Saprotrophy hunting

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 12 November 2016 14:41

It's been a funny year for fungi. Nothing was growing on the ground in the woods or on the grassland but the fungi growing out of dead and decaying wood are going bananas (I bet this is out of date now with the rain we've finally had in the last week). It's clear why, we've had a dry summer and autumn and dead and decaying wood holds water for longer than soil does. It got me thinking about what the difference between saproxylic and saprotrophic is. I realised I didn't know other than the former refers to how invertebrates consume the resource of dead and decaying wood and the latter, fungi. A bit of research shows that the difference seems to be in how the nutrients are processed. Internally for invertebrates and externally by the fungi. Anyway. Lots growing in and around trees at the moment including this young Spectacular Rustgill. I tried to turn it into a rare webcap but fortunately Clare Blencowe had a look and passed it on to Nick Aplin. I should of realised as there were some open ones around the corner which were the biggest typical shaped mushrooms we saw all day on my fungi course at Ebernoe but I didn't connect the dots.

Here is Yellow Shield at The Mens a few weeks back. Thanks again to Clare Blencowe and Mike Waterman from WWFRG for clinching the ID.

And here the much larger and commoner Deer Shield also at the Mens. A quarter-pounder of a mushroom.

And from Knepp we have Ganoderma resinaceum. Unusually for a Ganorderma, the cap was slightly squidgy and yielded slightly upon compression .

Back to Ebernoe and my course last week and moving away from the trees. We spotted these Lilac Fibrecaps in the churchyard at Ebernoe. I was surprised to see I'd seen this species before but I had no memory of it, I think it must have been a washed out specimen as this was a right little stunner.

We had a look at the cricket pitch too and added a few waxcaps but very low numbers compared to last year. We did find a ring of these odd 'foamy' mushrooms. Quite like the texture of those shrimp sweets you used to get and not waxcap like at all. Any ideas?

Black Teeth and Purple Stockings

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 13 October 2016 17:00

That's my Halloween outfit sorted then! No, in fact I went out looking for some new species the other day for the first time in ages. Thanks to a tip off from James and Dawn Langiewicz, I was off to an undisclosed site in West Sussex to look for not one but two tooth fungi. I'd not seen any tooth fungi (other than Wood and Terracotta Hedgehogs) so was pleased to be on a quest for two of these BAP species. It didn't take long before I spotted them growing close together. Above is the Black Tooth. Quite an odd looking thing. Especially this stunted one that does actually look like a rotten tooth.

Growing close by was the much more numerous Zoned Tooth.

My Coolpix hasn't been working quite so well since I dropped it in a rock pool (last time I blogged actually - it's been my usual end of summer burn out) but you can still see the teeth these fungi have instead of gills. Nearby I saw some Terracotta Hedgehogs too, so three tooth fungi in one small area.

And who doesn't love a Trumpet Chanterelle?

Finally, I was also directed to some Purple Stocking Webcaps. Quite a slimy-capped species for a webcap. You can see the purple stype. Right, this has got me in the mood to go out with the WWFRG this weekend...

Even the sea creatures have gone hipster in Brighton

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 21 August 2016 12:04

You can't walk far in Brighton without being confronted with an array of outlandish novelty beards these days. Except perhaps when rock-pooling. Or so I thought. Olle found this Bearded Mussel under a stone at a Shore Search event. So even the shellfish have turned hipster. What's next? Anemones with tattoos? Crabs with dungarees? Fish with over-sized glasses, daft hair-cuts and weird moustaches?

Precisely my point, look at this idiot. Who does he think he is?! You don't have any of this nonsense with a Shanny. No the Tompot Blenny is a true hipster. That moustache is ridiculous. Take a look at yourself mate.

In all seriousness I was totally stoked to find Tompots at Saltdean just off Brighton beach. We also found:

Rock Goby (2) - new to the site.
Tompot Blenny (2) - new to the site
Shanny (1) - always the commonest fish, can't believe we saw (well caught) only one.
Five-bearded Rockling (many young ones)
Long-spined Sea Scorpion (1 young one)
One unidentified fish that I think was a small Sea Bass.

In the past I have also had there:
Sea Bass
Corkwing Wrasse
Narrow-headed Clingfish
Garfish (dead)

So it's proving to be a great spot for fish. I always get really carried away with fish rock-pooling. So much fun.

The Devil's Jumps

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 20 August 2016 09:42

Somewhere along the South Downs Way in deepest West Sussex is a small and isolated yet rich and diverse site managed by the Murray Downland Trust called the Devil's Jumps. So named for the sequence of five Bronze Age barrows that rise up from the site and have a rich chalk-grassland flora. Last weekend I started the fifth of sixth surveys there with Mike Edwards and it wasn't long until I swept what I initially though was a washed out Sphecodes. Then Mike became REALLY excited and shouted that's Andrena marginata! We hadn't even got close to the barrows at this stage and as we approached I saw the grassland was so dominated by Small Scabious that it only took seconds to find another two females. All in all we saw five females in total. Although currently considered nationally scarce (Na) this bee is one of the most declined bees in Europe and is therefore a hugely significant find for the survey. As the bee is only taking pollen from Small Scabious, its pollen baskets are white. Quite unlike the other rare bee on scabious, Andrena hattorfiana, which has pink pollen baskets from the Field Scabious/Greater Knapweed that it feeds on.

