Like father, like son

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 17 July 2018 22:02

Saw this little bug nymph on a fence post under an oak in the car park at Woods Mill today. Four things to go on here. One, it's got to be a late species as it's still quite an early instar nymph. Two, it's got LONG antennae, so it follows the adult will have too. Three, it's under oak. Four, it's a fairly large mirid. 

That leaves only Megacoelum infusum as a realistic option. A smart looking beast and a new record for Woods Mill. I have five records for this bug and they are all in August so the late date of the adult stacks up.

The Great Sussex Bug Hunt

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 15 July 2018 18:45

Bugs. Picking up the slack in late summer after the beetles have abandoned us. I found myself on a site today in a fairly under-recorded area of West Sussex. Here is an example of how under-recorded it is; the last sweep I made this morning had no less than SIX shield bugs and squash bugs in it, as well as Stictopleurus punctonervosus. A quick look on the Sussex Shieldbug Atlas showed me that FIVE of these species were new records for the 10 km square!!! So there are lots of gaps to fill in, why don't you head to an area near you and get sweeping/beating? This haul was from simply sweeping Bristly Ox-tongue, Prickly Lettuce, Fleabane and Yorkshire-fog. The six species were the above Forget-me-not Shieldbug here hiding under some Round-leaved Fluellen, Sloe Bug (new), Brassic Bug below (new), Dock Bug (new), Green and Tortoise.

Speaking of tortoises, the site was thick with fleabane so I was expecting there might be some of the Nationally Rare Pilemostoma fastuosa. In fact I swept three. It's a beetle by the way, they haven't all abandoned us.

And in a little corner, a rather nice arable patch with both fluellens, Broad-leaved Spurge and Hairy Buttercup.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Ledra aurita

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 14 July 2018 21:44

I did a survey out in East Sussex today and Rachel came out for some invert training. We clocked up well over 150 species of invertebrate which was pretty impressive for the nature of the site. The highlight for me was beating an adult Ledra aurita from Hazel. I have only six records for this weird looking hopper, our largest species. I think it kinda looks like it has a dog's head in this photo. All but one of of my records have been nymphs, so it was great to see an adult again. It's not rare, I just don't seen the adults that often. I really remember finding a dead one when I as a kid at Sandringham whilst and identifying it myself. 

So today when I placed it on top of a fence post for a photo shoot, I was excited to see it opening its wing cases ready to fly. I wasn't prepared for what happened next. It jumped almost vertically into the canopy and this seamlessly became flight. It was like watching a firework go off. Or Superman taking flight! If I had videoed this, it would have simply winked out of existence. What an amazingly efficient and fast way to find your way back to the canopy if you get beaten out of a tree by an entomologist or blown out in a storm!

Other highlights included this Dotted Fan-foot that Rachel caught and several Adelphocoris ticinensis. We also had two new bugs for the 10 km square on the atlas, being Box Bog and Stictopleurus punctanervosa.

Sundew Festival 2018

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 13 July 2018 14:56

Yesterday was an epic day! I did visit 4 of the Iping and Stedham invertebrate survey. I picked up some 50 species in the first 30 minutes and this included some great charismatic species such as Woodland Grasshopper, Bee-wolf, Heather Shieldbug, Alydus calcaratus, Phytocoris insignis, Thomisus onistus, Vespula rufa, Mottled Grasshopper, Araneus sturmi (the 208th spider recorded there), Xysticus kochi (the 209th spider recorded there), Pilophorus clavatus (the first West Sussex record since 1997, my first and the first on an SWT reserve), Hydroporus melanarius (new to me and all SWT reserves) etc etc...and that was just on Stedham.

However, when we returned to a different area of Stedham later in the day with our Conservation Committee, I got rather excited when we stood in a purpose-made scrape looking for Marsh Club-moss. A tiny plume was barely visible in the vegetation. Having seen Sundew Plume before at Graffham Common last year, I know how easy it is to lose sight of one. So when I yelled "NOBODY MOVE" I was pleased to see that everyone ignored me and pounced on the moth! I managed to miss it with my net, only to find I had caught it all along and there were actually two individuals present! So all the Sundew Plumes recorded in Sussex in the last 20 years have been recorded on SWT reserves in areas that are actively managed! This shows how important early-successional habitat management is. This species couldn't survive without this long term. Grazing alone just wouldn't be enough to keep the M16 and sundews going.

I mentioned the Heather Shieldbug above. This is a real oddity. I have swept and swept and swept Heather at Iping and Stedham over the last ten years and I have never seen it before there (it was last recorded there in 2015 but not by me). Going through my database I have only two records for this species. Once sieved from Sphagnum at Burton Pond and the other sieved from a pile of birch brash in mid winter at Selwyns Wood in 2015. So this is the first I have swept one from Heather. However, even that isn't strictly true. The bug was clearly dead, it seems I swept it from a spider's web no doubt suspended between two Heather stems. I wonder why this bug is so hard to find? Could it be nocturnal? Any ideas?

