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.

 

 

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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!!

 

 

 

August PSL Review

It’s been another good month for Pan-species listing, with a surprisingly high 180 new additions to my list. My overall total is now 3933, with 1204 additions this calendar year, and 1513 new species since I compiled my list last August! I’m now not quite sure what my end of year target should be, but I hope to reach an overall total of at least 4000.

That’s the overview, so here are the usual facts, figures and photos from across the groups!

Fungi: At last a notable increase in my total for this group! 30 new species, bringing me up to 161 for the group. I’ve made a proper start on rusts and mildews. Though not the most glamorous of fungi, they’re often host plant specific, so I find them far easier to ID than most ‘macro’ fungi.

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The powdery mildew Erysiphe orontii growing on Acanthus in my garden.

Bryophytes: It’s been a while since I’ve found anything new in this group, but the bryophyte season is now underway again. 2 new species added taking my group total to 199. The floating liverwort Riccia fluitans, and a hornwort- Anthoceros agrestis. Both quite localised species.

Vascular plants: A healthy 30 additions to my list, taking my total to 955 for the group. Ahead of my end of year target of 950. I wonder if I can manage to reach four figures by the end of the year… probably not! Mostly common stuff added, but a few nice things from a week in Dorset at the beginning of the month.

‘Common stuff’ first. Chenopodium polyspermum, the Many-seeded Goosefoot. Apparently frequent on waste ground, but overlooked by me until recently. Since getting my eye in, I’ve seen it several times!

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Now for ‘nice things’. Ulex minor, Dwarf Gorse. Found in Dorset quite a lot. Definite ID relies on measurement of the various petals, but it seems rather scrawnier and softer than Ulex europaeus and gallii (Common and Western Gorse).
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Erica ciliaris, Dorset Heath. Fairly frequent on heathlands… in Dorset. It’s also found in Cornwall and Devon, but I haven’t seen it there yet.

Arachnids: 6 new species found, my group total increased to 128. A few gall mites, the beautiful spider Arctosa perita, and a new pseudoscorpion- Lamprochernes nodosus, found in abundance by sieving a compost heap.

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A pseudoscorpion- Lamprochernes nodosus.

Orthopteroids: I rarely seem to add species to this list, as I’ve seen most common species. 1 new species takes my group total to 25. Chorthippus vagans, the Heath Grasshopper.

Hemipteroids: 29 new additions taking my group total to 283. A good mix of heteroptera, leafhoppers, delphacids and the occasional psocid.

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The scarce psocid Valenzuela atricornis, found at Woodwalton Fen. Unusual amongst psocids in that it is often found amongst low vegetation (as opposed to in trees or shrubs).

Left to right: The mirid bug Europiella artemisiae, fairly easily swept from Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). The berytid bug (Stiltbug) Gampsocoris punctipes, often abundant on Restharrow (Ononis repens). The lygaeid bug Scolopostethus decoratus, found on heathland at RSPB Arne.

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The lygaeid bug Gastrodes grossipes. This species lives mostly in pine cones, so can be beaten (albeit with some effort) from Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris). It’s an amazingly flat bug, so easily slots itself into the small gaps available in pine cones.
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My new favourite delphacid (we’ve all got one, right?)! The crazy looking Asiraca clavicornis. This species is found in dry grasslands and areas of vegetated waste ground. It is increasing again after a period of decline, perhaps due to climate change.

Hymenoptera: 9 new species, bringing me up to 119 for the group. Almost all solitary bees, of which I have no good photos. Megachile ligniseca at Holme Fen was one of the highlights for me.

Coleoptera: The beetle season is very much past its best now, but I still managed 27 new species, taking my group total to 501. Below are a few of my favourites.

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Onthophagus similis, a really cool looking dung beetle that I saw flying by and landing on the coast path in Dorset.

