And species 7000 is...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 27 July 2018 18:59

What an amazing day. I started the day on 6997. A survey on some arable land and road verge in Kent threw up a lifer within ten minutes and one I have wanted to see for some time. The yellow and pink novelty Battenberg pyralid Onocera semirubella. Species 6998.

Next up Mike caught a Cistogaster globosa. A cracking little fly that parisitises Bishop's Mitre Shieldbugs (of which there were hundreds today)! Species 6999. So close now and no time for 'nice' photos either.

Then suddenly a bloomin' Jersey Tiger jumped out of the hedge and into my net! A bogey of mine for YEARS and what a species for my 7000th! We actually saw two, so much more impressive than i was expecting!

But why stop there? What about a new shieldbug such as Rambur's Pied Shieldbug! The red one is a Rambur's nymph, the other one which I assumed in the field was a regular Pied Shieldbug I now realise is a Brassica Bug nymph. Species 7001. Actually I recorded 9 shieldbugs and 5 squash bugs today, possibly a record for me. Oh and two rhopalids and Alydus calcaratus.

Another cool fly! This time Gymnosoma rotundatum. I am a bit late to the party with this tachinid but here is species 7002!

And what I believe are the workings of the Elm Zigzag Sawfly. Species 7003.

An incredible day. A few other nice bits too. This lovely longhorn (which was new to me on this site last month) is Nemophpora metallica.

And I can't quite believe that this is the first Comma larva I have ever seen but it is!

Thyme Waits For No Man

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 26 July 2018 21:30

What actually happened
Last night, Mark put the trap out at Southerham and we opened it this morning to find a single gravid Thyme Pug (Nb), the first in Sussex since 1925! A cracking little pug. Two nights earlier we recorded some other really nice moths such as the first Chalk Carpet (Nb & BAP) for the site and some really nice pyralids including THREE Moitrelia obductella (pRDB3 but expanding and in Sussex only ever known from the Lewes Downs but new to all SWT reserves) and a cool little Nephopterix angustella. Three of those were new for me, I'm edging ever closer to 7000. Only three to go.

What happened in my head when I spent too much time in the sun today
1925. The Last of the Time Pugs, while attempting to interfere with the birth of Margaret Thatcher, misses Lincolnshire and ends up in Sussex (she really did need the help of Space Pug to get that right but they were off-planet). She fought off an invasion by an intergalactic swarm of cybernetically-augmented parasitic wasps while she was there though.

Soon after the aliens had been thwarted, she received a distress signal from the distant future. The year 2018. A rogue band of Gigantic Humanoid Conservators have constructed a Mercurial Star Trap, capable of transfixing the minds of the innocent citizens of Earth and trapping them in silicone tubes where they are to be recorded and entered into a huge database, for all eternity!!! A scarce Chalk Carpet, hiding on the underside of the mega structure where the light cannot reach them, was able to get the distress signal out.

However she was too late, three Moitrelia obductella were already trapped in the sinister blue egg chambers within, zombified and awaiting incarceration. Look at their poor vacant eyes...

She jumped in the TARDIS (Thyme and Rosemary Drifting in Space). No sooner had the Time Pug appeared above the cruel device, she became transfixed by it too! And one particularly ugly giant captured her, placing her in the dark refrigeration unit! She had one chance to escape however. This particular beast was stupid and had a selfish urge to capture an image of the Time Pug for his own perverse reasons, outside of the holding device in a natural setting. Nearly 7000 innocent souls have been permanently captured in it's database. What a foul creature! Yet as soon as the vessel was opened, the Time Pug flew out, smiting the evil giant on the head with a mighty blow, before jumping in the TARDIS and heading off into the future.

That giant was me. I barely lived to tell this tale as some scales rubbed off on my forehead and now my left eyebrow is permanently stuck in in 1963.

But when will the Time Pug next make her next appearance I hear you say? Why not read one of her other adventures:

  • In the year 2023, the Last Time Pug defeats the Brexit Cannibals by bringing a can opener from the past to save the few remaining giants as they huddle around tins of dog food.
  • The year 2118, the Last Time Pug escapes from Prison Island One, formerly known as Great Britain. After the giants reject the world, the world rejects them and erects a fence around the whole island, leaving Automated Mechanical Demons to police the last survivors.
  • The year 2015. The Last Time Pug just kicks back and enjoys life.

