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!

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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!

 

Recent rockpooling, and an assortment of other things

I’ve not been able to do as much fieldwork as I’d like as of late, due to a veritable barrage of assignments! But I have managed a couple of trips down to Gyllyngvase (Gylly) Beach in Falmouth, where I’ve been making a real effort to improve my marine life ID skills, in particular seaweeds. I’ve managed to bump my algae list up from 40 to 70 species, 66 or 67 of which you might call seaweeds (Mesophyllum lichenoides is a bit of an oddity, somewhere between an encrusting algae and a seaweed. But then, some seaweeds have an encrusting algae growth form anyway, so the difference is arbitrary!).

Anyway, here are a few of the bits and pieces I’ve found. 

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A female Cymodoce truncata, a marine isopod new for me recently.

Left to right: Sphaerococcus coronopifolius (Berry Wart Cress), a localised species typically found subtidally, but also on low spring tides, Bonnemaisonia hamifera (Bonnemaison’s Hook Weed), a non-native species introduced from Japan in the 1890’s, with amazing smooth ‘hooks’, Champia parvula (Little Fat Sausage Weed), an uncommon and localised species occurring exclusively as an epiphyte.

Aren’t seaweed common names good fun?

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My first ever sea-spider: Achelia echinata, a species usually found subtidally. I collected this completely by accident in a seaweed sample bought home to ID. I noticed the tiny (2mm body) creature crawling over the seaweed in my tray. Unfortunately it didn’t survive, as I had no saltwater (note to self, bring some seawater home next time!).
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Not new for me, and not found by me! This huge (c.25cm) Spiny Starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) was one of the highlights of a recent field practical. Note the dominant Mesophyllum lichenoides (Pink Plates), an epiphyte on Corallina officinalis (Common Coral Weed).

On a completely different note, I’ve recently been on my first bat hibernation survey. It was an excellent day, with tens of Greater Horseshoe Bats (a lifer for me) and several Lesser Horseshoe Bats seen. We were searching for the bats in some old mines in a woodland, and around 10m in to one of the more open mines, I found a few rotting logs. I thought to myself that not many people get the opportunity to check if anything lives in deadwood in mines, so I should have a rummage! At first it was rather fruitless, until I saw what appeared to be a slightly stripey and very small (3mm) woodlouse. I picked it up and it rolled into a ball in my palm. As it was in such an unusual habitat, and it looked a little odd, I collected it to check under the microscope another day. When I did finally get round to looking at it, I knew it was something unusual! It turned out to be the millipede Trachysphaera lobata (almost certainly, though I need to go back and find some more for DNA testing to check it isn’t a closely related species), previously known in the U.K. only from the Isle of Wight and one or two sites in South Wales! 

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Heading down into one of the mines.
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Trachysphaera lobata (probably). New to Cornwall!

Now for an update on recent birding. A Couple of weeks ago, myself, Toby Phelps, Ben Porter, Jack Barton and Gethin Jenkins-Jones tried to see how many birds we could see in Cornwall in 24 hours! It was an epic day, covering 160 miles and 15 sites, with 107 species in total (plus Woodcock and Tawny Owl, only seen/heard by 1-2 group members, so not tickable on the group list). Highlights included Surf Scoter (x3), Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Black-necked Grebe (x5ish), Hawfinch, Fieldfare (localy rare in February!), Spoonbill, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Pacific Diver, Merlin and a stunning Barn Owl drifting right overhead as the sun set behind us. Both photos courtesy of Geth.

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The beginning of the day at Porthpean. I’m looking rather concerned for someone who’s just seen Surf Scoter, Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. I was probably worrying whether we’d all heard the flyover Greenfinch to add to the list.
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Cape Cornwall, a stunning place! But it didn’t do us much good on the bird race: no Choughs, and couldn’t jam on to anything flying past over the sea.

More recently (yesterday in fact), myself and Toby, on our second attempt, successfully twitched (birding term for travelling to see something) the White-billed Diver which had been seen off Mousehole. This is a rare visitor from Arctic Russia, which was a new bird for both of us. It was surprisingly different to the Great Northern Divers is was associating with. It was colder in tone, with a smudgy look to the face and neck, and a larger neck collar. It also hopped a little before each dive. I’m rather proud of my phonescoped record shot, showing it doing what White-billed Divers do: holding its huge ivory-coloured wedge of a bill to the skies!

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White-billed Diver phonescoped record shot.

