Mystery paw print under bracket fungus

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 31 August 2010 16:37

Whilst photographing this Beefsteak Fungus I noticed it had been bruised on its underside by a mammal's paw. I took a photo and used a coin for scale. It looks like the print slid a little, giving the impression that the animal has a longer paw than it actually has but I can't guarantee this. The obvious culprit is Grey Squirrel, especially when you see where the fungus is located. I can't be sure though, especially as there are Polecats in the area and this was very close to the mystery scat we found on the top of a hanging aerial interception trap last year. However, I am pretty sure it is too small for a Polecat. It could be a smaller mustelid. Another thing to point out is that, due to the location of this print, it is likely that the back portion of the animal's paw was not in contact with the fungus. Any ideas are welcome but my guess is Grey Squirrel.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 30 August 2010 09:52

Thanks to Dorian Mason for this photo. This was the exact but very brief view I had of the Climping Hoopoe yesterday morning. It's the first twitch I have been on for 18 months (last one was White-throated Sparrow) and as a result my first British tick in the same time period. Yes, Hoopoe was a bit of a bogey bird for me until yesterday. In fact, I have dipped on no less than four Hoopoes around the country over the last twenty years so I did not really have my hopes up. Saw the little bugger anyway, even if it was quite a brief view. Having seen many abroad I let Jo get a good look at it, I think she found her first twitching experience very odd but she liked the bird.

There were a few other nice birds around including two Little Egrets, an adult Mediterranean Gull (my favourite bird) and four Yellow Wagtails. I wonder if this heralds the return of more twitching? Bring it on! You can see more of Dorian Mason's excellent photography at his website.

Sundog Millionaire

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 29 August 2010 13:13

On the way to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve to do some moth trapping on the behalf of Sussex Moth Group last night, we saw this amazingly bright sundog. These are formed by hexagonal ice crystals in the atmosphere that refract light at 22 degrees, giving the effect of a bright point of light horizontally to the side/s of the Sun. Often two sundogs appear left and right of the Sun and/or a complete ring all the way around the Sun, but always at a distance of 22 degrees (this must be defined by the shape of the crystals). A complete ring is formed if the crystal are orientated randomly but horizontal refraction occurs when the crystals are vertically orientated, which happens as they start to drift down (this is seen more often than the ring which I have only seen once in Scotland). They look like a patch of rainbow coloured light. Although only one was visible, it was the brightest one I have ever seen and Jo got this great shot from the speeding car on the A27.

Moth trapping was fairly quiet (it must have been for a frequent atmospheric phenomena to usurp a moth tick from the title of a post), good views of the Moon and Jupiter proved quite exciting to visitors whilst the local Sharp-angled Carpet was a tick for me.

Fission Chips

Posted by Graeme Lyons 12:41

I was only able to attend the first day of the beetling weekend at Dungeness RSPB Reserve but I saw most of the good stuff anyway. Grey Bush-cricket was new to me as shown yesterday. Omophron limbatum, the above beetle is perhaps THE Dungeness speciality. This atypical RDB1 carabid was once abundant on the silty margins of old gravel extraction sites but has declined in recent years (in some traps I set when I worked for the RSPB back in 2006, it was the commonest beetle, last year, in a repeat study, it was not not even present). We found several on the ARC pit, so it's great to confirm this national rarity is still present. It looks more like a ladybird than a carabid but with very long legs allowing it to scurry along quite rapidly. 

Another unusual carabid running around on the silt margins, although common, is this stunning Elaphrus riparia (photo). Other rarities on the edge of the silt margins including many of the RDB species Augyles hispidulus and the nationally scarce Cercyon bifenestratus. This 11-spot Ladybird Coccinella undecimpunctata (photo) was also a new one for me, the spots looked a little busy, the body longer and the red more scarlet than orange. I have a lot of smaller carabids to key out and identify too.
All this against a back drop of the strange vegetated shingle and lichen heath in the shadow  of the nuclear power stations. Plants included masses of the rare Jersey Cudweed (photo), the scarce Nottingham Catchfly, Lesser Centaury, Brookweed and Knotted Pearlwort.
Finally, I spotted this big tortrix and thought it might be a goody, it's Cochylimorpha alternana. Surprise surprise, it's a species pretty much restricted to Kent with a stronghold on the Dungeness peninsula, not sure of a conservation status on this yet but I bet it has one! It feeds on Greater Knapweed. It seems that almost everything you bump into at Dunge is rare or scarce. It was great to go back and see some old faces and catch up with old colleagues from the RSPB. The last nine years have gone pretty quick since I started out my career in conservation there as a volunteer. I have some very fond memories of my time there, Dungeness is bloody awesome, if you haven't been you should!

