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.

Four weeks in the life of a recording-obsessed freelance ecologist

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 27 April 2023 15:43

Less than four weeks into the field season already and I have completed my work for April. I am over 20% into the year's field work, which just seems weird! I have lost over 4 kg, some 5% of my body weight. Walked over 120 miles carrying around 15 kg of gear. But most importantly, I have made shed loads of records and found some really awesome stuff. 6279 records to be precise. Of 1016 species, including 612 invertebrates, 203 of these are spiders! I do tend to skim through the specimen jars to look at the spiders early on, meaning that most of the other stuff will wait until the winter (so most of the invertebrate orders below are just field dets at this stage). Here is what I have recorded and where, so far. 

And now for some highlights. On my first day out at Iping Common, I found two Nationally Rare spiders new to the site, new hectads for them too and the first time I have seen either in Sussex, I was pretty stoked with that! At the top of this blog is Zora silvestris, Identifiable by the spines on the leg even as an immature. This Critically Rare spider is only known from six post-1992 hectads, now it's seven! Nearby was a healthy population of Lathys heterophthalma (below), a Vulnerable species known only from four hectads post-1992, now five! 

Over to Old Lodge in East Sussex. Only the 2nd ever record in Sussex for Theonoe minutissima. A midget among the spiders. A much commoner species in the north and west. I sieved it from Sphagnum where it has surely been here for years, undetected. Amazingly it's new to Ashdown Forest.

I had a new hectad for Hypomma fulva in East Sussex and had it new to West Sussex near Amberley.

I bumped into some Golden-eye Lichen on a farm survey in Brighton.

Only the second time I have seen the ground bug Emblethis denticollis. This was down on the shingle restoration at Black Rock in Brighton.

To Bedfordshire and a voluntary job for BBOWT at Strawberry Hill. Only the 2nd time I have seen Liocranoeca striata and it was also new to Bedfordshire, it was quite common there.

To Franchises Lodge in Wiltshire, although it still very much feels like the New Forest. Some nice records like only the 3rd time I have seen Cassida hemisphaerica.

And a new hectad for Crustulina sticta.

I have been enjoying the Sussex woodland this spring, with lots of AWIs in flower, such as this Goldilocks Buttercup. Photo-bombed by a Wood Anemone!

Finding a new site for Mossy Stonecrop in West Sussex on a lovely sandy farm was a real highlight. This is my first Sussex record of this species.

And that good old rule, if you find one good thing, you'll probably find more stood up yet again. My first Sussex records of Hoary Cinquefoil.

Over to a farm and woodland in East Sussex. The world's worst photo of an Ash-black Slug.

Found a flush in an unassuming field and it's full of Bog Pondweed and Lesser Spearwort. I will be back here.

And in the woods, only the 2nd time I have seen the scarce (Na) weevil, Tropiphorus elevatus.

And then down to Devon where I have never seen so many Violet Oil-beetles.

I was amazed when I checked the one bee I had collected in a separate tube to the others to see that it had a triangulin attached to it! It was a male Nomada goodeniana, a parasite on a parasite.

And it's been a while since I've seen Elaphrus cupreus, what a beetle up close!

It's been a great four weeks. I really wanted to write this blog to show people just how important a month April is, even if it's not that sunny. I always like to get a round of monitoring in before leaf-burst, chiefly armed with the suction sampler (and three batteries) as this often picks up species that are being missed if you don't start until May. I love April, it's by far my favourite month for surveying. No hay fever, no rank vegetation, very little heat and loads of good records! Now, it's City Nature Challenge time and I have big plans this year...I am aiming for 4000 records in four days. Gulp.

200,000 records

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 9 April 2023 18:49

A couple of days ago I got to 200,000 records in my database (my 200,000th record was a disappointing beetle, Tachyporus hypnorum). Pretty pleased with that, considering I started the database about 11 years ago. Yet I did start recording in about 1989, in fact I think I was recording for decades before I ever heard the term biological recording. It was just that it was all analogue, in notebooks. This winter, I started dealing what that backlog but now it is the field season, and I have entered some 1200 records this week alone. So what does 200,000 records look like? This...

I have records from 388 hectads, that's 10 km squares, around the UK. Not been back to Scotland since 2007, long over due a return visit. You can see the obvious Sussex cluster, which looks like this when you zoom in closer...

Come a bit closer still, to see the edge of Brighton & Ho- Woah! That's close enough, thank you.

And I have done quite a bit in Staffs where I grew up but it's nothing close to the Sussex level.

What are the top 20 species you record most frequently, I hear you say? Well, here they are!

But what about the species (of invertebrate) with conservation status that you record most frequently, I hear you also say?

Field Cricket and Fen Raft Spider are both from surveys that involved counts of singing males and nursery webs respectively, so they don't really belong on this list but I left them in for completeness. They are still very rare and restricted, unlike some of these other species. Episinus maculipes is so interesting, I only recorded it new to Sussex in 2016, it's now my 18th most frequently encountered invertebrate with status! And don't even get me started on Agyneta mollis, it shouldn't even be Nationally Scarce, I find it literally on every survey I do, yet it's my most frequently recorded spider with status now.

What I have also discovered recently is that I am now the most prolific recorder of wildlife in Sussex of all time, with both the most records and the most species of anyone, ever! Very pleased with that! Just shy of 135,000 records of my 200,000 are from Sussex.

Here are the groups and orders that I record the most of.

What about sites? What are the sites I have the most records for?

