Saltmarsh Short-spur

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 25 February 2017 13:40

I love this time of year. Specimens that have been sitting on your desk for six months or more suddenly remind you about how much you love natural history. I always get a bit jaded in the winter but there is nothing like a stonkingly rare carabid that I just can't key out to get my blood pumping.

I couldn't get beyond the key in Luff which said "upper surface golden metallic green", mine certainly was not. Purple/metallic black would fit better and I then did something I do a lot of with keys when I've been at the microscope all day; think the couplet is referring to the illustration in the margin when it's not. The answer, as is almost always the way in these cases, is hiding in plain sight. I find with times like this you need to either stop or call for help and as I was swinging towards a first for Britain in my head, so I needed an answer fast after two hour of going around in circles.  So I sent the above image to Mark Telfer who got it pretty much immediately. It's the Saltmarsh Short-spur Anisodactylus poeciloides. It WAS an RDB species but it's dropped to NS (nationally scarce) in a review by Mark last year. It is however, still a BAP species I believe. On a recent survey, it was one of seven nationally scarce or rare carabids from a tiny section of saltmarsh at Seaford. Having two Section 41 species present shows just how important this tiny portion of habitat is. It shows how important this kind of survey is. Without it, how can we possibly know what to conserve or where to target habitat management?

It's a cool beetle with a glossy purple elytra and a rather funky three-horned spur at the front of the front tibia. The short-spur in the name is actually on the hind leg, you can't see that above. Best of all though it was new to Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves (I'm amazed it's not been recorded at Rye Harbour). It was our 9797th species and 1839th beetle. It's the first record in East Sussex since 1914 and I believe the first in Sussex since the 1970s. A big thanks to Mark as ever for being an inspiration.

Stupidly confused with sandpiper's knots

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 22 February 2017 21:49

I'm going back a little further, right to the point when I made my first notes and illustrations of birds. This time to see leach's Storm-petrel on the Wirral, yet another bird I have not seen since (bar a dead one in Henfield). So, I'm 12, it's the 22nd September 1990 and I'm still in my pencil crayon phase...

  1.  Leach's Storm-petrel:- 1st one seen seemed to be trying to land on the sand, the less prominent white wing bar led us to think it was a Storm-petrel (I should add this was the first petrel I'd ever seen but glad I had an opinion on what it was) but the fact that yesterday there was 170 Leach's storm petrel  and 1 Storm petrel ensured us (ensured? Try suggested. Pragmatic but not very rigorous Little Graeme) that it was not the latter (note: I no longer use this method to identify things). The second bird got considerably closer the weather conditions where more comfortable and the scope didn't woble. We could now make out the bill and the wing bars where now fairly prominent. It got closer still until the forked tail was visible. Note sharp pointed wing tips and the way they seem to "vanish" into the waves  reapear seconds later. It has to be the best bird of the year.
  2. Gannet:- One gannet extremely far out to sea I thought was a gull untill it droped out of the sky vertically into the water. Nothing els it could be of that size.
  3. Rocky island:- Included twenty to thirty cormorant (adults and juveniles) these seemed to stay away from the over birds. Large flock of bar-tailed godwits flew over but only several landed roughly 200-250 + Oystercatcher on the island along with one Knot and three sandwich terns.
  4. Stop by blue railings:- Knots, dunlins, sanderlings and ringed plovers where sheltering in tussocks of grass. 1 golden plover and 1 dunlin  feeding with Grey plover later they met up with redshank. The dunlin was stupidly confused with sandpiper's knots (I was confused THEN?!) and  even a broad-billed sandpiper.
  5. Plants:- Greater sea spurrey, sea rocket, sea plantain, sea purslane.
Here's a close up of the 'Rocky Island'...

Next up we head to Blithfield to see a dodgy Snow Goose...

Extra virgin

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 19 February 2017 09:15

Last week I got a message from Mark Telfer saying he was coming down to look for Mediterranean Oil-beetles (or Olive Oil-beetles as I prefer) Meloe mediterraneus at Newhaven Fort. So, only the day after seeing Steve Teale at the Fort and then Sussex Moth Group, I was back with Steve for the third time in two days (prior to that I haven't seen him for about five years). Steve Teales are a bit like Bloxworth Snouts in that regard. 