Grey Bush-cricket

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 28 August 2010 18:23

I've been at a coleopterists meeting at Dungeness today and I have to shoot off to help moth trap at Pulborough Brooks this evening so this is only a taster of the things we found there today, the rest will come tomorrow. Whilst looking for beetles under stones on vegetated shingle we found about five Grey Bush-crickets. This very mottled, long-winged cricket is nationally scarce (Nb) and very coastal with a southerly distribution. A new species for me and one I have always wanted to see.

Another rare beetle new to Ebernoe Common

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 27 August 2010 19:22

I found this tiny false click beetle on the 16th August on an old dead Beech in Leconfield 'Glade' at Ebernoe Common. With a little help I ruled out the blacker species Microrhagus pygmaeus leaving two possible RDB species in the genus Hylis. I could not figure out which one it was so I passed it on to Mark Telfer who has identified it as Hylis olexai. In 'The Invertebrates of Living & Decaying Timber' the species is noted as RDB3, it likes the heartwood of decaying timber, especially Beech. This find is new to the site AND the West Weald project area putting the Ebernoe SQI up to 508.0 making it the 28th best site for deadwood beetles in the country! Wahoo, go Ebernoe!

Bog dwellers

Posted by Graeme Lyons 18:49

Today I have been walking around Iping & Stedham Common setting up some more fixed-point photography and discussing management. We actually saw a surprisingly large number of interesting and scarce invertebrates despite the weather, including the nationally scarce (Nb) Bog Bush-cricket which is abundant on the site. The pale mark on the pronotum does not form a full U-shape like  it does on Roesel's Bush-cricket. I also got close enough to the nationally scarce (Nb) Woodland Grasshopper to see the white palps that are the key ID feature, check 'em out!

Other highlights included Hornet Robber-fly, Slavemaking Ant, ovipositing Black Darters and a Beautiful Yellow Underwing. We had a look at the patch of Bristle Bent too. This is the only bent grass with hair-like leaves (like Wavy Hair-grass) but they are slightly glaucous (I like glaucous things!). This patch, along with Dwarf Gorse, makes up the unusual NVC community H3. Interestingly, this is the only site in Sussex for this smart looking grass (and therefore the NVC community) and it  might be the furthest east this species reaches in the whole country, the main location for this species being the Dorset heaths. An early successional species, on this site constant intervention in the absence of any grazing is needed so this grass is not out-competed by more persistent species like Purple Moor-grass.

The pitfalls of generic field guides

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 26 August 2010 12:29

Generic invertebrate guides, such as the Collins Pocket Guide to the Insects of Britain & Western Europe by Michael Chinery are a good way into entomology and it's a great book but beware, there is one major problem. These books never have the complete fauna in every taxanomic group. The problem is confounded by the fact that the percentage of species shown is not proportional to the size of the group, i.e. smaller, more familiar, well-recorded groups (such as butterflies and dragonflies) often have almost the whole species list shown, I think this tends to suggest that other less known groups are also so similarly well covered. They are not. There are 254 species of beetle in Chinery, this is only 6% of the British fauna. I expect flies are similarly  poorly represented. A lot of this information is in the book but it's in the order introductions and as such is not obvious.

I see many photos confidently labelled as this species or that complete with Latin name on posts and blogs and it's clear that a 'Chinery ID' has occurred. Sometimes, you might get lucky (the common, big, easy-to-ID species are often included), but ultimately, without getting hold of the full species list for your group, an exhaustive key/field guide and without going through the graft of keying out species, this method of entomology is fundamentally flawed. It's a bit like guessing. The other problem is that incorrectly labelled photos are then readily available on the Internet for other people to see.

