Primary host

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 31 March 2011 19:28

I've been at a conference all day in Hampshire looking at how to conserve Juniper populations which was organised by Plantlife. It was a very interesting day and we had about an hour to look around Stockbridge Down at the end and I was surprised to see that most of the Juniper bushes have this unusual fungus on them (I have never seen this at Levin). It's Gymnosporangium clavariiforme and apparently it has dual hosts. Firstly infecting Juniper where it then releases spores which go on to infect a member of the Rosacea, particularly Hawthorn. This second incarnation is supposed to look totally different. Amazing stuff, I've never heard of this before, great to come across surprises like this and a tick for me too.
We also saw the work of the tiny mite that occurs in Juniper berries and can have a strong negative effect on their fertility. It's called Trisetacus quadrisetus and you can tell they are in the berry by the openings. I picked one to see if I could see them inside under the microscope but they are very small apparently and I may well struggle to see them at x 40. I'll perhaps wait till I'm less tired...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 30 March 2011 19:41

Here is a short video of some Common Whirligigs Gyrinus substriatus I took in the leat at Woods Mill a few days ago. I think they look like bumper cars, it seems like such an inefficient way to catch food spinning around like that. There is a key in British Wildlife but they are tricky and you will most likely have to dissect a specimen to get to species. It states that you are far more likely to see this species than any of the others. I wonder why one has the English name the Artist? Interesting how you can hear so much aviation noise in the video, wasn't even aware of it at the time and the Chiffchaff sounds pretty loud too.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 29 March 2011 20:01

I went back to Mill Hill after work to look for a specimen of what I think is Scarce Violet Cosmet Pancalia schwarzella (with permission from SDJC of course!). I thought I would count what proportion of the Pancalia were schwarzella types (i.e. c 7 mm long with no white patch on antennae - top photo). Interestingly I found 17 schwarzella types and only two that were definitely Violet Cosmet Pancalia leuwenhoekella (bottom photo - c 5.5 mm long with white patches). All the moths I saw fell easily and distinctively into one camp or the other. I will hopefully get some help with a dissection to confirm the ID. The alternative is that this is one species that is sexually dimorphic. There is only one very old record of schwarzella in Sussex.
However, I also found a nationally scarce carabid which was a new one to me and was a nice surprise. I recognised it in the field as being one of the species with unusual jaws (like pinball flippers). A couplet in the key I have never answered yes to, I have always wondered what these flat-faced beetles would look like. It had a very punctured pronotum and was 10 mm long. This is not the best photo but at least you can see what it is (the hole on the side of the pronotum is damage). It's Licinus depressus and is a Nb species adapted for eating snails and is found on chalk-grassland according to Luff.
So, worst case scenario I have got the ID on the moth wrong but I have still added two Nb species to my list. If I have it right, it's two Nbs and a pRDB2! Mill Hill is looking like a good place to stop on the way home from work.

1st April (no fooling) UPDATE: Tony Davis confirmed that the top moth is indeed the pRDB2 Pancalia schwarzella, the first records in Sussex since 1931. Penny Green and I are both really pleased to have rediscovered this species in Sussex!

Violet and dangerous

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 28 March 2011 22:23

There are more Hairy Violets in flower at Mill Hill than I think I have ever seen.  As well as the violets, there were a few invertebrates there that are associated with them. I spotted a couple of tiny Violet Weevils Orobitis cyaneus which can roll themselves up to look just like a violet seed.
There was also a beautiful little orange and black micro moth that after some effort I finally managed to photograph. There were lots of them actually. I think it's Pancalia schwarzella and one of the food plants is Hairy Violet. It wasn't until later that we realised there were probably two species present, the other being Pancalia leuwenhoekella, with obvious white sections to the antennae, which also feeds on Hairy Violet. Both would be new ones for me. However, considering schwarzella is pRDB2 (both photos) and leuwenhoekella is Nb I will get a second opinion. Watch this space! The greatest lesson I learned today though was not to try to attempt Mill Hill without my walking boots, I very nearly ended up at the bottom several times.

