Chiselled from stone

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 27 February 2014 18:01

Is one way of describing this bizarre looking creature. As for the four men who discovered it today up at Ditchling Beacon, carved from root vegetables might be more appropriate. Looking somewhere between the A-Team and Boyz II Men, we hit the site with all the natural history knowledge we had and we hit it hard. I got the bryophytes out of the way first and everyone else got lots of new species. I've featured these many times before and as I anticipate Steve Gale writing a blog with lots of photos in, I have left space for a link here. It was nice to show people lots of new species though, Ditchling Beacon is great for chalk-grassland bryophytes.

Things started getting exciting for me when we went sieving moss though. We hooked up with another of the bizarre harvestman Anelasmocephalus cambridgei shown above. This one was much paler, exactly the same colour of the chalky soil. I recorded four new species, all from sieving. Two ground bugs being Cymus claviculus and Drymus ryei. We also found this Drymus brunneus which seems to have fungus bursting out of every orifice. Ouch.
Just when I thought I had ran out of interesting specimens I recorded a male Walckaenaeria antica (my fourth in the genus and 213th spider). Finally, what I thought was a Bembidion tuned out to be a carabid tick. Syntomus truncatellus! A cracking day out, more of this please! Sadly though I was hugely gripped by the size of Steve's club sandwich and that is not a euphemism for anything, there is just nothing worse than ordering the wrong meal.

The case of the incredibly easy to find scarce moth that hasn't been seen in Sussex for 24 years.

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 24 February 2014 18:44

I received a request to go and have a look at a site just north of Brighton last week, which fitted in really well as I was looking for somewhere new to go this Saturday. Seth Gibson came along too and I managed to clock up ten new species! The highlight actually occurred as we were leaving the site. Seth mentioned that it was worth looking on Greater Stitchwort as there is a couple of Coleophora moths on the plant. I bent down, picked up the nearest bit of Greater Sticthwort and said, "are these them?". It was indeed the Nb Coleophora solitariella. The Sussex Moth Group website states the only 'recent' Sussex record occurred in the Chichester area in 1980! Tony Davis mentioned that he has found it very infrequently despite looking for it many times, so were we just lucky?!

Other highlights included the Nb Scaphisoma boleti, a very cool staph called Bolitobius cingulatus and a money spider with a very strange epigyne (my 212th spider!) being Diplostyla concolor. I recorded over 50 invertebrates myself (I still have Seth's identifications to add to the list) which isn't bad for a day in February. I even managed a bit of sweeping in a rough meadow which proved really productive. It almost felt like summer. I ended the day on 4838 species and look forwarded to making this site my patch over 2014.

Het up

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 15 February 2014 06:16

So we all have are weak points, right? The one area that I have not been fastidious in keeping up to date and accurate with has been Hemiptera. That is until today. Last week I took on the role of county recorder for Heteroptera. Now for those out there that are not familiar wit the taxonomy of insects, bugs (or true bugs) are collectively known as Hemiptera. This order is split into a number of suborders. The classic bugs, such as shield bugs and ground bugs, fall into the order Heteroptera (this is what I will be covering). The hoppers used to be in the sub order Homoptera but this now has the awfully unpronounceable name of Auchenorrhyncha. Alan Stewart will continue to be the county recorder for these. Then you have psyllids  (Sternorrhyncha) which I haven't done anything with yet.

On my list I have previously just treated them to order with a total of 137 species of Hemiptera as of first thing this morning. For this group I have been keeping a paper checklist that I update as a I see new species but today I finally got around to updating this digitally and pulling everything together. I'm glad that I actually came out with 149 Hemiptera, in total being 132 Heteroptera and 17 Auchenorrhyncha, that from now on, on my list I will call true bugs and hoppers respectively. So I end the day on 4798 species, 12 species up. I'm glad to find that I was under-recording rather than over-recording! All the gaps are filled in and the missing species added to Recorder.