Left to right: Protapion ononidis, fairly widespread on Restharrow (Ononis repens) but doesn’t seem very abundant. I had to sweep about 20 plants to find just one! Omphalapion hookerorum, another Apionid, this time associated with Tripleurospermum species of Mayweed. Finally, Mr and Mrs Pseudapion rufirostre, found on Malva spp Mallows. The male has an orange rostrum, so it looks a bit like it has a cold.

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This somewhat unremarkable looking beetle is the Anthribid weevil Bruchela rufipes, which I found new to Huntingdonshire on Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea). It is scarce, but slowly spreading in South-eastern England.
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Beetle number 500 on my list! The Nitidulid Pocadius ferrugineus, found inside a Puffball!

Diptera: 11 new species, my group total now 145. Mostly leafminers.

Lepidoptera- Moths: A decent 34 additions to the list, total now 634. Holiday in Dorset at the beginning of the month helped greatly, plus a few leafminers towards the end of the month.

Two of the best from Dorset. Left: Cydia amplana, a scarce migrant. Right: Metalampra italica, a rare recent colonist to Britain, with relatively unknown status

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Gold Spot (Plusia festucae) from my garden trap. A fairly common species, just not one which had previously turned up for me!

Birds: 1 new species! Hoping for many more in September. White-winged Black Tern at Grafham Water. Distant and mobile, so no photos.

September will have me travelling back to Cornwall, which I hope will benefit all of my lists! The insect season will be drawing to a close, but lichens, bryophytes, fungi, birds and marine life will be going strong, so I hope to keep adding species until university work takes over!

July PSL review

July has been a good month for pan-species listing, with 170 additions to my list across all the groups. This means that I’ve already achieved my end of year goal of 1000 new species! By the end of July, I’d seen 1024 new species in 2017, taking my overall total to 3753. I spent most of the month at home in Cambridgeshire, but the final few days coincided with the beginning of a weeks holiday in Dorset, providing a boost in new species! Here’s the usual breakdown of my new finds during July:

Lichens: 1 new species- Chaenotheca ferruginea. Group total now 21. I’m hoping to push onwards with lichens in a month or two when all the insects and plants disappear.

Fungi: 6 new species, taking my total to 131. All microfungi, including the mildew Erysiphe aquilegiae on my garden Aquilegias.

Vascular Plants: A reasonable 13 new species, bringing my group total up to 925. A few garden escapes from wandering around a local housing estate, including Argentinian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis) and Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea). Best of all was Violet Helleborine (Epipactis purpurata) at Monks Wood, and my first ever Sundews! Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) on Hartland Moor, Dorset.

Left: Argentinian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis). Right: Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea).

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Violet Helleborine (Epipactis purpurata)- a beautiful and scarce plant of shaded south-eastern woodlands.
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Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). It was great to finally see some of these lovely carnivorous plants.

Arachnids: 10 new species. Mostly spiders including the impressive Raft Spider Dolomedes fimbriatus at RSPB Arne, and Trochosa terricola. Another major highlight was the UK’s largest pseudoscorpion Dendrochernes cyrneus at Woodwalton Fen. A very rare species indeed! Details of its finding are in my previous blog HERE.

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Trochosa terricola, an absolute brute of a wolf spider (Lycosid), this female having a body length of 14mm.
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Dolomedes fimbriatus, a Raft Spider. I spotted this individual near the edge of a boggy pool at RSPB Arne, sheltering underneath some Bell Heather.
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Brian Eversham’s photo of Dendrochernes cyrneus. An amazing creature!

Odonata: A rare addition to this list takes my total to 26 (I haven’t been Dragonfly/Damselfly twitching, or North, very much). Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens).

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Female Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) on Hartland Moor, Dorset.

Hemipteroids: A group I’ve been working really hard on this year, and July is a good month for finding them! 58 new species, taking my group total to 254. A terrestrial heteroptera (land bugs) course mid-month helped out, but I’ve also worked hard finding new leafhoppers and Psocids. A selection of some recent finds from Dorset are shown below.

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An incredible species of leafhopper- Eupelix cuspidata. Found in dry grassland areas throughout southern England.

