Whatever floats your boat

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 30 April 2011 18:18

After a long farm survey I called into Iping to see if I could see the Floating Club-rush that I missed last year. I was expecting something a little more robust but here it is in all its glory. It would have been easy to mistake it for one of the slender pondweeds. Lots of Hairy Dragonflies and a few Broad-bodied Chasers too.

After that, I headed to Ebernoe to beat some Hawthorn which is flowering so much earlier this year. I saw lots of old friends including the following firsts for the year: Rhagium mordax, Malachite Beetle, Tetrops praeusta, Hylecoetus dermestoides, Uleiota planata, Bitoma crenata and lots of these saproxylic hoverflies, Xylota segnis.
However, I did get one new beetle for me under some loose Beech bark, it's Glischrochilus quadriguttatus. My list at the end of April is 3284.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 29 April 2011 07:51

I did have a tick yesterday, hence the additional 5 km walk after work but it wasn't the Black Kite (I wished it was though, a self found rarity and a lifer - I should never have twitched the Black-eared Kite), it was Duke of Burgundy. I know, I know, how could I have gone so long without seeing this you ask? Well we all have blind spots and there are a number of species that I have not seen that are scarce enough that I'm unlikely to ever bump into them by chance but regular enough so that it's really just a matter of turning up at the right place and time. That's what limits me with species like this, they're great to see but it does feel a little bit like going through the motions. Compared to a self found Black Kite or finding three or four beetles at Woods Mill and spending hours keying them out this feels a little hollow.
That said, this was a great little butterfly. All I knew was that they were at Heyshott Down, I didn't gen up anymore than that, which made it a little more exciting. There was quite a northerly breeze on the down so they were only going to be low down in the hollows. Being cooler too, the butterflies I came across were very well behaved and I had good shots within minutes! I found three, I am sure I could have found more but I was tired (all in all I managed 24 km yesterday when I added the walk into town to the pub last night). Birds included Tree Pipit and Raven. It's been along time since I saw a new species of butterfly. My list stands at 3282.

How often do you get to write this on a bird survey map?!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 28 April 2011 16:16

I've been doing one of the farmland bird surveys in Hampshire west of Petersfield this morning and I struck gold, black gold. Rare vagrant birds are not the focus of this work, far from it but they do get my blood pumping. I see Red Kites on perhaps every other visit to this farm but they are interesting so I note them down on the maps. So at 10:15 this Red Kite approaches the farm from the south west.
Coming straight out of the sun from the east enters another kite so I mark that one down too.
Wait a flippin' minute! That's no Red Kite, it's got hardly any fork in the tail and it's small and dark, it's a Black Kite! Yes, I now know BK is actually the BTO code for Black Grouse not Black Kite (which is KB) but I didn't know that in the heat of the moment. Anyway, a rumble was on the cards and for the first (and probably the only time) I wrote this down:
They were good but brief views, I got some shots but they're not great. I have only ever seen one Black Kite ever and that was the Black-eared Kite in Lincolnshire several years ago. I have no doubt on the ID though, I spend enough time watching kites these days, I would say I pretty much see reds weekly now. It was a really great opportunity seeing the two species side by side, the first thing that struck me was how much smaller the Black Kite was. It also didn't look so different from above with the sun shining on it but the white bases to the primaries were really only visible when the wings were perpendicular to my line of site, quite different to the Red Kite, like it had flown through a cloud of soot. The differences were much more obvious when comparing their undersides.

Here's the red
Here's the black
And here is the red and the black! (Shame the black is doing some sort of break-dancing at this point but you get the idea).
That's my first self found rarity since Red-rumped Swallow in 2008 and it was amazing how much it got me pumped. I finished the survey in record time, all 18 km and then walked another 5 km at Heyshott Down. That might be the furthest I have ever walked in one day...

Ginger & Black

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 26 April 2011 17:41

Just a quick one today as I have to pop back to work tonight to lead a guided walk. I spotted this bee on a wall today, I'm pretty sure it's Andrena nitida but I am willing to be proven wrong! I am only scratching the surface with aculeates, I don't have the time to do them in intimate detail but there are few species that are easy to ID in the field and this seems like one of them. Ticks on the reserve today included the micro moth Grapholita jungiella and the leaf beetle Crepidodera aurata leaving me on 3276. James and I saw at least three different types of Nomada too including a smart red and black type one.