I think I need a day out of the sun. Quite enjoyed those two moth traps though.

A Brede Apart

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 24 July 2018 17:45

This year I have been lucky enough to carry out an invertebrate survey of a fantastic private nature reserve in East Sussex. Some 15 years ago, the site in the Brede Valley was agricultural, now it's a wetland wildlife oasis thanks to Phil & Maria Newton. With natural processes maximised but human intervention maintained where necessary, this site has the best of both worlds, mixing rewilding with traditional conservation management. The wildlife is better for it too.  I strongly believe this is where rewilding has a place in the conservation of wild places, as one part of our tool kit and not an ideologically driven approach at the expense of all human intervention. As in all walks of life, the interesting stuff happens in the grey area and not at the polarised extremes. Ditches mean compartments and compartments mean you can vary grazing pressure. This means you don't end up doing exactly the same thing year after year and exactly the same across the whole site. This is great for wildlife.

We have completed only three visits so far and recorded 358 species. What's remarkable about this is although the time was split between three days in April, May and June, it's only about 11 hours worth of recording. We went on a site visit there last week and I did ONE pond dipping sample and pulled out this beauty. It's Graphoderus cinereus, the IUCN Vulnerable water beetle with only six records from Sussex, all in East Sussex, none of which are from this century. It's a new one for me too. A new genus in fact. Of the three species on the British list, this is the commonest one (of the other two, one is extinct and the other at only one site more or less). I was very pleased with the way the photos came out!

There were Great Silver Water Beetle (both adult and larva) in the same net along with dozens of other invertebrates. We've recorded over 110 beetles so far in fact. All in all, 30 invertebrate species we have recorded have conservation status (8.25%).

We also picked up Donacia crassipes, only the 3rd time I have recorded this nationally scarce reed beetle that feeds on water-lilies (which are abundant in the ditches there). Here is a photo of one when I found them at Woods Mill when the lake was dry five years ago.

And of course the site is great for 13-spot Ladybirds, Atylotus rusticus and the cool cranefly Limnophila pictipennis. In fact, the next visit is tomorrow and I just can't wait to see what we find this time. 

Toadflax Brocade

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 21 July 2018 09:58

Another visit to Shoreham Beach to continue the survey there and I swept both the larva and an adult of Toadflax Brocade. Back in the summer of 1997, my first summer in Sussex when I was only 19, I saw my first one of these. I was walking up Ditchling Road and I spotted it on a railway bridge. I carried the moth in my hand until I could get back home and identify it using Skinner. It's so much easier now to identify invertebrates. No websites, no digital cameras and no social media, imagine that! Back then I had my copy of Skinner and that was it! I didn't even know anyone else in Sussex who recorded moths. Here is a photo of the larva taken earlier this year at the London Wetland Centre. I only ever see this moth on Purple Toadflax and the spread of this garden escape is no doubt why the moth has done so well in recent years. I was always taken by the name.

On the top of the Old Fort, I found a single Six-belted Clearwing. It seems to be having a good year, I've seen it twice this year already. Here is a photo of one I took at Beddingham. Not that I remotely think there is anything wrong with moth trapping but I get so much more out of recording moths in the field like this. Yes, you get a much shorter list but you feel like you're really getting to grips with a site this way.

Like father, like son

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 17 July 2018 22:02

Saw this little bug nymph on a fence post under an oak in the car park at Woods Mill today. Four things to go on here. One, it's got to be a late species as it's still quite an early instar nymph. Two, it's got LONG antennae, so it follows the adult will have too. Three, it's under oak. Four, it's a fairly large mirid. 

That leaves only Megacoelum infusum as a realistic option. A smart looking beast and a new record for Woods Mill. I have five records for this bug and they are all in August so the late date of the adult stacks up.