We went on to Heyshott Down itself and despite masses of Small Scabious, there were very few bees there at all. However, almost every flower of Wild Carrot had one of these wasps on it being Tiphia femorata. We also saw several Nomada flavopicta. Three new aculeates for me in one day! I'm up to 330 species for the survey so far and I still have all Mike's idents, my idents and this month's notes to write up!

Can you think of a better name for this amazing fungus?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 19 August 2016 07:23

During an invertebrate survey of Ebernoe Common yesterday, we stumbled across this amazing fungus just starting to grow out of a decaying Beech tree. It's big too, each of these fruting bodies is about fist-sized. It took a little while to identify but I am happy this is the Silky Rosegill (Volvariella bombycina). Another fungi that looks like some kind of dessert. I'm thinking coconut ice cream or white chocolate Ferroro Rocher. I love the scaly cap and the presence of a volva is quite odd for a species growing out of a tree. I think the scientific name is therefore more descriptive than the English. Here are some more shots.
This last one inspired me to come up with the alternative name of Forest Knockers. I'm sure in a few days it will look even more spectacular as it opens up fully. So, I think Silky Rosegill is a rubbish name for this species (I can't see the gills and it's not really silky) so I ask you, what would you call it? Please leave your comments on the blog.

Anyway. A few invertebrates from the survey. Here is the rare but expanding Episinus maculipes which I recorded new to Sussex last month at Ebernoe too. I've since also found it at Heyshott Down.

And this one was new for me. Cassida vittata (my 8th Cassida) and I wasn't expecting to see this one in the woods. Everyday is made better by a tortoise beetle. Especially one with metallic bits on it!

Botanical wonderland

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 30 July 2016 09:18

I've been at Amberley Wildbrooks all this week with Mark Gurney, Andy Skinner and Vivienne Booth from my old department at the RSPB. Also yesterday Shaun Pryor came out to help too. What a week! The weather was really well behaved, five years ago it was just way too hot and the increased grazing out there means that getting about was mostly a lot easier too. The rare plants have certainly increased in number. Marsh Stitchwort for example is in loads more ditches and in some places is even in the field centres.

As more ditches are in the early state of succession, there are more ditch slubbings. This is where you find Small Water-pepper.

Great Water-parsnip is slightly up on last time too. I should add we still have many ditches to survey next year so the picture could change somewhat.

Marsh Cinquefoil returns to the SWT side after ditch clearance!

Everyone's favourite Unbranched Bur-reed does well in early to mid-successional ditches.

But it's Cut-grass that's the thing we were most interested in and that seems to have a shown a big increase. Last night when I closed my eyes I could still see it. I get this sometimes when you have to pay close attention to spot something. Whenever I show anyone this grass, I usually state first: "Prepare to be underwhelmed!" Yet in hindsight, I actually love this plant. Every time I spot it it releases a little bundle of endorphins. Jesus, did I say that out loud? Here it is growing out in the open on bare mud.

And here it is holding its own against dense Water Horsetail in a clogged ditch!

And more Whorl-grass than I've ever seen!

The survey simply took the form of presence or absence of all species in each ditch and amazingly we covered 83 ditches in 4.5 days. Cut-grass, Great Water-parsnip and True Fox Sedge were GPSd too. Here is a lovely open ditch with Sharp-leaved, Hair-like, Shining and Broad-leaved Pondweed, Frogbit, Amphibious Bistort and Cut-grass on the bank!

Here is Narrow-leaved Water-plantain (left) compared to regular Water-plantain (right).

And here is a shot that says it all. Amberley is clearly doing very well and I'm looking forward to completing the picture next year.

Oh and yesterday, after the RSPB lot left, Shaun and I stumbled upon this. Sorry Mark, we'll have to go and look for one of these next year! Another 13-spot Ladybird! Other non-botanical highlights included Lesser Cream Wave, Dotted Fan-foot, Water Vole, Crarabus granulatus and may more!

A Field in England

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 23 July 2016 07:18

I've just finished a repeat of the farm surveys I did last in 2010/11. This time it was just the four summer visits but it still ends up being 288 miles! Each one is about 11 or 12 miles and it's a relief to have finished. Now begins the write-up! It's too early for me to say what the differences in the bird life are but in terms of composition of the assemblages, there is little change. In terms of oddities and rarities, this year lacked the Black Kite and Honey Buzzard of 2011, I suppose the oddest was Grey Plover and Turnstone flying over my most easterly site just north of Bishopstone and three singing Quail just north of Brighton and one just north of Worthing were also great to hear (I haven't heard Quail since summer 2011).