So that's a quarter of all my records from just 10 sites!

What about recording effort over time? Well this is really interesting, showing a sudden ramping up when I went fully freelance in 2020. Over half all the things I have ever recorded I have recorded in the last three years, that's upwards of 100,000 records! 

But what's the point in all of this? Well all my data is shared with the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, which means it can be used by recording schemes, to help stop developments, produce atlases and much more.

Who do I record with? Well, me mostly. Of the 200,000 records, 141,477 records were made all by myself. But that does leave about a quarter of all my records that are collaborative in nature. So here are the people I have made the most records with. Sorry if I have missed anyone here.

My most recorded hectad is TQ30, Brighton basically, with 13,321 records, followed by TQ01 with 10,616 records. This is reported to be the most biodiverse 10 km square in the UK, it's home to Amberley, Pulborough, Waltham Brooks, Parham and more. My 3rd most well-recorded square is TQ12 with 9821 records. The majority of Knepp sits in this square.

If you have an interest in wildlife recording then using iRecord is likely to be suitable for most people but if you need something a little more involved and comprehensive, then managing your own personal database like this is a really rewarding thing to do. I would recommend Recorder 6, but when it doesn't work, it's quite stressful. That said, when you get up to speed it's a great joy to curate such a big dataset and it's really fun to see where you have been over the years. So get recording! I have already added a 1000 records since I got to 200,000. 201,265 and counting...

Wight Light/Wight Heat

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 5 April 2023 07:06

As my field season hurtles towards me, I better get part 2 of the trip to Isle of Wight wrapped up before I lose the window. This is mainly inverts and plants and is mostly based on two fantastic days out in the field with Mark Telfer. On the second day, Mark and I met up with Iain Outlaw, and as we got to the undercliff target area, before they had even said "here we are", I shouted "OIL-BEETLE!" And that's basically how the two days went.

Thanks to Mark, it turns out this one was a lifer for me! Black Oil-beetle, Meloe proscarabaeus my fourth oil beetle! So pleased to finally connect with this species. This male was much bigger than I thought it would be and very mobile.

Soon after this I was looking at the target species, the bryophyte Philonotis marchica.

Yet despite how rare and restricted this is, it wasn't the bryophyte lifer on the cliff face I got most excited about. The cliff was covered in hornwort, and I have never seen a hornwort before! This is Phaeoceros laevis! Here is the female with the horns.

And the male plants.

Earlier that morning, Iain took us into Shanklin to see the incredible fungus Coccomyces delta that grows on the old leaves of Bay. Such weird triangular structures, spot the four-sided one doing its own thing. I salute it.

And a quick stop to a churchyard for a naturalised clubmoss tick, Krauss's Clubmoss.

I covered three quarries over the trip. A couple with Mark and Iain but also I had a look at a quarry down by the Needles with Karen and that was a great little spot. A new hectad record for Phaeocedus braccatus was a real find!

And the ridiculously common Agyneta mollis. Two new hectads for this on the island brings the post 1992 hectads for this spider to at least 98, it's hurtling towards not even being Nationally Scarce at this rate (I had it in a playing field by my house this week).

And a Scotina, but unfortunately I lost the specimen. All are rare on the island and given I was in a chalk pit, this is quite likely to have been Scotina palliardii. I will have to go back! I got a couple of money spiders new to the island at various locations over the week, Micrargus laudatus and Parapelecopsis nemoralioides.

Rewind to a few days earlier when I went to visit Mark and his magnificent new garden. He got me four new bryophytes, really by hammering some of the really small acrocarps. But it was a new pseudoscorpion that was most exciting for me, Pselaphochernes scorpioides.

And a new fungus! This is Xylaria cinerea.

Then on to Ventnor Botanic Gardens. Mark had found this ant new to Britain sometime before my visit, it's Tapinoma ibericum. It's so numerous there that I spotted it on the first evening when Karen and I walked up to the gardens only to find them closing and I noticed it on the walls by the toilet block without realising the significance. They form impressive long lines.

A millipede that's only found here is, this one is particularly pale, Cylindroiulus apenninorum.

But Mark breaths first for Britain, so it didn't take long before he found one in the form of this weevil, under a rock. Likely to be associated with Cork Oak, Mark says it's in the genus Echinodera.

And another lifer in the car park for me. The rather odd looking reticulated slug, Tandonia cristata.

Karen and I went back to the gardens on a rainy day, when I discovered this fenced-off tunnel and just how good at light gathering the camera is on my new phone (I upgraded after nearly seven years). This was pitch black to the naked eye. The open end apparently comes out half way up a cliff, so no spidering in the for me.

And I turned a couple of stones and got the shelled slug we missed first time, Mark says it's most likely. Ear Shelled Slug Testacella haliotidea.

And no trip to the Isle of Wight is complete without visiting the Needles. I love the soils here.

So that's it for the part 2. What a week. It was a really great pan-species listing holiday, that was also in part research for the book on pan-species listing I am now 50,000 words into. A HUGE thanks to Mark for giving me so much of his time and knowledge, it was so much fun! 

Yet my field season has started and I didn't quite get this out in time before I hit this period of high pressure (today is day four of a straight run of field work and I've already walked 19 miles since Sunday). I have made over 1000 records in the last three days and have just hit 200,000 records. So I think my next post will be a celebration of biological recording. I will leave you with my 2nd favourite photo of the week, a Carrion Crow that joined the ferry about a fifth of the way across and stayed with the boat all the way to the island!

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