I had a moth new to Iping, myself and the reserve network too, the sooty-black pyralid Matilella fusca.  Mike Edwards suggested I try looking on flowering Dodder for weevils and just by tapping one clump I dislodged a Thomisus onistus and a Smicronyx jungermanniae (my fourth new species for the day but know to the site). Whatever next?! Man, I love Sussex.

Bee-fly check-in

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 12 July 2018 07:09

I have had so many natural history experiences this year that I have not been able to post about so I am going to try and get a quick blog out every day like the old days and see how that goes. Yesterday, when leaving Butcherlands after a veg survey I noticed a Villa in the gateway between Brick Kiln Field in Butcherlands and Furnace Meadow. 

I couldn't catch it (no net) but I am happy it's Downland Villa Villa cingulata from the photos and video. Mike and I had this new to Sussex at Heyshott Down two years ago, we've also both since seen it at Graffham Down but this is quite a jump north and a fairly different habitat. It's neutral to slightly acidic if anything. It must be less associated with chalk-grassland than stated in the literature. Here is another video with more sun-boiled ramblings. I am so bored of this heat now! 

This fly is rapidly colonising the south so I would expect to see it near you some time soon. The habitat was not exciting. This is the fourth bee-fly we have on the reserves now.

Also new to the reserve network was this Pseudeuophrys lanigera on the wall at Woods Mill! Our 385th spider which is pretty good going. That's 10,114 species recorded on these fantastic reserves now!

Nymph maniac

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 11 July 2018 07:18

This year I have been carrying out an invertebrate survey of Shoreham Beach LWS on behalf of the Friends of Shoreham Beach and on the 30th June I carried out another visit. I was shocked at how much the vegetation looked like the Mediterranean but it was full of stuff. The bugs were quite good fun and it was really nice checking them against the new Sussex Shieldbug Atlas. In fact I had three species from the atlas new to the 10 km square and one of those was new to me!

I'll start with my favourite shown above, the delightfully weird nymph of the Rhombic Leatherbug Syromastus rhombeus. This is always a pleasure to see and I think it's the first time I have recorded the nymph before.

I even managed a bit of footage of it.

Next up was this stick insect of a bug which I swept at the time as the Rhombic Leatherbug. It's not that scarce but was a lifer for me, Chorosoma schillingi. Now it looks like a grass bug but it's not actually a mirid, it's a rhopalid bug! It's also huge! Not entirely sure if this blurred image is of a nymph or a micropterous female in hindsight. As I swept a male in the same net I am guessing it's a female. It needs an English name this one. I propose Dune Stick-insect!

This nymph wasn't new to the 10 km square but was new to the site. It's Denticulate Leatherbug Coriomeris denticulatus nymph. I think this is probably the commonest squash bug after Dock Bug (if you don't use a sweep net you'll probably say Box Bug though). I see it on dry grasslands quite frequently.

The third species new to the 10 km square was the Bishop's Mitre Shieldbug Aelia acuminata but I didn't get a photo of that one. Other highlights included a few Garden Tiger larvae!

And lots of a spider I expected to find there. Sitticus inexpectus, a nationally scarce shingle specialist. It's known from the site but the record has no date!

This survey was funded by the Rampion Fund at Sussex Community Foundation and Tesco Bags of Help. Thanks to Jackie Woolcock and Lois Mayhew at the SxBRC for their support during this survey, I look forward to the next visits! It's really nice to tie this freelance work up with the new shieldbug atlas. 

Lesser ______ ______?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 10 July 2018 18:09

I wonder if you can guess what this post is about? I have been at Butcherlands today monitoring the progress of the vegetation, I do it every three years. All plants in a circular plot and I measure the woody regeneration. It's an interesting year having had a hard graze this winter and spring. Both fluellens are everywhere (the first records of Round-leaved Fluellen {below} since 2001 when the project started in fact).
And here is Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Scarlet Pimpernel, Mrash Cudweed and Small Toadflax.
Fluellen flowers up close are so cool, love that colour combo!

And elsewhere old meadow plants spread like this Sneezewort.

Whilst working on the veg I disturbed a small white moth that looked interesting, it turned out to be Lesser Cream Wave, a new record for Ebernoe Common. Oh, were you expecting something more feathery? It's not easy to get a new moth for the site you know! This is quite a nice wetland species and it looks to be a new 10 km square for the species according to the Sussex Moth Group page! For the keen eyed, don't panic the discal spots are present on the hind wing.

I carried on surveying and bumped into a young female Wasp Spider.

Many of the oaks are well over a decade old (this one with a girth at ground level of 15 cm but well under a metre tall!) yet are 'bonzaid' by the livestock and Roe Deer. They are surviving well though, growing a little each year. This one has future veteran written all over it.