Anyways, these beasts are known to be nocturnal so we recced the site about and hour before sunset and waited until dark. Amazingly Steve found a dead one just as it was getting dark.

It didn't take long before Mark found one at the base of the cliffs, much further down than I was looking. I thought they were would be further up the cliffs but they were all pretty much on the grassy area below which is mostly dominated by Yorkshire Fog. It appears there is a thick thatch here that they can retreat into in the day and then come out at night to graze on it! We recorded about 18 individuals and Steve and Thyone stayed a bit longer and recorded up to 28 I think, in two different 100 km squares (the colony is right on the edge of TQ and TV).

This species is quite close to the Rugged Oil-beetle Meloe rugosus that I saw seven years ago in Brighton in Woodvale Crematorium. I think that when I saw this in 2010, mediterraneus was thought to be extinct and it wasn't in the keys. It all comes down to a groove on the pronotum that you can just make out in my photos but it's not that clear. Have a look at John Walters' page for separating the oil beetles. Meloe rugosus has a much more strongly punctured pronotum too and that is visible in this photo.

With the Olive Oil-beetle, you can see the pronotum is much less punctured and clearly lacks the central groove. It's great to know these fascinating creatures are doing so well at this site. I think Mark said there are only two other sites in the UK for it! Here is Mark extracting some olive oil from one...

I can't help think that they look like that annoying man from that insurance comparison website. Or even better, Mr Creosote! I had no idea that these animals are such active eaters as adults but it's obvious now I come to think about it. Great to observe their behaviour and learn a bit more about them.

Fort Blox

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 18 February 2017 09:01

I had the day off on Wednesday and went and helped Steve Teale and Tony Hutson do a survey in the tunnels under Newhaven Fort. Steve's been doing moth surveys there for a few years and I love any opportunity to get underground. Now most of these tunnels are not open to the public so it really was quite exciting getting in there.

First up, a Pholcus phalangioides spider that has been infected with some strange fungus! Hanging in the air in the torch light, this really was a creepy site! Loved it. Here is our team entering the first tunnel.

Probably the highlight for me was seeing 13, yes that's 13, Bloxworth Snouts (above)! Counting these moths whilst listening to the unnerving sound of an air-ride siren was a rather odd experience. last time I heard one of them I was running for my life in a forest fire in Australia but that is a different story. I saw the 7th record for this moth in Sussex back in 2008 and then again in Waterstone's in Brighton in 2009 but I have not seen it since. Great to see so many of them there, they must be established close to the Fort. This moth must be a candidate for the most stupid name of any animal in this country, just brilliant. I do hope that we name less species in the future after people and places and instead leave behind a legacy of English names that have some use to aid identification. Bloxworth Snout is OK though for its outright daftness.

Great to see lots of Heralds too. Almost guaranteed in any kind of cave or tunnel.

There were lots of spiders but no Cave Spiders sadly. Amaurobius ferox (below) was perhaps the most common with Nesticus cellulanus and Steatoda grossa also present. A couple of Tegenaria silvestris were a surprise away from the woods.

Always nice to see this beauty too. It's the subterranean bristle-tail Trigoniophthalmus alternatus.

Only slugs I saw were Limax maximus and Limacus maculatus. One Brown Long-eared bat was the only bat action. Apparently it's THE only bat there which seems odd.

Here is some primitive cave art.

I got one lifer, the little moth Agonopterix purpurea. Thanks Steve for organising this, it was a great day!

Werres, De Cock & Man in 't Veld

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 17 February 2017 12:09

A few weeks back, I suddenly remembered we had had an outbreak of Sudden Oak Death Phytophthora ramorum on Rhododendron at Stedham and this was not a species that we had on the spreadsheet. I was just checking the spelling on the NBN when I discovered the team who described the species...

Werres, De Cock & Man in 't Veld

Cue the childish giggling. I'm just really glad they were in this order. There are six permutations of three names, so there is only a 16.7% chance that this arrangement was down to coincidence. I therefore conclude it's much more likely that this team intentionally put their names in this sequence just for the Hell of it than not!

We all walked the wrong way, up the back of the hill

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 14 February 2017 19:55

Holkem (Holkham) it would seem wasn't very exciting for me on the 20th February 1991 (I was 12) as I noted down the 'best bag' as being Egyptian Goose. It had already been a great day though...

