The Beast of Brighton

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 29 September 2020 15:55

Zoropsis spinimana first turned up in Brighton as far back as 2014 but it's taken me until now to see one. A huge thanks to Ali Risby for connecting me with this absolutely huge and gorgeous spider. There is so much to look at! It's so much bigger than I thought it would be, rivalling a Dolomedes in size nearly, it's also REALLY fast. Given that this comes into houses, I can totally see it not being popular with some people, it was even making me jump when it would suddenly start running after a long period of sitting motionless. It's also good at climbing the sides of the tank it's in and is also known to be able to climb glass easily (thanks Gemma). That said, I would happily have these living in the house, so any moronic 'kill it with fire' comments are most unwelcome, I would rather have these in my house than muppets who come out with that sort of rubbish. It's a non-native that has spread rapidly through London over the last decade, but outside of London, Brighton seems to be the best place to see it. Here are some more shots of this BEAST of a spider.

You can read more about it on the BAS website here and the recording scheme page for it, is here.

I have mapped the current known locations of the spider in Brighton and Hove (the larger square is simply where the record's resolution was lower). It seems to have started off in an area just south of Seven Dials and that is probably your best chance of seeing it. This year it has been found in Kemtpown too, the records covering some 6 or 7 km, meaning that it could be anywhere in the city now! The most western record is likely one that was moved when a friend moved house, given that he also had it in his previous garden, this is too much of a coincidence. Now seems a good time to see the adults too, If you see it, please send me a photo and I'll add it to the records. That's 353 spiders for me in just under nine months in the UK. 

I've seen half of the UK's spiders this year, two months earlier than last year!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 13 September 2020 16:38

It dawned on me yesterday that I had passed a milestone earlier this week, that last year I didn't reach until 22nd November, that's half of the UK's spiders in under 8.5 months. I am pretty chuffed with this considering what kind of year we have had and that I have not left Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Kent. Oh and actually Wiltshire too, but just in the very south east corner. No, that's a lie, I also went to Bedfordshire earlier in the year! I think about 90% of this list has so far been work too, this year being easier than last year. 

Anyway, yesterday's addition to my list was also a county first! I suction sampled Cryptachaea blattea. I really wasn't expecting that yesterday but there it is. We found it by doing a survey of Mark Colvin's woodland in West Sussex and this was right next to his house. This is my 347th spider this year. With still over 3.5 months to play with, can I beat last year's 391 and can I keep my lead above Tylan? The former all depends on one thing, whether we have another lockdown or not. Before, I was working all during lockdown doing surveys but I wouldn't feel comfortable travelling for 'fun recording' if it starts again. Who knows about the latter. There's all to play for. I didn't lose interest from July to September like I did last year, that's the hardest window for spidering. It's all about to get very 'liny' though. I can't wait!

Also this week, I was surprised to find I was in Wiltshire. I thought I was in Hampshire, not realising that a chunk of the New Forest was in Wiltshire! I was less than 50 m from the border when I found this, while looking for saproxylic beetles. I beat this tiny spiderling of Hyptiotes paradoxus off a low oak branch in dense woodland. This is the third time I have seen this and never when I've been looking for it. This appears to be a new county record too. I also had Sibianor aurocinctus apparently new to Wiltshire.

Now, I might not have a two week trip to Staffs planned at Christmas but I am hoping to start targeting some more distant sites/spiders, I might go on a quick roadshow too. I do think 400 is definitely possible.

