Is this Britain's best looking beetle!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 31 May 2014 17:46

After a slow start yesterday, the invertebrate survey at Burton Pond developed into a slow and steady trickle of large charismatic mega fauna and exciting rarities. Of greatest visual impact was this MASSIVE Agapanthia villosoviridescens. We actually saw six or more of these and all were sitting on Hemp-agrimony stems. This is one of only a few longhorn beetles which don't feed on wood as larvae and are known to feed in umbellifer stems. It's the first time I have seen one of these in four years and my first Sussex ones, glad to see them well established on on of our sites.

Mike noticed a nest of Lasius platythorax and said this would be a place for the hoverfly Microdon analis. As if by magic, a mating pair were spotted seconds later. In the afternoon I swept Microdon myrmicae from the the Black Hole which is the first time I have seen this species. I think both of these species are nationally scarce.

This HUGE Araneus angulatus (Nb) was only my third encounter with this species and the first one that was photographable. It's not even fully mature and is already a huge spider.

Strange things that I would not have expected to see included Bristly Millipede Polyxenus lagurus beaten off a dead tree at New Piece. Here is a photo I took of one at Rye Harbour.

And I swept a Donacia crassipes (Nb) off Alder.

Other highlights included the Ornate Brigadier Odontomyia ornata an IUCN Vulnerable species and perhaps the rarest find of the survey. Another exciting record was two Crambus uliginosellus netted in flight from Black Hole. This Nb micro moth is a bog specialist. According to Colin Pratt, this has not been seen in West Sussex since 1992 and this looks like a new site. Also in Black Hole was a cracking adult female Pirata piscatorius which I have only ever seen at Pevensey and might be a first for West Sussex! The only new beetle I saw all day was Abdera flexuosa which fell off a bracket fungi as I potted up a Dorcatma! I even saw four new species of spider but I haven't got time to go into them. Burton Pond is proving to be an exceptional site for invertebrates, what will we find their next?!

Dusky at Dawn

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 29 May 2014 18:55

A nice surprise this morning at Woods Mill was this scarce immigrant moth, Dusky Hook-tip. It wasn't as strikingly different as I would have thought though, so glad that Penny and Alice spotted it. Read more about it from Penny on Sussex Wildlife Trust's sightings blog.

If Darth Maul were a beetle...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 26 May 2014 16:28

...then he would probably look like this. Yesterday, I attended the second half of the Knepp recording weekend and this beetle being the very scarce (Na) Pilemostoma fastuosa was the highlight of the day for me. It's so strikingly unlike other tortoise beetles, I almost mistook it for a ladybird, then a Cryptocephalus but when I realised what it was, it dropped to the ground and I plunged my hand into a mass of hidden Blackthorn spines to get to it! Worth it though. One of the food plants listed for this species is Fleabane, which there's rather a lot of at Knepp! Odd that species restricted to common plants, can often be so scarce.

The rarest thing we saw all day was probably the bracket fungus Phellinus populicola on Grey Poplar.

And also on oak was the rare Phellinus robustus. I was really glad to see these two species, as I missed them during last year's bioblitz!

I sieved a pile of twigs, litter and dead wood, that I think someone said was an old Barn Owls nest, from a large tree that had fallen down. In there, we recorded Korynetes caeruleus, Cobweb Beetle Ctesias serra larvae and (new for me) Attagenus pellio. Nearby we recorded an Awl-fly and Anthocomus fasciatus, being only the second time I have recorded these saproxylic species.

In the garden, I was pleased to finally see Asparagus Beetle Crioceris asparagi. Excuse my hand.

Another cool bug that I didn't manage a photo of was a lacebug (Dictyla convergens) beaten off oak. Interestingly it turned out to be a species associated with Water Forget-me-not but as the oak was right next to a lake, this makes total sense. I still have quite a few species yet to identify. A thoroughly enjoyable day in all, a big thank you to Charlie Burrell, Amy Nightingale and Ted Green for such a great day.

