Blood meals

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 29 June 2012 15:08

Sea kayaking at Coral Bay in Connemara was awesome. Arctic Terns were flying overhead and we even had a go at a bit of snorkeling. I am thinking I might have to get into diving. On the way back from Connemara to Castlebar, we stopped by some rather impressive bogs and found these amazing Water Lobelias which were a new one for me. We did get seriously attacked by midges and ticks though which wasn't much fun. Even the plants in Ireland are carnivorous but fortunately they eat the midges and not tourists. In the week we recordered all three sundews, all three butterworts and Lesser Bladderwort too.

Earlier that day we had a look around Connemra National Park, where the showy St Dabeoc's Heath could be found.
This little hoverfly was a new one for me, being the north-western species of Chrysotoxum, Chrysotoxum arcuatum.
I got my eye in too for these really cool black and green cushion-forming acrocarps that I was seeing in the bogs, it's Campylopus atrovirens.
Connemara really is a beautiful place (despite the midges). Next up, I go further west than I have ever been before...

Like a limestone cowboy

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 26 June 2012 18:55

Firstly, a huge thank you to Niall (above right), Sean and Mary Basquille for their kindness and hospitality that made my first trip to Ireland so much fun (having the loan of a Mercedes for a week was pretty rad, I can tell you). I saw so much in Ireland that I will split it into three posts, this first concentrating on the Burren (thanks to Liam Jones for the above photo).
My first experience of the Burren was nothing other than magical. We pulled over in a completely random place as soon as we hit the edge of the limestone pavement and immediately spotted Bloody Cransebill everywhere. It really is one of the commonest plants there. This was immediately followed by numerous Transparent Burnets. I was photographing this Rustyback Fern when a Microdon mutabilis landed in front of me (a nationally scarce hoverfly). 
My head was starting to spin when I spotted Fly Orchids, Mountain Everlasting, Helicella itala (one of the commonest snails there) and what had to be Spring Gentian that had gone over. As I was trying to get a photo of this last, a tiny reddish moth flew past me and landed. Least Minor!
Back to the gentian and I walked right up to a very active Anania funebris (no photos) and then found several Small Plume-moths (again no photos). This was a really amazing hour and was perhaps the only real sun we caught all week. It was the only real chance we had to see any day flying insects.

Perhaps the most beautiful flower I have ever seen is the Spring Gentian. Common enough in the Burren but we were way too late for the vast majority of flowers and we really only found a few right at the end of our stay that were still in flower.
Also mostly gone over is the fantastic Mountain Avens (with Blue Hair-grass in the lower picture).
Other ticks included Shrubby Cinquefoil below and Lesser Meadow-rue (no photo).
And it was great to see species like Northern Bedstraw again after so many years. I must go north more.
During the second day in the Burren, we climbed two peaks and got some amazing views. It's not hard to take dramatic shots of wildflowers with amazing scenery in the background in Ireland. Here we have Hoary Rock-rose.
This Brittle Bladder-fern was also a tick for me.
I added a few new bryophytes, including a small amount of this stunning bright purple-red liverwort, Pleurozia purpurea.
Coming down a series of staggering terraces, each one more dramatic than the last, was a really memorable experience. Out of all the shots I took In Ireland, including all of the wildlife, it's these two that I like the most! I have never seen such a bizarre and strange landscape.
The next exciting instalment sees us head north to Connemara.

Burrened out

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 22 June 2012 19:40

I am back from Ireland. I am pretty blown away and in need of rest but normal service will return shortly. To cut a long story short, I had an amazing time, added about 35 species and will be going back, maybe even later this year to look for more cetaceans...

I couldn't resist putting this photo in. It doesn't get much more Burren than a Transparent Burnet sitting on a Bloody Cranesbill now does it? Watch. This. Space.

