The Mushroom Formerly Known as Prince

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 20 November 2015 07:57

Last Sunday I went to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey with the WWFRG again but this time I took Bryony in addition to meeting up with Tony and Shaun. We found a wealth of fungi that day but none were as showy as the HUGE (sorry Artist Formerly Known as Prince, the similarities stop there) the Prince or Agaricus augustus as it prefers to be known these days. Always wanted to see this beast of a mushroom.

I was amazed at how rich the site was and it wasn't long before we found the Snaketongue Trufflecub, a Cordyceps species that parasitises False Truffles! Such strange looking things.

In a matter of minutes Bryony got me a tick! Here is Lactarius subumbonatus.

And this Tricholoma batschii is found here and only two other sites in the country!

But it was the Cedarwood Waxcap that I was perhaps most excited about seeing, or should I say smelling! Waxcaps have been so fantastic this autumn that they have become my favourite fungi family of the year! It smells of Russian leather or lead pencils, both smells that I have no experience with but I can tell you the smell is quite distinct. It makes me think, what will the books state that fungi smell like in another generation or two? Smells strongly of chai latte or an iPhone perhaps.

We also found a couple of interesting Amanitas. This Jewelled Amanita was a looker...

And Bryony found this specimen that Dick Alder hasn't been able to identify as it might not have opened up enough. I was hoping it was going to be Warted Amanita but it looks like we might have to let this one go. A huge thanks again to Dick and the WWFRG, I would be very lost with fungi without their guidance so I am very grateful for these field trips. Now, I'm only 18 species away from 6000. 

Welcome to the Fungal Jungle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 5 November 2015 20:14

If you don't like stuff dripping and covered in slime, I direct you at this point to the Ryvita website. If you do, read on. I've been on a jaunt around Ebernoe today with Martin Allison (county fungi recorder) and some of my colleagues. Part recording session, part training session and part management advice trip, today proved a valuable day in the field for all. It's vitally important to continually hone and advance your natural history skills working in the field of ecology and conservation and today provided just that. Ebernoe is known for having well over a 1000 species of fungi so where is there better to go looking for them?

Above is the Bay Bolete, a common enough species but I love how the cap glistens with rain water and slime. I took this in the Leconfield area of Ebernoe where we have worked hard recently to manage Holly for other interest features on the site whilst being sympathetic to the bat's requirements. We were pleased to see that fungi in this area were more prolific today than anywhere else on site. There are limited mycorrhizal (the subterranean parts of fungi) assemblages under Holly so a more varied woodland structure is likely to produce more fungi on the woodland floor.

Michael found this Bloodred Webcap, a new one for me!

And after about five years since I last saw one, I caught up with loads of the poisonous Dappled Webcap.

Now I've been saying "I don't do slugs!" for years. I still don't but today I got a little closer. I managed to take a few photos of a slug I saw on a tree that I thought looked a little different. Turns out it's just one of the large Arion species and I'm not going to get it to species from this photo. However, I'm really pleased with this shot and I'm hoping this might finally give me a way in to this disgusting group of animals. It's kinda cute though. Aaaaghhhh, the internal conflict.

We then had time to have a quick look on the cricket pitch where even more waxcaps were found including these Slimy Waxcaps, Spangle Waxcaps and...

...what we think are the VERY slimy Heath Waxcaps. It's so slimy, one can barely maintain a purchase when holding its stype betwixt thumb and forefinger!

And finally the rather odd looking Smoky Spindles

So out of nowhere in the last month, I've really rekindled my interest in fungi. As has my friend, TinyBirder, whom I helped photograph Holly Parachute at Ebernoe today. Follow his adventures on Facebook here.

The First Rule of Pipe Club

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 31 October 2015 20:04

This is Pipe Club, and I've been waiting years to see this again just so I can write a blog with this title. Indulge me.

"The first rule of Pipe Club is: You do not talk about Pipe Club. The second rule of Pipe Club is: You do not talk about Pipe Club. Third rule of Pipe Club: Someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the recording session is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a specimenFifth rule: one identification at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: wear shirts, wear shoes. Seventh rule: Photo shoots will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first day at Pipe Club, you have to find a rare fungus".

(This is either going to make NO sense to you, or if you seen the film/read the book will at best be mildly amusing. Hey, I like my incongruous natural history/popular culture references and it's my blog, OK?).

