Pan-species update

I decided at the beginning of this year that I would be trying to see 1000 species new to me in the UK during 2017. It’s a huge undertaking, and means I must average between 19 and 20 new species every week! This blog is an update on my progress towards this target during January.

January isn’t the easiest month for finding pan-species lifers, as there are very few insects to be found! I knew I’d have to work extra hard on my latest undertaking, bryophytes, to stand a chance of the 85 new species I’d need to be on target. Here is a summary of the new species that I’ve found…

Lichens: I bought a few lichen guides which were on offer, intending to keep them on the back burner, and start work on them more seriously later in the year. I spent a morning out at the local woods however, and added 7 new species, bringing my total to a rather sorry 12!

Fungi: I always struggle with these, but managed 3 new species, bringing my total to 104.

Bryophytes: I put a lot of time and effort into this group, and went along to the first Cornwall group BBS (British Bryological Society) meeting. 62 new species was my reward! Bringing my total to 148.

Ulota phyllantha, found at my local woods near College Reservoir

Vascular Plants: A few Cornish naturalised species, and a couple of ferns (Hay-scented Buckler-fern and Borrer’s Male-fern) added 8 new species, bringing my total to 868.


Common Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis), a no doubt long overlooked species by me!


Springtails etc.: I doubled my species list! From 1 to 2… Pogonognathellus longicornis. A monumental name, for the giant amongst springtails.

Orthopteroids: 1 new species, the German Cockroach, taking my total to 23.

Hymenoptera: 4 new species, all gall-causers. Takes my list to 66 species.

Diptera: 2 new species, both leaf miners: Phytomyza chaerophylli on Cow Parsley and Chromatomyia primulae on (yep you guessed it) Primrose. Takes my fly total to 87 species.


Phytomyza chaerophylli leaf mine on Cow Parsley



Chromatomyia primulae (whitish corridor leaf mine) on Primrose


Lepidoptera: Moths: 1 new species, the Herald! Takes my total to 482.


The Herald


Tunicates: 1 species added, missed off list previously. The ‘Star Ascidian’.

Birds: 5 new species, taking my total to 253. They were: Blue Rock Thrush (potentially dodgy), Ring-billed Gull, Pacific Diver, Lesser Scaup and Mandarin.


A stunning drake Mandarin



Mammals: 3 new species added, taking my total to 38 species. They were: Bottlenose Dolphin, Common Dolphin (missed off list previously), and Lesser Horseshoe Bat.

Somehow, that equates to 98 new species this month, putting me well ahead of my target! I have a feeling though that I’ve found a lot of the common bryophytes in the area, so I may have to think seriously about starting lichens in February. I’ve also secured permission to get some pitfall traps out around campus, so I’m hoping for some extra beetles. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it!



Species of the week- 13

Wifi issues meant that I couldn’t upload this blog yesterday, but here it is now! The species that I’m focussing on this week is the centipede Lithobius variegatus, nicknamed the Variegated Centipede. In my opinion, it is one of Britain’s prettiest myriapods (centipedes, millipedes and relatives), with its purple banded legs, and mottled brown upper surface.


April 2013- monks wood 015.jpg
Lithobius variegatus featuring the pill millipede: Glomeris marginata


Lithobius variegatus is one of the most easily identified British centipedes, by its colouration alone. It is a fairly large species, typically reaching 20-30mm in length. The species which it is most easily confused is the ubiquitous Lithobius forficatus, with which it frequently occurs. Lithobius forficatus is a uniform chestnut brown, with unbanded legs.

Lithobius variegatus is common throughout the West of Britain, but is scarce or absent in the extreme South-west of England, and South-western Scotland. There are scattered records from East Anglia and London also. Here is a link to the BMIG (British Myriapod and Isopod Group) website, showing the distribution and other information:

The best way to find this species is to look under logs and stones in rural areas of Western England, particularly in ancient woodland. The best times of year to look are autumn and winter, particularly in mild and wet spells. If you do find it, it’s likely to run away very fast! All Lithobius species can move with considerable speed, as they are active predators of springtails and other small invertebrates which share their microhabitats. Large individuals have jaws which may be strong enough to give a small nip to any person who annoys them enough, so handle them with some caution! That said, I’ve handled many individuals, and haven’t been bitten yet!

