"...thousands of eggs there, thousands of eggs!"

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 30 April 2012 22:11

OK, maybe not thousands but I wanted to put a reference to Alien in this blog post. Sorry about the blurred photo too but this strange beetle would not keep still. It's a female Hylecoetus dermestoides and I spotted it at Ebernoe today ovipositing on a Beech snag. It was relentlessly laying eggs up and down a long crack. So, I decided to have a quick go of filming it and I think it came out quite well, I must remember to do more filming. I saw my first Red-headed Cardinal and Rhagium mordax today too, so things are finally happening. I also finally heard a Cuckoo and a Garden Warbler. Maybe we will start to get some good birds turning up soon too, it's been way too quiet this spring.

The buoy with tits

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 28 April 2012 12:51

This is no ordinary buoy. For the second year in a row, this life buoy by the side of the lake at Woods Mill has been home to a pair of nesting Blue Tits. What I love about this, is that it shows how opportunistic wildlife is. We have our anthropomorphized opinions on what exactly wildlife needs to survive but really when it comes down to it, as long as something ticks a few essential boxes (in this case, it's dry, difficult to get into if you are bigger than a Blue Tit and near to food) it will suffice. I think we should advise and educate from a 'first-principal', resource requirements approach, rather than a prescriptive and specific approach. Blue Tits don't need nest boxes, they need a dry hole that bigger animals can't get into. I have seen Blue Tits nest in places that have completely surprised me, branches smaller in diameter than your average nest box, holes in walls, life buoys etc. 

I completed the fourth visit of the Woods Mill CBC yesterday. A few highlights included three singing Nightingales (one down on last year but maybe I just didn't hear it, they have remarkable site fidelity), one Lesser Whitethroat, a Yellowhammer and two Little Egrets over. If you would like to learn how to survey for birds, I am running a course at Woods Mill on the 19th and 20th May. You need some prior knowledge of birds and bird song but some tuition will be given on the day to get everyone up to the same level. I will cover Common Birds Census, Breeding Bird Survey and point counts amongst other techniques. To book, please contact Filma Dyer on 01273 497561 or email filmadyer@sussexwt.org.uk and quote my website so I'll know if this works!

Spider catches itself

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 27 April 2012 17:33

This small, hairy and well marked crab spider handed itself in today. I found it crawling around on my net at Chailey Warren, one of the only spiders I saw there. At first, I struggled with the ID, thinking it was a Philodromus but I soon realised it had to be Thanatus striatus (species 3872). As a way of getting to grips with and understanding whole groups, I may try a new feature called something like: 'Where I'm at with...spiders' for example. Looking closely at what proportion of the fauna I have seen, what areas I am struggling with, highlights and species I'd like to see etc. I wonder if this would be useful for other people? It certainly would for me.

What do you get if you cross Jabba the Hutt with a raspberry?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 26 April 2012 20:51

This ugly critter, which is surely the larvae of a Bloody-nosed Beetle. I found this at Friston Forest today crawling around in the grass in exactly the same place I saw the adults a couple of years ago. Other highlights today included the impressive staph and beetle tick Othius punctulatus (species 3870) and two Adders. I also saw my first Grizzled and Dingy Skippers of the year. This is gonna be a short one today as I have an early start tomorrow and I'm not used to them this year, I always find it harder to get up early when I have fewer bird surveys to do, must be the lack of routine.

