Thor's Kin

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 30 December 2011 11:53

I went to see my good friend and tattooist Gerry Carnelly in Derby and we went out to Thor's Cave in the Manifold Valley, Staffordshire. This is one of the most striking places I have ever been too and I am always captivated by the sheer scale of this cave entrance. I took the high powered torch in the hope of finding some moths and spiders. However, progress was impeded by me stopping to look at every moss on the limestone walls. They were indeed a varied bunch with a lot of overlap with mosses that I see on the Downs. The striking moss I found at Woods Mill (Anomodon viticulosus) was plentiful as were Ctenidium mollusconum and the liverwort Plagiochila porelloides. I spotted this rather broad-leaved acrocarp with a glaucous tint to it and managed to get it to species. It's Encalypta streptocarpa and has the rather stupid English name of Spiral Extinguisher-moss that is about as useless at helping me with the ID as the Latin name is!
The Manifold Valley is over-shadowed by the more popular Dovedale but nothing at Dovedale compares to Thor's Cave AND I reckon there are SEVERAL order's of magnitude more people at Dovedale. I have found you have to queue there to cross the stepping stones. Not my idea of fun. I was a bit gutted that I only heard a Dipper very briefly but I did get to grips with this moss that was growing all along the Manifold. It's Cinclidotus fontinaloides and is perhaps my last new species of the year. I doubt I will get any further than 3735 now.
Anyway, enough mosses. The cave is where all the fun is. After a steep climb you finally come to the vast house-sized entrance of the cave. You have to clamber up a rather slippy limestone entrance to find a huge entrance chamber. If you know where to go and you have a decent torch you can go quite far in and that's where all the fun stuff is. I spotted the rather awesome cave spider Meta menardi deep in the cave. This is a big creepy spider and if we had found this on the podcast (like I had hoped) Blencowe would have been quaking in his boots.
We also found five Tissues (fortunately they were unused) hibernating in the back of the cave but no Heralds.
It was a great day and I was grateful to have the high-powered torch with me. I'll leave you with this monstrosity. It looks like one of the dead facehuggers from Alien but it was actually quite a large fungus (20cm long) that had started to decompose. It was totally out of the light where it was growing.
Although this part of Staffordshire is a world away from where I grew up, it's a magical place that I do not think of as Staffordshire as I walk around it. It is a beautiful county really if you can get over the cold, the lack of species and the lack of coastline. Watch out Sussex I'm coming home!

Riddles in the Dark

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 26 December 2011 13:36

What did you get for Christmas? I struck gold. Goblin Gold in fact. I have been more than a little obsessed with the moss Schistostega pennata ever since I realised it has the colloquial name of Goblin Gold (and also Luminous Moss). When I also discovered that it reflected light back at you I just had to see it. Using some grid references I found by looking into a crystal ball (NBN Gateway) I headed to the Forest of Doom (Cannock Chase) with my trusty elven sidekick (my niece Jessica) on a quest for treasure. Milford Common is part way between Rugeley and Stafford, and as well as being the place I once saw Belted Kingfisher, it is also a place that triggers many fond memories. Armed with nothing more than an enchanted amulet (GPS) and a magical spyglass (hand lens), I parked the Pegasus (P-reg Fiesta) on the stony plateau (pay and display carpark) and headed into the forest...

...Firstly I found a liverwort new to me growing on a sandy outcrop. It was Calypogeia arguta with distinct little divergent teeth on the leaves but sadly the photos did not come out well. I also saw a bunch of Fairies mug a Goldcrest for a winter gnat. What is the world coming too? One of these sentences is true, you chose.

I found this pretty little micro moth in a cave but it's a common one I have seen before. Agonopterix ocellana.
Sadly, the small patch of Goblin Gold I did find was looking a bit tired and old (2nd photo) and was not reflecting the light in the exciting way I had hoped. It is not surprising that there is Goblin Gold about in these parts as in Rugeley on Christmas Eve, I also saw a number of Goblins (chavs) but I didn't approach them as they had a Cave Troll (a massive chav). I put Sting back in its scabbard (CD case) and returned home with two new notches on my belt (pan-species list) whilst listening to the Pixies (Pixies). Anyway, I will have to go and find some more Goblin Gold in some more substantial caves further north. I think a trip to the Peak District is on the cards...