Anyways, for the first time since last May, I've been out with the WWFRG to Whithurst Park where we mopped up and I added 27 new fungi to my list. I was very pleased to see that my old friend Shaun Pryor has become an active member of the group and we had a good catch up. Shaun has literally just signed up to Pan-species Listing and is attempting something no one else has: he is starting completely from scratch! You can follow Shaun's progress here. Anyway, Whithurst Park. Fungi have some pretty bonkers common names and Pipe Club has always made me chuckle. It's also almost exactly the same colour and texture as Morph...

Perhaps the most ridiculous name of the day was Elastic Saddle, a new one for me and quite an uncommon species. I think it kinda looks like a fortune cookie.

Other new species today included these tiny Twig Parachutes growing on a bramble stem.

And this Peeling Oysterling

As per usual though, Magpie Inkcaps stole the show.

A big thank you to all the people at the WWFRG for sharing their incredible wealth of knowledge. Shaun and I then carried on to Ebernoe Cricket Pitch and there were even more waxcaps there this week than last. With a little help, we are fairly sure we saw nine species, including two new ones for me, these huge Splendid Waxcaps.

And the strongly honey-scented Honey Waxcap. It is impossible to take a photo of a fungus at Ebernoe Cricket Pitch without it being photo-bombed by Chamomile leaves!

And a single Orange Grisette was up again too.

That's me up to 375 species of fungi now. I might get to 6000 species in all by Christmas after all...

Top to Bottom

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 18 October 2015 21:48

This photo has made me realise I need to keep my iPhone 6 in my pocket and start getting the Coolpix 4500 out of my bag more often! This is the Top Snail Trochoidea elegans, a naturalised snail that, in Sussex, is only found on the Downs near Denton. Most likely it arrived via Newhaven. There are hundreds up there and as a non-threatening accidental introduction, they are quite a pleasant addition to our local molluscan fauna. They are unusual among terrestrial snails in their wide conical form, quite similar to the top shells you get on the coast. Smaller than I though but very variable and quite odd looking from underneath. Thanks to Steve Teale for the gen and Mark Telfer (who couldn't make it today) for the inspiration. 

I walked a little further down the hill and realised I was right next to one of the farms I surveyed for Natural England back in 2010/11, very close to the fence line in this post. I went into Stump Bottom where I found many more Top Snails, though much smaller ones this time. This patch of the NVC community CG7 (dominated by Wild Thyme, Mouse-ear Hawkweed and the moss Homalothecium lutescens) but all I found was Sitona humeralis and Galeruca tanaceti. Any day now I'm gonna hit 1000 beetles but it's not today! 

Top ten tips for being a biological recording machine

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 2 October 2015 12:14

Usually at this time of year, I burn out of natural history. Mentally exhausted from identifying nearly EVERYTHING I see for a whole summer. So much so that even when I'm 'off duty', my brain continuously identifies things; birds flying over head calling, roadside plants that fall into my field of view, every single moth (or small piece of symmetry) on a shop window. Search image is such a powerful tool that it becomes a subconscious process if you use it frequently enough. I walk around at this time of year feeling a little like Terminator searching for Sarah Connor. Most people back stage at a festival would not even notice the fly. I actually can't stop it you know, I've tried. I'm permanently wired to record.

Yesterday I entered my 30,000th record on to my Recorder database (it was Rhagonycha fulva) so I thought this would be a good time to celebrate and promote biological recording. This includes 7632 plant records, 5372 birds, 4212 beetles, 3981 butterflies and moths, 2483 spiders and 1116 bugs among many more. Here is the view of my records nationally, at the county level and in the People's Republic of Brighton & Hove.

1) Know your basics
I don't want to teach people how to suck eggs here but good biological recording contains at least the following information: Species, Recorder, Location, Grid Reference, Date and preferably some level of abundance or qualifying data.

2) Register on iRecord!
I don't use iRecord as I have my own personnel database BUT if I was starting again and I wasn't a professional, I would be using it. It's a great way for getting your records in AND verified without sending your data to dozens of different recording schemes, you can sign up here

3) Get a smart phone or a hand held GPS
Smart phones have some great features for helping you record. Cheap GPS apps. Increasingly good cameras. Access to Internet resources. If you have a hand held GPS, this is also very useful. I enter my more interesting records in as 'way points'. I type in the species name in short hand on the key pad and it stores the grid ref to 10 figures (I only use 8) along with the time and date.