I don't want to put people off entomology at all, far from it, but if people are using generic guides like this or websites of a similar nature (and you either fall into this group or you're doing it correctly- you'll know which!), I give the following advice:
  1. No matter how good you get, you'll NEVER be able to ID everything alone. Especially when you are starting out and you don't know the fauna, it's better to ID things to family or genus.
  2. Don't spread yourself too thinly to start with, focus on one or two smallish groups and work up to the bigger ones.
  3. If you don't want to keep specimens, use a microscope or dissect things, butterflies, dragonflies and macro-moths are a good place to start.
  4. Know the complete fauna, get the species lists, the ID guides and the keys. Do the graft. The smaller and more well known the group, the cheaper and easier this is to achieve but on the other hand, (and in my opinion) less rewarding.
  5. Find someone who knows more than you. It will stop you from developing 'bad habits' from the start. Listen to their advice and don't reinvent the wheel.
Finally, Ispot is a really great community based website that allows you to upload photos of wildlife (in record format so a grid reference, date and location are required) and a whole host of experts will swoop down on your post and ID it within days. I think this is a great way to learn for all concerned.

Chicken (kebab?) of the Woods

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 25 August 2010 19:20

Chicken of the Woods fungus is the main bracket fungus that causes red rot in oaks. Red rot in oak has many rare and scarce deadwood beetles associated with it so it's always worth a look. The effect the fungus  has on the wood is that the wood remains hard but fractures producing cuboidal structure (hence red rot is also known as cuboidal red rot - you can just see this effect in the top right of the above photo).  An ancient, hollow, red-rotten oak that is still alive and gets plenty of light is probably the best deadwood habitat of all. On top of this, there are many species of deadwood beetle that can be found in the fruiting bodies of bracket fungi, especially the really rancid, slimy, half-eaten ones that you would not dream of eating. This is where we found a lot of different beetles yesterday (mostly staphs that I can't do) but we did see a few Mycetophagus species including the common Mycetophagus quadripustulatus and the nationally scarce Mycetophagus piceus.
Here is a photo of active mycelium (the white bits) still working their way through a section of red-rotten oak, the galleries of some saproxylic invertebrate are visible, filled with compacted frass. We'll never know what this particular beast was.
I think it's also about time I updated my all-taxa list. Since the start of the month I have added 33 species increasing my list from 2748 to 2781. This includes 11 vascular plants, 7 beetles (including this Anoplotrupes stercorosus - a dor beetle, not a deadwood species), 3 moths and a mammal.

The daddy of all longhorn beetles!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 24 August 2010 18:17

This is the Tanner Beetle Prionus coriarius and a bloody huge beast it is too. I've been at The Mens today with Mark Telfer, taking down the interception traps we set-up in May and finishing off the survey on deadwood beetles. This is the first record of Tanner Beetle for the site, and a good record as it is a nationally scarce species (Na) and a mostly nocturnal one. I spotted the beast sitting on a fallen dead Beech limb and it was really well behaved. I'm glad I saw something big today, it seems that by late August, most of the excitement with deadwood beetles concerns very, very small staphylinids and denizens of rotten bracket fungi, things that I am not ready for yet! It has really thick antennae, surely the thickest of any British beetle and the huge kidney shaped eyes wrap right around these antennae and nearly meet in the middle! Amazing!

Now, check the palps out on this! I found this weird spider with HUGE palps behind loose bark close to the ground on a dead Beech. It was odd enough for me to take a photo and ID the specimen. It's  Labulla thoracica, it's a common and widespread species of shaded woodland but a new one for me. I think I'll make today a two-parter as there was a lot going on beyond the deadwood and if I carry on like this I'll be in serious danger of using too many exclamation marks!!!

Trouble with Lichen

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 23 August 2010 19:17

More from Frensham Great Pond and some impressive lichen communities. I think the greenish lichen in this photo is Cladonia portentosa but I am not a lichenologist by any means! Sand Sedge is perhaps the best visual example of a species that spreads by rhizomes, a horizontal underground stem that roots and spreads at the nodes. You can see 11 upright stems growing from this single plant. I think this community is likely to be an inland form/variant of the scarce SD11 but I need to learn a few more Cladonia species before I can confirm this, fortunately they don't rot down in the winter like vascular plants. Incidentally, Trouble with Lichen is a sci-fi by John Wyndham and worth a read.

This is another nationally uncommon NVC community W5a Alder & Greater Tussock Sedge - Common Reed sub community. This is the woodland community variant with an understorey of Wood Club-rush that completely replaces the understorey of sedges.
I am starting to get as excited at seeing a new NVC community as I get when I see a new species. I am aware that this is massively nerdy but do I look like I care?