(I don't actually like Sting by the way but I needed to put that in to make the joke)

My top ten natural history moments of 2011

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 22 December 2011 19:36

10). Finishing the South Downs arable bird survey single-handed

So it took nine months, I walked nearly 600 miles and I saw some great things including: Honey Buzzard, Quail, Black Kite, Hawfinch, Waxwing, Hen Harrier, Striped Lychnis, Night-flowering Catchfly (photo), Blue Pimpernel, White Horehound and Narrow-fruited Cornsalad. It was a privilege to complete the contract so a big thank you to Natural England, everyone who helped and all the farmers.

9). Five new birds for me and all of them in Sussex!
It's great when you don't have to go that far to twitch. Quail I found myself out working (I'll cover that on its own below), Little Crake at Arundel, White-winged Black Tern at Chichester, Pallid Harrier at Burpham and Isabelline Wheatear (photo) that turned up within a few miles of me for just one day near Beachy Head were all welcome additions to my list. I think the harrier was the best bird of the year.

8). My first trip to the New Forest
If only we could turn back time and do things a little differently. I saw some great things but learnt a valuable lesson about how far obsession can go. Here is a rather smart longhorn that I saw quite a few of in the forest, Stictoleptura scutellata.

7). Time in the field with Howard Matcham
I spent some great days out with Howard this year and made a great new friend. We went to Ebernoe, Wakehurst Place even Ladies Winkins! Howard added perhaps 40-50 species to my list but this photo was my favourite,  Dark Honey Fungus.

6). Seeing three Quail in one day
I can't remember the last time I found a lifer (a bird lifer). I think it was perhaps Glossy Ibis at Dunge in 2001. So, to find my first Quail was a real treat and then one month later to see three in one day was ludicrous. Here is the worst photo of a pair of Quail in flight that has ever been taken.

5). My encounter with Shelob
There are few things that make me jump (other than E.T.) but this did. When I coaxed this spider out of a wall in Chichester it just kept coming. What an absolute beast. It might be an alien but it made my day! It's Segestria florentina and if you have the balls for it I would go and have a look.

4). Cowdray invertebrates
Hollow trees, golf balls and a number of species new to Sussex. The first Wood Crickets in the county. An RDB saproxylic micro moth called Dystebenna stephensii new to Sussex. This rather handsome click beetle Ampedus cardinalis. However, one day in the field with Mark Telfer I heard him say something I have never heard him say. "What the *@#£ is that!?" in reference to a strange looking beetle that I had just found. It was only the RDB1 Laemophloeus monilis. A huge thank you to Mark for being such a help with everything natural history and giving me the beetle bug.

3). Finding a Black Kite during a farm survey
Perhaps the bird I expected to see least on a farm survey was Black Kite. Especially as it was fighting one of those common or garden Red Kites. I was a little excited.

2). The Podcast
The most fun three men can have with a microphone and some wildlife. I'm happy that people like it but I wouldn't mind if they didn't as I have so much fun recording with with Michael and Mat that anything else is a bonus. I love our theme tune that much it's my ringtone on my phone!

1). Crimson Speckled
It was a great autumn for moths and we might have seen more Flame Brocades than anyone in over a hundred years but that was nothing compared to my strange encounter with a Crimson Speckled. So, I have added 710 species so far this year. I might add a few more but not many. I'm winding down and next year will be much slower. 19% of everything I have ever seen, I have seen this year for the first time! That is crazy. Anyway, the next thousand is going to be much more chilled out.

I got some photos in British Wildlife

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 19 December 2011 20:40

I was pleased to see my Silver-studded Blue butterfly photo in the excellent journal British Wildlife today. Robin Crane has written an article on the South Downs National Park which I will be reading right about now. It's great that the Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves are getting a big mention and that lots of other friends have photos in there too!