Uncharismatic microflora

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 27 March 2011 14:02

Yesterday on the way back from a farm survey in Hampshire and before I discovered the Light Orange Underwings at The Mens, I went on a slight detour to West Heath to look for Lesser Chickweed. I found it easy enough but boy is that plant dull! Like a small chickweed without petals. It was however a tick for me and is a species I have often wondered whether or not I have overlooked it in the past. Also present on the sandy soils where it was growing were the tiny Little Mouse-ear (top photo) and lots of Common Whitlow-grass (actually a crucifer). These 'little white jobs' are the botanical equivalent of birding's LBJs. They do have their own charm though, even if I have to gamble with my bad back to see them. I have taken to crawling around on my hands and knees rather than bending over to prevent a flare up! So far, no problems with my disk since the end of 2010.

Orange Underwing too heavy for yer?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 26 March 2011 15:51

Then try one of these Light Orange Underwings instead! Following on from Dave Monk's record of the first Light Orange Underwings in East Sussex for 26 years at Brede High Wood on the 24th March, I decided to go and look at the only big patch of Aspen that I know of, in Badlands at the Mens. At the south west end of the meadows is a large Aspen and as I walked up to it there were three orange moths in the air,  and one was in reach of the net. From entering the meadow to catching the moth, no more than 30 seconds had passed! I cooled it down for half an hour in my shadow before attempting a photo. I saw another three elsewhere making a minimum of six. The Aspens in this area are quite mature, full of catkins and one big tree has catkins pretty much down to eye level. The feathered antennae of the male are easy to see in this shot. Here it is from below so you can see the underside of the underwing. I have similar photos of Orange Underwing but they are on my computer at work, I'll update next week. Great to see this nationally scarce moth on Sussex Wildlife Trust managed land!This is only the second known modern site for this moth in West Sussex.
It was incredible how quickly the moth flew up to the canopy after I released it. I was really glad I took the time to call in (and it pays to always have your net in the car!) as I was driving along the A272. I also saw my first Orange-tip of the year that seems very early but is not at all surprising considering this amazing weather!

I finished the winter farmland bird surveys that I am doing for Natural England today too. I had my first Wheatears (3). I've walked around 330 miles in all and I am in need of night out before I start the summer surveys on the 1st April!

Pushing up Bulbous Meadow-grass

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 25 March 2011 19:18

A quick visit to Woodvale after work to look for Bulbous Meadow-grass was successful. Couldn't find any in flower but it was distinctive enough. As I was photographing it I heard a Firecrest singing too which was nice. Woodvale is where I saw my first Firecrest perhaps 15 years ago. Considering how much time Jo spends in the field with me I was surprised to hear her say 'Is that a normal seagull, it looks pretty different'. My reply was 'No Jo, that's a Wood Pigeon'.

Earlier in the day I started the Woods Mill CBC and picked up a Green Sandpiper on the new stretch of river and a Little Egret as well as the male House Sparrow that has moved in recently. I spent the afternoon finishing off a map at Ditchling Beacon. I was checking out a water butt for any unlucky inverts that had landed in it when this beetle bounced off my face. It's a species of Helophorus and is actually an aquatic but it doesn't really look that well adapted to life in the water. There are quite a few species though so I will have to key it out later when I am not tired.

Feast your eyes on this beauty!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 24 March 2011 19:08

This absolute beauty is a heathland specialist spider called Philodromus histrio. I found it at Iping Common during an afternoon off. My afternoon off not the spider's. It's quite a large spider that I thought had the look of a heathland specialist (the legs look a bit like heather and the strongly contrasting colours allow it to blend in amongst the foliage). It is apparently uncommon although the texts say it does not have a conservation status. Either way it's a real stunner and is a welcome addition to my list. 
There were hundreds of these little bugs everywhere today and I thought perhaps that they would be a heathland specialist too. However, I think that this is the Birch Catkin Bug Kleidocerys resedae. I could well have overlooked the heathland specialist Kleidocerys ericae there. There were so many of them that one landed on my screen of my camera as I was taking this photo.
I also saw a female Orange Underwing feeding on sallow but it was too high to photograph and my first Bee-flies of the year. I ended the day on 3177.

