Scarecrow finds new hobby

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 30 November 2010 16:19

I have finished the November visits of the winter farmland bird survey! The Downs were looking pretty amazing this morning and the birds were good too on this the most easterly of the farms. Large flocks of Linnets, Corn Buntings and Skylarks as well as 12 Reed Buntings, 4 Lapwings, 6 Snipe, a Brambling, yet another Merlin and a Mediterranean Gull. Med Gulls are my favourite birds, awesome to see a winter adult flying against the snow. No hare this time but I did see a Crow and  Magpie chasing a Stoat.  Lapwings seem to behave quite strangely in this kind of weather, they seem to move around a lot and then turn up in strange places. When I was driving back, I was just thinking how I found one on a playing field in a blizzard when I was a kid and it was really tame when suddenly there was one sitting on the grass on a traffic island in the middle of Newhaven!

There were even some arable plants still in leaf, being Dwarf Spurge, Small Toadflax and Sharp-leaved Fluellen suggesting this farm might be a good place to look for arable plants in the summer. I also saw some awesome scarecrows (this one appears to be playing football - he's obviously better at that than frightening birds!) although the one that was face down in a ditch did freak me out a little at first.

More Hawfinches than Skylarks

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 28 November 2010 17:10

Today's farm in deepest West Sussex had a surprise in the form of a Hawfinch, followed by a flock of three several hours later, then another five, beating the Skylarks today, of which there was only a single flock of six. I bet some of these birds are from the West Dean estate. I also saw another Merlin and the biggest flock of Greenfinches so far (40+). After walking 38 km this weekend, it's time to crash now.

Winter Chanterelle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 26 November 2010 17:55

I've been at Broadwater Warren and Hargate Forest today with the RSPB and the Woodland Trust discussing some the issues of heathland restoration. A really useful day and it was good to catch up with some old RSPB colleagues (and meet some new ones!). A bitterly cold day when we were out of the sun and I saw very little other than this Winter Chanterelle that looked familiar but I was convinced it was a new species for me. I realised though when I got home I have seen this species before but I new it under a different name, Trumpet Chanterelle Cantharellus tubaeformis, the perils of using English names.

Against a Dark Background

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 23 November 2010 18:59

What a day. I've finished my third farm, one in Hampshire and I walked 19km to do it. There were large areas with no birds at all and then some areas with lots of activity. I saw these two Red Kites 'worming' in winter wheat fields before they flew over to check me out and then flew against this dark skyscape (and I got to reference an Iain M. Banks novel in the process). In a single field, I saw a flock of 30 Skylarks and a mixed finch and bunting flock which included 50 + Chaffinches, a Greenfinch, a Reed Bunting, c10 Yellowhammers, a Bullfinch and two Bramblings. I love looking through mixed flocks, it's like hunting for a green triangle in a box of Quality Street. I also saw a Grey Partridge and two Golden Plover hunkered down in a wheat field. 

With all the extra work I have taken on recently and my job being very seasonal, I am running out of time to write blog entries. I am going to scale things back for the winter with just two or three entries a week as I can't keep the content going right now.

Floating saucer

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 20 November 2010 19:18

I'm halfway through my last ever weekend of lecturing for Birkbeck University at RSPB Rye Meads, this weekend's module is on aquatic monitoring. Today has basically been pond dipping for grown-ups and as always happens, it's great to watch 25 adults turn into excited children as soon as they start dipping. We saw plenty of phantom midge larvae (Charborus sp.), firstly the students misheard me as saying phantom midgets, then phantom menace and eventually they got it right, phantom midges. Saucer Bugs (photo) got the most attention, especially when I said they can give you a nasty nip. I think it's amazing how the front legs look more like jaws, the tibia and tarsi apparently fused together into a lethal claw. Not sure if these get you or the needle like rostrum, or both! I don't want to find out.

Dense-flowered Fumitory

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 18 November 2010 20:18

This is the second most frequent fumitory I see and this is the third time I have seen it on the Downs. Dense-flowered Fumitory has large sepals, (about 3 mm and quite round), 5-6 mm flowers, bracts longer than the pediclels and channelled leaves. The flowers do appear quite congested and I think noticeably more magenta pink than Common Fumitory, it's these two characters that draw you in in the first place. It's cool that there are scarce arable plants still flowering in November! I also saw White Horehound today although only in leaf. I completed another bird survey today and here is the view looking back towards Brighton around 8.00 am this morning.
Bird highlights included a flock of c2000 Starlings, 100+ Corn Buntings and a hungry Merlin chasing them.