Creatures of shadow and flame

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 24 April 2012 23:35

The Lyons Den is two years old today! I was thinking how much things have changed in these two years with the blog becoming well received and this then leading on to pan-species listing and of course the podcast. I think it has been a worthwhile use of my time and despite feeling like I was going to jack it in a few months back, I am very much here to stay.
So, today I was doubtful for a story to mark the second birthday but boy was I wrong! Whilst downing a pint of coffee this morning, I was flicking through British Wildlife. I Googled this new Rambur's Pied Shieldbug Tritomega sexmaculataus so I would know what to look for. I ended up on the British Bugs website and then on Ashley Wood's Flickr account. I then saw a load of photos of Firebugs Pyrrhocoris apterus on Ashley's account taken in Sussex just days before! Now, I am friends with Ashley on Facebook so by mid morning I had the gen and was hurtling down to Sompting on my lunch break. I counted 80 Firebugs in a short stretch of road verge on the north side of the A27. They seem to be in a narrow (20 cm) litter layer under the mallow and between the concrete foot path. Cool looking things, I have not seen them in the UK and probably last saw them in Menorca 20 years ago. A big thank you to Ashley's son, Steve Jeffs, as it was him who found them. Watch out for the superficially similar Corizus hyoscyami, I have seen this a few times in Sussex.
Then things got really exciting when I spotted this massive (15 mm long) weevil! I thought I had found the very rare Liparus germanus but with a little help from Andy Phillips and Mark Telfer, I realised it's the nationally scarce (Nb) Liparus coronatus. I love it when you go looking for something exciting and you find something even more exciting. What an amazing looking weevil. Two ticks for the price of one and all within 8 miles of my office. I love the Internet.
Some stats from the blog: I have had 20,321 people look at the blog with over 122,309 page views. I have made 555 posts, which works out to around 3/4 days. I'm quite pleased with 185 followers and over 1900 followers on Twitter. I look forward to more antics in the coming years! A big thank you to all the people who have helped and contributed over the years. I end the day on 3869 species.

Episode Six is out now!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 23 April 2012 21:50

I can't believe we've been doing the podcast for half a year already! Here is the link to Episode Six: "The owls are not what they seem" and it's also on iTunes. The only place where you are ever likely to get Twin Peaks, Terminator 2, R2-D2 and a movie review in a podcast based entirely on natural history!

The Wrestler

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 22 April 2012 21:41

Went to Graffham this afternoon with Dave and Penny looking at spiders. We saw quite a lot of things but I failed to add a single new species to my list! Still, it was good fun and my favourite image of the day was the above male plants of Polytrichum juniperinum.

One of the most abundant spiders there is Zilla diodia with its wrestler's style mask pattern on its back (thanks for that one Dave)! This species is nationally scarce.

Outside my comfort zone...my garden

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 21 April 2012 15:13

I noticed a little flea beetle eating Sam's Wallflowers a few weeks ago but was a little unsure whether I would be able to identify it. I decided to give it a go and I'm pretty confident I have got it to species. It was clearly a Phyllotreta but the only key I have for these is Joy. Cross referencing with the checklist though, it seems that Joy is mostly valid for Phyllotreta. Being greenish with a bronzy pronotum, along with a number of other features, suggests this is Phyllotreta nigripes (species 3867).

Wax on, wax off

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 20 April 2012 19:55

I was making a cup of tea at work yesterday and I saw a beetle fly past at eye level. Mr Miyagi style, I snatched it out of the air with my hand and carried it back to my bag of pots betwixt thumb and forefinger. I could see it was an Anthrenus but I thought it was going to be the Museum Beetle. It keyed out to Anthrenus fuscus (species 3865). Quite striking under the microscope.

I spotted this Large Red Damselfly at rest on a tree at Burton Mill Pond which made a nice subject.

Isn't this a bit early for a recently fledged Tawny Owl?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 17 April 2012 19:29

This recently fledged Tawny Owl was spotted flying around Woods Mill today in broad daylight. Not something I have seen before and it also seems very early to me. Has anyone out there known Tawny Owls to fledge by mid April?

Not So Deadly Nightshade

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 16 April 2012 17:35

Well, if you're the Belladonna Flea Beetle Epitrix atropae that is. This is the characteristic feeding damage of this tiny little flea beetle that I only spotted yesterday because Dave Green asked what the plant was. I also have Dave and Penny to thank for the inspiration to take this shot with the Sun in the back ground.

