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!

 

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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!

2017 PSL Review- the numbers

I’ve been very bad at keeping up with my blog lately, with nothing written since September. It’s been a busy term at uni, and it’s had an impact on my pan-species listing progress too! September was good, with 139 new species, but I only managed 105 species in October, November and December combined. This blog will be looking at my progress over the whole year compared with my targets.

Overview: I started the year ranked 41st with a total species list of 2729, aiming to add 1000 species to reach 3729. I ended up ranked 28th, with a total species list of 4177. That’s 1448 new species in 2017, which is far more than I could ever have imagined! Here’s the rundown for each species group. Green in the ‘2017 Total’ column means I matched or exceeded my target, red means I didn’t reach it.

Group 2016 Total 2017 Target 2017 Total
Algae 24 50 40
Slime Moulds 2 4 2
Protists 1 2 1
Lichens 5 50 49
Fungi 101 150 230
Bryophytes 86 160 216
Vascular Plants 860 950 980
Sponges 2 4 2
Comb-jellies 0 1 0
Cnidarians 10 15 12
Molluscs 98 120 114
Bryozoans 1 2 4
Annelid Worms 12 20 17
Platyhelminth Worms 4 8 4
Sea-spiders 0 1 0
Arachnids 75 125 135
Myriapods 49 55 54
Crustaceans 31 40 50
Springtails etc. 1 2 5
3-tailed Bristletails 3 5 3
Odonata 25 30 26
Orthopteroids 22 27 25
Hemipteroids 77 130 291
Hymenoptera 62 120 123
Coleoptera 217 417 509
Diptera 85 150 164
Butterflies 34 40 35
Moths 481 600 659
Remaining Insect Orders 14 40 28
Echinoderms 6 10 8
Tunicates 0 1 1
Fish 46 55 56
Reptiles 6 7 6
Amphibians 6 7 6
Birds 248 290 282
Mammals 35 40 39
Other Animals 0 1 1
Overall 2729 3729 4177

I actually failed to reach more species group targets than I reached, but some of the ones I did reach I exceeded by a very long way! My largest increases were: Beetles (292 new spp), Hemipteroids (214 new spp), Moths (178 new spp), Bryophytes (130 new spp), Fungi (129 new spp) and Vascular Plants (120 new spp).

So that’s the numbers side done. Coming soon will be a blog about all of the highlights, originally intended as a ‘top 10’, but now looking like it’ll be a top 20!

 

 

 

 

Back to birding

 

Saturday (9th Sept): I arrived back in Cornwall for the first term of my second year at university. With a few weeks spare before the course begins, it was time to come out of my summer birding aestivation (where invertebrates and plants take up all my time) and get some more lifers!

Sunday: my first trip out, looking for the Baird’s Sandpiper at Marazion. We found all the waders on the beach, but unfortunately the Baird’s wasn’t present. First dip of the autumn! In the process of dipping we were repeatedly soaked by heavy, horizontal rain showers, in a classically Cornish fashion.

Monday: the weather was looking epic! 50mph W/NW winds with showers saw us (Myself, Toby Phelps and Liam Langley) making the pilgrimage to Pendeen for an early starting seawatch.

We starting seawatching at about 6:35, when we could scarcely sea the Manxies through the darkness, and finished 11 hours and 10 mins later at 17:45! It was an incredible day, with totals looking something like this: Great Shearwater (2), Sabine’s Gull (14- 7ad, 7juv), Leach’s Petrel (7), European Storm Petrel (10+), Long-tailed Skua (1), Pomarine Skua (1), Arctic Skua (c.40), Great Skua (c.50), Sooty Shearwater (c.45), Balearic Shearwater (4), Grey Phalarope (c.25), Manx Shearwater (10,000+), Arctic Tern (70+), Sandwich Tern (5).

Four lifers for me: Great Shearwater, Sabine’s Gull, Leach’s Petrel and Long-tailed Skua! Birds were nearly all too distant or fast moving for me to phonescope, but here’s a few pics from the day.

Pendeen in all its glory. Each squally shower brought with it a rush of activity, in particular Sooty Shearwaters, which we saw almost none of during the drier afternoon.

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Great Skua, record shot. Given that one Bonxie actually flew over our heads, you’d thought I could’ve managed better.

The majestic seawatching Pigeon of Pendeen! Brightening up any dull patch. Left: Pendeen Pigeon having a distant Leach’s Petrel. Right: Pendeen Pigeon just before climbing Toby’s leg in search of food.

On the way back from Pendeen, we dipped the Baird’s Sandpiper at Marazion again.

Tuesday: After a tiring seawatch the day before, I’d decided not to go birding. That is until a Lesser Yellowlegs showed up just 15 mins outside Falmouth. Myself, Liam and Kali raced to the scene- only to discover that the Lesserlegs had been flushed by a man wading through the estuary (at high tide) with a dog…! Spotted Redshank and Osprey made the trip worthwhile.