We saw a large flock of wood pigeon hopping to see a Stock dove but they were all wood pigeon.
               We all walked the wrong way, up the back of the hill, I don't know how we managed that  (me neither, didn't realise there was a wrong way up a hill!) wasn't many birds on the water so we went to look at the woods, we saw lots of corsican pine, holm oak and polypody (good to see I was botanising back then too).
                Wesaw a bullfinch and its pair calling somewere were we couldn't see it after a while we headed back to the car and went home with a current life list of two hundred and five! (208 if you count those three plants Little Graeme - but you'll have to wait nearly 20 years to put your PSL list together).

Next up I'm going to go back a bit to 1990 when my records began. In fact my first entry is of a Leach's Storm-petrel, a bird I have not seen since. Except a dead one in Henfield.

Slugs: Does constipation equal asphyxiation?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 13 February 2017 16:14

Yesterday was awesome. I went on a slug identification course at Woods Mill. Yes you heard right, slugs. My new favourite group. After years of avoiding them, I'm hooked. Mostly thanks to these two guys. The amazing Chris de Feu, possibly the funniest man on Earth and Michael Blencowe for arranging the whole thing and now the second funniest man on Earth after Chris. Well done guys.

But why the change of heart? Well, the thing that really got me about slugs, and this is quite embarrassing to admit, is that they are asymmetrical. Don't ask me why but I like this. Anyway, I did not know that they only had one breathing pore on the right hand side. I'd always thought there was another one on the other side and in photos you can't see it and in the flesh I'd be heading in the wrong direction to notice. This is a throw back from the days when they were snail and asymmetry evolved with shells. Amazing! The other thing I didn't know is that they poo out of the their breathing pore! How utterly disgusting is that? How can I have not noticed this? Anyway, two slug facts that are so weird and gross that they have won a place in my heart. As I was driving home from work though it suddenly came in to my mind, what if a slug gets constipated?  It could be fatal.

This is the Dusky Slug Arion subfuscus or as Chris calls it the Yellow Stainer. The slime is actually yellow and quite a pleasant hand moisturiser (I did not try this). This is the first record for Woods Mill.

And here is the slime we wiped on a notebook.

Then Brad Scott found a species new to Woods Mill and the whole reserve network (9794). It's the Green-soled Slug Arion flagellus. Nice one Brad! Check out the big old tubercles on the back and the green sole.

So what next? Well I got three slugs new to Southerham today in a ten minute period. I only turned five logs over. So it's already proving a worthwhile exercise. Bring on the slime! Just to go back to thanking Michael for organising and to Chris for being such a brilliant teacher and generally awesome bloke to be around!

The complete opposite of dipper country

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 11 February 2017 19:25

So I'm 12, it's 20th February 1991 and I'm on a quest for a Black-bellied Dipper...

We followed the mans instructions, two bends in the road and stop at the bridge next to a water mill. We did so, it was a very dirty river it didn't have many obstacles in it, to me it looked the complete opposite of dipper country. And to top that the wasn't no one else in sight (appart from an old aged pensioner timing himself up and down the road). Oh Little Graeme, you disappoint me with your reliance on other twitchers to connect with birds and use of double negatives in the same sentence.
                We went up the one side of the river for around 30-40 yards (I have no memory of ever working in yards?!) and headed back. We had a quick look on the other side there was a rather mangled dead bird at the bottom of the river (I think I had an obsession with dead things even at 12), and there, in the middle of the river was a branch, with some thing moving. I lifted my binoculars and it flew, black and white, that was it, I'd spotted the black bellied dipper! Mr Gardner set up his scope and I noticed that it was ringed, we compared it with the normal dipper, there wasn't much difference bar were the dipper had a glint of chestnut on it its belly, while the black bellied dipper had a (drum roll, yes you've guest it!) black belly like its name states (you could do this for a living if you carry on at this rate Sherlock!). With our hopes up we went to look for divers and grebes at Holkem.

Next up Holkem, ha ha.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 10 February 2017 12:17

It's 20th February 1991 and I'm 12, I'm at Titchwell and about to get two lifers...