The strawberry with fangs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 14 June 2012 20:24

I found myself nearly waist deep in a stinking black bog today known ominously as the Black Hole, part of our Burton Pond reserve. It's a dangerous place but we had to have a good look around to discuss alder, willow and birch management there. It wasn't all bad though. I did a wee bit of sweeping on the edge of the bog and came up with this striking nationally scarce (Nb) spider, Araneus alsine. I have wanted to see this for years and was glad to finally chance upon it. There are only three records on SxBRC and the last in West Sussex was in the 1890s! Considering how distinctive this thing is, and apparently how hard it is to find, perhaps this is the first record since then! The only Araneus I have not seen now is Araneus marmoreus.

I also swept a carabid new to me, the nationally scarce Demetrias monostigma being my 4029th species. Here is a shot of Cranberry flowering in the bog, there is more there than I have seen anywhere else in Sussex.
Now this is the last post before I go to Ireland. See you on the flip side!

Flesh-eating beetle mistakes my old bag for a rotting corpse

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 13 June 2012 21:44

I had just put my bag down and began working in a plot at Butcherlands today when I looked up to see a large wasp-like thing buzzing around my bag. It landed on it and I realised it was one of the black and red sextons that, although I have seen them in the past moth-trapping, I have never keyed any out to species. I rushed in and was suddenly hit by the stench. I tried to get a photo but the beetle dropped off and almost vanished into the mud, these are strong beasts indeed and I was amazed how quickly it could dig. I did get a shot that was good enough to key it out from though. I am a bit squeamish about putting these in pots, the smell is unbearable and I'd rather not have them stink out my reference collection. Using the key on Beetle News I am confident this one is Nicrophorus vespillo. I always assumed these beetles primary way of finding food was olfactory. Maybe they rely on sight more though. Or maybe my bag just really stinks.

Sean Foote popped in to say hello and spotted a nice Commophila aenea. I have only seen this once before at Friston Forest (this photo was taken at Friston - the one I took today was dreadful). It's odd that a species that feeds on the roots of ragworts can be so scarce. I end the day on 4025 species. This may be the last blog for a week or two. On Friday I am heading to Ireland for a week and coming back via Anglesey and Snowdonia and this time I will be leaving the laptop at home. But not of course, my camera and an arsenal of natural history literature and equipment.,,

Where's Wally?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 12 June 2012 17:29

And when I say Wally, I really mean Formica fusca. You see, the majority of the ants in this photograph are the nationally scarce Slavemaking Ant Formica sanguinea. The Slavemaker looks a lot like the well known Wood Ant Formica rufa but can easily be told from them as they do not build huge towering nests. Formica fusca is much smaller and pretty much all black. I have seen them under ground, in the base of rotting stumps or, like this nest, under an old mat. It's amazing that this slave-making behaviour has evolved. The Slavemakers take the pupae of other ant species after a co-ordinated raid on their nests. The ants are then 'adopted' into the family and will apparently even willingly attack their own kind. Amazing stuff! These ones were seen at Stedham yesterday.

Pick 'n' Mix

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 11 June 2012 21:48

I went a walk around Old Lodge on Sunday to see if I could spot a Micrommata virescens after I had had a text from Susy Jones saying she had spotted a huge green spider in Ashdown Forest. I failed to see one but I did pick up a couple of smart looking female orb weavers that I knew to be in the genus Hypsosinga. Knowing there were two species I thought I should check a couple and surprisingly I had actually picked up both species. I think their abdomens look just like boiled sweets.  In the above photo the top species is the commoner of the two being Hypsosinga pygmaea, the bottom the nationally scarce (Nb) Hypsosinga sanguinea. Both new species for me leaving me on 4020. In the same net, I also swept Heather Ladybird which was also a new species for me.

Here are the epigynes of the two species, easy to separate in these two. Here is H. pygmaea.
And H. sanguinea.

Piggyback for Gronops

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 9 June 2012 19:06

I have been working on an NVC map of Seaford Head again today as a freelance project. There is a tiny bit of saltmarsh there with tiny fragments of saltmarsh NVC communities. Sea Couch, Saltmarsh Rush, Sea Mayweed, Greater Sea-spurrey and Rock Sea Lavender all grow there in strips measured in centimetres not metres. The above photo is a cool little weevil called Gronops lunatus that is abundant in this area. I think this is a darker colour variant of the same weevil. I'll have to check it though as it does look very different.
 Sea Pearlwort, I was surprised to find out, was a tick for me.
In just a very small area and a very small amount of time I collected a lot of specimens to be identified. Dispite its small size, it seems to hold many interesting species. I picked up a male Bledius with a huge horn coming off the pronotum so I'll report back on that and an Ozyptila I found on a tiny strip of vegetated shingle.