Dave and Penny also showed this little moth larvae, feeding away in the old seed heads of Carline Thistle. This is Metzneria aestivella.
And of course, the rare and beautiful Pancalia schwarzella is everywhere up there right now.

Where is My Mind?

Posted by Graeme Lyons 09:59

'Oh - stop

With your feet in the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
But there's nothing in it
And you'll ask yourself

Where is my mind?
Where is my mind?
Where is my mind?'

Thanks to Jake Everitt for finding this Caterpillar Fungus Cordyceps gracilis at Mill Hill this weekend. I headed up there with Dave and Penny and sadly, my bad back tagged along too. I thought I had seen the back of it (see what I did there) but alas it appears that no amount of strengthening of my core muscles is enough to keep it at bay. It's not the disk this time though, just muscle spasm but it's very painful. The extra strong painkillers make me pretty spaced out and I can't drive with them.

Anyway, I saw the strange little fungus which was a tick for me. I found this short video from Planet Earth on YouTube which basically tells you about the genus Cordyceps. This species parisitizes Lepidoptera larvae, someone told me specifically Common Swift moth larvae, before sending the little fruiting body up out of the caterpillar's head to produce yet more of the spores. I had two more ticks at Mill Hill yesterday evening too but that will have to wait for another post...

How far would you go for a first for Sussex!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 13 April 2012 20:15

Picture the scene. I'm walking quietly through a heathery glade at Graffham Common with Jane and two chaps from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation looking for potential hibernacula. I had my net with me and took the opportunity to do a little sweeping, mainly for spiders. I look down into my net to see a small longhorn beetle which I thought was going to be Leiopus. I then realised it was actually a Pogonocherus. Looking a little closer, I noticed it lacked the horns at the back of the elytra, which meant it was the scarce one on pine. Before putting it in a pot, I needed to get a decent photo, so I placed it on some pine bark and began snapping away. Little did I know that I had knelt down in a Wood Ants nest. I suddenly found ants crawling all over me, heading down my trousers and before I knew it, I had been bitten in the worst place you could possibly be bitten by an ant! I held still until I had taken the shot but it wasn't as good as it could have been with all the shaking...
...I got back to the office and confirmed the ID as Pogonocherus fasciculatus. A new species for me! I checked the SxBRC to see there were no records and a quick phone call to Peter Hodge confirmed that this would be a county first. Peter did also say I should check that it wasn't one of the European Pogonocherus too but either way, that's a first for Sussex! This is a beetle, a longhorn beetle at that, a bird-dropping mimic, a first for me, a first for the county and it was on a Trust reserve. It doesn't get any better than that as far as I am concerned!

Other things I recorded today included this female Evarcha arcuata. Another nationally scarce species, this time a heathland specialist jumping spider.
And this nice carrion beetle, Oiceoptoma thoracica. It would not keep still for a photo, so I took a shot of the interesting red pronotum with the beetle in my grasp. The next adventure is going to be to look for a scarce leaf beetle on Lullington Heath...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 12 April 2012 21:57

I swept this little money spider in the meadow at Woods Mill at lunch time. I had read that there are money spiders with strange shaped heads but I have not seen one until now. It was readily identifiable by a combination of its butt-shaped head and palps as Hypomma bituberculatum. Another very common spider I added to my list at Woods Mill today was Dictyna arundinacea. I end the day on 3856 species.

When I grow up, I want to be a Hebrew Character

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 11 April 2012 21:15

I started the Butcherlands bird survey this morning and picked up my first Nightingales (three) and Cuckoo of the year. I didn't see much else other than this little micro moth at rest on a gate post. It's Semioscopis steinkellneriana. It's a smart little moth which looks a little bit like a small Hebrew Character, I have seen it before in some numbers when moth trapping at Mill Hill.

