Nocturnal beetling and more at Woodwalton Fen

On Saturday the 15th of July, at about 10:30pm, Brian Eversham and myself headed out to Woodwalton Fen NNR to see if the rare Tansy Beetle (Chrysolina graminis) is nocturnal or not. Our side aim was to find as much else of interest as we possibly could!

We crossed the bridge over the Ramsey Forty-foot Drain to enter the fen, armed with head-torches and sweep-nets. The first thing we came to was a large Oak tree, so we decided to stop and stare at the bark to see what interesting invertebrates were climbing Oak trees at night. We spent some half an hour at the Oak tree, finding bush-crickets, moths, caterpillars, harvestmen, and even the occasional ground beetle. At one point, Brian spotted an odd-looking beetle climbing up the bark. On closer inspection, it was a Psylliodes flea beetle, and then I found something lurking in the cracks behind it: a big pseudoscorpion! It turned out to be Britain’s biggest pseudoscorp (at a whopping 4mm), the Red Data Book species Dendrochernes cyrneus, new to Woodwalton, and perhaps Huntingdonshire! Brian has been kind enough to let me use his photos in this blog, so they’re much better quality than normal!

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Dendrochernes cyrneus, RDB pseudoscorpion, photo by Brian Eversham

As we moved onwards up the main ride of the reserve, a Grasshopper Warbler sang distantly. I’m not sure why, but I’d never quite realised that they sing in the middle of the night, so it felt very odd to hear one! Our walk was dominated by moths for a few hundred yards, with Fen Wainscot (Arenostola phragmitidis) by far the most abundant, followed perhaps by Anania perlucidalis. The head-torches also attracted Drinker moths (Euthrix potatoria), which being rather ungainly flyers, were repeatedly battering our faces. Luckily they’re rather soft things, so it’s sort of like being hit with a very small cushion. Here’s a selection of moths- photos by Brian again.

Left to right: Udea lutealis, Argyresthia brockeella, Fen Wainscot (Arenostola phragmitidis) and July Highflyer (Hydriomena furcata).

Other moth highlights included Crescent (Helotropha leucostigma), and a huge abundance of Svensson’s Copper Underwing (Amphipyra berbera) on the famous Rothschild’s Bungalow in the centre of the reserve.

The walls of Rothschild’s Bungalow also gave us roosting Red Admiral (sadly no Purple Emperors), the nationally scarce ant Lasius brunneus, and lots of the spider- Scotophaeus blackwalli (Photo from Brian).

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Scotophaeus blackwalli, a rather impressive looking spider, which I’d only previously seen in my house!

We then headed towards Tansy Beetle area, but couldn’t resist stopping at one of Woodwalton Fens many bridges, which provide areas of bare ground great for finding Carabids (ground beetles) and Lygaeids (ground bugs). Sure enough, I managed one new species for me from each group! The Carabid Platynus assimilis, and the Lygaeid Scolopostethus puberulus. The latter is identified by having the basal two antennal segments uniformly pale, the apical two uniformly dark, and having a rostrum long enough to reach the hind coxae. All features are shown in my phone-microscoped photos below:

Above: The Lygaeid bug Scolopostethus puberulus.

After these many brilliant distractions along the way, we eventually reached the part of the reserve where Tansy Beetles are known to be found. We checked the stands of Water Mint and Gypsywort (known foodplants) very carefully, and found feeding damage, but no beetles! Luckily we found a few other nice beetle species along the way- the bizarre 2mm Pselaphid Rybaxis laminata, and contrastingly, the 2cm Carabid Carabus granulatus! Both new to me. Below is Brians photo of this beasty beetle!

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Carabus granulatus, a beautifully sculptured Carabid.

We continued further into the fen, sweeping the Common Reed and Tufted Vetch, which yielded a new Apionid weevil for me- Oxystoma cerdo. It’s a particularly odd looking weevil, with a ‘roman nosed’ look given by the narrowing and bumped rostrum. Phone-microscoped pic of mine below:

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Oxystoma cerdo, an Apionid weevil associated with Vetches.

We also looked closely at flowerheads that we passed, as these were packed full of moths and beetles. One of our best finds was from the head of Common Ragwort- the chunky Curculionid weevil Brachypera zoilus. Photo by Brian.

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Brachypera zoilus, a Curculionid weevil usually found at the roots of Clovers… but not at night!

