The top ten highlights of 2013

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 27 December 2013 09:56

Although it wasn't my most prolific blogging year, 2013 was an amazing year for natural history. Here are the top ten in reverse order.

10). Pearl-bordered Fritillary dead on a sundew at Graffham Common. When Rachael said 'I've never seen anyone get so excited over a dead butterfly' was the moment she realised her new boyfriend was an obsessed maniac.

9). Six new birds in 2013 which were: Western Bonnelli's Warbler, American Golden Plover, Hermit Thrush, Radde's Warbler, Semipalmated Sandpiper and (see below). The twitching trip to Cornwall in search of the Hermit Thrush with Mark, Neil and Seth was a blast. Despite seeing the Hermit Thrush, I thought the smartest thing that day was this Blue-rayed Limpet. It just goes to show that twitching with a bunch of pan-species listers can go in all sorts of directions.

8).  An autumn at Rye Harbour NVCing the whole nature reserve. I found a Pectoral Sandpiper but this female Red-veined Darter was a highlight for me.

7). Teesdale. Lots of scarce new plants including this Alpine Bartsia.

6). It was a fantastic autumn for fungi, this Starfish or Anemone Fungus is still giving me nightmares. And boy do I LOVE nightmares!

5). A summer of fish surveys with Sussex IFCA. I saw so many new species, I couldn't decide between Little Cuttlefish or Thornback Ray as my favourite.

4). Micrommata virescens and Carabus arvensis, just two of the 584 species Chris Bentley and I recorded at the Old Lodge invertebrate survey.

3). 67 Heath Tiger Beetles at Iping Common using purpose made scrapes put in with a turf stripper. Great to see this reintroduced species not only present on site but thriving. The 1st August was a great day and so glad I was able to share it with Shaun Pryor.

2). Lumpsucker and Montagu's Sea-snail at St Mary's Island. Sublime.

1). The 'elusive' Corncrake at Beachy Head. Say no more.

So is that it for 2013? I was hoping for an Ivory Gull on the way back south tomorrow but they all seem to have gone now. I think I might have a day at the microscope on the 31st...

Cod piece

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 22 December 2013 14:27

If you can think of a better fish pun, let minnow. At last, some 30 years after I first ate one, I finally caught up with a wild Cod! I was rock-pooling today at St Mary's Lighthouse but it was slow going with only one each of Long-spined Sea Scorpion, Corkwing Wrasse (last time I recorded Ballan), Two-spot Goby and Shanny. I had my eyes on a fella (not in that way!) sea-fishing off the edge of the rocks and I looked up at a time he was reeling in a catch. I grabbed my binoculars and tentatively identified it as a Cod as he landed the fish. Little did he know he was being watched from behind a rock! I legged it around to get a better look. 'Excuse me, did you just catch a Cod?' I yelled as I came running over the rocks. I think he thought I was either very hungry or very strange (I was actually both but he didn't know that nor was it relevant) and after a while he let me take a photo and we were soon exchanging fish-based anecdotes. Not exactly the rarest creature in the world but not something I was expecting to see today. The fish in question went back in as it was too small to take. My 69th fish species and maybe my last new species (4718) of 2013. I hope I'll see a wild Chip soon and complete the set! A couple of Purple Sandpipers were working the shoreline too but they flew off when I asked them what they had caught.

Yesterday I added the Common Starfish Asterias rubens from the rocks at Tynemouth but little else. Ivory Gull Tourette Syndrome has set in this week. I am jumping at every gull, carrier bag, football, ship, even the odd white van that moves. Now that would be a fitting end to a year! I was thinking of going to twitch the bird in Yorkshire but I am some 160 miles and over three hours NORTH of it here. I'd rather have a surprise Cod any day.

Antidepressants for caterpillars

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 1 December 2013 18:12

October and November have been great months for me this year. At the end of a long field season, I have had a little more time to get out and do natural history outside of work. I ended September on 4505 species and started December on 4699, an increase of 194. Many of these have been fungi and leaf-miners but all sorts of things turned up in the last few moths including seven new vertebrates! 

I found the above leaf-miner at Woods Mill by searching for the food plant. I found this on the first specimen of Perforate St Johnswort that I came across, it's Ectoedomia septembrella. It's a common species. It spends its entire larval stages inside the leaf of a species that humans eat to combat depression. I guess that must make it the happiest little caterpillar in the world. Well, maybe not as it fills its home with its own feces as it eats its way through the leaf. However, as the host species (Perforate St Johnswort) comes with its own ventilation, this is one lucky little caterpillar! I digress. My point was that leaf-miners are easy to find and relatively easy to identify, even if they are filthy little buggers.

