Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 25 January 2014 07:26

A quick walk around Withdean Woods yesterday morning and the highlight was four plants of Stinking Hellebore just starting to flower. Or was it?! Interesting enough in its own right but I noticed the leaves were heavily mined. A quick look on ukflymines and it was clear there is only one species on hellebores, being a fly called Phytomyza hellebori. A new one for me and only the third record for Sussex!

Biblical beetling

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 22 January 2014 19:42

Last week I payed a visit to Amberley Wildbrooks and was amazed at the strand line of flood debris that extended off to the horizon. I didn't have much time to look so I had to go back a little more prepared and despite even then having only an hour to record, I managed to identify 36 species of insect, 33 of which were beetles including nine species I hadn't seen before. Not bad for an hour in January?

I found that rather than sieve through so much litter, it was easier to find beetles under logs. The logs in the litter had very few beetles under them but the logs adjacent to the litter in the grass were covered in beetles underneath. I would say that every log had at least a hundred beetles underneath of many different species. In the above photos, most of what you can see is Paederus riparius but in among them I found a few of the Nb Paederus fuscipes. You can also make out a few Stenus and a 16-spot Ladybird.

Here are the Nb species I recorded, species in bold were new to me:

Pterostichus anthracinus
Paederus fuscipes
Demetrias monistigma (I have only seen this once before at Burton Pond)
Oodes heliopioides (this is present in the fen at Filsham)
Acupalpus exiguus

Other species new to me but without a conservation status were:
Notaris acridulus
Stenus clavicornis
Stenus pallipes
Tachyporus pusillus
Bembidion assimile
Anacaena globulus
Chartoscirta cocksii (a shore bug)

It's amazing how many species can be found this way and this particular flood really felt like an opportunity that couldn't be missed. As I was there, the river had breached the banks again and was pouring into the site in a mile long waterfall that produced quite a roar! I think this boat that has appeared on the reserve, says it all.

Cellar dwellers

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 19 January 2014 13:16

I helped Sussex Bat Group to count the hibernating bats in the abandoned tunnels and mines in West Sussex yesterday, my main motivation being to get access to our Marehill Quarry site as I haven't been in there for several years. Bat numbers were low due to wet and mild conditions but we did see Natterer's and Daubenton's Bats and I'm feeling much more confident at identifying those two now. There were no rare bats this time.

As ever though, it was the invertebrates that got me excited! In the West Dean tunnel (above), we recorded the usual Herald moths, mostly around the cave entrance along with a couple of Peacock butterflies. The only other moth we saw deep in the cave was a single Tissue (quite a scarce moth in Sussex). Spiders were poor here restricted to Metellina merianae, we didn't see any of the larger Meta species. Further into the tunnel we saw a single Eristalis tenax, a rove beetle that turned out to be new to me, Quedius mesomelinus. At about 200 m in which is approximately the half way mark and about as far as you can get from the light, we recorded Cellar Snail Oxychilus cellarius (new to me!) and Rosy Woodlouse. The only other species we saw was Oniscus asellus.

At Marehill Quarry, you are never that far from the light so there tend to be more invertebrates (last time I was there I recorded a Bloxworth Snout). By far the most frequent species being a heleomyzid fly, that at first I thought was Scoliocentra villosa but now I'm not so sure. Heralds were again present in numbers also accompanied by a single Tissue. A cluster of Eristalis tenax was present at the entrance as was a single Armadallidium vulgare. The spiders though were much more interesting. There were lots more Metellina merianae as well as a male Micrargus rufus (new to me), a stonking male Amaurobius ferox with white palps and best of all a Comb-footed Cellar Spider Nesticus cellulanus (photo above) which I have never seen before. This is quite a local species and it doesn't look like there are that many records of it in Sussex. So I got four new species and end the day on 4765. I'm already 47 up in 2014 including 20 beetles!

Handed to us on a root plate

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 17 January 2014 13:03

Graffham Common is not just your typical 'trees off heaths' project. We were not starting with a featureless conifer plantation, there were already some nice sunny glades, areas of wet heath and big old granny pines in among the plantations. We surveyed theses areas extensively before starting management there, so that we enhanced what was already there, rather than replace it with what we thought should be there. One of the real surprises, even from pitfall traps, was the number of saproxylic species there. I've almost got enough to put together an SQI for the site and it's scoring surprisingly high.