4) 8 figure grid ref vs site centroid
A site centroid is a generic grid reference for a whole site. It's really good for walk over surveys, recording common and abundant species, birds flying over or when you are recording a LOT of species. A detailed 8 figure grid reference is much better for casual recording, stumbling across something unusual or out of place/time etc. I try to put as much in to 8 figures as I possibly can. Have a look at my records for Woods Mill for example. If I was just putting in to a site centroid, there would just be one blue dot in the middle and that wouldn't be good for informing site management. You can always scale back if you start detailed but you can't do it the other way around!
5) What to record?
You can't record everything. In Brighton I'd be recording Herring Gull every day. That's not gonna tell anyone anything. If I'm doing a survey and that's my job, I obviously record everything but casual recording is a little different. I try to record something everyday and I always record anything that's unusual. So I would always record the following:
  • Something I'd never seen before
  • Something I'd only seen a few times before
  • Something I'd never seen at that site or that time of year before
  • Anything thought to be scarce or rare
  • Anything on a site I'd never been to before

Once upon a time I used to record every Firecrest I heard but these days I hear as many as I do Goldcrest. So this does change with time. You can't record everything all of the time!

6) Push yourself!
Concentrate on the the most difficult groups you can identify as you are more likely to make a valuable contribution to the recording world this way. It's not that hard to find county firsts with invertebrates, even in this heavily recorded part of the world! I'm not saying don't record the commoner things but you'll get more out of biological recording by pushing yourself into new areas in addition to the obvious. The best way to do this is to get into Pan-species Listing. Have a look here

7) Keep up to date
Don't let your records build up into a back log! This can be hard to achieve but if you try and chip away at your records every day/week the job becomes more manageable. I've been there and it's a nightmare. If you do have a back log, concentrate on your contemporary records! This also helps to recognise the value of recording. A worrying number of people who work in conservation do not submit any records for example. I believe this is because in recent years we have forgotten the importance of recording and it's slipped down the priority ladder becoming a nice thing to do! It's absolutely vital to our understanding the world around us. Challenge yourself. Make one record a day for a year for example!

8) Some other useful websites
If, like me, you're not using iRecord, I find Grab a Grid Reference invaluable at finding grid refs when I don't have my GPS. You can get an 8 figure grid reference easily using the aerial photos there.
I also use this website for figuring out what vice county (useful for cataloguing site locations systematically in Recorder) I'm in if I'm out of Sussex

9) Be prepared
Always have some form of a camera, notebook/phone and some kind of pot for bringing a specimen back for identification. Sometimes you get stuck without anything and you need to improvise. This was what happened to me when I got stuck without anything last year coming back from Cross Fit.

10) Have no shame!
Wildlife doesn't wait around for people who are worried about their image or whether someone will be offended if you butt in! You often only have a few seconds to react and it's best to just go for it. People will forgive you for butting in, stopping the car or making a slight detour but you'll never forgive yourself afterwards if you aren't prepared to drop everything ALL of the time. Here are a coupe of examples...

So, no matter where I am, I'm recording wildlife. Such as this longhorn beetle. Recorded in Suffolk back stage at Latitude festival. I was helping Bryony load in Marika Hackman when I had to stop, drop the gear and 'borrow' a box of filters to put the specimen in to be identified at a later date. It was a male Stictoleptura rubra, a species I hadn't seen before. Longhorns are one of my favourite groups of beetles so I wasn't missing the chance at a new species. 

A few weeks later and I'm the toilets back stage at the Green Man festival. I was chatting to Super Furry Animals' back-line tech in the toilets when I spotted a weird looking beetle which turned out to be Oedemera femoralis, if I was a self conscious person, I wouldn't have made this record. I'd only seen this species once before that, also in quite strange circumstances. In a spider's web in a pub garden.

So get out there and get recording! Not only is it great fun, it's a great way to learn about the natural world and informs management, research, planning and much much more. Now I might have had a few weeks out due to illness but I've been able to catch up on my summer back log of records in the process, so as far as field work goes...I'll be back!

The Phantom of the Diptera

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 26 June 2015 13:23

Last month I blogged about a survey we are conducting at Malling Down and Southerham and this week we carried out our fourth visit and it was rather good. The highlight was hearing Chris Bentley bellow "DOROS!!!". Not knowing if he had caught it yet, I legged it down into the Green Pits at Malling to find Chris looking very pleased with himself and something large and wasp like flying around inside his net. I've always wanted to see the Phantom Hoverfly Doros profuges as it's one of the few species that has acquired an English name, albeit via the BAP process. It's a cool name none the less. It is genuinely rare and difficult to find and is quite a convincing wasp mimic, even moving like a wasp. Thanks also to Chris for the photo.