The Great Sussex Bug Hunt

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 15 July 2018 18:45

Bugs. Picking up the slack in late summer after the beetles have abandoned us. I found myself on a site today in a fairly under-recorded area of West Sussex. Here is an example of how under-recorded it is; the last sweep I made this morning had no less than SIX shield bugs and squash bugs in it, as well as Stictopleurus punctonervosus. A quick look on the Sussex Shieldbug Atlas showed me that FIVE of these species were new records for the 10 km square!!! So there are lots of gaps to fill in, why don't you head to an area near you and get sweeping/beating? This haul was from simply sweeping Bristly Ox-tongue, Prickly Lettuce, Fleabane and Yorkshire-fog. The six species were the above Forget-me-not Shieldbug here hiding under some Round-leaved Fluellen, Sloe Bug (new), Brassic Bug below (new), Dock Bug (new), Green and Tortoise.

Speaking of tortoises, the site was thick with fleabane so I was expecting there might be some of the Nationally Rare Pilemostoma fastuosa. In fact I swept three. It's a beetle by the way, they haven't all abandoned us.

And in a little corner, a rather nice arable patch with both fluellens, Broad-leaved Spurge and Hairy Buttercup.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Ledra aurita

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 14 July 2018 21:44

I did a survey out in East Sussex today and Rachel came out for some invert training. We clocked up well over 150 species of invertebrate which was pretty impressive for the nature of the site. The highlight for me was beating an adult Ledra aurita from Hazel. I have only six records for this weird looking hopper, our largest species. I think it kinda looks like it has a dog's head in this photo. All but one of of my records have been nymphs, so it was great to see an adult again. It's not rare, I just don't seen the adults that often. I really remember finding a dead one when I as a kid at Sandringham whilst and identifying it myself. 

So today when I placed it on top of a fence post for a photo shoot, I was excited to see it opening its wing cases ready to fly. I wasn't prepared for what happened next. It jumped almost vertically into the canopy and this seamlessly became flight. It was like watching a firework go off. Or Superman taking flight! If I had videoed this, it would have simply winked out of existence. What an amazingly efficient and fast way to find your way back to the canopy if you get beaten out of a tree by an entomologist or blown out in a storm!

Other highlights included this Dotted Fan-foot that Rachel caught and several Adelphocoris ticinensis. We also had two new bugs for the 10 km square on the atlas, being Box Bog and Stictopleurus punctanervosa.

Sundew Festival 2018

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 13 July 2018 14:56

Yesterday was an epic day! I did visit 4 of the Iping and Stedham invertebrate survey. I picked up some 50 species in the first 30 minutes and this included some great charismatic species such as Woodland Grasshopper, Bee-wolf, Heather Shieldbug, Alydus calcaratus, Phytocoris insignis, Thomisus onistus, Vespula rufa, Mottled Grasshopper, Araneus sturmi (the 208th spider recorded there), Xysticus kochi (the 209th spider recorded there), Pilophorus clavatus (the first West Sussex record since 1997, my first and the first on an SWT reserve), Hydroporus melanarius (new to me and all SWT reserves) etc etc...and that was just on Stedham.

However, when we returned to a different area of Stedham later in the day with our Conservation Committee, I got rather excited when we stood in a purpose-made scrape looking for Marsh Club-moss. A tiny plume was barely visible in the vegetation. Having seen Sundew Plume before at Graffham Common last year, I know how easy it is to lose sight of one. So when I yelled "NOBODY MOVE" I was pleased to see that everyone ignored me and pounced on the moth! I managed to miss it with my net, only to find I had caught it all along and there were actually two individuals present! So all the Sundew Plumes recorded in Sussex in the last 20 years have been recorded on SWT reserves in areas that are actively managed! This shows how important early-successional habitat management is. This species couldn't survive without this long term. Grazing alone just wouldn't be enough to keep the M16 and sundews going.

I mentioned the Heather Shieldbug above. This is a real oddity. I have swept and swept and swept Heather at Iping and Stedham over the last ten years and I have never seen it before there (it was last recorded there in 2015 but not by me). Going through my database I have only two records for this species. Once sieved from Sphagnum at Burton Pond and the other sieved from a pile of birch brash in mid winter at Selwyns Wood in 2015. So this is the first I have swept one from Heather. However, even that isn't strictly true. The bug was clearly dead, it seems I swept it from a spider's web no doubt suspended between two Heather stems. I wonder why this bug is so hard to find? Could it be nocturnal? Any ideas?

