Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 13 August 2021 19:10

*sigh* So long, old friend.

Three weeks ago, I had a rare weekend off. The plan was to meet up with my mate Thomas Curculio (you should see his rostrum - he puts Gonzo to shame) and head to Wybunbury Moss on the Saturday and Chartley Moss on the Sunday. Both sites we had permits for and both being dangerous floating mires (or schwingmoors), it was good having someone who had been there before to guide. I love floating mires, probably the most exciting habitat for spiders. But being close to where I grew up makes them all the more exciting.

Now there were three targets at Wybunbury that I really wanted to get. And as I was researching them the night before from gen provided by Richard Gallon (thanks, man!), an incredible coincidence occurred. Stewart Sexton copied me into a Tweet (thanks, dude!). Joshua Styles (thanks, fella!) found one of the target species at a second UK site. Just over the border in Cranberry Bog in Staffs. As the crow flies, it's only 3 miles from Wybunbury in Cheshire. So I offered to go and have a look after Wybunbury, to try and find another and confirm it. Both Thomas Curculio and I have tried numerous times to access Cranberry Bog and failed...

But first, Wybunbury. The only bog I have seen with Common Cow-wheat growing in the bog. It's really odd but looks really cool (Josh was telling me this is a unique community). And more White Beak-sedge than I have ever seen before. 

It didn't take long to find a Gnaphosa nigerrima (nationally rare and vulnerable - not surprising given that it's only ever been known from the one bog)We saw maybe 15 of these, mostly adult females and one sub-adult male. Much smaller than I was expecting and actually not far off a big Zelotes/Drassyllus. In Sphagnum but also in the suction sampler. Actually it was dwarfed by an adult female Haplodrassus signifer I found there.

It did however take three and a half hours to find Calositticus floricola (nationally rare, near threatened). Thomas found two adult males in the last few minutes of our time there. The other goody there is a tiny liny Carorita limnaea (nationally rare, vulnerable), so would have to wait until I got back to the microscope to see if I had found that one (but I was pretty sure I had picked up a few females).

Back to Calositticus floricola though. This might be the best jumping spider I have ever seen. Up close, it really is something else. Here is a whole sequence of the male.

And I mustn't forget this Wybunbury speciality! Thomas was great at finding these wonderful Cryptocephalus decemmaculatus. A lifer indeed (thanks, mate!). Every species in this genus is a joy.

So, onto Cranberry Bog, Staffs. The same frustrating access antics AGAIN. How on Earth do we get into it?! I mean, we could see it through the trees, oh help me someone, help me please! Sorry, went all Kate Bush for a minute there. But the black peaty water under the Alders between us and the bog was not an option. We nearly gave up but I spotted some tracks through and eventually spotted the Indiana Jones style 'rope bridge' that Joshua had told us to look for. We were in! But we would never be the same again.

First sweep net had THREE Calositticus floricola in it. That'll be new to Staffordshire then. Here is the adult female I caught. It's so much easier to find this at Cranberry than Wybunbury. How can this have been overlooked all these years? We reckon we found 30+.

And it didn't take long to confirm Joshua's amazing record of Gnaphosa nigerrima at it's now second UK site! What I love about this is that I never would have gone there that day if I hadn't seen that tweet. So this jumper is also in part down to that. Also there were a few Pirata piscatorius there, another species scarce in Staffs. This bog is way wetter than Wybunbury and Chartley.

And a big patch of Marsh Cinquefoil. Here with a Blue Shieldbug on it.

For the year, that's me on 339 species of spider. The 400 is still very much on the table but August can pretty much do one as far as I am concerned.

Going through the specimens back at the accommodation was, as ever, thrilling (I did indeed get Carorita and a few other goodies I wouldn't see down south). Just like that though, my world turned upside down. I got the kind of text you never want to get. One of my favourite people in the whole world was gone suddenly. My old friend Tony Gowland. I was proper heart broken and have found it hard to write this blog until now. To be honest, spiders have took a back seat for a few weeks. Twelve years ago, it was Tony that got me my old desk, which I use every time I look down the microscope or write a report. In fact, most of these blog posts. So know this Tone, every single freelance conservation project I do or have ever done, you've helped me with it and in turn, you've helped nature. But not only that, it looks bloody brilliant in the process.

Sometime in 2009 a telephone call went like this...
Tony: "Alright Graybags, do you want a desk?"
Graeme: "I just bought one, thanks mate."
Tony: "Not like this you ain't. It's a Victorian gentleman's desk."
Graeme: "Errrr-"
Tony: "You need to say now though, as I need to empty the van."
Graeme: "YES PLEASE!"

I would literally pay people to keep calling me Graybags. How little you realise how important such a daft name is until it's gone.

I will miss you, brother.

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