'The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal'

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 9 April 2012 22:13

This is Chrysolina banksi, a new species for me. I tried something a bit different today and invited Penny and Dave over for a crash course in microscopes, keys, beetles, carding etc. It was really good and reminded me I must do more of this. I'll be doing more such days for friends in the near future. I went on a course at Flatford in about October 2009 and that really helped me, so it's great to give something back. It's great to have someone show you the way, just to get you going.

Here they are in action.

Now this painting was placed in the American Museum of Natural History by Banksy (would have been so much better if Oragainstus hadn't been capitalised), it took two days before it was discovered. I wonder if he knows he shares his name with a beetle? If I were to break into his studio and leave a specimen of C. banksi there, how would he like them apples?
Another Chrysolina from the same place, this time the nationally scarce Chrysolina oricalcia. This is a really nice beetle and I've become quite taken with the genus. I would love to see the mental one, Chrysolina cerealis, at the top of Snowdon but I'd be happy to see Chrysolina americana for all it is an alien.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 8 April 2012 21:09

Grrrr. Been rained off today. I still had a tick though, in my back garden! I turned over some logs in the back garden and was surprised to see a mass of dark sandhoppers jumping all over the place. I'm 80 m above sea level here and about 1.5 miles away from the sea front. It turns out this is easily identifiable as Arcitalitrus dorrienis. This species was introduced from New Zealand and is usually this dark greyish/purplish colour and is found inland. Also in the garden were lots of smart Alopecosa pulverulenta males and Armadillidium depressum.

Here is another male Clubiona corticalis on the bathroom wall. It has very distinctive balloon-like palps, which are visible in this photo.
I'm back on track for this year's records in my data base now. It seems a real effort to keep it up to date. I only have 825 records on there so far but 'big things come from small beginings'.

I need to get a better handle on things

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 7 April 2012 14:48

This is about the height that the small but beautiful Adela cuprella flies at around the tops of the willows. I did catch one but it wasn't playing ball for a photograph and after that lucky catch, I couldn't get anywhere near them again. At about the same height was the impressive hoverfly Eristalis intricarius. Tony Davis, Penny & Dave Green and I headed out to the far west of the county in search of a number of scarce moths. We started with the Adela at Ivy Lake (Tony was at a distinct advantage with his extra long handle) and then ended up light trapping for Northern Drab at Thorney Island, which we failed to find. In fact, no moths came to light except a Streamer, as we were packing up. A trio of pugs were pretty much all that was on the wing, despite a mild night.

Beetles saved the day once more! Torching in the short turf revealed a number of Chrysolina species and a few Pill Beetles Byrrhus pilula which everyone was impressed by. A nice surprise was a Helops caeruleus crawling around on an old Hawthorn whilst a Whimbrel called once in the night. At the time of writing, I'm on 3849 species. Now tomorrow, I'm heading to the far east of the county with Andy Phillips and my new fork to look for weevils...

My housemate, simoni

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 6 April 2012 12:13

You know that feeling when you get back from the late class of British Military Fitness at about 8.45 pm and are so tired you can barely be bothered to cook? Well, that's not usually a time I expect to see a new species as I reach for the cupboard door. Psilochorus simoni is like a smaller version of Pholcus phalangioides (the Daddy-long-legs Spider which is also abundant in our house). I had read up on it in advance so I knew to look for a smaller spider with a rounder, bluish abdomen. There he was, running around in my cupboard! The literature states it was introduced from the States to wine cellars via wine bottles.

Today I am off to Thorney Island (which I have never been to) in search of the Northern Drab, one of my bogey moths...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 4 April 2012 22:03

I found this strange looking silver blob on a tree at Fen Drayton on Saturday. At first, I wasn't sure what it was but I had a hunch that it was a slime mould. Howard Matcham readily identified it as Reticularia lycoperdon. It reminded me of a left behind section of the T-1000 (nanomorph mimetic polly-alloy) from Terminator 2.

