The top ten natural history highlights of 2014

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 30 December 2014 17:59

2014 was a great year of natural history for me. My database now stands at nearly 26,000 records, over 5000 added in 2014 so far. So here is my annual top ten highlights of the year in reverse order.

10) Spending some time in sand dunes

There isn't much good sand dune habitat in Sussex, so I had to go further afield.
Here is a selection being from top to bottom: Dalman's Leatherbug, Dune WaxcapMarpissa nivoyi,  Fallen's Leatherbug and Marram Grass Chelifer.

9) Flatropers Wood invertebrate survey
Flatropers isn't even an SNCI and it has shed loads of rare invertebrates. Here we have Xysticus bifasciatus and the two myrmecophiles: the Scarce Seven-spot Ladybird and Clytra quadripunctatus.

8) New Forest antics
I love finding lots of new species in a very small area. Micro-botanising overload.

7) If Darth Maul were a beetle...
Pilemostoma fastuosa. A very cool tortoise beetle from Knepp.

6) Gower power
Rock pooling on the Worm's Head produced this Green Sea Urchin among many other things.

5) Lappet
Always wanted to see one and one finally turned up in the moth trap.

4) Jurassic Carp
A trip with Seth and Tony to Kimmeridge Bay produced my first Cornish Sucker!

3) Burton Pond invertebrate survey
Here we have Xysticus audax, Alder Leaf Beetle (new to Sussex and found by Adrian Holloway) and the beetle Agapanthia villosoviridescens.

2)  Creating the PSL website and article in British Wildlife
It has been a great year for pan-species listing and I'm pleased to have been able to contribute so much to the movement.

1) My first freelance invertebrate surveys struck gold!

Finding only the 7th known site for the rare Pondweed Leafhopper and also plenty of 13-spot Ladybirds was my highlight of the year. This cracking little private nature reserve just is a great example of what can be done to benefit wildlife.

So hopefully I will get back in the saddle in the new year but for the time being I'm still rather estranged from it. It's reminded me how much I love wildlife though writing this post so who knows.

Edibility: Unknown

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 17 December 2014 09:53

It's been a while, I've been taking a break off natural history of late, partly due to the season and partly due to circumstances. CrossFit has taken up the slack though, I got my first muscle-ups last week! Anyways, this is still a wildlife blog...

During our department Christmas walk I spotted what looked like little earthballs partially buried in the soil. They didn't look quite right for them though, they appeared 'lightly dusted in cocoa powder', like handmade chocolate truffles. I refrained from putting one in my mouth but was struck by how they lacked any suggestion of a stype (stem). In the hand it felt and looked like a really light pebble. I cracked one open and it was full of gooey black stuff.

We are carrying out a great deal of felling, scraping and disturbance at Graffham and it struck me we may have brought these things up from the top soil. Were they a kind of truffle?! Well almost, I believe these are False Truffles Elaphomyces granulatus. Seldom recorded as they grow beneath the surface in pine woods, they are usually spotted by the presence of the Cordyceps fungus that parisitises them. Of course, these ones were brought up by the earth works and probably washed clean by recent showers, giving them the appearance of growing on the surface. The texts say simply edibility unknown...

The sleeper must awaken

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 26 October 2014 07:31

Because I'm going on a leaf-mining day today and hope to get to a 1000 moths but I'm still in bed writing a blog. AND the title of this post is yet another quote from Dune. Anyway, Martin Allison has identified the rest of the specimens we found in the dunes at Camber Sands on Tuesday and there were some goodies in there. I was pleased to have had a go and tentatively got some of them right including this strange looking Arrhenia spathulata which took us a while in the field to decide if it was a fungi or a lichen.

This was one of the showiest fungi of the day being the Garland Roundhead Stropharia coronilla.

It was perhaps these tiny Marasmius anomalus though which I liked the most.

This Melanoleuca cinereifolia although not much to look at was one of the species strongly associated with Marram.

So, I added quite a few species that I wouldn't have, at this stage, have been able to get to species without Martin's help. Equally though, I spotted the interesting fungi there in the first place, predicted the best places to go and found many of the specimens so I believe that is team work so I am happy ticking these species until I am equipped one day to cover fungi in more detail.

The spice must flow

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 23 October 2014 22:47

You might not get that reference. I just can't help quote Frank Herbert every time I go to some sand dunes, which are rapidly becoming my new favourite habitat. On Tuesday I took the day off and went to Camber Sands with county fungi recorder and old RSPB colleague, Martin Allison. The weather was pretty dramatic and we didn't see huge numbers of fungi but Martin has just confirmed this specimen as Dune Waxcap, the species I wanted to see after I thought I found it there a couple of years ago. I spent most of the time taking photos of the strange shifting sands and sculptures created by the tail end of Gonzalo, like these.

The wind was coming straight along the beach from the west and it looked quite impressive.

Back to the fungi. I believe that this tiny little bracket is Phellinus hippophaeicola. It's growing on Sea Buckthorn which is the host plant and there sure is a lot of Sea Buckthorn at Camber!

I did a small amount of sieving for inverts and found seven individuals of the cool Marram specialist jumping spider Marpissa nivoyi and a single Rhombic Leatherbug.