Anyway, here is the break down of the last two month's additions:

Vascular plants 1209 (+3)
Moths 929 (+34)
Beetles 640 (+20)
Birds 351 (+2)
Fungi 282 (+73)
Spiders 205 (+6)
Mosses 173 (+1)
True bugs 131 (+2)
True flies 127 (+4)
Aculeates 91 (+5)
Molluscs 91 (+7)
Fish 68 (+4)
Butterflies 54 (+1)
Mammals 46 (+1)
Liverworts 43
Crustaceans 43
Dragonflies 33
Lichens 32 (+1)
Crickets & grasshoppers 25
Harvestmen 12
Millipedes 12 (+7)
Lacewings & allies 9 (+2)
Seaweeds & algae 9 (+2)
Caddisflies 9 (+3)
Mites 8 (+2)
Reptiles 7
Amphibians 6
Centipedes 6 (+4)
Anemones 5
Leeches                         5
Jellyfish 4
Cockroaches 3
Mayfly 3
Slime Mould 3
Parasitica 3 (+1)
Annelid 2
Scorpionfly 2
Springtails 2
Flatworm 2 (+1)
Pseudoscorpion 2 (+1)
Starfish 2 (+1)
Aphid 1
Cephalopod 1
Earwigs 1
Lice                                1
Polychete 1
Sea Urchin 1
Silverfish 1
Snakefly 1
Sponge 1
Stoneflies 1 (+1)

I've also had a big push on updating records. I synced with the the SxBRC and thanks to Penny Green, I now have all my records from the SxBRC too. All in all, my data base now stands at 15,300 records. I'd like to have a quiet winter now but it never seems to happen that way, I'll breach the 5000 mark before you know it... 


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 29 November 2013 18:30

I found this Hairy Crab today at Beachy Head. I've seen them before but I have never looked at them so closely. They are pretty cool with their distinctive club-tipped hairs. Check it's face out!
Miserable, overcast conditions can sometimes produce great macro-photography opportunities.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 17 November 2013 21:46

You've guessed it, I've been fungaling around (I hate the phrase 'fungal foray', it's so twee!) up at Oxshott Common. This area of Surrey is known to be the most heavily recorded site for fungi in the world, with over 3000 species being recorded there. So it was quite surprising to find this species new to the site only a few metres from the car park. It's the scarce bracket Plicatura crispa.

Everyone knows Turkeytail but this was a particularly smart specimen worthy of a photo. I see this fungus more than any other.

This was a new one for me, Leafy Brain. It's actually growing out of other bracket fungi!

And here is a fungus that looks like a bracket but isn't. It's the Oyster Rollrim growing out of pine, another new species for me. I added fifteen species in all (12 fungi, two moths and a gall wasp) with the help of the WWFRG and Tony Davis. I end the day on 4680 species.

Now for a bit of a rant. If there are any dog walkers reading that frequent Oxshott Common, or any other site for that matter, and you always take your dog's muck away, you can read on, smug in the knowledge that none of what I am about to say applies to you. I salute you. If however, you are one of the small minority who let their animals do their business in the woods for people like me to walk in, PICK YOUR DAMN MESS UP AND TAKE IT AWAY WILL YOU!?! Apart from the huge negative effects of years of nutrient input on the ecology, it's utterly disgusting. I could barely hold on to my breakfast at times today, it literally ruined the atmosphere. If I ever catch anyone letting their dog do this, I'll happily place the offending article in your pocket for you so you can take it away. But there in lies the problem. YOU NEVER SEE IT HAPPENING! Is there a secret code? Pick it up if there are people about but leave it where it falls if no one can see you? There were a number of such turds with my name on today, waiting silently in the woods for me to come innocently by. I'll catch someone one day though, no doubt when years of accumulated vitriol will come spewing out in a poorly judged way. In the mean time, I'll just go and breathe into a paper bag for a while. Preferably one with air freshener in it.

Plums and Custard

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 11 November 2013 22:16

Another day out with the West Weald Fungi Recording Group and another day where I saw dozens of new species. In fact, I added 24 new fungi yesterday. This time we were out of the county up in the Surrey Hills at Norbury Park and I was pleased to start chipping away at the dull brown fungi that I usually walk away from. However, I think the star of the show was the fantastically named Plums and Custard above.

