I've seen half of Britain's spiders this year!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 22 November 2019 20:07

I had a great day today handing over the Butcherlands bird survey to Glenn where we saw three Hawfinches, Peregrine and Red Kite. Then we went on to Burton where we had a look at the work being done there to open up Black Hole. It's looking really good but I didn't want to miss an opportunity to work some of the tussocks in the bog. I apologise in advance for rubbish photos in the white tray but it's a very wet site and wet day, so nice photos were not really achievable.

We recorded 27 species of spider, 16 of which were new to the site. Including Nesticus cellulanus, a spider that I was worried I might not pick up this year. Also new for the year were a couple of other 'bogey spiders' I had not seen until now but really should have. Macrargus rufus and FINALLY Robertus lividus. That puts me on 343 species for the year, just passing over the 50% mark. Now I know I am a few months behind Matt Prince on this but I am very pleased to get to this point.

New to the site today was the creepy Taranuncus setosus. A Nationally Scarce spider I have only ever found in Greater Tussock-sedge or Purple Moor-grass tussocks. It is really rather sinister looking, a big dark leggy liny with 'something of the night' about it. Here is a female on the left. To the right is the disappointing Walckenaeria nudipalpis which lacks a fancy head in the male.

And these tiny spiders must surely be young Rugathodes instabilis given the habitat.

Then Glenn swept the first Hieroglyphic Ladybird I have ever seen in Sussex and the first on a Trust reserve since 1993 (which was actually Graffham Common). This was from an area of rush growing over Sphagnum, a long way from any heathers. Why are these so hard to find? I have now seen them three times, all this year in Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex.

Drumstick Truffleclub

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 17 November 2019 19:45

I had a great day at Graffham Common today looking for spiders but the highlight for me was stumbling upon these Drumstick Truffleclubs while I was trying to find somewhere to have my lunch, a new site record. I have wanted to see these for some time, chiefly because of the ridiculous name. They grow out of another fungi, known as False Truffle that we found there some five years ago when they cleared the pines, they were brought to the surface and looked very stone like until you get close. I always assumed that these False Truffles were still there beneath the surface and clearly they are. 

The spiders were pretty amazing today. A total of 43 species in all with five new species for the reserve (amazing for 17th November) but I am going to write a longer piece on the invertebrates of Graffham Common when I can do it justice. It's an incredible site!

We suck

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 16 November 2019 08:17

Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend some time in the field with other arachnologists. The shadow in the above photo is Richard Gallon, with Ray Gabriel central and me on the right. We were looking for the enigmatic and extremely rare Thanatus formicinus. A big and impressive spider last seen in Sussex in 1969. There is about as much chance of finding Winnie the Pooh, also from the Ashdown Forest. Yet it did just turn unexpectedly up at Clumber in Nottinghamshire, where I assume it has remained undetected for decades.

We didn't find it. Possibly due to a thick layer of Scotch Mist.

However, we did have an awesome day and recorded something in the region of 45 species of spider. Armed with a trio of suction samplers, we looked like a cross between the Ghostbusters and Last of the Summer Wine. Richard had his petrol driven beast and Ray and I had an electric one a piece. First sample and Richard got a lifer for him and a new one for the year for me. A big female Agroeca brunnea. Only the second time I have seen it and the first female.

I didn't take many more photos on the day, except this Himacerus boops recorded at Duddleswell. It seems to be a genuinely scarce species in Sussex. I do a lot of sampling on heathland and this is the first Sussex record since 2011!

Now back to the spiders. I was able to tease out just what I wrote down from my sampler in the field and make a comparison between a single petrol suction sampler and an electric one. 

Species Status Petrol Electric
Agrocea brunnea 1
Agroeca proxima 1
Araneus diadematus 1
Bathyphantes gracilis 1 1
Centrmerita concinna 1
Centromerus dilutus 1 1
Ceratinella brevis 1
Ceratniella brevipes 1
Cercida prominens NS 1
Clubiona subtilis 1 1
Cnephalocotes obscurus 1
Ditcyna latens 1 1
Erigone atra 1
Erigone dentipalpis 1 1
Ero cambridgei 1
Ero frucata 1
Euophrys frontalis 1
Evarcha arcuata 1
Gonatium rubens 1 1
Gongylidiellum vivum 1
Hahnia montana 1
Hypselistes jacksoni NS 1
Hypsosinga pygmaea 1
Hypsosinga sanguinea NS 1 1
Mangora acalycpha 1 1
Mermessus trilobatus 1
Metellina mengei 1
Neon reticulatus 1
Pachygnatha degeeri 1 1
Palliduphantes eicaeus 1 1
Pelecopsis parallela 1
Pholcomma gibbum 1 1
Pisaura mirabilis 1 1
Pocadicnemis pumila 1
Simitidion simile 1 1
Sintula corniger NS 1 1
Tenuiphantes mengei 1
Tenuiphantes tenuis 1 1
Tenuiphantes zimmermanni 1
Thanatus striatus NS 1 1
Walckenaeria antica 1
Walckenaeria unicornis 1
Zora spinimana 1 1
Percentage 100% 8.41% 58.1%
Unique n/a 18 8
Ubiquitous 17 17 17
Species with status 5 4 4
Proportion of sp. with status 11.6% 11.4% 16.0%