If you do find the species, take some photos and put it on iRecord. Records are urgently needed for a new centipede atlas!


April 2013- monks wood 018.jpg
Lithobius variegatus






Species of the week returns (12)

It’s been a long time, too long in fact, since my last species of the week blog. I don’t do new years resolutions, but if I did, it would be to write species of the week nearly every week (the nature of university life makes every week unrealistic!). So here we go with the first species of the week of 2017: the Slender Groundhopper (Tetrix subulata). Here is the lovely little creature:


The Slender Groundhopper (Tetrix subulata)


Groundhoppers are in the order Orthoptera, the same order as Grasshoppers, Crickets and Bush-crickets. They are however, in a family of their own: Tetrigidae. At first glance, groundhoppers look very similar to grasshoppers, but there is a simple difference. In grasshoppers, the pronotum is short, and so sits neatly between the head and thorax. This means that the wings of grasshoppers are fully visible from above. In groundhoppers, the pronotum extends backwards over the abdomen, completely concealing the wings. Here are the two side by side for comparison, with the label pointing to the end of the pronotum on the grasshopper.

Slender Groundhoppers, like many insects, are found in the spring, summer and autumn. Immature adults may overwinter, and mature into adults in early spring. From May to July, nymphs can be found, and from late July onwards, adults can be found again. Both adults and nymphs are herbivorous, feeding on algae and mosses.

Slender Groundhoppers are typically found in damp but unshaded and warm locations, typically with sparse vegetation. Streambeds which run dry in the summer are a classic location for finding this species. A similar species, the Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata) is often found alongside the Slender Grounhopper. T.undulata can be told apart from T.subulata by the length of the pronotum, which only just reaches the tip of the abdomen in T.undulata, but extends well beyond in T.subulata (shown in the top picture). T.subulata is marginally the larger of the two species, at 11-14mm in length. There is a much rarer species, Cepero’s Groundhopper (Tetrix ceperoi), which is extremely similar to the Slender Groundhopper. T.ceperoi is told apart by having its eyes less widely spaced apart than in T.subulata. It also occurs almost exclusively on the South coast of England.

Despite preferring slightly damp habitats, the Slender Groundhopper is thermophilic, so is most frequently found in Southern and Eastern England. It also occurs in South Wales, and there are isolated records from as far North as central Scotland. Its distribution can be seen here:

This is definitely a species to look forward to finding in the warmer months. I’m hoping to find all three British Groundhopper species this year on the Lizard peninsula!



Bryologising, Birding and Blowouts

To celebrate the week of exams coming to an end, I’ve been out Friday, Saturday and today: Birding, Bryologising, and birding again for good measure.

Bryologising- A possibly made up word denoting time spent looking for, or at Bryophytes.

On Friday, Toby and I birded Gerrans Bay, and the Gannel Estuary. Gerrans produced good birds, with 14 Great Northern Divers, 3 Black-throated Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Red-necked Grebes, 1 Slavonian Grebe and a calling Firecrest. We visited the Gannel to target the 1st winter Ring-billed Gull, and roosting Cattle Egrets. We hit both targets, with 9 Cattle Egrets in to roost at 17:10!

1st winter Ring-billed Gull, phonescoped record shot

On Saturday, Ben Porter and myself met up with Cornwall’s Bryophyte recorder Matt Stribley, and several other amateur bryologists to record from a tetrad with no bryophyte records. We focussed our search in the woodland of Herodsfoot deerpark.

I’m fairly new to bryophytes, having only started learning them in November 2016, so I surprised myself in being able to name (or at least key out) a good proportion of the 70 or so species we found through the day. It was an excellent day out, and I learnt so much from being around several experienced bryologists for a day. By the end of the day, my head was full (and spilling over) with new names, features and information! The day is best summed up in photographs, which show the amazing diversity of forms that bryophytes can take. All of these stunning photos were taken by Ben Porter, check out his awesome photography here:

Loeskeobryum brevirostre with Polytrichastrum formosum
Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus (A.K.A: Big Shaggy-moss)
Dicranum majus with the Liverwort Diplophyllum albicans (bottom right)


Frullania dilatata  (a liverwort)



Spagnum capillifolium with at least 4 other bryophytes!