This Lactarius bled orange milk. Found beneath spruces, this was the False Saffron Milkcap (correction, this is actually the Saffron Milkcap, or if you like, the False False Saffron Milkcap!)

And this is probably the Orange Milkcap (correction - this is actually the Tawny Milkcap) but needs confirming (see, I told you!). This one was growing in chalk-grassland rich in Common Rock-rose. Apparently, there are a number of fungi associated with this plant that occur at Norbury Park but I don't think this was one of them.

This huge fungus is one of the cavaliers but lacks an English name. It's Melanoleuca grammopodia.

Elfin Saddles are always good value. How many faces can you see in this one!?

My favourite photo of the day though was of these Agaricus phaeolepidotus. Due to an odd trick with the depth of field and the lighting, it looks photo-shopped! It's not at all but I also like how it looks like something off Strictly Come Dancing!

The list of species was vast, not just the new ones either. We saw Dog Stinkhorn, Collared Earthstar, Sessile Earthstar, Verdigris Roundhead, Black Bulgar, Stinking Dapperling, Poisonpie, Wood Woolyfoot (see below) and the ridiculously named Chicken Run Funnel among many, many more. So, with all this fungus madness and the leaf-miners Tony has been helping me with, I'm on 4659 species. A massive thank you to the WWFRG, particularly Ray Tantrum for being so helpful. 

World's smallest tsunami

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 8 November 2013 19:55

Another flash flood occurred at Woods Mill on Monday and have learnt through observation where vast amounts of flood debris gathers there. A field gate sits right in the middle of the debris zone, well in fact most of the flood debris is captured by the fence. In the small gap between the gate and the gate post, large numbers of invertebrates gather for a short time there before dispersing. I have found that if there are invertebrates there, then there are even more in the surrounding litter but I was amazed at how many were there this time. I spent about 30 minutes sieving and gathering specimens. In no particular order, here is the list so far, those in bold are new for me.


Nebria brevicollis                      5
Poecilus cupreus                       1
Clivina fossor                           1
Pterostichus diligens                 3
Philonthus cognatus                 2
Agriotes lineatus                       2
Bembidion obtusum                7
Amara communis                     2
Amara lunicollis                      5
Cassida rubiginosa                    1
Stenus bimaculatus                    1
Quedius levicollis                       1
Psammoecus bipunctatus          1
Notiophilus biguttatus               2
Bembidion properans                 2
Rugilus erichsoni                     1 (male gen det)
Megasternum conccinum         1
Stenus ossium                           1 (male gen det)
Lathrobium longulum             1 (male gen det)
Philonthus carbonarius            10 (2 males gen det)
Philonthus cruenatus                1
Quedius semiobscurus               1
Philonthus albipes                   1


Centromerita bicolor               3 (males gen det)
Pachygnatha degeeri                Many
Pachygnatha clercki                 1
Walckenaeria acuminata          1 female

None of the 8 beetles new to me could be considered scarce but I find it amazing that only a few metres from my office I can find so many new species with so little effort. I mean, my beetle list currently stands at 636 species and I work this site regularly. I think this shows two things. One is that 636 is only about 13.5% of the UK fauna, I'm still only scratching the surface. The other is that flood debris is a great way of finding invertebrates from a whole portion of a catchment in one small area. I'll be going back after the next flood!

Fungus is growing on me again

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 3 November 2013 18:33

Over the last couple of weeks, I've really got back into fungi, adding 32 species since the start of October. I had a great day yesterday with the West Weald Fungus Recording Group at the Mens. I added 15 new fungi and nine new leaf-miners (thanks to Tony Davis). So, I'll start with the showiest of the lot, the Veiled Oyster. We only saw one of these.

Not a rare one at all but many common fungi are still new to me, this is the Clustered Bonnet.

And along with Saffrondrop Bonnets, which are everywhere in the Mens and Ebernoe, we have the Burgundydrop Bonnet shown below.

'Self founds' are always the best though and yet again I managed to find something new minutes after talking about it. I was asking one of the recorders about Beechmast Candlesnuff and he said he had only seen it twice in 30 years of recording, mostly down to the fact that you have to specifically look for it as it's so small. I turned over a log to look for inverts and there was Beeechmast Candlesnuff! This is a tiny fungus, only a fraction of a millimetre in diameter.