Burping fungus

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 16 November 2010 19:53

I found this today in an arable field. It's a cup fungi, a Peziza sp. I think but I'm not sure which species or even if that is the correct genus. I thought it looked pretty strange, reminded me of something from Trapdoor. It definitely looks like it's burping. If anyone has any experience with Pezizas or think they can ID this, please get in touch.  More typical ones looked like the specimen below. BURRRRRPPP!!!

Fox snaffles sausages

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 15 November 2010 18:32

I was just walking back from a meeting when I spotted a family transfixed by something in the road. The street was quite busy as it was 5.45 pm, so I was quite surprised to see it was a Fox. The family told me they had disturbed it with a string of sausages, which it had dropped, but the greedy bugger didn't want to leave its feast behind. I got my camera out and hung back with the family and managed this shot (it was disturbed by a car). It crisscrossed the road waiting for a window of opportunity and then came back and snaffled the sausages and then legged it down the road but my flash didn't go off and I missed the money shot. It amazes  me how bold they are these days and it was really nice to see how excited the kids were at seeing it.

Carpet for sale

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 14 November 2010 11:56

I went into town yesterday, a very rare occurrence for me nowadays. I was on a mission though to scrape together some natural history sightings on the way down the hill. I spotted a moth on a for sale sign which turned out to be a late Common Marbled Carpet. It got me thinking about how attuned I am at spotting moths in the street. It seems that if you are into moths, you subconsciously look for small, dark patches of symmetry. Two things have led me to think this happens; 1). People I am with never spot moths on walls that I haven't spotted first (you could argue I am looking more though I guess) 2.) On regular routes my eyes are repeatedly drawn to 'false' moths: small, dark patches of symmetry that are not moths, like a section of peeled paint or an unusually shaped blob of chewing gum (there is even one on my front door that still gets me). Time after time I have noticed my eyes are drawn to these things and I even experience a rush of excitement at thinking I have found a moth. If there are any moth-ers out there who have noticed this, I would be interested to hear about it.
I also got this shot of a Garden Spider Araneus diadematus on a wall yesterday. Would you believe it I also had two ticks on the way into town, the Pellucid Glass Snail Vitrina pellucisa and my first harvestman Opilio parietinus. I bought the key to harvestmen last week and this is the first time I have seen one and been able to use it. It was pretty easy, being that there are only around 25 species and all the features were easy to see under the microscope although without the microscope, some things would have been impossible to see.

Old lady found dead in a spider web

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 12 November 2010 18:34

I went looking for spiders in the workshop at Woods Mill on my lunch break today (as you do) and failed to find anything in there other than Pholcus phalangioides. I did find, in a very cobweb filled window, two wings and a leg of a large moth that I instantly recognized as an Old Lady. This big moth is quite local and not all that easy to catch in moth traps (although they do come to light). It's the first one I have seen at Woods Mill. These moths fly in July and August and during periods of hot weather they 'aestivate'. They enter a period of dormancy in a safe, cool, sheltered spot, just like the Woods Mill workshop that is very cool in mid summer. Sadly, when things cooled down, this old dear must have tried to escape via the window which is exactly where all the spiders were waiting. However, the moth is not named after its inability to cope with hot weather, years ago I read somewhere it was named after its similarity to a Victorian pensioner's petticoat although I can't find the reference. If anyone else can confirm this I would appreciate the comment. Have a look in your sheds during hot spells in mid summer, there may be an uninvited Old Lady hanging out.

The best of the rest

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 11 November 2010 21:34

Here are some of the better shots from 2010 that didn't make it into a post so far this year. In no particular order we have:
Young Panther Cap from Ebernoe Common on the 21st September. Poisonous.
The beautiful but rare Oxyopes heterophthalmus a female from Pirbright in Surrey on the 7th June, no records for this as far as I know in Sussex, be great to find it on the West Sussex heaths although I think that would be very unlikely.
Speckled Yellow moth at rest on lichen. Taken at Eridge Rocks on 6th June.

