It's only forever, it's not long at all...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 30 December 2019 07:52

Yesterday afternoon I went to Staffordshire Wildlife Trust's Pasturefields Saltmarsh (I didn't fancy heading north due to fog forecast for Leek - I will go to Knotbury Common today instead). This place is less than seven miles from where I grew up. The spiders were not great though, I was hoping for Oedothorax agrestis but it didn't pay off. It was getting darkish about 2.30 pm and I thought to myself, "It looks good for Barn Owls". I turned around and there was one! I immediately started playing this in my head which I do every time I see a Barn Owl hunting..

This is such an odd place, the dead stems of Sea Arrow-grass and Sea Plantain can still be seen but Cannock Chase is visible on the horizon!

Here is the blurb on the noticeboard. I can't figure out what Saltmarsh Rue is though? It's not a standard name. I didn't see it whatever it was. 

One of the best things about this trip has been going to places like this that I have known about for years but never been to. Despite birding all the larger water bodies when I was a kid, I had never been to Aqualate Mere. Right on the border with Shropshire this huge natural lake was full of wildlfowl. Masses of Coots, Tufties and Pochard it was quite a sight. I was talking about spiders in the hide when a money spider crawled across the sightings book. I told the chap that many of them are actually doable in the field if you know what to look for and showed him with a hand lens that this one was indeed identifiable. It was a male Savignia frontata with it's 'penis-like' head extension. I think he was quite surprised.

Of course I couldn't resist a wee bit of spider recording in some sedge litter by the car park and found two lifers in the hour I was there! Hilaira excisa (new 10 km square record) and Oryphantes angulatus putting me on 389 species of spider for the year. This latter was something of a surprise as it's a very northern species but is known from the site from 25 years ago at its most southerly UK site. Two days to go and off to Knotbury Common today. I am loving this but equally I will be glad when it is over. I have decided that I will NOT be year listing Heteroptera in 2020, I am having a year off and will do that in 2021.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 29 December 2019 08:39

Sphagnumb: When you sieve so much Sphagnum in the uplands looking for money spiders in December that you simultaneous can't feel your fingers nor care about anything else other than sieving more Sphagnum.

"At Christmas dinner he became very disengaged, looking longingly north out of the window. His hands chapped and scratched. We fear he has become Sphagnumb to his core. Only the start of a new year can save him now".

Low cloud resulted in me spending half a day on adjacent land to Staffs WT's Black Brook reserve by accident (I saw some rocks that looked like the ones on the website, they were the wrong rocks). All day I was at around 400 m altitude. Got a few nice bits out of it though. On both the neighbouring land and the reserve I had one male each of the 1.5 mm long nationally scarce Latithorax faustus! Anther upland species right on the limit of its range in England in the Peak District.

There were lots of Walckneria cuspidata yesterday, helping to bring my Staffordshire spider list up to 103 species in eight days in late December, pretty chuffed with that. Also a new 10 km square record for a winter adult female Ozyptila trux.

The big surprise was another lifer and a new one for the year list. An adult female Agyneta decora. Known from the 10 km square this is one of the females that have swollen palps. So much like an immature male that it would be very easy to dismiss them in the field and not take them. I have learnt a valuable lesson here. Anyway that's 387 for the year for me. This is a really interesting one as it's new to the group but it's also from a family that is very typically adult in the summer. I do love just hitting a square and seeing what you find rather than targeting specific species.

An impressive landscape when the fog cleared! Even if I wasn't in quite the right place.

And in a mire right next to where the parking area is, my 4th record this year of Hieroglyphic Ladybird! This one sieved from Sphagnum. Anyone else think this is having a good year? I have not seen it until this summer. I did also have a singing Crossbill on the reserve but my sound recordings came out so bad they were not worth putting here. Today I am heading north again for more Sphagnum sieving to Knotbury Common.

"Remember your failure at the cave"

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 26 December 2019 20:21

Thor's Cave I went to today. Looking for subterranean money spiders was I. Instead, covered in mud, I became. Hmmm-mmm. Ha ha ha ha ha.

OK I thought writing an entire blog in the style of Yoda would be both enjoyable to write and hilarious to read. It's clearly neither. I found some cave spiders Meta menardi and some Nesticus. The usual Tissues and Heralds were present in the cave. I did get an unexpected lifer and a long overdue one at that. Porcellio spinicornis

I properly fell down a hole and got caked in mud. The cave wasn't as much fun as I was expecting.

