March of the Ents

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 29 February 2012 21:08

I attended the RSPB's Woodland Warden's Gathering today (well half of it) and gave a short talk on deadwood invertebrates and their management. It was a really good day with speakers from Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation also attending, so I got something out of it too, everyone wins! I love conferences like that. It was great to see some of my old colleagues from Reserves Ecology and it reminded me that I must get up to The Lodge sometime soon, it's been four years!

I did get one new species. This common lichen Parmotrema perlatum that was shown to me by Tim Wilkins of Plantlife. Now I come to think of it, I am sure I have seen this one at Woods Mill but I have never been able to put a name to it.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 28 February 2012 21:57

Check these bad boys out! The over sized chelicerae and palpal organs of a spider called Pachygnatha clerki. This was a new species for me today that I found whilst pond dipping in the leat. Although I ended the day on 3796 species, the nicest thing I saw today I could only get to genus, it's a water cricket and there are two species separable in the males only by the genital capsule and I'm afraid I couldn't figure out which one it was! Nice looking beast though.

"Whatever happened to the American dream?"

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 27 February 2012 19:37

"Whatever happened to the American dream?
It came true. You're lookin' at it".
The Comedian (1977)*

*(for the unenlightened amongst you, that's from the Watchmen. It's a graphic novel)**
**(for the seriously unenlightened amongst you, that's a comic for grown ups, not a Mills & Boon)

It wasn't until I got back from my day trip to Rhiwderin, Wales that I realised Common Yellowthroat was my first American warbler! This is a stunning bird, as it exhibits a colour of yellow so intense, that I can't think of any British bird it shares this with, even a Golden Oriole isn't as bright. In fact, for the first twenty minutes all I saw was this colour as it crept slowly along this Bracken lined hedge. The bird only very occasionally showed in the open (and then only for split seconds) and usually all I saw was its yellow back side. Soon after I did get some great views through me old scope and Nick Bond took the shot above, thanks for letting me use it Nick!. Nick Bond and his uncle Gary Messenbird were kind enough to let me tag along on this twitching extravaganza and you can see more of Nick's work on the Widerscope pages. Anyway, this is my fourth new UK bird (and passerine) this year already. 
We also saw some smart displaying Dippers and twitched a drake Lesser Scaup at Cosmeston Lakes. Now, where is that bottle-opener, I need a beer?!

Staph shortages

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 25 February 2012 19:47

I went to the staphylinid workshop run by the BENHS at Dinton Pastures today. I got a bit more into dissecting specimens today and it was a great help working through the keys with other people. Below is the 'aedeagus' (the winkie) of a male Stenus flavipes. Whoops, I mean above. That's Chris below. Anyway, it was strikingly easy to identify from this structure alone. I am quite getting into Stenus. The other genus I looked at today was Quedius. I added five staphs to my list today bringing my staphylinid list up to a massive 24 species. Oh well, you gotta start somewhere (I should add that Emus hitrtus IS one of those 24 species but that is another story).
It was also good to see my new/old colleague/friend Chris Bentley (any of the four permutations apply). Look how studious he looks in this photo! 
Perhaps the strangest thing I have ever seen on a TV screen. The live extraction of a beetle's johnson (the beetle was dead, the procedure was live). I ended the day on 3790 species. A big thank you to all the people that ran this workshop, it really was a useful day. Now, I expect I may add one more to that tomorrow if the trip to South Wales goes ahead as planned...

The League of Extraordinary Molluscs

Posted by Graeme Lyons 07:39

I had a great day out in the field yesterday looking at molluscs with Martin Willing. Overall, an 8/10 day I'd say! Martin showed me how to survey for aquatic molluscs in ditches on the Pevensey Levels. All day I was drip fed advice on habitat management and autecology of the different species and while Martin was surveying, I was learning the snails and keying them out myself. The one downer was that I didn't see the rarest one, Little Whirlpool Ramshorn Anisus vorticulus but why don't I start with what I did see? The above photo is perhaps my favourite snail of the day, Shining Ramshorn Segmentina nitida.This rare little beast (along with vorticulus and two more species I will mention below) form a 'guild' of scarce species that often occur together. I like guilds, they help me make sense of the otherwise chaotic world of natural history.