Later in the day, a Pectoral Sandpiper was reported from the Hayle Estuary. Toby said he was going, so I decided to tag along- I’d only seen one once before. It was lashing it down with rain when we arrived, but Toby found the bird easy enough. The views were excellent, allowing for some good (albeit grey with rain) phonescoped shots.

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Juv. Pectoral Sandpiper on Ryan’s field at Hayle Estuary

Wednesday: Toby, Liam, Kali and I decided to check the Devoran wader roost for the yesterdays Lesser Yellowlegs, in the hope that it hadn’t been deterred by yesterdays ‘events’. Unfortunately it wasn’t present, but the Osprey, Spotted Redshank and long-staying Garganey (which we couldn’t find on Tuesday) were nice to see. Phonescoped pics below:

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Juv./eclipse male Garganey at Devoran.
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Osprey with a Grey Mullet sp. in its talons at Devoran.

Thursday: The big day! Me, Toby, Liam and Kali had left for Dorset by 4:30am, aiming for RSPB Lodmoor, where an incredible yank wader duo had been present for a few days- Least and Stilt Sandpipers. Potential bonus birds for the day were Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Wryneck on Portland, just down the road.

It’s fair to say that our twitch went rather well, connecting with all four birds almost as soon as we’d arrived at each site. By 10:00am, we were heading back towards Cornwall! All birds showed very well, but the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was exceptionally close, allowing for some cracking phonescoping opportunities.

Left: Least Sandpiper. Right: Stilt Sandpiper. The amazing RSPB Lodmoor duo.

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Buff-breasted Sandpiper, showing incredibly well on Portland.
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Spot the Wryneck! Had been showing brilliantly on top of a bramble, but my phone was playing up. In the quarry near the observatory on Portland.

On the way back, we stopped at Davidstow airfield for year tick Ruff and Little Stint, before driving straight past Falmouth and onwards to Pendeen! A quick evening seawatch produced a few Grey Phalaropes and three Leach’s Petrels. I also found what I think is a Garden Tiger caterpillar on the cliffs.

In the past couple of weeks, the good birding (and twitching) has continued, with Grey Phalarope on the boating lake at Helston, American Golden Plover on St. Marys, two Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Davidstow airfield, and Spotted Sandpiper at Crowdy Reservoir. AGP and Spotsand taking me to ten lifers since returning to uni! (Edit- today 26/09, I lifered one of my worst bogey birds: Pied Flycatcher on the Lizard… make that 11 lifers!) (Edit no.2- I forgot to mention yesterdays epic 3 Egret evening at Hayle Estuary on the way back from dipping the Red-eyed Vireo: 3 Great White Egret, 1 Cattle Egret and several Little Egret!).

The Helston boating lake Grey Phalarope showing down to 2m at times!

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American Golden Plover on St. Mary’s, phonescope by Toby Phelps.

The very obliging Buff-breasted Sandpiper duo on Davidstow airfield. Photo credit Toby Phelps.

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Spotted Sandpiper at Crowdy Reservoir, phonescoped record shot.

 

 

From microfungi to myriapods

In the last few days, I’ve been lucky enough to get out and about and looking for wildlife quite a bit. I’ve seen some good stuff with some great people!

Starting with Friday evening- “ooh Calum, come and have a look at this” mum said from another room. She’d just found a beetle on the washing line, a very nice beetle, which I’d never seen before! Chrysolina americana, the Rosemary Beetle. This European species has been spreading in southern England since the 1990’s, and is now fairly common in some areas.

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Chrysolina americana– Rosemary Beetle

Saturday morning, we were just heading out to visit my Uncle and Aunt in Lincolnshire, when I noticed this Red-legged Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes) sitting on the window. It’s a very common species, but I still find them quite striking.

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Pentatoma rufipes– Red-legged Shieldbug

My Uncle and Aunt are lucky enough to have a large garden, with lots of areas set aside for wildlife: a small mixed woodland planted about 10 years ago, and lots of rough wildflower patches covered in pollinating bees and flies. They also have lots of cats, one of which we noticed was eyeing up something in the undergrowth. Presuming a small rodent, we went over to investigate, and found the creature was in fact a huge Privet Hawkmoth caterpillar!

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Sphinx ligustri– Privet Hawkmoth caterpillar

Later on in the day (after dark) Brian Eversham and I headed out to Woodwalton Fen for another night time excursion (for a blog on our first trip click here). Immediately as we entered the fen we noticed several Carabus granulatus (big, pretty Ground Beetles!) wandering about, feasting on slugs. These lovely beetles became a feature of the evening, with tens and tens seen as we walked the fenland rides.

Also near the entrance to the fen, Brian noticed that one of the spiders underneath the natural England office security light was Larinioides sclopetarius, a species almost always found on buildings or structures near water. New for me! Throughout the rest of the fen, Araneus marmoreus var. pyramidatus seemed the most frequent spider.