Large Conehead in Ashdown Forest!!!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 11 September 2020 18:51

How  exactly did I end up in a bog with a chap kneeling at my feet shouting "get your little man out" just as two strangers walked passed and gave us disapproving looks? Well first off, I should say he meant TinyRecorder. That 'he' was Ray Gabriel. Ray, Danni Sherwood and I met up to go spidering at one of my favourite spidering sites, Old Lodge. It was a slow and steady on the spider front but we had seen many of the site specialities by this point. Having introduced Ray to my little public engagement project earlier when we found a big Dolomedes, we moved on to another mire when I heard Ray shout "I've got something big! A cricket" or something like that. I thought to myself as I rushed over, it can't be ANOTHER Large Conehead can it? It only bloody was! It's only 19 days since I saw them at Dungeness on the day they were discovered, here I am on a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve in the middle of the Ashdown Forest a long way from the coast! In fact the nearest Sussex coast is just under 20 miles away. Clearly, Ray realised that this was a 'TinyRecorder moment' but his choice of words was just hilarious. This isn't the first Sussex record though, as there has been one in a garden in Bexhill since the start of August.

If an en entomologist can encounter these twice in less than three weeks, then there are far more around than you perhaps realise. It's going to be common here very soon I think. They are big and obvious in the day and very noisy at night, so I would think you might have a chance at finding them anywhere in the county now. Absolutely incredible! So nice to see in daylight too though. Enjoy the photos! I thought their eyes were black bu they are really not.

Spiders new for the year were Floronia bucculenta and remarkably, Drapetisca socialis, putting me on 345 spiders for 2020. Here is Drapetisca. Common as muck this one but it's my first of the year. We recorded at least 51 species of spider today but this really did eclipsed for me by that huge cricket. So unexpected!

New for the site was Ozytpila sancturia swept by Danni and Cnephalocotes obscurus by myself. It's not easy to get a new spider for Old Lodge so nice one Danni! The site has now had 172 species of spider recorded on it. Also new for the site, and only the second ever Sussex record was the ground bug Lamproplax picea that I sieved from Sphagnum. The only other Sussex record was Flatropers in 1696! Over 50 years ago. What an awesome day! A big thanks to Danni and Ray for a really enjoyable day.

Looking after your mental health as an entomologist

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 9 September 2020 08:36

Recently I had a great day in the field with Steve Gale, last time I met up with him was 6.5 years ago (you can read about that here). Things have really changed for me in the intervening time and it was great to spend a full day with Steve on one of my surveys, that happened to be near his house. It's that time of year where I am wrapping up my surveys for the year, it's always a relief to get to this point, especially after this year. Burn out is always a possibility by late summer but in recent years, I haven't really had it as much as I used to. I think I've started to figure out how to avoid it by 'balancing' my time spent in the field. That is, there are some events that can be considered 'yin' and some 'yang'. Some events with a narrow focus and little time to stop and think, some with a wider scope with more time to gain perspective. Now for many people, they balance out this sort of thing by doing something completely different in their lives but I live a life of natural history and in the summer months particularly, I don't want to do much else other than be out in nature. Everything else is for winter!

The problem is, learning to tell the difference. Learning to know when you've had too much of the former particularly. For an entomologist, much of your work falls into this category. That's not to say I don't find it mindful and enjoyable, the days fly by when I am working alone in the field, recording against the clock. I always do my inverts surveys using timed sessions where possible and this does come at a slight cost. I started to notice this last year at Ken Hill. During the bird surveys I was aware how content I was, while during the invert surveys, I wasn't aware at all, I was just recording inverts. If I had stopped to think, I would have actually found I was also quite content but the issue here is I didn't stop. From a vagus nerve point of view, this is really key. If you are doing this kind of exercise all the time, you are in pure survival mode. It's not sustainable. 

In the first three months of the year I hardly saw a person but from July, I have been making an effort to meet up with people on site. They come on my surveys and get some tuition and I get company and some more balance. The harsh contrast between the two halves of the year has been really telling and is ultimately the stimulus for writing this post.

So I have recently started trying to think about how to bring this balance into my natural history life. Now I have been lucky enough to have had a great therapist over the last ten years who has really helped me understand this stuff in quite a technical way.

Tasks that can stimulate survival mode, fight or flight or the sympathetic nervous system

Now I am absolutely NOT saying that these are BAD things. This is about balance.