Godspeed You! Vagrant Emperor

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 25 April 2011 18:50

I played a dangerous game today and decided not to twitch the Vagrant Emperor Hemianax ephippiger dragonflies at Dungeness. I then decided I would after a late start and arrived at a very casual 13.00 pm. Fortunately for me, my laziness and indecision paid off as I walked straight up to a male and avoided a long wait! I would have been really fed up if I had dipped though. I saw one male for perhaps no more than ten minutes and it was then seen to fly off, over a field out of site. I have to admit I knew very little about this animal before today but the BDS website states it's a long distance migrant coming from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. There were as many as three there yesterday if what I heard was true and there has been an influx in France also. I saw Lesser Emperor at Dungeness in 2001 and apart from the time of year I would have thought it was that to start with.

I had no chance with my Coolpix but see Jake's blog for some good shots. I did get this video on the Canon though. I am always surprised at what the microphone pics up on this camera. You can hear Marsh Frogs, Canada Geese, camera shutters, Lydd airport and even the Dymchurch railway!
Prior to rushing off to Kent I popped into Crispin Holloway's folk's garden again and was amazed at the array of insects there including Dingy Skippers, Small Purple-barred, Green Carpet, three species of Pyrausta, Osmia bicolor and a squash bug which was new to me, Coriomeris denticulatus. Back to Dungeness and at the dragonfly twitch I met up with Mark Telfer and as I was showing Mark the bug, bizarrely there was another one right at our feet!? Anyway, always good to spend any time in the field with Mark as I always add a few things to my list, not only do I have him to thank for the dragonfly tip off but he also showed me Cepero's Groundhoppers and Leistus fulvibarbis. Four species up to day leaving me on 3274.

The Lyons Den is one year old today!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 24 April 2011 13:30

This is not a Hornet but a queen Median Wasp Dolichovespula media that I saw scraping a post on a farm yesterday.

Was I really thinking straight when I started this blog? I'm not sure, I didn't really have an agenda, it's evolved quite a lot since then, the listing theme for example but I should have known what to expect with  my obsessive mind! All I knew was that after some 22 years of being an avid naturalist, and a decade working in the field, I had accumulated enough natural history knowledge that I felt I had something to say, I guess I felt like I had earned it, being the weird kid at school who liked moths had finally paid off. That and my work puts me in some really great places on a near daily basis. In order to make the blog work, all I really need to do is take a few good photos, the writing is the easy part, the content is already there. Of course this is just the 'front end' of what I do, the highlights. I do edit out much of the difficult issues I deal with, I decided from the start that I am doing this for my enjoyment as much as anyone elses so I am avoiding difficult issues and going for the fun stuff, I do enough of that at work! Working as an ecologist is far from easy at times, dealing with difficult issues, complex ecological processes, long tiring days in the field, wrestling with data analysis, trying to convince people using the evidence based approach and giving habitat management advice. Don't get me wrong, I love my job but there is a lot more to what I do than simply going  for a walk every day and photographing everything I see.

I also wanted the blog to be an antidote to boring bird blogs that show nothing but the same individual birds. I used to get the same thing with natural history on the tv, there was a point  in the 1990s where they seemed to show nothing but big cats, chimps and elephants and all I wanted to see was a pangolin or a hoatzin., something I had never seen before. So I decided from the outset that I would make the species that people do not often feature the stars of this blog. Absolutely no tweeness? I think I have achieved that. I like to throw in more popular culture references than an episode of Spaced and aim the blog at a wide audience, from professional to novice. I was thinking of hanging up the laptop recently but I am going to keep going, at least for another year but there are others things I want to work on. I have been writing a sci-fi novel for about four years, that has totally gone on the back burner since I started this blog but that is literally another story...

So, time for some statistics (the six moth stats are in brackets). Well, yesterday was the day my blog received the most hits. I knew that if I wrote that title people would look! Over 200 people looked yesterday, it's already the fourth most popular post. So there have been 7192 (2565) unique visitors of 21,020 (7251) visits. There have been 1514 unique visitors in the last month. A total of 37,323 (13,430) page views. I have posted 322 (186) times and they've been read in 88 (45) countries. Birds is the most frequent label, followed by beetles then moths. My pan-species list is on 3268 from 2748 in August. That means that 16% of all the species I have ever seen, I have seen for the first time in the last 9 months!

