The butcher of bark beetles

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 29 June 2011 20:02

Eridge Rocks invertebrate survey today with Mark Telfer. We had to work quite hard today but we did get a good list by the end. The above photo is of an Ant Beetle Thanasimus formicarius that Mark found on a sunlit oak tree. I have only seen these once before alive at Abernethy. They feed on bark beetles. We also found throughout the day a Helops pronotum, Platystomos albinus and Tillus elongatus. I saw at least four beetles that were new to me being Triphyllus bicolor (photo), Soronia grisea (awaiting confirmation), Rhizophagus dispar and the striking Lordithon lunulatus.

Event Horizon

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 28 June 2011 17:28

There is something quite disturbing about the flowers of Henbane. The purple veins remind me of films such as the Exorcist, Evil Dead and Event Horizon. It's a botanical zombie and it's not really a surprise that it's poisonous and smells so foul. I saw lots on a farm survey which was a surprise. There are more comparisons to a black hole beyond just the film Event Horizon, as the gaping black pit at the bottom of the corolla reflects no light at all. Speaking of points of no return, I have just hit 3500. I'm past the halfway mark now and feel like I cannot possibly give up. So, what was species 3500? I'm afraid it was quite dull. Spear-leaved Willowherb, photographed in an incredible thunderstorm and the only shot that came out OK was of a leaf (blunt tip and presence of a stalk are clinchers). I had read that it grew around the village of Stedham and I found one within about 10 minutes.
I then called in briefly to Graffham to look for Green-flowered Helleborine. Pretty sure this is one, there were two growing next to a Broad-leaved Helleborine so I could see the differences, the bracts were much longer on Green-flowered but I will go back in a week or so to confirm. The light was bad and the rain was coming down so the photo is pretty poor. Just as I was leaving I looked up and saw Spear-leaved Willowherb! I must have got my eye in.

Botanise This!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 27 June 2011 17:59

I'm almost half way, 3499 to be precise. I went to look for a trio of vascular plants in the Arundel area that would all be ticks for me. I found them all quite easily. First off was this Wild Madder. A pretty straggly looking thing that won't be winning any beauty competitions but interesting all the same.

And within metres were a number of plants of Small Teasel just coming into flower. Not that small actually, it was already at about waist height.
A few miles away at Bury and I was up to some more roadside botany. This time the rather smart looking Wild Liquorice which smells nothing like liquorice as far as I could tell. All in under an hour! So, what's going to be species 3500?

Reed between the lines

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 26 June 2011 19:54

I'm pretty sure this is the reed beetle Donacia vulgaris. I saw this today feeding on Reedmace by the edge of the pond at Woods Mill. It was the only one I saw like this, smallish with two obvious bands of colour along the elytra. There were lots of a much bigger reed beetle there too feeding on Branched Bur-reed but I think that was Donacia marginata. I find them a little tricky, I think I need to get a more up to date key than the one in Joy for these smart beetles.

Soldier solider

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 25 June 2011 17:13

It's my annual grasses, sedges and rushes course at Woods Mil this weekend. I always enjoy running this course but it did not stop me getting two ticks (a bug and a beetle) in the process. They were Deraeocoris flavilinea (the bug) and Plagiodera versicolor (the beetle) which puts me on 3490, only ten to the half way mark! This latter was found at rest on one of the course attendees backs! The photo is of neither species. The only soldier beetle I saw at all today in the meadow were these small Cantharis nigra of which there were quite a few. It's resting on a panicle of Yorkshire Fog. Each spikelet is completely enclosed by the two glumes. Right, enough grass anatomy, I need a pint!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 24 June 2011 19:57

We've been at Graffham today and had a good day discussing management. Didn't get many good photo opportunities but did get this female Common Emerald Damselfly. New for me was the chrysomelid Luperus longicornis. We also saw several more Agonum sexpunctatum and a Beautiful Snout. I end the day on 3488.

