Invertebrates of a Heathland

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 19 August 2017 19:29

Yesterday I ran a new course for the Trust entitled 'Invertebrates of a Heathland'. The idea was to show the participants how to find and identify some of the many species of invertebrate that thrive in this habitat. So where better to run it than at our third most speciose site and arguably the richest heathland in Sussex than Iping & Stedham Commons?

It was a good group with 11 in attendance including staff from Sussex Wildlife Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Species Recovery Trust, National Trust and Thames Basin Heaths Partnership. My approach was to get them to get their hand's dirty, so nets and pots were handed out and id didn't take long until we built up quite an impressive list. I have included below the whole list as promised to the course attendees with some notes on the species they saw. 'N' is new to the site (14 in all), 'NN' is new to the site AND the reserve network (amazingly there were three of these!) and GL was new to me. I had four new species taking me into 7th places on the PSL rankings.

Taxon group Species Status
beetle 7-spot Ladybird
beetle Cream-streaked Ladybird
beetle Exapion ulicis
beetle Heather Beetle
beetle Heather Ladybird
beetle Micrelus ericae
beetle Neliocarus sus
beetle Paradromius linearis
beetle Pine Ladybird
beetle Poecilus cupreus
beetle Protopirapion atratulum N
beetle Silpha atrata N
beetle Sitona lineatus
beetle Sphaeriestes castaneus NN
beetle Striped Ladybird
beetle Welsh Chafer
butterfly Gatekeeper
butterfly Red Admiral
butterfly Small Tortoiseshell N
butterfly Speckled Wood
centipede Lithobius forficatus N
centipede Lithobius variegatus N
crustacean Porcellio scaber
dragonfly Azure Damselfly
dragonfly Black Darter
dragonfly Emperor Dragonfly
earwig Common Earwig
harvestman Paroligolophus agrestis N
harvestman Phalangium opilio
hymenopteran Ammophila pubescens
hymenopteran Apis mellifera
hymenopteran Bombus lapidarius N
hymenopteran Bombus pascuorum
hymenopteran Bombus terrestris
hymenopteran Cerceris arenaria
hymenopteran Colletes hederae N
hymenopteran Epeolus cruciger GL
hymenopteran Formica fusca
hymenopteran Formica rufa
hymenopteran Formica sanguinea
hymenopteran Neodiprion sertifer NN, GL
hymenopteran Nomada rufipes
hymenopteran Philanthus triangulum
lacewing Chrysoperla carnea group
moth Angle Shades
moth Beautiful Yellow Underwing
moth Eupoecilia angustana N
moth Fox Moth
moth Horse-Chestnut Leaf-miner
moth Large Yellow Underwing
moth Lesser Yellow Underwing
moth Rush Veneer
moth Setaceous Hebrew Character
orthopteran Bog Bush-cricket
orthopteran Common Ground-hopper
orthopteran Long-winged Cone-head
orthopteran Meadow Grasshopper
orthopteran Mottled Grasshopper
orthopteran Roesel's Bush-cricket
orthopteran Speckled Bush-cricket
spider Agalenatea redii
spider Anelosimus vittatus
spider Araneus diadematus
spider Araneus quadratus
spider Arctosa perita
spider Argiope bruennichi
spider Evarcha arcuata
spider Evarcha falcata
spider Gibbaranea gibbosa
spider Hypsosinga albovittata
spider Labyrinth Spider
spider Linyphia triangularis
spider Mangora acalypha
spider Metellina segmentata
spider Philodromus histrio
spider Pisaura mirabilis
spider Simitidion simile
spider Theridion sisyphium
spider Thomisus onustus
spider Trochosa terricola
spider Zygiella atrica
true bug Dolycoris baccarum
true bug Drymus sylvaticus
true bug Gastrodes grossipes
true bug Heath Assasin Bug
true bug Himacerus apterus
true bug Kleidocerys resedae
true bug Macrodema micropterum
true bug Nabis ericetorum
true bug Neophilaenus lineatus N
true bug Orthotylus ericetorum
true bug Phytocoris insignis NN, GL
true bug Pilophorus cinnamopterus
true bug Rhyparochromus pini
true bug Scolopostethus decoratus
true bug Stenodema calcarata
true bug Ulopa reticulata
true fly Chrysotoxum festivum
true fly Dasysyrphus tricinctus N
true fly Episyrphus balteatus
true fly Hornet robberfly
true fly Machimus atricapillus

The most exciting find for me was Phytocoris insignis. This rare heathland species that looks like a small and dark Phytocoris varipes was swept from Heather on Stedham. It's only the second Sussex site for this RDB3 species.