So what is my agenda? Well I want to reach as many people as possible and show them that it's not all that hard to get into new taxa. You can do it yourself with the right equipment and texts. I want to show that in order to study invertebrates, it is essential to take specimens with certain species and that people should be more accepting of this, I don't enjoy killing invertebrates but I wouldn't be able to do my job without doing so. You can't identify many species from photos and it's very frustrating being sent images that can't be identified. I want to show that  the study of difficult taxa can be done with relatively little cost and is not just for the elite. I also really enjoy blogging and I like having an online diary I can refer to from anywhere, it's actually quite a useful tool. Anyway, it's all out there for you to see. Thanks for following and here's to another year of blogging!

If you don't like spiders, look away NOW!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 23 April 2011 15:47

So I'm poking around a wall in a park in Chichester looking directly at the biggest spider I have ever seen in Britain in the wild (no kidding!), but how did this all come to be? Well, I knew I was going to be doing a farm survey today and I would finish up near Chichester around lunch time. I was tempted by the Black Stork on the other side of the New Forest but I didn't fancy another 100 mile car journey and I'd like to do the New Forest properly, not rushing around after some bird. I needed something more local to satisfy my daily natural history fix, so I tried an experiment. I posted this request on Twitter:

'After my survey tomorrow I am going to be in West Sussex near Chichester. Anyone know any rare or unusual wildlife I could see there?'

I got a response from none other than Buglife's Matt Shardlow. Amongst other things he told me that Chichester was a good site for Segestria florentina. I found what I thought would be a suitable looking wall and began my search. Plenty of Steatoda nobilis and Armadillidium depressum, two spiders with large chelicerae but they very quickly retreated into their holes. After about an hour's searching, I found one and using a twig to emulate a fly trapped in the web, I lured it slowly out. A leg came out that could only belong to a MASSIVE spider and when I finally saw its whole body I have to say I was quite surprised and a little jumpy. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's the biggest spider I have seen. Roberts states the females can be up to 2.2 cm long, coupled with the huge thick hairy legs and the formidable looking green 'fangs', this is one mean looking spider. I couldn't get enough of it and showed a few interested people that walked past that didn't think I was a weirdo. Here are the best shots, enjoy!
You get the idea.What an amazing sight and a big thank you to Matt! I heard my first Swifts too and looked up to see six birds flying very high. I'm pretty excited after all the adrenalin from seeing that spider. If it was half the size it still would have been big! That will definitely be in the top ten highlights of 2011.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 22 April 2011 16:51

One last identification from yesterday is this male Neriene montana. Quite pleased with the photo, the dappled shade of the partially opened oak canopy provides a good light unlike this relentless sunlight that also super charges every invertebrate, even in the shade there is a lot of latent heat making everything very mobile. In other words, rubbish weather for photography out in the open but good for recording. I started surveying yesterday around 6.30 am and was too hot then in just a t-shirt! Starting to get close to the point when I can't carry enough water!

Sand rocking

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 21 April 2011 19:19

Wow what a day, I just tallied up all the firsts and I added 13 species to my list today (with a LOT of help from Howard Matcham). We went to Wakehurst Place to look at the vegetation that grows on sandrock cliffs. There are some pretty rare liverworts (I saw five new ones day) that show a relict distribution in the Weald where their main stronghold is the north west. This includes this rather fancy (it's glaucous!) liverwort, Calypogeia integristipula. Here it is again with gemmae.
This is also a real rarity, we saw what is most likely to be the vast majority of this liverwort that exists in south east England, Harpanthus scutatus.
Perhaps the most abundant moss on the rocks after the common Mnium hornum is Tetraphis pellucida.
Here is Howard investigating a tiny patch of green on a huge rock. It's amazing how someone elses expertise appears so effortless to them, I'm lucky to be able to spend time in the field at a leisurely pace (I wasn't working today) with such a great botanist!
Not far from there we noticed this HUGE patch of Tunbridge Filmy-fern riding out the hot weather unscathed.
If you think I wasn't keeping an eye on the invertebrates today, you'd be wrong! I caught up with this smart little harvestman Megabunus diadema. Check out his eye-spikes, like a cowboy's  stirrups. However, the thing that got me really excited was an amazing black and red bug called Corizus hyoscyami but I didn't get a photo!
So, all in all I have added 5 liverworts, 2 fungi, an algae, a moss, a moth, a bug, a fly and a harvestman leaving me on 3264! Watch out Martin Harvey I am closing in on you!