However, the day was not lost as I did a bit of sieving on the way up. Thuidium is definitely one of the better mosses for sieving. I can't quite believe this but I got another lifer and a second species new for the year. At last a female Bathyphantes nigrinus but best of all was Saaristoa firma (below - that's a Meta menardi leg for scale). The first Staffs record since 1991 and a brand new 10 km square! That's 385 species for the year and five days to go. I have had 94 species of spider (just under 25% of the year list) in Staffs in a week, 17 of these are new for the year and 15 of these are lifers! Tomorrow I am off to a bog in Chester...

Is 400 species of spider achievable in a year?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 24 December 2019 07:41

Yesterday I headed to Staffordshire Wildlife Trust's Gun Moor reserve (just over the way from the Roaches which looks much less impressive from a distance). Basically I am picking the furthest north sites and exploring my home county in a way that is very cathartic. I am utterly devastated by the collapse of the Red Wall, I might not ever reconcile this but I am falling in love with the landscape all over again instead. Nature and big open wild places are good for healing the soul. And there are so many spiders too. I am in uncharted territory now, so as I approached Gun Moor I was a little lost and asked a chap for directions...

Me: "Excuse me, is that Gun Moor?
Stranger: "Yes, well Gun Hill".
Me: "Is there a layby along this road or that road back there?"
Stranger: "That road back there. There's nothing there though. It's just a hill".
Me: "I'll be the judge of that". Speeds off into the distance...

All of that happened except the last line. Nothing there?! I would have thought someone going for a walk would have had a better opinion of the local wildlife. Or maybe a better opinion of people under 50. 

There wasn't even a Costa or a toilet when I got there! One star.

I had no idea where to go so I followed the water with one thing in mind: Sphagnum. Within fifteen minutes I had a lifer!

The unbelievably small Theonoe minutissima. At barely a millimetre long, this is dwarfed by pretty much every liny. It was extremely common in Sphagnum there (377 and a long overdue lifer). Here it is being dwarfed by Pholcomma gibbum on the left. It's also a new 10 km square record.

I knew that one in the field and I had a few other things I didn't recognise. My assessment was therefore between one and four species new for the year. It was actually six! This turned out to be Micrargus apertus (378 - lifer). This is a new 10 km square for this species.

And the nationally scarce Hypselistes jacksoni (male top). Not a new one for the year but nice to see.

But things got really exciting when I got back to the microscope. I had another four lifers. Mainly quite widespread north western species that I had never seen before. From left to right: Micrargus apertus, Aphileta misera (379), Tapinocyba pallens (380) and Theonoe minutissima. These were all lifers and all new 10 km square records except Tapinocyba pallens.

I also had a female Bolyphnates alticeps (381). And then this popped out, don't even remember picking it up. Saaristoa abnormis (382).  These two and Tapinocyba pallens were all also new to the group so we have seen 67.8% f the UK's spiders now.

Now I am currently nine species ahead. That could all change daily. Is 400 species of spider possible in a year? I have added 14 species in four days just by going home for Christmas (13 of which were lifers). There is eight days to go so I think it is possible.

I had a long overdue bug lifer. Stenodema holsata.

I sieved a Heather Shieldbug from Sphagnum.

And I am assuming this is Red Grouse poo? And not Pheasant poo?
Today I head to Brown End Quarry.

Peak spider

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 23 December 2019 08:57

The Roaches will always be one of the places that absolutely blow me away. Only 35 miles from where I grew up (as far as Iping Common is from home) but it felt like another country growing up. So this morning I headed to this site to do some upland spidering and had a pretty awesome day. I got a lifer in the first sample. The embarrassingly common Poecilonta variegata. It's great coming up 'north'!

Then on the second suction sample I got another lifer. It wasn't until I got home that |I realised which Bolyphantes I had but all the specimens I took were Bolyphantes luteolus and not the more northern species. And at about 400 m I saw on my phone that Matt had pulled ahead meaning we were now level-pegging on 373. The tension!

I suction-sampled a lovely adult male Walckneaeria acuminata. Look at that eye turret!