Now on to today (Sunday), which has been a very eventful days birding with Toby and Liam! The plan was to head East to Devon, attempt to see the elusive Bonaparte’s Gull at Dawlish Warren, and then stop via Cirl Buntings, Desert Wheatear, American Wigeon and Lesser Scaup on the way back!

Toby’s car was due to visit the garage on Monday, to find out what was causing the slightly bumpy ride. We had checked the car over several times before, without finding any issues. However, out on Bodmin Moor (on the A30) disaster struck. There was a loud thud from the back of the car, followed by a rather unnerving juddering! Luckily there was a layby 100 yards or so ahead, where Toby pulled over. We quickly found the problem, the tyre had exploded! Liam remained asleep in the back.


The wreckage of a once great tyre


We were fairly certain that this would be game over for today, until Toby realised he had a spare in the boot. As we attempted to change the tyre, we encountered many unfamiliar tools, and a previously unused ‘instruction manual’. A surprisingly short time later, Toby and I had managed to fit the spare (Liam with one arm out of action from a sports injury, held the torch). We had grazed and oily hands, which made us feel very manly. We were back on the road!


Toby and his mended Yaris


We collectively decided that Devon was a bad idea, but as we were within a few miles, we dropped in to see the Lesser Scaup on Dozmary Pool. Lifer!


Scaup scoping at drizzly Dozmary


We then headed back towards campus, deciding that a short round trip to Hayle estuary and Marazion wouldn’t hurt. Hayle was quiet, with an adult argentatus race Herring Gull the best bird we could find. We went on to Marazion, where the resident mega-rare Pacific Diver had been seen the previous day, associating with four Great Northern Divers. This Pacific Diver has been returning to winter in Cornwall for the past 10 years, but is one of only around eight of its kind to have ever been seen in the UK.

As we scoped the sea from the cliffs, I picked up a diver which looked interesting. It appeared too round headed and fine-billed for Great Northern Diver, and lacked the white flank patch of Black-throated Diver. In turn we looked at the bird, yearning for it to drift a little closer to the shore. What it did drift closer to (and swim with for some time) was a group of four Great Northern Divers, which gave an excellent structural comparison. Our diver was certainly the right build for the Pacific. We followed the bird for almost half an hour, until we could say definitively that it showed no white flank patch in any swimming position or behaviour. It was the PACIFIC DIVER! Pipit magnet Toby also picked up a Water Pipit and a Black Redstart on the beach.

On the way home, we dropped by Hayle for a pasty, and one last check of the estuary. Toby picked up the wintering  Green-winged Teal (North America’s version of our Teal), and of course, another Water Pipit. What a day!


A sleepy Green-winged Teal, phonescoped









The year so far: Birds, Bryophytes and Pan-species plans

With an exam every day from the 9th to the 12th this month, I’ve spent the last few days getting my head down with revision, and so haven’t had much time for blogging. But, I’ve decided to take a break for an hour or so to write about what I’ve been up to so far this year.

New Years Day, 6:30 am. My alarm has just gone off, and I’m getting ready to go out birding around Cambridgeshire to get the 2017 year list off to a good start. It’s raining outside, and it’s due to be raining all day. Should be fun!

First up, Grafham Water. I get out of the car, eyes peeled and ears tuned in for birding! I quickly rack up the first twenty or so species: various finches calling in the trees, ducks, grebes and gulls on the water, and best of all 6 Bewick’s Swans. I have to look harder for the next species, but I eventually pick out one of the wintering Great Northern Divers near the dam. I scope the water hard from two car parks to try and find the elusive Red-necked Grebe (present somewhere!) to no avail. Ah well, onto Paxton Pits. It doesn’t take long to get my target species: the long-staying female Ring-necked Duck, and Great White Egret. Potentially troublesome day-ticks such as Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers all fell easily!

I then visited Fen Drayton, where the highlight was two 1st winter male Scaup. It was then on to Needingworth Lakes, the coldest and muddiest venue of the day. It was hard work, but trudging half a mile or so through the half frozen mud yielded 7 Smew, including one beautiful male! The last two sites were Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen. A break in the rain meant for an excellent end to the day overlooking the reedbed at Woodwalton. Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, and a male Hen Harrier all made appearances, whilst a Cetti’s Warbler sang, Water Rails squealed, 45 Corn Buntings circled above the reeds, and a Bearded Tit flew across! I finished the day on 87 species, just 8 off the county 1st January record. Not bad for such a rainy day!

