Purple Haze

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 20 April 2018 15:35


I've just spent a very informative few days on Steven Falk's bee course hosted by the University of Sussex. The second I was able to guide people around Seaford Head and show everyone the fantastic work we have been doing there to improve the habitat for wildlife. The eastern ride in Hope Bottom is looking incredible at the moment (above) with a carpet of Ground-ivy flowering and a host of bees and flies feeding on it in the warmth of the sinuous ride. This was just solid scrub a few years ago. We got a big thumbs up from Steven for this. This is a great place to see Hairy-footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes (below) and Dotted Bee-fly.

You can see where it gets its English name from!

But things got really exciting when we got to Hope Gap and stopped for lunch. I was buzzed by a big shiny black bee and managed to net it. It was a male Black Mining-bee Andrena pilipes (my 35th Andrena - although I am already on 36 but that's another story!). A new species for me and a really scarce bee on the Downs. Although there is one record from Steven back in 2008 for this species, it may actually have been new for the reserve. I love Andrenas so finding a new one is always a great moment. I also caught a funny looking Nomada but hold that thought...

I think Special Ops Mining-bee also works.

We went down to the tiny saltmarsh area but it was quite exposed. I did find a male Osmia aurulenta though and it behaved for some photos after being potted.

We headed back via Hope Gap again to check out the carpets of Ground-ivy and someone caught another funny Nomada. Steven then got really excited, with this being possibly the first record for Sussex. In all we saw at least three Variable Nomad Bees Nomada zonata and I have just keyed out two specimens from what I had collected. Quite the day! This is the 10,094th species and the 471st hymenopteran recorded on a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve.

Steven stayed on and found the first of the very rare Potter Flower Bee Anthophora retusa of the year (that the site is well known for and we'll be surveying for in a few weeks) and saw around ten Nomada zonata and has kindly let me use his photos here. A big thank you to Steven and Nick Balfour from the University of Sussex for such a great event.

Gray see slug

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 27 March 2018 07:54

Had an unexpected day free Sunday so headed to Seaford Head for a spot of bird-watching when I suddenly realised the tide was pretty good. Bird-watching soon turned into rock-pooling and about the third rock I turned over had a lifer on it! It was a Grey Sea Slug Aeolidia papillosa. It really reminds me of those weird floral vintage swimming caps that used to give me the creeps. It's my fourth sea-slug, all of which I have seen in the last two years and all from between Seaford and Beachy Head. 

I like this last shot. It looks like it's just devoured a tiny Human and the only bits left are two tiny fingers giving the peace sign as they too are slowly absorbed. So long, tiny Human!

Later on, I found this purple triangular crab under a rock. Pretty sure this is Pisa armata, not a species I have seen before.

This thing had me scouring the Handbook though. I thought it was some bizarre mollusc. Then I thought it was a pistachio macaron for a while. Now I believe it's actually a fossilised mollusc. Thanks to Robin Shrubsole for pointing me in this direction.

The Remains of the Day

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 23 March 2018 07:33

I have only ever seen Dendroxena quadrimaculata twice; in 2009 at Ebernoe and again in 2012 at Parham Park. Today I found a single elytron in a spider's web when servicing the data loggers at Ebernoe Common. There are less than ten records for this nationally scarce species in Sussex and all from the West, we didn't find it all during a repeat survey there in 2016. I love identifying beetles from body parts. It's like sea-watching for invertebrates. Distant and tantalising glimpses at the edge of your ability. This one is pretty distinctive though. A caterpillar-predating carrion beetle with unusual markings.

The most abundant beetle elytra behind the loggers in the spider's webs is what I am now coming to know as my least favourite beetle: Nalassus laevioctostriatus. A beetle that has way too many syllables for something so ubiquitous and dull. It truly is the Meadow Pipit of the beetle world. Most of the time if you find one intact, it's covered in fungus. I think they are so slow moving that they can't even outrun a fungus. What's your least favourite beetle?

Most of the spiders were Amaurobius but I did spot this HUGE Tegenaria gigantea which popped out from under one of the protective flaps hiding the loggers. I didn't jump at all.