In 2012, in a five minute period on a single fallen birch log with Razorstrop I recorded Diaperis boleti (RDB2), Colydium elongatum (RDB3) and (just confirmed by Peter Hodge) Ampedus cinnabarinus (RDB3). That is a really good five minutes of recording for a conifer plantation! Given the habitat, you would expect Diaperis, but the other two? Colydium is a predator so it goes where the food is and I have now seen it on birch and (I think) pine. I rolled this log yesterday and found this odd looking larvae with two upward pointing black hooks which I believe is probably Colydium elongatum. Anyone else seen the larvae of this beast? 21/03/2014 UPDATE: I came to the conclusion that this is actually the larvae of the much commoner Nalassus laevioctostriatus after finding another one at Flatropers and Mark Telfer said the same thing too.

But Ampedus cinnabarinus on birch? I have only seen this once before under Beech bark at Cowdray, the expected habitat according to Peter Hodge. Maybe though we are missing the real resource needs?

Other saproxylic beetle highlights from Graffham include: Leptura aurulenta (Na), Prionus coriarius (Na), Pogonocherus fasciculatus (Nb and new to Sussex) and Melandrya caraboides (Nb).

If we can replicate at least some of those needs on a site like Graffham, we can enhance a site for such species rather than create a uniform heathland that replaces it. What we have done there is leave more trees than would usually be left (about 30% canopy cover). Connecting the existing glades, leaving some areas wooded, opening some areas right up and providing a range of different microclimates. What we hope to achieve is something more like parkland but with pines and birches instead of oaks and heath instead of grass. The best of both worlds. I believe that shelter is a really important resource for invertebrates but is often overlooked.

When the felling happened, we left a few trees as deadwood too and even had a few 'hung up'. These blew down in the storms but on a visit there yesterday I was pleasantly surprised by how many had blown down. We are going to leave as many as we can without negatively affecting the management of the future heathland. The great thing is these winds were predominantly from the south, so the root plates are all facing south. Fantastic habitat for all sorts of things but they should be really good for aculeates.

Some like the eight foot tall root plate above, have  produced their own peaty pools too! Or this one that has pulled up a great plug of mineral soil.

And this one with its exposed roots.

There are few snags too where the tops just blew right off! I'm betting there will be a Woodlark on there by the end of the year. 

I can't wait to see how this site develops. Heather, Bell Heather and Cross-leaved Heath is growing well on site and the major management issue currently is staying on top of Bracken control. I'll be repeating some pitfall traps and quadrats this year that we set up in 2009 and again in five years or so. Watch this space! Finally a big congratulations to Jane Willmott for making such a success of this project!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 12 January 2014 11:51

Last year it was tussocking. Last week it was sieving flood debris. This week I have mostly been grabbing handfuls of the moss Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus and shaking them into a white tray in an old quarry at Ditchling Beacon. It's basically the chalk-grassland equivalent of tussocking and it's really productive. You have to have a keen eye though as there are some pretty small things to look out for. The above snail is the tiny Prickly Snail Acanthinula aculeata. It's one of those snails that I've wanted to see ever since I bought the snail atlas back in 2009 and I remember reading that the spines often rub off by the time you are likely to find them, not this one though. At  a maximum size of 2.2 mm, it's twice the size of this species....

This is the aptly named Dwarf Snail Punctum pygmaeum. I'm still amazed I managed to spot it at 1.2 mm! I've included my lucky piece of laminated graph paper for scale. You can tell it's not an immature snail of a larger species because the number of whorls (>3.5) show it's an adult. I could just discern these whorls with the naked eye which made me have a closer look.

I added nine species to my list including a couple of great looking harvestmen, Anelasmocephalus cambridgei and Mitostoma chrysomelas (as well as lots of the odd looking Homalenotus quadridentatus I found there two years ago) . I found a smart looking staph called Quedius picipes and this earwig which I thought looked different to the common one. Indeed, it is Lesne's Earwig Forficula lesnei. Finally, I've seen one other than the common one! It was the fact that the hind wings were not sticking out that led me to think it was different (although I didn't know this until I keyed it out).

I also saw the nationally scarce ground bug Drymus pumilio which is about half the size of the much commoner Drymus sylvaticus with which it was found. This is quite a scarce bug and is only the second time I have seen it.

Not scarce, but it's always nice to put a name to a face. This large caterpillar was bright and patterned enough for me to have a go at identifying it and I'm quite confident it's the larvae of the Brown Rustic moth.

