The Sphagnum yearlist begins…

In my last blog, I mentioned that I might try and find all of the UK Sphagnum species in a year; partly for fun, and partly as an incentive to learn more about the identification and ecology of this fascinating genus of mosses. Well I’ve decided that it’s a good idea (especially as I’m based in the Scottish highlands until September!), and so last Sunday (13/01) I went on my first trip out looking exclusively for Sphagnums. The area I visited was in Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms National Park. It was an area of open bog and woodland (and everything in between) in which over 20 species of Sphagnum had been previously recorded; that’s over half the British species! I was really pleased to find 17 species of Sphagnum that day. All but the commonest few were new to me this year, and 6 species I’d never seen before at all: S.affine, S.angustifolium, S.austinii, S.flexuosum, S.rubellum and S.russowii

Here are a few photos of some of the finds from that day:

S.austinii, a very distinctive species with densely-packed maggot-like branches that forms large (50cm tall) firm hummocks in bogs. It is quite scarce, and has a strongly Northern-biased UK distribution.

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A gingery form of S.fallax, a very common and variable species. I found 2 more species in the ‘Sphagnum fallax complex’ on that day: S.angustifolium and S.flexuosum. I collected so many specimens of S.fallax types, that I unfortunately didn’t photograph the two rarer species! A sub-goal for this year is to photograph all of the UK Sphagnums, so I’ll have to find them both again at some point. It has recently been discovered that there are two more species of the S.fallax complex in the UK: S.brevifolium and S.isoviitae, so finding those will be even more of a challenge!
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The beautiful Sphagnum rubellum, found several times during the day. This species was previously regarded as a subspecies of S.capillifolium.
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A typical form of Sphagnum russowii, with a large liverwort growing through it that I didn’t notice in the field! I think it may be Anastrepta orcadensis.
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The strangely spiky Sphagnum squarrosum, a common species found in nutrient-enriched sites.

The smallest Sphagnum in the UK; S.tenellum. Often growing low down at the bases of larger Sphagnums, I find its colour is usually distinctive from a distance. At the tip of its branches, it has divergent leaves that resemble an open birds beak (according to several authors, and I agree!).

I was slightly frustrated not to have photographed the rare Sphagnum affine, but I had the same issue with that as I did with S.angustifolium and S.flexuosum: it looks very similar in the field to a much commoner species (in this case S.papillosum), so I gathered several specimens for checking under high power microscopy, without photographing all of them. One specimen was indeed S.affine, but this need a cross-sectioned leaf at 200x magnification to confirm! Now I know its typical field appearance, I’ll be photographing any likely candidates before collecting a sample!

Overall, a good start to seeing and photographing Britain’s 40 (according to the latest literature) Sphagnum species. Looking forward, some of the rarer species may well involve walking out to some of the most remote flow country in the far North of Scotland, or climbing over some fairly large mountains. It’s going to be a fun challenge! 

 

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2019 PSL targets

I always like to set myself a target for each pan-species listing group. It gives me something to aim for, and makes sure I’m not becoming too specialised yet (I’ll try that in a few years!). I usually make around half of the targets I set; surprising myself by far exceeding some, and falling well short of others I though would be easier! 

The more species you’ve seen, the harder it gets to see new ones, so each year my overall goal for adding species is reduced. However, I’ve kept things ambitious this year, as I’ll be spending the first 9 months on a placement in the Scottish highlands; a relatively undiscovered area by me, where I’m surrounded by new habitats! 

So here’s a table of my targets per group. I’m going to aim for 800 new species in total, which may be too much given that I’m already on over 5000, and will be working! 

Group 2019 Start 2019 Target
Algae 81 100
Slime Moulds 2 3
Protists 0 1
Lichens 101 170
Fungi 325 375
Bryophytes 314 365
Vascular Plants 1100 1200
Sponges 2 3
Comb-jellies 2 3
Cnidarians 17 20
Molluscs 129 150
Bryozoans 5 6
Annelid Worms 21 25
Platyhelminth Worms 4 5
Sea-spiders 1 2
Arachnids 156 200
Myriapods 58 61
Crustaceans 63 73
Springtails etc. 6 7
3-tailed Bristletails 3 4
Odonata 31 38
Orthopteroids 25 27
Hemipteroids 352 400
Hymenoptera 138 175
Coleoptera 695 815
Diptera 203 260
Butterflies 39 42
Moths 714 800
Remaining Insect Orders 49 80
Echinoderms 8 10
Tunicates 3 4
Fish 58 60
Reptiles 6 7
Amphibians 6 7
Birds 302 317
Mammals 44 47
Other Animals 1 2
Overall 5064 5864