Check out this freaky aphid!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 15 December 2011 17:42

I went back to the area of Field Maples and willows where I found some interesting mosses yesterday. It's great having a new 'patch' I can work within a hundred yards of my office. I was trying to figure out if I had found another new liverwort or just a different form of something more familiar when I spotted these little weirdos shuffling around in a crack in some willow bark. They are Large Willow Aphids Tuberolachnus salignus and I have never heard of them before. Easy enough to identify online, read more about them on this page. What is strange about them is that they overwinter as adults. They are meant to be quite common on willow bark and are one of the biggest aphids in the UK, they were certainly pretty visible today. What may look like a male and female is most likely just a winged and an unwinged female as the males have not been recorded in the UK. In the background you can see just how small Fairy Beads are. The liverwort I originally spotted turned out to be just a small green form of Frulania dilatata but it lead me to something completely unexpected. Awesome.

Alkaline Trio

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 14 December 2011 18:05

I had a rather dull walk around Woods Mill this lunch time with my highlight being a fly over Cormorant (wahoo!). On a whim I decided to have a closer look at some mature Field Maples that I walk past most days. I was instantly confronted by a large moss that I didn't recognise. I thought it might of been Mnium hornum but I soon realised it was a pleurocarp and all the stem branches were running downwards, it's called Anomodon viticulosus. It was growing in discrete, bright-green patches that shrivel up really quickly when you leave them on your desk! It was growing beneath large areas of this moss, Neckera complanata.
Growing on the same tree I also noticed this little bryophyte. I was perplexed until I saw a dried up one. It's only Prince of Wales Feather-moss Leptodon smithii. I went all the way to Goodwood to look for this just a few weeks ago and all along it was growing right under my nose. The base-rich nature of the bark clearly results in a distinct community of mosses. I will be giving this area a good going over over the next few lunch breaks.

Episode Three of our podcast is out now!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 13 December 2011 19:01

Here is The Natural History of Sussex Episode Three: "I love the dark, I hate nature". I hope you enjoy it, I think it's our best one yet.

A rose by any other name

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 11 December 2011 18:07

I went in search of Rose-moss Rhodobryum roseum today at Heyshott Down, I failed. I did however, have just enough time to get up to Midhurst Cemetery and find it there (thanks Howard). It's a lovely acrocarp (would you believe those two words could occur in the same sentence?) with 'huge' green rosettes. I spotted this Scapania aspera at Heyshott which is a nice liverwort that I have seen one tiny bit of at Ditchling. Both sites are great for bryophytes. Chalk-grassland bryophytes are awesome and they are a varied bunch with a lot of diversity.

Little green job

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 9 December 2011 18:12

I called in at Ditchling Beacon yesterday and boy was it bleak. Driving rain and a wind so strong it actually blew my camera case right off of my camera. I struggle with the tiny acrocarps but have often seen this one at Ditchling and decided it was time to figure it out. Under the microscope, you can clearly see the ID feature that separates it from others in the genus, the slightly projecting midrib. It's Trichostomum brachydontium.

UPDATE 10/12/2011: The above identification is wrong. Howard suggested that this species often gets confused with Barbula unguiculata. Told you I struggle with these! My moss is actually way too small to be Trichostomum and is in fact Barbula unguiculata.

I also saw Harebell in flower, a Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetle but best of all a Black Redstart. This is the first time I have seen one on a Trust reserve. I end the day on 3727. I have finally found a new house to live and will be moving over the next month. I am really excited about having access to a garden again after so many years. Now, the one good thing about Christmas is that once a year my work colleagues actually socialise, in a real pub with real booze. Tonight is that night, so don't be expecting any posts tomorrow!

