The Sussex Tiger

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 6 May 2023 10:56

Last weekend was City Nature Challenge. It's hosted in iNaturalist. I am not a fan of this platform for many reasons that I won't go into here (I wish it was in iRecord) but I do like the challenge. So I have took part by sending my records in as casual observations (without photos that is - it's ludicrous to think I could take photos of even a fraction of what I record without completely wrecking the methodology). This way, they don't actually find their way back to the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, they get there directly from me in the same way as all my other data. Here is the current leader board for 2023, at the time of writing my records are not on there but they will be soon and I will update this blog when they are and the challenge is over for the year.

Some 23 'cities' in England are taking part. For the last two years Brighton has come top for the total number of species, and I have been pleased to play a big part in this. This year, I had more time free to do some recording for fun (not just using records from work). I recorded constantly for about 3.5 of the 4 days. You do get a bit of time to do the dets too, which are just finished. So my stats come out at 2801 records of 1014 species. This includes 570 invertebrates, 303 plants and 77 birds.

Day 1. A quick walk around BHASVIC Field with Karen first thing and then I headed to Woods Mill but it was sodden, so I just wandered around doing plants, bryophytes, molluscs and birds. I managed to refind Pepper-saxifrage in the valley field and saw a Cuckoo. Then I headed to Wiggonholt Common RSPB and things got really interesting. I targeted this site as one of the only significant areas of heathland within the project boundary. I recorded something like 150 invertebrates in the field over about four hours but it was the specimens that provided the most significant find of the weekend, probably my year. I had noticed lots (maybe around 15 or more) of paired up Nephrotoma craneflies flying up out of the Heather. I took a couple of males and when keying them out, I couldn't believe that it was coming out as Nephrotoma sullingtoniensis, the Sussex Tiger.

This cranefly has only ever been recorded three times and from one site - Sullington Warren. This small heathland is just the other side of Storrington to Wiggonholt, so it was certainly not out of the question. The book lists it as flying in June though, not late April. And lots of people have looked for it then and not found it. Could it have a much earlier flight period than people thought? I quickly got on to Alice Parfitt and told her all about it and she went and checked out Sullington (no joy) but did find it a third site - Hurston Warren. How amazing is this?! Especially as I just wrote a blog the night before about the importance of going out in April. Here are the rest of the microscope shots of this Endangered species.

Other highlights included my first heathland Enoplognatha mordax (still it marches on inland into all habitats, I had one in woodland the other day - first photo), Cercidia prominens, Xerolycosa nemoralis, Sibianor aurocinctus and Hypsosinga albovittata. I had another lifer int he form of a scarce dung beetle, Euorodalus coenosus and I refound Spathocera dalmanii there (photo). I found a few Dieckmaniellus gracilis too, despite the lack of foodplant.

Day 2 I spent on the chalk with Kim Greaves. We did the morning at Malling Down and the afternoon at Seaford Head. We mopped up! Malling Down provided some really exciting records, but mainly things I had seen there before. The first sample generated an almost adult Phaeocedus braccatus (1st photo) in Bridgewick Pit. And a whole host of cool harvestmen, including Trogulus tricarinatus again and this awesome Megabunus diadema (2nd photo). I got a lifer on the way into Green Pits. This is a rather messed up looking specimen of Thimble Morel (3rd photo) which people tell me is having a good year.

Onto the Coombe and I found an adult Pancalia schwarzella at one of its few Sussex sites and Kim spotted this carabid, Lebia chlorocephala. This is only the third time I have seen this beetle in 13 years, the other two records being from Malling Down in 2010 and Southerham in 2017. The Horsehoe Vetch feeding pollen beetle, Meligethes erichsonii, was also a lifer.

To Seaford and a very casual twitch of the White-crowned Sparrow before mopping up on some Hope Gap specialities. Heath Snail, Moon Carrot, Lasaeola prona, Pyrausta ostrinalis (photo) and (possibly new to site) Astrapaeus ulmi. Oh and of course, loads of freshly emerged Anthophora retusa males. Amazingly we saw one male sitting on an Adder but I just couldn't get anywhere near it to get a photo. Picked up Whimbrel on call, when you do this you need to have one ear listening out all the time.

And I think these are my first Sussex Thick Top Shells (Phorcus lineatus) from the rockpools off Seaford Head. This seems about as far east as they come in the UK.

Day 3 and I spent it at work and made over 830 records to add to the set. Libby Morris accompanied me for about half of the day. Highlights included Bombus humilis and another Enoplognatha mordax. Oh and Aulacobaris lepidii which I see quite a lot on farms. But the best record was actually on what I believe to be Sussex University Campus land when I was trying to get back to my car. I saw that Martin Harvey had picked this up a few weeks earlier and I was gripped, can't believe I then went on to see this very odd yet charismatic sawfly, Sciapteryx soror. Yet another lifer.

And what must be the most Syntomus obscuroguttatus I have ever seen in one sample, this is just a fraction what was in the tray.

Day 4. I am broken after walking 27 miles in four days with 15 kg of gear. I spend most of the day entering records and identifying specimens. The weather is bad with some storms but Karen and I head out to Woods Mill to do some wetland invertebrate sampling in the afternoon and we do quite well. We find the ladybird Nephus quadrimaculatus, loads of new spiders in the meadow and finally Nightingale! Which was also Karen's first.

Here is my distribution over the four days, including some roadside botany. I am exhausted, 30% of the way through my field work for the year already and I have entered 8734 records in April alone. This challenge was immensely fun but talk about burning the candle at both ends.

Will it be enough to get us into top place for species again? I hope so. Here is the breakdown of the species recorded.

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