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is having a little side target; a small group where seeing all UK species in a year is plausible given my fairly busy schedule for the year! It won’t be at all easy (perhaps pretty much impossible), but I’ve decided to try and find as many of the UKs Sphagnum species as I can! For those unaware, Sphagnum is a genus of mosses whose members are known as bog-mosses. They are very important in peatland habitats (peat is formed from Sphagnum), and species often require quite specific ecological conditions to grow, making them good habitat indicators. Until recently, there were 34 species known in the UK, but with a couple of recent discoveries and several probable species splits, the number is potentially 41! I have currently recorded 17 species, all of which I will try to see again at some point in the 2019, on top of finding the ones I’ve never seen! It will certainly be a learning experience…

Here are some pretty Sphagnums of various shapes, sizes and colours… Happy new year!

2018 PSL Review

2018 has been a year full of new places and people! It started at university living down in Falmouth; I then spent the summer based at home in Cambridgeshire, but travelling to Scotland, Pembrokeshire, NW England and Norfolk in between working. Since September I’ve been based in the Scottish Highlands on a 12 month placement with the fantastic Aigas Field Centre! So I’ve been getting about the place a bit, but certainly not always had as much time as I’d have liked to look at wildlife, particularly invertebrates.

Here’s the table showing how many species per group I started the year on, what my targets were, and how many species per group I ended the year on (in green if I achieved/ exceeded my target and in red if I failed to reach my target). I managed to see -1 species of protists when I realised the species I had listed under protists was an alga, taking my total back down to 0 species, and making protists the only group for which I haven’t recorded any species.

Key stats: 887 new species, taking my total to 5064 species. Year target of 5000 total exceeded. 19 group targets reached, 18 targets not made. The largest increases per group were: Beetles (186 new species), Vascular Plants (120 new species), Bryophytes (98 new species) and Fungi (95 new species).

Group 2018 Start 2018 Target 2018 Total Species Added
Algae 40 52 81 41
Slime Moulds 2 3 2 0
Protists 1 2 0 -1
Lichens 49 105 101 52
Fungi 230 300 325 95
Bryophytes 216 260 314 98
Vascular Plants 980 1050 1100 120
Sponges 2 3 2 0
Comb-jellies 0 1 2 2
Cnidarians 12 15 17 5
Molluscs 114 125 129 15
Bryozoans 4 5 5 1
Annelid Worms 17 20 21 4
Platyhelminth Worms 4 5 4 0
Sea-spiders 0 1 1 1
Arachnids 135 170 156 21
Myriapods 54 58 58 4
Crustaceans 50 60 63 13
Springtails etc. 5 6 6 1
3-tailed Bristletails 3 4 3 0
Odonata 26 30 31 5
Orthopteroids 25 30 25 0
Hemipteroids 291 360 352 61
Hymenoptera 123 170 138 15
Coleoptera 509 675 695 186
Diptera 164 220 203 39
Butterflies 35 40 39 4
Moths 659 760 714 55
Remaining Insect Orders 28 40 49 21
Echinoderms 8 10 8 0
Tunicates 1 2 3 2
Fish 56 60 58 2
Reptiles 6 7 6 0
Amphibians 6 7 6 0
Birds 282 300 302 20
Mammals 39 42 44 5
Other Animals 1 2 1 0
Overall 4177 5000 5064 887

So that’s the numbers dealt with; here are a few highlights from the year! Many things are missing, this is just a small selection of random nice things from the 4 groups I added the most species to: Beetles, Vascular Plants, Bryophytes and Fungi, plus some new Birds, and a few other bits and pieces!

Top left to bottom right: Carabus intricatus (Blue Ground Beetle), a 35mm beast from night-time surveying at one of its relatively few sites nationally in Devon. Broscus cephalotes, a fairly frequent coastal Carabid from the Sefton Coast. Pseudaplemonus limonii, a fantastic metallic purple Sea-lavender eating 2.5mm weevil from North Norfolk. Anchonidium unguiculare, a mega-rare 2mm weevil from Oak leaf-litter in Cornwall.

Top left to bottom right: Epipactis palustris (Marsh Helleborine) from the Sefton Coast on a fantastic day out with Josh Styles and a local botanical group, with around 20 new plants for me! Gagea lutea (Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem) from near Thetford. Carex bigelowii (Stiff Sedge) from Cairn Gorm mountain, one of around 20 new alpine plants that day alone! Juncus capitatus (Dwarf Rush), one of a large selection of Lizard peninsula rarities I saw this year, including 9 (I think) new Trifolium (Clover) species!

