My top ten natural history highlights of 2017

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 24 December 2017 15:42

Every year just seems to beat the last one. This has been my most prolific recording year to date with well over 15000 records entered so far this year but what were the highlights? In reverse order we have:

10. Tiered Tooth at Ebernoe Common. My all time favourite fungus which also couldn't be more Christmas if it tried.

9. The first time I'd ever seen an Osprey fishing let alone catch a fish (and then drop it). This was in the Cuckmere.

8. Rock-pooling at the Pound near Eastbourne produced my first live Lobster (which promptly nipped me) and not only my first species of sea slug but three species of them, I've still not seen them anywhere else! It's the best place I know for rock-pooling in Sussex. Thanks to Oli Froom for the photo.

7. Wildlife in Portugal was AMAZING. I had ten new birds which were all unforgettable but the highlight has to be Mediterranean Chameleon just for how much effort we put into tracking one down and its sudden appearance at the final hour.

6. Controversial as it might be, mopping up loads of rare bugs on Jersey and adding them to my PSL list was a blast. This Graphosoma lineatum says it all really.

5. After walking the beach in Hove for weeks looking for a Portuguese Man o' War, I finally struck gold after a tip off from work that they'd arrived.

4. Invertebrate survey at Butcherlands, Ebernoe Common. I still haven't identified all the specimens yet but the spiders alone were amazing. The large population of Pardosa paludicola was a real surprise to everyone. Thanks to Evan Jones for the photo.

3. The invertebrate survey at Graffham Common was even more surprising, the spiders were also out of this world there but it was perhaps this Sundew Plume, that hadn't been seen in Sussex for 20 years that was most surprising.

2. 1000 species in a day. Probably the most fun you can have in 24 hours of non-stop biological recording. Read more about this here. Photo by Alice Parfitt.

1. Pan-species Listing ALL of Sussex Wildlife Trust's 32 reserves. When I first did this last year we were on around 9770. I have six reserves left to analyse and I will have updated the list for the year. Will we have reached 10,000? I will be talking about this at Adastra soon in more detail but I can't express enough how useful an exercise this has been and will continue to be if regularly updated. I use the spreadsheet every day now and can't imagine doing my job without it.

Let's hope that 2018 is another amazing year for wildlife recording! Thanks for reading.

it is be-tween uz and die brown cow!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 21 December 2017 12:49

I've been very quiet on social media the last couple of months, mainly due to buying my first property which is taking a huge amount of my time. Work has also been very busy and the first time I feel like I have had a minute to draw breath is now, when I am off sick with the worst virus I have had in 15 years. Anyways, I heard that the excerts I was posting here from my old bird diaries (when I was 12) were quite popular, so I am bringing them back.

Basically, when I have little contemporary wildlife to report on, I can always fall back on the rich seam of laughs that is the precocious, nihilistic and snarky 12 year old I will affectionately call Little Graeme. Anything in italics is taken word for word, spelling mistake for mistake, directly from that diary...

It's the 23rd October OR the 23rd September 1990. Actually I think it's October but I put the wrong date on the above drawing, we've spent the day in Norfolk and have stopped off to twitch a Sociable Plover at Welney. In the top right of the image above you can see I've written Best bird I've ever seen, so far............(now I am a fan of using 'three points of suspension but twelve?!).

Are (let me down at the first word AGAIN!) eyes where pealled for a bunch of bird watchers on the side of a field (that's what I used to call 'field craft'), we whent round a corner and there they were. we pulled in the layby and I dashed out and asked the nearest person where it was, the woman said 'it is be-tween uz and die brown cow'! Odviously German (obviously racist you little twerp). I replied 'thanks' and bagged it straight away, then a lorry came roring up the road and slammed on his breaks and there was burned rubber on the road (oh I thought that sub plot was going somewhere, I'm like a young David Lynch!).
               The bird was not how I expected but because I hadn't looked it up in the book, I didn't really know what I was looking for (damn fool). It was very pale with dark cap and wing tips, with white eye line meeting at a 'v'on the nape, it had white in the wing and black central terminal band with a white border and rump.
               Best bag ever 'Yeh!' (did I just punch the air?!).

I've not seen a Sociable Plover since. Next up, kinglets and the easy way to bird recognition.

Is there a link between Natural History and Super Facial Recognition?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 5 December 2017 07:53

I'm going to ask you to take part in some research. I am a super recogniser when it comes to people's faces. It's a weird thing recognising people whom I know don't recognise me. I get it all the time. Most memorable recent  incidents include:

  • Seeing a guy from behind at a bar and recognising him by only seeing about 30% of his face. I shared a house with him in Cambridge 10 years ago before I moved back to Brighton. I've not seen him since and do not know him on social media.
  • Seeing a chap who pierced my septum (before it became cool with the hipsters) some 16 years ago. My friend said "no he's way too young, it can't be him". I approached and it was!
  • I've recently moved house and someone working in the Co-op set it off. When a second person in there did I realised it was because they both used to work in a different Co-op across the other side of town some 8 years ago.
  • Stranger Things 2. "That's Burke from Aliens!". Yep, I get it in TV and movies too.
It would seem that repeat exposure to a face has a real impact and the mind is also able to calibrate for age too. It's not meant to be that rare, some 5% of people fall into the category apparently.

When I say 'set it off', I mean it. I get a really strange sensation. Like an itch I have to scratch and my mind will preoccupy itself with trying to figure out why it 'knows' this person, and I usually get there in the end. Even if it means approaching the individual to verify. So what does this have to do with natural history? Well I often think it's no coincidence that I find myself in the field I am in. Did I become good at natural history because I was born with an ability to classify faces or did my ability to classify faces develop as I exercised my brain in classifying the natural world around me? The causality of this is fascinating and a question that would involve some very different research to what I am trying to figure out here. What I would like to do here is ask you to do this quick online test. It just took me about 10 minutes. There has been some confusion about which test I am talking about (I only see one on the link) so it's the Cambridge Face Memory Test: Computer Generated Faces. I think this might be part 2? If you can't see this test I will have another look later this evening and hopefully I can fix the link. Sorry for any confusion!

Now I would also like you tell me which category you fall in to:
  • A non-naturalist. Someone has never identified any wildlife, you might be interested but you certainly wouldn't consider it your primary hobby.
  • A naturalist whom considers natural history their primary pass time.
  • A pan-species lister (you know who you are!). Clearly a naturalist who can take on a wide range of different taxa and store a huge amount of information. If you fall into this category please also report your current list.
So my score. I fall into the last category above and have just scored 68. It says 54 is the average and scored higher than more than 9 out of 10 people.

So I would like to see if there are any differences between the three categories above. I know this is total pseudo-science and I am not selecting a representative sample, I am just doing this for fun. Please don't just do this test because you think you might be good at facial recognition as that will hugely bias the results. I know I did that but we wouldn't be here if I didn't. So, please have a go and leave me your scores somewhere in the comments or on social media. I'll then compile the results and do some analysis to see if there are any differences. PM if you don't want to make your results public.

Many thanks!

Nature Blog Network