  • Twitching. Having a target and the possibility of failure is exciting but too much of this can leave you feeling exhausted. You can't get much of a narrower focus than this, if you don't pull up to a twitch with your heart beating out of your chest, you are probably a psychopath.
  • Targeted recording. Going to a site to look for a specific species, say like an orchid or a rare invert. It doesn't have quite the stress of a twitch (as orchids tend to not fly away suddenly) but it still has a specific focus and a possibility of failure.
  • Too much time on your own, in your own head. The focus narrows again. But too much time with large groups of people also falls into this category for me. Much more than four people at once I often find really stressful these days, although I used to love it!
  • Too much time being the most experienced naturalist. If the flow of knowledge is only in one direction, this can also be exhausting.
  • Taking on too much but particularly the side effect of this, rushing. I hate rushing.
  • Wasted days indoors due to rubbish weather forecasts!
  • Dare I say it here. And pot calling kettle black. Too much time on social media! The natural history groups seem to have blossomed in the last five years but it can still suck the life out of you if you're on social media too much.

Tasks that stimulate the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system

  • Recording. Going to an area and just recording what you find without specific targets is extremely rewarding as the best things you find are a surprise and there is no chance of failure. 
  • Birding without too many targets. There is an irony here for me. I have recently started to get back into birding but the problem is, it really hurts my back. A gentle walk around a site where I am upright for an hour or two and my slipped disc will be in agony. A 30 min drive home though, and I'll be right as rain (?!). A day spent bending down all day to look through nets and suction samples and I will not get this. 
  • Spending time with people, but people who don't stress you out! I know the latter part of this might sound obvious but I don't always find it that easy to tell. It's much easier as a freelancer to be selective on who you spend time in the field with but it's also really easy to fall into the trap of being on your own all the time!
  • Spending time in the field with people who know more than you so you can absorb it. You know that feeling when you go on a course? You can drink up someone else's knowledge and this can feel very expansive. That's vagus nerve stimulation. Either that or the copious amount of horrible instant coffee I usually drink.
  • Taking the time to enjoy what you're doing. I hate rushing to site, so I would rather go to bed really early and have a long morning sorting out admin and having a big breakfast. There is nothing worse than the stress of feeling like you are running out of time. This is a big reason I don't get on with moth trapping and nocturnal work so well as it ruins the next day (or more) for me. I really don't know how people do night work.
  • Borderline weather. Always go for it, there is nothing worse than sitting indoors on a sunny day for no reason. 
  • When you  are properly rained off though, don't resist! There is NOTHING you can do about it. These unplanned days off from fieldwork are your best friend. Embrace them. Look out the window not in frustration but happy that you are dry and able to process some specimens/records/field notes etc.

If you follow the analogy of the yin yang philosophy, the whole is always stronger and more balanced when the two are mixed. So timed counts of invertebrates on a site with an old friend who you really enjoy the company of, balanced at the end of the day with a very short drive to find a rare beetle. I reckon that just about comes out as the perfect balance. I have recently started planning my time to think about this sort of thing a bit more and I have to say, it's really working. 

So last Sunday, Steve and I had a cracking day, some 166 field dets and a total of 200 species by the time I had processed the spiders, bees and flies etc. I nicked the above photo from Steve's blog, I am sure he won't mind. The only thing I got from the father I never met was a lot of hair, which seems to be taking over again, I only had it cut last October! You can read Steve's account of the field work here and also his account of the pan-species listing element here. I managed to help Steve out with 114 lifers! A jump of two places on the rankings and a place in the top 40. We got lots of nice records but I took very few photos. We headed down the road to see this rare beetle...