We got to the shop and Mr Gardner betted me all my bird-watching equipment that it was shut. It wasn't (wait a minute, why didn't I get all his bird-watching equipment?!). We looked at the list, the occasional male hen harrier, brambungs, brambungs? It was bramblings with the 'l' and 'i' joined together.
             We walked down the path and saw 3 crows, no 2 crows and a female hen harrier being mobed by the crows (this was a lifer for me). We then carried on along towards the hides. We met a mom (?!) in the hides who told us about the black-bellied dipper at Barton Ovary and Batron Market. We went down the beach and saw two unknown, lark like birds. We left Mr Berry looking at the sea (he's still there, looking at the sea) and went looking for twite and saw three birds (wait, what happened to the other two?), twite we thought but they were shore lark! (these were also lifers) and one meadow pipit. We couldn't see the horns though, we headed back to the car and decided to look for the black bellied dipper.

Next up find out why Black-bellied Dippers are so cold. You'll never be able to guess.

And then we saw a dead...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 9 February 2017 16:58

After the Snowy Owl, we headed to Norfolk. The first port of call was Holm. If you're just joining this now it's 20th February 1991 and I'm 12...

We set up and looked at the shore there were lots of waders, two seals (I did not see these) and lots of flocks of Eider.
          I spotted an unusual bar tailed godwit, in summer plumage! And the hole beach was littered in worm casts and cuttlefish and we found four spiny sea urchins.
          Then it came, pouring down with rain, we took u-turn headed back to the car, we saw the bar tailed godwit again we found a tuna's (not sure if it says that as I have no memory of this and my writing is a bit off at times) skull and lots of moth of pearl, we saw a pair of shelduck and then we saw a dead, Mr Gardner took its wings (informative Little Graeme but you kind of missed a key word out of this sentence - what was it?!), we also found a rather mangled guillemot. We headed back to the car and the rain was so bad, we decided to go to titchwell.

Next up, my first encounter with a Hen Harrier!

A big (enormous even) huge white owl

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 8 February 2017 08:29

Before you read anymore, I think it best to set the atmosphere so hit play below. Even though it was 20th February 1991, this music was actually playing at the time. Despite being six years before the first book was written.

Now my notes tell me we were in Wanefleet, Leicestershire but it didn't take me long to realise today I was actually in Lincolnshire. Clearly, it didn't really matter to me what county or town I was in, as along as it started with the right letter, had a similar number of syllables and we saw the birds. Anyway, imagine being 12 years old and going to see a Snowy Owl in the UK. Oh, yeah, probably copied (not traced I'll add!) that picture from the Reader's Digest book again...

We either could have gone straight to Norfolk and stayed there all day or gone to Wanefleet to see the Snowy Owl, and , depending on how long it took to see it either go to Norfolk or Gibralter Point.
             We found the infamous (?!) sea lane and carried on a long it, the fields spread for miles (definitely Lincolnshire then), it could have been anywhere we began to think it would be one of those days. we got to the end of sea lane and saw three cars, two were empty the third held one man (a little dramatic Little Graeme). We pulled up next to him and asked him where it was, he said (with a mouth of salad sandwich, go down the right hand sea wall , follow it till you get to a barrier the Dyke on your left, follow that up and there it is.
                 We followed his instructions and before we got to the barrier we had saw it. A big (enormous even), huge white owl.  pure white with strange half closed cat like eyes. It sat more like a halk than an owl, and it didn't do much, the hole half hour we was there the most it did was turn his head.  After a while, we headed back down the sea wall, and heard a strange , lapwing noise but we could see nothing we got back to the car and Mr Gardner went and lost his lense (I'm guessing this was just a lens cap) to his scope we went back to look for it but all we saw was  some speedwell and a Snowy Owl! (God, Snowy Owls are just so boring after the first thirty seconds, gimme a lens cap any day to stop the intense boredom, ha ha). We didn't find it so we headed to the car and headed towards Norfolk...

I've not seen a Snowy Owl since. What an amazing experience. Don't miss the next installment from Norfolk where not only do I get three more lifers but I nearly lose all my bird-watching equipment in a reckless bet.

But the numbers were too great

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 7 February 2017 18:24

I was struck by how cathartic it was writing about my old bird diaries. It wasn't an easy period in my life and I didn't have many suitable male role models growing up but those bird-watching days were of real importance to me.  I really can't thank Ewart and Richard enough for their influence. I believe my drive to go to uni, my career in natural history and much of my inquisitive scientific mind come from those adventures.

Anyway, at 12, I might have known what a Waxwing was but I clearly didn't know that I was actually in Nuneaton not Nottingham (thanks for the update Ewart). You'll be telling me that the Snowy Owl wasn't in Leicestershire next!