Later on I noticed this mass of regurgitated beetles. Almost all of them looked to be the Woodland Dor Beetle Anoplotrupes stercorosus but there were a few carabids in there too. I wonder what had selectively sought these beetles out? It seems to have been lying here for some time. Hawfinch calling around the Brick Kiln too and my first Chiffchaff of the year at Woods Mill.

LARGE TORTOISESHELL FOUND ON LUNCHTIME WALK!!!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 15 March 2018 15:59

Today I decided it was time to go for along overdue walk around Woods Mill. I haven't been doing it half as much as I used to, work has just got so busy. So, I decided to head out after finishing my conservation committee work (which is on this evening). I didn't have my binoculars, yet I wasn't too worried about this. I kicked up a Jack Snipe in the valley field, first I have seen in years. I was heading back pleased with this record when at 1.45 pm I saw a butterfly in the distance. It's only the second butterfly I have seen this year so I was quite pleased. I walked past a Bombus hypnorum and eventually got closer to the butterfly. I was expecting a Peacock or a Red Admiral. It was clearly a Large Tortoiseshell. Now, I'm really regretting not having my binoculars at this point. My camera is in the bowels of my back but I managed to get it out and take a record shot before creeping forwards. This is the photo I took.

I took one step and it was off! It flew past me to the left at an incredible speed. I took this photo as it flew by me...

Now at this point I drop my bag and ran (in wellies) as fast as I could as it flew south east. I got half way down the valley field before I lost it. It was zigzaging so much I must have looked like I was dodging a sniper. I was thinking that my shot was not going to be good enough to separate Large from Scarce (not realising the Scarce influx was likely a one hit wonder). I got everyone excited looking for it but it wasn't seen again. Turns out that the above photo is enough to clinch the I.D. This is the 50th butterfly species on a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve and my 56th.

I can't remember the last time saw a new butterfly, it might even be the Long-tailed Blue back in 2014, let alone a self found one when you're not expecting it! This is definitely the way to start the field season!

Spring into action

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 10 March 2018 14:49

Alice and I had a recording day yesterday for the volunteers of the new Flatropers Wood volunteer group to excite them about wildlife and biological recording. For a site with no designations that's so far away, Flatropers is really well recorded so to record at least four species new to the site was pretty good. Including one that is nationally scarce that I have only seen once before. 

Why is that? The answer: recording in March. It's a great time of year to find stuff that many naturalists and even entomologists don't usually pick up. It's also a time of year I am at my most DESPERATE to do some recording. It's also the time of year I (usually) have the most free time before the field season starts.

I love finding moths at rest. It's such a rare event, I'm certain that is the first time I have ever found a Yellow-horned moth at rest (and might even be the last). Although it's a well known location for moths since the Victorian era, this early spring species (along with Tortricodes alternella) were also new to the site. We swept a tiny (almost) mature male spider which I am pretty sure is Dipoena tristis (which IS known from the site). Turning logs in the wood provided only my second ever record of the Nb weevil Caenopsis fissirostris. The only other time I saw this was on the 17th March last year under a damp log looking rather soggy and dead, just like this one. I wonder if it is typically found like this?

We had a new bird for the site too. Hawfinch! At least five of them that took a bit of stalking but eventually perched high at the top of a tree.  At the start of this winter we had records for 6/32 sites, it's now at 11/32 sites and that's just the ones we know about! It's now been recorded on as many reserves as Greylag and Teal and Marsh Tits were also good value. 

So why not get out there and do some early spring recording? You never know what you might find!

There's a tramp in the compost bin!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 6 March 2018 17:29

A Tramp Slug Deroceras invadens in fact. You can tell it by the pale patch around the breathing pore. I think it was 'compost bin assisted' in its provenance though. 

The reason I am posting this is I have finally got round to putting my garden on the PSL location rankings. You can see it here. The garden is currently ranked 63rd out of 66 (albeit 64 to 66 have no records yet, so effectively I'm at the bottom). You have to start somewhere though. I need to add 28 species to go up a rank. I bought the flat back on the 13th November and made my first records that day. Today I have added a few bits just by being on the phone in the garden and finally got Sparrowhawk on the list. So as of today I have recorded 61 species in my 36 square-metres of garden. There is no lawn by the way and until very recently it was mostly covered in palms and non-native ferns. This is all changing though.