However, that was not the rarest find of the survey. I swept a bee that got James and Mike excited and this turned out to be the RDB1 Halictus eurygnathus! This species really is restricted to the chalk around Lewes and Eastbourne and is so poorly known that we were informing the autecology of the species just by sweeping it off plants it's currently not known to nectar on. Also in the Coombe at Malling Down James recorded the Na bee Andrena fulvago. Cistus Foresters and Rose Chafers were also recorded and we were all in agreement that the site couldn't look better with a wide range of structural diversity and nectar being available. Here you can see masses of Common Rock-rose, Dropwort and Bird's-foot Trefoil. Go an have a look this week, it's amazing!!!

Also of note was this larva. It was by far the most abundant larva we were sweeping and was present in all six areas surveyed. The only noctuid moth I could ever remember seeing up there in any numbers was Dusky Sallow. A quick Google search and we soon realised this was indeed the larva of Dusky Sallow. Another tiny piece of the infinitely large jigsaw puzzle added!

Who is this Bechstein anyway?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 12 June 2015 18:20

This week I finally caught up with one of the rare mammals that is so significant on some of our West Weald woodland sites, the Bechstein's Bat. This rare woodland bat is heavily protected and was captured as part of a survey by fully licensed bat specialists. It's a fairly big bat with large ears, noticeably bigger than Natterer's Bat which we also saw.

But who was Bechstein? A quick Google and I found this page. It seems Johann Matthäus Bechstein was one of the first naturalists concerned with conservation and the bat was named in his honour. It was described by Heinrich Kuhl, who it seems was a younger contemporary of Bechstein's who died at the age of 24 in 1821, only a year before the much older Bechstein passed away. What I find remarkable is that the naturalists at this time (nearly 200 years ago) were able to catch and describe this and other species like it, with very little of the equipment we have today. It must have been such an exciting time with so many species being undescribed then. I guess the only way we'll ever witness a period like that again is if we find another planet with life on and start describing that too...

13/06/2015 UPDATE: So I accidentlay wrote that Bechstein's Bat is my 49th beetle (this is clearly not true as I have seen many more than 49 beetles). This was brought to my attention by Dr Robert Hoare of New Zealand who left me this comment which I just had to include here...

I've recently determined that
the Bechstein's Bat is not a bat...
What observations sway me? Many:
the 'ears' are saucer-like antennae...
that fuzzy 'fur' (I'm sorry sweetie)
is clearly Coleoptera setae
(the kind that keeps a chafer safe
when other chafers start to chafe)...
those wings, apparently of hide?
Elytra (highly modified)!
It has six legs, but due to frost,
two pairs have recently been lost...
and what are these? Surprise, surprise:
they're single-facet compound eyes!
My stark deduction bears repeatal:
the Bechstein's Bat's a bloody beetle!

The Battle of Lewes

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 31 May 2015 17:02

This summer another battle is unfolding above the streets of Lewes. On one side, Malling Down with its steep sided Combe and scrubby Green Pits and on the other Southerham Farm, with its secluded valleys and ludicrously named Bible Bottom. Yet which one is 'better' for invertebrates? There is only one way find out! FIGHT! Well, no. Actually it's to carry out a repeatable and standardised survey that can inform the management of these two superficially similar yet surprisingly different sites. That's exactly what we are doing this year and we have recently completed the third visit...

Once a month from March until September we are recording all the species we can find within six discrete areas (three on Malling and three on Southerham). We always record for the same time across all six areas. The sites are very rich, particularly in scarce weevils, and the total number of species recorded so far stands at 293! Above is the smart but diminutive (3mm) weevil Tychius schneideri. It only feeds on Kidney Vetch which is abundant at Southerham on Bible Bottom but mostly missing from Malling (conversely Malling has all the Common Rock-rose). So how do the two sites compare? So far Malling is winning with 201 species and Southerham is on 179 species. This difference is likely to be down to the lack of scrub at Southerham but that's not to say we want Southerham covered in scrub (but some scrub is good). A better way to compare the site's qualities for invertebrates would be to compare the proportion of species with  conservation statuses but that will have to wait until the survey is completed. Remarkably, only 87 (30%) of the species were recorded on both Malling and Southerham (so not that similar after all or just an example of how hard invertebrates are to find? Or how many species recorded occur at very low densities?). Out of the six sites, the Green Pits at Malling is currently coming out best of all with 102 species. It has the most scrub of all the plots, the least amount of south facing slope BUT a hugely varied topography. It's an old quarry on the north of the site.