And now for something completely different… Lichens! I’m still not very good with these, having only seen 52 species. I noticed a large lichen growing on the pavement outside my house, and thought I should have a go at identifying it. After a great deal of help from some incredibly knowledgeable people on twitter, I got to the species Xanthoparmelia conspersa. Colour, growth form, habitat and other features got it to genus, but to separate it from other very similar species, I had to get out the chemicals. After scraping away the outer layer of the lichen (layer containing algae) to reveal the medulla (inner layer containing looser strands of fungus called hyphae), I applied a drop of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) to see the colour change that occurred. It went from white to yellow-orange, implying it was X.conspersa. The similar X.tinctina would turn from white to yellow to red.

Above: Xanthoparmelia conspersa, showing entire lichen on the left, and the medulla colour after the addition of KOH on the right.

Finally, something else I’ve been spending some time doing in the last few months is drawing. After doing GCSE Art 4 years ago, I drew next to nothing for a few years, but decided recently that I wanted to try it out again. I haven’t really found a style yet, but I’m quite enjoying drawing angular birds. I intend to draw some beetles at some point too.

Left to right: Hawfinch, Firecrest, Dunlin and Short-eared Owl. All done last year in biro. A4. The Hawfinch was my first drawing for a very long time, and it actually annoys me a bit to look at. I quite want to redo these pieces in colour at some point.

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Barn Owl. Christmas card in biro. A5.
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Hawfinch. Quick pencil sketches. A5.
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Mediterranean Gull. Pencil drawing. A5.
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Some micro moths. Pencil Drawings. A5.
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Purple Sandpiper in biro. Not really sure what I was going for here! A5.
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Shore Lark. My first go at this style in pencil. A5.
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Penduline Tit. My first go at this style in colour. A4.

2018 PSL Targets

This blog is a quick rundown of what my end of 2018 targets are across all of the groups on my pan-species list. After starting the year on 4175 species, I aim to try and add 825 species to reach a total of 5000. Here’s a breakdown of my targets:

Group 2018 Start 2018 Target
Algae 40 52
Slime Moulds 2 3
Protists 1 2
Lichens 49 105
Fungi 230 300
Bryophytes 216 260
Vascular Plants 980 1050
Sponges 2 3
Comb-jellies 0 1
Cnidarians 12 15
Molluscs 114 125
Bryozoans 4 5
Annelid Worms 17 20
Platyhelminth Worms 4 5
Sea-spiders 0 1
Arachnids 135 170
Myriapods 54 58
Crustaceans 50 60
Springtails etc. 5 6
3-tailed Bristletails 3 4
Odonata 26 30
Orthopteroids 25 30
Hemipteroids 291 360
Hymenoptera 123 170
Coleoptera 509 675
Diptera 164 220
Butterflies 35 40
Moths 659 760
Remaining Insect Orders 28 40
Echinoderms 8 10
Tunicates 1 2
Fish 56 60
Reptiles 6 7
Amphibians 6 7
Birds 280 300
Mammals 39 42
Other Animals 1 2
Overall 4175 5000

I hope to focus more this year on lichens, whilst continuing to delve deeper into Coleoptera (Beetles) and Hemipteroids (Bugs, Hoppers and relatives), though of course, I like to look at as many groups as I possibly can!

Hopefully it’ll be another good year!

2017 Top 20

This blog is about my top 20 wildlife highlights from 2017. It was hard to choose them, and even harder to put them in an order! Some are finding or seeing a specific species, some are days out, and some are a series of particularly good days! So here goes from 20th up to 1st.

20 Finding Eucera longicornis (A Long-horned Bee) on the Lizard. For this I have Will Hawkes to thank, for showing me where to find them, and helping me to see them on the day! This beautiful Bee is an uncommon species, with a scattered U.K distribution mostly across Southern England.

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A male Eucera longicornis

19- Thyme Broomrape (Orobanche alba) from the Lizard, I believe found by Sally Luker whilst on a field trip. This very rare plant is confined almost exclusively to the Lizard and the Hebrides in the U.K, and is a parasite on Wild Thyme.

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Thyme Broomrape (Orobanche alba)

18- Finding the beetle Ptilinus pectinicornis at Upwood Meadows nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. This is a fairly widespread species, which I found by beating an Oak tree. It can be overlooked due to only being around 3mm long! It’s in my top 20 because of its amazing pectinate antennae (near enough the exact English translation of ‘pectinicornis’).

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A male Ptilinus pectinicornis

17- Finding the Anthribid weevil species Bruchela rufipes probably new to Huntingdonshire (VC31) near Holme Fen NNR. This species was first found in Britain in 1984, and appears to be slowly spreading. I swept it from its food plant, Wild Mignonette, in some numbers.