Here is Martin surveying with the longest net I have ever seen that can get right across to the other side (and the bottom) of the ditches! Inevitably I also got smacked in the face a few times with the handle!
This next one is a bit of a 'tart's tick' in the mollusc world, actually. It's the Margined Ramshorn Planorbis planorbis. Quite widespread and common but a new one for me.
Another common snail that I saw for the first time was the Flat Valve Snail Valvata cristata, again a widespread species but also in the guild of rare species is it's much rarer cousin, Large-mouthed Valve Snail Valvata macrostoma. This was a small individual and the light was going but you get the idea...
I also keyed out this species new for me, again not scarce but a smart snail all the same, the Twisted Rasmhorn Bathyomphalus contortus. Very tightly coiled with a deep wide umbilicus.
Martin also showed me the fourth member of this guild but I didn't get a photo this time. The rare pea muscle known as Pisidium pseudosphaerium. But the fun didn't stop there, oh no! I also saw some old friends I have not seen for many years including the Nine-spined Stickleback, something I have not seen since the electro-fishing days.
And Martin also pulled out a Great Silver Water Beetle, an impressive beast. Something that I used to catch regularly at light traps at Dungeness.
Other highlights included a Short-eared Owl as we were leaving. Plenty of Saucer Bugs and a single specimen of the tiny Plea leachi. I also photographed this bizarre looking flatworm but try as I might I can't find the key. I'll have a more thorough search on my return from the staphylinid workshop today at Dinton Pastures. Right, I better get ready! Oh, I ended the day on 3785 species.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 23 February 2012 18:54

Whilst poking around in the bottom of a quarry this afternoon I found a Badger's skull. I see a lot of these now, perhaps even more than those of Fox. I am always impressed by the sagittal crest on a Badger's skull. This 'crest' is where the jaw muscles attach to and is only present on animals with incredibly strong jaw muscles. It's also meant to get larger on older animals according to one website. What is strange about this particular skull is that the crest is hardly developed at all. What's more, the skull is bigger than any other Badger skull I have seen.

Here is a more typical Badger's skull (with jaw attached).
And here are the two together.
So what is going on here? If the sagittal crest does grow with age, that suggests there may be an environmental response involved, i.e., maybe Badgers which chew a lot, get more of a work out and therefore get bigger crests? Maybe this Badger lived on nothing but earth worms and marsh mallows and didn't develop a crest? Well it sure got big on whatever it was eating. I'd be interested to hear what people think. I am going to eat nothing but toffee pennies from Quality Street now and see if I can develop my own sagittal crest. Watch this space.

And to rule out dog, which have very different hind molars, here are the only teeth present.

Moss Bros

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 20 February 2012 21:44

We recorded the outdoor session of Episode 5 of our podcast yesterday. We went to Heyshott Down with Bruce Middleton and had a great day. I added seven new species of bryophyte to my list with some quite scarce species and some very, very small species. First up we have Entodon concinnus. I have often thought I might have mistook this for the much more widespread Pseudoscleropodium purum but now I have seen it, I think I would recognise it again.

Here is the tiny liverwort with a silly English name. Top Notchwort Leiocolea turbinata.

Probably the rarest bryophyte of the day is this Riccardia palmata or Palmate Germanderwort. It grows on old rotting logs but is mainly a northern species according to the texts.

We then went into the woods where there was little other than loose soil and scree under the trees. Bruce showed me some tiny weeny mosses growing on lumps of chalk. This tiny moss is English Rock-bristle Seligeria calcyina and appears to be mostly restricted to the chalk in the south east of England. This really is a tiny moss. One or two millimetres 'high'.

But not as tiny as this Fissidens. It's Fissidens gracilifolius next to a giant 5p pence.

I ended the day on 3778 species. I have saved the most impressive till last though. Here is Rhodobryum roseum again, or Rose-moss, but these ones were much bigger than the ones I saw in the cemetery at Midhurst.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 18 February 2012 18:29

I took some good friends up Ditchling Beacon for some chalk-grassland moss identification this afternoon and it was dead good fun. A big thank you to Victoria Benstead-Hume, Carole Mortimer, Penny Green and Dave Green for making it a really fun day and providing marzipan biscuits and posh sandwiches and fresh coffee and ginger wine etc etc om nom nom lol. I think I've just made myself sick. Who would of thought four people would get so excited by mosses?! I also got five ticks out of it but only one of them was a moss...
Thanks ever so much to Victoria Hume for taking these photos, have a look at more of her impressive photography here on Flickr.