Steve found the first one. A massive baguette-sized weevil, Lixus iridis. We found a couple more in the same place but then something really interesting happened. Steve lost his glasses. Wearing glasses at home only, I could feel Steve's stress, I get stressed even though I know they're in the house when I lose them. I found my back started to get bad really quickly but in the 15 minutes or so that this happened, my ability to find Lixus went through the roof. I found four just like that. We were now both in survival mode and it wasn't looking good for a while. Then I spotted the glasses and everything was OK. I am glad we didn't give up. It really shows how much we are effected by what we are doing and learning to read your body is a great way to know what's stressing you out, what doesn't and how to manipulate the two to get the best outcomes for both your mental well being AND your functionality. To reiterate, I wouldn't find half of what I find without activating the fight or flight mode, it's not inherently bad. It just needs balancing.

Back when we could go to pubs, whenever I met up with friends in the summer in beer gardens, they would sometimes comment on how my eyes would be darting everywhere. It's because it takes a while to decompress out of that mind state, I was looking for danger/invertebrates. Saying that, it makes me realise that even though I don't really drink anymore, those sessions were a great way to decompress. Probably more so regarding just switching off for a while rather than the booze but that is something very much missing from 2020.

I digress. Additionally, I tried sweeping Nettle and Hedge Bindweed nearby and picked up a shield bug nymph I didn't recognise. This had to be the Striped Shieldbug Graphosoma italicum. I knew it was found here by Tristan Bantock but it really wasn't on my radar to see, so was a total surprise. Turns out it's most likely the first nymph recorded on the mainland. Not that it was a lifer, as I ticked this on Jersey a few year ago but it was probably the highlight of the day for me.

So if you live a life of natural history and like me, occasionally find yourself getting wound up for reasons that are not immediately obvious, it might be worth thinking about things in terms of the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems.

Dungeness Monsters

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 24 August 2020 15:43

So, how DID I find myself staring at LARGE CONEHEADS at 10.30 pm at Dungeness last night? (this updated to include Dave Walker's amazing photo of the first animal we actually got a proper view of that he's kindly allowed me to use as you'll see my rubbish efforts below).

Rewind. I was meant to be in Wales this week but we had to reschedule due to awful weather. This meant I had a proper weekend off. Last week, chatting to Jake Everrit, I was reminded about the Sickle-bearing Bush-crickets etc at Dungeness, I had it in my mind to pop down but wasn't sure if and when. I had a great morning yesterday rock-pooling at Holywell (that's another story) and after a chilled out lunch, we said goodbye to Libby and Shaun Pryor and I headed to Dungeness to look for the new shieldbug that Dave Walker found last year...

After about an hour of searching I found two immatures, a dead one and then Shaun spotted an adult. Result! Geotomus petiti, indistinguishable externally from the rare Geotomus punctulatus. I love the demonic red eyes! Thanks to Dave and Tristan Bantock for the gen.

We had a few other nice things while searching, such as an immature Phlegra fasciata. And this lovely Grey Bush-cricket.

Shaun had to head off (we had been at it for nine hours by this stage and well done for him for spending that much time with me, something even I try to avoid!). However, it may have been the worst mistake of his life. I had a few hours to kill until dark and meeting up with Dave Walker to see the Sickle-bearers and Tree Crickets, so I did a bit of recording around the obs. I had barely started when Dave and Sam Perfect came over stating "we have a problem". Sam had photographed what he thought was Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket near the obs, in a new area, at about 1.00 pm (it was now about 6.30 pm), it was however a Large Conehead! We searched for an hour in the area he saw it but found nothing, we will come back to this spot after dark. I carried on poking around. Dungeness must be the only place where you can find Pellenes tripunctatus without looking for it.

This bug was a lifer for me. Ortholomus punctipennis. A really smart ground bug that I think was feeding here on Mouse-ear Hawkweed.

And then 8.00 pm came round and Dave took me out to look for the crickets. We had another look where the Large Conehead was spotted and nothing. It didn't take long before we were listening to thousands of Tree Crickets, a really magical sound! These are really odd looking crickets and hearing so many together was mind blowing. I heard the single animal on the edge of Brighton two years ago but didn't see it. This was an incredible experience.

