House of Horrors

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 31 October 2010 16:31

I spend a lot of time outside and over the years I have found lots of skulls of many different species so I thought I would post a Halloween themed blog showing you some of the more interesting ones I have stumbled across  The first one is pretty obvious, probably a Hebridean ram. (they are ping-pong balls by the way). This one I found at Stedham earlier this year and there were still feathers nearby to clinch the ID, it's a Kestrel.
Another bird and this one's a Tawny Owl found dead at Woods Mill a few years ago. Note how big the eye cavities are.
Back to the mammals now and these should be fairly familiar. From the top to the bottom we have Rabbit, Badger, Fox and Roe Deer.
This Roe Deer skull is missing the 'nose', it reminds me of the rabbit from Donnie Darko. I think skulls are incredibly beautiful and fascinating. I recently did a talk at a school in Brighton and showed the kids a load of different skulls that I had found and it was amazing how excited they were. There is certainly an instinctive fascination there.

I took an hour out today to go and look for the Pallas's Warbler that was found at Sheepcote Valley on the edge of Brighton. I didn't see the bird but I did stumble upon a Dartford Warbler at very close range which was a nice surprise.

Across the pond

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 30 October 2010 18:29

Not much natural history goin' on this weekend, I've got my head down writing up some freelance work from Frensham Great Pond. Here is me in September, picking through masses of the alien, invasive, Canadian Waterweed in the vain hope of finding the odd native aquatic macrophyte. It's so sad that  it's thought that the second greatest threat to wildlife on this planet is from introduced alien species.  Anyway, this post was supposed to be about mucking about in boats...

More pond fun, this time in Sussex back in 2005/06 I think when I was working for the RSPB but little did I know it at the time I would be working for the site owners (Sussex Wildlife Trust) one day, it's Castle Water. The site where in five years of  electro-fishing we caught the biggest Eel we had ever seen and it was about twice as big as the next biggest one we had ever seen, and we had caught and weighed thousands! (My dreads are not growing backwards by the way, I cut them off and then grew them back!).
I think by the look of that tail fin I am measuring a Tench. Here is Old Scarface, the biggest Eel I ever did see!
Thanks to Steve Webster for the top photo and Matt Self for the bottom two. I have loads of old photos of fish from the electro-fishing days so I may do another post over the winter.

My 3000th species!!!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 28 October 2010 18:56

I finally got there, the 3000th species! It's not Feathered Thorn, although an impressive moth it's pretty common and I've seen loads before, watch out for a big furry orange triangle at this time of year. I got to Frensham early and checked out what had been attracted to the lights on the walls overnight. I also saw this Mottled Umber which means it really is the end of the year but that wasn't my 3000th species either...
No, the 3000th species is something far duller. Not only is it a micro moth, it's an introduced micro moth that feeds on human and animal detritus. It has an English name according to the NBN Gateway which is Wakely's Dowd Blastobasis lacticolella. Dowdy (unfashionable and without style), my 3000th British species. Hmph! Oh well, it's not exactly a Rose-coloured Starling or a Purse-web Spider but they all helped the tiny, insignificant, Wakely's Dowd scramble to 3000th place! I am pretty pleased I got there two months in advance of my target, that gives me 14 months to try and get to 4000. Bring it on!

Brick wall

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 27 October 2010 18:54

I thought I had got to 3000 today but when I got home I realised that I had actually seen Elfin Saddle Helvella lacunosa before (the photos didn't come out very well). I have been at Frensham in Surrey and didn't venture much further than the office as I was digitising an NVC map. Whilst I was getting some grub  from the kiosk I had a look around the lights for moths etc. but it was a very unpleasant evening last night so all I found was this Brick, a very boring moth. I am  always pleased when I get a Brick through my window though. There was also this one legged Speckled Bush-cricket. If I don't get to 3000 by the weekend I may have to twitch the nearest bird I have not seen to break the tension!