I apologise for the lack of photos so far. It was too rainy, and I’m rubbish at taking pictures of birds.

The next day, I went out with Brian Eversham for some less birdy fieldwork. The plan was to look at bryophytes, and see what invertebrates we could find along the way. We started at Flitwick Moor, a wet woodland/grassland Wildlife Trust reserve in Bedfordshire. The reserve is renowned for its Sphagnum bogs, containing over 10 Sphagnum species, including several for which it is Bedfordshire’s only site. Unfortunately, nearly all of it was frozen! The only Sphagnum we (mostly Brian) could identify in the field was Sphagnum squarrosum. At last some pictures! Of Flitwick Moor, and a patch of the moss Polytrichum commune growing amongst the Sphagnum.


Throughout the rest of the day, we keyed out as many bryophytes as we could in the field, but had to bring a few tiny Liverworts back for microscopic identification. The smallest of all was found at nearby Cooper’s Hill nature reserve completely by accident! Brian found it initially whilst examining an already fairly small (10mm tall) Campylopus moss. Under the hand lens, a small strand of the Liverwort could be seen. The leaves can’t have been more than 0.2mm, and some were much less! We managed to key it to Cephaloziella sp. using the field guide, so the specimen remains with Brian for a definitive ID.

Including a few galls and a couple of fungi, I managed twelve pan-species lifers for the day (my only ones of the year so far).

Speaking of pan-species listing, I spent a little while setting myself some pan-species targets for next year. I’ll stick the big boring table (which I enjoyed making quite a lot) in full at the end of this blog, but in short, I’m aiming for 1000 new species this year!

Group 2016 Total 2016 Ranking (out of 192) 2017 Target
Algae 24 23rd 50
Slime Moulds 2 Joint 45th 4
Protists 1 Joint 10th 2
Lichens 5 Outside top 50 50
Fungi 101 Outside top 50 150
Bryophytes 86 30th 160
Vascular Plants 860 38th 950
Sponges 2 Joint 12th 4
Comb-jellies 0 Unranked 1
Cnidarians 10 Joint 14th 15
Molluscs 98 13th 120
Bryozoans 1 Joint 25th 2
Annelid Worms 12 Joint 18th 20
Platyhelminth Worms 4 Joint 11th 8
Sea-spiders 0 Unranked 1
Arachnids 75 28th 125
Myriapods 49 6th 55
Crustaceans 31 Joint 20th 40
Springtails etc. 1 Outside top 50 2
3-tailed Bristletails 3 Joint 11th 5
Odonata 25 Outside top 50 30
Orthopteroids 22 Joint 27th 27
Hemipteroids 77 45th 130
Hymenoptera 62 Joint 42nd 120
Coleoptera 217 Joint 38th 417
Diptera 85 48th 150
Butterflies 34 Outside top 50 40
Moths 481 48th 600
Remaining Insect Orders 14 47th 40
Echinoderms 6 Joint 13th 10
Tunicates 0 Unranked 1
Fish 46 12th 55
Reptiles 6 Joint 26th 7
Amphibians 6 Joint 33rd 7
Birds 248 Outside top 50 290
Mammals 35 Outside top 50 40
Other Animals 0 Unranked 1
Overall 2729 41st 3729


Back on The Great Fen

I’ve been home in Cambridgeshire for almost a fortnight now, I don’t know where the time is going! It seems like I’ll be back in Penryn all too soon for a week of exams… ah well. Returning home gives me the chance to get out volunteering again for The Great Fen Project, where I work as a volunteer ranger, watching over the various sites and recording wildlife as I go. The Saturday just gone was my first shift since August, and what a great day it was!

We (Dad and I) started the day at the countryside centre in Ramsey Heights, a lovely albeit rather small site. It was a chilly morning, but the birds were out in force. The ‘chack-chack’ call of Fieldfares was the dominant noise, with the softer calls of Redwings, Bullfinches and a flyover Yellowhammer for support (the latter being a good day-tick for the area).

The Great Fen Project area is built around two national nature reserves (NNRs): Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen. The next site to visit was Holme Fen, a large silver birch woodland surrounded by farmland, containing areas of heathland and a few lakes. Quite a diverse range of habitats!