Probably the commonest invertebrate at the moment is Girdled Snail. My highlight though so far has been a Stock Dove that landed on the shed for 15 second and the obligatory Psilochorus simoni that seems to follow me around in boxes of books. I am yet to add a beetle or a moth to the list! the garden STINKS of Red Fox. Here is the breakdown:

Birds - 27
Plants - 12
Molluscs - 5
Spiders - 5
Mammals - 3
Crustaceans - 2
Springtails - 2
Bryophytes - 2
Butterflies - 1
Bugs - 1
Hymenoptera - 1

So why not start a list for your garden? It's a great way of getting records in. You can do this in iRecord and set up your list total by joining the pan-species listing website here.

I forgot this. I was Googling Tramp Slug as I forgot the scientific name and this came up...

Crestfest

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 4 March 2018 18:50

The festival of the crest to test which crest is best. 

I jest. We know the Firecrest (I mean look at it, thanks to Tony Davis for the photo) is infinitely superior to the Goldcrest. Goldcrests are cute but every time I see a Firecrest I get a little buzz, you know like when you see a Med. Gull? Anyway, what this is actually about is seeing which crest I hear singing the most. I like to do crazy little bits of pseudoscience and data gathering each year, like scoring every film out of 10 I saw in a year (I learnt I needed to watch more world cinema and less horror films), how much exactly I drank in a year (I won't say what I learnt about that!) or total distance walked in a year (before smart phones I would add - it was well over 1500 miles). I gave up on how many (and which) vegetables I ate in a year. I once tried to see how long I could go in a year without seeing a Pheasant. It's harder than you think. I've been working too much, can you tell?...

For years I've been saying I think I hear as many, if not more Firecrests, than I do Goldcrests. Now I'm talking specifically about singing birds, not calling birds. I am sure Goldcrest would win that hands down, I saw five in a tree yesterday on the way to the corner shop calling away. As I wasn't too well over the last few months I haven't been out much yet this year, so I haven't heard many of either but I did get a singing Goldcrest at Ebernoe at the end of Feb when putting some ARDs out for recording bats and today, two singing Firecrests and a Goldcrest (also at Ebernoe) when I was collecting them.

I'll also produce a little map of where I saw them. So here goes. Even Stevens for now but who knows which way it will go by the end of December? I just need to remember to keep it going and keep my GPS on me (it's highly unlikely that I'll forget that). Place your bets on which crest is best! Oh, if anyone else wants to have a go then the more the merrier, it would be interesting to see how the proportions compare in different regions. Not everyone knows the difference in the song, the basic difference is this; Goldcrest is a repeating pattern on two notes while Firecrest is only on one note.  They both usually finish with a little flourish. The basic vibe is the same in each; high-pitched. Like the worlds smallest violin playing just for you. 

The 10,000th species on a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve was...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 20 February 2018 09:52

Last year you may remember that we pan-listed all the Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves. You can read about this in more detail here. With the first draft we were tantalisingly close to reaching 10,000 species. More recently though I have been quiet about it, that's because I wanted to wait until Adastra (the Sussex Biological Recorders' Seminar) to reveal who the finder of that 10,000th species.

But firstly, Adastra! Wow, how lucky are we in Sussex to have this? Well, actually it's not luck; you make your own luck. It's the coming together of a huge collective passion and hard graft coupled with some of the most biodiverse counties in the UK. There were some fantastic talks on Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Knepp, flies and much much more. It was also the launch of this fantastic publication. So much awesomeness in one day was difficult to take in!

I gave a talk on the species list on the reserves and announced the finder of the 10,000th species BAFTA style. The winner was James McCulloch and the species was the leaf-mining fly Phytomyza ranunculivora recorded at Graffham Common last year. This species is identifiable from its mines and can be seen above in James' photo of a buttercup leaf. The distribution of the larva's droppings in the mine are enough to clinch the ID. A huge well done to James for finding the 10,000th species. Here he is receiving the prize.

James is also a pan-species lister and I had a look at his profile to write this blog. James is currently ranked as 51st place and has seen 2787 species. What's remarkable about this is he is 14! I put my total together before pan-species listing had a name at age 32 back in 2010. My list then was 2748! So James has beat my by 18 years. This is an incredible achievement. The prize was some NHBS book tokens and I am informed James will be acquiring some books on rove beetles. Well done James!