Little Bighorn

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 23 June 2011 18:03

Went to Friston Forest today to discuss grazing. Saw this male Onthophagus coenobita, first time I have seen a male with the cephalic horn at the back of the head, looks a little like it has been set in place with gel! I like this family of dung beetles. We also saw many of these small Nb chafers that I have seen once before at Southerham, Omaloplia ruricola. I didn't manage to photograph it last time. There must have been five or six flying around today.
Neither of these beetles were new ones for me but this plant was, Field Pepperwort. It's not at all scarce, just one I never see in quadrats and one I must have over looked.
But the best find today was actually in reception as I was leaving Woods Mill. I saw what I assumed was going to be Xylota segnis in the window but when I got home I realised it was the nationally scarce Xylota florum, a new species for me. I end the day on 3483 species. It would be really nice to get to 3500 by the end of June.

Deadwood micro moth new to Sussex

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 21 June 2011 20:48

I changed the vane traps at Cowdray today and found this pretty little micro moth sitting on the bottom of a trap inside a hollow oak tree. Didn't expect it to be anything exciting but thought I would give it a go. I thought it was going to be a gelechid but it's actually a pRDB3 saproxylic Dystebenna stephensi. I'm going to have to get the specimen confirmed but it is highly unlikely to be anything else considering where I found it. By the time I extracted myself from the tree, I noticed this first for West Sussex sitting on the outside of the tree. It's the Nb Pseudocistella cermaboides. I new it instantly as I found it new to Sussex at Eridge Rocks last year. Now it's in West too, it would seem I am the only person who has seen this beetle in Sussex! This is what happens if you go poking around in red-rotten hollow oak trees.
I also saw new to the site this Na Tomoxia bucephela which was doing something quite odd. I decided to take a small video to show what it was doing. Perhaps its over-sized head (hence the Latin name) is adapted to whatever it is it is doing. I also recorded the Na Dasytes niger which was new to me. I didn't find a single beetle new to the site list that didn't have a conservation status! My list is currently on 3480.

The Infinite Monkey Cage

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 20 June 2011 19:12

Went to Farnham Heath today to discuss heathland recreation from conifer plantation.  A very useful day and we did manage a tiny bit of botany in the process. I finally caught up with Heath Cudweed which has eluded me for some time, even at this site when I worked for the RSPB! I also spotted this labiate next to where we parked. Not in flower yet but I think it is probably Round-leaved Mint. Like I need flowers to tick something anyway? Flowers are cheating!
But why the title you ask? Well, when driving back and listening to Radio 4 in the pickup, the witty popular science radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage came on. I hadn't heard it before but when I heard Brian Cox was on it I thought I would give it a go. The next guest was none other than the author of the Watchmen, Alan Moore. By this time I was a little excited. Then they announced the third guest. None other than one of my old astrophysics lecturers from fifteen years ago, Ed Copeland! Best journey home from work ever.

Lizard King

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 19 June 2011 21:47

I went to a great site in East Sussex thanks to a friend and was pleased to find out there was a Lizard Orchid on show there. Seconds after taking these shots I spotted this Common Lizard too. Sadly, the weather turned pretty rotten after that and we didn't see much else. I'll have to go back!

I would walk 500 miles...

Posted by Graeme Lyons 17:01

As of today, I have walked roughly 495 miles on these farm surveys (based on an average of 11 miles per visit). So, on the next one (probably Tuesday) at around 5 miles into it, I will have walked 500 miles. Interestingly this morning, I started at 5.45 am with a plant tick. I came across a grid reference for Dwarf Elder (nothing to do with Lord of the Rings) near one of the farms yesterday. I put the grid reference into UK Grid Reference Finder and saw that it was pretty much where I park my car when I go there! It was indeed visible from the car.
Quite an odd looking thing with purple anthers. Not as different to Elder as I would have thought and quite robust, hardly what I would call a dwarf! However, the best thing about today was the arable plants. Best of all were four specimens of Night-flowering Catchfly, including this really bright one. Of the four specimens, only one had two flowers, the others only one. The only other specimen I have seen of this plant had only one flower on it too. I wonder if this is typical?
On the bird front I added two species not only to the site list but to the whole survey being Cormorant and Hobby. Hobby is the 9th species of raptor I have seen during the surveys.

