Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 29 September 2011 22:35

NEWT: 'My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are'

Man, I'm a bit gutted that I am missing a screening of 'Aliens' at the Duke of York's tonight (I can't stay up until 2.00 am on a school night!). So, here is the next best thing. I had my first encounter with the very rare Fen Raft Spider Dolomedes plantarius in East Sussex today. It might only be a youngster but it was still pretty impressive.

The Genus Stenus

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 28 September 2011 18:53

Whilst sampling aquatic invertebrates yesterday at Woods Mill I spotted a small rove beetle in the tray and thought I would attempt to identify it. There are more species of rove beetles in the UK than there are macro moths, over a thousand! This is around a quarter of all beetles so I can't ignore them forever. I bought the key to Staphylinidae by Derek Lott and Roy Anderson in the summer but have not really used it much. The beetle I found yesterday is clearly in the genus Stenus, of which there are 74 species!

It did key out quite easily though and I managed to get it to species, Stenus solutus. I read a little more into the natural history of the genus and discovered something quite remarkable. As these species live by water, they have an adaptation for getting back into emergent vegetation. They land on the surface tension of the water and secrete a strong detergent. This reduces the surface tension at one end of the beetle, producing a net force in the direction they wish to travel. How cool is that?!

Pond dipping for grown ups

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 27 September 2011 18:52

OK so I hadn't quite finished my field work. I have wanted to initiate some standardised aquatic invertebrate monitoring on the lake at Woods Mill for some time. This is to gauge the effectiveness of any future management.. Ideally three visits are needed in spring, summer and autumn. I started by defining the mesohabitats and these were: floating broad-leaved aquatics, fine-leaved submerged aquatics, leaf litter under alder and willow carr, reed dominated margins and sedge dominated margins. Three minutes of sampling was divided up between the five mesohabitats. Three of these needed a boat to get to due to the size of the lake.
Invertebrates were sorted in the field and stored in alcohol for later identification. Unsurprisingly there wasn't a lot of invertebrates to be seen, plenty of room for improvement. A big thank you to Alex Collins for helping out today and to Fran Southgate for taking the photos. I certainly miss being out on a boat. What a coincidence, I seem to have found myself out of the office for the next three days and the weather forecast looks rather good...

Lipstick of the woods

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 25 September 2011 17:15

Oli and I went to search for Dog Stinkhorn today at Ebernoe Common. The first fungus we saw were the Ballerinas or Pink Waxcaps that are pretty much guaranteed at this time of year in Ebernoe Churchyard. We also met two mycologists in the churchyard, Nigel Reeve and Richard Bullock. I mentioned our quest for the little stinker and they told us that they could show us a spot where they saw them last year. We got there and there were none to be seen. I was pretty much about to give up and look elsewhere when Richard spotted this one, a big thanks Richard. Man alive, what a strange and disgusting looking thing it is. I had a good sniff off it at close range, although subtle compared to the regular Stinkhorn, it did smell a little less like a rotting corpse and a bit more like a dog poo. Unsurprisingly, wretching ensued once more. I have a far too sensitive nose for such antics.

I also saw my first Chanterelle, I am not sure how I have managed to miss this species for so long. Other notable finds included Grey Club and this Elfin Saddle. I end the day on 3621 species.

Dark Star

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 24 September 2011 13:37

DOOLITTLE: "What is your one purpose in life?"
BOMB: "To explode, of course"

During a rare trip into town to buy some new walking boots for work, I called in at the Dumb Waiter on Sydney Street for some lunch. I had a call from Tony a few weeks ago saying he had some earthstars growing in the garden but this is the first chance I have had to take a look. I am sure they are Collared Earthstars, the only earthstar I have ever seen but then only twice. Both in conifer plantations at The Lodge and closer to home at Graffham Common. These are growing under a kiwi tree in Brighton's North Laine where it is very dark due to the dense canopy of leaves, a place I often retreat to in the heat of summer. I am fairly sure this is the first time they have appeared there. The photo was taken with my camera phone and I am really pleased with the shot considering the poor light. As ever the food was great! Om nom nom.

Actually, I think it reminds me a little of the Planet Defender Ion Cannon from The Empire Strikes Back...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 23 September 2011 19:47

I found a bug that I had not seen before today on the side of the class room at work. I think that may be the first Het that I have added to my list for a couple of months. It's the late flying and ridiculously named Pantilius tunicatus. Today is also significant as I have finished all my field work for another year. I am both pleased that it's all finished and saddened in equal measures. I must now prepare myself for a winter in the office. I think if I didn't have to do this each year I would go completely nuts.