Before heading back, we switched off the head-torches to appreciate the sounds around us, and listen for more Grasshopper Warblers. Unfortunately we didn’t hear any Warblers, but just listening to the wind gently blowing the reeds, whilst looking up at the Milkyway (a rare sight in Cambridgeshire!) was lovely.

So, my thoughts after my first ever nocturnal fieldwork session… brilliant! Compared to fieldwork in the daytime, it seemed much more productive (unless you prefer bees, wasps and most fly families). Each sweep net seems more full, with more interesting things, and the tree trunks come alive! I can’t wait for the next time.

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May and June pan-species review

I can hardly believe it’s been so long since I last blogged- 2 months! Unfortunately the reason behind this is that I’ve been really quite unwell, for much of this time. I’ve found that getting out and amongst nature when I can, even for just half an hour has helped me to stay positive.

Much of May was spent down in Cornwall at uni. It was a month of exams, but I managed to get out from time to time to some great places, and found lots of cool things! June has mostly been spent at home, trying to get back to work, and visiting local wildlife trust reserves. At the beginning of May, my pan-species list stood at 3229. By the end of June I’d managed to get to 3583, an increase of 354, leaving me only 146 species from my goal of 1000 new species this year! Here’s how the species were added across the groups:

Fungi: 7 new species added, mostly gall causers, taking my total to 125.

Vascular Plants: 23 new species, bringing my group total to 912. Here’s a collection of some of the more memorable species, mostly from the Lizard!

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Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) from near St.Ives, Cornwall. Common in the West, but near absent from my native East Anglia, hence new to me!
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Hairy Greenweed (Genista pilosa) from the Lizard. A real South-western rarity!
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Yet another rarity: Thyme Broomrape (Orobanche alba), from Kynance Cove, Lizard. An amazing little parasitic plant, feeding off the roots of Thymus.
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Now this one hardly looks wild, but I’ve found it almost a kilometre from habitation on (yep, you guessed it) the Lizard. Naturalised enough! Eastern Gladiolus (Gladiolus communis).
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Lastly, this rather understated plant- Sulphur Clover (Trifolium ochroleucon). Found at Woodwalton Marsh, Cambridgeshire. A much declined species in recent decades, now pretty much restricted to East Anglian boulder clay.

Arachnids: 19 new species, taking my total from 93 to 112. A real mixture of species- a few gall mites, some spiders, and a harvestman: Odiellus spinosus.

Hemipteroids: As insect season really got underway, I managed to find lots of new species in this group: 65 to be precise! My group total by the end of June was 196. I’ve managed a few new leafhoppers, and several new psocids, including two uncommon species living on the walls of my house: Blaste quadrimaculata and Loensia variegata. Most of my new species were Heteroptera (true bugs), which are beginning to become one of my favourite groups. Here are a few of my favourites:

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Beosus maritimus, a fairly scarce ground bug (family Lygaeidae) restricted to south and west coasts. Found on the Lizard in some numbers.
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Henestaris laticeps, another localised coastal species, also found on the Lizard. The ‘eyes on stalks’ look is distinctive of the genus.
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Sciocoris cursitans, the Sand-runner Shieldbug. A very unusual looking species, only 5mm in length. Another southern coastal scarcity, found near Gwithian, Cornwall.
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Arenocoris fallenii aka Fallen’s Leatherbug. An amazingly camouflaged bug found on sandy soils. I found a few at RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes, Cambridgeshire.

Hymenoptera: An increase of 15 species from 87 to 102. Most of these new additions were bees (which I’m slowly learning), but I also managed two new ants, a group which I’ve been looking at for 5 years! Myrmecina graminicola and Temnothorax albipennis, within a few feet of each other on the Lizard. Despite my love for ants, I must concede that my favourite new hymenopteran was a bee: Eucera longicornis! (Hand credit Will Hawkes).

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A spectacular male Eucera longicornis, from the super diverse Lizard peninsula again.

Coleoptera: This is the group I’ve made by far the most progress with. I’ve been starting to learn weevils (from all families) and seed and leaf beetles (Chrysomelids) this year, as well as having a go at identifying almost any beetle I can find! All of this effort resulted in 114 new species during May and June, taking my total to 441. It’s really hard to choose which species to include in this blog, but here’s a few of the weirdest, coolest and best!