Working on my pecs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 25 October 2010 19:03

Oli and I nipped out to Arlington to look for the Pectoral Sandpiper and it was behaving very nicely, walking up and down right in front of the hide! Despite the best efforts of several delinquent children waving their hands around outside the hide and in front of my telescope, the bird remained unspooked. I think this is the fourth or fifth one I have seen, being perhaps the most frequent American vagrant, I often wonder at the ultimate fate of these transatlantic anomalies (Martin F pointed out that they also breed over much of Asia so it could also come from that direction). I would be surprised though if any of them made the crossing twice. We also saw a Green Sandpiper and heard a Brambling. Slightly better than my usual attempts to take photos through my scope but certainly not anything I am proud of! UPDATE: I had no idea that Pectoral Sandpipers had recently started breeding in Scotland?!

So no ticks today but last night whilst I was watching Harry Hill I suddenly remembered another species that I have seen, many years ago, the Head Louse. That brings me to 2999, tantalisingly close!

On a more frustrating note, as I write this I am watching Ridley Scott's version of Robin Hood and was very annoyed to see a flock of CGI Canada Geese flying along the Thames Estuary in the 12th century. That pretty much sets the scene for the rest of the film. Grrrrrr!

The Lyons Den is six months old today!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 24 October 2010 15:03

I posted three moths ago, The Lyons Den is three months old today, so I will continue to provide a three monthly update (the three month update stats are posted behind the six month stats in brackets). OK, so the total number of unique visitors has gone up quite a bit to 2565 (601) which I am pretty pleased with. There have been 7251 (2915) visits and 13430 (2915) page views. I have 56 (29) followers but it would be great to get even more! You have viewed the blog from 45 countries (25). This is the 186th post (84). Can anyone identify themselves from the back of their heads in the above photo?

The most viewed post is by far the one where the White Stork landed in front of us at the Cuckmere. This post had considerably more views than the next most viewed post by far at 340 visits. (this is what happens when Paul James puts a link to your blog on the SOS sightings page!). After this it is interestingly the label plants that gets the next most hits, then the label TV. The next most viewed post is bizarrely Strawberry Fields at 152. This was originally posted on 14th July, before I did the last update and has been a slow burner, with a steady trickle of hits. I think this is probably one person who has saved the link though as it is quite unlike the pattern of most other posts. After this we have the Raspberry Clearwing encounter, the Polecat incident and the narrowly avoided Octopus Stinkhorn induced vomiting session (I bet no one has ever written down that sentence before!). Interestingly, Listing gets in the top 10 with 98 hits. Who says people don't like listing hey?

I still don't get a lot of comments though, I get far more on Twitter and Facebook but I would love it if these could all go on the blog instead so they are all in one place! A lot of people often ask me how do I find the time. Well, I love doing it so the time is not hard to give (although there are times when Jo wishes she had never encouraged me to do it in the first place!). I am always out anyway so I don't really alter my behaviour and I do a lot of driving in my job and that is when I put the stories together. Although I write this in my own time a lot of the content is relevant to the Trust. I spend a lot of time on the 33 Sussex Wildlife Trust sites that I help to manage by providing ecological advice based on scientifically robust monitoring so it is inevitable that the majority of posts will be from Trust reserves. It's a personal blog but I avoid the difficult issues that I deal with at work because I want this to be about the wildlife. I think it is the best place to find out about some of the more unusual creatures we have on our reserves (and the wider Sussex countryside). I get a great kick out of it and it benefits the trust too, everyone's happy!

The listing element has developed since the last update and that has changed my behaviour a little. It is a great motivator to target what I go looking for in my spare time and I am definitely seeing more new things now. The benefits of this to me as a naturalist are immense and it's great to share that with other people. There is no better way to learn than teaching.

That just leaves me to say a big thank you to all the people who follow this blog! If you find anything unusual in Sussex I may be interested in covering the story if I can come and get a photo so please get in touch.