This has proved a really interesting exercise. It was fairly standardised, we did about as many samples as each other. Mine certainly took longer to collect and a shorter time to process but I think this is a fairly standardised comparison without getting really science about it. Clearly the petrol gets more but they do get slightly different things when using them together. In this case, it would seem the electric sampler slightly inflates the metric of 'proportion of species with conservation status' that is a valuable tool for assessing a site's quality through its invertebrate assemblage.

EDIT: Totally forgot to say that Sintula corniger is new to East Sussex!

It was such a great day, so good to spend time with other arachnologists, something I rarely do being almost entirely self-taught. A big thanks to Richard and Ray and thank to Richard for the cake and coffee. I have been driving by Duddleswell Tea Rooms for 12 years! I was a bit gutted I didn't take more photos, so on Tuesday I went back up to the forest and did two hours sucking with one electric battery at Old Lodge and got a few goodies. First up I took some photos of species from above.

Here is the tiny Centromerus dilutus which is super common. This is on full zoom. This spider has a maximum length of 1.5 mm when adult! I never take the time to take photos of linys, this was quite a fun exercise but the photos are all poor, the light was awful too.

An adult male Walckneaeria antica.

And also very common, Centromeritus conccinus.

Evarcha arcuata and Cercidia prominens, both adult males at Old Lodge in November. There do not appear to be any records for either in November. It just goes to show it's worth getting out there even on these cold November days.

I did get a few species we didn't find on Saturday. These were.

Ozyptila atomaria
Micrommata virescens
Crustulina guttata
Meioneta mollis (new to site and Nationally Rare)
Tapinopa longidens (first Sussex record since 1968!)
Hahnia helveola (new site record and a lifer)

The last two of these species being new for the year putting me on 336. only 19 behind Matt! Here is a young Micrommata virescens.

Not to be mistaken for a young Tibellus

To the naked eye, these and young Thanatus striatus all look quite similar but Micrommata have what I can only describe as 'feet'. Like in this shot. Showing that they are related to huntsman.

And finally the adult male Hahnia helveola, which happens to be the 48th new spider I have had this year and my 7500th species in all. Now I wrote this pretty quickly in just over an hour as I am now going to go to, you've guessed it, Ashdown Forest. It saves me driving to the north of England to look for linys, while still getting good records for Sussex.

So yes, we suck. But we are awesome at finding spiders. If Tapinopa longidens can turn up at after 51 years, we won't miss Thanatus formicarius. I am sure it's out there. One thing I learned from Richard was the habitat I was looking in is a bit off, a little too Molinia dominated so now I am concentrating on a heather dominated structure that I think I understand. Watch this space!

For he IS the Kwisatz Haderach!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 3 November 2019 19:25

I may have got a bit carried away reading up on Denis Villeneuve's 2020 adaptation of Frank Herbert's awesome book Dune yesterday. So when I visited the sand dunes at Camber Sands today to look for spiders, reality and fantasy started to blur. I may have convinced myself just briefly that I was the Universe's super being when this happened...

I can't begin to tell you how excited I was. I have looked for the Nationally Rare Philodromus fallax for about eight years on and of, mainly at this site, but also at sand dunes around the country. I had actually long given up, I was in fact looking for linys today. But I had this weird feeling I needed to try one more tussock before heading round to Camber Sands. Then out it popped from a tussock of dead Marram! Here are some more shots. Much paler than I thought it would be, appeared almost white in the tray.
It was just like the moment Paul Atreides first encountered the Fremen. If only it had blue within blue eyes. Absolutely stoked. I could end the spider listing challenge now and be happy...but I won't. So glad I got a Sussex one. And here was the place, right where it gets trampled by thousands of people, totally different to where I have been looking all this time.

It was a THREE Agroeca today, the only other new spider I had new for the year was Agroeca cuprea. Another Nationally Rare spider that is common at Camber Sands. I saw at least eight today. This is a really nice looking spider. If fallax is a Fremen, this can be Paul Atreides.

And the Nationally Scarce Marpissa nivoyi. This can be Piter De Vries. Know a Mentat by his red-stained lips.

I also found a cool fungi, what I belief must be Sand Stinkhorn! This can be a giant sand worm. Usul has called a big one. Again, it is the legend!