It got a little colder and I slowed down but the surprise of a male Snow Flea in the suction sampler was awesome!

It's such an alien landscape. Love it up there. My first Red Grouse in over 15 years was a welcome distraction.

Plants I grew up with like Crowberry and Cowberry seem exotic to me now.

At over 450 m, Megabunus diadema was surprisingly hardy. A new 10 km square for this species.

Then I found what I was looking for, some stones to turn over. Here is an adult female Segestria senoculata at nearly 450 m.

A Hedgehog Slug.

I picked up two female Centromerus prudens, another lifer for me (374). What also turned out to be a lifer, the nationally scarce Porrhomma montanum  below (375). And I have just spent an hour figuring out what the last spider was, another nationally scarce lifer!!! Scotinotylus evansi (376). Now, I'm off back up north to Gun Moor...

Oldacre Valley

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 21 December 2019 20:26

I first went up Oldacre Valley nearly 30 years ago with Steve Cooper to see Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (anyone know if they are still there?). Always loved this valley on the western edge of Cannock Chase but all those years ago I didn't know anything about spiders. I did however remember that there were one or two tussocks of Greater Tussock-sedge up there. I wasn't disappointed and pulled out Notioscopus sarcinatus from the very first tussock I looked at! This nationally scarce/section 41 species hasn't been recorded in Staffs since 1994 according to the scheme and this might be a first record for the Chase even. I found at least four today.

I recorded 37 species of spider there today and 15 of these are new to the 10 km square SJ91 (the adjacent square to the one I grew up in). Of these, two were lifers and therefore new for the year for me putting me on 371 species and I'm slightly in the lead again. Will it last?

Here is the common (in the north west) Dicymbium tibiale with massive front legs in the male. There were lots of these present today.

Spider of the day will have to go to Erigonella ignobilis though. This nationally scarce species is new to me and looking at the recording scheme website was not only recorded from the exact same 10 km square (albeit 20 years ago) it was also recorded from the exact same 1 km square (beyond this there is only one other very old Staffs record). Pretty bonkers for something that is only 1.5 mm long.

If Alice Cooper were a money spider, he would be Lophomma punctatum. A common wetland species but also new to the 10 km square.

The only other nationally scarce species was Theridiosoma gemmosum, dwarfed by a springtail!
Tomorrow I will explore some Staffordshire Wildlife Trust reserves. Ten days to go...

A lifetime's supply of Scotina

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 14 December 2019 18:58

I decided to do something completely different today so went to a site I haven't been to in over ten years; Kingley Vale. My target was Hyptiotes paradoxus. It must be easily identifiable as a spiderling but I couldn't find one. I got bored of looking on the Yew trees and went to the chalk-grassland and then things started to get interesting having only seen common species and Nigma puella up to that point.

I had a go with the suction sampler on this big south facing chalk slope and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw an adult male Scotina. Now on my birthday this year I picked up a female Scotina palliardii from sieving moss at Levin Down. This being a Nationally Rare and Endangered species. Knowing this is the most likely species in mid on chalk (and after a quick Google, December too) I got quite excited. Then I recorded another 15!!! More than ten were adults and this was all with six goes on the sampler and about four sessions of sieving moss. I can't quite believe it but in hindsight this was the commonest larger spider in the samples. It's also more Scotina (off all three species) than I have seen before which is awesome as it is by far the rarest one.

It seems that the place where most of these spiders were present is on these little blow outs, that seem to be caused by livestock/rabbits. There is a overhand of moss (Hypnum lacunosum) and they seem to like that but I also sieved them from Pseudosceleropodium purum further down the slope.

So this is actually not a year tick for me but is possibly one of the finds of the year. It is in the same 10 km square as Levin Down so not a new dot on the map but clearly an extremely healthy population as I only ever found the one at Levin. I did get one new species for me, a lifer in the form of Drassyllus praeficus which has no records on the scheme but there is a record in 1984 from Heyshott Escarpment (nationally scarce also) and readily identifiable as a sub-adult. This puts me one behind Matt on 368 species and is my 250th larger spider of the year.

Also present was an adult female Cercida prominens.

Hypsosinga albovittata

Also present was a new 10 km square for Panamomops sulcifrons. Yet the photo that I was most pleased with was this young male Diaea dorsata.

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