Top left to bottom right: Southbya tophacea, a minute and rare leafy liverwort from Cornwall; a record shot at best! Sphagnum quinquefarium from NW Scotland. This odd colour form was particularly pretty! I’ve started to get really in to Sphagnum mosses towards the end of this year, and have considered attempting to see them all in 2019… Herbertus borealis (orangey) with Pleurozia purpurea. Two large (up to 10cm!) ‘hepatic mat’ liverworts from NW Scotland. Herbertus borealis is only found at 1 UK and 1 Norwegian site globally. Plagiochila spinulosa, a nice liverwort for my 300th bryophyte species!

Top right to bottom left: Sarcodon squamosus (Scaly Tooth) and its teeth! The spores drop out from between the teeth when dispersing. I found this scarce species in a Caledonian Pine remnant in Glen Affrich, NW Scotland. Pleurocybella porrigens (Angel Wings), a fairly frequent Scottish species. Asterophora parasitica, a mushroom that grows only on the decaying fruiting bodes of Russula species.

Left to Right: White-billed Diver (record shot) in Cornwall. Ross’s Gull in Dorset. Green Heron in Pembrokeshire. Ptarmigan on the Cairn Gorm plateau, one of many Scottish lifers this year including Golden and White-tailed Eagles. It’s worth a special mention about my 300th UK bird: the Baltimore Oriole on the island of Barra, where I got stuck for several days due to high winds cancelling the ferry! I didn’t manage any photos of the bird, but the image of it popping out into a bare tree just metres away will be stuck in my mind forever! I finished the year with 20 new birds.

This is a huge under-representation of the rest of the groups, but I couldn’t fit everything in with the time I had. I saw some fantastic species from most groups, but here are just 4 (of many) stand-out species this year.

Top left to bottom right: Halosalda lateralis, a scarce Saldid bug (shore bug) from a great week in North Norfolk. Ledra aurita, the UKs largest leafhopper at up to 17mm; it looks truly extra-terrestrial. Marsh Fritillary from the Lizard peninsula; beautiful. Limax cinereoniger from Devon. This huge slug is a main prey item for Carabus intricatus (the Blue Ground Beetle), so it was great to see plenty whilst surveying for the beetle!

Now, on to figuring out my PSL targets for 2019…

My other blogs from the year can be found by following the links below-

Rockpool stuff (seaweeds, isopods etc.), a bird race, some drawings and a millipede new to Cornwall: Recent rockpooling, and an assortment of other things

Twitching, bryologising, a mega-rare weevil and other invertebrates: Wildlife highlights from the last few weeks

A monster summary of half the years PSLing from every corner of the UK (almost): The last 5(?!) months

Bugs, beetles, birds and more from North Norfolk: Norfolk holiday

Loads of fungi from all over the highlands of Scotland: Demistifying fungi

 

 

Demistifying fungi

I’ve always found fungi a difficult group to get into the serious identification of. I think it’s getting started which I’ve had trouble with; with a bewildering number of species and genera to choose from, I’m always amazed by the experienced mycologists ability to recognise seemingly nondescript mushrooms at arms length! A large proportion of the species I have managed to identify are host-specific microfungi growing on plants.

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One species that even I have always been able to identify: the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Fortunately, last week I had the opportunity through my recently-started placement with the Aigas Field Centre to help out and join in with the first two days of a week-long course on fungi, led by expert mycologist Liz Holden. After just a few hours, I could feel several genera and a few species I’d never encountered before becoming ingrained into my memory! Things I’d been looking straight past as unidentifiable pieces of grey and brown matter had suddenly become beautifully textured pastel-peach Milkcaps, distinctive blue-bruising Boletes, and fascinating  parasitic Spikes (Lactarius torminosusBoletus badius and Gomphidius spp. respectively)! By the end of my two days, I couldn’t believe how much I’d learnt about the identification,  For the first time I felt as if maybe, in a few decades, I could become quite good at identifying fungi. Even examining spores and sections of caps under a high-power microscope seemed not only possible, but appealing!

Below is a small selection of fungi found around the Aigas site and in our nearest large valley: Glen Strathfarrar, which I visited with the fungi group on my second day with them.

