You HAVE to see this video of the cutest spider EVER!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 30 August 2017 07:15

Yesterday I co-lead a contingent of around 70 people around Stedham & Iping Commons for the Heathlands Reunited project. Everyone was happy when they got to see a Hornet Robber-fly up close. Bee Wolves are everywhere and I saw FIVE adult Alydus calcaratus. After the group left I wanted to use the time wisely so I had another search for Heath Tiger Beetles. None have been seen this year (they are know to have two year life cycles and this would be expected to be a poor year) but just one adult would have made me relax. There was lots of good habitat and one suitable looking scrape I spotted a solid looking grey-mottled jumping spider...

...I knew it as a female Aelurillus v-insignitus immediately. They are nationally scarce but are known from this site and the scrapes specifically but I am more used to seeing the males in the spring. I have written about them before here. On Jersey earlier this year, it was perhaps THE commonest jumping spider we saw. In Sussex I think it's only here and maybe Ambersham.

So this is the first time I have had the pleasure of photographing one with my new camera and I tried a bit of video too. You HAVE to watch this, I think it's the cutest thing I have ever seen. "She looked at me longingly with those beautiful green eyes and waved coquettishly." You get the idea. I am in love. I think if I get a little tripod I can generate some really good videos with this camera in microscope mode. Problem is it doesn't seem to let you change the focus once you have committed to filming (so you have to move in and out). I was doing so by trying to keep the hairs on her head in focus.

And some more shots

Earlier on I finally got to see a Bee Wolf actually take out a Honey Bee.

And a first not only for the reserve but the reserve network! And one that I am county recorder for too. I beat a single Alloeotomus gothicus off Scots Pine. Pines on heaths can be a valuable resource, especially ones with low growing branches you can reach! I then got back to Woods Mill to find out about the first new vertebrate added to the reserves species list since I compiled it earlier this year. I wonder if you can guess what it was?!

Queen visits Brighton for August Bank Holiday

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 28 August 2017 13:07

So I wasn't expecting to wake up and see this online and have a Queen of Spain Fritillary in the bag before 11.00 am today! What a treat and my first new butterfly in the UK since I spotted the back of Neil Hume's head four years ago resulting in an emergency stop and a lifer. The site's near Teslcombe, actually a few miles east of Brighton, can't believe I've seen this within ten miles of my house today. The landowner has been really great and a big thanks to Neil for sorting this and putting the details up so promptly and concisely and of course to the man who found them, Dave Harris. I hope they hang around and produce lots of caterpillar princes and princesses. So if you can brave the clouds of poisonous gas and drag yourself away from the Game of Thrones season finale, this is a great opportunity to catch up with a really rare butterfly.

I only saw one today (there had been two this morning and three yesterday). This was my first encounter with the butterfly. It's gonna be one photographed individual! A nice area too, full of Clouded Yellows and Adonis Blues.

Pretty as a picture-winged fly

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 26 August 2017 08:20

I had a great day at Butcherlands yesterday finishing the fifth visit of an invertebrate survey there. We are up to around 400 species now with some really interesting species turning up there. I have only seen this incredible picture-winged fly Merzomyia westermanni once before at Knepp a couple of years ago where I carried out a similar survey. It's associated with Hoary Ragwort which is abundant on both sites. On our reserves it's only ever been recorded at Ebernoe before but not since the 1980s!

But what I got most excited about was only the second record for West Sussex (and the first for any Trust reserve) of the Triangle Spider Hyptiotes paradoxus. So three days ago I was copied into a tweet showing this unusual spider had been seen at Kingley Vale. It's known to like Yew and I had always thought if it was going to turn up anywhere it would be in this part of the Downs (in fact I had thought I would find it at Levin Down). Anyway, at Butcherlands I swept it from a field of Soft Rush! Sixty species of spider have now been recorded at Butcherlands, nine (15%) of which have conservation status! That has been quite a surprise for a site that was arable 16 years ago.

And this is the second species new to the reserve network. A very odd looking gall on Ash called the Ash Key Gall Aceria fraxinivorus caused by mites.

I also met up with dawn Nelson for the latter half of the day and we swapped some skills. i had seen an interesting knotgrass but I am not so sure it will be anything special now. We called in to an area that had been coppiced and had responded with a huge patch of Orpine (albeit grazed hard by the Roe Deer). It was COVERED in the fly Rhingia rostrata. Dawn's reaction to the huge female Wasp Spider we found was fantastic! One more visit to go, I wonder what else we will find?

And finally, after three years of looking. I saw one of the Willow Emerald Damselflies when I got back to Woods Mill!

