Tom Ottley Crew

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 18 December 2012 07:00

On Sunday, morning I met the new county moss recorder, Tom Ottley. We went to have a look at a suite of VERY small acrocarps on a small south-facing bank on the north side of Malling Down. Now to mix things up a bit, I was doing this about 20 hours into a 24 hour fast. A rather dodgy stomach (that the doctor has just told me is norovirus) meant I had to take some drastic measures. Having a very high metabolism, this was very tough but I did find looking at mm tall plants a welcome distraction. So first up we have a plant that only this week Tom recorded here as a first for Sussex, it's the nationally scarce Microbryum starckeanum and is typically 1 -2 mm!

Just when you think things couldn't get any smaller, Tom said 'There is something growing UNDER the starckeanum'! It took a little while to see, but there indeed were the prostrate shoots of the even smaller Microbryum curvicolle.
However, it was the third Microbryum that has to win the prize for most unfortunately named moss of the day. With shoots less than 1 mm tall, here is...Microbryum rectum in all its glory!
Another very nice looking moss was this nationally scarce Pleurochaete squarrosa with some leaves showing their characteristic shrivelled nature when dry.
And also this Common Aloe-moss Aloina aloides with its distinctive leaves.
And here is the man himself on the south facing bank! I added nine acrocarps to my list today (4143) and also managed to learn an entire new community in the process which will help me to help the Trust conserve these little known plants!

Interview with the Taxonomist

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 15 December 2012 14:17

Here is the interview I gave to Emma Sayer for the British Ecological Society bulletin a few months back. If you zoom in it becomes easier to read.
I'm really pleased with the article, it's great to have the opportunity to say some of this stuff and get the message across. Also, have a look at this blog post, written by a very eloquent ten year old is both familiar to me and I hope inspiring to others. We just need much, much more of this.

Damsels in distress

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 10 December 2012 21:06

Last week I was identifying some invertebrates from a survey I did of the lake at Woods Mill in the autumn of last year and this summer. Having identified all the beetles I was working on the dragonflies and damselflies. The first big shock was that I didn't record a single dragonfly nymph AT ALL! No doubt eaten by the carp. Working through the damselfly nymphs I recorded four species. Several Blue-tailed Damselflies, a few Azures and a single Large Red. One large species however dominated the samples being both the most numerous and the largest at nearly 30 mm. What was strange though was that this species, although known from the lake, never appears that numerous. The Red-eyed Damselfly nymph is an impressive creature with strange and beautiful 'caudal lamellae' (the three 'tails' at the tip of the abdomen). These structures which are used for respiration, are particularly well marked in this species, there is something distinctly oriental about them. I wonder if something in this species's behaviour allows it to evade the carp? It was fascinating to learn to identify a different stage in a group of species I know so well. Next time I get a minute to work through the samples, I will try the case-bearing caddisfly larvae.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 27 October 2012 07:29


The process by which a wild plant or animal, through being particularly well marked, rare and cute, is rendered down to the level of a sickly-sweet pudding in the eyes of drooling Internet obsessed naturalists.

I just had to get hold of some decent photos of the Desert Wheatear (or Dessert Wheatear as I think you'll find fits better - but Pudding Wheatear is a step too far?). A big thanks to Juliet and Chris Moore who took the top and bottom shots respectively. It really does look good enough to eat. In fact, I might put this bird right up there as one of my all time favourites. It leads to one burning question though. Is there a Starter Wheatear and what does it taste like? I mean look like?

No wheatears (of any kind) were consumed during the writing of this post and the author does not in any way condone the eating of wheatears. Now has anyone ever noticed how much Great Shearwaters look like Vienetta?

Operation Desert Wheatear

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 26 October 2012 14:02

I think these are the darkest conditions in which I have ever ticked a new bird. I found myself on Worthing sea front before light to see the Desert Wheatear which was even more effortless than the Siberian Stonechat at the weekend. This is my 4095th species of all time and my 7th new bird of the year. I hung around for a bit until the light conditions got a little better but I had a narrow time window. This is a really nice bird and also incredibly tame. It's also very well camoflaged against the shingle and is almost exactly the same colour as a can of Special Brew. What's gonna turn up next in Sussex?