AGM talk

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 23 October 2010 14:43

I've just given a talk at the Sussex Wildlife Trust's AGM. Last year we had Chris Packham, this year, me. So how do you follow that? Well, I did have it fairly easy. At least half my talk was prerecorded TV appearances and the footage of the Woods Mill stream breaking through. It's weird to do a talk without having to do much talking. A bit like delegating to yourself. Anyway, it went really well, it's hard to go wrong with a subject matter that is wholly positive and everyone is enthusiastic about. I can't believe I have been at the Trust for a quarter of a decade already! 
 Tomorrow The Lyons Den is six months old so I will do an update on some stats and maybe try and track down two new species and get to 3000!

Water flows down the new Woods Mill stream for the first time

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 22 October 2010 21:24

Here is a ten minute video I took today of the moment the new channel on the Woods Mill stream restoration was opened up. It's great seeing water flow down for the first time, and it was great to capture something that will never happen again. You can see all the features that have been put in like riffles and woody debris. The site is still out of bounds though, there is still a lot of work to be done and heavy machinery will be present into next week.

Within seconds, a young Cormorant flew over and did a double take and someone mentioned that an Eel was seen swimming down the river only twenty minutes after it was opened up. I can't wait to see it develop into a natural looking stream and we might get some more migrant birds too. There were already a a couple of Yellowhammers feeding on the bare ground there today.

The only British spider in the same sub-order as the tarantulas!

Posted by Graeme Lyons 18:51

Just as I finished work this afternoon I got a phone call from Nick Hunt saying he had found a FEMALE Purse-web Spider Atypus affinis in Woodvale Crematorium. I have found the webs there and Nick has seen two males already but I really wanted to see a big female. I legged it back to Brighton  as fast as I could and was there within 30 minutes. This spider is something else, look at the size of its jaws! This spider is the only species in the sub-order Orthognatha, the same order as tarantulas! The chelicerae (jaws) which are visible in these shots and the video are arranged to move up and down (like a pick-axe it states in Roberts) and I would hate to be on the wrong end of them.
It was quite a clumsy spider and seemed very sluggish as it fell over a few times The females are meant to spend most of their time in the webs underground so I was really surprised to see a female. at all The jaws are so large that the eyes are raised to see over them. What a beast and a really awesome end to the week. Only two species to go now...

The Lyons Eye

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 21 October 2010 19:27

I get asked a lot what camera I use so I thought I should do a blog about it. I use the Nikon Coolpix 4500, it's a (roughly) ten year old camera that I bought five and a half years ago for about £150. It is  essentially a 'point and press' with only about 4 megapixels and has been out of production for many years. It's fairly small (weighs under a pound) and I can carry it with me everywhere. The opportunistic approach is key to how I take photographs, I rarely have an agenda (except at weekends when I tend to go looking for species) and will photograph and write about whatever I bump into. I was discussing upgrading but I think it would result in less photographs, albeit perhaps better photographs but I think if I had large, bulky equipment there are a lot of things I would miss from not carrying it as often. 

You see the Coolpix 4500 has a few things that I have not seen in other cameras that are brilliant for macro work. Firstly, the way the body swivels is incredibly handy, I don't think that this feature must have been very popular as I have never seen a more modern digital with this design. (when people see this camera for the first time they often assume it is a new design!). Secondly it can focus on things at a distance of only 2 cm, this is something that most cameras do not do and I don't know how I would adapt if I didn't have either of these things in a camera. I have also spoken to some naturalists who upgraded and then went back to the Coolpix for macro work. It's only 4 megapixels but it certainly comes up with the goods.

I should say that I have not explored all the functions and add-ons of this camera. There are also some things I don't like. It's pretty slow from the point of pressing to taking the photo. This can be REALLY annoying when you are fully zoomed in on something small when it tracks all the way out and then back in again before taking the shot. It also does not recognise purple very well, violets and bellflowers don't look quite right. I also seem to be rubbish at taking landscape shots, I think the camera has become short-sighted from all the macro work.

So I am gonna stick to the Coolpix 4500 and I would probably even go as far as getting another second hand one when this one eventually breaks. I would probably have to bury it and get a headstone made up if that ever happened though.