In all I recorded 34 species of spider today with lots of species still adults (all those in bold). I end the day on 330 species for the year. Amazed to record as many Nationally Rare species as Nationally Scarce ones. This is a little rushed and not spell-checked.
Agelenetea redii
Agroeca cuprea NR
Agroeca inopina
Agroeca proxima
Alopecosa barbipes
Bathyphantes parvulus
Centromerita concinna
Ceratinopsis romana NR
Clubiona subtilis
Clubiona terrestris
Drassodes cupreus
Dysdera croccata
Ero cambridgei
Euophrys frontalis
Hypsosinga albomaculata NS
Hypsosinga pygmaea
Mangora acalypha
Marpissa nivoyi NS
Megalepthyphantes sp. near collinus
Meioneta rurestris
Neriene clathrata
Ozyptila praticola
Pelecopsis parallela
Philodromus fallax NR
Pisaura mirabilis
Salticus scenicus
Stenomyphantes lineatus
Tenuiphantes tenuis
Thanatus striatus NS
Trichopterna cito NR
Walckenaeria unicornis
Xerolycosa miniata NS
Zilla diodea
Zora spinimana

The Legend of John Barleycorn

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 2 November 2019 12:09

Last weekend I headed up to Ken Hill for the last visit of 2019, this time to complete the woodland part of the NVC map with plenty of casual recording too. The birds were really good, with the highlight being a trilling Waxwing over the Plain and this really confiding Black Redstart on the barn, guarding the harvest (could this be John Barleycorn? You'll have to read right to the end to know what I'm going on about here). I don't often take many bird photos (this is just shoving my camera against my 30 year old scope). It's great when you get that close to a bird you see new features. Never noticed the pale base to the lower mandible before.

There were also loads of winter thrushes, Bramblings, Golden Plovers, Woodcock and Pink-footed Geese about. But the highlight of the trip was meeting up with my childhood mentor who I had not seen for 15 years! Was really good to see Ewart Gardner again, last time we saw each other we went for the 'Slender-billed Curlew' in Suffolk in 2004. We will definitely not be leaving it for another 15 years, it was so good showing Ewart my bird diaries from 30 years ago which he had never seen before. We spent the day birding around Norfolk at Titchwell and Cley. I picked up four Velvet Scoters at Titchwell and we heard a Bearded Tit at Cley but I think bird of the day was the Black Redstart! It was really important to me to say thank you, for without him I really don't believe I would be doing what I am doing now.

Fungi were really good, with plenty of nice common charismatic species about, such as this Fly Agaric.

A fantastically disgusting Stinkhorn.

Some of the brightest Scarlet Waxcaps I've ever seen! Growing only on one area of the Plain that had been scraped. In time, when this area is well grazed, these sort of fungi should increase in range. They can't compete with the ungrazed tussocks of Wavy Hair-grass though.

Similarly, on a different scrape, what I think must be Moor Coral, not a species I have seen before and one with a connection to Heather. Anyone else remember the Hattifatteners from the Moomins?

On Bracken, what I think is likely to be Apricot Club. I must renew my membership.

Amethyst Deceiver.

On a veteran Beech to the south, a Shaggy Scalycap.

Under the pines on the cones, some Toothpick Fungi.

Very few inverts around but new for the site was a lovely little Winter Semi-slug. I recorded a little video of it too, showing the mantle coming out and moving around on top of the shell. Such a strange little creature.

I had a quick look in the sand dunes before I cam home and picked up two lifers! The coastal tenebrionid Phaleria cadaverina and the very cool money spider Walckenaeria monoceros (both nationally scarce species). Here is a shot of the money spider under the microscope, it has a quiff!!! Spiders with haircuts, whatever next? 

Over the next five months I will be writing all this up. It's been a fantastic place to work and relax, so much space, wildlife and calm up there. The whole experience has been fantastic and I can't thank the Padwicks enough for their hospitality, I will really miss them! And to the Buscalls for making it all happen and to everyone else who has helped. And Tika and Charlie!

Driving back, I was lucky enough to listen to this great piece on Radio 4 about Folk Horror. I can't get enough of this stuff and it inspired the title of this post. It really got me thinking about the whole Legend of John Barleycorn and how in English Folklore, John Barleycorn represented the harvesting of the barley, the cyclical nature of agriculture mirroring life, death and rebirth. And that at Ken Hill, this has never been more poignant; this being the last crop before giving birth back to a more natural system. A much longer cycle if you will then, than the annual cropping regime but a cycle none the less. As the song goes, "John Barleycorn must die" but he'll be back next year in the form of a plethora of wild plants, insects, birds, mammals and more. In fact, he hasn't even left...

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