Nice 'N' Spicy

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 22 October 2012 06:59

Do you remember Nice 'N' Spicy Nik Naks? That's exactly what these little fungi reminded me of. I had a great day at Ebernoe with Jennie looking for fungi. Scarlet Caterpillar Club Cordyceps militaris was one of the target species and there were loads in the churchyard, I walked right past them! On the end of each of these, burried underground, will be a moth pupa (not larva like the different species of Cordyceps from Mill Hill). I'm not sure if this one is host specific or a generalist on moths that burry themselves underground when they pupate. I imagine Large Yellow Underwing would be a good host but many species of noctuid could be candidates. Some of the fungi go a bit wrong and develop some strange protuberances.
Considering the rain, numbers of fungi were very low and we didn't see much else beyond the usual Saffron-drop Bonnets and Garlic Parachutes. I saw this Lapidary Snail on the Brick Kiln, only the second time I have seen this strongly-keeled snail and we also stumbled across the BIGGEST Wild Service Tree I have seen (measurements to follow). I can also recommend the venison at the Stag Inn at Balls Cross. Back to Ebernoe today for work. It's a hard life!

From Russia with Buff

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 21 October 2012 07:28

I was just having an afternoon kip when the following text conversation occurred:

Everitt: Siberian Stonechat at Birling Gap
Lyons: Have they split it?
Everitt: Yup
Lyons: s*#@!

Being in a bit of a rush, I didn't have much time to take photos. Instead, I realised it was easier to take a photo of someone else's photo. You'll realise why when you see my 'best' photo below. This was a ridiculously easy bird to see. Only 25 miles from home, about 50 metres outside of the car park and, as you would expect for a chat, very easy to see.  It was also landing so close that I couldn't focus my scope on it at times.  Siberian Stonechat is my 6th new bird (and 5th new passerine) this year, must have been years since I saw that many. Thirteen Corn Buntings provided a fly by but I didn't see the Merlin that Oli saw minutes after I had gone! It's been a good week for me for birds as I flushed a Ring Ousel from a hawthorn bush at Marline earlier in the week. Anyway, thanks to Andrew Whitcomb, birdwatcher and hand model, for allowing me to use the above photo. It's so refreshing to turn up to a twitch and NOT have the craziest hair.

Now, shall I enter this into wildlife photographer of the year?

'Come inside and meet the missus'

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 18 October 2012 07:41

We found this strange caterpillar crawling up a Beech tree in Ebernoe yesterday. I was convinced it was a tussock of some kind and after a little searching I realised I was right. Kinda. It's not a tussock in the true sense. It is in fact a noctuid moth. It's the larvae of the Nut-tree Tussock, a larvae I have not encountered before. A common enough moth but is this a case of Batesian mimicry in larvae? It looks close enough to a Vapourer moth larvae to have briefly fooled me. I had a strange feeling that I had encountered this fella before somewhere. Then I suddenly remembered where...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 28 September 2012 07:13

So this is the longest I have gone without writing a post since I started this blog. Burned out, taking a break from natural history, whatever you want to call it my enthusiasm to do much outside of work is at an all time low. Strangely, I'm not worried about this. So last week, when I started one of the timed invertebrate counts at Iping, I wasn't expecting to get that excited. Boy was I wrong!
After rather a dull start we moved onto the grazing trial plot where we recorded Hornet Robber-fly and a number of dung beetles including Athodius foetens. Things really started picking up on the Stedham plot though when Andy called me over to show me a rare 'orb weaver' had just beaten off pine. I am hoping we can get a photo of this spider as it really is quite smart and totally unlike the other species in the genus. It was the Na Araniella displicata. As I was about to start sweeping I looked down in my net to see a distinctive spider of a genus I was yet to see, a pirate spider or Ero! This is a striking little spider with a cryptic pattern and strange tubercles on the abdomen. It was the Nb species Ero tuberculata. Just as I was gleefully singing 'we don't need another Ero!' I swept another one of the lumpy little buggers. It was then that I noticed the strange beetle in my net...