Honey Bee mimicry

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 20 October 2010 19:06

This is actually a hoverfly Eristalis pertinax, not a Honey Bee. It's a pretty convincing mimic and I saw loads of them today nectaring (with Honey Bees) on some Ivy blossom that was catching the afternoon sunlight. I am always surprised how great a nectar source Ivy is this time of year, it's even worth checking it at night for moths. Eristalis pertinax looks quite like the Drone Fly Eristalis tenax but that has all dark legs, the front and mid tarsi are yellow on pertinax. This is one of the commonest hoverflies and I see it from earliest spring well into autumn (but not so often in mid summer). I also saw several Melanostoma mellinum, which was a new one for me. I am now only three away from 3000!

Luminous larva

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 19 October 2010 18:49

Neil Fletcher and I went into Hoe Wood today to photograph Common Tamarisk-moss Thuidium tamariscinum for a bryophytes course planned for next year. Neil got the shots but on the way out, I spotted this crazy caterpillar walking up some Isothecium moss on the base of an oak tree. It's the larva of the Pale Tussock moth and I am really pleased how this shot came out. I love the nearest row of 'exploding' yellow hairs, like a fire works display. The narrow jet of long red hairs above the vent is also impressive, as are the velvety-black pits between the segments, they seem to reflect no light what-so-ever.

I heard a Water Rail in the reedbed at Woods Mill today too, it squealed once very close to the path and then remained silent.

A River Runs Through It

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 18 October 2010 19:11

The Woods Mill stream restoration is well underway. It's perhaps a week away from completion, the channel has nearly been cut and the ox-bow lakes are being added. Later this week the riffles and course woody-debris will be some of the final touches before the new channel is connected up and water is allowed to flow  along it naturally (the water in the above photo has simply gathered at the base of the channel - it's not connected up yet).

This has been a joint project between SWT and Environment Agency and has been many years in the making. It's great to see it finally taking shape. It does (and will for a short time) look very bare but this was always going to happen, a necessary part of the process. Vegetation will establish very quickly and by next spring and summer the site will be unrecognisable. I am monitoring these changes, with amongst many things, fixed-point photography. I hope to put together a 'time-lapse' sequence of stills. Watch this space, it's going to be amazing!

As we were observing the project today we saw a Little Egret fly over and I heard my first Redpolls of the season. This latest post will have put birds as my most frequently used label, bad luck beetles!

'Dangling swamp-lover'

Posted by Graeme Lyons 08:26

This is Helophilus pendulus (which roughly translates as dangling swamp-lover - it's not an official name, don't know if it has one and I don't know if it is particularly relevant), and is one of the commonest hoverflies in the UK.  As far as I know there are four species in the genus. They are all black and yellow, medium sized hovers with vertical stripes on the thorax. One is restricted to Scotland (groenlandicus) and is very dark in appearance so we can eliminate that one. Of the remaining two, one has an all yellow face trivittatus, you can see from the above photo that this specimen has a black line down the centre of the face. That leaves two species, pendulus and the more local hybridus. The hind tibia (middle section of the leg) of hybridus has only about one third yellow while in pendulus at least half is yellow (in this case nearly least two thirds are yellow). Therefore this is Helophilus pendulus. See British Hoverflies by Alan Stubbs and Steven Falk for more details.

I have been lecturing for Birkbeck all weekend, hence the blog has been quiet. It's been a really exhausting weekend as it always is with all the travelling but this was exacerbated by being stuck in three huge traffic jams and having by far the largest class of students. That meant I had no time to do any natural history what-so-ever except to photo this hoverfly and spot another Brambling. Seems like this year is going to be a good Brambling year having recorded four so far this end of the year.

I'm listed on IMDb!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 15 October 2010 20:36

Ha ha, I was just looking at a friends profile on the Internet Movie Database (who is working on the new X-Men movie) and discovered that I am on there too for my appearance on Springwatch's Wild Night In! How mad is that! Here is the link. Being a massive film nerd this was quite a  big surprise! Somehow, Wild Night In has gone down as a TV movie?! If you then click on the link to the show itself, I am on there on top of Graham Norton (oo-er) and more importantly, two spaces above Bill Oddie! (I appreciate this is just down to the alphabetical order of things but little victories and all that). Anyway, that's another story. To be on the same cast list as David Attenborough and Prince William does make me feel rather proud.

