666, The Number of the Beech Jellydisc

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 30 October 2011 20:04

Had a nice walk around Ebernoe today and five new fungi and a slime mould. This Lemon Disco was a new one for me, not rare at all but one I have some how overlooked. Very poor light meant I was struggling to get good shots today but I did manage this shot of Beech Jellydisc, another new species for my list and my 3666 species. Significant in that I made it to two thirds of the way to 4000.

Me and Ray

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 28 October 2011 20:56

Sounds so much better than Ray and I. It's already on ITV Player. The wildlife and the Downs were looking great and I was pleased to see the specimen of the strange spider Gibbaranea gibbosa that I found that day on TV too.

I'm on Wild Britain with Ray Mears tonight at 8.00 pm on ITV

Posted by Graeme Lyons 17:17

I'm gonna be on Wild Britain with Ray Mears tonight at 8.00pm on ITV. We are looking at chalk-grassland, the Downs and Adonis Blues. I have not seen the show yet so I have no idea what to suspect, I can hardly remember filming it it was so long ago, way back in May. All I remember is it was very, very windy, wet and cold for May, hence the matching anoraks and grimaces. Strangely, during a break in filming, Ray showed me a cure for flatulence.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 25 October 2011 18:05

I have a week off to write up the farm surveys and also to get my life back in order after a difficult summer. It's going very well but it does mean I'm not getting out much. I have started thinking that it's about time I went on another adventure as it's been over two years since I went to Australia. I wished I had been blogging back then as it was a pretty intense time with lots to show and tell! My trip was more like Mad Max or the Proposition than Crocodile Dundee though. I did see about 230 birds I hadn't seen before, I did about 6500 km in a rented Nissan Micra but I did feel like I was about to die on two occasions, something I had never experienced before and do not want to ever again. Here is some more atmospheric music from Nick Cave and John Hillcoat's outstanding film the Proposition.
So what on Earth happened? Picture the scene. It's a very hot day in Melbourne, 7th February 2009 to be precise. So hot that the thermometer exploded when we put it outside. I wanted to go into the ranges to look for Superb Liarbird, only about 15 miles or so out of the city centre. Although I was staying with friends who lived in the city, none of us had heard the warnings about going out into the bush that day.

It was so hot that it hurt to breathe and when the breeze blew, it actually made it worse, like opening an oven door. It was the hottest day on record at 46.7 degrees. Half way round a long circular walk, ignorant to the danger we were in and where the only birds we had seen were Kookaburras in the car park and a Satin Flycatcher, we heard an air-raid siren. I cannot begin to describe how terrifying this was as it stayed on continuously for the hour it took to run back what was mostly an up hill slog. Then the wind came and trees started coming down around us. Then I saw the horizon was brown and I new this meant smoke, so the fire was not far away. For that hour, nothing but the thought of being overcome with flames passed through my mind, sheer terror.
But we got out OK and drove back down a road that two hours ago had been clear, to see it strewn with debris from the incredibly strong winds that were pushing the fires. We were amazed to drive past fires at the sides of the road and then within 30 minutes were back in Melbourne. It wasn't until we turned on the news that I realised how lucky we had been and how big this was, being Australia's highest ever loss of life from bush-fires, 173 people died that day and I had stupidly put myself and Joe right in the middle of it. It was a very sobering way to start such a trip and I will always think of the poor people who died that day. We didn't see liarbirds that day but I did stumble across them a few days later on the edge of Sydney.

I then went on to have a great time with Gee, Kirsty and Katherine in Sydney before heading out into the desert where I got more than I bargained for with some locals and I'm not talking about this Red Kangaroo but that will have to wait for another day...

The Pillars of the Earth

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 24 October 2011 18:03

I went a quick walk up to Wolstonbury Hill this afternoon to look for a Large-leaved Lime I knew was there. I managed to scupper myself by leaving the grid reference at home but fortunately I did find the tree. I took this shot looking up between the two main stems of the stool. This is a new species for me.
There was quite a bit of Wych Elm nearby too.
I found the shell of a snail that I hadn't seen before. The distinctive Large Chrysalis Snail Abida secale but I can't tick that because it was already dead. Looking at the atlas the snail is restricted to chalk in the south and some limestone in the north.