The common Swollen-thighed Beetle Oedemera nobilis. This one's a female (without the swollen thighs) taken at Friston Forest on 26th July.
Big hoverfly Volucella inanis, this was new to me at the time, taken on the edge of The Mens on the 27th July.

After the deluge...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 10 November 2010 17:53

After the deluge of rain water that came down the new Woods Mill channel yesterday, it's already starting to look quite different. Extensive silty/sandy deposits have appeared along the whole of the channel, literally overnight! You can see them in the above photo as being purply-brown and slightly reflective compared to the orangy/brown of the bare clay. Several days ago this was all bare clay. In most places the deposits are around half a cm in depth but at one point I almost got stuck in the mud!
Perhaps even more remarkable is the appearance of a number of sand banks/bars, again, almost over night. Some of this must have built up over the last few weeks but the stream has only been running for 19 days. I am amazed how quickly things are starting to change.

Woods Mill stream floods already!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 9 November 2010 12:03

I might not be there to witness it but the Woods Mill stream has flooded already. The contractors literally finished the job just in time. Thanks to Steve Tillman for these photos. There is going to be water in different places now at Woods Mill and it might take some getting used to but that was always going to be the case. It will be great to see what the new channel looks like when the floods have subsided. If you zoom in on the first photo you can see where a little tributary might be forming and what also looks like a large piece of woody debris moving down the channel! I can't believe how vast it looks, amazing!

Great White

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 7 November 2010 18:28

So it's just outside of Sussex but who cares? Went to Dungeness today, no sign of the Red-flanked Bluetail but we did get some great views of a Great White Egret. It always amazes me how long and thin their necks are, so much thinner (relatively) than Grey Herons and Little Egrets. This is my third UK GWE. Plenty of Marsh Harriers too but we didn't see much else on the RSPB reserve other than a very late Swallow over the car park as we were leaving.
Down the Patch there was a Sandwich Tern and a Med. Gull but the sea was dominated by Gannets and Kittiwakes and little else. A few Chaffinches were coming in off the sea and there was quite a movement of auks out distant. A single diver sp. flew west but that was about it. As we were leaving Lydd we saw a Barn Owl (Jo's first owl) and we soon saw another owl sp. fly over the road just east of Middle Farm. Twenty seven years without seeing an owl and she sees two in an hour.

Jo also informed me today that her old landlord was into birdwatching, did I know him? His name was John Gooders! I only grew up reading his books, sad to find out he passed away last May though.

The Illustrated Man

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 6 November 2010 15:43

I wish I had started blogging ten years ago. So, to make up for this and to find things to blog about in the winter or when I have a stinking hangover (like today) and have not done any natural history, I am gonna post a regular feature reminiscing about natural history conquests of yesteryear. I don't know if it's the way I tell 'em or if I really do seem to have a lot of strange things happen to me...

So, rewind nine years and I'm living in the volunteer accommodation at Dungeness RSPB reserve in Kent. I'd gone back to Brighton for a weekend and was amazed to find a Death's-head Hawk-moth had turned up in one of the moth traps! Only about six months prior to that I had a tattoo of one on my arm (by my exceptionally talented friend Gerry Carnelly) so I jumped at the opportunity to have a photo of it taken next to the tattoo. Thanks to David Burrows for taking the photo, who, many years later I would meet again as a member of Sussex Moth Group. The Dungeness moth traps were pretty rad, lots of rare residents and scarce migrants. We used to get Great Crested Newts, Lesser Cockroaches, Great Silver Water Beetles and once even a Black Redstart on or in the traps too. I got  a huge list of birds as well, although the ibis incident  is perhaps another story. I think I'll be making a visit tomorrow if the Red-flanked Bluetail is there, those four and a half months I spent as a residential volunteer are very close to my heart indeed!

October - all-taxa list update

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 5 November 2010 17:04

A little late but here it is anyway. I ended the month on a respectable 3009 species and here is the breakdown of my current list. Molluscs have shot up the rankings, I've now seen more molluscs than butterflies! The highlights of the month though were Jellybabies, Box Bug, Purse-web Spider and Rose-coloured Starling. I am still finding old records of micro moths in ancient notebooks, the micros are an area that, although I have been looking at them for years, until recently I have not been keeping a list. Let's see what November brings!