The UK's smallest vascular plant

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 21 September 2011 17:07

I called in briefly at Lewes Railways Lands yesterday to see the country's smallest vascular plant, Rootless Duckweed Wolffia arrhiza. Michael Blencowe informed me of its presence there a few weeks back and took me to the exact spot. It looks like algae from a distance and feels quite odd to the touch, a little like couscous or Hundreds and Thousands. Dwarfed even by Least Duckweed, this really is an odd plant. I've always wanted to see this species and it brings my pan-species list up to 3615. It did however not feel like a plant tick, more like alien baby food. I think I look quite at home in a ditch!

Valley of the Lost Raptors

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 20 September 2011 21:07

I woke up early this morning and read through emails stating that the problem harrier at Burpham had been confirmed as a juvenile Pallid Harrier. I was just thinking that I should have gone at the weekend when I got a text from Jake Everitt saying he had just seen it. Before I new it I was on the A27. I figured I would have about 1 hr and 45 mins before it would make me late for work.

It had not shown for about three hours and I was starting to get that dipping feeling. I really wanted to avoid that feeling but we were getting a relentless display of raptors. In addition, more Grey Partridge than I have seen or heard all year. The classy male Hen Harrier that landed in front of us to eat a vole (in rather large chunks) that we had just seen it catch, was beginning to feel like a booby prize. A welcome booby prize but still a booby prize.

I had ten minutes to go and I spotted a brown harrier heading towards us from over the horizon and as it came closer (being mobbed by a Merlin) it was clear that this was the Pallid Harrier! It then came close, landing in the field in front of us, then quartering along the hedge and showing off all its ID features. This really is a stunning bird, made all the more exciting by how surprised I was by this. I have seen juvenile Montagu's Harrier before but it wasn't quite as vibrant and contrasting as this bird is. I asked Matt Eade if he would mind if I showed some of his pictures off on my blog and he was kind enough to forward them to me. Have a look at Matt's blog, Seaford Birding, for more of his wildlife photography. Thanks Matt! Now, after that, the twitch is definitely back on. I've already been to look at Britain's smallest vascular plant this evening but that will have to wait for tomorrow...

Can you see the invisible spider?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 19 September 2011 18:53

This is the Invisible Spider Drapetisca socialis, it's quite a common spider on tree trunks. I tend to see it on trees with smoother bark like this Ash or Beech. I was at Ditchling Beacon today repeating some fixed-point photography. I did get one tick, the unremarkable snail known as the Lesser Bulin Ena obscura which was also at rest on a tree trunk.

Perhaps the most surprising thing though was a very late and very tatty Silver-spotted Skipper nectaring on Devil's-bit Scabious.

Short and sweet

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 16 September 2011 17:56

Finished the NVC at Waltham faster than I was expecting and I'm half way through digitising already. Got a plant tick (Small Sweet-grass) thanks to a tip off. It's got short, tapering, slightly glaucous leaves and is loads smaller than all the other Glycerias. Couple of Blackwits on the lake. This post title works on so many levels.

How to NVC map a nature reserve - part 1

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 14 September 2011 20:08

I'm not doing as much natural history this year as this time last year so I thought I would concentrate on something different and offer up some fiel work mapping experience. I thought it was about time we had a detailed, accurate and updated NVC map for Waltham Brooks. August was the month I planned to do the mapping but that has drifted into September now. That's not a problem though as wetlands are quite easy to map and the vegetation persists at this time of year. So how do you go about doing it? Recent aerial photographs are vital for this procedure in order to maintain accuracy. If you have them in a GIS package all the better. Make the photograph transparent so that you can draw on a print out easily with pencil but still see detail in the photo. Once you have series of maps at a suitable scale, chuck them in your Weatherwriter and head out into the field. Even with a Weatherwrite though, this becomes near impossible to do in rain.

