Cordyceps gracilis, a rare parasitic fungus that we have seen at Mill Hill years ago. Have a look here for the post I did at the time. Yesterday there were two of them. There were also LOADS of Platyrhinus resinosus. 14 on clump of Cramp-balls! I've only ever seen three before! Thanks to Penny and Dave for the photos. I found this new to West Sussex (and only the 2nd Sussex record) at Levin last year. It's clearly done very well up there. Look out for it in the area.

The final score was 294 species comprised of:

Vascular plants 126
Bryophytes       13
Lichens             2
Birds                 39
Mammals          5
Beetle                26
Centipede          2
Millipede           5
Crustacean         5
Springtail           1
Earwig               2
Tick                    1
Hymenoptera     9
Moths                2
Bugs                  11
Flies                   4
Molluscs            16
Spiders               19

So, aiming for a 1000 species in a 24 hour period isn't looking quite so daunting now!

What's that coming over the hill?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 16 March 2017 10:28

This post is mostly about the value of casual recording. On Monday and Tuesday this week I need to walk around our three chalk-grassland sites Southerham, Malling Down and Ditchling Beacon on a compartment by compartment basis to check on our winter grazing. Now I've also been a fan of casual recording on top of the more structure monitoring and surveillance but since I put the spreadsheet together, it's really made me realise how little we know about our sites. So where ever yo are, if you always record the most interesting species of the day, you'll likely be recording something significant.

On Monday I walked up Southerham and the first beetle I encountered was new to the reserve, the common dung beetle Aphodius fimetarius flying around a cow pat. Not much happened then until I got to Bible Bottom where I saw my first Wheatear of the year on top of an isolated Hawthorn. I lifted my binoculars to this larger and paler than usual Wheatear to see it was a Great Grey Shrike! The first for the reserve and my first self found one. Amazingly we now have records of Great Grey Shrike at 10 out of the 32 sites. That's the same as Curlew, Med. Gull, Teal and Woodlark and more than Golden Plover. We only have records of Lesser Black-backed Gull at 11 sites!

Then on Tuesday I was walking up the Coombe at Malling Down when I saw a huge ungainly spider walking awkwardly towards me over a ridge. I was amazed to see it was a male Purse-web Spider Atypus affinis on a spring vacation from its subterranean lair! What a treat, I've only seen this spider twice before but in quite different circumstances so this was really exciting! We haven't had a record of this before at Malling and it's the first record on a reserve since 1968 at Iping and Stedham!

Here is another shot from the side. The Coolpix isn't doing too well these days since I dropped it in a rock pool. I'm planning on getting a new camera next month though and it's NOT going to be another Coolpix!!! Anyway, love this shot as you really can see how odd this spider. Even the male's abdomen has like a weird armoured cap on top. Huge pits in the cephalothorax too. Whatever will turn up next?

And the field season starts with a bang!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 12 March 2017 21:00

So yesterday was the first proper day out in the field in 2017 and what an awesome day it was! Andy Phillips organised a BAS day to our Old Lodge reserve Our Mission; to find Thanataus formicinus, a spider not seen in Britain since 1969. We didn't find it but it didn't matter as we found loads of other cool stuff and I soon forgot I was even looking for it. What was great for me about this day is it's the first day out in the field on one of SxWT's reserves since I created the spreadsheet. It's changed the way I do natural history!

So far we added 14 species to the site list (but expect this to go up as the other's identifications come in). Even better though, three of these species were new to my own list and two of these were entirely new to any Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve. So here is a breakdown of those 14 species and some notes on them. What's even more remarkable is that Chris Bentley and I did a very detailed invertebrate survey on the site in 2013, just shows you can never cover a site enough.

Aculeates (both of these are common and shows the site is quite under-recorded for aculeates)
Andrena bicolor
Andrena nitida

Beetles
Aphodius sphacelatus (common as muck - literally being a dung beetle)
Anisotoma orbicularis (new for me and the site)
Acalles ptinoides (Nb - I've only seen this once at Iping in 2012. This time it was in the suction sampler)
Stenus kiesenwetteri (IUCN VULNERABLE. New to me. Old Lodge and any Trust reserve. The highlight of the trip...so far. Again it was in the suction sampler but spotted in the tray by Laurie Jackson)

Psyllids
Livia junci (AKA Mr Weird - a very odd looking psyllid)

Ticks
Ixodes ricinus which was everywhere.

Bugs
Stygnocoris sabulosus

Millipedes
Blaniulus guttulatus (sieved from Spahgnum)

Spiders
Nesticus cellulanus (first time I've seen this away from caves)
Pholcomma gibbum (that's the photo above taken by Evan Jones - I've only seen it once before at Selwyn's Wood)
Ozyptila atomaria (an adult female in the suction sampler below)

Hypselistes jacksoni (a new one for me and any SxWT reserve. I thought that this was going to be a Hypomma but I soon realised it had a pair of eyes on top of the butt on its head that Hypomma bituberculatum doesn't have. It's clearly uncommon with a north western distribution. This fits with Old Lodge being higher and colder, it's a bit more like an upland moor than the West Sussex heaths.

This is Salticus cingulatus, a nice jumping spider not new to the site but the first time I've photographed it. A big thanks to everyone for an awesome day in the field.

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