Invertebrates of a Heathland

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 19 August 2017 19:29

Yesterday I ran a new course for the Trust entitled 'Invertebrates of a Heathland'. The idea was to show the participants how to find and identify some of the many species of invertebrate that thrive in this habitat. So where better to run it than at our third most speciose site and arguably the richest heathland in Sussex than Iping & Stedham Commons?

It was a good group with 11 in attendance including staff from Sussex Wildlife Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Species Recovery Trust, National Trust and Thames Basin Heaths Partnership. My approach was to get them to get their hand's dirty, so nets and pots were handed out and id didn't take long until we built up quite an impressive list. I have included below the whole list as promised to the course attendees with some notes on the species they saw. 'N' is new to the site (14 in all), 'NN' is new to the site AND the reserve network (amazingly there were three of these!) and GL was new to me. I had four new species taking me into 7th places on the PSL rankings.

Taxon group Species Status
beetle 7-spot Ladybird
beetle Cream-streaked Ladybird
beetle Exapion ulicis
beetle Heather Beetle
beetle Heather Ladybird
beetle Micrelus ericae
beetle Neliocarus sus
beetle Paradromius linearis
beetle Pine Ladybird
beetle Poecilus cupreus
beetle Protopirapion atratulum N
beetle Silpha atrata N
beetle Sitona lineatus
beetle Sphaeriestes castaneus NN
beetle Striped Ladybird
beetle Welsh Chafer
butterfly Gatekeeper
butterfly Red Admiral
butterfly Small Tortoiseshell N
butterfly Speckled Wood
centipede Lithobius forficatus N
centipede Lithobius variegatus N
crustacean Porcellio scaber
dragonfly Azure Damselfly
dragonfly Black Darter
dragonfly Emperor Dragonfly
earwig Common Earwig
harvestman Paroligolophus agrestis N
harvestman Phalangium opilio
hymenopteran Ammophila pubescens
hymenopteran Apis mellifera
hymenopteran Bombus lapidarius N
hymenopteran Bombus pascuorum
hymenopteran Bombus terrestris
hymenopteran Cerceris arenaria
hymenopteran Colletes hederae N
hymenopteran Epeolus cruciger GL
hymenopteran Formica fusca
hymenopteran Formica rufa
hymenopteran Formica sanguinea
hymenopteran Neodiprion sertifer NN, GL
hymenopteran Nomada rufipes
hymenopteran Philanthus triangulum
lacewing Chrysoperla carnea group
moth Angle Shades
moth Beautiful Yellow Underwing
moth Eupoecilia angustana N
moth Fox Moth
moth Horse-Chestnut Leaf-miner
moth Large Yellow Underwing
moth Lesser Yellow Underwing
moth Rush Veneer
moth Setaceous Hebrew Character
orthopteran Bog Bush-cricket
orthopteran Common Ground-hopper
orthopteran Long-winged Cone-head
orthopteran Meadow Grasshopper
orthopteran Mottled Grasshopper
orthopteran Roesel's Bush-cricket
orthopteran Speckled Bush-cricket
spider Agalenatea redii
spider Anelosimus vittatus
spider Araneus diadematus
spider Araneus quadratus
spider Arctosa perita
spider Argiope bruennichi
spider Evarcha arcuata
spider Evarcha falcata
spider Gibbaranea gibbosa
spider Hypsosinga albovittata
spider Labyrinth Spider
spider Linyphia triangularis
spider Mangora acalypha
spider Metellina segmentata
spider Philodromus histrio
spider Pisaura mirabilis
spider Simitidion simile
spider Theridion sisyphium
spider Thomisus onustus
spider Trochosa terricola
spider Xerolycosa nemoralis
spider Zygiella atrica
true bug Birch Shieldbug
true bug Drymus sylvaticus
true bug Gastrodes grossipes
true bug Heath Assasin Bug
true bug Hairy Shieldbug
true bug Himacerus apterus
true bug Kleidocerys resedae
true bug Macrodema micropterum
true bug Nabis ericetorum
true bug Neophilaenus lineatus N
true bug Orthotylus ericetorum
true bug Phytocoris insignis NN, GL
true bug Pilophorus cinnamopterus
true bug Rhyparochromus pini
true bug Scolopostethus decoratus
true bug Stenodema calcarata
true bug Tortoise Bug
true bug Ulopa reticulata
true fly Chrysotoxum festivum
true fly Dasysyrphus tricinctus N
true fly Episyrphus balteatus
true fly Hornet robberfly
true fly Machimus atricapillus

The most exciting find for me was Phytocoris insignis. This rare heathland species that looks like a small and dark Phytocoris varipes was swept from Heather on Stedham. It's only the second Sussex site for this RDB3 species.