The world's smallest vampire strikes again

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 8 June 2012 18:04

Last night, despite the wind, I moth trapped at Benfield on the edge of Brighton for the second time in three years. Last time we had over 100 species of moth. This time we only managed around 20 but to be honest, I was surprised at that. Highlights included Elephant and Small Elephant Hawkmoth, Pretty Chalk Carpet and Galium Carpet. The scarcest invertebrate of the night was perhaps the soldier beetle Rhagonycha lutea but the highlight for me was the above leaf beetle Chrysolina hyperici which was a tick for me. This leaf beetle, as the name suggests, feeds on St Johnsworts and is distinctive in the strange paired punctures on the elytra. Like a very small and OCD vampire has systematically worked its way around the beetle.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 6 June 2012 22:15

Due to rather rubbish weather forecast over the next few days, I decided to do the Woods Mill bird survey this evening. It was rather good surprisingly with many more registrations of Song Thrush and Blackbird than I usually record in the mornings. I saw the female Kestrel fly in with food and tear it up for the chicks. A few young Tawny Owls called to each other in the woods. I finally stumbled upon the Buzzard's nest to see a well grown youngster looking down at me and a Barn Owl flew across the reedbed with a prey item. Not only that but I got a fungus tick too in the form of these Collared Parachutes that have a distinct collar separating the gills from the stipe which is perfectly obscured from view in this informative photograph. That puts me on 4012 species.

North of the Wall

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 5 June 2012 17:36

Less than 24 hours ago I saw these Roman Snails on Steve Gale's blog, north downs and beyond. They have been on my wish list for some time so I left a comment asking if I could have the gen. Before I knew it I had a text and had arranged to meet Steve this morning at Banstead Woods. I wasn't prepared for the four mega rare plant ticks I would also get thanks to Steve! I was surprised at how close these parts were to me in Brighton, being only 40 miles away and less than an hour's drive. It takes me much longer than that to get to many parts of Sussex, such as Ebernoe, Iping, Filsham or Rye Harbour!

Back to the snails though. What impressive beasts they are. They are surprisingly large and heavy. And disgusting. The shell is really tough, I doubt they have many natural predators apart from Humans...
Steve showed me a few areas where Greater Yellow Rattle grows and we found a small patch that were yet to open! The first rare plant of the day.
We then passed on to an area where Cut-leaved Germander and Ground Pine were possible. I was getting a wee bit excited by this point as I have always wanted to see Ground Pine and with 20 years of botanising behind me, it was about time 'n all. So, we entered the area of grassland known as Fames Rough and I spotted a tiny Cut-leaved Germander plant not yet in flower. I was pretty confident that was the plant after swatting up last night. A nice little Cryptocephalus moraei posed on the rare plant.
We found much more of the germander in an area that had clearly been managed for the plant. The chances of seeing Ground Pine were suddenly looking up.
After about ten minutes of searching, I found the Ground Pine! What a cool little plant. It certainly does not look like it belongs in this country and it is so unlike anything else. Awesome.
Steve then took me round to an area near Box Hill where Green Houndstongue grows right by the side of the road. It really is a very different plant to regular Houndstongue, the jizz is captured in the bottom photo. Four very rare plants and North Downs specialities. A massive thanks to Steve, I added five species today, all of them really good ones so I will have to return the favour at some point. In the meantime, for 24 hours only, my blog will be suffering from an identity crisis.

The Hunchback of Wolstonbury Hill

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 4 June 2012 20:44

I went a walk up Wolstonbury Hill this afternoon to see if there were any Man Orchids in flower. I didn't see any but did manage to take a shot of this robberfly Leptarthrus brevirostris. We were shown this species by Steven Falk at Southerham a few weeks ago and since then I have seen it on several other chalk-grassland sites. Always nice to see Sainfoin too.

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