At first I thought it was a mordellid, but I recognised it from a specimen Patrick Roper gave me a couple of years ago. It's the Wasp Nest Beetle Metoecus paradoxus. There in the net was another one but looking quite different. This one must be a male as it had strongly pectinate antennae. I figure I had swept a pair in cop. I also recorded Ammophila pubescens and Machimus cingulatus for the first time. I even updated my list to 4089. I am eagerly awaiting DNA of a bat that I was lucky enough to see at Ebernoe a month back too but that is another story...
So am I back? I'm not sure. Someone asked me if it is affecting my work. The simple answer is no, I am still as passionate about the job. Where things have changed is the hobby side of things. So, I intend to spend the winter doing other things like BMF, Jiu Jitsu, lifting heavy things, occasional rock climbing, watching LOTS of films, writing my novel and drinking lots of beer.  So as quickly as I became animated by the survey's findings on the day, I rapidly sank back to the cold indifference that has dominated my feelings towards natural history since I returned from Ireland. Will I ever reconnect with my estranged hobby?...

Johnny Allseed

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 24 August 2012 09:02

Having mapped about two thirds of Chailey Common this week, I am in need of a break. I have found a few nice plants there hidden away in discrete corners. This is Allseed, a tiny plant that I can't even remember when I saw last. Yesterday whilst struggling through birch covered M25, we stumbled across a nice little bog pool (M1) covered with floating Sphagnum, Many-stemmed Spikerush, Bog Pondweed, Bulbous Rush and best of all, Marsh St Johnswort. This last appears to be a new site record based upon the Sussex Rare Plant Register.

I also spotted this strange web over some Gorse and on closer inspection realised it was caused by a mite. I suspect this is Tetrychnus lintearius.

The Saw in the Red House

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 21 August 2012 21:06

I don't see Saw-wort very often, this might even be the first time I've seen it in Sussex. I have taken the week off to do some freelance work at Chailey Common. NVC mapping the whole site no less! I have seen more Bracken over the last two days than I would usually see in a year. The nicest bits so far are H2c, a little H2a and M25b. The few patches of Saw-wort I have seen occur in areas of M25b in a guild with Golden-rod, Betony and Devil's-bit Scabious. They certainly brightened up the endless Bracken, Silver Birch and Molinia. I also stumbled across a Sharp-angled Carpet. I have completed the section called Red House and will be working on Memorial tomorrow, I love these old place names! The weather has really helped so far, as I have walked just shy of 13 km today with over a tenth of my own weight in volumes of Rodwell on my back so I could do without too much heat. Oh, I forgot. A big thank you to the dog owner who kindly let their spaniel lick my lunch and then walk off without saying a word of apology! You rock!

Spitting image

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 10 August 2012 10:13

This is the Spitting Spider Scytodes thoracica, a strange little synanthropic spider that appeared from behind my keyboard at work on Monday morning. It took the best part of fifteen minutes of persistent photography to get this image but it was worth it in the end. It's only the third one I have ever seen. The first was shown to me in the RSPB Lodge library by Ian Dawson, the second in my last house in Brighton some three years ago. It's not all that rare but you clearly don't see them often even when you know they are present. 

Anyway, at 6 mm, it's a bit of a midget compared to the extremely rare Fen Raft Spider Dolomedes plantarius that we have been surveying all week at Pevensey on the back of an a aquatic macrophyte survey there. I'll write a separate blog about these beasts as they totally deserve it. Here is a taster...

Surface of the Sun

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 1 August 2012 06:47

First off, all the photos in this blog were taken by Mark Gurney using his new digital SLR and I thought I would use these and see how they compare to my old Coolpix. To make things a little more dramatic, I have added a piece of music by John Murphy from Danny Boyle's much underrated sci-fi Sunshine. Possibly one of the best pieces of music used in cinema in years, the frequency that it has been used on other films and adverts is testament to this. It also goes some way to demonstrate just how hot it was at Amberley this last week. The only shade out there was that cast by the horseflies and we were begging the jet stream to return. I even bought a hat!
So I did get a few plant ticks. I finally caught up with Whorl-grass (top photo). This aquatic grass grows in the middle of the ditches. I often wondered if I had been overlooking this but it is very distinctive. And of course, it's glaucous so it's instantly better than all non-glaucous plants in my book.