I had a moth new to Iping, myself and the reserve network too, the sooty-black pyralid Matilella fusca.  Mike Edwards suggested I try looking on flowering Dodder for weevils and just by tapping one clump I dislodged a Thomisus onistus and a Smicronyx jungermanniae (my fourth new species for the day but know to the site). Whatever next?! Man, I love Sussex.

Bee-fly check-in

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 12 July 2018 07:09

I have had so many natural history experiences this year that I have not been able to post about so I am going to try and get a quick blog out every day like the old days and see how that goes. Yesterday, when leaving Butcherlands after a veg survey I noticed a Villa in the gateway between Brick Kiln Field in Butcherlands and Furnace Meadow. 

I couldn't catch it (no net) but I am happy it's Downland Villa Villa cingulata from the photos and video. Mike and I had this new to Sussex at Heyshott Down two years ago, we've also both since seen it at Graffham Down but this is quite a jump north and a fairly different habitat. It's neutral to slightly acidic if anything. It must be less associated with chalk-grassland than stated in the literature. Here is another video with more sun-boiled ramblings. I am so bored of this heat now! 

This fly is rapidly colonising the south so I would expect to see it near you some time soon. The habitat was not exciting. This is the fourth bee-fly we have on the reserves now.

Also new to the reserve network was this Pseudeuophrys lanigera on the wall at Woods Mill! Our 385th spider which is pretty good going. That's 10,114 species recorded on these fantastic reserves now!

Nymph maniac

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 11 July 2018 07:18

This year I have been carrying out an invertebrate survey of Shoreham Beach LWS on behalf of the Friends of Shoreham Beach and on the 30th June I carried out another visit. I was shocked at how much the vegetation looked like the Mediterranean but it was full of stuff. The bugs were quite good fun and it was really nice checking them against the new Sussex Shieldbug Atlas. In fact I had three species from the atlas new to the 10 km square and one of those was new to me!

I'll start with my favourite shown above, the delightfully weird nymph of the Rhombic Leatherbug Syromastus rhombeus. This is always a pleasure to see and I think it's the first time I have recorded the nymph before.

I even managed a bit of footage of it.

Next up was this stick insect of a bug which I swept at the time as the Rhombic Leatherbug. It's not that scarce but was a lifer for me, Chorosoma schillingi. Now it looks like a grass bug but it's not actually a mirid, it's a rhopalid bug! It's also huge! Not entirely sure if this blurred image is of a nymph or a micropterous female in hindsight. As I swept a male in the same net I am guessing it's a female. It needs an English name this one. I propose Dune Stick-insect!

This nymph wasn't new to the 10 km square but was new to the site. It's Denticulate Leatherbug Coriomeris denticulatus nymph. I think this is probably the commonest squash bug after Dock Bug (if you don't use a sweep net you'll probably say Box Bug though). I see it on dry grasslands quite frequently.

The third species new to the 10 km square was the Bishop's Mitre Shieldbug Aelia acuminata but I didn't get a photo of that one. Other highlights included a few Garden Tiger larvae!

And lots of a spider I expected to find there. Sitticus inexpectus, a nationally scarce shingle specialist. It's known from the site but the record has no date!

This survey was funded by the Rampion Fund at Sussex Community Foundation and Tesco Bags of Help. Thanks to Jackie Woolcock and Lois Mayhew at the SxBRC for their support during this survey, I look forward to the next visits! It's really nice to tie this freelance work up with the new shieldbug atlas. 

Lesser ______ ______?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 10 July 2018 18:09

I wonder if you can guess what this post is about? I have been at Butcherlands today monitoring the progress of the vegetation, I do it every three years. All plants in a circular plot and I measure the woody regeneration. It's an interesting year having had a hard graze this winter and spring. Both fluellens are everywhere (the first records of Round-leaved Fluellen {below} since 2001 when the project started in fact).
And here is Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Scarlet Pimpernel, Mrash Cudweed and Small Toadflax.
Fluellen flowers up close are so cool, love that colour combo!

And elsewhere old meadow plants spread like this Sneezewort.

Whilst working on the veg I disturbed a small white moth that looked interesting, it turned out to be Lesser Cream Wave, a new record for Ebernoe Common. Oh, were you expecting something more feathery? It's not easy to get a new moth for the site you know! This is quite a nice wetland species and it looks to be a new 10 km square for the species according to the Sussex Moth Group page! For the keen eyed, don't panic the discal spots are present on the hind wing.