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The lovingly-named Stinking Earthfan (Thelephora palmata), an uncommon species which smells something like rotting Onions!
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Angel’s Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens), a beautiful species found almost exclusively on rotting Pine in Scottish woodlands.
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The Horsehair Parachute (Marasmius androsaceus), a very common species often found growing on pine needles and cones, with visible Horsehair-like mycelium.
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The Silky Piggyback (Asterophora parasitica), an unusual species that grows only on the rotting fruiting bodies of Brittlegills (Russula spp.).
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The Lacquered Bracket (Ganoderma lucidum) with its distinctive waxy appearance (shared by one similar species). This one definitely seems to be sticking its tongue out!
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A Milkcap (Lactarius spp.), possibly a small Ugly Milkcap (Lactarius turpis). A rather unfairly-named species if you ask me!

These last two species I found whilst helping to lead a ‘walking and wildlife’ group around the beautiful Glen Affrich. Though they are both fairly distinctive, I was pleased to identify them without assistance! 

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The Bay Cup (Peziza badia), a deep chocolate-olive-brown Cup fungus. A widespread species found growing on soil, usually in open woodland situations.
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A fantastic specimen of Scaly Tooth (Sarcodon squamosus) meauring 20cm across! A scarce species growing with Scots Pine.
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A close-up of the underside of Scaly Tooth (Sarcodon squamosus), showing why it’s called a Tooth fungus! Tooth and Hedgehog fungi are unique in having their spores borne on spiky tooth-like structures, as opposed to amongst gills or pores in other fungi.

 

Glen Affrich: there are worse places to spend a day at work.

Seeing some of the above species and learning about how they fit into their ecosystems has really piqued my interest in fungi. I can’t recommend enough getting out there to appreciate these incredible, functionally-diverse organisms in their many colours and forms!

Norfolk holiday

Last week I spent 7 days on the North Norfolk coast with my parents. We were staying in Stiffkey, and walking the coast paths, visiting lots of fantastic saltmarsh habitats and reserves along the way. Here are a few of the better finds from the week, including plenty of saltmarsh specialist bugs and beetles!

On the evening we arrived, I managed to catch this Saltmarsh Plume moth (Agdistis bennetii) by hand whilst wandering through the Sea-lavender. A new species for me, which was quickly followed by another new micro moth: Eucosma tripoliana.

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Saltmarsh Plume (Agdistis bennetii) in its distinctive ‘y-shaped’ resting posture

Over the week, I visited the local birding site Stiffkey Fen on a few occasions. It gave some good birding, with up to 31 Spoonbills present at a time! Other birds included 8+ Green Sandpipers, a Hobby, tens of Ruff, Greenshank, Redshank etc. and hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits.

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Stiffkey Fen

One of my main target species for the holiday was the Apionid Weevil Pseudaplemonus limonii, a nationally scarce species that feeds only on Sea-lavenders (Limonium spp.). I found several individuals from a couple of sites, but saw it first at Holkham gap, by grubbing around at the base of Sea-lavender plants. Despite its magnificent metallic colouration, it can be a little hard to spot at only 3mm long!

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Holkham gap: heaven if you’re a Sea-lavender feeding invertebrate
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Pseudaplemonus limonii
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Pseudaplemonus limonii

During the search, I also found two species of Sea-lavender new to me: Lax-flowered (Limonium humile), and Matted (L.bellidifolium), along with several more new invertebrate species.

Two Saldid bugs new for me from Holkham gap. Left: Saldula palustris. Right: Red-listed Chiloxanthus pilosus.

On a walk around Salthouse and Cley, I found a few more scarce invertebrates, and a marine isopod new to me: Idotea chelipes.

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Bembidion ephippium, a nationally scarce ground beetle which I saw hundreds of at Salthouse! This is an unusually dark and poorly marked individual

Two more Carabids new for me. Left: Bembidion varium. Right: Nationally scarce Pogonus littoralis.

Two colour forms of the Saldid bug Halosalda lateralis. New to me, both found by mum!

I spent quite a while looking for insects on the saltmarshes at Stiffkey itself, finding a few of the above species in the process. A couple of things new for me that I couldn’t find anywhere else are below. 

Left: Planthopper Prokelisia marginata found on Cord-grass (Spartina). This species was found new to Britain in 2008, being native to the USA. Right: The only thing I found during a short nocturnal beetling session, the Carabid Dicheirotrichus gustavii.

A visit to RSPB Titchwell gave some good birds (more below), and a few nice insects.

Left: Woundwort Shieldbug Eysarcoris venustissimus, new for me. Right: Yellow-tail moth caterpillar.