I've got Nail Fungus!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 21 October 2011 19:45

But fortunately for you and me, it's not on my body but it's on my list. I was Googling Nail Fungus to show it to a colleague and got a nasty surprise, hence the title of the post. It did make me laugh...at first, then it made me feel sick. Anyway, Nail Fungus is a rare species that grows out of horse dung and is known from Old Lodge. There wasn't much there but we did see three little patches, last year it was abundant but it has been very dry this autumn. I went on a fungal recording day today followed by a walk around the site to discuss grazing and management. Ray Tantrum lead the field trip and she was a wealth of knowledge. I added nine species to my list leaving me on 3658 species.

Species I didn't manage to get good shots of and that were new to me were: Poisonpie, Snowy Waxcap, Orange Mosscap, Pleated Inkcap and Yellow Fieldcap. The main reason for this is that mycologists have a frustratting skill of picking fungi for identification before I can get a chance to photograph them in situ!

This Russula was a new one for me being identifiable in the field by the exposed gills around the edge. It is known as Bare-toothed Brittlegill. I saw in Roger Phillips that it also has another name, the Flirt!
I then spotted two of these little guys, the rather infamous Liberty Cap but that was not a tick for me but I don't see them that often.
After a long walk around the site we bumped into the recording group again and Ray showed us another interesting fungus on a burn site. It's Pine Firefungus. I thought they looked like some kind of dessert, perhaps profiteroles or that stuff you poor on ice cream that solidifies into chocolate. Everyone else thought they just looked like dog muck. Now I'm looking at the photos I have to say that perhaps I was just hungry at the time.

East Hastings

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 19 October 2011 17:57

OK, firstly what might seem like a dull and uninspired title, as ever has a double meaning on this blog. It is in fact the name of the track by Godspeed You! Black Emperor that featured on that scene in 28 Days Later when Cillian Murphy wakes up from hospital to find everyone has disappeared...or worse. Beautifully-rich, menacing, desolate and empowering. Everything you could ask from a piece of music! Well, me perhaps. I've included a link to it below. Indulge me and hit play whilst you read the post!
It is also where I have been today in a physical sense.

I took a day flexi and met up with Andy Phillips. Andy showed me a great spot for Ivy Bees, a bee I have been looking for this autumn but have so far failed to find. There were lots in a fairly central location in Hastings. What struck me first though, and this was very evident, was not the size or the markings but the sound. So distinctive that I later identified one in flight at a different location.
Also, look how crisp these macro shots are with the old Coolpix! No cropping, no editing, straight onto my computer an then straight onto the blog. I have missed this!
And here is where they are nesting, in the earth between the sandstone rocks.
We then went onto Hasting Country Park. I was embarrassed to admit to Andy I had not been there before. Disgraceful. We headed to an area Andy calls the 'Legendary Valley' in the hope of seeing Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket and other scarce invertebrates.
What struck me the most from the top of the hill was the view. Ten years ago I would have been down there to the east at Dungeness looking up at this hill but I have never seen the view from the other direction. You can even see the cliffs of Dover, Beachy Head and the coast of France too. Through a telescope on a clear day you can even see cars in France! Quite impressive. We didn't see the Sickle-bearers or the scarce spiders but Andy did catch this male Zygiella atrica which was a new one to me. It has huge long palps and is quite different to Zygiella x-notata which is common in the kitchen at Woods Mill.
We went closer to the sea to the location of this RDB3 beetle. It's a rare weevil called Cathormiocerus myrmecophilus and Andy found it in between rosettes of Buckshorn Plantain. The beetle is tiny and exactly the same colour as the sand but if you look carefully you can see the flattish, hair-like scales on the elytra. I end the day on 3649 species.
I was quite taken with Hastings CP. The view back to the west is incredible. It really reminds me of the Mediterranean cost and has a surprisingly wild feel for the Sussex coast line. I can't wait to see more of it next summer.

Look who's back on the scene!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 18 October 2011 10:55

A big thank you to Mark Telfer for selling me his old Coolpix. Since the start of July I have felt a little like part of me has been missing. My Coolpix began making a rather ungodly sound as I pointed it at an ovipositing Hornet Beetle nearly four months ago now. It might only have 4 megapixels but it is perfect for my blog. I look forward to taking more macro shots with it. Stuck at home today with a fever though, so it's not going to be today.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 17 October 2011 20:36

I had a quick walk around Woods Mill at lunch time and did a bit of sweeping. There was very little about but I did get two new species. The first being a smart little spider called Zilla diodia. the other was this tiny little beetle (c2.5mm) that I couldn't identify at first. Eventually, after much perserverance, I stumbled across it on the website Kerbtier and then went back to Joy and the checklist. It's Psammoecus bipunctatus and is associated with sedge litter acording to Joy and that is exactly where I found it. Nice to see that I can still find new things in mid October on my lunch break but I fear it will not last much longer with the weather that is predicted. I end the day on 3644 species.