Left: Dicyphus annulatus, a small (3mm) Mirid bug found only on Restharrow. Right: Tuponia brevirostris, another small Mirid, this time found only on Tamarisk. A recent colonist to the UK, first recorded in 2001, this bug is now widespread in southern England.

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Gastrodes grossipes, a very flat 7mm long bug found on Scots Pine, often living in the cones.

Hymenoptera: Slightly below par with only 8 new species, taking my group total to 110. Nearly all solitary bees, including the lovely Dasypoda hirtipes.

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Dasypoda hirtipes, nicknamed the Pantaloon Bee due to its ‘baggy trousers’ of hair on the hind legs.

Coleoptera: 33 new species, so I’m now at 474 for the group. Though a good increase, July has been much harder for finding new beetles, and many weevils and Chrysomelids are past their peak. At the beginning of the month, the moth trap accounted for some really nice species! Here’s a generous helping of my new additions.

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Nationally scarce A Geotrupid Trypocopris pyrenaeus from Hartland Moor. A sandy heathland specialist, distinct in having very shallow elytral striae and pronotal punctures.
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A bizzare Anthribid weevil- Platystomos albinus. Not sure why, but this deadwood specialist was climbing Soft Rush!

Left: Nationally scarce Apionid weevil Squamapion cineraceum. Associated with Self-heal on dry, chalky soils. Right: Curculionid weevil Cathormiocerus spinosus. A brilliantly camouflaged species feeding at the roots of plants on gravelly ground.

Two nationally scarce beetles from the moth trap! Left: Colydiid Aulonium trisulcus, usually found in the feeding galleries of Elm bark beetle larvae. Right: Dytiscid water beetle Rhantus frontalis.

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The exquisitely coloured Curculionid weevil Hypera nigrirostris. Widespread in England on Red Clover.

From left to right: Nationally scarce Curculionid weevil Mecinus circulatus. Nationally scarce Chrysomelid Calomicrus circumfusus. Curculionid weevil Rhinoncus castor, associated with Sheep’s Sorrel. Carabid Amara tibialis, distinctive due to its small size (c.5mm) and deep double streaks on each half of the pronotum.

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Brian Eversham’s photo of the Carabid (Ground beetle) Carabus granulatus. Although quite common, it’s a real jewel of a beetle, and nearly an inch long!

Diptera: 7 new species, bringing my total to 134. I’m certain I should be making more of an effort with flies! My latest addition was the large Tachinid Nowickia ferox.

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Nowickia ferox, a common Tachinid fly.

Lepidoptera- Moths: After an amazing June moth trapping in the garden, new species slowed considerably in July. Luckily, the garden in Dorset was amazing, and gave loads of new stuff over the first two nights. 29 new species, bringing my total to a nice round 600! All of the best new moths came from Dorset, and here are a few of them.

Left: Nationaly scarce A Four-spotted Footman (Lithosia quadra) male. Right: An amazingly fresh example of a Rosy Footman (Miltochrista miniata).

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Dingy Mocha (Cyclophora pendularia), a Red Data Book and BAP priority species restricted almost entirely to damp heathlands in Dorset and Hampshire.

Left: Nationally scarce micro moth Synaphe punctalis. Right: Small Mottled Willow (Spodoptera exigua), a somewhat uncommon immigrant species.

Insects- Remaining small orders: 4 new species, bringing my total to 28. All lacewings, the most recent being Nineta flava shown below.

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Nineta flava, a large lacewing (c.20mm) associated with Oaks. It has a distinctive concave outer edge to the forewing.

So with those 170 new species, and my end of year goal of 1000 new species exceeded, where next? Well I’ve decided to try and reach an overall total of 4000 by the end of the year, so I need to find another 247 species! Its amazing to think that I started my pan-species list last August on 2420, and I’m already headed towards 4000. It goes to show the amazing diversity of life that can be discovered.

 

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.

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?!

 

March and April- PSL review

It’s been a busy few weeks, mostly spent doing fieldwork, working, identifying stuff and moving back down to uni, so I’ve been neglecting my blog a little bit. So to make up for it, here’s a big colourful blog about all the new things I managed to find during March and April, on my way to 1000 new species this year.