Cut-grass was harder to spot this year than last year as it is not as advanced but we did see it in a number of ditches.

A couple of Chrysolina herbacea on Water Mint. I asked Mark what they were doing but he wouldn't tell me. I think the one at the back is trying to push the other one off the leaf.
I think where a digital SLR really comes into its own is photographing narrow spindly plants in harsh light. I may have to invest in one. I couldn't have got that shot of Whorl-grass with the Cooplix. A big thank you to Mark and if you haven't read the article about Mark in this edition of 'Birds' then do, it's really good. Another big thanks to Mark, Sarah, Rachel, Dave and Frances for allowing this joint project to happen, I couldn't have done it without them, there are just too many ditches!

It's strange going back to the same places at the same time of year, year after year. You cannot help but measure yourself against these seemingly static landscapes, I feel like I'm drawn into the monitoring process! So in my report I would have to say that this particular taxa is doing very well compared to this time last year! I started the ditch surveys at Pevensey yesterday and ticked Lesser Water Plantain and Thread-leaved Water Crowfoot as well as seeing a gravid female Fen Raft Spider and four nursery webs!

'One of us always tells the truth and one of us always lies'

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 30 July 2012 19:17

I had a great (although very hot) week at Amberley last week with Mark Gurney and Sarah Fisk from the RSPB. We were finishing off an aquatic plant survey of the ditches that we started this time last year. I had a few new species including Whorl-grass but the real excitement came in the form of this sedge. True Fox Sedge Carex vulpina is much, much rarer than False Fox Sedge Carex otrubae. We left the ditches that True Fox Sedge was last recorded in, by James Cadbury, until the last day. Sarah spotted this sedge and I thought it looked quite different with a darker and broader inflorescence, shorter bract and more winged stem. We called Mark over and he began to get quite animated. Well, for Mark! He was keen to take some specimens to clinch the ID and it's the epidermis of the utricles at magnification which confirmed it. Here is True Fox Sedge with roughly square cells:
And False Fox Sedge with its elongated cells. A big thank you to Mark for sending the photos over.
So it's simple. We had True Fox Sedge. But how can we be sure that it wasn't just False Fox Sedge lying? You could just watch this and make your own mind up...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 22 July 2012 10:23

Yesterday I spotted a small moth in flight on the chalk-grassland along the top of the cliffs at Seaford Head. A hint of metallic green caught my eye and I realised I was a looking at a forester moth. Now, there are three foresters and they are a wee bit tricky to tell apart (unless of course you're used to staring at spiders testicles down a microscope). It's all about the male antennae really. The scarcest one, the Scarce Forester, is easily ruled out by not having a club to the tip of the antennae. So I clearly had either Cistus Forester or the Forester. I have seen Cistus at Malling, this one is smaller than the other two with seven clubbed antennal segments. It also feeds on Common Rock-rose which I have not seen at Seaford. That left the Forester, the only one I hadn't seen. With ten clubbed antennal segments this one was looking more likely and after a quick email to Colin Pratt, he confirmed the identity. It's a new site record and it's a BAP species so I better get emailing Tony Davis at BC now too...

The Dark Knight Rises

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 21 July 2012 11:28

OK so it might not have been eight years since I last posted (just over two weeks) and my central character is hardly Bane (it's actually an alien grass called Harestail Grass Lagurus ovatus) but I finally feel like I might be coming out of my self imposed blogger's exile. At West Beach near Climping yesterday I spotted this funny looking grass growing in the sand dunes and I thought it was perhaps one that I had not seen. It's a cute little thing alright! It was indeed the first new species I have stumbled upon in weeks that I have felt compelled to identify. Now the weather has turned, will I take back to the streets of Sussex in the tumbler after being holed up in Wayne Manor for weeks? Enough of the Batman references, I don't have a tumbler. Or a cape. Or a bat cave but I do have a Fiesta, a butterfly net and a microscope so we're not all that different Batman and I. OK, we share the same number of limbs and I have a utility belt (for entomology) but that's something hey?