But the stars of the show were the Hornet Robber Fly and Thomisus onsitus. Hornet Robber Fly because it was new to all the attendees and was the biggest one I had ever seen. What a beauty! Thomisus onistus because one of the attendees stated at the beginning how much they wanted to see this strange spider. I instructed that it was best to sweep Bell Heather and after some furious sweeping, she turned up the only one!

Bee Wolf was EVERYWHERE!

And Epeolus cruciger was a new one for me. It's hard to believe this is a bee!

Spiders came in at 21 species, with the stonking Philodromus histrio a real favourite.

Another attendee found Ivy Bee new to the site too. So it was really great to not only give people some guidance but also to show that they can directly contribute to the recording of such well recorded sites. Of the 102 species mentioned above, 14 were new to the site! This really surprised me and some of them seem like they might be errors on my part when I put the master spreadsheet together (Small Tortoiseshell and Bombus lapidarius particularly). The reserve network now boasts records of some 9908 species and 2781 of these have been recorded at Iping & Stedham. We didn't add any new spiders though, it's really tough going to find a new spider for this site. No Heath Tiger Beetles but we were cut short on that one by a monster of a storm. It was a great atmosphere and I would definitely run this kind of course again.

Is this the feeding damage of Donacia dentata?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 12 August 2017 08:53

If you want to find invertebrates that specialise in feeding on only one plant, then it's a good idea to look at areas that have LOTS of that plant. So when I was out surveying ditch plants at Amberley Wildbrooks last week, I spotted a lot of Arrowhead in one ditch. Now this is the only place I have ever seen the scarce Donacia dentata and then only ever once. Try as I might I could not find any reed beetles on this particular patch of Arrowhead but I did notice these feeding signs. Now, is this likely to be Donacia dentata and if so, is it enough to make a record?

17/08/2017 UPDATE: Clive Turner via Facebook has confirmed this is the case.

Lots of Anthocomus rufus everywhere at the moment. Even had one on the office door at Southerham, a chalk-grassland site, far away from its wetland habitat!

Amberley has incredibly varied soil types, I was working on the more acidic areas last week. There the sandy ditch-slubbings are a brilliant home for Green Tiger Beetle burrows once consolidated, here at a greater density than I have ever seen before.

Some of the ditches here are looking AMAZING. really wide with a gently sloping shelf-like profile and a messy edge. Full of flowers and insects everywhere!

The one species that I had not seen before was this gall on Nettle caused by the fly Dasineura urticae. Also new to the entire reserve network.

Critically Endangered plant seen at Malling Down after not being recorded for 30 years!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 7 August 2017 16:48

During a routine grazing assessment of Malling Down today, I decided to have a quick look for the mythical Red Hemp-nettle that has not been seen there for well over a decade (word of moth from a previous site manager) and it would seem not recorded there since 1987 according to the SxBRC and the reserve spreadsheet. I've looked for it four or five times to no avail. Then today I walked up to an area I thought looked suitable and recorded 17 plants! It really goes to show that persistence is key in natural history. It would have been really easy to give up but I had a hunch this species was still there, ticking along for all these years. Perhaps it's having a good year or in previous years I was maybe too early.

I've only ever seen this plant at Rye Harbour, it's stronghold in the county along with Pevensey Bay and Pagham. What's all the fuss about though? Well this plant is classed as Critically Endangered on the Red List, basically the highest level of assessment you  can get before going extinct. So it's great that this little plant with big flowers has been re-found at Malling Down after all these years, as it's now only known from a few dozen sites according to Plantlife. You can read up on it here. At Malling, the 'natural' (it's an old quarry) creation of chalk scree formed by erosion in the quarry is all that is needed to keep this habitat open, although long-term it will probably need some scrub clearance. Being an annual, it must have been here all along as I don't think it's been lurking in the seed bank.

It's a poor competitor, and likes bare, loose chalky or sandy soil. At Rye Harbour it grows on the vegetated shingle, at Malling, it's at the bottom of a huge quarry, right where I always thought it would be! Why I have not seen it before, I don't know but I suspect I have been looking too early. Here is a shot of the habitat.

We GPS'd 17 plants in all, 13 in one cluster, then three and then a singleton, all quite close together.  As the 1987 area was given only as a six figure grid reference, we now have more detailed records to eight figures of where the plants are growing. Suitable looking habitat further up the slope held no more plants. There is another area in the quarry that would take a bit of getting to that might be worth a look though. Brilliant news!

