Swamp things

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 29 August 2011 18:11

I've been NVCing Waltham Brooks today and came across loads of these spiders, Araneus quadratus. They are really big and come in quite different colours. Not all that scarce, I have seen them before at Ebernoe and Amberley but I have not photographed them before. There were also lots of Great Green Bush-crickets around and I did manage to find one of the elusive (but noisy) buggers!
I managed to get about half of the site mapped today which I was really pleased with and this NVC community was a new one for me, OV30. The main two species here being Triffid Bur-marigold and Water-pepper. Many of the plants in this community are annuals that grow on bare mud that is seasonally inundated. There is a lot of it growing there and occasionally there is Fine-leaved Water-dropwort, Water Chickweed and in the ditches Flowering-rush.

Texting cows

Posted by Graeme Lyons 08:32

It surprised me yesterday that I had not yet written a blog about this Trust project so here goes. I went to Ebernoe yesterday where we are grazing the common this year with a small number of British White Cattle. As we are keen to find out where they are going within the grazing area, we are using GPS technology to track the animals. The difference to the collars we have been using for the past 2.5 years though is that they include SIM cards that text the data. They text the data directly to Germany of course where the manufacturers of the collars then email to a separate email account on my work desktop the raw data. I can then pull out the xy co-ordinates and plot them in a GIS package. So, it doesn't happen in real time, there are delays in the data coming through, partly due to the strength of the mobile phone signal (which at Ebernoe is poor). The neat thing with the collars though is that they store up the data and transmit it when the animals enter into an area of coverage. This particular collar that we use at Ebernoe is on pay as you go Vodafone as it was the best deal we could get in that area.

We have three of these collars that we can deploy on up to three herds at any one time (we only need to put one collar on one animals within a herd as they mostly stay close together). The large unit at the bottom of the collar is the battery pack and the smaller unit at the top houses the GPS and SIM card while the antenna is concealed within the collar itself. I tend to check the data first thing on a Monday morning. I'll try and get some of the maps produced by the data, it is remarkable how similar the maps look in different years even when using different individuals. Here is a link to small video of it I did for the BBC two years ago.

Finally, Dennis's Croft (a small meadow within Ebernoe) is looking great with lots of Devil's-bit Scabious, an important late summer nectar source in this habitat.

Long Pigs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 27 August 2011 18:52

I went a walk up Windover Hill with Michael Blencowe this afternoon. In amongst discussions of being decapitated by remote controlled gliders and pondering about which animal we would least like to be eaten alive by, we did manage some natural history and I did get one tick. Michael showed me the pyralid moth Mecyna flavalis. Not the best specimen or the best photo as they kept blowing away in the wind and this was the best I could do. This species is pRDB2.
I also saw my first Sussex Graylings, I haven't seen one of these butterflies for well over three years.
Also, I am glad that I realised that this wasn't an aberration Silver-spotted Skipper and actually its wings were just folded around the wrong way. I would have looked like a right lemon claiming some strange asymmetrical mutant but I liked the photo anyway. It's so obvious now I'm looking at the photo but it was quite exciting for a few minutes.

The Mist

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 23 August 2011 18:36

Southerham was very damp and bleak today, with cloying low cloud and damp still airs that carried sound clearly for miles. The low cloud had grounded quite a few migrants and we saw two Whinchats and a Redstart as well as a number of Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails.

The sward was looking in good in many places but a real surprise were two Autumn Lady's-tresses just outside a quadrat on one of the arable reversion fields.

Invertebrate-wise though there was very little happening and I wasn't expecting to see anything new. As we were walking towards the car I spotted this amazing spider hanging beneath an Upright Hedge-parsley umbel and thought I recognised it from the book as one I had not seen. I like this spider as it is easily identifiable in the field and is the only one in the genus being Neoscona adianta.