When I start a new NVC, even if I am familiar with the site I always start by a walk around the site. I use this time to deside what communties are present and if I cannot instantly asign an NVC community to a patch of vegetation, then at least I can define it at this time. Once I've done this I start the mapping which can be quite labour intensive. As you need to cover the whole site, it means you need to cover it in a level of detail that you are unlikely to replicate during any other task. It's this reason why it's a great way to monitor a site, particularly where stands of plants tend to be species poor and quadrats become fairly meaningless. In this shot you can see the communities MG9, MG10 and W1. In addition, look carefully and you can see, the world's smallest rainbow!
Once I have finished the mapping I can start the second phase, digitising! Once the communities are mapped and stored on the computer, they can be used as a back drop to any other map and the total size of the communities present can be calculated, a really valuable resource as both a baseline and a tool for guiding management. I'll show the final 'product' in the exciting second part to this article later in the year...

The natural history of...trolls!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 12 September 2011 18:57

Warning, this post contains spoilers! Do you know your Ringlefinches from your Mountain Kings? Probably not because as far as I know there are no trolls in Sussex (but I guess if there were they would be somewhere in Ebernoe). The Troll Hunter was one of the most engaging and original films I have seen in years, difficult even to pin to a genera as it is so much more than either a monster movie or a comedy. But the reason I am writing about it on this blog is the level of detail that went into thinking about the natural history in this film, albeit completely fantastical. As a naturalist I found this really exciting and it added to the dry, understated humour of the film. The recording proforma that I am so familiar with was used in this film, even if it was to record the slaying of a troll! And who knew that pylons were just giant electric fences to keep the trolls out?!

It is the Troll Hunter himself though who steals the show. He is an impressive character, always remaining calm (except for one moment when he yells 'TRRRRRRROLL!!!') against some pretty colossal opponents and he appears capable throughout. His respect for his quarry is evident and he is clearly a reluctant hunter, openly showing the toll his troll hunting post for the TSS has had upon him over the years. Apparently there is such a thing as too much field work!

I would whole heartedly recommend seeing this film, especially at the cinema. If you don't like the fantastical then I guess this is not for you but it doesn't take itself too seriously. That said it plays it pretty straight and dead pan too at times. I'm not sure this film could have been made in the UK because it is this unlikely balance that produces a simple honesty which harks back to an age lost here. This seems to be thriving in Scandinavian cinema, I think we are just too cynical. That said, the Americans are working on a remake - I'll be sticking to the original thanks. Oh and the only bird I heard in the whole film was a Cuckoo, I was hoping for some owls. Go and see it!

Cage fighting

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 9 September 2011 16:26

A visit to Levin Down today to discuss the site's management. It's looking great this year due to all Mark's and the volunteers' efforts. The grassland is richer in nectar sources and structure and large areas of low growing woody vegetation seem to be under control. It really feels like we are turning a corner. I saw Eyebright sp. growing at a density greater than I have ever seen before.
Juniper regeneration remains a problem but an attempt by Plantlife to produce seedlings using cages next to viable female Juniper plants has been successful! I only looked at one cage but there were five seedlings that I could see within one quadrant of the cage, great news!

We spotted this Clouded Yellow too, the first one I have seen this year. Other than that, a few Yellow Wagtails were the only other migrants.

Primary hobby meets secondary hobby

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 7 September 2011 07:52

It's interesting how many references there are to broken marriages, failed careers and therapists in this trailer. I just saw someone else blog about this film and I'm afraid I simply had to just rip them off. It's not often my primary hobby (natural history) collides head long with my secondary hobby (movies) in any other way than my page on bird song in films (oh I added Goldrest the other day in 'The Skin I live In'). I have to say, if it wasn't for the fact that this film is based on a book by a birder and is therefore about birds and listing, it would probably fall into a category of films I would avoid. I'm not really a fan of American comedy (my worst nightmare is watching an episode of 'Friends'). However, I will certainly give it a watch but I think I'll perhaps wait until it comes out on DVD as I don't know anyone who would want to come and see it with me! The Big Year comes out over here on the 11th November. How long until they make a film about pan-species listers? Now that could be interesting, as long as either David Fincher or Christopher Nolan direct and I'm played by Gary Oldman...

Back and blue

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 6 September 2011 16:41

After eight months, my slipped disk has reared its ugly head, hence the dearth of posts over the last week. Today was my first day back at work since Thursday. Steve, Alex and I went to look at a small area that we manage to discuss the future of the site. The site is fairly small and simple with M25, W16 and some dense stands of Bracken. Within the area of M25, small numbers of Marsh Gentian can be found and Steve found one today. I was pleased to see this scarce plant still present on the site (and it was also a new species for me!). I was surprised at how big the flower was, quite a stunner. It's not yet fully opened and I have to say the camera hasn't really picked up the deep blue of the petals. My updated list stands at 3610.

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