Burnt toast

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 24 May 2014 14:26

For the last five years I have looked for the mythical Burnt Orchids that Steve found around ten years ago at Southerham but no one has seen since. Until now that is! Yesterday I started mapping and/or counting the rarer plants of our chalk grassland site Southerham. I was concentrating on mapping Chalk Milkwort and White Horehound. I was going to attempt my annual search for the Burnt Orchids when I met up with Steve at Bible Bottom, I really didn't think we would find them. 

Independently, Steve and I both came to the conclusion that Chalk Milkwort seems to grow only on the very best parts of the chalk and could maybe be an indicator for other interesting plants. The Chalk Milkwort is by no means ubiquitous at Southerham like Common Milkwort is, in fact it grows in discrete but diffuse patches that lend themselves well to mapping. In fact the area where the Bastard Toadflax is, is in a Chalk Milkwort area too (but that is too hard to find until it's in flower). I did see some yesterday but only by getting on my hands and knees, I'll go back to do this in a month. Anyway, we were surprised at how little Chalk Milkwort there was compared to what are memories were telling us, I believe this is the fault of our memories though and not a decline in the plant and demonstrates the importance of detailed monitoring. Memories change the more you access them, Excel files don't.

Right at the top of the slope, way further up than I would have thought to search, we found the first patch of Chalk Milkwort we had seen in all the huge area of Bible Bottom and ten metres beyond this I walked right up to a single Burnt Orchid. Suddenly there were four more and then Steve found another seven. Despite a thorough search, we didn't find any more. Twelve specimens tallies with what Steve recorded all that time ago. Another point this illustrates is the importance of taking accurate grid references, we only ever had a six figure grid reference for the old record. Now we can monitor these plants and keep an eye on them. A brilliant and unexpected end to the week! Not the best photo in the world but I don't care as this is evidence that we have our own Burnt Orchids!

Now, I was originally going to blog about the differences between Chalk and Common Milkwort so here goes. In the image below, the top plant is Common and the bottom one, Chalk Milkwort.
With Common Milkwort, the stems are usually a little longer, the leaves larger and more pointed but more importantly they are smaller towards the stems base and are alternate all the way down. With Chalk, the leaves are a little smaller and blunter and get larger towards the base where there is a 'false rosette'. 

However, they can be separated on jizz and colour with experience. On the Lewes Downs, Chalk Milkwort is usually (95%+) white with a hint of blue and only occasionally electric blue as is the typical form (both are shown in the photo below). Common is white, pink or violet but is rarely the electric blue-white of Chalk. My camera doesn't quite do this shade of blue justice.

In addition, the flowers are arranged differently, much more congested but more neatly arranged all the way around the stem (first image below) while Common looks messy in comparison (second image below shows Chalk Milkwort in white and Common in pink). Chalk also appears more upright and forms denser patches of flower spikes about the size of a dinner plate whilst Common appears more scattered. With experience, it's quite easy. What really struck me yesterday though is that Chalk Milkwort is restricted to the most floristically rich CG2. Go and have a look now, as Chalk Milkwort is an early flowerer and will be over by mid summer.

At the End of the Rainbow

Posted by Graeme Lyons 10:14

A couple of days ago I found myself being escorted into the Millenium Seedbank at Wakehurst Place to give a talk on Barbastelle Bats (featuring a picture of a Ferengi from Star Trek of course). I was nattering away with Ben Rainbow at the back of the group and as we walked up to the entrance we were distracted by some fancy raised beds with wild plants set out in various habitats, the nearest one being vegetated shingle. I saw there two plants I had never seen in the wild, Yellow Vetch and Small-flowered Buttercup, I recognised them both instantly and felt excitement closely followed by frustration as they were not wild and I couldn't tick them. Ben said in reference to the vetch "I saw that at Widewater on Monday". Three hours later, I was at Widewater and the above photos are of the wild plant. My 1220th vascular plant. There wasn't a huge amount there and it took a bit of searching. The vegetated shingle is really nice with masses of Sea Heath, Thrift, Rough Clover, BFT and Sea Kale.