Poor man's orchids

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 18 June 2011 20:45

Another day, another labiate. This time Cut-leaved Selfheal, the only Sussex site for this scarce alien is on the edge of Brighton on a road verge. It took a little searching for. I have always been fascinated by this large group of plants. They were one of the groups I got into as a kid, I remember finding Black Horehound for the first time and being amazed by the smell. I grew to think of them as 'poor man's orchids'. Anyway, nearby I saw what I think is the hybrid between this plant and regular Selfheal. Also nearby was Knotted Hedge-parsley and Corn Parsley.

I've finally hit the big thyme!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 17 June 2011 13:43

During a farm survey this morning I spotted this thyme on the tiniest slither of chalk-grassland. I thought it looked rather beefy so I decided to take a photo and a specimen and it keyed out to Large Thyme. I have often looked for this species to no avail and I was glad that it so readily matched the description under the microscope in David Streeter's new book. You can easily see the long hairs on the four corners of the stem. Two opposite stem sides are broad and hairless, the other two narrower and shortly hairy (much shorter than the hairs on the four corners). The inflorescence is also extended, perhaps twice as long as wide. A welcome addition to my list. I also saw a single plant of the glaucous Corn Parsley but it was yet to flower and I have also found Rough Poppy on three of the farms now. Amazingly I finished shortly before 10.00 am and missed the rain completely. Oh yes, I also recorded a number of birds.

Dead rhino lands on car windscreen

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 15 June 2011 18:29

But fortunately for me it was a Rhinocerous Beetle. A dead one at that. I was on my way to start some quadrats at Furnace Meadow, part of Ebernoe. Highlight was the rather unusual record of a pair of Snow Geese flying north east over the meadow. I wonder if they are breeding anywhere? Not wanting to be distracted too much with insects, I tried only looking at things I encountered in quadrats. I took this photo of  the Knapweed feeding tortrix Eucosma hohenwartiana but I have seen this before. I did get one new bug in a quadrat though, Orthocephalus coriaeceus.
Earlier, Frances Abraham showed me the difference between two sedges that have been bugging me for some time, Wood Sedge and the scarcer Thin-spiked Wood Sedge (both are ancient woodland indicators). The first photo shows Wood Sedge at the top left and the larger leaved Thin-spiked Wood Sedge at the bottom right. The other photo shows Thin-spiked Wood Sedge. I'm really glad I have sorted these out and another new species for my list. I think I like sedges even more than grasses.
Finally, I have been watching this ugly brute by the side of the main road for the last week, it's the notorious alien Giant Hogweed. I was not familiar with the leaves and initially thought it was going to be Gunnera until it flowered. I have been meaning to get a photo but I was surprised to see it 'coned-off' today. I hope its days are numbered, it's not something I have ever seen in Sussex but the last thing we need is another alien. Especially one so dangerous it needs four cones and some barrier tape to stop it from attacking passing cars! I imagine because of photophytodermatitis there are all sorts of health and safety regulations about controlling it.
UPDATE 16/06/11: Thanks to Kingsdowner I have also been made aware that Giant Hogweed has inspired men to do other odd things over the years too. I'm not a Genesis fan but you'll see why I've included this...

1/2 inch stiletto

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 14 June 2011 20:08

About a month ago we found some long white Diptera larvae in a pile of red rot at the bottom of an oak tree in Eridge. I kept one and bred it through and found it emerged this morning. With a little help I was pointed in the direction of the stiletto-flies (thanks Mark!). I have just keyed it out and I am afraid it comes out as the least exciting species, a male Common Stiletto Thereva nobilitata. Might get this one checked though.

