Botanical wonderland

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 30 July 2016 09:18

I've been at Amberley Wildbrooks all this week with Mark Gurney, Andy Skinner and Vivienne Booth from my old department at the RSPB. Also yesterday Shaun Pryor came out to help too. What a week! The weather was really well behaved, five years ago it was just way too hot and the increased grazing out there means that getting about was mostly a lot easier too. The rare plants have certainly increased in number. Marsh Stitchwort for example is in loads more ditches and in some places is even in the field centres.

As more ditches are in the early state of succession, there are more ditch slubbings. This is where you find Small Water-pepper.

Great Water-parsnip is slightly up on last time too. I should add we still have many ditches to survey next year so the picture could change somewhat.

Marsh Cinquefoil returns to the SWT side after ditch clearance!

Everyone's favourite Unbranched Bur-reed does well in early to mid-successional ditches.

But it's Cut-grass that's the thing we were most interested in and that seems to have a shown a big increase. Last night when I closed my eyes I could still see it. I get this sometimes when you have to pay close attention to spot something. Whenever I show anyone this grass, I usually state first: "Prepare to be underwhelmed!" Yet in hindsight, I actually love this plant. Every time I spot it it releases a little bundle of endorphins. Jesus, did I say that out loud? Here it is growing out in the open on bare mud.

And here it is holding its own against dense Water Horsetail in a clogged ditch!

And more Whorl-grass than I've ever seen!

The survey simply took the form of presence or absence of all species in each ditch and amazingly we covered 83 ditches in 4.5 days. Cut-grass, Great Water-parsnip and True Fox Sedge were GPSd too. Here is a lovely open ditch with Sharp-leaved, Hair-like, Shining and Broad-leaved Pondweed, Frogbit, Amphibious Bistort and Cut-grass on the bank!

Here is Narrow-leaved Water-plantain (left) compared to regular Water-plantain (right).

And here is a shot that says it all. Amberley is clearly doing very well and I'm looking forward to completing the picture next year.

Oh and yesterday, after the RSPB lot left, Shaun and I stumbled upon this. Sorry Mark, we'll have to go and look for one of these next year! Another 13-spot Ladybird! Other non-botanical highlights included Lesser Cream Wave, Dotted Fan-foot, Water Vole, Crarabus granulatus and may more!

A Field in England

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 23 July 2016 07:18

I've just finished a repeat of the farm surveys I did last in 2010/11. This time it was just the four summer visits but it still ends up being 288 miles! Each one is about 11 or 12 miles and it's a relief to have finished. Now begins the write-up! It's too early for me to say what the differences in the bird life are but in terms of composition of the assemblages, there is little change. In terms of oddities and rarities, this year lacked the Black Kite and Honey Buzzard of 2011, I suppose the oddest was Grey Plover and Turnstone flying over my most easterly site just north of Bishopstone and three singing Quail just north of Brighton and one just north of Worthing were also great to hear (I haven't heard Quail since summer 2011).

Obviously, you must have heard about Calasoma sycophanta but I had a few exciting arable plant finds that day that were rather eclipsed by the excitement of the beetle. In the June and July visits I stumbled across three plants I had never seen before, something that just doesn't happen these days. Usually if I want to see something new I have to twitch plants so this was great. First up was Field Gromwell (EN - 8). By this time I began using Plantlife's arable plant index to assess the farms quality for arable plants (the rarer the plant, the higher the index).

Th other endangered plant I recorded there five years ago and is Narrow-fruited Cornsalad (EN - 8, running total 16).

And masses of Field Woundwort (NT - 6, running total 22) growing among Phacelia (where if anything, there was so much it was suppressing the Phacelia!). This area of the farm was more acidic. I didn't record this on any of the others farms last time and I've only ever seen it once.

Others that day included Prickly Poppy (VU - 7, running total 29).

Rough Poppy (3, running total 32). A score of 30 is needed for county importance, so that's in the bank.

Dwarf Spurge (NT - 6, running total 38).

Others not photographed in June were:
Small Toadflax (1, running total 39).
Grey Field Speedwell (2, running total 41).
Henbit Dead-nettle (1, running total 42.)
Round-leaved Fluellen (3, running total 45). A score of 45 is needed for a site of UK importance. So that's in the bank!
Sharp-leaved Fluellen (2, running total 47).
Dwarf Mallow (2, running total 49).

And the these Common Broomrapes (2, running total 51).

Great. A site of UK importance. And there I thought it would stay until things got really exciting on the July visit!

First up I refound a few Night-flowering Catchfly (VU - 7, running total 58) scattered about the farm.