There were a few Dusky Plumes Oidaemetophorus lithodactyla too, they feed on Common Fleabane which does very well under these conditions.

Butterflies were good too with all the usual suspects for woodland and a few Purple Emperors were flying about the tree tops too. I've never seen so many of them as I have this year. 

With four Turtle Dove territories this year and around double figures of Nightingales, the site is thriving. I was just getting towards my last plot of the day when I heard the unmistakable call of...

...LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER!!! It was a double bluff the whole time!

It called once and a few minutes later I saw it fly along the tree line in the image below for a few metres (the oaks at the back). Despite 30 mins of waiting, nothing. No more calls, no sign. In fact I was in that field for well over two hours either side of the encounter and only heard/saw it the once. 

It's amazing that this is the first LSW I have recorded on a Trust reserve. What's even more strange is that only about four or five weeks ago I bumped into my first Sussex LSWs in East Sussex during a freelance invertebrate survey. Ten years I have been back in Sussex and these are the first I have seen. They happened to be a recently fledged family party (the only known ones in Sussex at the time) but the Butcherland animal was just a single bird as far as I can tell. That said, it's only the 10th July so you would think that they've bred nearby. Talking to Ken Smith it could be very easy to miss them on a CBC without early visits. Might they have been out here for sometime? It's a huge area with a wealth of suitable habitat and they are very secretive birds.

What struck me about the two sites was how similar they were in structure. Big thick hedges, flower-rich meadows and ponds nearby. A long way from dense, continuous high forest. I might have to squeeze an early visit in next March...

Now, a few hours before I found this lot. I had assumed this to be a GSW (and the chances are it probably was just a Great Spotted). I am glad I collected the feathers though just to check...

A Density of Orchids

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 5 July 2018 17:26

Wow! What can I say? I've long wanted to get to grips with the balance between the commoner Chalk Fragrant-orchid and the scarcer Marsh or Dense-flowered Fragrant-orchid (above) at Ditchling Beacon. So I arranged to meet up with one of the commoners who just happens to be a leading specialist in orchids! Dr Phil Cribb and a local chap called Ben met me in the car park and we soon started counting orchids. We were not expecting them to be doing quite so well. With around 3250 counted in a couple of hours and this doesn't even cover the whole site! They are bigger, darker, more densely-flowered and slightly later flowering. They are probably just peaking or going over as we speak so if you want to see this wildlife spectacle, then go and see them this week/weekend. You can smell them just by standing among them, they smell a bit like parma violets. This orchid is listed as RedList but Data Deficient. I wonder if this is the most significant colony in Sussex now?

The bottom of the big slope at Ditchling is pretty hard to get to but this is where they are at their best. Hundreds growing in the holloway there that usually has none. It must be something to do with the crazy climatic conditions we have had over the last four months.

And here is Phil with his magical counting finger. It's really hard to see from this photo but this was perhaps the densest area of all.

And here is possibly the main pollinator for this plant. Six-spot Burnet. It's proboscis is covered in the orchid's sticky pollinia.

Here is a Marsh Fragrant-orchid on the left and the Chalk Fragrant-orchid on the right. We saw less than ten chalk!

It wasn't just these we were counting and mapping. We were also looking for Musk Orchids. They are not doing quite so well this year. We have counted 75 in the quarry or Tae's Land this year already but only saw 18 today on the main slope. These are tiny, heavily designated orchids. Being Nationally Scarce, S41 and RedListed Vulnerable. I tried to get a decent photo of the two species together but this was the best I could do. Actually I think that's a pretty cool photo, I can't help feeling the Marsh Fragrant-orchid is looking down disapprovingly at it's more diminutive and drab cousin. Saturday I am off to Heyshott to do the same thing. I wonder if they're doing as well there too?

Mr Miyagi

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 1 July 2018 18:45

Yesterday morning, about 8.30 am I was getting to the end of a bird survey at Limpsfield Common in Surrey. No net, no pots. Just my binoculars and Weatherwriter, nothing else. And clothes obviously. When before me a golden orb of light appeared on a sunny ride. It wasn't a religious experience or a UFO, it was far more impressive than that. This hairy nugget of a hoverfly with magic wands for antennae got right up in my grill and I had an idea as to what it was but I needed to catch it to be sure. I stood motionless as the fly descended from eye level and landed in the eye cups of my binoculars! I had one chance and amazingly managed to grab it between my thumb and forefinger before transferring it to a pot. It was indeed the nationally scarce Callicera aurata and an impressive beast indeed. 

I have wanted to see this for some time so it was a great way to end the survey. It actually flew off as I was taking this photo (after cooling down in the fridge) but amazingly I did it again, catching it between my little finger and palm. So when I caught a Syritta pipiens in the kitchen just now, I was feeling rather blase about my fly grabbing skills.

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