Creamy beige

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 19 August 2011 15:55

Do you like Baileys? Well you'll like this Baileys-coloured Meadow Brown I saw at Southerham this week, all creamy beige! OK, Mighty Boosh references aside now. It looked quite odd in flight and took me a little while to figure out what it was. It was quite tatty but it's definitely not just ware and tear making it look like this. I would guess at leucistic. Interestingly, the paler orange centres to the wings of a typical Meadow Brown were in fact darker than the surrounding wing area in this specimen. It would seem the orange pigments were not so strongly affected by the genetic abnormality as the darker browns were.

23/08/2011 UPDATE: I've been informed that this is in fact not a leucistic individual but a rare aberration called cinerea. Thanks Piers!

Also, Southerham is the only place I have ever seen Greater Duckweed growing in the cattle troughs! A species I usually associate with the better end of ditch quality on sites with good ditch flora.
I think Old Gregg might actually be living in there. Watcha doin' in my waters?

The Blackening

Posted by Graeme Lyons 09:22

I changed the interception traps at Cowdray yesterday for the penultimate time. I was surprised at how many beetles there were so late in the season, more than there have been earlier in the season. With some of the biggest hollow trees being present on the golf course, a funny thing occurred there yesterday when I hid inside a hollow tree to wait out a heavy rain shower. The complete surprise on a passing golfer's face as I jumped out of the tree afterwards was priceless! My explanation of what I was doing in there only seemed to confuse them even more!

I did manage one new species walking between the trees. The fungus Blackening Waxcap. I have really slowed down with the listing now, adding only two species since the start of August! I hope I can get some more fungi and lower plants this Autumn...

Shepherd's Delight

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 17 August 2011 08:28

I've not been up all night making a new rural based dessert, rather continuing with the annual bat monitoring at Ebernoe organised by BCT. Equipment again worked well and bats were recorded for more detailed analysis of their sonograms at a later date. However, with minutes before we were about to start the transect, we were confronted by this incredible view of Furnace Pond shortly after sunset. I have not in any way enhanced this photo, a moment that just could not be wasted. Sublime. Somewhere in there there are also a couple of bats but I can't pick them out at all.

Net gain

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 15 August 2011 18:04

I walked into the kitchen at Woods Mill today and looked up to see this little beauty. In fact, it's even a tick for me! Platycis minutus one of the net-winged beetles. A rather smart little beetle (Nb) that I had hoped to bump into at some point but I had not thought it would be above the tea and coffee making facilities at work. Anyway, it was a good omen and it reminded me that you never know what's around the corner...

To call each thing by its right name

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 10 August 2011 15:06

I've taken a break recently to do some soul searching and travel back to my home county of Staffordshire for the first time in 18 months. Due to last year's slipped disk and this year's perceived work commitments, I feel I have rather become a little 'lost in the wild' and have not spent enough time with my family and loved ones. Although it's too late for Jo and I, this weekend was good for our family and it was great to see so many of my family and friends. Meeting my new (now 10 month old) nephew Rowan Sorbus aucuparia for the first time was pretty rad (he's got a healthy dose of the ginger gene too!) and I also enjoyed getting to know my new brother-in-law Mark. A highlight of our walk was nearly tripping over this sausage-sized Emperor Moth caterpillar. I called it Palpatine.
And I was surprised how many Antler Moths I saw nectaring during the day time.
We went a walk on Cannock Chase a couple of times and was impressed by the flowering Heather (it's mostly NVC community H1 up there rather than the H2 we get down here) and the great swathes of U2 grassland. The only thing you need to know about the NVC community U2 is it's way cooler than the band. The Sherbrook Valley is by far the wildest part of the Chase and I had forgotten just how beautiful it looks at this time of year.
Finally, I went to Brocton Coppice to see two ancient oak trees that hold great significance for me and took the opportunity to try and make some peace with an old ghost. As ever, I failed.
"There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea and the music in its roar;
I love not man the less, but Nature more"
                                                                                         Lord Byron

Enough being pensive and ripping off 'Into the Wild' (see that film if you haven't already). Normal service will resume within the next few days when the bad puns will be coming faster than you can roll your eyes and I'll be ticking off obscure invertebrates faster than you can read their Latin names!