I found what I thought may have been the exceptionally rare Upright Goosefoot but closer examination of the seeds proved this to be Nettle-leaved Goosefoot (VU - 7, running total 65). New for me, not seen this on any of the other farms.

In the same field as the Narrow-fruited Cornsalad, yet another life. Stinking Chamomile (VU - 7, running total 72).

And then in the Field Woundwort area, another plant new to these surveys (as it's more an acid soil thing) Corn Spurrey (VU - 7, running total 79).

So two EN and five VU species! I thought it was possible I might actually get to 90, the threshold for European significance. So I mopped up a few more species to get it.

Slender Parsley-piert (1, running total 80).
Black-grass (2, running total 82).
Annual Mercury (2, running total 84).
Black Mustard (2, running total 86).
Upright Hedge-parsley (3, running total 89).
Field Madder (1, running total 90) WAHOOO!!! European significance!

It continues though...
Cornfield Knotgrass (3, running total 93).
Fig-leaved Goosefoot (2, running total 95). Thanks to David Streeter for pointing this out to me, I've been spotting it on almost all the farms since.

What a great result. I look forward to writing this up properly and getting some comments from Plantlife!

Gotta catch 'em all

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 21 July 2016 07:04

Jessica: "(Uncle Graeme) do you have Pokemon Go?"
Graeme: "My whole life's Pokemon Go!"

Above is the weedle, sorry weevil, Mogulones geographicus. It's a Nb species associated with Viper's Bugloss. I've only seen it once before in the Brecks so was very pleased to see it on three of the five recording areas on a repeat invertebrate survey of Friston Forest. Other highlights included Beautiful Carpet, Nemophora cupriacella and the tiny cuckoo-bee Nomada sheppardana.

The weevil was very obliging and I managed to get lots of photos of the striking little beast and thank to posting the above photo on facebook, I might have helped someone secure this as a first for West Sussex too! But before I show you some more pictures, what about this Pokemon Go business? Well it's parallels with Pan-species Listing are clear but the difference is that Pokemon Go only benefits the users, while PSL has benefits to wildlife and the wider recording community. However, I've seen a lot of negativity towards people who are essentially going outside enjoying themselves with a hand-held computer. Firstly, it's people who probably wouldn't go to those places getting out and about exploring, keeping fit and having a laugh. It's not likely taking naturalists away from their hobby (if that has happened anywhere then I would be very sorry about that). Wait, news just in: Jonty Denton has quit naturalist history and is now the UK's Pokemon Go champion.

So what's the problem? It's amazing how something in a week or so has gathered more active users than Twitter. I'm sure it will just be a fad but I won't be discouraging anyone from getting out in the field recording (fictitious) creatures. You never know, they might even find some real wildlife on the way (I've seen reports of this happening already on social media). Yet there is one negative side to this. I have a very thick skin when it comes to stopping anywhere to grab hold of bugs in odd places where people are watching, I've had some very good ticks this way and I'll never stop. But yesterday walking back to the Southerham office I stopped to photograph a butterfly with my phone and as there was an audience in the form of crawling traffic, I suddenly thought:

"Oh no, what if they all think I'm playing Pokemon Go?" For a second, a split second, I was self-conscious and then it passed and I carried on doing what I''ll always do. So it seems the only negative aspect I can see is mostly based upon the negativity towards the game, not the game itself.

Anyway, here are some more shots of this most glorious of weevils.

Villa in the sun

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 4 July 2016 17:50

It's ironic that I was with Mike Edwards when he found the first record for Downland Villa Villa cingulata in Sussex the day after I watched my first ever football match. It's a type of bee-fly and is quite a smart looking beast. It hovers around in chalk-grassland looking for its host which is thought to be noctuid moth larvae. Having swept the grassland there all day yesterday, the only noctuid larvae we found in any abundance was Dusky Sallow. Could it be host-specific on this moth larvae?

Other exciting finds included the Mistletoe specialist bug Pinalitus viscicola which is new to West Sussex. Great also to see a male Araneus angulatus, only seen the females before.

Also new for me was this Six-belted Clearwing that I swept off a bank of Bird's-foot Trefoil. It was a bit worn from being swept but great to see my fifth clearwing (ALL without pheremones I should add).

This pyralid is also nationally scarce (Nb) and feeds on Knapweed. It's Paratalanta hyalinalis (yes that's seven 'a's).

Also, a couple of new beetles including Cleopus pulchellus. A rather smart little weevil.

A good day with two county firsts, four new flies, two new beetles, two new moths and one new bug.

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