Cute little baby Fox

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 22 August 2010 17:26

Well, Fox Moth but close enough. This big furry caterpillar turns into a big furry moth that is quite common and is easy to spot when they are loafing around in the undergrowth, I think they look a little like reversed hairy Cinnabar caterpillars when they are small but they do get much bigger.  I have been at Frensham Great Pond again today looking at NVC communities. I saw a few good things in the process including an immature Hobby chasing Common Terns and there was a Black Tern there too. I saw a huge Signal Crayfish disappear under a log and a whole shoal of Rudd.
I also saw some of the alien Orange Balsam, a species from North America but it is quite smart so I had to take a photo.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 21 August 2010 18:39

Jo and I went up to High and Over to look for White Horehound and soon found it not far south east down the hill from the white horse itself. The plant is a new one for me and I'm afraid it had almost totally gone over so the photos are not too good. I like to think of the labiates as 'poor man's orchids' and this one is pretty odd. Apparently an alternative name is Marvel which I think is better than White Horehound. Strange how the few flowers that were left were arranged very symmetrically.
A slightly odd scent to the leaves which is quite week but very artificial smelling. The plant is covered in white hairs and the leaves look really frosty as well as being very wrinkled. The clusters of flowers are almost spherical and the calyx tubes are really densely packed in together adding to this effect. The flowers themselves are tiny with the top lip reduced to two white 'horns'. All the plants I saw were growing in areas of disturbed earth  on chalk-grassland caused by rabbits along with lots of Viper's Bugloss and Teasel. There is also a big Red Star-thistle in the car park that is impossible to miss.

The Queen's Executioner

Posted by Graeme Lyons 08:21

Bryan Michie alerted me to this article in the Guardian. I think that to give this incredibly rare deadwood beetle the name Queen's Executioner is brilliant. I have always been drawn to the darker  side of natural history and this is a welcome addition. I strongly believe that the number of people studying, accessing and enjoying a taxanomic group is vastly increased when English names are available. The problem is that there have been some terrible attempts at naming whole group of species, often by an individual or a small group and I don't think that's really fair. The bryophytes and micro-moth English names are generally not used all that much. I find them as confusing as the Latin names and I think this is because they are terribly descriptive and taxanomic, they really lack the unusual names that really stick in your mind. With the fungus names, it worked, and this is because there were a lot of really odd names that did not fit into a taxanomic hierarchy. What this list of fungi names has done is leave us with a list of creative and memorable names that feel a little bit like they could have come together over hundreds of years of history, I love it!

I would like to see more Internet based projects to name large groups of species, I think it makes a difference to how we see things and in a time when conservationists frequently talk of the importance of wildlife people can engage with, I think it is essential. I can easily remember and recite Latin names but I find it easier with a mnemonic in use and the mnemonic is quite often the English name! Funny how remembering two bits of information is easier than one?!

Stinking parasites

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 20 August 2010 17:17

There is so much Common Dodder at Levin this year that in some places it forms a carpet! As I was bending down to take these photos I was suddenly hit by the smell. Somewhere between crystallised urine and pear drops, the smell is over-bearing and I was glad to get away from it. Yuk!

I saw 14 Autumn Lady's-tresses just opening up including three in one of my quadrats. This was the most developed of them all, another couple of weeks I think until they will be at there best. That's all my chalk-grassland quadrats finished for the year, just the heathland and mire sites left now!
Finally, I saw this labitate on the edge of the arable field at the bottom of Levin and I could not figure it out. The flowers look just like figwort flowers but it's definitely a labiate. The plant really stinks, quite a familiar but also alien smell. Then it struck me, I think it's the hybrid between Black Horehound and Wood Sage. I can't be sure but if you 'morph' together the flowers of these two species in your imagination, this is probably what it would like, the first has a large top lip the second a large bottom lip. The colour is fairly intermediate too and Neil at work came to the same conclusion. Has anyone else ever seen this or could suggest an alternative answer?

Mothing gets even easier and a Firecrest at 60 mph

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 19 August 2010 18:37

What lazier natural history is there than moth trapping? I'll tell you, rocking up just as someone has gone through the trap and potted up the best moths and that's exactly what I did today (thanks Alice!). I think Black Arches (above) are dead cool mostly because I never used to see them in Staffordshire and they still seem exotic to me! This moth is also pretty awesome, Dusky Thorn, one of my favourites.
This last one is a reedbed specialist that I don't see very often although it is only local. It's a Twin-spotted Wainscot.
I spent the day at Levin Down and have some interesting plant photos I'll put in tomorrow's blog including what I think is a very strange hybrid. Whilst I was driving past the entrance to Goodwood House today I heard a singing Firecrest, pretty cool to spot the joint smallest bird in Britain at 60 mph, and I'm pretty sure I heard a Doppler shift on it too! I went back and confirmed the bird. I then had a knackered looking male Redstart on the reserve which would be a migrant bird.