Bottled up

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 18 October 2014 18:43

At the start of our adventure, we went to see Bill Urwin at Shapwick Heath. Now Bill was very kind and sacrificed some of his bacon lardons as bate for the bottle traps he put out. I've never seen these in action and boy are they good at catching large water beetles! I've always been frustrated at never having seen any other Dytiscus other than Dytiscus marginalis so I was pleased to see our biggest Dytiscus, Dytiscus dimidiatus (above). How many more times can I fit Dytiscus in this Dytiscus themed paragraph?! None.

This is Hydaticus transversalis, quite showy for a water beetle. Bright colours and patterns are not much use in a ditch, so water beetles are mostly a drab lot. Not this beast though, what a looker!

The Lesser Silver Water Beetle Hydrochara caraboides wasn't in the bottles, this was netted in an area of Floating Sweet-grass. Three new beetles for me!

It was a cracking few hours and the bottle are definitely something I'll have a go at in the future. A big thanks to Bill and NE for their time. Whenever you're down this way Bill, I'll take you out for the day in Sussex! So there concludes (in reverse order) the posts about our little adventure. Or does it? Next time, the exciting prequel of our trip (it's not that exciting). I'm dragging this out like Peter Jackson's Hobbit!

Severn Bore Vs. Seven Boar

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 17 October 2014 17:32

Last Friday night I found myself wandering around the Forest of Dean in search of the elusive Wild Boar. Seth had been down a few weeks before and saw them and I was amazed at how much rootling had been going on all through the forest. We headed off into the night and within about an hour we stumbled across a small group of around seven Wild Boar. I was surprised at how dark they looked in the torch light, smaller than I was expecting and very angular in silhouette. Several of the group faced us and I was struck by how close together their eyes were face on! What was perhaps most impressive were the noises, you really felt it in the pit of your stomach. There really was something primal about this experience, the closest I think I will ever get to the film Trollhunter

This Fallow Deer stag appeared silently and ghost like in front of us for the briefest of moments during a break in the traffic before heading off into the woods. It was quite something. Thanks Danny for the photo!

The next morning we headed the short distance to the Severn to watch the the phenomena that is the Severn Bore. This one was only graded a '2' (top photo) and wasn't quite as impressive as I had hoped but it was well worth it anyway. You can read more about this here or suffer the terrible coverage of a 'grade 5' here:

My God, it's full of stars

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 14 October 2014 22:16

Four nights, three men, two countries and one camper van. I've been on a bit of an adventure for the last few days taking in an eclectic range of species from Wild Boar to Pilchard. Small Cushion Star (above) to Heath Grasshopper. Where better to start though than the end? The end of the world. Well, the end of the Gower in South Wales or the Worm's Head to be precise...

...we (Seth Gibson, Danny Copper and I) decided to go rock-pooling along the Welsh Atlantic coast so we drove to the end of the Gower. The Worm's Head is an impressive island (it looks a bit like a dragon) that is accessible for 2.5 hours either side of low tide. We got there a little after low tide but we had plenty of time on the second day too for rock-pooling. Ricocheting Choughs bounced along the thermals around the car park, this is a striking landscape.

Fish were on my mind but the smaller, shallower more sheltered rock pools were providing lots of new species other than fish. This Elegant Anemone was quite a looker.

Compared to the more intricate and subtle beauty of the Daisy Anemone.

However, I think my favourite new species was the Green Sea Urchin. Exactly the same colour combo as a Snakelocks Anemone!

Saddle Oyster, Black-footed Limpet and Trophon barvicensis were all knew molluscs for me but the fish were pretty quiet. Shanny was the most abundant with a few Five-bearded Rocklings and singletons of Long-spined Sea Scorpion and Butterfish. Then we stumbled upon a rock pool full of fish!

We hoyed a few out and after a bit of deliberation and an expert second opinion, we believe they are in fact Pilchards (fin position and radial marks on the gill covers clinches it). Quite an unexpected tick and with Transparent Goby added retrospectively from Rye Bay in August, I'm now on 78 fish. Next up it's the Wild Boar story...

Double knot

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 6 October 2014 21:38

This is the cracking Sea Knotgrass (above - look at how glaucous it is!) that I ticked at Sandy Point on Hayling Island at the weekend. Thanks to Tony Davis for this one and for the closely related and not quite so glaucous Ray's Knotgrass which we saw at Brown Down.

Also at Brown Down was another one of these weird weevils, Lixus scabricollis (below), which I have seen at Rye Harbour. This one was on Sea Purslane. Also on Hayling Island was the smart weevil Mecinus circulatus (Nb) at the roots of Marram.

Velvet on the ground

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 30 September 2014 22:54

I very nearly didn't stop to look at this stunning fungus today at Graffham Common but I'm glad I did. This is the Velvet Rollrim Tapinella atromentosa and there are very few records for this in Sussex.  From above though, I almost put it down as a little brown job! It grows on pine and looks like no other fungi I have seen.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. This is the obscene Parasitic Bolete Pseudoboletus parasiticus growing from its host Common Earthball Scleroderma citrinum. It seems to be doing well this year, this is the third site I have seen it on in just over a week. Are you sniggering yet?

Nature Blog Network