Twin Peaks

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 1 June 2023 16:53

What do you do, when you are walking 50 miles a week for work and buy yourself a long weekend off at the end of May? Climb two mountains back to back looking for rare spiders and walk nearly 35 miles in three days of course! But before we get to Snowdon (photo) and Cadair Idris though, I'll start with my first ever visit to the Great Orme...

Apologies, I seemed to have some water on my lens for a few photos here. It's amazing how dry everything is after such a wet spring. And the grassland here on the south side of the Orme is distinctly arid and Mediterranean-like. A huge thanks to Richard Gallon for being my guide and putting up with me for three days! The sward here is dominated by Hoary Rock-rose. I have only seen this once before in the Burren. We had three target spiders here and we got two of them. There were large patches of Nottingham Catchfly and Bloody Crane's-bill here too.

We found several Drassyllus praeficus (spider no. 519) under rocks in this area but it was incredibly dry here. It also did not take long to find the weevil known only from this area that feeds on rock-rose, Helianthemapion aciculare. Liocranum rupicola (520) took some more finding though, and it was pretty much under the last rock I could handle lifting. In fact, it was just the thought of having to come out at night after being up since 4.00 am  to find this spider that was keeping me going and then, there it was! It was only a small immature but under the same rock was also an Atypus affinis web, and another Drassyllus praeficus! What a rock.

And these freshly emerged Silver-studded Blues were quite something. And endemic subspecies too! We had also seen the endemic subspecies of Grayling earlier.

But the Thin White Duke had spotted a big spider in the mountains, so the next day we headed off to Cadair Idris.

Day 2. Richard and his colleague Thom Dallimore were working under contract surveying the inverts on the mountain, I was tagging along to see Pardosa trailli. A big old alpine wolfy.

I was worried by knee would play up, the last time I climbed a mountain in 2016, it really did on the way down but it held. The best thing I learned from Richard was that the good stuff happens over 750 m. And it did just that!

I spotted my first Pardosa trailli (521) myself, a smart looking male. But this dust covered male was the only decent shot I got of one. This means there is only one Pardosa I am yet to see in the UK.

Here is the female, quite a striking and well-marked spider with very long, tapering legs. I only had my phone for this one though.

We didn't get a huge number of other invertebrates, but I was pleased to see my first Carabus arvensis in 10 years! We did see some odd things up high though, most likely blown there. I found a female Tanyptera atrata, Rhagium bifasciatum and Thanatophilus rugosus all over 700 m!

Oh and Ctenicera cuprea were everywhere, something I have not seen for about 20 years as I do so little up north!

Alpine plants were limited on Cadair but this Stiff Sedge stuck out. Look at those glumes! That was about 12.4 miles to ascend to 880 m and we didn't get back until nearly 10.00 pm. What a day.

Day 3. Just me and Richard today. And about a 1000 other people. Who climbs Snowdon on a Bank Holiday Weekend?! We were heading to that dome on the horizon, about 1000 m, just shy of the top (which we proudly didn't go to). It's 13 years since I last went up here, and coincidentally my first ever blog was from here. How things have changed in that time. Lots more idiots with portable speakers and drones for a start. 

Such an amazing landscape. 

And plants that I have not seen for some 15 years were very welcome. Such as Mossy Saxifrage.

We fought our way past the hordes to the frost-shattered rocky landscape of the near summit and began flippin'. I got three alpine spiders, all being lifers. The first and probably my favourite of them all was this Oreonetides vaginatus. In this area we also found Agyneta gulosa and Piniphantes pincola. A massive thanks to Richard for getting me to 524 species of spider. Wheatears, Choughs and a male Ring Ouzel provided the soundtrack.

And now, we headed to see Snowdon Lilly, a species I have wanted to see for years. But before that. Some mountain plant madness. Dwarf Willow near the top.

Starry Saxifrage.

Mossy Campion.

Roseroot. Phwoar!!!

Green Spleenwort. A lifer for me.

No idea what this stuff is.

Meadow Saxifrage. Think this is my favourite of the three saxifrages featured here. 

And a real surprise, as I don't remember clocking it at the time. There are a lot of similar white plants on mountains. This looks good for Spring Sandwort. Another one I have seen but not for decades.

Two for one here with Common Butterwort and Alpine Meadow-rue. I have not seen many of these plants since I went up Glenn Feshie in 2004! Half a life time ago.

Beech Fern.

Two very odd looking bryophytes.

And a lichen very like a Cladonia but I think it must be something else.

It's been a while. I think this must be Dioecious Sedge.

Closer now. Only the second time I have seen Northern Rock-cress.

Then, there it was! The enigmatic Snowdon Lilly! What a beaty!

What an amazing trip, and a massive thanks to Breeze B&B in Llandudno for being such great hosts and a HUGE thanks to Richard for being such a great guide. We walked 15.6 miles that day, the most I have walked in years. And the day after another mountain, I was surprised how quickly I recovered (apart from some awful lurgy I picked up). Anyways, that leaves me one last spider on the way home...

Day 4. A quick nip in to a site to spot Rugathodes bellicosa. My 525th UK spider. I think that means, for the time being at least, I have seen more spiders than anyone else in the UK. But I would love to be proven wrong!