Back straight, chest out

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 15 October 2011 16:55

The top image was kindly emailed to me from Andy Swash of WorldWildlifeImages.com and shows many of the crucial ID features. Andy was also one of the people who found the bird so I am doubly thankful. Check out the website for truly stunning nature photography! Anyway, how did I get to be looking at this bird today?...

...I went to Beachy Head in the hope of finding some migrants. It was pretty dull and I had walked from Birling Gap to Shooter's Bottom and all I had seen were two Wheatears and a dung beetle in my dreads. Says a lot for what my head looks like to a flying dung beetle. I was feeling pretty despondent, when I got a text from Jake saying 'Isabelline Wheatear at Crowlink'. Just around the corner from where I was but a frustrating fifteen minute walk back to the car! 
I legged it back and hardly took anything in on the return journey. I looked down to see what I thought was going to be a Bloody-nosed Beetle on its back. I flipped it over and I realised it was a small, smooth dor beetle, a species I knew would be of note and also new to me. Although I thought it keyed out to Trypocopris vernalis, the Spring Dumble Dor, Peter Hodge says it looks more like the Heath Dumble Dor Trypocopris pyrenaeus but Mark Telfer agrees with me. Watch this space for the definitive ID.

Anyway, I got to Crowlink and the bird was showing well. I managed some record shots through Bob's telescope (thanks Bob) but I hope someone will email me a nicer one to use on my blog. A nice bird, long legs, good posture, big black beak. Very pale, thick black tail band, strikingly pale underwings but most importantly a new species for me! So, with that and the beetle I am on 3642 and this is the first triple blog day I have had in a long time! Now, I think that deserves a drink...

Avian themed fungal ticks

Posted by Graeme Lyons 11:16

Went to Ebernoe yesterday to look at the Dormice boxes there too but I don't think we encountered a single small mammal. I was keeping my eyes peeled for fungi but there were very few about. I did spot this Shaggy Inkcap but that's certainly not new for me. Pleased with the shot though.

On the way from West Dean Mark told me had seen some Parrot Waxcaps in the churchyard at Ebernoe and I new these would be a tick for me if they were still there, which they were. Not quite as bright as I was expecting but you can see the pink, green and yellow.
Just around the corner Mark had also found some birds nest fungi and I was pleased to realise when I got home they were also a tick for me being Fluted Birdsnest Fungi. Strange little things indeed. Thanks Mark, I owe you two!
Finally, I found a small male spider with the strangest palp (one was missing). It also had relatively huge chelicerae under the hand lens and it was quite clearly another news species for me. It's a common species but one I would easily recognise again being Pachygnatha degeeri. I ended the 14th October 2011 on 3640 species and amazingly have had over 7500 page views in October alone!

Moths Return

Posted by Graeme Lyons 07:17

Here is the link to the news item that Michael Blencowe, Tony Davis and I did on Thursday night with Yvette Austin, Environment Correspondent for BBC South East Today.

I was quite pleased with it actually, thought they got the message across really well and of course, great that we actually caught a number of the target species!

Furry ginger thing with a spine

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 14 October 2011 18:42

I'm not really that up on mammals so it will not come as a surprise to know that I saw my first ever Dormice at West Dean Woods today! I went out with Mark Monk-Terry and the volunteers (who all have Dormice handling licences I should add) to monitor the population there. There are 50 boxes that are checked and any small mammals are sexed and weighed, the animal above weighed only 12g. We saw I think 13 Dormice in all, and this was the only one that was in a torpor, perhaps because it was alone within a small nest. Here is a better example of a Dormouse nest.
We found a male and female in one box that were huge, much bigger than the others, and the female, one of the biggest they had ever seen, was thought possibly to be pregnant. At 35g she was nearly three times the size of the one above. It's nearly as big as Mark's hand. We left a flyer for Weight Watchers.
I don't really get cute things but I have to say they are quite cute. Compared to the hectic nature of the Yellow-necked Mouse below, that run around inside the bag like a whirlwind and don't really give the impression that they would be easy to handle, the Dormice do seem quite appealing. They are very docile, they don't bite often and even fall asleep in the bags when you are weighing them. They also look considerably less like rats and much more like tiny monkeys with their rather silly feet (look at the second photo above). So, I can see why people go all gooey eyed at them.
You can see the complete yellow band across the neck on the Yellow-necked Mouse above. Compare to the Wood Mouse below. It was a great day and it has made me realise I would like to do more with small mamals. For part two of todays adventures you will have to wait until tomorrow as Mark showed me two species of fungi new to me at Ebenoe right near the car park!