Even stranger was just finding a spider tick in my cupboard, Psilochorus simoni. I may have to feature this tomorrow as oddly my house mate is called Simon but he doesn't live in my cupboard.

The weevil fork

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 3 April 2012 17:28

Beetling in the Brecks was great. It would have been far less great if Mark Gurney hadn't had a fork with him. Just a simple fork you would eat your dinner with but also just the right tool for turning over rosettes of low growing plants and picking through the top layer of the light sandy soils. I reckon he was finding ten beetles for everyone I found. I will be carrying a fork on my person from now on. Another amazing thing I saw Mark using was a photographic reflector and filter, that also doubles up as a beating tray! It's great for taking photos on very bright days AND it packs down to almost nothing. I have already ordered one. That and my new fork should be arriving any day.

Now, for some beetles. We went looking for Fingered Speedwell at a site near Lakenheath (Caudle Farm) but failed. We did find Breckland Speedwell, Grape Hyacinth and Bur Medick there though. There were a number of big, impressive mega weevils to get the blood pumping. Joint candidates for most impressive weevil of the day were the above Mogulenes geographicus and this Hypera dauci (that we found later in the short turf around Lakenheath RSPB car park). Both nationally scarce. Both new species for me. Now, I have not done much weevling. With around 600 species, they are a big chunk of the UK beetle fauna, some 15% perhaps. I can't afford to keep over looking them. 
In the above two photos of Hypera dauci, king of weevils, you can see the difference between casting your shadow over the subject on a sunny day (top) and using the filter (bottom). The difference in the colours of the golden threads of the moss Brachythecium albicans is clear! The fork and the filter will be great for finding inverts and taking photos on chalk-grassland in Sussex. Spending time in the field with other naturalists is great for learning new techniques, even if it does make me feel a bit like a chimp with a type writer.

We also saw this nationally scarce (Na) carabid and Breckland specialist, Harpalus pumilus, our smallest Harpalus.
Here is Mark in action with the fork in front of some Grape Hyacinth.
Oh yeah, we also saw some birds this weekend. Without even trying really we saw Stone-curlew and Bittern. On the Saturday I also saw  Rough-legged Buzzard at Ouse Fen. I went there with another old friend and colleague from the RSPB, Matt Self. First time on a bike in seven years and I rode 45 miles! Here is Matt shortly before the Rough-legged Buzzard was spotted. Saddle sore is an understatement!
Towards the end of Sunday, Mark and I went on two last plant twitches, to Wayland Wood for Yellow Star of Bethlehem. Very nice but mostly gone over.
And the odd Mezereon, again the flowers had mostly gone over. This plant had escaped from the enclosure.
All in all it was a great weekend and I was glad to see so many new species. The highlight for me was sadly none of the plants. It was getting back to the office and seeing a little slip of paper with 'look out for 'Hypera dauci' written on it. Peter Hodge's tip for beetling in the Brecks. Looks like we struck gold! I added at least 14 species and I end today on 3844. A massive thank you to Matt and Mark for a great weekend of excessive exercising and natural history!

Fingered Speedwell

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 2 April 2012 09:24

It's funny the places I find myself in. So yesterday afternoon I found myself on a road verge in Thetford with Mark Gurney looking at one of the few sites in the country for Fingered Speedwell. Oh the irony, that such a flimsy plant would only allow my camera to focus on it if I placed my finger in the shot first! Nearby was the other speciality speedwell of the area, the aptly named Breckland Speedwell.
And the rather attractive Spring Vetch.
The next few blog posts are all out of county so look away now if you are not interested in rare spring annuals and nationally scarce weevils in the Brecks! For the first time since I left the RSPB four years ago, I headed back to that part of the world to see some old friends and twitch some rare plants. I have taken so many photos that I might have to drip feed the posts out so I'll start with this road verge in Thetford on Sunday, then rewind to what happened on Saturday when I got on a bike for the first time in seven years...

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