I also found these tiny Slender Clubs, another new one for me.

But the species that Barry Hughes got most excited about was this probable Lactarius romagnesi. This one will need to be confirmed though. Not the best photo as the light was really poor under the Holly at times. I also had a taste of the milk of Fiery Milkcap, quite unpleasant.

These odd Stump Puffballs were also new for me but I am sure I have seen these before.

Here we have a single Dead Man's Finger.

Other highlights included Jellybabies, Crystal Brain, Magpie Inkcaps, White Saddles, Sulphur Knights, and Spectacular Rustgills. A huge thank you to Barry Hughes and the recording group and the rest of the Sussex gang for a great day out, you really are mushrooms to be with! I never did get that joke.

I've had a few other nice self found fungi ticks recently too, including these TINY Holly Parachutes at Ebernoe. They actually grow out of decomposing Holly leaves.

And nearby on Ebernoe Cricket Pitch there has been a number of Orange Grisettes, I like the stipe.

So I end the day on 4608 species and my fungi list has reached 241. I'm thinking I might have to start taking fungi more seriously and get into spores...

Cornish suckers

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 1 November 2013 17:53

If you look really closely in the above photo, you might just be able to make out Cornish Elm. Yesterday I found myself thundering down the M5 with Mark Telfer, Neil Fletcher and Seth Gibson to, at very short notice, twitch the Hermit Thrush down at Porthgwarra. It put up a fight and we didn't see it for two hours or so, so it was all the better when it did show some five hours after being last seen. Prolonged views were had by all. I threw coffee all over myself and was only part way through my pasty when the inconsiderate bird appeared. It was indeed a pretty little thing. However, I was really surprised when I saw the above photo to see how small Mark's arms appear in relation to his head.

We called in VERY briefly at Penzance to see the beautiful Maidenhair Fern. So quickly that I forgot to take a photo. Several donuts later around B&Q car park and the immature Rose-coloured Starling was nowhere to be seen. I was itching to get down to the seafront and turn some stones over so we headed to Longrock Beach. I attempted to search for the White-rumped Sandpiper but my heart wasn't in it and I had non-avian ticks on the mind. Seth, scopeless, was already on the beach where he found these amazing Blue-rayed Limpets. A stunning species I have wanted to see for years. Grey Top Shells were also present.

Hope you don't mind me using your photo Mark!

I turned over some stones and found a very cool looking coastal staph called Cafius xantholoma that Mark identified. Also nearby was a cool little red linyphiid I identified called Ostearius melanopgyius also new for me. Mark found three specimens of a very scarce snail known as the White Snail Theba pisana

Mark also showed me a few slugs, I still struggle to be interested in them. The thing that has got me most excited though was a specimen I collected from under a stone Seth turned over. It certainly didn't look like anything I had seen before and after dismissing the orb-weavers, I realised it was a well marked theridiid. It soon dawned on me that it was one of the more interesting Enoplognathas and after a few frantic emails back and forth to Peter Harvey today, he told me it is unfortunately not yet quite mature. No wonder I struggled to match it up to a species. It would seem that the most likely option is that it is Enoplognatha oelandica, which is RDB3 and would perhaps be new to Cornwall. If it's not that, it might even be more interesting. Here's the problem. I might have to keep it alive as long as May/June for it to reach maturity. So you might be watching this space for quite a while yet.

A massive thank you, particularly to Neil for driving all that way, that takes real stamina. The exchange of species during these encounters with other listers is thrilling, I really enjoy these times. Salad days indeed.

So I added at least 10 species, ate one Cornish pasty, watched a grown man lose it over a cloud formation (it was a VERY cool cloud formation), travelled for 15 hours over 600 miles to spend five hours in Cornwall but loved every minute of it and ended the day with this photo at a service station. What are the chances of that?! So where we going next?

Mousepee Pinkgill

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 30 October 2013 19:13

Has to be the most awesome name for a fungus. I am fairly confident that this little fungus that I found on tightly grazed chalk-grassland at Seaford Head on Sunday is a Mousepee Pinkgill. It did smell funny but I must admit that I don't know what mousepee smells like. The fact that the stem bruised a strong blue-green seems to be a good identification feature as does the habitat. Just a quick one, busy day tomorrow...

Nature Blog Network