I had one moss species new for me, Campylium protensum.

And here are some of Carole's shots, thanks Carole. I think. Just remember that me and hairbrushes don't mix. I'm still picking 'things' out of my dreads now.
Here we have Neckera complanata.

And this one is Thamnobryum alopecurum.

And a large patch of Pseudoscleropdium purum. It's amazing what you can find hiding under big lumps of moss.
So, in between placing chunks of mosses about one's person, everyone did see a good selection of about 15 species which is about as much as most people can handle when they are new to bryology. It's a good place to start on the chalk as it's heavy in big attractive pleurocarps.

However, while this was going on I was taking advantage of a little 'tussocking' and it proved very worthwhile as I added four species to my list. Two beetles including this Chrysolina staphylaea and Philonthus marginatus.

This staphylinid is always a welcome sight. The rather smart Ontholestes murinus and this time the little bugger was completely motionless. The others I have seen were more like the cartoon character Taz in their demeanour.

I also added the ground bug Peretrichus lundii to my list. This harvestman looked different under the hand lens but really stood out under the microscope. My fifth new species of the day, the bizarre looking and southerly restricted Homalenotus quadridentatus. I end the day on 3771 species. Now, tomorrow we record the outdoor session of our next podcast too!

I've seen 10% of the UK beetle fauna!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 17 February 2012 17:58

So tussocking has really provided the goods this week at Woods Mill. I have added quite a few new species and I've become well entrenched in my new office. I managed to get the Victorian gentleman's desk into my new house with a little help from Niall Basquille. So, the new set up works well. Anyway, back to the tussocking. I have recorded the following species this week, those highlighted in bold were new species for me. Nothing particularly rare here but considering I walk around Woods Mill near daily, I was surprised to get so many ticks!

Paradromius linearis
Philorhizus melanocephalus
Oxypselaphus obscurus
Agonum gracile (above photo)
Pterostichus vernalis
Agonum thoreyi

Anotylus rugosus
Stenus bimaculatus
Paederus riparius
Sepedophilus nigripennis 
Tachyporus spp. (I think I have at least two species but need to spend some more time on them)
Stenus spp. (I have at least another two species, I need more time though!)

16-spot Ladybird
24-spot Ladybird

Common Pygmy Woodlouse
Common Striped Woodlouse
Common Shiny Woodlouse
Common Pill Woodlouse

Drymus sylvaticus

Nemastoma bimaculatum
Ozyptila brevipes
Pisaura miribilis
Tibellus sp.

Leaf beetles
Phaedon tumidulus

What this illustrates is the importance of over-wintering structure for invertebrates. I also realised quite quickly that a tussock on the high and dry in or next to a wetland can be rammed with invertebrates. My 403rd species, making 10% of the 4034 or so UK species, was Agonum gracile above.

Also this week I have got hold of the key to springtails. I have two large specimens to look at today and see how the key works...

Tussock king

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 14 February 2012 20:49

More tussocking again at Woods Mill this lunch time. Best of all were a couple of mature male crab spiders that I was able to identify to species. A genus completely new to me, Ozyptila brevipes. An amazing looking spider with some pretty strange club shaped hairs on the front of its cephalothorax and very close together eyes. We only looked at two tussocks, the most productive was a small clump of False Oat-grass on some high ground close to the wet sedgy area in Little Meadow. There were 30+ 16-spot Ladybirds Tytthaspis sedecimpunctata also present in this tussock, a species I was surprised was also a tick for me, although I know I have seen it often before, even at Woods Mill. Not sure why I have not recorded this one. The other tussock was of Soft Rush but this was not quite so productive.
As I was leaving Woods Mill today, Fran showed me a micro moth that had just landed on her computer and I was surprised that it was yet another tick. The rather smart Acrolepia autmnitella. Anyway, I end the day on 3758 species.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 13 February 2012 21:15

I went into the gents at work today and looked up to see this little critter. It's a Buzzing Spider Anyphaena accentuata. I've only seen this spider once before at Eridge Rocks last summer. It's not all that scarce but if you look at the spider atlas, there appears to be a dearth of records in central and western Sussex. Is this the true distribution or is it just down to a lack of spider recording in Sussex? It's a nice spider all the same and really easy to identify, not only being the only one in the genus but the only one in the family!