Vascular plants 1045 (+1)
Moths 772 (+11)
Birds 332 (+1)
Beetles 197 (+2)
Fungi 144 (+17)
Mosses 83
Molluscs 52 (+15)
Butterflies 50
True flies 50 (+1)
Mammals 38
Fish 37 (+1)
Spiders 37 (+5)
Truebugs 30 (+2)
Dragonflies 29
Crickets & grasshoppers 18
Aculeates 18
Livewort 18
Crustacean 17
Lichen 11 (+1)
Amphibians 6
Reptiles 6
Seaweeds & algae 5
Anemones 4
Cockroaches 3
Caddiesflies 2
Earwigs 1
Ant-lion 1
Lacewings 1
Leeches 1
Lice 1 (+1)

The top ten deadwood invertebrates of the West Weald in 2010

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 4 November 2010 17:37

I was writing an interim report today on a survey carried out this year looking at deadwood invertebrates in The Mens and the West Weald Landscape Partnership project area and thought it would be good to pull together some of the best findings and photos so far. So, in what is only an arbitrary, reverse, order based upon my own opinion (mostly on how photogenic it is), here are the best of the best!

10). Volucella inflata. A nationally scarce deadwood hoverfly.

9). Red-headed Cardinal Beetle Pyrochroa serraticornis. A common but beautiful deadwood beetle.

8). Anaglyptus mysticus. A nationally scarce longhorn beetle named after a type of wall paper...

7). Rhinoceros Beetle. He's one horny devil.

6). Ischnomera sanguinicollis. I thought this was  a soldier beetle at wrong was I! It's quite a scarce deadwood species.
5). Hornet Beetle Leptura aurulenta. It's big, it's bright, it's scarce. Seems to be a theme with deadwood invertebrates.

4). Platystomos albinus. You've gotta love the bird-dropping mimics.

3). Ctenophora flaveolata. Red Data Book wasp mimic cranefly. Thanks to Michael Blencowe for the photo. I saw one shortly after Michael took this photo in The Mens but could not get near it to take a photo. This shot is great!
2). Lymexylon navale. It's long, it's thin, it's RDB2 and it's one of the rarest species recorded on the far.
1). Tanner Beetle Prionus coriarius. Bumping into one of these in broad day light quietly sitting on a dead branch was one of the highlights of my year and was an excellent end to the field work of the survey.

Miller's Thumbs up to the new fish pass

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 3 November 2010 18:09

There is another project going on further up the valley field, off SWT land at Woods Mill, by the Environment Agency, to completely revamp the fish pass there that had essentially stopped functioning. Sea Trout breed on the river and were unable to get past this point...until now. At about 2.00pm this afternoon we got a call saying the completed fish pass had been reconnected to the stream but a few fish were stuck in a temporary ditch that needed to be reprofiled. I legged it up the valley and we managed to save three tiny Bullheads, or Miller's Thumbs as I prefer (above shot) and one tiny Brown Trout that perhaps could one day develop into a Sea Trout!
Finally, here is a shot of one of the several stages of the fish pass. I hope to one day see a Sea Trout jumping up there!

The Fastest Water Shrew on Earth

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 2 November 2010 18:27

There are some very obliging Water Shrews at Woods Mill at the moment and I think everyone except me had saw them...until today. I sat and watched the tiny thing jump out of a hole below me on the bank, jump into the water and almost immediately disappear into leaf litter at the bottom of a very shallow, clear, narrow ditch. It would then suddenly reappear and swim rapidly along the surface before disappearing back into the hole. It did this about 12 times and the only shot I managed to get was the awful one above. It seemed completely unconcerned by my presence, I think it knows I wouldn't stand a chance at trying to catch it! I will attempt to go back and get some better shots this week. It's been years since I saw one of these.
The final stages of the stream restoration are underway, the banks are being reprofiled and the top soil put back, well, on top. If you look really carefully, somewhere in the above photo is a Wheatear, a first for me on the reserve at Woods Mill.
I was not expecting to see a vascular plant tick though. This aquatic macrophyte looked odd, I thought it was a Potomogeton at first but it didn't look quite right and it's actually Horned Pondweed Zannichellia palustris, a common species that I have somehow managed to miss for the last 32 years. It was in the mill leat just off our site.

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