Kentish Glory Omelette

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 22 March 2011 18:06

Here is a pan-species lister conundrum. Can you tick a species just from seeing an egg? It's good enough for a biological record, it's alive (but can you prove that?). I'm not sure. Several years ago, whilst surveying breeding birds in Scotland, we went on a field trip to look for the adult Kentish Glory but the moth's flight season had come early that year and all we found were eggs. We were shown them by the event leaders and we soon found our own Kentish Glory eggs too. I know it's a silly and pedantic question and it might only happen rarely but the only living genetic material I have seen of a Kentish Glory is from its eggs. I guess you could argue that you cannot prove that the eggs are alive as such. I wouldn't hesitate to say I had seen one if I had seen the larvae. So, have I seen Kentish Glory or not? I would be interested to hear what other furious listers think.

Fungus feeders

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 21 March 2011 19:53

I've been having a look at some dead wood today and found a few interesting things. This saproxylic beetle was new to me, Mycetophagus atomarius. I found several on fallen Beech limbs. Later on in the day I also spotted a single specimen of the nationally scarce (Nb) Mycetophagus piceus on some red-rotten oak. I also found several elytra of the Nb Helop caeruleus, a species I have yet to see alive and/or intact.
Always good value is the Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelipiedus.
Perhaps most unusual was this recently dead Fieldfare I found underneath a hollow tree, a beautiful bird up close. A nicer surprise today though was the trilling of several Waxwings, there were at least four coming down to drink from water gathering high in an old tree. A really nice day and I'm looking forward to the summer's fieldwork!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 20 March 2011 17:33

Is glaucousness a word? It is now. I have a fetish for glaucous plants and this moss is no exception, I can't believe I haven't seen it before. It's Silver-moss Bryum argenteum. There was lots of it growing on an old concreted dew pond on a farm survey this morning. I also found another very common species that was new to me there Grimmia pulvinata and some unidentified crusty lichens. They may well stay that way too.

The birds were pretty quiet today but I did spot a few invertebrates. This Prussian Plate-jaw Leistus spinibarbis wouldn't keep still for a photo but I like this shot anyway. I also found a little beetle known as Scaphidema metallicum.
I found two new ants today too, including this one which after much staring at down the microscope I am fairly confident is Myrmica scabrinodis. The other ant was Lasius alienus. Another day with four additions to my list leaving me on 3163.

Third time lucky!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 19 March 2011 19:05

Well today started bad. Got up at 5.00 am to do a bird survey, got in the car at 5.45 am to find that I had left the lights on when I came home from work ill a few days ago. Survey aborted. After a £62 update to my RAC cover, I finally got the damn thing going again. A glorious day awaited so I went to Southerham to see what I could see. Lots of Aphodius beetles on the wing. I saw a beautiful spider that was identifiable in the field although I didn't get a photo (too fast!). A male Alopecosa barbipes with hairy segments on the front legs. A real handsome beast, Google it! Tightly grazed chalk-grassland certainly seems like a typical habitat according to the texts. Tick number one. I found these two tiny snails under an old post. Bear in mind that each snail is under 3 mm. The snail on the left is new to me and is the Moss Chrysalis Snail Pupilla muscorum. Tick number two. The snail on the right is the tiny but beautiful Ribbed Grass Snail Vallonia costata

I then had time to have another look for Early Meadow-grass at Shoreham. Third time lucky. I found it on the causeway along the river close to the airport. Not much fun dodging dock muck, swooping police helicopters and wet dogs. It's funny how as soon as you bend down you become fair game to any dog. The moment I found the grass and then bent down to take a shot was ruined by a wet dog that jumped over me, the grass and my camera before it's mate came up and shuck half the contents of the river all over me! Anyway, here is the grass. Very vibrant green, reminded me of the colour of Marsh Club-moss. 
 Here it is on the right next to some of the ubiquitous Annual Meadow-grass.
I was worried that it would be hard to spot as you often see AMG that is small and yellowish but with EMG all the plants are consistently the same shade of yellow-green throughout. The leaves are also quite short and stubby. The arrangement of the florets on the spikelets and the shape of the anthers are the clinchers though. I was going to call this post 'Is that it!?' but I actually think this little grass is quite smart. Tick number three. Finally, I had a moss tick growing near the Early Meadow-grass which was Syntrichia intermedia being my fourth and final tick of the day leaving me on 3159 species. I finished the day off by giving a talk to BC on moths which seemed to go down quite well. Now for the the lasagne Jo made which is magnificent!