The species list on the reserves has already shot well beyond 10,000 after the review. In fact we are on 10,094 with the addition of the spider Steatoda grossa that Chris recorded at Rye Harbour in the last few days (thanks for the photo Chris). So what's next? Well, we'll keep adding to the list. I'm about to review all the species recorded at Seaford Head that have conservation status for the management plan. I'd love it if someone who was in a position to, were to approach me to help pan-list another wildlife trust out there, if we could do them all it would be a hugely powerful tool.

Meta data

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 6 February 2018 20:12

This post is like so meta. Cubed. I went to an undisclosed site in East Sussex a few weeks ago and was shown a small natural cave in a sandrock outcrop. I was in there like a shot! There was the ubiquitous Metellina merianae (or as I call it the Cave-entrance Spider) which I see in any tunnel or cave. There were also dozens of Meta menardi, the true cave spider. This is only the second time I have seen this large and impressive spider in Sussex. Well, that's probably because you don't spend enough time in caves I here you say. Wrong I say. I suddenly thought about it and I have looked at loads of caves and tunnels in Sussex with bat specialists such as Tony Hutson and moth-ers like Steve Teale. In fact, I've looked at plenty of (what I assume are) suitable sites and I just don't see this spider.

So why is it so restricted? I have no idea, so I will pull out the records and have a look at the metadata. First off this record is in a natural cave. It was very wet with flowing water, there were perhaps 40 in there that I could see. Lots of mosquitoes and a Herald moth. Mammal droppings too, so plenty to eat. Secondly is the previous record in Sussex which was found in the workshop at Woods Mill by Michael Blencowe, I confirmed it as Meta menardi. It was the first record for West Sussex. The far end of the workshop is a bit musty but mostly quite dry. It's pitch black until you open the door or turn the lights on. No real opening and very little food. We only ever saw one there and I've not noticed it since.

Prior to that there are three  East Sussex records (all bar one are of single female records). Two from the soft-rock sandy cliffs  to the east of Hastings in 2006 (this record is of three females) and 2003 have no metadata so I can't comment on these, so lets assume they are natural caves. The only other record was made, would you believe it, from Beachy Head! This record states that it was "found in a fissure on cliff top". 

So most of the records are from relatively small natural caves with permanent openings. This also tallies with where I have seen them up north. The Woods Mill record is the anomaly. So, maybe it's worth looking at smaller more natural caves than the bat tunnels I have spent more time in (where you are more likely to see a Bloxworth Snout moth than a cave spider!). There is also the scarce Meta bourneti to look out for, that hasn't been recorded in Sussex yet.

Super Facial Recognition and Natural History: the Results

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 30 January 2018 14:13

If you didn't read the post I put up requesting help for a 'research ' project, you can read it here. Thanks to everyone who contributed. It's not come back with anything conclusive, if anything the results are quite difficult to explain but I will try!

To summarise the data: 61 people took part with scores ranging from 29 to 70. My score of 68 was beaten only by three people putting me in the top 7% (thanks for spotting that mistake), at least I'm not making it up when I recognise people all the time! The mean of the whole data set was 58.8, considerably higher than the 53 which was noted as the mean on the website.

In the above chart, you can see the data is split between three categories. This therefore requires a one-way ANOVA (assuming normally distributed data). The data wasn't normally distributed and no amount of data-transformations was going to do anything about that. So we had to go with the non-parametric Kruskal-Wallis test (X2=3.65, P=0.16, n=61). And no significant differences were found. I was intrigued to compare just the 'Naturalists' with 'Pan-listers' using a Mann-Whitney test and the same was true but this result was approaching significance (Z=1.82, P=0.07, n=61). 

This would be quite interesting if the 'Non-naturalist' category wasn't sitting right in the middle. All I can think is, is that many of the PSL and naturalist types just did the test while perhaps the people who didn't see themselves as naturalists only did the test if they thought they had pretty good facial recognition. In fact, this was the group that had the least submissions. All of the groups were way above the mean on the website of 53. I believe my data collection method was causing an intrinsic bias across all three classes as only people who thought they might score well were entering. Who knows. All thoughts on this are most welcome.

I'll stick to the ecology.

But is there a correlation with PSL list size and test score I hear you say? Well, no is the answer (F=0.05, P=0.82, n=21). A big fat no at that. That line can barely get more level.

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