First up, a few weevils. From left to right: Coelositona cambricus, an odd looking weevil that looks to me to have the texture of old carpet! Cionus scrophulariae, the commonest ‘Figwort weevil’. Dryocoetes villosus, debatably not really a weevil, but the ‘Bark beetles’ have now been placed in the family Curculionidae. Finally, Nanophyes marmoratus, one of Britains’ two Nanophyid weevils. This pretty little species is found on Purple Loosestrife.

Now, some of the weirder species! Left to right: Tillus elongatus, from the family Cleridae. Glaphyra umbellatarum, a nationally scarce A Longhorn beetle found at Monks Wood. Anobium fulvicorne, now in the family Ptinidae. The pronotum almost completely covers the head. Last but not least, another Ptinid: Ptilinus pectinicornis, with its amazing pectinate antennae! The whole beetle is only 3mm long.

These three beetles at first seem unrelated, but they have one thing in common- they all turned up in my garden moth trap! First, the Carabid (Ground beetle) Stenolophus mixtus. Second, Trox scaber! A cool, rough looking beetle, usually found in birds nests. Finally, the best on the bunch, nationally notable B weevil Phytobius leucogaster. Usually found feeding on Water-milfoils!

Finally, two beetles from Fen Drayton Lakes. Left: the tiny ladybird Scymnus frontalis. One of the smaller Coccinellids, which some people might not recognise as a ladybird at all! Right: the fairly scarce Carabid (ground beetle) Microlestes minutulus. This species was discovered new to Britain in 1995, and is spreading through South-east England.

Diptera: Never my best group, but I managed to add 22 species in May and June, taking my total to 127. I added a few nice new hoverflies, including Xanthogramma citrofasciatum on the Lizard, and a few new leaf miners, including Phytomyza leucanthemi. I found this species on a cultivated Daisy species in my garden, and managed this cool picture showing the internal frass by holding a torch behind the mine. Thanks to Barry Warrington for helping confirm the ID.

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Phytomyza leucanthemi mine on a daisy sp. in my garden. The exit slit at the top of the mine, and irregular spread out grains of frass are distinctive.
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Another new fly, Epiphragma ocellare. A Limoniid cranefly associated with heavily wooded areas, found at Monks Wood.

Lepidoptera- butterflies: 1 new species! As I’ve seen most common butterflies, and don’t go out of my way to find more species, this is a rare addition! Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary from the Lizard.

Lepidoptera- moths: It’s been an excellent two months for moth trapping, both in Cornwall, and back home in Cambridgeshire. The hot spell in June produced some of the best garden moth trapping I’ve ever had, with countless new species, and a Huntingdonshire (VC31) first macro moth- Cloaked Pug (Eupithecia abietaria). In total, 73 new species takes my total to 571.

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Cloaked Pug (Eupithecia abietaria), new to VC31.

A couple of new moths found by day. Left: Red-necked Footman (Atolmis rubricollis) found at Monks Wood. Right: Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica) feeding on Agrimony.

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Common, but new to me- Leopard Moth (Zeuzera pyrina), from the garden moth trap.

Insects- remaining small orders: 9 new species, taking my total to 24. A couple of Mayflies, and several Lacewings- a group I’m becoming more fond of.

Fish: 1 new species, and it’s my biggest fish yet… Basking Shark! Seen off the Lizard on a beautifully warm day in May. Missed out on Ocean Sunfish twice in the same day. My group total now 52.

Birds: 5 new species, all from Cornwall of course, and all in May. My group total is now 264. The five were: Richard’s Pipit, Purple Heron, Red-rumped Swallow, Iberian Chiffchaf and Bee-eater! I must thank Toby Phelps for allowing me to hop in his car for endless birding and short-range twitching (and long range dipping, in the case of Portlands Spectacled Warbler).

Richard’s Pipit phonescope record shots, from fields on the edge of Lizard village.

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A quality photograph for once! Because it was taken by Toby Phelps. Purple Heron on a birders garden pond near Truro.

A rather trickier bird to photograph, but some decent record shots from Toby. Red-rumped Swallow at RSPB Marazion Marsh.

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Iberian Chiffchaff, in full song at Prussia Cove near Penzance. Lovely picture by Toby again. After a record year for the species, how long before it’s no longer a rarity I wonder?
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Bee-eater in a horse paddock near Hayle. An absolutely stunning bird. It was amazing to watch it grab a bumblebee out of the air, rub its tail end on the wires to remove the sting, then swallow it whole!

Looking back through May and June, I can hardly believe it myself how much stuff I’ve seen! With only 146 more species to go for 1000 new this year, will July be the month I make it?!