Bringing down walls

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 18 March 2011 15:56

I just keyed out my first staphylind beetle, which has presented a mental barrier to me for some time. It landed on my Weatherwriter on Tuesday as I was heading out into the field in the Woods Mill car park. I thought I would have a go at identifying it. Actually it was really easy, probably because it's the only species in the genus. It's Coprophilus striatulus and is a wetland specialist apparently. The ridges on the elytra and grooves on the pronotum are pretty distinctive and it's just over 6 mm long.

I also had a go at this acrocarpous moss growing on the wall by the moth trap outside my office window. It's the incredibly common Tortula muralis. Most of the 103 mosses I have seen are the pleurocarps so I am having to try and branch into the acrocarps to get more species which I find much more difficult. Hell of a lot easier when they are fruiting though! I might do a thorough survey of the wall one lunch time.
My pan-species list is currently 3155, I'll post a more thorough update on my list on the 1st April but  it won't be long before I have seen more beetles than I have birds.

Drearily dull moths

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 17 March 2011 12:29

drab adjective
1. Lacking brightness or interest; drearily dull.
2. Of a light brown colour.

This Lead-coloured Drab got me a bit confused today, lacking the dark marks on the specimen below (taken several years ago also at Woods Mill) I began to wonder if I had finally connected with a Northern Drab (one of my bogey moths) but after a quick call to Colin Pratt (county moth recorder) he convinced me it was an LCD. It actually makes Hypnum cupressiforme (the moss) look pretty exciting!
There were just over 100 moths (50 less than last Thursday). Several Oak Beauties stole the show but were not photographed as they only make the drabs and quakers depressed. There were lots of Twin-spot Quakers too although this one that had hardly any twin-spots caused a brief moment of excitement. So does anyone out there ever catch Northern Drab? In nearly twenty years of mothing (especially spring mothing when I'm at my keenest) I have never seen one. Had to go home from work with a fever today, so no natural history for me but I hope I'll be back on it tomorrow as I have a day off. Got my laptop fixed though!

Jim Henson's Creature Shop

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 16 March 2011 19:22

These metre high Greater Tussock Sedges (NVC community S3) always make me laugh, looking like something from the Dark Crystal, I swear they move around when you're not looking. We went to Amberley Wildbrooks today to discuss management with the RSPB. There were lots of Lapwings and a few Redshank displaying, it was looking really good. Sadly, this Lapwing was predated, probably by a Fox looking at the ends of the feather shafts. Or maybe one of the tussocks got hungry?...
Getting my laptop back top back tomorrow at long last! Moth trap is out tonight at Woods Mill too so I hope we get a bumper March catch in the morning.

Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 15 March 2011 18:24

I think this is one of the coolest looking beetles, Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetle Timarcha goettingensis, look at its feet-like tarsi! Sitting on a bed of Hypnum lacunosum it looks good enough to eat! Mapping again at Ditching today and I found another area of the community CG2aiii but this time dominated by the moss Neckera crispa which is quite an odd looking thing.
Finally, there are some big thick patches of the vibrant green Dicranum bonjeanii in this area too. I think Ditchling Beacon is a great place to learn your chalk-grassland bryophytes.

Life finds a way

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 14 March 2011 17:33

Have you noticed when you drive around at this time of year a tiny white flower (sometimes with a hint of pink) growing along the roadsides in thick strips? It's Danish Scurvygrass, a plant once restricted to the coasts it is now spreading rapidly inland growing on the exposed earth right on the edge of the road where salt is put down in the winter. I think it's fascinating that you are more likely to see this plant now from the car inland than you are walking on the coast.