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Bruchela rufipes

16- Grey Phalarope on Helston boating lake, showing down to about 5ft! I have seen Grey Phalaropes before, but almost always on seawatches, where they fly past half a mile or so away. Seeing one swimming around next to the bank I was standing on at Helston Boating lake was incredible!

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Grey Phalarope

15- Finding the Rhynchitid weevil species Neocoenorrhinus pauxillus at Pingle Cutting nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. I found two of this nationally scarce A weevil by beating Hawthorn in spring 2017. It is described as being not only scarce, but usually very hard to find. It was one of my first 20 or so weevils, so I was very lucky to stumble across it completely by accident! The reserve is in Huntingdonshire vice-county (VC31), the national stronghold for this species.

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Neocoenorrhinus pauxillus

14- Cloaked Pug (Eupithecia abietaria) from my garden moth trap, new to Huntingdonshire (VC31). This rather pretty (for a Pug!) moth turned up during a series of very warm nights, giving me the best garden mothing (and moth trap bycatch) I’ve ever had, with around 100 moth species recorded a night! This species may be a migrant, or may be establishing some resident populations in Britain. It is unusually large for a Pug, with a wingspan of up to 30mm. I was very happy to catch this, as macro moths are very well recorded, so new vice-county records aren’t common!

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Cloaked Pug (Eupithecia abietaria)

13- Basking Shark! It was amazing to see one swimming past Lizard point this spring. Unfortunately it was a little too distant for photos.

12- Rockpooling in Falmouth. This year, Falmouth’s rockpools have given me a huge selection of incredible species, some of which it seems just shouldn’t occur in Britain! Here are a few of the best:

Left to right: Giant Goby (Gobius cobitis), Butterfish (Centronotus gunnellus), Risso’s Crab (Xantho pilipes) and Sea Hare (Aplysia punctata).

Left to right: Spiny Squat-lobster (Galathea strigosa), Topknot Flatfish (Zeugopterus punctatus), Yellow-plumed Sea Slug (Berthella plumula) and a Spider Crab (Macropodia rostrata).

11- It’s another bird from Helston boating lake! This time a rarer species: Bonaparte’s Gull. The Bonaparte’s Gull is the North American equivalent of our Black-headed Gull, but is slightly smaller and has pink legs. All birds which turn up on the boating lake are fantastically tame, as they just follow what the local birds do, which in these case is fly towards people when they have bread. This allowed for views down to 2m, surely once in a lifetime for such a rare bird.

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Bonaparte’s Gull

10- Moth trap beetle bycatch! Across the summer of 2017, my moth trap bycatch provided me with lots of new species, many of these being beetles. There were times when small ground beetles like Trechus quadristriatus far outnumbered the moths! A few of the best beetles are shown below.

Left: Nationally scarce B Dytiscid water beetle Rhantus frontalis. Right: Nationally scarce A Colydiid Aulonium trisulcus.

Left: Nationally scarce B Curculionid weevil Phytobius leucogaster. Right: cool-looking Trogid Trox scaber.

9- Seeing Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) hunting, and leaping fully out of the water off Land’s-end. This is a fish species I didn’t think I’d be seeing without going out on a pelagic trip. Even at range, their immense bulk is very apparent- they’re huge!

8- Seeing Bee-eater in Cornwall. A perfect break from spring exam revision, to see a fantastically exotic-looking bird. It caught several bumblebees as I watched it, and it was fascinating to see how it removed the stings by rubbing the bee’s tail against the telephone wires it was perched on.

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Bee-eater

7- Visiting Schistostega pennata (a.k.a Goblin’s Gold) at Carn Euny ancient village in West Cornwall. This amazing moss has a reflective protonema (early life phase), and grows in dark, dry tunnels. This means that as you shine a torch around, the walls glisten and glow golden-green. Schistostega pennata is not a common species, found only in dry caves and rabbit burrows, mostly in southern England. I found it especially memorable seeing it in the fogou of an ancient village, on a spookily quiet, foggy day. It all seemed a little mystical!

Schistostega pennata at a foggy Carn Euny ancient village.

6- American Cliff Swallow twitch to Tresco. Though the journey to Tresco isn’t as long for us as it is for most people (45 min drive to Penzance, 3hr boat to St.Marys, 30 min boat to Tresco), it still felt like quite an ordeal day-trip twitching this mega-rarity. At one stage it looked like a certain dip, as everyone who had been watching the bird on Tresco left for the Cedar Waxwing which had just been found on St.Agnes! But after a stressful hour Toby refound the bird, and it gave us amazing views down to around 10m. Meanwhile, 3 Bee-eaters flew around us, giving their bubbling calls as they went! Amazing times.