In the garden where we were staying, I came across a winged queen Myrmica ant caught in the web of a young (and tiny!) Walnut Orb Weaver (Nuctenea umbratica). The spider didn’t seem to have powerful enough chelicerae to break through the tough cuticle of the ant, but the next day I saw the ant dead in the web, with its wings removed!

A live queen Myrmica ant caught in the web of Nuctenea umbratica.

Though birding was slightly on the back foot for the holiday, I kept my eyes and ears open, and managed a list of 103 species. Highlights included 31 Spoonbill and a Hobby at Stiffkey Fen, actually wild Pink-footed Geese (mega August-tick) and 2 Spotted Flycatchers at RSPB Titchwell, and a family of Grey Partridges plus Barn Owl views down to 6ft (!!) at Stiffkey. The bird I was most pleased to find however was a pale-phase Arctic Skua from a 45 minute lunchtime seawatch at Titchwell!

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The holiday bird list

Thanks for reading!

The last 5(?!) months

It’s fair to say I’ve been a little busy of late! My last blog was almost exactly 5 months ago. Since then I’ve been in Cornwall finishing my second year at university, back home to Cambridgeshire, and have visited Suffolk, Pembrokeshire, Cumbria, The Wirral, The Sefton Coast, and various parts of Scotland! I’ve spent time with lots of great people, and seen some fantastic wildlife along the way. Here is my attempt to sum everything up in relatively few words, with lots of photos!

30th March

I saw these two in the same tree in Santon Downham! Mandarin Duck on the left, and my first ever Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on the right.

Later the same day, I stopped off for this Coues’s Arctic Redpoll at Hazelwood Common, another lifer. Not a bad journey down to a holiday in Suffolk!

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Coues’s Arctic Redpoll

31st March- 6th April

The rest of the Suffolk holiday was good! 118 birds in the week including another lifer: White-fronted Goose (6 Greenland race birds at Trimley Marsh SWT), and other highlights of Glossy Ibis and Caspian Gulls. On the way back I met up with Reuben Nebbett-Blades who showed me a few local speciality plants in the Brecks, including the beautiful and scarce Yellow Star-of-bethlehem (Gagea lutea). I found around ten new beetle species too!

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Yellow Star-of-bethlehem (Gagea lutea)

8th April

I saw the American Bittern at Carlton Marshes SWT. One of the rarest birds I’ve ever seen!

14th April

I had a brilliant day out around Cambridgeshire with Brian Eversham, first looking at Goldilock’s Buttercups in churchyards, and then looking for anything we could find at Woodwalton Fen. Here are a few of the best things we saw.

From the churchyards first. Left: The slightly alien Bristly Millipede (Polyxenus lagurus). Right: Geopora sumneriana, the Cedar Cup fungus.

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One of over 15 invertebrates new to me from Woodwalton Fen: the longhorn beetle Pogonocherus hispidus

19th April

I got myself these two books, changing my beetling forever!

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And I got myself a new camera: the Olympus TG-4. Easy to use and with amazing macro capabilities, it seemed the ideal camera for me. Here are a couple of my first photos with it.

Left: Early Thorn. Right: Common Green Shieldbug.

24th April

A visit to Cornwall Wildlife Trust reserve Kennall Vale (one of several reserves visited towards the end of April) gave me several new beetles and my favourite harvestman: Megabunus diadema.

Left: Scaphidium quadrimaculatum. Right: Stenus guttula.

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Megabunus diadema

25th April

Found my 600th UK beetle species, the weevil Archarius pyrrhoceras.

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Archarius pyrrhoceras, my 600th UK beetle

April 29th

In the early hours of the morning, I was clambering around on the slopes of a Dartmoor river valley helping my friend Flavio with his fieldwork: surveying for the rare Blue Ground Beetle (Carabus intricatus). We were successful, finding 4 (I think) individuals, and several other interesting invertebrates.

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Carabus intricatus, probably the best beetle I’ve ever seen

Left: The snail-hunting Carabid Cychrus caraboides. Right: The slug Limax cinereoniger.

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The weevil Kyklioacalles roboris

30th April

Saw the Green Heron (7th? for Britain) in Pembrokeshire with Luke Ozsanlav-Harris, and dropped in on Black-winged Stilt and Iberian Chiffchaff on the way back to Cornwall.

Left: Green Heron. Right: Black-winged Stilt.

1st May

Woodlouse Spider (Dysdera crocata) in the Falmouth garden.

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Woodlouse Spider Dysdera crocata

2nd May

Saw the mega-rare Pygmy Rush (Juncus capitatus) on the Lizard!

Pygmy Rush (Juncus capitatus).