Obviously, you must have heard about Calasoma sycophanta but I had a few exciting arable plant finds that day that were rather eclipsed by the excitement of the beetle. In the June and July visits I stumbled across three plants I had never seen before, something that just doesn't happen these days. Usually if I want to see something new I have to twitch plants so this was great. First up was Field Gromwell (EN - 8). By this time I began using Plantlife's arable plant index to assess the farms quality for arable plants (the rarer the plant, the higher the index).

Th other endangered plant I recorded there five years ago and is Narrow-fruited Cornsalad (EN - 8, running total 16).

And masses of Field Woundwort (NT - 6, running total 22) growing among Phacelia (where if anything, there was so much it was suppressing the Phacelia!). This area of the farm was more acidic. I didn't record this on any of the others farms last time and I've only ever seen it once.

Others that day included Prickly Poppy (VU - 7, running total 29).

Rough Poppy (3, running total 32). A score of 30 is needed for county importance, so that's in the bank.

Dwarf Spurge (NT - 6, running total 38).

Others not photographed in June were:
Small Toadflax (1, running total 39).
Grey Field Speedwell (2, running total 41).
Henbit Dead-nettle (1, running total 42.)
Round-leaved Fluellen (3, running total 45). A score of 45 is needed for a site of UK importance. So that's in the bank!
Sharp-leaved Fluellen (2, running total 47).
Dwarf Mallow (2, running total 49).

And the these Common Broomrapes (2, running total 51).

Great. A site of UK importance. And there I thought it would stay until things got really exciting on the July visit!

First up I refound a few Night-flowering Catchfly (VU - 7, running total 58) scattered about the farm.

I found what I thought may have been the exceptionally rare Upright Goosefoot but closer examination of the seeds proved this to be Nettle-leaved Goosefoot (VU - 7, running total 65). New for me, not seen this on any of the other farms.

In the same field as the Narrow-fruited Cornsalad, yet another life. Stinking Chamomile (VU - 7, running total 72).

And then in the Field Woundwort area, another plant new to these surveys (as it's more an acid soil thing) Corn Spurrey (VU - 7, running total 79).

So two EN and five VU species! I thought it was possible I might actually get to 90, the threshold for European significance. So I mopped up a few more species to get it.

Slender Parsley-piert (1, running total 80).
Black-grass (2, running total 82).
Annual Mercury (2, running total 84).
Black Mustard (2, running total 86).
Upright Hedge-parsley (3, running total 89).
Field Madder (1, running total 90) WAHOOO!!! European significance!

It continues though...
Cornfield Knotgrass (3, running total 93).
Fig-leaved Goosefoot (2, running total 95). Thanks to David Streeter for pointing this out to me, I've been spotting it on almost all the farms since.

What a great result. I look forward to writing this up properly and getting some comments from Plantlife!

Gotta catch 'em all

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 21 July 2016 07:04

Jessica: "(Uncle Graeme) do you have Pokemon Go?"
Graeme: "My whole life's Pokemon Go!"

Above is the weedle, sorry weevil, Mogulones geographicus. It's a Nb species associated with Viper's Bugloss. I've only seen it once before in the Brecks so was very pleased to see it on three of the five recording areas on a repeat invertebrate survey of Friston Forest. Other highlights included Beautiful Carpet, Nemophora cupriacella and the tiny cuckoo-bee Nomada sheppardana.

The weevil was very obliging and I managed to get lots of photos of the striking little beast and thank to posting the above photo on facebook, I might have helped someone secure this as a first for West Sussex too! But before I show you some more pictures, what about this Pokemon Go business? Well it's parallels with Pan-species Listing are clear but the difference is that Pokemon Go only benefits the users, while PSL has benefits to wildlife and the wider recording community. However, I've seen a lot of negativity towards people who are essentially going outside enjoying themselves with a hand-held computer. Firstly, it's people who probably wouldn't go to those places getting out and about exploring, keeping fit and having a laugh. It's not likely taking naturalists away from their hobby (if that has happened anywhere then I would be very sorry about that). Wait, news just in: Jonty Denton has quit naturalist history and is now the UK's Pokemon Go champion.

So what's the problem? It's amazing how something in a week or so has gathered more active users than Twitter. I'm sure it will just be a fad but I won't be discouraging anyone from getting out in the field recording (fictitious) creatures. You never know, they might even find some real wildlife on the way (I've seen reports of this happening already on social media). Yet there is one negative side to this. I have a very thick skin when it comes to stopping anywhere to grab hold of bugs in odd places where people are watching, I've had some very good ticks this way and I'll never stop. But yesterday walking back to the Southerham office I stopped to photograph a butterfly with my phone and as there was an audience in the form of crawling traffic, I suddenly thought:

"Oh no, what if they all think I'm playing Pokemon Go?" For a second, a split second, I was self-conscious and then it passed and I carried on doing what I''ll always do. So it seems the only negative aspect I can see is mostly based upon the negativity towards the game, not the game itself.

Anyway, here are some more shots of this most glorious of weevils.

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