5- Finding over 40 new species in a day with Brian Eversham at Devil’s Dyke in south Cambridgeshire, followed by the Suffolk Brecklands. It was incredible to see not only so many new species, but such a diversity of species! I saw new spiders, beetles, bugs, leafhoppers, snails and plants, and that’s just off the top of my head! A small selection are shown below.

Left to right: Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), A Delphacid planthopper (Kelisia sabulicola) and an Apionid weevil (Exapion fuscirostre).

4- Two awesome days of seawatching at Pendeen. Firstly, an 11.5 hour monster seawatching session on the 11th of September, with 4 lifer birds (Leach’s Petrel, Great Shearwater, Long-tailed Skua and Sabine’s Gull) and my first ever Ocean Sunfish! The second was shorter (I had to leave early) on the 22nd of October, and involved tonnes of Skuas (over 100 Great Skuas for those who stayed a little longer!), some of which flew right over our heads. I covered the first seawatch in more detail as a part of my ‘Back to birding’ blog here. My notebook for both days is shown below.

Pendeen seawatching notes.

3- An incredible day of twitching and birding that took us (Myself, Toby, Liam and Kali) from Falmouth to Dorset to Davidstow to Pendeen! We made it to RSPB Lodmoor for 8am, where we quickly connected with both of the present mega American waders: Least Sandpiper and Stilt Sandpiper. These were supported by a Great White Egret and a few Green Sandpipers. Then we made our way to Portland, where we had crippling views of Buff-breasted Sandpiper, followed by a Wryneck in the quarry near the observatory. After that we headed back into Cornwall, and to Davidstow airfield, to see Little Stint (needed for Cornwall and year lists), before finally ending up at Pendeen for an evening seawatch, which produced Leach’s Petrels and Grey Phalaropes alongside a smattering of Skuas! I covered the day in more detail in my ‘Back to birding’ blog here.

Left: Least Sandpiper. Right: Stilt Sandpiper.

Left: Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Right: Wryneck.

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Evening seawatch at Pendeen.

2- Two nocturnal fieldwork session at Woodwalton Fen NNR with Brian Eversham. These produced a huge amount of new species for me, some of which were quite rare! Perhaps the rarest species of all was the Red Data Book Large Tree Chernes (Dendrochernes cyrneus), which we found on our first visit by staring at the bark of a large Oak tree under torchlight. Perhaps my favourite memory from the first visit was switching off the torches to appreciate the clarity of the milkyway and the stars, and listen to the sound of a Grasshopper Warbler singing from deep inside the reedbed, in the dead of night! A standout feature of the second visit was the huge number of Carabus granulatus (a large ground beetle) that we saw walking the grassy paths. There must’ve been hundreds! I covered the first trip in more detail in a previous blog here. Here’s a small selection of what we found.

Left to right: Oblique carpet (Orthonoma vittata), Larinioides sclopetarius, Brachypera zoilus, Carabus granulatus. All photos are Brian Eversham’s.

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Dendrochernes cyrneus. Photo is Brian Eversham’s.

1- An awesome week spent in Dorset on a family holiday with my mum and dad. I saw far too many cool things that week to mention here (though many of my finds are mentioned in my July and August PSL review blogs, found by clicking the links), but off the top of my head, here are some of the best: Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), Dwarf Gorse (Ulex minor), Dorset Heath (Erica ciliaris), A Raft spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus), Heath Grasshopper (Chorthippus vagans), rare weevil (Platystomos albinus), Dingy Mocha (Cyclophora pendularia), Four-spotted Footman (Lithosia quadra), rare micro moth Metalampra italica and rare migrant micro moth Cydia amplana! There were several other rare or scarce invertebrates, and tens of other species new to me. All of that with beautiful weather, and some lovely walks. Here are a few photos from the week.

Left to right: Metalampra italica, Cydia amplana, Dingy Mocha (Cyclophora pendularia) and Four-spotted Footman (Lithosia quadra).

Left to right: Dorset Heath (Erica ciliaris), Dwarf Gorse (Ulex minor) and Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

Top left: A Raft spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus). Top right: Pantaloon Bee (Dasypoda hirtipes). Middle right: Nationally scarce Geotrupid Trypocopris pyrenaeus. Bottom: Amazing leafhopper Eupelix cuspidata.

Left: Nationally scarce Chrysomelid Calomicrus circumfusus. Right: Nationally scarce Anthribid weevil Platystomos albinus.

Left: Old Harry Rocks. Right: Durdle Door.

Hope you enjoyed the blog!