7th May

I finally saw a Grasshopper Warbler, after years of heard-only birds…

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Grasshopper Warbler on the Lizard

15th May

I met up with the Reading University MSc Plant Diversity group on the Lizard, and saw loads of new plants! Three of the best were the Lizard endemic Clovers: Trifolium bocconei (Twin-headed Clover), Trifolium strictum (Upright Clover) and Trifolium incarnatum mollinerii (Long-headed Clover). I also saw my 1000th vascular plants species: Trifolium striatum (Knotted Clover).

Left: Twin-headed Clover (Trifolium bocconei). Top right: Upright Clover (Trifolium strictum). Bottom right: Long-headed Clover (Trifolium incarnatum mollinerii).

25th May

I saw my first ever Marsh Fritillaries on the Lizard!

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Marsh Fritillary

28th May

Moth trap in the garden at home in Cambridgeshire turned up the Red Data Book species Toadflax Brocade. This species has been increasing its range in recent years, so probably needs its status re-evaluating to nationally scarce.

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Toadflax Brocade

3rd-14th June

I was on a week long Scotland field course with my university, plus a few days extra birding with Toby Phelps tagged onto both ends of the course. There was some fantastic scenery, amazing weather, a bunch of bird lifers, and even more new plants and invertebrates! Here are a few photos from the week and a bit.

Some Scottish scenes, including a small bit of the top of Cairngorm with me on it.

Some record shots. Left: Mountain Hare. Middle: White-tailed Eagles. Right: Long-eared Owl (honest!), a recently fledged juvenile making a right racket flying around Durness with its siblings. It certainly made for an interesting excursion out from the hostel at midnight!

Ptarmigan from a second, much chillier walk up Cairngorm with fellow birders Matt Doyle and Toby Phelps. We couldn’t leave the highlands without seeing one!

A few plants new for me from Cairngorm. From left to right: Alpine Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum), Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), Dwarf Willow (Salix herbacea) and Stiff Sedge (Carex bigelowii).

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Alpine Lady’s-mantle (Alchemilla alpina)

An assortment of invertebrates. Top left: The hoverfly Sericomyia lappona. Top right: Trypocopris vernalis. Middle right: The Marram weevil Otiorhynchus atroapterus. Bottom: Black Mountain Moth (Glacies coracina).

28th June- 3rd July

I spent a few days in Pembrokeshire with Toby Phelps. We had more incredible weather, and made the most of it by sea kayaking, snorkelling, birding and looking for rare damselflies. The birds were good, with plenty of Choughs, year-tick Whinchat, and the first Willow Tits I’d seen for about a decade! 

The local beaches at/near Amroth, and a Silver-washed Fritillary.

On the open ocean (sort of), and the view out from inside an amazing sea cave!

Some cool things found whilst kayaking. Left: Harmless but huge (c.70cm across!) Barrel Jellyfish. Top right: Lion’s-mane jellyfish, a species with a really powerful sting. Bottom right: An unexpected male Fox Moth, found about a kilometre out! We returned him safely to dry land.

More blue skies! Left: Stackpole Quay, where we snorkelled. Right: The Preseli hills, where we found many scarce damselflies and plants.

A few of the best plants from the Preselis. Top left: Ivy-leaved Bellflower (Wahlenbergia hederacea). Top right: Oblong-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia). Bottom left: Marsh St.John’s-wort (Hypericum elodes). Bottom right: Whorled Caraway (Carum verticillatum).

The three very scarce damselfly species we found in the Preselis, plus the most abundant dragonfly in the area by a long way! We saw hundreds of them. Top left: Southern Damselfly. Top right: Small Red Damselfly. Middle right: Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly. Bottom: Keeled Skimmer.

The huge Spider Crab species Maja brachydactyla. The pic in the middle is the first time I tried out the Olympus TG-4 underwater! Thanks to Toby for the left-hand photo, I was having to focus on the snorkelling more than taking underwater photos as it was my first time!

Another big thanks to Toby who not only found my first ever Comb-jellies (Ctenophores), but managed to get good in-situ photos with my camera! Left: Bolinopsis infundibulum. Right: Pleurobranchia pileus.

12th-14th July

I stayed with Liam Langley at his PhD fieldwork site on Walney Island in Cumbria. There was hardly a gull in sight (the drought had caused all breeding pairs to fail), but Little Terns on the beach were nice to see. We ran the moth trap on the island, saw lots of cool stuff and visited some awesome places! We then ended up in central Sheffield twitching (and dipping) the Audouin’s Gull that had turned up the previous evening.