I was chatting with Patrick Roper last week and he was telling me all about tussocking, something I have never tried. Simply sawing off a large grass tussock close to the ground (these ones were Cock's-foot) and shaking the tussock onto a white tray or sheet. So, Penny Green and I headed to the valley field with a saw and some white trays. I was surprised at just how much we saw, rove beetles were the most frequent beetles, followed by carabids and one leaf beetle. A few spiders and woodlice too. I have plenty of identifying to do down the microscope but that will have to wait for another day...

M25 covered in snow

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 9 February 2012 14:05

I went to Chailey Warren briefly on Tuesday. I went there to carry out an NVC survey. In winter you ask? In the snow? Well, yes. It's a small site and I had already mentally assigned the vegetation there to a very small number of communities so it was simply a matter of rolling up with an aerial and drawing on the handful of polygons. In the centre of the site, there is an area of under grazed Molinia mire (NVC community M25). The tussocks of this deciduous grass can be seen more clearly in the snow. It's been under grazed due to a lack of access to the site. Things have changed now though and the reserves team are currently putting a new fence line in so we can graze and add some structure as well as help slow down the encroachment of birch and bramble. This management should help the Marsh Gentian which was still present on the site during a visit in 2011.
I did get a new moss for me, a very common species that I am amazed I have not seen before being the Common Pincushion Dicranoweisia cirrata. That puts me on 3753 species.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 6 February 2012 17:27

There is something quite exotic about the name Paddyfield Warbler but I can't quite put my finger on what. In the flesh, there was nothing exotic about the little brown jobbie that I twitched at Pagham. An impressive find none the less by Pagham Harbour's Ivan Lang himself (thanks for allowing me to use the photo Ivan). The best way to show how bad a view I had of the bird is to put your computer at the end of the garden and look at the photo through binoculars from your window. There you go, you might as well just tick it and be done with it. It was nice to re-find it after nearly an hour of it not being seen though. Also, there were less than 10 birders there, probably put off by the weather, which made it a little more fun.
Other birds included Water Rail, Corn Bunting and I thought I heard a Bearded Tit but I was too busy looking at the little brown job. It was spending most of its time in the rank grass and occasionally would fly up onto a reed stem. You could see it was quite contrasty even at distance. Anyway, my 341st bird and 3750th species. Three new birds already in 2012.

Recorder 6.17.2 has arrived in the post.

The red pill or the blue pill?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 5 February 2012 15:57

"You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." -Morpheus

So here I stand, on the edge of the abyss. I can take the blue pill and carry on recording just in my notebooks, always struggling to find the time to enter my records into the SxBRC database and ultimately producing boxes full of notebooks when I die for some luckless cybernetically-enhanced data entry clone to painfully process when I finally kick the bucket in 2061 or I can take the red pill, and start entering the biological data that I have been collecting for the last 23 years and produce some sort of meaningful database whilst maintaining a far more sustainable system of new record keeping. Ha ha, I just re-read this, I am starting to sound like Charlie Brooker! Anyway, I chose the red pill. It's gonna be a tough journey but one that I am now committed to.

I am going to use Recorder, as that is what the SxBRC uses, so I want to be able to sync with the database easily. I'm also opting for online storage for backup. I have just requested the latest version and I will begin when this arrives by databasing the history of this blog first. Then I will concentrate on Sussex records, then I will process each taxanomic group at a time.

Here is what I think must be my oldest records.
Interestingly, the thing that made me realise that I needed to do this and do this now, was the presentation I put together on pan-species listing yesterday. I've always known this time would come but something has changed in that I now really want to do it and I'm actually quite looking forward to it. It will mean that this year, I might be a little less active in the field. I will however, be updating on the progress of my database on my blog so that other people may be encouraged to do the same thing.

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