Perhaps the most extraordinary difference is the abundance of the RDB Carthusian Snail at Southerham which has so far not been recorded at all from Malling. In many parts of Southerham it's the most abundant snail and was recorded in all three plots there during the first visit. The sites are only separated by a few hundred metres of golf course!

Also as Southerham lacks Common Rock-rose, it also lacks the Cistus Forester that's present at Malling Down. Both sites are covered in Knapweed though but it's only Bible Bottom at Southerham that has the Scarce Forester that feeds on the Knapweed!? So which site will come out on top? I believe Malling will end up with more species but Southerham is likely to have a higher proportion of scarce species and species associated with chalk-grassland. We'll have to wait and see though!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 19 May 2015 16:23

It's been a while. I've been very busy with the field season this year so very little time for blogging or even taking photos but I couldn't resist a few shots of this beast. This impressive looking insect was recorded by Trust volunteer Ellie Blows on a phone camera todat at Woods Mill. I was too busy with interviews to go and have a closer look there and then so I handed a net and a pot to Ellie and I was pleased to find she had managed to bring it back for a closer look. It's not a Hornet but the Hornet mimic Large Alder Sawfly Cimbex connatus. There is only one other Sussex record, being from last year, so it's clearly starting to spread. This is a large insect and would not be easy to miss but it would be easy to mistake for a Hornet. Check out those jaws!!!

It's not a new species for me though, as I am convinced that this is the larva of the same thing that I found last year at Woodwalton Fen in Cambridgeshire. However, I'd much rather see the adult than the larva! It's certainly a new record for Woods Mill too. Great stuff.

Earthstar Wars

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 8 March 2015 07:51

Until today I had only ever seen two earthstars, Collared and Sessile. Now I've seen four. Yet I'm not sure which four. So how did all this start? Well, with a sneeze of course. Tuesday morning I sneezed and put my back out so I've had a rough week with it. No training. Two walks to the GP's the only exercise in four days and then come Friday it got worse. Walking to the GP's, I got an email from Jim and Dawn Langiwicz asking about the Cedar Cups in Midhurst. He couldn't find them but had found what he thought was Arched Earthstar Geastrum fornicatum in a churchyard nearby. He was starting to think he had two species though and I agreed from his photos. So Tony, Heather and I went across this afternoon to have a look and it didn't take long to find the species on the right which we knew wasn't Arched Earthstar. We were pretty convinced it was Beaked Earthstar Geastrum pectinatum. We looked for the second (the left-hand one) which we were (and still are) convinced is Arched Earthstar Geastrum fornicatum. Here's a close up of that one.

Apart from the obvious colour differences, they seemed more upright, with a stouter collar, more 'blocky' spore capsule (Tony pointed out the two species had different spores too), they lacked a distinct beak and also lacked the raised rim around the beak of the other species.

Here is the other species showing a rounder spore capsule. Badgers have been so busy in the cemetery that they had dug a few of the Arched Earthstars up, so I took one over (the above photo) for direct comparison.

So I'm having an exciting night in identifying things when Tony chirps up saying he thinks we've got Rayed Earthstar Geastrum quadrifidum. I think he's right. The beak looks too short for beaked, which also lacks the raised pale area around the beak. The neck seams a little stouter too. We'll have to wait and see what the mycologists say. Either way, I've always wanted to see one of these cracking little things and was pretty stoked to see two within 20 metres of each other.

In the morning we had a walk around Ambersham. Nice to things like Brismtones and Green Tiger Beetles out but the highlight for me was seeing my first Sussex Uloborus walckenaerius. Ambersham is one of only two sites in West Sussex for this RDB3 spider and I beat three from heather along the side of a south-facing path.

I also saw the first new beetle I've seen in a while, I beat two Sphaeriestes castaneus off a pine tree. Lovely to get back out in the field and to feel like I'm on the mend again! A big thanks to Jim and Dawn too for the earthstars, the first real cool day out in the field in 2015!

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