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Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) from Walney Island, one of the few plants still managing to flower on the parched dune system

Some scenery from the weekend. Left: The view across the back of the dunes from where I stayed on Walney island. Top right: Arnside knott. Bottom right: A bridge in Sheffield which a rare gull was near to the day before.

A couple of macro moths that were new for me. Left: Small Rufous (Coenobia rufa). Right: Archer’s Dart (Agrotis vestigialis).

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Garden Tiger (Arctia caja), which we caught loads of on Walney Island

A couple of nice yellow and black things. Left: The longhorn beetle Leptura quadrifasciata. Right: female Black Darter.

Butterflies from Arnside knott, where we also saw Northern Brown Argus, and dipped Scotch Argus and High Brown Fritillary. Left: White-letter Hairstreak. Right: Dark Green Fritillary.

19th-22nd July

I visited some more bits of the country I’d never been to before in the North-west. I stayed with Elliot Montieth and spent some time with him and Luke Thomas Anderson looking for all kinds of wildlife around the Wirral area, before heading a little further North to stay with Joshua Styles for some Sefton Coast botanising!

An assortment of interesting things seen with Elliot. Left: Emperor Moth caterpillar. Top right: Spiked Shieldbug (Picromerus bidens). Bottom right: the Water Forget-me-not feeding lacebug Dictyla convergens, found in a hide at Burton Mere. We also saw an escaped White-faced Whistling Duck fly over, giving us an entertaining whistle as it went!

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The slightly bizarre sight of over 1000 Black-tailed Godwits in someones back garden on the Wirral!

Two of the scarcer plants new to me from a list of 22 new plants for the day with Josh and a local botanical group! Left: Smooth Rupturewort (Herniaria glabra). Right: Ray’s Knotgrass (Polygonum oxyspermum).

A couple more very nice species. Left: Green-flowered Helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes). Right: Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris).

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Who doesn’t love an orchid? This beautiful Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) was another new one for me

It wasn’t all plants! Once word had spread through the group that I liked my insects too, I was being handed things left and right! Left: The Rhopalid bug Myrmus miriformis. Centre: the gall of the wasp species Tetramesa hyalipennis on Sand Couch (Elytrigia juncea). Right: Another Rhopalid bug, Chorosoma schillingi.

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An angered Broscus cephalotes, moments before it decided to have a good go at my finger
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The fairly uncommon, and awesome-looking Silver-hook

July 23rd

The leafhopper Ledra aurita turned up in my home garden moth trap! It’s big for a leafhopper (about 15mm!), and spends most of its time perfectly camouflaged on moss and lichen-covered trees. A crazy looking creature!

Ledra aurita in the garden moth trap.

Since then, I’ve had a fantastic moth-trapping session at Woodalton Fen (7 new moths and about 10 new beetles!), been on two fantastic BCN Wildlife Trust workshops (Leafhoppers and Solitary Wasps), and found several interesting new species in and around the house (pics below!). With a holiday in North Norfolk approaching, and a year long placement in the highlands of Scotland coming up not long after that, life doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon!

Mum found both of these two! Left: The first Steatoda nobilis I’ve seen at home. Right: The soldierfly Stratiomys potamida.

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The lovely little jumping spider Sitticus pubescens, found on the windowsill

Wildlife highlights from the last few weeks

This is just a short blog about some of the things I’ve been getting up to over the last few weeks.

25/02/18- Twitching to Dorset and back

Myself, Toby Phelps, and Gethin Jenkins-Jones decided that the Ross’s Gull in Dorset was too good of a bird not to try and see (a lifer for all of us!), so we made the journey to RSPB Radipole Lakes in Weymouth. After a couple of hours waiting, and a cracking male Bearded Tit, the Ross’s Gull finally dropped in, and gave some really nice views when it flew to the nearest shingle island. 

A couple of phonescopes of the Ross’s Gull. Not the best, but it was windy and cold!

After a little while the Ross’s Gull left, and we followed suit. We paid a trip to Teignmoth in South Devon, where the returning Bonaparte’s Gull had been showing reliably. After dipping this bird at Dawlish Warren several times in the past, we were keen to finally get it seen! It did not disappoint, showing down to around 5m whilst feeding in the surf with Black-headed Gulls. My first adult Bonaparte’s Gull! Photos are Toby Phelps’.

Toby Phelps’ photos of the adult Bonaparte’s Gull at Teignmouth.