Other plants new to the reserve today included two Hairy Buttercups growing in the bottom of a damp dew pond and some Pellitory-of-the-wall at the top of the quarry. Walking around the quarry we saw several Galium Carpets. A bit like a Common Carpet but more black and white and with a slightly concave leading edge to the fore-wing.

The fight for Hilltop

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 28 July 2017 10:15

The most butterflies we saw all week were on the top of Red-necked Nightjar Hill on the last morning. Almost all of which were in the last ten metres of the top of the hill, exhibiting territorial 'hilltopping' behaviour. There was a hierarchy that went from Swallowtail, to Scarce Swallowtail to king of the hill which was Two-tailed Pasha. Here they are in reverse order.

They even went for people whenever they moved into their territory. This little guy was so dull and small that they ignored him however. If you think Small Heath are boring, I give you Dusky Heath. It's like a Small Heath but without any of its meagre redeeming features. Smaller spots, fewer markings and even more diminutive - it's even less contrasting and more beige, who knew that was possible?

Other than that, a few orange Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns, Southern Gatekeepers and an unidentified clouded yellow and white was all I saw. Oh and this African Grass Blue in Tavira.

Rango Unchained

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 27 July 2017 20:02

Now for the reptiles, we didn't see many actually, only one or two of everything. And what was by far the highlight of the trip. Here is the Mediterranean Chameleon. It took quite a bit of searching in the National Forest around a place called Monte Gordo. We finally picked one up on a fence! Only a week ago I had no idea these occurred in Europe so I was just blown away by it and how weird it was. And how quickly it changed colour!

In Castro Verde we spotted a few Spanish Terrapins by a load of Cattle Egrets in a creek.

We saw one each of Turkish an Moorish Geckos but didn't get anywhere near then for a photo. The only other lizards we saw were these Large Psammodromus.

Iberian Lyons

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 25 July 2017 20:17

Birding in the Algarve, even in July was really awesome. It's probably down to the fact that I have never been to the Iberian Peninsula before but I was blown away by how good it was, right from the get go. Azure-winged Magpies, possibly the commonest bird I encountered there (maybe joint with Collared Dove) did not disappoint. They really reminded me of big Long-tailed Tits the way they group together, suddenly passing through the garden like a squad of marines, at least one always remaining still and providing cover. Then they'd suddenly all squabble over something before flying off. We saw between 50 and a 100 of these each day, the first spotted before picking up the hire car at the airport. The rasping Jay-like sounds become a real part of the mood of the place.

Here is the whole list of all the birds seen in the seven days we were there. Species in bold were lifers for me (ten in all - I added Iberian Green Woodpecker thank to Seth Gibson) and those underlined were seen from the accommodation:

Little Grebe
Cattle Egret - everywhere!
Little Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork - everywhere!
Glossy Ibis - (two flocks of around 50 birds flew over airport, never saw them again!)
Spoonbill - two flew over
Flamingo - seen from the plane and later in flight
Griffon Vulture - several with the two species below in Castro Verde
Black Vulture - two juveniles (one fighting with below)
Spanish Imperial Eagle - one juvenile
Short-toed Eagle
Booted Eagle
Red Kite
Black Kite
Marsh harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Lesser Kestrel - in Castro Verde
Red-legged Partridge
Great Bustard - two families in Castro Verde
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Knot - one
Common Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Little Tern
Sandwich Tern
Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove - one in the National Forest
Tawny Owl
Barn Owl - one dead by road in Castro Verde
Little Owl
Scops Owl
Red-necked Nightjar
Pallid Swift
Hoopoe - only saw three, one in the garden
Roller - about 30 in Castro Verde
Iberian Green Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - one family in the national forest
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Red-rumped swallow
House Martin
Spanish Wagtail
Rufous Bush Robin
Stonechat - only in Castro Verde
Blue Rock Thrush - one male in Tavira
Sardinian Warbler
Fan-tailed Warbler
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper
Woodchat Shrike
Iberian Grey Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Magpie - quite uncommon
Crow - uncommon, only seen in Castro Verde
Raven - one pair in Castro Verde
Spotless Starling
Golden Oriole - one noisy family group
House Sparrow
Corn Bunting - lots in Castro Verde

Quite a list for high summer!
There are more Golden Orioles (aka Papa Figos) in this photo than I have ever seen before!

Bee-eaters are everywhere!

White Storks are ten-a-penny.

So are these leggy mates or Black-winged Stilts as i call them.

Roller was probably the most sought after bird but they provided disappointing views, often being flighty or frustratingly far away. This was the only shot I managed thinking I'd get better ones later but then they all disappeared! They look like they're made of Play Dough!