Certificate 18

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 22 May 2014 18:56

I beat this very cool ladybird off a fallen Scots Pine at Graffham yesterday after a very early start surveying birds and then the deployment of twenty pitfall traps. It's the 18-spotted Ladybird Myrrha octodecimguttata and a species I had never seen before. Superficially, it looks like the Cream-spot Ladybird but the spots themselves are more varied in shape and arrangement than those in that species. Off the same tree I had three more lifers, the common weevils Otiorhynchus singularis and Cimberis attelaboides and the Nb running crab spider, Philodromus collinus. It's all about the fallen pines!

The bird survey was good too, with Woodlark, Hobby, Yellowhammer and Spotted Flycatcher all present.

The pitfall traps are a repeat of traps I ran exactly five years ago and I hope to show some really positive changes due to the management we have carried out there since then. Whilst I was placing the last trap my eye was drawn to an oddly symmetrical shape in the mineral soil. Sitting on the surface was this amazing fossilised sea urchin!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 19 May 2014 22:09

One of the highlights of last week's survey at Flatropers Wood was this cracking leaf beetle called Gonioctena decemnotata, a Nb species I swept off willow.

Now I'm not usually into taking pictures of moths in pots but as this flew away immediately after I tried to get it to land on a Bluebell, here is the Bluebell Conch Hysterophora maculosana that Alice swept from the food plant.

Children of Dune

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 17 May 2014 18:09

I attended/ran the BAS field trip to Camber Sands today and we had a great time. I managed a number of new spiders and even though I only got one of my three target species, it was the one I wanted to see the most. We only found one Marpissa nivoyi (I have seen all the Marpissas now!) all day and no Philodromus fallax or Synageles venator. Chris sieved this from Marram litter.

Xerolycosa miniata was abundant throughout the dunes.

Thanks to Chris I saw a number of new flies, including this female Dysmachus trigonus.

Beetle wise, the highlights were the stunning Panagaeus bipustulatus (well spotted Matt, great to catch up with you and Nicola again) and a dead specimen of something that might turn out to be new to Sussex! Just a quick one tonight as I am off to see Godzilla, I'll write a more detailed post tomorrow...

Where the Buffalo Roam

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 13 May 2014 20:34

I've been to Chippenham Fen today in Cambridge to look at the effects that Water Buffalo have had on the fen there over the last decade or so. I was really impressed at how at home they seemed and you can really see the accumulative effect of their grazing in the following photo. The left side has been left ungrazed while the right hand side gets a short amount of light summer grazing. The difference is striking, the left has dense Saw-sedge and lots of hung up litter but very little structural variety, the right has very little Saw-sedge (amazingly they seem to preferentially graze this) but a much more varied sward structurally and botanically. The right hand area is a hot spot for the Silver Barred moth (I was too early) while the left hand side has many rare spiders in the litter. Both communities are catered for by this sort of management.

In this area, tussocks of Black Bog-rush with Cambridge Milk-parsley have done very well with the grazing regime. In this area I found the very smart Na beetle Cerapheles terminatus.

I did manage a small amount of sieving, and in the first sieve we found several Hygrolycosa rubrofasciata (a stunning Na wolf spider I found new to Sussex at Stedham in 2012) and most excitingly, a couple of immature Marpissa radiata, a Nb species which is also a specialist of this area!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 12 May 2014 14:02

WARNING: This post is stupid.