Of the 583 species of Heteroptera on the systematic list on British Bugs, I have seen only 132, just 22.6% of the fauna. Plenty of room to for improvement which is great as far as I am concerned. I searched my photo archive for a species that had slipped through the net and this was all I could find. It's the Nb Dicranocephalus medius, a bug that feeds on Wood Spurge that I saw at Rewell Wood in 2009 but have not seen since. So the first thing I need to do as county recorder now I have sorted my own bug business, is do the same for East and West Sussex and find out what the county list is, then I'll be in a better position to write an article about it for next year's Adastra and start doing some of the more fun stuff! Like trying to fill in the gaps and promoting bug recording. That leaves me with just one question that is best asked by Hudson from Aliens:

"Is this gonna be stand up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?"

Raining cats and dogs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 5 February 2014 08:37

This is the eggcase of the Small-spotted Catshark (also known as the Lesser-spotted Dogfish!). After recent storms there were masses of these washed up on Brighton beach at the weekend. I can remember regularly seeing small dogfish washed up dead on the beach at Tal-y-bont in Wales when I was a kid. They were probably the same species. Frustratingly, I am yet to see one of these animals alive, so it's not one of the 69 UK species of fish I have on my list. The records though are valuable and I'll submit them. You can key out catsharks, skate and ray eggcases on this website, it's a great resource. I was totally gripped though, as on the same day, a colleague found an eggcase of the rare Cuckoo Ray on the same stretch of beach. This was a stunningly beautiful looking thing and I'd love to find my own!

Dogfish to catshark? Quite a drastic name change! Next they'll be called Mousewhales. But seriously, anyone know why the name change?

Norway man!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 2 February 2014 07:52

The 'canny' among you can probably tell from the title of this post, it's about a trip to Norway with a bunch of Geordies. This is what I got up to on a short break in September last year with Rachael and her lovely family. We hadn't been before and I didn't really think I would spend my first trip to Scandinavia in September with my top off but I'm not complaining! When we weren't on a speed boat, a trampoline or a wake board, I was squeezing in some natural history...

No matter where I go in the world, natural history plays its part. It's like a curse and a blessing all in one.  I was quite restrained though, and didn't do too much this time. As I was jumping up and down on a trampoline, I could hear what sounded like someone clicking their fingers in the distance. I realised it was coming from a rough grassy bank nearby and was probably some sort of cricket. I spotted a huge grasshopper, shuffling up and down the stems and recognised it as the Large Marsh Grasshopper (above), a species I am yet to see in the UK. Nearby I spotted a Yellow-winged Darter, another species not on my British list. I even got Rachael's Mum taking photos of invertebrates, with this Goat Moth larvae she spotted on the way to the shops! I've only ever seen this moth as an adult or from the feeding damage it creates on the trees.

I picked up on a few Wart-biters by their distinctive song as I walked passed an unremarkable road verge. A species that's so rare in the UK it's only at a handful of chalk-grassland sites in the south.

Swimming with Lion's-man Jellyfish is less than fun. "Whatever you do, don't look over your shoulder!". There are thousands of them in the fjords.

I went on one long walk (actually a 16 miler) through the woods. I wanted to see one new species of bird and was hoping for a woodpecker. About two miles in I heard an awful racket which turned out to be a Nutcracker and I watched it land on the top of pine in front of me. Now, I have Nutcracker on my UK list (the Staffordshire bird) but was chuffed to see one again after some 20 years. At this point, an even louder noise came from behind the tree line and I assumed it would be another Nutcracker. It was actually a Black Woodpecker and landed on the adjacent pine top, so I had both birds in the same field of view. It then flew off straight over my head!!! My first ever Black Woodpecker and it was THE bird I really wanted to see. I then walked for another 14 miles and hardly saw anything else! I didn't care though, the landscape was amazing...

This little house is the furthest north I have ever been. Northern Willow Tits were frequent here.

Wild Blueberries.

And Moose poo. No Mooses though.

A currently unidentified carpet of club-moss from the spruce forest.

And the days we spent in the Skyberg's family holiday home were amazing. Waking up to Northern Nuthatches (how cool are they ?!) and Crested Tits was very cool.

A huge thank you to Espen and Jenny for sharing their home with us! We had a great time and I can't wait to go back.

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