I've also never seen so many Red-rumped Swallows, they're everywhere!

I'm not sure what the highlight was. Seeing a Black Vulture fight a Spanish Imperial Eagle in the air with Black Kite and Griffon Vulture was probably the most intense. Seconds later, they all completely vanished!

However, I think the encounter with the Red-necked Nightjar was the most memorable. On the day we arrived I played a recording of the song online as I knew it sounded different to Nightjar but didn't know how different. I was amazed just how different it was. I awoke at 5.45 am, it was mostly still dark. From the balcony looking towards this hill was the unmistakable sound of Red-necked Nightjar! It was a few miles away though and I really don't know if I would have picked up on it if I hadn't listened to it the day before.

So on the last night we climbed the hill at dusk. Saw an impressive green flash, the ISS and an Iridium flare. But best of all, prolonged and point blank views of Red-necked Nightjar!

We climbed the hill on the last morning and there at the top was this feather. Not only is this a Red-necked Nightjar feather but it's one of the few feathers that can identify it as it shows the paler shoulder compared to that of Nightjar. I would love to go back to Portugal, I could imagine the spring being out of this world and the autumn raptor migration must be amazing! The highlight of the whole trip was not a bird though. That will have to wait for another day...

27/07/17 UPDATE: Thanks to Seth I realised I had a tenth new bird, Iberian Green Woodpecker. I had heard what I assumed were Green Woodpeckers from the accommodation all week but found it odd that I had not even caught a glimpse of one in flight. On the evening we saw the nightjars, I finally got a glimpse of male and was surprised at how much red it had on its face and how dark it was underneath. I also thought they sounded different, a little higher-pitched. I wonder if they are also a little shier? I heard one Green Woodpecker back here and immediately looked up and saw it fly. These birds were far from obvious in flight, often calling from one bush only to be heard from another nearby without being seen in flight.

Venus in furze

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 16 July 2017 09:45

Last week I stumbled across loads of this lovely little leaf beetle on young gorse at Beachy Head. I had no idea what it was at first, being a beetle I'd never heard off. That's what's so great about studying beetles. You keep seeing things that are a total surprise, even though I have seen 1145 species, that's only just over a quarter of all the UK species. Anyway, this is Calomicrus circumfusus and hasn't been seen in Sussex for 25 years. It's only the 5th county record which is odd as it eats gorse which is in plentiful supply. At Beachy Head it was quite restricted though, we didn't see it anywhere else except in that one patch.

I had another lifer for me, the tiny mirid bug Macrotylus paykulli which feeds on Restharrow. easy to find by sweeping large patches of the foodplant.

This gall is caused by the mite Aceria squalida and attacks the flower heads of Small Scabious.

We also saw a couple of Spring Dumble Dors (Trypocopris vernalis). Here and Seaford Head are still the only places I have ever seen this beetle. Never seen it in the spring however so I don't think the name is that good for identification. I've only seen this on chalk. You can just see the punctured pronotum which separates it from T. pyrenaeus which we get on the heaths at Iping and Stedham.

And a few Sermylassa halensis, common on the chalk but always nice to see.

Right, I'm off to Portugal for a week. Will I finally see a Roller!?

6666 the number of the beasts

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 8 July 2017 15:53

I'm two thirds of the way to seeing ten thousand species! Yesterday I went to Graffham Common with my old boss/new volunteer aculeate surveyor, James Power. As has been the way with Graffham Common this year, we were not dissapointed. The highlight for me was seeing SEVEN of these stonking longhorn beetles. I've only recorded Stictoleptura rubra once before a couple of years ago in Suffolk under fairly strange circumstances, so I was pleased to see six males and one female (the female is the big red one that looks a bit like a cardinal beetle). She was beaten of fallen pine foliage where all the males were nectaring on bramble or flying about. It's only the third Sussex record where the first was recorded in 2014 at Iping Common. We now have quite a list of interesting longhorns from Graffham Common over the years. 

Other highlights included this hand caught Golded-haired Robberfly Choerades marginatus.

We also recorded the nationally scarce spider Achaearanea riparia, the wasp Astata boops and one of the Epeolus. In fact Graffham's spider list is on 124 species, which make up 15% of everything recorded there. At 851 species we'll soon breach the 1000 mark for this amazing new nature reserve. The whole reserve network is hurtling towards the 10,000 species mark with 94 species added since I put it together earlier this year. There are only 114 species needed to get there, will it be this year or next year, who knows?!

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