I also went to Eridge where this common micro was also a tick for me. Pththeochroa inopiana which feeds in the roots of Common Fleabane (that's what it's resting on) of which there is lots on site. It's quite different to other tortricoids and is interesting as it is the first one in the book. Early start for me so a short blog tonight.

Concerned with stone

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 13 June 2011 19:23

We had an interesting team day out looking at two sites in East Sussex. That didn't stop me getting six ticks though. Perhaps best of all was this smart snail. We saw three on the trunks of old Hornbeams. It's the Lapidary Snail Helicigona lapicida and is quite big, the shell perhaps 1.5 cm across. The keel on the edge is very clear although the photo is not that crisp. I had to look up 'lapidary' and I liked the first definition I came across which was 'concerned with stone'. Despite this, they do occur on trees too. Looking at the atlas, it does not look all that common in the south east.

The meadows at Marline are looking great, there are Common Spotted Orchids and Dyer's Greenweed everywhere this year.
Earlier on I found this Purple Hairstreak at rest in one of the meadows.
We then went on to Filsham where I added a couple of common hoverflies to my list and this Greater Bladderwort. After all that I end the day on 3446 species.

On the verge of madness

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 12 June 2011 19:28

Despite the horrific weather, Oli and I set out into East Sussex in search of Spiked Rampion. We found it with a little help from Penny Green and Michael Blencowe. We actually spotted it from the car. I was surprised that it had almost all gone over but we did see a few still in flower. It did recall Ribwort Plantain to some extent. We were only out of the car for ten minutes but still managed to get thoroughly soaked. Glad we went anyway as if I had waited till next weekend I don't think that there would have been any in flower. This Endangered, RDB, BAP species is entirely restricted to East Sussex. I end the weekend on 3439 species.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 11 June 2011 14:24

I've just seen my first EVER Quail!!! It was quite a surprise too. I was about half way through a farm survey and I didn't really expect to see Quail at this site. I thought I heard one about an hour earlier but it only sang once and then stopped, I waited but after a while I assumed I was hearing things. Then when walking along a field of spring barley I suddenly heard one very close and another bird sang not too far away too. Within three minutes I saw one fly perhaps 20 m and managed to focus my bins on it. Not all that different in size to a Corn Bunting but what struck me was how pale it was and of very unusual proportions. I later decided to use the Canon to take a short video. You can't see anything but you can hear in this video: two Quail, at least two Corn Buntings, numerous Skylarks and a nice surprise at about 1.30 is a Grey Partridge. There was a Whitethroat too but I don't think you can hear it. A farmland Birds of Conservation Concern choir!

However, the real surprise for me was hearing the Quail's strange 'prefix' song. You can just about hear it on the recording at about 1.05 (but I mean just). It sounds like 'mau-wau, mau-wau' and is one of the strangest sounds I have heard a bird make. I have been rather a little excited since finally nailing the Quail and it was great to write it on the survey maps. I also had another just off the farm and a possible third on the farm. The list of birds I have picked up so far has been quite surprising.

Hair like pondweed

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 10 June 2011 17:52

What a difference a space makes. I am not referring to my own bouffant, rather the aquatic macrophyte Hairlike Pondweed. Not the most inspiring of photos I am afraid but a tick for me all the same. I have been at Amberley Wildbrooks today, discussing management issues there with the RSPB and a number of local experts. It was a great meeting and the rain held off. I managed five ticks including four vascular plants which was an added bonus. 

The rarest of which was probably Cut-grass, although I didn't manage a photo. I will have to go back and get another shot later in the summer when we do the ditch monitoring. We also saw the rather impressive Sharp-leaved Pondweed, another rare species that is common enough at Amberley.
And not forgetting Great Water Parsnip which was not in flower, yet another new species for me.
Finally, we were pretty sure this was Horse Leech. I know there are not that many species of leech in Britain, certainly not ones this big. Quite an ugly brute. I end the day on 3437 species.

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