March

In total, I managed 131 new species during the month of March!

Algae: 10 new species this month, all seaweeds (marine macro-algae), taking my total to 40 for the group.

Lichens: A poor 3 more species added, taking my total to 20. I’ve decided to leave these until the autumn.

Fungi: Slowly increasing as ever, 2 new species. Total 110 for the group.

Bryophytes: As the main bryology season drew to a close, I managed 19 new species, taking my group total to 197. Amongst these species were some excellent liverworts: the extremely rare Riccia crystallina, and the highly localised Sphaerocarpos michelii. Thanks to Matt Stribley for telling me where to find them.

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Riccia crystallina, typically 5-20mm across

 

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Sphaerocarpos michelii

Vascular Plants: I managed 13 new species, taking my total to 884. These included the grass Poa compressa, and a couple of classic Cornish escaped Campanula species. Also Ranunculus tripartitus, the very localised Three-lobed Crowfoot, found on the Lizard.

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Ranunculus tripartitus (Three-lobed Crowfoot)

Cnidarians: An increase of 2, making a total of 12. One of these was an awesome stalked jellyfish: Haliclystus octoradiatus. I can’t remember what the other was!

Molluscs: 9 new species, so I’m now at 110 for the group. Additions included a monstrous 20cm Sea Hare: Aplysia punctata!

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Aplysia punctata (Sea Hare)

Bryozoans: An increase of 1, from 3 to 4. Cellepora pumicosa.

Annelids: 4 new species, taking my total to 17. A few of the easier rockpool species.

Arachnids: 3 new species, bringing me up to 79 for the group. The highlight by far was the Spitting Spider: Scytodes thoracica, found and brilliantly photographed by Will Hawkes.

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Scytodes thoracica (Spitting Spider) photographed by Will Hawkes

Myriapods: An increase of 1, taking my total to 51.

Crustaceans: A surprising increase of 11 species, bringing my total to 45 for the group. I’m very pleased with my additions to this group, which included 5 isopods from the genus Idotea, and some cool crabs, including this purpley Risso’s Crab: Xantho pilipes.

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Xantho pilipes (Risso’s Crab)

Orthopteroids: 1 addition, an Unarmed Stick-insect found by Ellie Mayhew! Temporarily brought indoors for people to come and admire. A real Cornish speciality, naturalised since 1979!

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Acanthoxyla inermis (Unarmed Stick-insect)

Hemipteroids: 9 new species, including a few Psocids (I’m not sure why these are part of hemipteroids in PSL groupings, surely they should be in ‘remaining insect orders’?). Total now 86.

Hymenoptera: 10 new species bringing my total to 77. Mostly solitary bees, added with guidance from Will Hawkes!

Coleoptera: Perhaps my favourite insect group currently. 15 new species this month, increasing my total to 235. Mostly weevils, including ‘species 3000’ Neliocarus nebulosus.

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Neliocarus nebulosus

Diptera: 4 species added, up to 93 now overall. These included the hoverfly Cheilosia albipila, seemingly not recorded in Cornwall for a couple of decades!

Moths: 4 new species, now at 487. These included the wonderful Pine Beauty (Panolis flammea).

Echinoderms: 1 new species, the green sea urchin (which isn’t always green) Psammechinus miliaris. Total now 7 for the group.

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The sea urchin Psammechinus miliaris next to a Painted Topshell, Calliostoma zizyphinum

Fish: After being relatively stuck for new fish for quite a while, 5 new species was excellent! Total now 51 for the group. Additions included Shore Rockling (Gaidropsaurus mediterraneus, right), Butterfish (Pholis gunnellus, top left) and the rare Giant Goby (Gobius cobitis, bottom left).

Birds: 3 new species this month, and all pretty nice things if I don’t say so myself! Hume’s Warbler (twitched on Portland with Toby Phelps and Liam Langley), Bonaparte’s Gull (a super showy individual half an hour from campus) and a Hoopoe (quick diversion from birding on the Lizard to see it)! Now at 257.