Dave then carried on to the Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket area and soon found them. I didn't find a single one of the eight that we saw. A really leggy and long cricket that often reaches deep down into flower heads pushing the wings high up into the air or at a jaunty angle relative to the legs and/or line of the body.

This is a stunning cricket, really unlike any of our other crickets. Well, unless you count Large Conehead that is. I was convinced I could just about hear the Sickle-bearers but after listening to sound recordings I am not sure if that was what I was hearing. Here is a male with lots of Tree Crickets singing in the background.

Then ANOTHER orthopteroid lifer. Dave showed me several of the Ectobius montanus that he found new to Britain a few years ago and got to species earlier this year. A smart little cockroach, smaller than Tawny and Dusky but larger than Lesser. EDIT: Everything looks different in the light of a torch, I am pretty sure we got our wires crossed that night thanks to a comment on this post, I am pretty sure that all the roaches we saw that night were actually Lesser Cockroach Ectobius panzeri. I did think they were small, having saw some in daylight a few hours earlier, I should of looked more closely.

Wow, what a night! We were heading back to a new area that Sam had thought he had Sickle-bearings in earlier this week. He had an actinic out near there, and as we approached the trap, I did think it was odd that nearby was some kind of crackling battery, as mine is silent. It dawned on me that this was a cricket and nothing to do with the trap. As we rushed over it got even weirder. Imagine a really loud Roesel's Bush-cricket, at night, coming from scrub and you are nearly there. It was, however, so much louder and when I was close to this thing, it actually hurt my ears. The only other time I have experienced this was with cicadas in Oz. You can't hear it at all on my sound recordings though and Dave wasn't picking it up at all. It did a few little zips that Roesel's doesn't do too but was mostly just like Roesel's in terms of being just one long continuous note. I always think Roesel's sounds like a tattoo gun. This was more like a crackling pylon! It stopped and we couldn't locate it, then eventually, there was a big green cricket sitting on an upright stem, parallel to the stem and with a big pointy head. It was so hard to see in the scrub but we both got a definitive view but no photos, when I bungled an attempt to get it into a pot! Disaster! We walked a few more yards and I heard another, this time coming from utterly impenetrable bramble and while I was trying to record this, Dave found a female nearby in the grass!!! So that's two males, one female and the first one that Sam recorded. Four in all. Incredible. Here is my best shot but they all came out badly. LARGE CONEHEAD!

A massive thanks to Dave and Sam for the best evening of natural history of the year! It was so exciting, with just the right amount of dipping, followed by finding, to be a perfect roller coaster. And I was so fortuitous to be there that night for so many different reasons. I am definitely going to spend more time at Dunge. It's 19 years since I was a volunteer at the RSPB but this helped me remember just how much I love it there. I am going to become a friend of the Obs and start getting out there more often! 

2nd UK record for Sciocoris homalonotus at Chipstead Downs!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 16 August 2020 11:32

This is the 2nd UK record for Sciocoris homalonotus, that I suction sampled from chalk-grassland at Chipstead Downs on 31st July 2020. That's the short version. Here's the long version.

To really get why it's took me 15 days to figure out that I had the closest you can get to a first for Britain without getting a first for Britain on the 31st July 2020, we really need to go back to this time last year for some background. I was researching the tachinid Gymnosoma nitens, the host of which is Sandrunner Sciocoris cursitans. It's amazing that there are more records for the fly in the North Downs on the NBN than there are the host! I guess it's a lot easier to see. Anyway, I noticed that there was a record for Sciocoris cursitans on the Sussex coast. It was from Gayles Farm by Andy Foster in 2014. A shieldbug I didn't know we had in Sussex. Given that Sciocoris sideritis had been recorded in 2018 in Essex, and given where this record was on the south coast, I thought it well worth Andy checking his specimen. He kindly did just that and it turned out to be just Sciocoris cursitans after all. I still believe this has colonised from the Continent though and not from the north. I went down and had a look last September but had no joy there.