The Sussex Tiger

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 6 May 2023 10:56

Last weekend was City Nature Challenge. It's hosted in iNaturalist. I am not a fan of this platform for many reasons that I won't go into here (I wish it was in iRecord) but I do like the challenge. So I have took part by sending my records in as casual observations (without photos that is - it's ludicrous to think I could take photos of even a fraction of what I record without completely wrecking the methodology). This way, they don't actually find their way back to the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, they get there directly from me in the same way as all my other data. Here is the current leader board for 2023, at the time of writing my records are not on there but they will be soon and I will update this blog when they are and the challenge is over for the year.

Some 23 'cities' in England are taking part. For the last two years Brighton has come top for the total number of species, and I have been pleased to play a big part in this. This year, I had more time free to do some recording for fun (not just using records from work). I recorded constantly for about 3.5 of the 4 days. You do get a bit of time to do the dets too, which are just finished. So my stats come out at 2801 records of 1014 species. This includes 570 invertebrates, 303 plants and 77 birds.

Day 1. A quick walk around BHASVIC Field with Karen first thing and then I headed to Woods Mill but it was sodden, so I just wandered around doing plants, bryophytes, molluscs and birds. I managed to refind Pepper-saxifrage in the valley field and saw a Cuckoo. Then I headed to Wiggonholt Common RSPB and things got really interesting. I targeted this site as one of the only significant areas of heathland within the project boundary. I recorded something like 150 invertebrates in the field over about four hours but it was the specimens that provided the most significant find of the weekend, probably my year. I had noticed lots (maybe around 15 or more) of paired up Nephrotoma craneflies flying up out of the Heather. I took a couple of males and when keying them out, I couldn't believe that it was coming out as Nephrotoma sullingtoniensis, the Sussex Tiger.

This cranefly has only ever been recorded three times and from one site - Sullington Warren. This small heathland is just the other side of Storrington to Wiggonholt, so it was certainly not out of the question. The book lists it as flying in June though, not late April. And lots of people have looked for it then and not found it. Could it have a much earlier flight period than people thought? I quickly got on to Alice Parfitt and told her all about it and she went and checked out Sullington (no joy) but did find it a third site - Hurston Warren. How amazing is this?! Especially as I just wrote a blog the night before about the importance of going out in April. Here are the rest of the microscope shots of this Endangered species.

Other highlights included my first heathland Enoplognatha mordax (still it marches on inland into all habitats, I had one in woodland the other day - first photo), Cercidia prominens, Xerolycosa nemoralis, Sibianor aurocinctus and Hypsosinga albovittata. I had another lifer int he form of a scarce dung beetle, Euorodalus coenosus and I refound Spathocera dalmanii there (photo). I found a few Dieckmaniellus gracilis too, despite the lack of foodplant.

Day 2 I spent on the chalk with Kim Greaves. We did the morning at Malling Down and the afternoon at Seaford Head. We mopped up! Malling Down provided some really exciting records, but mainly things I had seen there before. The first sample generated an almost adult Phaeocedus braccatus (1st photo) in Bridgewick Pit. And a whole host of cool harvestmen, including Trogulus tricarinatus again and this awesome Megabunus diadema (2nd photo). I got a lifer on the way into Green Pits. This is a rather messed up looking specimen of Thimble Morel (3rd photo) which people tell me is having a good year.

Onto the Coombe and I found an adult Pancalia schwarzella at one of its few Sussex sites and Kim spotted this carabid, Lebia chlorocephala. This is only the third time I have seen this beetle in 13 years, the other two records being from Malling Down in 2010 and Southerham in 2017. The Horsehoe Vetch feeding pollen beetle, Meligethes erichsonii, was also a lifer.

To Seaford and a very casual twitch of the White-crowned Sparrow before mopping up on some Hope Gap specialities. Heath Snail, Moon Carrot, Lasaeola prona, Pyrausta ostrinalis (photo) and (possibly new to site) Astrapaeus ulmi. Oh and of course, loads of freshly emerged Anthophora retusa males. Amazingly we saw one male sitting on an Adder but I just couldn't get anywhere near it to get a photo. Picked up Whimbrel on call, when you do this you need to have one ear listening out all the time.

And I think these are my first Sussex Thick Top Shells (Phorcus lineatus) from the rockpools off Seaford Head. This seems about as far east as they come in the UK.

Day 3 and I spent it at work and made over 830 records to add to the set. Libby Morris accompanied me for about half of the day. Highlights included Bombus humilis and another Enoplognatha mordax. Oh and Aulacobaris lepidii which I see quite a lot on farms. But the best record was actually on what I believe to be Sussex University Campus land when I was trying to get back to my car. I saw that Martin Harvey had picked this up a few weeks earlier and I was gripped, can't believe I then went on to see this very odd yet charismatic sawfly, Sciapteryx soror. Yet another lifer.

And what must be the most Syntomus obscuroguttatus I have ever seen in one sample, this is just a fraction what was in the tray.

Day 4. I am broken after walking 27 miles in four days with 15 kg of gear. I spend most of the day entering records and identifying specimens. The weather is bad with some storms but Karen and I head out to Woods Mill to do some wetland invertebrate sampling in the afternoon and we do quite well. We find the ladybird Nephus quadrimaculatus, loads of new spiders in the meadow and finally Nightingale! Which was also Karen's first.

Here is my distribution over the four days, including some roadside botany. I am exhausted, 30% of the way through my field work for the year already and I have entered 8734 records in April alone. This challenge was immensely fun but talk about burning the candle at both ends.

Will it be enough to get us into top place for species again? I hope so. Here is the breakdown of the species recorded.

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