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Larinioides sclopetarius– Brian Eversham’s photo

Moving deeper into the reserve, we noticed various moths flying around, and feeding on flowers. The most abundant species by some margin was the Snout (Hypena proboscidalis), but we also had a few nicer things, including Oblique Carpet new for me.

Left: Six-striped Rustic (Xestia sexstrigata) nectaring on Hemp-agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). Right: Oblique Carpet (Orthonama vittata). Both Brian Eversham’s photos.

We had a few random finds as we checked the trees and bushes, in the form of galls, leafminers and microfungi. Here are a couple which were new to me. Please note, you do not need to be out at night to look for galls, leafminers and microfungi, it’s a perfectly acceptable daytime activity.

Left: Venturia pyrina, the Pear scab fungus. Right: Phyllonorycter corylifoliella, a leaf mining micro moth very common on Hawthorn (Crataegus). Both Brian Eversham’s photos.

Last but not least from the fen, a new bug! I’m at the stage with Heteroptera where I’ve got plenty of fairly common species left to see, but I tend to have to target a species specifically to find it. This was the Stiltbug Metatropis rufescens, found only on Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana). I only managed to find nymphs unfortunately, but at least I’ve got something to look forward to (the adults are double the size, and more colourful!).

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Metatropis rufescens nymph- Brian Eversham’s photo

After a day off on Sunday, Monday was another day, or half-day, of fieldwork. This time I went out with a local recording group known as ‘the eccentrics’ to look at plants, fungi, galls, birds and whatever else we could find at Cavenham Heath in Suffolk. After a short woodland walk with a few new fungi and galls found, we headed out onto the heath itself to look for Stone Curlews. At first 4 birds were picked up sitting tight in the drizzle, but then, due to a disturbance (horse riders), 21 birds flew up from the heath over our heads. Amazing though this was, I’d previously seen over 70 birds in flight at this site!

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Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), a phonescoped record shot.

Slightly further up the main track on the heathland, I spotted an unusual looking plant. I recognised it as Narrow-leaved Ragwort (Senecio inaequidens), a species I’d only seen once before. Its growth form, colour and leaf shape make it a very distinctive plant! Though rather pretty, this is a non-native, and potentially invasive species in the UK.

Narrow-leaved Ragwort (Senecio inaequidens) showing its distinctive narrow leaves, lime-green colour, and large-ish flowers on delicate stems. I forgot to take any to have a closer look at the rust growing on it!

Here are a few more bits and pieces that we found as a group on the rest of our walk.

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The common Hoverfly Cheilosia illustrata, often found on Hogweed. It’s apparently a bumblebee mimic, but it isn’t the most convincing!

Left: The leaf mine of the Agromyzid fly Amauromyza morionella, found on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica). Right: Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigrum), a plant I’ve yet to see outside of Breckland. I found the Mullein mildew Erysiphe verbasci on this plant!

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The unusual gall caused by the gall midge Dasineura crataegi, on Hawthorn. The leaves at the tip of a new shoot become deformed- thickened, clustered and spiky! This protects the larvae within.

The next day (Tuesday) I went to a Bedfordshire Invertebrate Group meeting at Whipsnade Zoo. It was a fair way for me to travel (being based in Huntingdonshire), but with a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) grassland to look at, and a heated butterfly house with loads of interesting invertebrates otherwise known only from Kew or the Eden project, I decided it was worth it! Unfortunately when I arrived (and for most of our time on the SSSI) it was lightly raining. Not the best weather for invertebrates! Fortunately there were a few nice plants and microfungi to look at too. The best of the microfungi was the rust Uromyces gentianae on Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella). The best of the plants…

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Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata), looking almost artificially bright!

Being at Whipsande Zoo, there were a few other things to look at as we walked between different areas of the site.

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Not an invertebrate, record shot

At the end of the day we headed into the heated butterfly house to sieve the leaf litter, in the hope of finding some interesting hothouse Myriapods, amongst other things. The first thing we found (and found in great abundance) was the woodlouse Anchiphiloscia pilosa, a relative of our own native Striped Woodlouse (Philoscia muscorum). This species was found new to Britain only last year from the butterfly house, and nobody has any idea how it got there! It’s an Asian species, but none of the imported plants are from Asia…

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Anchiphiloscia pilosa

After continued rummaging in the leaf litter (and a few strange looks from passing families), we found some of the target myriapods. The tiny 4mm millipede Cylindrodesmus hirsutus, and a commoner, larger hothouse millipede species: Oxidus gracilis. Both new for me!

Left: Cylindrodesmus hirsutus. Right: Oxidus gracilis.

Other highlights from the butterfly house included a minute ant species Plagiopus alaudi, the centipede Lithobius lapidicola, and a hothouse mushroom- Leucocoprinus cepaestipes!

All in all, a great few days of fieldwork, with a whole host of additions for my pan-species lists. Since then, I’ve been getting ready to go back to university, leaving tomorrow!!