Blithfield Reservoir is definitely in Staffordshire however. Well, it definitely was in 1991...

We set of to Blithfield, we found a dead dunlin and we walked across the ice on some of the small inlets. 
        We searched the teal for this greenwinged but the numbers where to great. we walked around for a while and saw a nice male pintail and a male gad wall. We went back to the bus and sent a few icebergs out to see while I stood on them! We talked for a while about the mobius ring, atoms and anti matter, we then went home.

Only a short one this time. Tune in next time for a trip to Leicestershire to twitch a Snowy Owl...

My name's Graeme, I'm 12 and I'm a twitcher

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 6 February 2017 09:34

Waxwing photos are all over the Internet at the moment. I've not had chance to go see any this winter and haven't stumbled across any either. However, nearly 26 years ago, I went to twitch some with my old YOC group. Being in somewhat of a pensive and retrospective mood at present, here is a glimpse into my 12 year old world.

Firstly, I almost certainly copied the illustration from the Reader's Digest "Field Guide to the Birds of Britain" so I don't want Reader's Digest on my case for copyright issues some 26 years later. Secondly, the following is my 'notes' section that I used to write after the list of birds. So this is taken word for word, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors and all. Anything in brackets is an explanation I have added in now...

We was (two words in and you've let me down already Little Graeme) going to Martin mere but because of bad weather it was cancelled for a local trip. By the time came the bad weather had gone and it was a very nice day. Good enough to have gone to Martin mere. Mr Gardner said "I blame Mr Berry".
               We descused going to a place in Nottingham where there were four Waxwings (good to see I had the correct use of capitals for species names nailed at age 12 even though I hadn't figured it out for place names yet). And after that we where going to Kingsbury Water park. We thought we would have a good day because only six of the 'plonks' came with us (now this is a little embarrassing. 'Plonk' was the derogatory term I coined for the other YOC kids that didn't quite take their birdwatching as seriously as I did at age 12 - what a barrel of laughs I must have been). On the way we asked an old couple the way to Hinkley road. The women pointed one way and the man pointed the other and said "come on duck will miss the blumin thing! Later we found he was talking about the bus, eventually we found it, 111 Hinkley road.
               We walked up and down the street for ages but didn't see a thing, when we saw Mr Berry and the 'plonks' by the mini-bus giving us one of those pitiful looks, and you can imagine them thinking in there heads "please let us in the car" (maybe try reining in that contempt Little Graeme and der, it's a mini-bus not a car, you just told us that). Luckily we decided not to cross over and go home because just then aman ran across the road to join two more men with raised binoculars. We turned to see three Waxwings, 'scoffing' berrys down like there was no tomorrow. two flew from the bush and sat in a tree one stood there showing of, but letting us get very close it had an enormous appetite eating berrys down hole and, because of this a large, plump belly. Its head was very thin from the back but I think this was because the rest of the body was very big. The black eyestripes gave it an evil look. You could also see the red tips to the (can't read this word) secondary feathers. I said that it was the only bird I had ever seen that I could have looked at for a long time (ha ha, this cracks me up. Obviously I was VERY busy then and didn't have time to stare at birds for more than a couple of seconds). We took the 'plonks' back and Mr Gardner took me to my house I grabbed some lunch, went to the loo (too much information) and wet out to Blithfield to look for the Green-winged Teal.............(thirteen points of suspension?!)

And that I'm afraid, is another story...

UPDATE: An email from Mr (Ewart) Gardner today. So cool that he didn't know I kept a diary until now and I get to share it with him all these years later.

Hi Graeme, Good to read your diary ?I didn't know you kept one.
I do remember that day. Your geography was not as good as your birdwatching as we saw the waxwings  at Nuneaton not Nottingham! I went and dug out my records for 1991 and see that 4 days after the waxwings we went to Norfolk for the day and got 3 life ticks snowy owl, the only one I've ever seen,shore lark at titchwell and black- bellied dipper
 Will look forward to reading further extracts


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 3 February 2017 17:14

This is Oak Mazegill. A fungus I've not seen before and it was all over several fallen oaks at the Mens today. It's easy to get lost in the Mens. Like it's easy to get lost in these gills. Or in your own thoughts. I'll be back when I find my way out...

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