Another plume affects travel

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 18 August 2010 16:19

I've been working from home today so my interactions with wildlife have been limited to what I have seen flying around indoors. This plume moth came through a window at some point this week as it landed on my microscope as I was looking at some beetles! I think this might be the one of the most attractive plumes, it's Amblyptilia acanthadactyla and is a common species that often turns up in houses. The larvae feed on a wide range of plants that could be substituted for things people grow in their gardens so it has chosen a winning tactic. With a wingspan of less than 20 mm, it's no giant, but it gives any macro-moth a run for it's money in terms of looks!

Even from the safety of my desk, wildlife manages to distract me from what I should be doing...I was very nearly late picking Jo up from the station due to taking pictures of this little T-shaped intruder!

Filming deadwood inverts with the BBC

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 17 August 2010 18:01

We had a great day filming an episode of Finn's Country with Roger Finn for BBC South Today on deadwood and the things that live in it. We even managed to get a few shots of beetles and flies which looked pretty good through the macro lens. Here, the camera-man is filming the hoverfly Myathropa florea investigating a rot hole on a huge fallen Beech limb. We did all the shots on one take, I'm definatley getting more used to being in front of the camera, this being my 5th time in 15 months. The show will air two weeks tomorrow being Wednesday 1st September. Athough overcast, the rain held off and the light was good. I really can't wait to see how it looks!

Brown Hairstreak from my office window!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 16 August 2010 18:29

It's so great working in Sussex, I can't even get five metres out of reception sometimes before getting a great photo opportunity. Today this was due to a male Brown Hairstreak feeding on Hemp Agrimony right outside our office. I have seen one specimen each year for the past three years at Woods Mill but this was by far the most confiding and Gemma managed to announce it over the tannoy so a good number of people got a good view of it (thanks Gemma!). This is actually the first time I have had a good view of a male, as I was taking the shot I thought the pale patches on the top of the forewing were damage but they are part of the male's markings. I first labelled this male as a female in error, it's the females that I have seen before at Woods Mill that are difficult to get close to. Thanks for pointing this out Peter M. According to the 1991 edition of  'Butterflies of Britain and Ireland', to see a male so low down nectaring is a  rare occurrence and coincides with a lack of honeydew in the master trees, has any one else had good views of males this year? The confiding behaviour is also mentioned as being typical when feeding low down. 

If all goes to plan, I'll be filming with the BBC again tomorrow. Here is my last collaboration with Roger Finn from summer 2009. Watch this space!

Toad in the hole

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 15 August 2010 22:03

I went to Ebernoe today to look for deadwood inverts. I had my mind on the large and the exotic and although I did get a glimpse of a Hornet Beetle, the weather was pretty poor and there was little on the wing. This ugly little Toad was the biggest thing I found under a log today!
I did alright with the little things today though. I found a few beetles that are new to the site, some still to be identified. I think this incredibly flat beetle with huge long antennae for such a small beetle is Uleiota planata. I'm waiting for confirmation but it looks good for it. It's Na and a Grade 2 Indicator of Ecological Continuity. I found two of them under sappy Beech bark on a limb that came down last winter. Strangely, each specimen had only one antenna each. UPDATE: Apparently this species has undergone a recent range expansion and may no longer warrant the nationally scarce status.
Whilst looking for Hornet Beetles in the glades I found this brightly coloured scolytid which looks like Trypodendron signatum. It has a purplish pronotum with yellow and brown striped elytra. It is Nb and new for the site too. I also found a small false click beetle on a dead Beech tree that is either Microrhagus pygmaeus or the rarer Hylis olexai. As this last species is not in Joy, I need some help with clinching the ID! Watch this space. I also saw Bitoma crenata and Platypus cylindrus.
On the fly front I saw Xlylota sylvarum (another deadwood hoverfly), Volucella inanis, lots of the robber fly Machimus atricapillus (photo) and a Dioctria sp. A surprise was a fledgling Spotted Flycatcher being fed by a parent in the glades.

Channel Chalkhill

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 14 August 2010 19:42

So exctied was I to post the Wartbiter photos and videos that I forgot all about this shot and video of a mating pair of Chalkhill Blues at Castle Hill last weekend. Right at the very end you get about a second of Stripe-winged Grasshopper too...and a few sheep.

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