Tortoise and Hummingbird

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 20 April 2011 18:33

Went for a walk around Woods Mill this lunch time and found a few things by sweeping. This tortoise beetle Cassida vibex was the most attractive although I have seen this species before. A very smart weevil called Cionus alauda very nearly fooled me with its (bird dropping?) mimicry. The Brown Sedge area near the river restoration is repsonding well, you can see clearly where the machinery went but the sedge seems to be growing faster than the other plants in the area. There is a lot of growth in the wet places despite the lack of rain, things are slow on the dry areas though.
Finally, this flew into reception and I was called in to catch it as it was stuck in a sky light. It looks quite bat-like in this photo but it is a Hummingbird Hawk-moth. I have finally reached one quarter of the way to 4000 and I am now on 3251 species.

Sawfly desperate to be added to my list

Posted by Graeme Lyons 07:20

Here is the big sawfly that landed at my feet last week on the way back from the corner shop. I have not seen this one before. I keyed it out to family and it appears that it is Zaraea lonicerae but it would be great if someone could confirm the ID. Quite an impressive, thick-set sawfly with a bronze-metallic sheen and smart clubbed antennae. The cimbycid sawflies (ones with clubbed antennae) make up only a small proportion of the sawflies and includes the familiar Birch Sawfly that I have seen on a few occasions.

Click for more info

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 19 April 2011 19:17

We went to Old Lodge yesterday to talk about bird monitoring and had a nice walk around. There are lots of Redstarts there that seem 'exotic' to me in a Sussex setting, the feel of the Ashdown Forest being much more like the north western heathlands I grew up very close to. Lesser Redpolls, Tree Pipits and Ravens added to the feel. I saw two specimens of this click beetle which is a new one on me. At first glance I thought it was Agrypnus murinus that I know from chalk-grassland in Sussex but it was too small and looked too shiny. It's Prosternon tessallatum (my 16th click beetle) and I like its military green colouration, like something straight out of World War II. The patterning is formed by beautiful swirling hairs when you look closely at it, somehow make it appear greenish .
We were also shown the location of the Stag's-horn Clubmoss there, two very small plants that even with a GPS I would struggle to relocate. They are even harder to find than the Marsh Clubmoss at Graffham. Not at all like the specimens I have seen in Scotland. My list is currently at 3244.

Purple Haze

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 17 April 2011 16:18

Thanks to Oli for this shot of the Purple Heron we twitched yesterday at Southease, a nice little birthday treat. Nice to see its whole body and not just its head. My rule of always moving away from waiting crowds of twitchers payed off yet again. I did feel quite bad for the people I called over when the heron came into view because as they were walking towards me, it flew and they missed it. If I hadn't called them over, they all would have seen it clearly in flight from their vantage point! Oh well, I did show them an Angleshades as compensation. I was surprised to hear Marsh Frogs there too, I didn't realise they were this far west.

Jo got me a new phone for my birthday. It has a camera in it, so I can have it on me at all times like on the way to the pub. I can blog in the field too. Oh dear...

Keepin' it reel

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 16 April 2011 11:57

Here is yesterday's Grasshopper Warbler from Waltham Brooks. You can't see it but it's in there! I didn't realise it at the time but you can also hear Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler and Cetti's Warbler on the sound clip.

Blinks and you'll miss it

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 15 April 2011 16:33

I carried out a breeding bird survey at Waltham Brooks today and it is looking great with Lapwing, Redshank, Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper all present, it had that feeling that anything might turn up. With Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler and six Sedge Warblers too, it really was alive with birds. 

The footpaths are full of Sticky Mouse-ear punctuated by the odd little patch of Blinks, a flower I think I have only ever seen knowingly once before. Not the most inspiring of species but I like the name.
I couldn't resist a shot of this Changing Forget-me-not unfolding like a Bracken crosier. I would go and have a look at Waltham this spring, it's looking really good and I reckon there might be the chance of something unusual turning up there on the bird front! With news of Killer Whales feeding off Dungeness yesterday, I am a little twitchy. 
I also spotted this alien, Italian Lords and Ladies (just the leaves though - actually a tick for me). Which leaves me on 3242.