The last of the hairstreaks?

Posted by Graeme Lyons 09:01

Whilst I was walking along the mill leat at Woods Mill yesterday (14th October) to photograph the river restoration, I noticed a medium brown butterfly struggling along in the open. The sun was quite warm  (it was  2.00 pm) but there was very little latent heat in the air, it was really cold in the shade. I thought it was too late for Gatekeeper and was probably a stray Speckled Wood. It landed in some rank grass and I was amazed to see it was a tatty female Brown Hairstreak. I posted about a male I spotted outside my office window but that was on  the 16th August, almost two months ago. I see that on the Sussex Butterfly Conservation sightings page Wendy Wilson spotted one on the 11th October this year at Pulborough. She stated that this was far later than her previous late record of the 7th. So, could this be the last record of a living adult Brown Hairstreak of the year? Has anyone else seen one this late, I'd love to hear about it.

I saw a female about 100 m from this point two years ago but there is very little Blackthorn scrub where yesterday's individual was found. Although there are some fairly impressive English Oaks present, there are very few Ash trees.

Can you spot the moths?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 14 October 2010 18:31

Before scrolling down, see how many moths you can see in the above photo. I didn't find the moths like this (they were caught in the moth trap) but it does make a good background. I think some of the lichen mimic moths are some of our most stunning species and I wanted to show how cryptic they are against the right background.

Thanks to Alice I didn't have to do much other than turn up and photograph the moths again today at Woods Mill. It's always a good day when you catch Merveille du Jour (it translates as 'marvel of the day' apparently), this is surely the nicest British moth, well it's my favorite anyway. It reminds me of mint chock-chip ice-cream. Om nom nom.
OK, so that one was easy and I think you probably all spotted the Green-brindled Crescent too.
But how many people spotted the third and final moth, the Figure of Eight? There were three in the trap today. I don't know if I have ever seen this moth as an adult before, I see the larvae all the time when beating rich hedgerows in the West Weald in the early summer. I imagine this is a good indicator of a rich hedgerow.

Piggybacks, Jellybabies and Magpie Inkcaps

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 13 October 2010 18:18

I have had an excellent day today at The Mens. I met up with Martin Allison and some of his friends, Martin is an old colleague of mine from the RSPB days and is an exceptional mycologist. I saw many more species than I could record, I concentrated on the ones I could identify myself without a high-powered microscope (my x 50 zoom might be good for counting the hairs on beetles palps but not for looking at fungal spores, I'd need a x 1000 for that!). Anyway, I'll start off with my all time favourite fungus, Magpie Inkcap. The pictures says it all really. Amazing! What else to include? I saw my first Sulphur Knights in the car park before they arrived. This yellow fungus stinks strongly of gas and petrol.
Before leaving the car park I spotted these White Saddles, another new species for me. The specimens are splashed with mud from passing traffic but you can see the odd shaped cap that the Helvella species have.
Next up we have Green Elfcup but this time it is actually fruiting. Normally you just see deadwood turned green by the mycelium, this is the first time I have seen it in fruit.
Here are the Jellybabies. What an awesome name, I just wish they came in different colours. They look good enough to eat but feel very rubbery to touch and Roger Phillips states they are inedible.
It seems to be another good year for Horn of Plenty. I like this one as it is really easy to identify!
Perhaps the commonest fungi we saw today were Blackening Brittlegills and Buttercaps. On the decaying Blackening Brittlegills we recorded a few Powdery Piggybacks!
Two years ago, Mark Monk-Terry and I bumped into some Terracotta Hedgehogs at The Mens but I didn't have my camera and we saw them again today, they don't have gills as such, more like stalagmites.
I can't believe I have never seen this one before, there were hundreds there today. The simple, solid but elegant Clouded Agaric.
Finally, this oddity is the Pestle Puffball and was quite a specimen. It has been a really good day, I saw far more species than this but I struggled to take in all the Mycenas, Lacatarius, Clitocybes and Russulas. Still, I have seen 16 species that I am confident with and could recognise again. I am SEVEN species away from 3000!