I carried on surveying and bumped into a young female Wasp Spider.

Many of the oaks are well over a decade old (this one with a girth at ground level of 15 cm but well under a metre tall!) yet are 'bonzaid' by the livestock and Roe Deer. They are surviving well though, growing a little each year. This one has future veteran written all over it.

There were a few Dusky Plumes Oidaemetophorus lithodactyla too, they feed on Common Fleabane which does very well under these conditions.

Butterflies were good too with all the usual suspects for woodland and a few Purple Emperors were flying about the tree tops too. I've never seen so many of them as I have this year. 

With four Turtle Dove territories this year and around double figures of Nightingales, the site is thriving. I was just getting towards my last plot of the day when I heard the unmistakable call of...

...LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER!!! It was a double bluff the whole time!

It called once and a few minutes later I saw it fly along the tree line in the image below for a few metres (the oaks at the back). Despite 30 mins of waiting, nothing. No more calls, no sign. In fact I was in that field for well over two hours either side of the encounter and only heard/saw it the once. 

It's amazing that this is the first LSW I have recorded on a Trust reserve. What's even more strange is that only about four or five weeks ago I bumped into my first Sussex LSWs in East Sussex during a freelance invertebrate survey. Ten years I have been back in Sussex and these are the first I have seen. They happened to be a recently fledged family party (the only known ones in Sussex at the time) but the Butcherland animal was just a single bird as far as I can tell. That said, it's only the 10th July so you would think that they've bred nearby. Talking to Ken Smith it could be very easy to miss them on a CBC without early visits. Might they have been out here for sometime? It's a huge area with a wealth of suitable habitat and they are very secretive birds.

What struck me about the two sites was how similar they were in structure. Big thick hedges, flower-rich meadows and ponds nearby. A long way from dense, continuous high forest. I might have to squeeze an early visit in next March...

Now, a few hours before I found this lot. I had assumed this to be a GSW (and the chances are it probably was just a Great Spotted). I am glad I collected the feathers though just to check...

A Density of Orchids

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 5 July 2018 17:26

Wow! What can I say? I've long wanted to get to grips with the balance between the commoner Chalk Fragrant-orchid and the scarcer Marsh or Dense-flowered Fragrant-orchid (above) at Ditchling Beacon. So I arranged to meet up with one of the commoners who just happens to be a leading specialist in orchids! Dr Phil Cribb and a local chap called Ben met me in the car park and we soon started counting orchids. We were not expecting them to be doing quite so well. With around 3250 counted in a couple of hours and this doesn't even cover the whole site! They are bigger, darker, more densely-flowered and slightly later flowering. They are probably just peaking or going over as we speak so if you want to see this wildlife spectacle, then go and see them this week/weekend. You can smell them just by standing among them, they smell a bit like parma violets. This orchid is listed as RedList but Data Deficient. I wonder if this is the most significant colony in Sussex now?

The bottom of the big slope at Ditchling is pretty hard to get to but this is where they are at their best. Hundreds growing in the holloway there that usually has none. It must be something to do with the crazy climatic conditions we have had over the last four months.

And here is Phil with his magical counting finger. It's really hard to see from this photo but this was perhaps the densest area of all.

And here is possibly the main pollinator for this plant. Six-spot Burnet. It's proboscis is covered in the orchid's sticky pollinia.

Here is a Marsh Fragrant-orchid on the left and the Chalk Fragrant-orchid on the right. We saw less than ten chalk!

It wasn't just these we were counting and mapping. We were also looking for Musk Orchids. They are not doing quite so well this year. We have counted 75 in the quarry or Tae's Land this year already but only saw 18 today on the main slope. These are tiny, heavily designated orchids. Being Nationally Scarce, S41 and RedListed Vulnerable. I tried to get a decent photo of the two species together but this was the best I could do. Actually I think that's a pretty cool photo, I can't help feeling the Marsh Fragrant-orchid is looking down disapprovingly at it's more diminutive and drab cousin. Saturday I am off to Heyshott to do the same thing. I wonder if they're doing as well there too?

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