It's that time of year when I have to get up really early once or twice a week to carry out bird surveys. This morning I woke up twelve minutes before my alarm clock at the ungodly hour of 4:18 am. This meant I went to bed early, about 9:00 pm. When I have to have an early night, I pass out pretty quickly, so when Rachael comes in a few hours later, I'm out cold. Almost. See, I have a tendency to talk utter rubbish at these times and occasionally wake myself up laughing, hysterically sometimes. Last night was no exception, as I simply uttered the word:


WHAT THE HELL IS FUNGALTON?!? A mythical mushroom market town in the Midlands? An actual ton of toadstools? I have no idea. I can only think it was something to do with the West Weald Fungi Recording Group field meeting I attended yesterday at Whithurst Park. Other classics from the last two years include:

"There's a man over there dressed as a lamp post" (there wasn't)
"Can you smell wizards?" (we couldn't, actually I still can't)

And the all time mid summer 2013 classic:

"It will soon be time for my Christmas egg" (to this day, I have not received my Christmas egg)

Enough of this nonsense and time for some wildlife, I am a serious naturalist after all! The highlight of yesterday's field trip was not actually a fungus but rather a vascular plant that has eluded me for a number of years, despite searching for it. We stumbled across over twenty plants of Narrow-leaved Bittercress on a woodland ride. I still get a kick out of seeing new plants even if they're not in flower. 

I only added one fungi being Pale Brittlstem Psthyrella candolleana.

But I did see three new inverts. A spider (Pachygnatha listeri), a saproxylic beetle under oak bark (Cerylon histeroides) and this very cool Truffle Gall caused by the wasp Andricus quercusradicis. Growing out of the base of an oak tree, it really did look like a fungus but it's quite hard and woody and full of cells each containing a tiny larva. Now, I wonder what fresh madness I will dream up tonight (fortunately for everyone I only have about eight early starts left this year).

Hover craft

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 8 May 2014 08:14

I stumbled across an area at Woods Mill that has been recently coppiced that I am ashamed to say I hadn't noticed until yesterday. I was instantly struck by how much Bugle was flowering in these small scallops and before you know it my lunch time walk had turned into an hour and a half and I hadn't moved more than half a mile! There were LOTS of invertebrates but this time hoverflies made up the vast majority of the numbers. By far the most abundant species was the above Rhingia campestris. I'd love the English name for this to be the Pinocchio Fly with its huge snout!

Here is the Bugle in all its glory. Other plants included Moschatel and Three-nerved Sandwort.

Other hoverflies included singletons of the stunning deadwood species Brachypalpoides lenta and Xylota segnis, Leucozona lucorum, Epistrophe elegans, Episyrphus balteatus, Eristalis sp, and Helophilus sp. Nothing really rare there but I have only seen Brachypalpoides once before at The Mens.

Lots of these Cheilosisa variabilis with their too long wings that really made them stand out. This was a new species for me. It's larvae use the roots of figwort.

I also swept this very UGLY Xysticus, almost as ugly as Xysticus audax is stunning, this is the female of Xysticus lanio. As long as the Bugle is in flower, this little clearing will be drawing in all sorts of invertebrates so I will be heading back next time the sun comes out! Nice one Steve!

Rhombic Leatherbug

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 3 May 2014 17:29

No puns are needed when species have such ridiculous names as Rhombic Leatherbug Syromastus rhombeus. At the last minute I decided to go to Climping Dunes today and Tony Davies came along too. This time we actually found the target species but as ever, it's the things we were not expecting to find that stole the show.

Any day where I see a new jumping spider is a good one. This one is tiny being a male Sitticus saltator, a sand dune specialist and I saw dozens there today. They are REALLY small (3 mm mature) but incredibly territorial. We watched one run backwards and forwards along a fallen grass stem waving its front legs around and reflexing them backwards. It doesn't look like there are many records for West Sussex, maybe it will be a county first with any luck! Another spider I saw today I have only ever seen once before was Thanatus striatus.

Plants today including Spring Vetch, Sea Clover, Rough Clover and a grass tick, the nationally scarce Dune Fescue! Loads of other stuff to report too but no time, the pub beckons!

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