Filming moths with BBC South East Today

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 13 October 2011 21:19

So the last few weeks have been rather full on with all the media attention the Flame Brocades got. Tonight, Michael, Tony Davis and I filmed the moths with BBC South East Today with Yvette Austin. It looks like it will be on tomorrow at lunch time and on the evening news if all goes to plan!

Big up da Lewes Downs massif

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 12 October 2011 21:22

I went a walk up to Hollingbury Hill Fort today and have never really noticed what a great view of the Lewes Downs massif you can see from there if you look to the north east. You can clearly see it's a separate portion of the Downs with the very noticeable Mount Caburn (146m) on the right. Behind the quarry in the centre of the massif is Southerham and on the left behind the almost invisible football stadium is Malling Down, you can see clearly right up the Coombe. Lewes itself on the other hand, is concealed from view.
From pretty much the same vantage point you can see Truleigh Hill looking to the west, only about 5 miles away from Brighton as the crow flies but it is great to know that one of the farms I surveyed there had 50 Skylark territories, over 20 Corn Bunting territories and three singing Quail. Not only that but some really great arable plants. It's nice to know that some of the closest parts of the Downs to me are so great. It all feels so much smaller from the top of the fort.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 10 October 2011 19:43

OK, so I thought I would show some male palps (of a spider) down the microscope. I saw this spider in the toilets at work today and was surprised at how big the palps were. I thought it was going to be Steatoda nobilis but I am pretty sure (and I'm sure Andy Phillips will tell me if I'm right!) this is Steatoda bipunctata. This is actually a new species for me and although there are a number of species in the genus it was very clear which species this was. Strange to think this is watching me in the toilets all the time. It should watch out though, I have seen the rather pathetic looking Pholcus phalangioides make short work of a Tegeneria several times its size.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 8 October 2011 15:00

Alice presented me with this little crab spider last week. She found it in her hair upon returning from a day's work at Filsham Reedbed so I thought I would have a go at identifying it. I recognised it as being in the genus Xysticus but there are twelve species and need to be seperated by their genitalia. With spiders, this is all on the outside but the female's genitalia, the epigyne, is (for me at any rate) far harder to distinguish than the male's genitalia, the palps. I think this is because the palps are more complex and it is easier to observe variation between more complex structures than simple ones.
I have only ever seen one species, Xysticus cristatus and I identified that from a male specimen. Knowing that this was from a wetland and reading that there was a swamp specialist in the genus (ulmi), I gave it a go. Here is the epigyne, I think it is just the common species cristatus but this just goes to show how hard I find them. I am not confident enough to put it to species. Xysticus sp. it is then. No ticks for me and from now on I will concentrate on the males.

We've only gone and started our own podcast!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 7 October 2011 18:19

Some of you may know that Michael Blencowe and I and our new pal, Mat Davidson have been up to something of late. Here it is: our new monthly podcast, 'The Natural History of Sussex: Episode One - Fairwell and Adieu'. I'm not going to write much else other than to urge you to have a listen! Enjoy.

Like moths to a flame

Posted by Graeme Lyons 16:22

Wow! Whatever next. Our discovery of the largest number of Flame Brocades seen in 130 years that may indicate an established population has made the national press (along with the arrival of loads of other migrant moths here and elsewhere in the country). The first I new of it this morning was that migrant moths were mentioned on both BBC Radio 4 and Radio 5. I got a call from Michael about 10.00 am saying it was in pretty much ALL the papers. I grabbed a Guardian and indeed there was the article with a nice picture of a Death's-head Hawk-moth. Here is a Vestal that Penny and I caught at Woods Mill last night, yet another migrant.
Now, I get back home and it appears the story has been run in all these publications too:

BBC News Online/Interactive
Scottish Daily Express - Online
West Sussex County Times Series - Online
The Independent - Online
There are at least another 15 to add to this list. Pretty amazing stuff really. It is frightening how fast the media moves.

Since writing this it appears the moth might also be on the ITV local news between 6.00pm and 6.30pm tonight AND apparently it is going to be on Autumnwatch too!!!

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