Here is the kind of clump of moss that was coming up with so many species. It has the English name Big Shaggy-moss Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus.

So I added nine new species putting me on 4753. That's 35 new species so far this year. Slightly under my required target to get 10,000 by the time I'm 40 but it is January and the day is but young!

A thirst for Sussex

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 10 January 2014 21:52

This is Pissodes pini, a beetle that I collected during a survey at Old Lodge last year in April, it wasn't until this week that I was informed it was actually a first for Sussex! I very nearly over looked it in among the larger Pine Weevils Hylopbius abietis. Like the Pine Weevil, it's found on dead and decaying pines but is usually more of a northern species. That's not the only county first I have had confirmed this week though.

This is Acidota crenata. A staph that I found on one of the turf-stripped areas at Iping Common in September. 
Again this is thought of as a more northern and possibly even alpine species. So why was it found on bare ground on one of the hottest heathlands in the south?!

I have had a third species new to Sussex confirmed this week in the form of a small snail called Balea heydeni I found under Elder bark at Seaford Head back in October, if you look at this post too you will realise just how fortunate it was for me to be in the wrong place at the right time. I didn't get a photo of that one though. So with Stenus palustris new to Sussex from Filsham Reedbed, where it is abundant and the naturalised ground bug Nysius hutoni we found at the Crumbles in vast numbers in July means I had five species new to Sussex in 2013. Four of these on sites managed by the Trust!

Now a thing I realised the other day about firsts for Sussex is that they are more significant than most county firsts because we have TWO counties!

After an hour and a half of sieving clumps of moss at Ditchling Beacon today I managed to find eight new species, including a few really unusual species but that will have to wait for another day...

Things to do before you're 40

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 1 January 2014 19:45

I've been looking back at my pan-species listing efforts recently and given the time of year, it's got me thinking of another goal. Now, I AM going to hit 5000 easily this year so that's not really something to aim for. Pan-species listing is a new phenomena and it won't be until people have been doing it for many decades that the bar will be set for future generations to aim for. That got me thinking. Short term goals are not the way forward. We have to think in terms of the 'long haul'. Immediately my challenge sprung into my mind whilst I was in the bath wrestling the inevitable NYE hang over.

I am going to attempt to see 10,000 species in the UK before I am 40.

So, is this actually achievable? There are 1566 days (don't panic, I've counted the leap year in 2016) left until I am 40. I need to see 5277 species in that time. This works out at 3.37 species per day, every day. That is tough going. I have added five species today from a sample in May but is that effort sustainable?

Here is the first post I did about pan-species listing back on the 1st August 2010 when there were very few people doing it and it still didn't have a name! Since then I have added 1975 species! But that is three years and five months which works out at only 1.58 species per day. I have had long periods where I have lost interest in it over the years and have struggled to get one new species in a month!

Why bother though? What has pan-species listing done for me? I'll tell you what:
  • I've gone from an experienced naturalist to a competent entomologist in three years, capable of carrying out invertebrate surveys which supplement the bird and botanical surveys I already do as part of my work.
  • Through blogging about it, I have encouraged lots of other people to get involved and have developed a strong reputation that benefits both my career and the Trust.
  • It encouraged me to digitise my records and some 10 months after going down that route, I now have 17,662 records entered.
  • I've watched a lively and thriving community develop around this movement and have made some good friends in the process.
  • I've had so much fun.
These are just the benefits to me, so imagine what the benefits are to conservation and natural history from the movement as a whole. I'd like pan-species listing to get a little more recognition than it does to be honest.

In the  dark old days, when birding dominated my natural history efforts and I wasted years of my life year-listing, maybe a dozen times a year I would experience seeing something new for the first time. Now it happens most days, often several times a day and I have to say, it's something I expect I will do until the day I die (which makes me think I wonder what my last ever tick will be). Am I addicted? Yes. But there are worse things to be addicted to!

I don't think for a second I will get to 10,000 in that time, the last time I attempted a 1000 in a year, things went a little awry but Tony Davis has managed a 1000 in a year and it's got me thinking about having another go. I've got a much better set up with my study, data base and new system of keeping track of 'ticks' so maybe they will all help.

I'm already ahead of schedule with five new species today including the cuckoo bee Nomada ruficornis above as well as Nomada marshamella, Neoascia meticulosa (a fly), Gongylidium rufipes (a money spider) and Perapion hydrolapathi (a beetle).

I suppose I'm gonna have to get into flies.

Nature Blog Network