Red, Wight and Purple

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 27 March 2023 16:08

On a clear day, you can just about see the eastern end of the Isle of Wight from the higher parts of Brighton. Tantalisingly close. I have only ever been once before on a day trip in 2011. This time though, Karen and I had a week out there and, as Mark Telfer has recently moved to the island, I spent a couple of days in the field with him (and one day with Iain Outlaw). Where to begin? Nothing, quite competes with the moment you realise a wild Red Squirrel is about to run up and feed right out of your hand! So I'll start there. I was so excited to see them! Here are some more shots and a very cute video.

This all started at a place called Alverstone Mead when I was struck by how tame the Great Tits were, I put my hand out to show the nearest tit that I didn't have anything and I was gobsmacked when it instantly landed on my hand. I tried again and it did it again, we rushed back to the car for some nuts. 

When tits attack!

Enough of that. Rock-pooling was pretty awesome actually. I saw four Solar-powered Sea Slugs Elysia viridis (at both Castle Cove and Freshwater Bay). I'm quite taken with these beauties, they seem to be quite common on the island. Purple is so well represented in rock pool life!

Castle Cove was pretty cool, Mark said his favourite thing to see in a rock pool would be a sea spider. I rarely see them, so wasn't expecting to find one under the next rock I turned. More Snakelocks Anemones than I have seen before, too.

The west side of Freshwater Bay has wonderful rock pools. Found this huge Painted Topshell there.

And this was a lifer. A Four-horned Spider Crab.

A few Small-headed(?) Clingfish. The overall fish count was low, with Rock Goby the commonest species, Worm Pipefish and a Ballan Wrasse were the only other fish. I didn't actually see a Shanny!

A White Tortoiseshell Limpet was nice. 

But what I really wanted was a nudibranch! There were a few Yellow-plumed Sea Slugs and my back was getting very sore from turning rocks, when I noticed a very bright orange and purple blob on the underside of a rock. Could it be a nudibranch? Yes! And it was an awesome one I hadn't seen before! I am pretty sure this can be nothing other than Edmundsella pedata. Just look at it (try Googling the name too)! It was only about 5 mm long and was firmly stuck to the underside of a very deep rock, so I couldn't properly submerge it for a decent photo. The only way I could take photos of it unfurled was by pouring water on it continuously with my Ferrero Rocher container. This is my 7th nudibranch. 

This is what it looks like out of the water. So be prepared when looking for these to really scour the underside of the rocks with your eyes - they're often smaller than you think. I might have to leave the plants and inverts for another post, with nearly 800 records made, we sure did get around the island. This is an amazing place for wildlife and a great place for a holiday.

To be continued...

Reflections on various things

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 10 March 2023 12:57

I was meant to be going to Cornwall early this morning, but late last night I remembered it was quite a good low tide today, at the ungodly hour of 7.13 am. So, 4.30 am the alarm went off and I was at Holywell for 6.30 am, and got utterly soaked within about 15 minutes. It was a really stupid idea, especially as the water was so murky due to all the recent rain. And the light was so bad. So here are basically a load of things reflecting my ring flash back at you.

First up, my first Sussex Painted Top Shell! I love these things, so was very pleased to see a young on under one of the last rocks I looked under and quite close to the shore. It's quite tall in proportion to width, but I think we can rule out Jujubinus.

I saw four species of fish. Loads of Shanny (including c10 under one rock), a couple of Rock Gobies and one Tompot Blenny. You tend to only see these on the lowest tides. The water was so murky though, even the Ferrero Rocher container wasn't working, it just made this Tompot Blenny look like a Guild Navigator from David Lynch's Dune. "I did not say this. I am not here."

And four Worm Pipefish, I had no idea how amazing they were up close. I thought it was gonna look like a bit of old shoe lace! Look at that! The ring flash kinda ruins in but they eye is magic.

I think this must be a young Sea Gherkin, I have seen much larger, whiter ones here before.

And under the same rock, a similar sized translucent, shiny worm. I have never seen this before, no idea what it was. Quite like a large tipulid larva.

And one of the two large, hairy chitons in the genus Acanthochitona (probably crinitus). 

And then right at the end, a couple of sea slugs under one rock. I think these are Acanthodoris pilosa. I have seen them here before but not often, and  strangely this one seems to like it quite high up the beach. The tide was coming in by this point, along with the murkiest waters I have ever seen down there. This was taken through about 5 cm of water (the second shot was taken with the camera under water but wasn't much better).

Not bad considering the conditions. That's pretty much how I see my life right now. After Mum's funeral, I got straight back in the saddle and started writing the book on pan-species listing. I am about 45,000 words in now, hope to get to 60,000 by the end of March. Field season is looming ever closer though and I am now excited an energised to get going at the start of April.

On a very different note, I am becoming deeply worried about the lack of natural history expertise in conservation organisations, what is driving this trend? One thing I know for sure, I have never seen more people into nature (the PSL movement being just one thing that is changing the shape of natural history in the British Isles) than I do now, so why are there so few people with good natural history skills in some conservation NGO's? I am going to be writing a bit more about this over the coming weeks, and I know I am not the only one who is concerned. Until it's recognised by some organisations, the problem will continue to grow. 

One thing I know for sure is that most life-long naturalists are idealists, and idealists can be a thorn in the side of the organisations they work for. An important thorn though, as they keep them on the straight and narrow and prevent mission creep, let alone bring the actual skills needed to manage nature reserves and organisations that manage nature reserves. Skills that often take decades to develop. These skills need to be rewarded and nurtured, not just dismissed, thrown away or forgotten about. If conservationists can't take natural history seriously, how do they expect the general public to?

More on this to follow...

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