1st August - Pan-species list update

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 1 August 2011 16:50

It's been two months since I last showed how my list has changed. Back then, on the 31st May I was on 3397, by the 31st July I was on 3601 species! So I have added 204 species in two months. I might have stopped trying to get to 4000 species but I am heading there anyway without any real effort beyond going to work and identifying things I see whilst I'm surveying.

I have added a few really nice species recently that for one reason or another didn't make it into a blog post. The rarest is perhaps a beetle that I caught at Parham last Monday (25th July). Whilst moth trapping I did a bit of torching on oak trunks and netted a tenebrionid in flight. I new it was one I had not seen and suspected it was Prionychus ater. By the time I got round to identifying it I realised it was the RDB2 Prionychus melanarius! A great find.

Another surprise came when I suddenly realised that the huge spiders with tubercles on their abdomens that I saw at Friston on the 30th June when moth trapping were not Gibbaranea gibbosa but actually the Nb Araneus angulatus. I wish I had managed a photo now, quite a large spider, certainly bigger than any Araneus diadematus that I have seen. This just goes to show, moth-trapping is great for getting you out into wild places after dark with a torch, something that few people do. Pan-species listing has made moth trapping even more exciting for me!

Here is how the list breaks down:

Vascular plants 1144 (+49)
Moths 828 (+24)
Birds 335 (+1)
Beetles 381 (+61)
Fungi 150
Mosses 111 (+2)
True flies 82 (+15)
True bugs 76 (+23)
Arachnids 74 (+6)
Molluscs 60 (+2)
Aculeates 56 (+12)
Butterflies 53 (+2)
Mammals 38
Fish 37
Dragonflies 32 (+1)
Liverworts 28
Lichens 27 (+1)
Crustaceans 24
Crickets & grasshoppers 19
Amphibians 6
Reptiles 6
Seaweeds & algae 6
Anemones & jellyfish 5
Mites 5 (+4)
Cockroaches 3
Lacewings & allies 3
Millipede 3
Caddiesflies 2
Centipedes 2
Leeches                         2 (+1)
Earwigs 1
Ant-lion 1
Lice                                1

Harvest Crunch

Posted by Graeme Lyons 13:11

I have been having a few problems with my computer and camera recently, hence the dearth of posts. I have however, still been seeing shed loads of natural history.

However, the first thing I have to say is that I have finished the farm surveys!!! It has been an incredible experience, walking just shy of 600 miles, around 5000 in the car, 54 early starts over a nine month period. All this on top of a full time job. And even nine months into a survey and new birds were still being recorded. On Saturday I was searching for arable plants on a tiny corner that was quite productive last month. I was close to a high hedge and looked up to see a raptor circling. I focused my bins and shouted (to myself - getting really at good at that) Honey Buzzard! It immediately flew west and disappeared behind the hedge where I got a brief view of its 'spirit level' straight wings as it flew directly away from me. I wished I had had a better look at it but I was confident enough. A report of a bird on BirdGuides flying south west elsewhere in Hampshire was reassuring.

Honey Buzzard was the 10th species of raptor I have seen during these surveys. From commonest to rarest, this is what I have seen:

Red Kite
Hen Harrier
Honey Buzzard
Black Kite

Which I think is pretty amazing and it goes to show how, if you watch a place long enough and hard enough you can pick up good birds, even if it's not a nature reserve.

On Saturday I also found some larvae of the Na moth the Striped Lychnis. This is a BAP species and a new one for me, I have been expecting to see them in this area based on what I have read about them. Search for them on the flowering spikes of Dark Mullein in far West Sussex and Hamsphire. The closely related Mullein will also take Dark Mullein but is a larva earlier in the year. The larvae I saw today were quite early instars, the biggest no more than 15 mm long, there were five individuals on two spikes. These two moths are much easier to separate as larvae. I also found some Cionus weevils but I have struggled to get past a final couplet of species in the key. As it is the 1st of the month today, I will also do a long overdue pan-species list update. The end of July has been incredibly productive for me and despite scaling back the listing, I am at the time of writing on 3600 species.

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