'One of us always tells the truth and one of us always lies'

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 30 July 2012 19:17

I had a great (although very hot) week at Amberley last week with Mark Gurney and Sarah Fisk from the RSPB. We were finishing off an aquatic plant survey of the ditches that we started this time last year. I had a few new species including Whorl-grass but the real excitement came in the form of this sedge. True Fox Sedge Carex vulpina is much, much rarer than False Fox Sedge Carex otrubae. We left the ditches that True Fox Sedge was last recorded in, by James Cadbury, until the last day. Sarah spotted this sedge and I thought it looked quite different with a darker and broader inflorescence, shorter bract and more winged stem. We called Mark over and he began to get quite animated. Well, for Mark! He was keen to take some specimens to clinch the ID and it's the epidermis of the utricles at magnification which confirmed it. Here is True Fox Sedge with roughly square cells:
And False Fox Sedge with its elongated cells. A big thank you to Mark for sending the photos over.
So it's simple. We had True Fox Sedge. But how can we be sure that it wasn't just False Fox Sedge lying? You could just watch this and make your own mind up...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 22 July 2012 10:23

Yesterday I spotted a small moth in flight on the chalk-grassland along the top of the cliffs at Seaford Head. A hint of metallic green caught my eye and I realised I was a looking at a forester moth. Now, there are three foresters and they are a wee bit tricky to tell apart (unless of course you're used to staring at spiders testicles down a microscope). It's all about the male antennae really. The scarcest one, the Scarce Forester, is easily ruled out by not having a club to the tip of the antennae. So I clearly had either Cistus Forester or the Forester. I have seen Cistus at Malling, this one is smaller than the other two with seven clubbed antennal segments. It also feeds on Common Rock-rose which I have not seen at Seaford. That left the Forester, the only one I hadn't seen. With ten clubbed antennal segments this one was looking more likely and after a quick email to Colin Pratt, he confirmed the identity. It's a new site record and it's a BAP species so I better get emailing Tony Davis at BC now too...

The Dark Knight Rises

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 21 July 2012 11:28

OK so it might not have been eight years since I last posted (just over two weeks) and my central character is hardly Bane (it's actually an alien grass called Harestail Grass Lagurus ovatus) but I finally feel like I might be coming out of my self imposed blogger's exile. At West Beach near Climping yesterday I spotted this funny looking grass growing in the sand dunes and I thought it was perhaps one that I had not seen. It's a cute little thing alright! It was indeed the first new species I have stumbled upon in weeks that I have felt compelled to identify. Now the weather has turned, will I take back to the streets of Sussex in the tumbler after being holed up in Wayne Manor for weeks? Enough of the Batman references, I don't have a tumbler. Or a cape. Or a bat cave but I do have a Fiesta, a butterfly net and a microscope so we're not all that different Batman and I. OK, we share the same number of limbs and I have a utility belt (for entomology) but that's something hey?

And yes I did see 'Rises' yesterday on the opening day at 11.00 am and yes it is bloody good! Now the sun is shining and I am off to Seaford Head...

Natural history burn out

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 6 July 2012 15:42

It's a wonderful thing having a job that is also your hobby but it doesn't come without its problems. The botanical survey season is my busiest time of year and this building intensity of work can often make me feel less inclined to go out in my spare time looking for wildlife. It usually hits me by the end of August or September but it has come early this year. I felt it happen on the way back from Ireland. So, I need to press the reset button. Extra-curricular activities are going to be dropped back to a minimal level so I can concentrate on work and relaxing. Treating work as just a job for a while is in fact quite a healthy thing, especially during busy times, and I see this process as a natural part of being a naturalist and an ecologist. So, this blog is going to be a lot quieter over the next few months. I also found having no phone or Internet for a week in Ireland a huge release.
That said, I have had some new additions to my list at Iping and Stedham this week. I got buzzed by a large shiny black beetle whilst doing some quadrats there yesterday (5th July). Without a net, I managed to knock it to the ground with the palm of my hand. I suspected it would be a Minotaur but it was in fact the Na Heath Dumble Dor Trypocopris pyranaeus that James found a dead specimen of a few weeks ago. Nice!

This blood thirsty fly was also new to me being the fairly common Chrysops caecutiens. Mark caught it feeding on his arm in the car park and batted it off. The well aimed blow was a fatal one but I saw the poor beast twitch a couple of times, all I need to tick a species. But perhaps it was the breeze catching its hind tarsi? I didn't want to waist an opportunity to learn about a new species though, so I potted the dead specimen.
Finally, a really smart staph ran across the path in front of us, the highly distinctive Platydracus fulvipes. I just checked it out on the taxon designations spreadsheet and it's down as being nationally scarce (Nb). Even better though, I just called Peter Hodge (Sussex beetle recorder) and it seems this is only the 2nd Sussex record! Peter said he had only ever recorded it once anywhere in the UK and that was at Ambersham. Even the new key states the habitat as 'uncertain'.

West life

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 3 July 2012 07:24

This is the last of the Ireland posts. We left Connemara and headed to Kerry and straight to the Dingle peninsula to a whale watching boat trip. We didn't see any whales that day, as it was too choppy to see that far, but I did get some great gen from Britta Wilkens, who is the wildlife adviser on the boat. If anyone is ever in that part of the world, you should go out on this boat, it was great! The above photo was taken from the furthest west I have ever been in my life. We saw Grey Seals and plenty of sea birds but it was great hearing about cetaceans and Basking Sharks.

That evening, thanks to Britta's gen, we headed up to Conor Pass to look for Great Butterwort. We pulled over to let a car past on a very narrow stretch of road and looked up to see Great Butterwort growing right by the road! Spotted from the car, that's how big the flowers are!
The following morning the sea was calmer and I thought I might have a chance at Minke Whale, so we headed up to the cliffs tops where Britta told us that a man called Nick Massett might be watching. Within minutes of our arrival, Nick appeared for an hour or so and just as he had to leave he got onto a Minke distant. I struggled to relocate it but then suddenly it appeared. Then another! Two Minke Whales. A long overdue lifer for me and my first whale on my British Isles list! If you look very, very closely in the photo below, you might just be able to make out a wall. The whales were so far away they were only just visible through my scope!
We walked down the road a little way where St Patrick's Cabbage was growing in profusion. I clambered up to get some photos and on the way up, I spotted a Kerry Slug.
Niall found one other too by the road and he also spotted this as being different to the St Patrick's Cabbage, it's the closely related Tufted Saxifrage.
We didn't have much time in Killarney National Park on our last day but we did see the Strawberry-trees.

And Irish Spurge.
I had a great time in Ireland, a big thank you to Niall and his family and all the people we met who helped us out being Liam Jones, Britta Wilkens and Nick Massett. Thanks also to Mark Telfer and Don Hodgers for their help too.

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