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Bonaparte’s Gull phonescope

 

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Hoopoe, attempted phone-bin

Mammals: 1 new species this month, total now 39. I was persuaded to add Human (Homo sapiens) to my list by fellow PSLers.

 

April

April has been the biggest month so far with regards to adding new species to my list. I surpassed my own expectations by quite a way, with 204 new species! 6.8 new species per day on average. This did include an epic 40+ lifer day involving a day out in chalk grassland (Devil’s Dyke, Cambs) and the Brecklands with Brian Eversham, followed by about 7 hours of microscope IDing!

Fungi: 8 new additions, mostly gall-causers. Total now 118.

Vascular Plants: 5 new additions taking my total to 889. One new species was the long awaited Pasqueflower, at Devil’s Dyke, Cambridgeshire.

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Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasqueflower)

Molluscs: 3 new species, total now 113.

Arachnids: 14 new species. A mixture of gall-causing mites and spiders. A personal highlight was finding the fairly localised spider Steatoda phalerata on the Suffolk coast.

Hemipteroids: A fairly substantial increase of 45 species, from 86 to 131! This included lots of species of Leafhopper (Cicadellidae), a few Planthoppers (Delphacidae), a Lacehopper (Cixiidae), and lots of Heteroptera (Bugs). Far left: A common leafhopper species, Eupteryx florida. Mid left: A common lacehopper species, Tachycixius pilosus. Mid right: A planthopper species associated with Sand Sedge (Carex arenaria), Kelisia sabulicola. Far right: A lacebug (family Tingidae), Physatocheila dumetorum. Fairly frequent on lichen covered trees, but at 2.5mm long, easy to miss!

Hymenoptera: 10 more species, bringing my total up to 87. These were all species of solitary bee, and included Nomada goodeniana.

 

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Nomada goodeniana

 

Coleoptera: Beetles were very much a focal point for me this month. I specifically targeted the various weevil families (Curculionidae, Apionidae, Rhynchitidae etc.), and the seed and leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), but also spent lots of time attempting random beetles that I came across. I managed 92 new species, bringing my group total to 327! Here are some pictures to illustrate the amazing diversity of beetles, a sample of things new to me in April!  

Curculionid weevils left to right: Phyllobius viridearis, Acalyptus carpini, Curculio glandium, Mogulones asperifoliarum. P.viridearis was my last lifer in April, and 500th lifer for the year.

Orthocerous weevils left to right: Exapion fuscirostre, Apion frumentarium (Apionidae), Neocoenorrhinus pauxillus, Tatianaerhynchites aequatus (Rhynchitidae).

Chrysomelid beetles left to right: Cassida vibex, Longitarsus dorsalis, Bruchus rufimanus, Phyllotreta vittula.

Other beetles left to right: Salpingus planirostris (Salpingidae), Psilothrix viridicoeruleus (Dasytidae), Aderus populneus (Aderidae), Glischrochilus hortensis (Nitidulidae).

Diptera: 12 new species, meaning that I’ve finally reached 3 figures for the group! 105 now the total. Most additions were leaf miners, gall causers, and Bibionid flies.

Moths: 11 new species, my total is now 498. A few leaf miners, and a few common-ish species that I’ve finally caught up with, such as Common Heath, Ematurga atomaria.

Insects remaining small orders: 1 new species. I actually had 3 new lacewings, but realised that my two thrips species belomged in the ‘hemipteroids’ category.

Birds: 2 new species, bringing my total up to 259. Contrasting with the rare and scarce additions during March, these were both long-term bogey species: Black Tern (at RSPB Minsmere) and Common Crossbill (seen whilst dipping the Haddon Hill Two-barred Crossbill). Crossbill is probably the best finch I’ve ever seen.

 

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Male Common Crossbill phonescope

 

Other animals: 1 addition, so my total is at last 1! The gall causing nematode worm Ditylenchus dipsaci, easily found on Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata).