19,000,000 years ago...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 31 March 2014 21:54

I have updated this post having realised that what I found at Burton Pond was quite unusual. Here is the original post:

'Just a quick one tonight. I was looking through some specimens from the survey at Burton Pond and came across this strange long white crustacean. I was stumped at first but then dug out the FBA crustacean key and got it to Niphargus aquilex. I had never even heard of this genus and I'm not surprised either, being that they are mostly underground/cave-dwelling species! I found this one at New Piece by sieving sphagnum! Has anyone else encountered this species/genus?'

Twitter went crazy after I posted this and someone sent me this link to this paper stating these creatures have remained unchanged for 19 million years and are the oldest (in the evolutionary sense) living things in the UK. There are some great facts from Mr Anonymous in the comments section that show that although not scarce, this is an animal that you rarely stumble across, you have to go looking for them. I love chance encounters like these.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 30 March 2014 11:37

"In astrophysics, spaghettification (sometimes referred to as the noodle effect) is the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects into long thin shapes (rather like spaghetti) in a very strong non-homogeneous gravitational field, and is caused by extreme tidal forces. In most extreme cases, near black holes, the stretching is so powerful that no object can withstand it, no matter how strong its components."

Yesterday Mike Edwards and I set up a new invertebrate survey at our land holdings at Burton Pond, one of the areas we surveyed was the infamous Black Hole, the only reserve I am slightly frightened of going into. Instead of a singularity, it's full of deep pools in among sphagnum, Tussock-sedge and Cranberry. So no spaghettification occurred other than to my brain, as I was physically and mentally exhausted afterwards. It's quite hard to get about in there and the whole experience is punctuated by moments where you think you are going down a deep hole followed by the relief it's not that deep after all. Yesterday we didn't get too wet but we did get a good list of invertebrates, the highlight for me so far was the ground bug Pachybrachius fracticollis and loads of water beetles from the sphagnum filled pools, which are yet to be identified.

At New Piece, an area of sphagnum and wet heath that is much easier to walk through, I finally caught up with Heather Shieldbug Rhacognathus punctatus (above). Considering how much time I spend sweeping on heathlands, I am surprised it has took so long. The funny thing is I didn't find it by sweeping. I sieved from a clump of sphagnum!

I swept a reed beetle from the edge of Burton Pond which turned out to be the Nb Plateumaris affinis. This area is known to be very good for reed beetles. I only managed a poor photo. I better get on with these identifications, 85 species identified from yesterday so far. I believe this will be a very rich survey and might throw up a few surprises...

When liverworts look like mushy peas

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 27 March 2014 20:27

Here we have the liverwort, Scapania undulata, one of many scarce bryophytes I saw yesterday in a ghyll in Long Wood near Wakehurst Place. I think it looks a bit like mushy peas. Here is the same liverwort with the striking cranefly Tipula vittata.

Tom Ottley and Jacqui Hutson were kind enough to allow me to tag along and show me some of the scarcer ghyll stream bryophytes and this particular ghyll had lots of rare species.

Perhaps the rarest moss we saw yesterday was the strange and tiny Tetradontium bownianum but it is so small and grows in such shade that a photo wasn't an option. Second rarest was this tiny liverwort growing on a rock in a ghyll stream Jungermannia pumila, another species with a very north western distribution.

This a great big patch of the pleurocarp Hyocomium armoricum, another species of moss I have never seen before. Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage can be seen flowering along the ghyll too.

I finally connected with Hay-scented Buckler-fern!

Finally, not rare but one of the few common shield bugs I didn't have a photo of. This is the Bronze Shield Bug Troilus luridus.

Sallow complexion

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 23 March 2014 12:54

Last week at Flatropers Wood, we started an invertebrate survey with amazingly good results for March. We recorded 93 species, that's before adding Chis and Alice's identifications onto the list. There were lots of bees and I was determined to give them a go. I usually pass bees on to James but this time I thought I would attempt the daunting keys. All the bees I collected were Andrena and Nomada, both large genera with around 70 and 30 species respectively. Nomada are the cuckoos of Andrena and therefore they have a complex relationship.

Now I need to get all these identifications checked but I believe the two female bees above to be the larger Andrena apicata (Nb) and the smaller and commoner Andrena praecox. Both are early spring bees that can be found nectaring on sallow blossom. A critical feature is this slightly indented tubercle on the labrum of Andrena apicata. Amazingly, this was the first invertebrate we recorded of the survey!

I am confident that this is the male Andrena praecox with the large tooth on the mandibles and notched tip to the last abdominal segment.  A very different looking beast to the female.

I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed keying these bees out. They took ages, I'm still not 100 % sure on all of them so I will get them checked but I have definitely caught the bee bug this weekend. A couple of on line resources that are invaluable for learning about bees are the BWARS website and Steven Falk's photostream on Flickr. We have recorded 12 species of aculeate on this survey already so make sure you make the most of the sallow blossom this spring. On Friday I saw at least four Criorhina ranunculi on sallow in the glades at Ebernoe. 30/03/2014 UPDATE: I ran the specimens past Mike Edwards and he confirmed they were all correct, not bad for a first attempt at Andrenas!

Dabchick magnet

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 21 March 2014 17:28

A couple of days ago at work, Brian rushed into the office and said he had seen a pair of Little Grebes on the lake! Now this might not seem like much but it's not happened in the six years I have been at the Trust. Last January we removed around 1800 carp from the lake as they ate almost everything, plant or animal. This was not a functioning ecosystem with all the nutrients locked up in large non-native fish. We then left the lake dry over the summer to allow the ecosystem to reset. So now, over a year later, are we only just starting to see the conservation benefits. I rushed out to see the birds and saw this one skulking around in the reeds. I spotted someone with a telephoto lens and asked if they could take a photo so I could blog about it. So a big thank you to Steve Lillywhite (what a perfect name for this post!) of Kestrel Photography for allowing us to use this image. I forgot how smart these birds are in breeding plumage.

Now it's hardly Slimbridge but also on the lake were five drake Mallards, four Moorhen and two Coot. There is usually a big fat NOTHING on there this time of year when it comes to wildfowl, maybe a Mallard or a Moorhen if you're lucky. All the birds were actively feeding and Mike said he even had a pair of Tufted Duck on Tuesday! This is a fantastic conservation success story and it was a pleasure to see the Little Grebe actively feeding at the back of the lake but that was nothing compared to a burst of 'Little Grebe whinnying' as I left the office on Wednesday! A sound loud enough and distinctive enough to change the feel of Woods Mill for a whole summer if they stay to breed.

By the way I'm very proud of that pun.

Does my bum look big in this?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 20 March 2014 21:35

Myrmecophile: An organism, such as a beetle, that habitually shares the nest of an ant colony.
My field season started with a bang today as Alice, Chris and I went to Flatropers Wood in East Sussex, not far from the Kent border, to set up an invertebrate survey there. It's not a SSSI or even an SNCI and as a result I don't get over there very much. It does have some great invertebrate habitat though and a survey was long over due. The best area we surveyed was a heathy woodland ride with plenty of wood ants and I was hoping for some interesting myrmecophiles. I wasn't expecting to get the Scarce Seven-spot Ladybird Coccinella magnifica by sweeping around the first wood and nest that I came across but I did! They are strikingly different to the much commoner Seven-spots. Much bigger spots, four white spots on the underside (rather than two) but most obvious is the difference in shape. The back of the elytra is really bulbous, it drops away almost vertically to the ground, it looks a bit like a cycle helmet in profile. Or even like a toy ladybird!

We picked up lots of spring species too, such as Orange Underwing, Green Tiger Beetle, Dotted Bee-fly, Gonea picea and quite a few yet to be identified bees, mainly Nomadas and Andrenas. So good to start surveying again, looking forward to seeing what we find there over the year. I end the day on 4900 species too. Not far to go now until 5000.

That leaves one question: WHY, given the Latin name, did they not call it the Magnificent Seven-spot Ladybird?!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 17 March 2014 21:00

I spent the weekend up north and went to the sand dunes at Blyth Bay in Northumberland. Now, I've not got much experience at working sand dunes and given how windy it was, the only thing I took with me was a sieve and a tray. It didn't take long to find invertebrates though. My highlight was loads of these quite large pseudoscorpions that even have an English name being the Marram Grass Chelifer Dactylochelifer latreillei. It's associated with Marram Grass on the east coast. Now, it's hardly a 400m long Shai-Hulud but another dune specialist I sieved from litter was the millipede Cylindroiulus latestriatus. I had a carabid tick too, all the Bembidions I saw were the same one, Bembidion aeneum. I'll be back in the summer.

I kicked up a single Snow Bunting from the dunes too, which was a nice surprise, it might even be my first for four years.


Posted by Graeme Lyons 12:47

It's that time of year when suddenly so much natural history is happening that I don't have time to blog about it. Last Thursday I was lucky enough to go into assorted dark dank places in West Sussex including railway tunnels, ice house and cellars. It was a pan-species lister's dream with Tony Hutson on bats and fungus gnats (Tony literally wrote the book on fungus gnats) and Tom Ottley on bryophytes, I had high hopes from the outset. My first record of the day was a singing Firecrest and I went on to record six singing birds throughout the day, amazing how common they are in this part of the world. I only heard one Goldcrest all day! Anyway, bryophytes. You may be forgiven if you thought the above photo was just a bad paint job, it was in fact the tiny moss Eucladium verticillatum. When this moss first starts growing (called protonema) it does look like a wash of green paint so Tony, I am sure Tom will forgive you for dismissing his taxanomic group in one sentence!

Invertebrates were few and far between for me, I only saw one Tissue all day and a few Heralds. This was the fate of one Herlad moth and no, it's not having a bubble bath!

In all of the places we went, the spider Metellina merianae was present but I am yet to see the larger Meta in Sussex, it must be rare down here as these sites are perfect for them. In one place I saw about ten Nesticus cellulanus too which was great. Other than that, the only spiders we saw was a single Pholcus and a female Labulla thoracica. In one wet tunnel, there were pools of water with Water-crickets Velia caprai happily spinning about in the dark! I think my invertebrate of the day though was a stonking Hypera nigrirostris that I caught in flight with my hand walking to one of the sites. That is one good looking beetle! I always remember Mark Telfer telling me you should always try and catch beetles in flight as they are often interesting and it certainly does pay off. In the last two days I have seen two new beetles doing this and I didn't even have my net!

Tony identified this strange larvae as Speolepta leptogaster and it's apparently the closest thing we have to a true cave specialist fungus gnat!

It was a great day out, I love getting into extreme environments, you don't see huge amounts but what is there is usually very interesting and highly specialised. Alas, this was almost certainly a one off opportunity for me, as access into these areas is greatly limited due to the importance of these sites as bat roosts. A huge thank you to Tony and Tom and also to Sue Harris for organising the day!

Kinder Egg of the Dead

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 13 March 2014 21:11

This is the Cedar Cup, an unusual fungi that can be found beneath Cedars and therefore, is often found in churchyards and cemeteries. I saw these ones in Midhurst thanks to a tip off from Sarah Patton but as I was photographing them I suddenly began craving sugar but I couldn't think why.
Then it dawned on me. With the creamy white inside layer and chocolate brown outer layer, they look just like Kinder egg chocolate! So who took my surprise?! I think Sarah must have raided all of them.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 9 March 2014 11:55

There are four pirate spiders in the UK in the genus Ero. They are smart looking, have a very cool ecology and of course are blessed with a rather silly name that lends itself to many bad puns. I encountered my first Ero at Stedham Common, the Nb Ero tuberculata. The second species of Ero I saw was in my garden in Brighton last year being Ero furcata. Yesterday, at my secret site just north of Brighton I went and started an invertebrate survey I am doing there for fun this year. I am treating it seriously though using a standardised methodology and after some sweeping in the meadow (where I spotted my first Brimstone of the year) I spied an old pile of grass cuttings. A little sieving produced a lot of invertebrates but best of all was my third Ero, Ero cambridgei (photo). That leaves me just the one Ero now, which Mark has found on his bedroom wall! Pirate spiders are so called because they predate other spiders, pretending to be prey in other spider's webs they then attack the spiders and suck them dry through a hole in the leg!

Other highlights from same patch of cuttings yesterday included Sepedophilus littoreus and Ozyptila simplex. In the nearby wood I also saw a new saproxylic beetle, Orchesia micans, a Nb species that I beat from fallen Ivy. At least eight species I hadn't seen before from just two hours in the field including two  new spiders was not bad at all!

So where is the most likely place to see my missing Ero (apahana)? Once confined to heaths it now seems to be easier to find it on bedroom walls or gents toilets! I'm sure it's nothing that a broad sword or a 'pass through rock' spell can't sort out though...


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 7 March 2014 15:37

I'm still feeling rough so I'm trawling through old files to find interesting tales from the past. In 2007 I spent a month working at Abernethy RSPB with Mark Gurney, helping them carry out bird surveys. There were lots of great things to see there but a day that really stood out was when we went up Cairn Gorm on the 5th May. We were in search of Ptarmigan and Dotterel and we had excellent views of both. Amazing how confiding these birds are. 

I just love spending time in the mountains, so many new things to see! Lots of good plants such as Interrupted Club-moss, Alpine Hair-grass, Curved Wood-rush, Dwarf Cudweed, Sheathed Sedge and Stiff Sedge. But as is often the case, it's the things that you are not expecting to see that get you most excited. We saw a few of these little moths flying around in the sun shine that totally confused us. As we were looking through the photos afterwards, one of us was arguing for Black Mountain Moth and the other for Netted Mountain Moth. Of course, neither of these were anywhere near the mark. It's Broad-bordered White Underwing. This is quite a nice mountain moth and we were lucky to stumble across such a rarity!
By the way the moss in the background of the photo is Racomitrium lanuginosum. I have not been to Scotland since I left the RSPB. I really must get up there again soon...

Beardy weirdy

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 3 March 2014 12:13

Almost ten years ago I carried out an NVC survey of Cliffe Pools reserve in north Kent when I worked in the ecology department of the RSPB. Now I am off sick today and found myself looking through some old photos hanging around on CDs. The most striking of which is this grass, Annual Beard-grass. This strange looking grass is listed as nationally scarce but I saw more of this in this one place than I have seen since and before combined!

I believe the centre photo to be the hybrid between Annual Beard-grass (left) and Creeping Bent (right).

In fact, I notched up masses of new species there. Lots of rare coastal plants such as Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass (below), Curved Hard-grass, Sea Clover and Toothed Medick.

I stumbled across the nationally scarce b Rosy Wave which I have not seen since.

Birds were good too. I found my only ever Blue-headed Wagtail.  A Terek Sandpiper turned up within hours of me being on site and there was a nice twitchable Trumpeter Finch a few miles down the road.

I also saw the Shrill Carder Bee Bombus sylvarum which again I have not seen since. I have not been back to Cliffe since 2005 and I really should. It is a cracking nature reserve with dynamic communities. I do hope the rare early successional habitats there a still thriving. If only I was more switched on to beetles when I was there!

The Natural History of Pan-species Listers

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 2 March 2014 13:27

I gave a talk at the the Surrey recorders seminar yesterday, an updated version of a talk I gave to the Sussex recorders back in 2012. Half way through the talk I hijacked my own presentation with a short presentation called 'The Natural History of Pan-species Listers'. As the PSL community gave me the information to do this, I thought it only right to share it with everyone. Please bare in mind that this is only a subset of a maximum of 28 of the 51 listers that gave me their info. There have been some interesting changes in the last two years. First off. The number of people doing it! I couldn't get everyone onto a single slide for 2014! I imagine the website can't come soon enough for Mark at this rate!

The other interesting thing was the change in age classes. There has been a rapid increase in the number of twenty somethings which is really encouraging.

Here is the list size versus age graph which basically shows the rate at which you have seen what you have seen!
I find this really interesting. Jonty and Dave are clearly out at front. Mark, Richard, Scotty and I are all more or less lined up. There is the obvious cluster of the 'twenty somethings', another cluster in the 'forty somethings' a strange void in the 'thirty somethings' and beyond that not a lot of meaning at all. Another way of displaying this is...

But the balance between men and women needs a little working on!

I have the 2012 and the 2014 PSL atlases too but I just need to check if I can put them online. 

Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I had a few comments about the lack of mycological expertise expressed in the rankings. My answer to this was that they just haven't signed up yet. It seems to me that you can either go down a predominantly invertebrate route with this, or a predominantly fungi and lower plants route. As it's taken off with the former, I believe most of the people are drawn into it are currently more invertebrate focused. To have a few experts in mycology in the rankings with huge fungi lists would be great and would start to address this balance.

I also heard a sad story that a young lister was told it was a waist of time by their university lecturer! I think it was something along the lines of "all you would ever record are common species that nobody is interested in"! I believe this to be a very misinformed comment and I'm glad that who ever it was has stuck with it!

Another comment made seemed to think that most people could never tackle the keys out there with any competency and it would just produce lots of rubbish records. This goes totally against my approach to this and why I support PSL so much. My attitude is this, if someone else can do it, then I can do it and the only thing stopping me is not having the right equipment or literature. By being fearless with natural history and tackling new groups I have completely changed my approach. New taxa, keys and nomenclature are now something I thrive off not hide away from. Things are only hard when you don't know how to do them! I am not saying I haven't made a few mistakes along the way, but that's what county recorders and people further up the list are for!

A final point which I will be including in the website is the concept of PSL site rankings. This would be great way to engage nature reserve management staff in recording on their sites so if you have the ability to start putting a site list together (not just for a single person I should, a collective effort over time for a site) or already have one then please pass it on to me. It would be nice to have a few lists to kick start the website. Many people who are not interested in PSL have told me they would be interested in this. Rye Harbour for example must be up there as one of the most biodiverse sites in the UK.

Finally, as Scotty missed it. Here is the slide I put up to show that I am not in anyway competitive!

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