How a wildlife identification course could change YOUR life!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 25 February 2015 11:05

A couple of weeks ago at the annual Sussex Biological Recorder's Seminar I was approached by Brad Scott (above) during lunch who said "thanks ever so much for that course on Grasses, Sedges and Rushes that you ran several years ago, it really kick-started my interest in natural history." Now if I tell you that since this course, Brad has been on my Common Woodland Bryophytes course and has almost seen more mosses and liverworts than me now (have a look at the PSL rankings for bryophytes) it starts to put things in perspective. Yet this is just the start of Brad's natural history adventures!

It's exactly this kind of inspiration that I always hope my courses will provide. It's certainly not going to be everyone that gets the bug like this but even if we reach one or two people a year in this way we are making a difference. So, I asked Brad if he would mind writing a few words about his experience with the Trust's courses and this is what he put together...

"The first Sussex Wildlife Trust course I did was Graeme Lyons' fabulous weekend on Grasses, Sedges and Rushes about five years ago. It really inspired me to further explore the rich and varied habitats we have right on our doorstep. A couple of years ago I also did the Mosses and Liverworts course too, and that prompted me to find out more at the local field meetings of the British Bryological Society and tentatively start recording. Not content just to look at plants, starting a Pan-Species List has provided me a focus for attempting to comprehend the diversity of all habitats. In addition, appreciating that exploring the natural world is best shared with other people, I've also been involved starting up a local natural history group in Forest Row, and occasionally blogging. Wildlife Trust courses are clearly an excellent way to learn, share, and ignite one's passion for all wildlife."

This sort of thing really is music to my ears and inspires me in turn to keep going with these courses and produce new material annually. Brad's rather stylish and understated blog is a great read, particularly his post on wildlife recording and how a relative beginner really can contribute quite a lot if you work closely with more experienced naturalists. So to tie all this together myself, Brad and the country recorder for bryophytes are going to go looking for the rare and elusive Ghostwort in the Ashdown Forest one weekend in March. We will probably look something like this. Watch this space.

So why not book on one of the many fantastic courses Sussex Wildlife Trust has to offer? I can't promise that you'll become a Ghostbuster but you will certainly learn something about the amazing wildlife of Sussex and have a great time in the process. Call 01273 497561 for more info (I resisted saying it!).

Fantastic Mrs ferox

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 17 February 2015 16:44

Ten months ago during an invertebrate survey at Flatropers Wood, we (Alice Parfitt, Chris Bentley and I) collected a specimen of a female Andrena (mining bees) that remained unidentified, until now. Bear in mind that last year was the year I first attempted keying out solitary bees, so it was with some trepidation that I keyed this particular bee out to Andrena ferox, an RDB1 BAP species with one record in Sussex 70 years ago!!! Basically the rarest Andrena in the country. I keyed it out again after sleeping on it and it came out to the same species (thanks to Dave Gibbs for his help). Then I keyed it out with James Power at work and we got it to the same species. Finally today, county recorder and bee wizard Mike Edwards took a look at it and confirmed it as this species. This is by far my best find of 2014. It's the jewel in the crown of the invertebrate fauna of Flatropers Wood, a site that I should add is not even an SNCI. If you want to read more about Andrena ferox, have a look at the BWARS page and Steven Falk's excellent flickr stream. It looks like many other bees but it has bright orange hind femora, which are themselves covered in orange hairs. Other bees do share this feature though, so again it comes down to microscopic features.

We have so far recorded 610 species of invertebrate from Flatropers during the survey, 297 of which were recorded from the Pylon Ride where Andrena ferox was recorded on the 24th April 2014. We've recorded 32 species of aculeate (bees, ants and wasps) and 27 of these are from this ride. The ride really is where much of the interest of the site is but it was particularly good in the spring and the autumn, showing how important early and late visits are to these kind of surveys. It's produced some really great finds, have a look through some of the highlights here.

So what next for this bee? Well we will go and have another look if we can find more individuals and perhaps find the nesting aggregations in April but I hear this bee is incredibly hard to find (apparently, or am I just really lucky?!) and we may never record another one. We can however take a good look at the site and knowing the bee's requirements, see if there is any management we can put in place, if any, to improve its chances there. It's a very welcome return to our invertebrate fauna and just goes to show how you can make significant finds with relatively limited experience if you adopt the right approach!

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