But the stars of the show were the Hornet Robber Fly and Thomisus onsitus. Hornet Robber Fly because it was new to all the attendees and was the biggest one I had ever seen. What a beauty! Thomisus onistus because one of the attendees stated at the beginning how much they wanted to see this strange spider. I instructed that it was best to sweep Bell Heather and after some furious sweeping, she turned up the only one!

Bee Wolf was EVERYWHERE!

And Epeolus cruciger was a new one for me. It's hard to believe this is a bee!

Spiders came in at 22 species, with the stonking Philodromus histrio a real favourite.

Another attendee found Ivy Bee new to the site too. So it was really great to not only give people some guidance but also to show that they can directly contribute to the recording of such well recorded sites. Of the 105 species mentioned above, 14 were new to the site! This really surprised me and some of them seem like they might be errors on my part when I put the master spreadsheet together (Small Tortoiseshell and Bombus lapidarius particularly). The reserve network now boasts records of some 9908 species and 2781 of these have been recorded at Iping & Stedham. We didn't add any new spiders though, it's really tough going to find a new spider for this site. No Heath Tiger Beetles but we were cut short on that one by a monster of a storm. It was a great atmosphere and I would definitely run this kind of course again.

Is this the feeding damage of Donacia dentata?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 12 August 2017 08:53

If you want to find invertebrates that specialise in feeding on only one plant, then it's a good idea to look at areas that have LOTS of that plant. So when I was out surveying ditch plants at Amberley Wildbrooks last week, I spotted a lot of Arrowhead in one ditch. Now this is the only place I have ever seen the scarce Donacia dentata and then only ever once. Try as I might I could not find any reed beetles on this particular patch of Arrowhead but I did notice these feeding signs. Now, is this likely to be Donacia dentata and if so, is it enough to make a record?

17/08/2017 UPDATE: Clive Turner via Facebook has confirmed this is the case.

Lots of Anthocomus rufus everywhere at the moment. Even had one on the office door at Southerham, a chalk-grassland site, far away from its wetland habitat!

Amberley has incredibly varied soil types, I was working on the more acidic areas last week. There the sandy ditch-slubbings are a brilliant home for Green Tiger Beetle burrows once consolidated, here at a greater density than I have ever seen before.

Some of the ditches here are looking AMAZING. really wide with a gently sloping shelf-like profile and a messy edge. Full of flowers and insects everywhere!

The one species that I had not seen before was this gall on Nettle caused by the fly Dasineura urticae. Also new to the entire reserve network.

Critically Endangered plant seen at Malling Down after not being recorded for 30 years!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 7 August 2017 16:48

During a routine grazing assessment of Malling Down today, I decided to have a quick look for the mythical Red Hemp-nettle that has not been seen there for well over a decade (word of moth from a previous site manager) and it would seem not recorded there since 1987 according to the SxBRC and the reserve spreadsheet. I've looked for it four or five times to no avail. Then today I walked up to an area I thought looked suitable and recorded 17 plants! It really goes to show that persistence is key in natural history. It would have been really easy to give up but I had a hunch this species was still there, ticking along for all these years. Perhaps it's having a good year or in previous years I was maybe too early.

I've only ever seen this plant at Rye Harbour, it's stronghold in the county along with Pevensey Bay and Pagham. What's all the fuss about though? Well this plant is classed as Critically Endangered on the Red List, basically the highest level of assessment you  can get before going extinct. So it's great that this little plant with big flowers has been re-found at Malling Down after all these years, as it's now only known from a few dozen sites according to Plantlife. You can read up on it here. At Malling, the 'natural' (it's an old quarry) creation of chalk scree formed by erosion in the quarry is all that is needed to keep this habitat open, although long-term it will probably need some scrub clearance. Being an annual, it must have been here all along as I don't think it's been lurking in the seed bank.

It's a poor competitor, and likes bare, loose chalky or sandy soil. At Rye Harbour it grows on the vegetated shingle, at Malling, it's at the bottom of a huge quarry, right where I always thought it would be! Why I have not seen it before, I don't know but I suspect I have been looking too early. Here is a shot of the habitat.

We GPS'd 17 plants in all, 13 in one cluster, then three and then a singleton, all quite close together.  As the 1987 area was given only as a six figure grid reference, we now have more detailed records to eight figures of where the plants are growing. Suitable looking habitat further up the slope held no more plants. There is another area in the quarry that would take a bit of getting to that might be worth a look though. Brilliant news!

Other plants new to the reserve today included two Hairy Buttercups growing in the bottom of a damp dew pond and some Pellitory-of-the-wall at the top of the quarry. Walking around the quarry we saw several Galium Carpets. A bit like a Common Carpet but more black and white and with a slightly concave leading edge to the fore-wing.

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