Visible migration

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 12 October 2010 11:41

I went up to Hollingbury Fort and the back of Wild Park to experience the visible migration, it's almost as addictive as sea watching! I observed from 07:45 to 09:35 and here are the totals. It was quite windy and it was difficult to hear birds unless they were right overhead.

Goldfinch 45
Chaffinch 31
Meadow Pipit 25
Skylark 18
Wood Pigeon 10
Swallow 7
Brambling  5
Pied Wagtail 5
Stock Dove 5
Redwing 5
Linnet 4
Greenfinch 3
Siskin 3
Song Thrush 3

In the bushes...
Chiffchaff 3
Goldcrest 2
Firecrest 1

It was nice to hear Bramblings again, definitely one of my favourite calls. Collins Bird Guide has perhaps the best written word interpretations of bird vocalisations. So, it puts Brambling's call as 'a loud, croaking, harsh, nasal te-ehp'. I am sure I heard one last week go over the car park at Woods Mill. Firecrests seem to be turning up everywhere at the moment.

Rose-coloured Starling at Newhaven Fort

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 11 October 2010 20:26

I shot round to the cliffs in front of Newhaven Heights not really knowing where I was going in search of a Rose-coloured Starling. I looked along the bottom of the cliffs and saw only three Wheatear. I scurried up the cliffs and saw a number of forlorn looking birdwatchers clustered together. My rule is always to break away from these groups as people stop looking, start talking and cover very little ground. I saw that the Starlings seemed to be coming in to roost a little further east. I headed along the cliff tops and found this old gun emplacement (I'm assuming that's what it is) that is part of Newhaven Fort. 
There must be a large hollow going into the cliff. Starlings were pouring in, both through the opening and  through a hidden hole further up the cliff. I figured if I wait on the cliff top long enough, I'll see the bird come in to roost. Two people at the bottom of the cliff had the same idea. I was there for less than 10 minutes when I suddenly saw the bird with five Starlings. It circled round a few times, broke away and headed east out of site! I had been expecting a beige juvenile but it was a really nice adult! The people at the bottom of the cliff whistled, but I had already got onto it. Later, whilst talking to the two birders at the bottom, they said that they hadn't whistled and thought that I had! So who was this mystery whistler? Who cares, I just got another lifer! UPDATE: I since found out that it was Andrew Whitcomb who found the bird, here are some photos and a video from when it was on the deck.

Newhaven Fort is a strange sight, built in the 1860s it serviced both World Wars. I find these military sites fascinating, there are so few buildings that are built without any consideration for aesthetics, all geometric shapes and brutal functionality, crumbling concrete and rusting iron, more like the setting of an Iain Banks novel than a twitch.

Woodlark at Hollingbury

Posted by Graeme Lyons 15:47

After hearing so many migrants passing overhead this morning and witnessing the stiff north-easterly breeze, I headed up to the hill fort at Hollingbury a mile or so north of my house. There was little passing overhead, 1 Meadow Pipit, 3 Skylarks and a Pied Wagtail but I did stumble across a Woodlark, right in the centre of the fort. It flew right overhead calling as it went out of view to the north west. I can only apologise for the photo but you can still tell what it is (sort of). I am all about the macro photography so that is about as good as it gets for my bird photos.
There were the typical invertebrates for this time of year including this Comma on some Old Man's Beard, a few Common Darters and Eristalis hoverflies. The only beetle I found what I though was a tiny Bembidion under a section of metal pipe. It turned out to be Microlestes maura, a very tiny (this one was about 2.8 mm long) carabid, too small and fast for a photo I'm afraid. There is another very similar species, so, as with so many of these idents, it came down to a comparison of the size and shape of the penis, this species having a distinct hook on his member.

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