Knowing your limits

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 6 December 2011 20:04

Not been feeling too great for the last few days but was keen to get back to work.I had arranged to take a group of students from Plumpton College to talk about conservation grazing at Malling Down and I didn't want to let them down. My back eased up over the morning so I went ahead. We had a good walk around the site and I spotted these black fungi growing out of the grass in the area known as Green Pits. They are earthtongues but of what species? I found a good online key but I couldn't get very far without a high-powered microscope. I am pretty confident it's in the genus Trichoglossum but I don't want to go any further than that as there are a number of species in the genus and microscope features are required to identify them. Still, I have learnt something new today and that's always a good thing.

The Descent

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 4 December 2011 20:45

We recorded the rest of Episode 3 of our podcast 'The Natural History of Sussex'  with special guest Tony Hutson today. We went to a series of undisclosed locations and I saw at least four species new to me. Best of all was my first ever Brown Long-eared Bat! Not the rarest of bats but certainly one I have managed to miss for many years. Other highlights included this strange cave dwelling fly called Scoliocentra villosa.
These cave dwelling spiders were quite common but I have seen them before in other caves. It's a male Metellina merianae.
Outside we saw these smart fungi growing on the root plates of fallen trees. I am pretty sure these are called Brick Tufts. A great day out and I can't wait to hear Mat's magical editing once more!

Axil Rose

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 3 December 2011 17:36

I have finished my courses for the year and today was a good one. I enjoy giving Habitat Management for Invertebrates as it's easy to see people's minds open up to new ideas. Whilst describing ecotones and showing the sort of Blackthorn that Brown Hairstreaks are fond of laying their eggs on I tried an experiment. I sent the 10 attendees into the edge of the scrub to look for eggs and without really knowing what they were looking for except for a verbal description from me (and where to look - the axils of the twigs), someone found one within two minutes. Pretty little things under the hand lens but the photo didn't really pick it up.

1st December - Pan-species list update

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 1 December 2011 20:44

October and November have been really good months, I've added 39 and 51 species respectively and of these 58 were lower plants, particularly fungi (of which I have now seen 200 species). Pan-species listing is slowly taking off with 16 people now having submitted their lists. I have been thinking recently about how good this is. As I have said many times before, the number that represents the list is a meaningless way of quantifying a lifetimes achievement in natural history but what it represents is profound. Are we witnessing the beginnings of a renaissance of the all-round naturalist? I think so and I think Mark Telfer has done a great thing here by encouraging this behaviour. So between the 1st October and the end of November 2011 I have added 90 species and I end on 3718 species.

The mushroom above is Agaricus macrocarpus and I stumbled upon it shortly after some idiot had carried out some rural graffiti. I was trying to demonstrate how yellow this amazing fungus went when scratched (a bit like writing your name in the snow). We found these at The Mens in mid November and I first thought it was going to be a Yellow Stainer but I was struck by how intense a smell of marzipan there was. I sent some specimens to Vivien Hodge and she confirmed it as A. macrocarpus. This is only the second record for West Sussex and the third for Sussex. A white mushroom that turns yellow when you scratch the surface and smells of marzipan. I think it should be called the Christmas Cake Mushroom.

Anyway, here is the list.

Vascular plants 1149 (+2)
Moths 834 (+5)
Beetles 392  (+5)
Birds 338 (+2)
Fungi 200 (+46)
Mosses 118 (+7)
Arachnids 85 (+6)
True flies 84 (+1)
True bugs 79
Molluscs 63 (+2)
Aculeates 57 (+1)
Butterflies 53
Mammals 40 (+1)
Fish 37
Dragonflies 32
Liverworts 32 (+5)
Lichens 27
Crustaceans 26 (+2)
Crickets & grasshoppers 19
Seaweeds & algae 7 (+1)
Amphibians 6
Reptiles 6
Anemones & jellyfish 5
Mites 5
Lacewings & allies 4
Cockroaches 3
Millipedes 3
Leeches                         3 (+1)
Caddisflies 2
Centipedes 2
Slime Mould 2 (+2)
Lice                                1
Silverfish 1
Earwigs 1
Mayfly 1 (+1)

Which is already out of date as I added a new liverwort from Leconfield today, the rather smart Scapania nemorea. Species 3719, you can see it covered in little brown gemmae. Oh and the next podcast is about to go into production.

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