Fast forward to summer 2020. I have been commissioned by Andy Keay to survey invertebrates of Chipstead Downs and (to a lesser extent) Banstead Woods in Surrey, on behalf of the local authority. On the 31st July, I completed my third visit and Laurie Jackson also came with me. I suction sampled what I assumed was Sciocoris cursitans from a steep, east facing patch of tightly grazed chalk-grassland with broken turf. I vaguely remember thinking it was large at the time but given that the North Downs is the known stronghold for this species, and that there is a dot on the map for Chisptead, I recklessly took some photos with TinyRecorder and published them as the Sandrunner! Will have to go back and edit that post after this! If you haven't discovered TinyRecorder yet, he's a miniature loser that started following me around at the start of lockdown (or is that the other way around?) This does hugely show the importance of taking specimens, even when you think you know what you've found!

That brings me to yesterday. Rained off from a survey on the Downs I had a slow morning and decided to go and look for Myrmarachne formicaria at the Crumbles. I also met up with my old friend Oli Froom and his son Thomas, I kid you not this 2.5 year old was able to identify Yellow Horned-poppy, Viper's-bugloss, evening primrose, Great Willowherb and Rosebay Willowherb on sight! To hear a toddler asking if he was going to see a Bee Orchid was magical! Anyway, I got a male Myrmarachne really quickly, then also found Neon pictus, Oonops pulcher, Malacoroeris nidicolens and best of all, a new site for Pseudeuophrys obseleta. This puts me on 334 spiders for the year. I said goodbye to Oli and soon after found a Sciocoris that I was convinced was something exciting. They were just so small, narrow, dark and variegated compared to the one that was fresh in my mind from Chipstead. There were lots of them too, in fact I found more dead ones than live ones, here is an example. After some confusing messaging back and forth to Tristan Bantock, it soon became clear that these were simply Sciocoris cursitans but I was left with that undeniable gut feeling that I had found something good. This is a new 10 km square for the site and only the second East Sussex record, not seen since 2014 either. So not too shabby.

Here is the specific habitat. Very brownfield and quite different to the chalk-grassland where the Chipstead specimen was collected.

So driving home, it started dawning on me. Maybe I have this all 'arse about tit'? Maybe these aren't small but my specimen from Chipstead was actually huge. The Sciocoris cursitans from the Crumbles were all about 4.8 mm. I rushed home and got the specimen out of vinegar and measured it, 7.9 mm! How did I miss this! Here they are side by side.

I messaged Tristan again with this photo and got back "!!!". I knew I was on to something at this point He emailed me a paper he co-authored and it slowly became clear that this was actually Sciocoris homalonotus. First recorded in Kent in 2016 by Harry Kenward on the 7th June. As Tristan told me, this is a big complicated genus in Europe. So we now have three species of Sciocoris in the UK! It's well worth looking through any you might find for the more interesting ones. Larger with pedunculate eyes being features of homalonotus. I have ordered 'Les Punaises Pentatomoidea de France' after getting in this pickle. So this is a new record for Surrey. There was me thinking I'd found something to close the gap on Surrey (East Sussex has the 4th highest species list, Surrey the 1st). 

A massive thanks to Tristan for putting up with my confusion and to Andy Keay for the work!

A one man bioblitz on a wildlife friendly farm

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 5 July 2020 09:05

Rewilding features so prominently in the minds of conservationists right now, but we must not forget it's only part of the solution. Wildlife friendly farming can have huge benefits for conservation. I started this survey earlier in June. One big farm, split in two. One half on the Downs, the other half in the Weald. I am surveying as many taxa as possible as I can in six compartments in each half over six months from June through to May next year. So each round will take two days and be comprised of 12 hours solid recording.

Even though I have surveyed the top half of the farm for birds and arable plants before, I was blown away by how rich it was. I generated 1570 records during the first visit! All in all I recorded 532 species in 12 hours. That's 251 vascular plants and 203 invertebrates (that's just field dets and the spiders, all the others will be identified in the autumn and winter) and 48 birds. The unexpected highlight though is the umbellifer shown above. What I first thought had to be Corky-fruited Water-dropwort via a process of elimination (after some discussion with Frances Abraham and Nick Sturt of Sussex Botanical Recording Society) later turned out to be the nationally rare Great Pignut!!! A lifer! It's so hard to stumble on new, native plants like this. Some context; in 2018, SBRS discovered 12 plants only 175 metres from this site in an area of different ownership. A huge thanks to everyone for their help with the identification, Here are some more shots.

Other highlights included, a single plant of Narrow-fruited Cornsalad.

Just one Prickly Poppy but lots of Rough Poppy. This is one of my favourite plants.

White Horehound

And in the Wealden part, lots of Corn Spurrey.

And I really like this shot of Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet.

Three species of orchid (Fragrant-orchid, Common Spotted-orchid and Pyramidal Orchid). MASSES of Common Rock-rose.

Invertebrate wise, probably finding a new colony of Cistus Forester moths was the highlight.

And another Common Rock-rose specialist, Tinicephalus hortulanus. A very small mirid.

In the pockets of chalk-grassland, Omaloplia ruricola was locally frequent, a nationally scarce chafer. Not the best shot but you can see the variability here.

And the tiny Crytopcephalus bilineatus.

The site has dozens of territories of both Skylark and Corn Bunting. There was even a Corn Bunting holding territory on the Weald part of the farm, something I have not seen before. No doubt due to the population size on the top of the hill. Supplementary winter feeding and bird friendly stewardship options are really working. In the Wealden part, a Cuckoo was heard and a family of Nightingales seen with at least one fledgling spotted!

I really like this kind of approach to surveying, it's utterly exhausting but is a great way to make sure you get around a big site like this. And I wholeheartedly believe that this method ALWAYS gives you a bigger total (and a more structured and repeatable one) than if you had just wandered where you like, we have a tendency to go to the same areas after the initial period of exploration. It also means you are less likely to miss the best areas, which is always a possibility on huge sites. You don't get everything, you never can, but you if you want a good idea of what's on a site across a large number of taxa, this really works. Birds are almost entirely done by ear and switching between taxa can sometimes mess with your search image. The days go REALLY quickly when you are working with the timer on.

What's really interesting about this is after being fully booked by the end of January, my first full year as a freelancer, I soon lost half of my work by the end of March. Yet by May, much of it came back including some entirely new jobs. This one being a new job I would have had to turn down this year but due to Covid 19, I was able to take this job right on my door step! The fact the day was sandwiched between TWO twitches made it even more magical, my first in years. The Red-footed Falcon below was on the way to the site but the Blyth's Reed Warbler was a lifer at Beachy Head in the evening, my first new British bird in three years. Definitely one of the best days natural history in 2020. I can't wait for the next visits, with five more planned, is 1000 species possible on this amazing farm? I think so.

I love surveying farms, they are often full of surprises. Over the last 20 years, I have surveyed many farms, rewilding projects and nature reserves and one thing that is so important to remember is that they are all different. Not just between treatments but all farms are different from one another, all rewilding projects are different from one another. A one size fits all approach does not work. Neither does seeing anyone of these treatments as the answer to our problems, that's is a binary thinking trap, they are all important. If everyone did the same we would have a huge loss in diversity. That's why a spectrum of different approaches is so important, most of the interesting stuff happens in the grey areas and not the extremes. And without detailed and repeatable survey work, we are just uninformed doing what we think we should do without any real understanding, a bespoke and informed approach, in both space and time, is vital, as no site ever stays the same. My new motto, since I heard someone say it on the radio, is "Embrace complexity and nuance". Something that is sadly not popular in the days of  social media, snap judgements and binary thinking we find ourselves in.

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