And yes I did see 'Rises' yesterday on the opening day at 11.00 am and yes it is bloody good! Now the sun is shining and I am off to Seaford Head...

Natural history burn out

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 6 July 2012 15:42

It's a wonderful thing having a job that is also your hobby but it doesn't come without its problems. The botanical survey season is my busiest time of year and this building intensity of work can often make me feel less inclined to go out in my spare time looking for wildlife. It usually hits me by the end of August or September but it has come early this year. I felt it happen on the way back from Ireland. So, I need to press the reset button. Extra-curricular activities are going to be dropped back to a minimal level so I can concentrate on work and relaxing. Treating work as just a job for a while is in fact quite a healthy thing, especially during busy times, and I see this process as a natural part of being a naturalist and an ecologist. So, this blog is going to be a lot quieter over the next few months. I also found having no phone or Internet for a week in Ireland a huge release.
That said, I have had some new additions to my list at Iping and Stedham this week. I got buzzed by a large shiny black beetle whilst doing some quadrats there yesterday (5th July). Without a net, I managed to knock it to the ground with the palm of my hand. I suspected it would be a Minotaur but it was in fact the Na Heath Dumble Dor Trypocopris pyranaeus that James found a dead specimen of a few weeks ago. Nice!

This blood thirsty fly was also new to me being the fairly common Chrysops caecutiens. Mark caught it feeding on his arm in the car park and batted it off. The well aimed blow was a fatal one but I saw the poor beast twitch a couple of times, all I need to tick a species. But perhaps it was the breeze catching its hind tarsi? I didn't want to waist an opportunity to learn about a new species though, so I potted the dead specimen.
Finally, a really smart staph ran across the path in front of us, the highly distinctive Platydracus fulvipes. I just checked it out on the taxon designations spreadsheet and it's down as being nationally scarce (Nb). Even better though, I just called Peter Hodge (Sussex beetle recorder) and it seems this is only the 2nd Sussex record! Peter said he had only ever recorded it once anywhere in the UK and that was at Ambersham. Even the new key states the habitat as 'uncertain'.

West life

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 3 July 2012 07:24

This is the last of the Ireland posts. We left Connemara and headed to Kerry and straight to the Dingle peninsula to a whale watching boat trip. We didn't see any whales that day, as it was too choppy to see that far, but I did get some great gen from Britta Wilkens, who is the wildlife adviser on the boat. If anyone is ever in that part of the world, you should go out on this boat, it was great! The above photo was taken from the furthest west I have ever been in my life. We saw Grey Seals and plenty of sea birds but it was great hearing about cetaceans and Basking Sharks.

That evening, thanks to Britta's gen, we headed up to Conor Pass to look for Great Butterwort. We pulled over to let a car past on a very narrow stretch of road and looked up to see Great Butterwort growing right by the road! Spotted from the car, that's how big the flowers are!
The following morning the sea was calmer and I thought I might have a chance at Minke Whale, so we headed up to the cliffs tops where Britta told us that a man called Nick Massett might be watching. Within minutes of our arrival, Nick appeared for an hour or so and just as he had to leave he got onto a Minke distant. I struggled to relocate it but then suddenly it appeared. Then another! Two Minke Whales. A long overdue lifer for me and my first whale on my British Isles list! If you look very, very closely in the photo below, you might just be able to make out a wall. The whales were so far away they were only just visible through my scope!
We walked down the road a little way where St Patrick's Cabbage was growing in profusion. I clambered up to get some photos and on the way up, I spotted a Kerry Slug.
Niall found one other too by the road and he also spotted this as being different to the St Patrick's Cabbage, it's the closely related Tufted Saxifrage.
We didn't have much time in Killarney National Park on our last day but we did see the Strawberry-trees.

And Irish Spurge.
I had a great time in Ireland, a big thank you to Niall and his family and all the people we met who helped us out being Liam Jones, Britta Wilkens and Nick Massett. Thanks also to Mark Telfer and Don Hodgers for their help too.

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