I spotted this plant yesterday at Shoreham. The top photo was taken in a traffic jam on the A3 a few weeks back. I wonder if the effects of salt on road verges are accumulative,  perhaps when the salinity reaches a certain point, will other halophytes begin to spread inland? Perhaps we will end up with miles and miles of very narrow and dangerous inland saltmarshes whilst all the coastal ones disappear due to sea level rise. The title of this blog post, for those that didn't know, was stolen from Jurassic Park.

Spoon bending

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 13 March 2011 16:56

A distant record shot of the surprise Spoonbill that flew east over the old fort at Shoreham today. It was a welcome sighting having spent hours looking for the rare Early Meadow-grass which I failed to spot. I was lucky to be looking up at the right time although double-pressing the on switch on my camera in the heat of the moment and then consequently waiting in vain for the camera to turn on lost me critical seconds that ensured a distant shot. I'll have to go back and look for the grass in a few weeks, it's not comfortable botany with a bad back bending over looking for a plant that looks like a small Annual Meadow-grass.

The Black Clock

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 12 March 2011 16:31

I new today was going to be a good one when I had a singing Firecrest in the first mile! Followed up by a few Siskins over, several Red Kites, Reed Bunting and Stonechat (last two new to the site). I managed to find another Hawfinch too and some Med. Gulls flew over high calling. There was also a Lapwing on the deck which I have seen very rarely on these farm surveys. Just when I thought it was all over I bumped into  flock of 70 Yellowhammers which might be the biggest flock I've seen this winter. Finally, right by the car I heard a Chiffchaff! Also saw my first Comma and Brimstone.

The photo is the carabid known as the Black Clock Pterostichus madidus, a very common ground beetle that I have seen often but I usually see it with reddish legs. The rounded hind angles to the pronotum and the single punctures on the elytra (both visible in the above photo) help to identify the beetle. I'll keep trying until I find a species of Pterostichus that is not madidus! I don't have a clue where the name Black Clock comes from but I like it. I don't take many photos of carabids as they move so quickly!

Oh yeah, I found the remains of a Red-legged Partridge kill and took this photo of some flank feathers as they are pretty smart looking. Perhaps I'll go and look for Early Meadow-grass tomorrow...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 11 March 2011 18:01

I haven't really used the video camera much on my new camera but I had a quick go to try and capture the song of one of my favourite song birds today, Mistle Thrush or as I prefer Stormcock. I love colloquial names. Bonxie, Dovekie and Tystie are all so much better than the official names don't you think? I think Stormcock song is the best of our thrushes, none of the loud brashness of the Song Thrush or the showiness of the Blackbird. No, Stormcocks are far more understated, even melancholy. A good way to identify them is that the sections of song are shorter in length than the pauses between the sections of song.

Speaking of Song Thrush, I found this nest upside down on the woodland floor. I love the way they line their nests with mud, it's a work of art!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 10 March 2011 19:57

I've been at Ebernoe all day with Maddy measuring trees (G.B.H. = Girth at Breast Height) and mapping them with a GPS and the biggest tree we saw had a GBH of 6.56 m, quite a sight! it's important to know where the veteran trees are so we can manage for them. We saw quite a bit of wildlife in the process, including lots of Wild Daffodils that are just coming out. I hate daffodils but the wild ones are alright.

Found a few beetles today including this little deadwood species under Beech bark. I have seen it there before, it's Bitoma crenata and is only about 3 mm long.
Under the same piece of bark was this larva which I think is the click beetle Stenagostus rhombeus, a species I have only ever seen as a larva.
I found a moth at rest too which does not happen every day. It's an Early Grey which reminds me we put the trap out at Woods Mill last night and recorded 154 moths (108 Small Quakers) but no Early Greys!
Finally, I think I found one species new to me today. Being windy, there were a lot of dead branches blown to the ground and attached to one of these is what I think this lichen is: Usnea cornuta. I had a look under the microscope and it seems to fit the bill. I found a different species of Usnea that I was not so confident with. Looks like I'll be going back to the site tomorrow now to finish the job.

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