Spiderman vs. Green Goblin

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 14 April 2011 18:11

Here's a nice and easy-to-identify spider, Diaea dorsata. A crab spider that I see quite often in West Sussex, this one was at West Dean Woods. I have only ever come across it by sweeping or beating though. Also there today were two singing Firecrests that I could hear at the same time and some Crossbills flew overhead.

I did the breeding bird survey at Woods Mill this morning and there were two singing Nightingales right out in the open, I managed to film both of them but I'll have to wait to find the time to upload the videos. At least four Whitethroats there and a Cuckoo. In the moth trap was a Powdered Quaker (photo), Oak-tree Pug and a few craneflies that I'm going to take a pop at as well as a second hand Dark Sword-grass caught by Dave and Penny. Pan-species list currently at 3239.

The privet sector

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 12 April 2011 18:58

Mothing at Mill Hill last night was quite good despite being windy. We picked up half a dozen Barred Tooth-striped (I took the photo two years ago) in the time Oli and I were there. Other highlights included a roosting Grizzled Skipper, a Powdered Quaker and several of the rather stunning carabid, Carabus nemoralis. Nice to be out looking at the stars and it reminded that I must make time to do more astronomy with Oli this year.

On the way in to work this morning I saw a Red Kite flying over the Ditchling Road by the start of the 60 mph zone and there are two singing Nightingales currently at Woods Mill.

Bottom dollar

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 11 April 2011 19:07

A quick walk at Bible Bottom at Southerham produced this tortrix Rhopobota stagnana which is a new one for me but that was pretty much it. This tortrix feeds on Devil's-bit Scabious and Small Scabious but where I found them on the dry, south-facing slopes it is more likely to be Small Scabious. Just a quick one tonight as I am off out mothing.

I found my first grey hairs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 10 April 2011 14:31

But they're not on me. This is the beautiful Andrena cineraria, a lovely grey and blue-black bee. We found a large colony at Iping  on Friday 8th April which might be a new record for the site. I have wanted to see this for some time and had been reading recently that it has a rare cuckoo bee associated with it. It seems that both species are expanding their ranges quite a bit. I soon spotted a Nomada which I am hoping is going to be Nomada lathburiana. As far as I can tell, this cuckoo bee is only on cineraria but cineraria has several cuckoo bees on it. My line manager has recently taken up an interest in aculeates and is helping me with the ID but I will have to wait before saying it's that species for certain. I don't have the key for Nomadas but I might have to try and get it as they fascinate me more than the host bees! It's not the best photo as everything is so active in this heat.
We also watched these spider-hunting wasps dragging their prey underground. I am fairly confident this species is Anoplius viaticus. It was a great day, Iping always has a lot to offer, we also saw an Adder, heard several Woodlark and Tree Pipit as well as the Nb moth the Horse Chestnut and lots of the Nb ground bug Rhyparochromus pini. This spring has already been pretty amazing and it's still three weeks until May!

The little things in life

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 9 April 2011 21:54

I've been feeling a little tired recently so I thought I would go for a gentle stroll at Malling for an hour looking for beetles and leave it at that today. I did see quite a few beetles, four species that I had not seen before including this camera shy Silpha laevigata. It wasn't until I got home that I realised it was hiding under Round-headed Rampion leaves (in Sussex, it wouldn't be just some common plant!). I was wandering along thinking about how much more relaxed beetling is compared to twitching birds and wondered whether my twitching days are over. I spotted four of these funny little beetles that I have also seen at Southerham, it's Opatrum sabulosum. I also found a Pancalia that looked remarkably like schwarzella, will need to get that one checked too though.
I got home, logged on to BirdGuides and within five minutes I was back in the car hurtling towards Arundel WWT to twitch the Little Crake, which I was looking at within an hour and just goes to show how fickle I am. My first bird tick (and even vertebrate tick)  for some time. Got brief but OK views and thanks to Jacob Everitt for letting me use a photo, take a look at Jacob's blog for great photos of rare birds and more. The sound of a plopping Water Vole right underneath me did make me think that something expensive had fallen out of my pocket. I finished the day on 3225 species.

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