Leaving the Bonaparte’s Gull to its feeding, we headed to RSPB Matford Marsh to see if we could see the American Wigeon. I’d only seen one distant male previous to this, so was hoping for some better views. We were successful again, and I even managed a few phonescopes in the fading light!

Drake American Wigeon at RSPB Matford Marsh.

All in all, a great day out!

 

03/03/18- Cornwall Bryology Group meeting

This was a really good (albeit very rainy!) day out looking at identifying sand dune bryophytes. We saw some real rarities along the way too! The day was based mostly in the Penhale Sands area, a huge dune system with sandy, alkaline soil. I’ve decided to go through the day picture by picture:

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Rich, bryophyte-dominated turf. Mostly Syntrichia ruralis subsp. ruraliformis and Pseudoscleropodium purum.
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Some rather damp bryologists…
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Rich, bryophyte-dominated turf. Mostly Syntrichia ruralis subsp. ruraliformis and Pseudoscleropodium purum.

Left: Ditrichum gracile, a species characteristic of alkaline soils and dunes. In places, it formed large turfs. Right: Pleurochaete squarrosa, a fairly uncommon species associated with open, warm sites mostly in Southern England. 

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Southbya tophacea, a very rare (and very tiny) Liverwort found in Cornwall, and several sites in Wales. This phone photo was taken looking into a 15x hand lens, and you can just about make out the leaves!
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Portland Spurge (Euphorbia portlandica) was abundant on the dunes.
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The stalkball Tulostoma brumale growing amongst the moss Syntrichia ruralis subsp. ruraliformis.

Other new things for me seen on the day included the scarce liverwort Petallophyllum ralfsii, the somewhat uncommon mosses Didymodon ferrugineus and Scorpiurium circinatum, and a rare lichen: Fulgensia fulgens, at the site with the largest UK population!

 

08/03/18- Beetling in Gweek Oak Woods

Utilising my newly purchased weevils of Cornwall atlas, I decided to visit Gweek Oak Woods on the Lizard peninsula, to try and find one of Britain’s rarest weevils: Anchonidium unguiculare.

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Gweek Oak Woods, actually mostly Beech in this particular location.

This species is found only in leaf litter in woods surrounding Gweek, and at one coastal grassland site in Devon (I wonder if this will turn out to be a different species?). First I tried sieving the leaf litter, but to no avail, so I had to try a technique mentioned by Keith Alexander in a recent talk. I placed a white towel on the ground, and bundled leaves on top of it. I then left it for 5 minutes, before slowly lifting it from one end- the theory being that the leaves all fall off, and any weevils grip to the towel to prevent themselves from being dislodged. Sure enough, on my first attempt, I found a single Anchonidium gripping on to the towel! It’s only around 3mm long, so this is the best photo I could manage.

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Anchonidium unguiculare, a mega-rare weevil!

Whilst sieving leaf litter I came across another, much smaller (just over 1mm) beetle. At first I thought it was a Ptiliid (Feather-wing Beetle), but it seemed to be moving around in a slightly different fashion, so I took it back home for a closer look. When I got it under the microscope, I had no idea what it was, so had to key it through to a family. As is often the case with beetles I don’t recognise at all, it turned out to be a Staphylinid, but this one was in the strange subfamily Scydmaeninae. Fortunately, I found an online key to UK Scydmaeninae, where the beetle keyed quickly to Cephennium gallicum. This is apparently the first record of this species in Cornwall for over 15 years, with most records pre-1976! Looking at previous record details, several were found on the same date, and in the same place as the weevil Anchonidium unguiculare! This, along with the size of the beetle, suggests to me it may well be an overlooked species, only turning up when people have put the effort into sieving leaf litter!

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Rather rubbish phone-microscope photo (It’s tricky at max zoom 80x!) of the Scydmaenine Staphylinid- Cephennium gallicum.

 

10/03/18- A visit to Paul

Paul is a small village near Penzance (not a person), where fellow naturalist Sally Luker lives. We met up to talk about some potential 3rd year project plans, and decided to tie it in with a little bit of fieldwork. We spent a little time looking at lichens, and Sally showed me some cool scale insects (Coccus hesperidum and Lichtensia viburni) living on a patch of Ivy, but the highlight for me was finally seeing the Bristly Millipede Polyxenus lagurus, of which there is a strong population in the churchyard in Paul! This incredible 3mm long beast is fairly widespread, and usually found in old stone walls, but despite extensive searching, I’d never come across it before!

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Bristly Millipedes (Polyxenus lagurus)!

So, those are my recent wildlife highlights, in what turned out to be not such a short blog after all!