Holme Fen


As we wandered the footpaths, I kept my eyes peeled for birds, bagged some bryophytes for identification later, and turned a few logs to look for invertebrates. One find was a Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmus sp.), which after close inspection, turned out to be Polydesmus angustus, our commonest species.


The millipede Polydesmus angustus


As we walked along the edge of the woodland, I spotted a dark raptor flying low over the fields. A male Merlin! A winter visitor to Cambridgeshire, and always a lovely bird to see. Shortly after that, we found a particularly vocal flock of c.30 Siskins, one of the highest counts in the county this year.

We moved on to check some of the farmland areas of The Great Fen, where we had lovely views of a Barn Owl. Even I nearly managed to get a nice shot!


Barn Owl


A few minutes later, we stumbled across a local specialty, the Chinese Water Deer. Native to China and Korea, this introduced species is thriving in the fens of East Anglia. It is easily recognised by its stocky build, and intermediate size between Muntjac and Roe Deer. They also have large, rounded ears and small tusks.


Chinese Water Deer


Our final site of the day was my personal favourite: Woodwalton Fen. Woodwalton is a beautiful pocket of ancient fenland, combining wet woodland, alder carr, marshy grassland, lakes and reedbeds.


Woodwalton Fen at dusk


It wasn’t long before the first good wildlife sighting: a flock of around 25 Lesser Redpolls, again, one of the highest counts in the county this year. I scanned the flock, hoping for a Mealy Redpoll. One pale-looking bird caught my eye, but flew before I got a good view. The one that got away?

As we walked to check on the two waterbird hides, I spotted an old railway sleeper in an area of damp grassland. It needed to be turned over! We turned the sleeper, and I soon saw that my instincts were spot on. Large numbers of the ancient fenland woodlouse Ligidium hypnorum scattered. A nice species to see, but one that can run so fast, I didn’t manage to get a good photo. At the other end of the sleeper, Dad had found a centipede that he said looked interesting. It certainly was! It was a species that I’d never seen before: Strigamia acuminata. The reddish colouration is characteristic of the genus, with the stubby build (compared to similar species) and number of legs (41 pairs to be precise) confirming the species.


The Centipede Strigamia acuminata


Myriapods (centipedes and millipedes) are one of my favourite and most studied groups, so a new species for me is very exciting! It also helps me keep my place in the pan-species listing rankings for the group, my highest ranking for any group!

We finished off the day with a visit to the North Hide, to count the Marsh Harriers that roost in the reedbed. 2 females, 1 male, and an immature male. We were then given a real treat, as the wintering male Hen Harrier came in, giving us stunning views. After a while, it gracefully dropped from the sky and settled down into the reeds. What a brilliant end to the day!









Norfolk Birding at its best

This is my first pure birding blog, which maybe reflects the huge increase in the amount of birding I’ve been doing recently. I justify this birding from an all-round naturalists perspective by making sure to find a few new bryophytes or invertebrates along the way!

So today myself, Toby and my Dad decided to bird the North Norfolk coast in order to cash in on the recent quantity of good birds there. First stop was RSPB Titchwell, which has seen amazing counts of sea ducks recently. The first good bird was a female Brambling on the feeders by the visitor centre, a very good bird for Pembrokeshire-based Toby, and my first of the winter so far. On the way out to sea, I saw a lone gull on the marsh. It was close, and looked by eye to be a Yellow-legged Gull. It was, and a textbook adult bird at that! Long wings, dark mantle, heavy bill, clean white head and red orbital ring! (It had bright yellow legs too, when it briefly stood up). Phone-scope:


On the next marsh closest to the sea we had 3 Spotted Redshank, and a Water Rail swimming across right next to the bank.

As we approached the beach, I could see a small crowd of bescoped birders looking out to sea. This was promising! We got to the beach, and it did not disappoint. 40 Long-tailed Duck (including a stonking male), 10 Velvet Scoter, 10 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Scaup, hundreds of Common Scoter, tens of Goldeneye and a smattering of Great Crested Grebes and Red-throated Divers! Long-tailed Duck was a long overdue lifer for me! There were also Sanderling and Knot amongst a hoard of waders on the beach. Long-tailed Duck, record shot:


The next site to visit was Holkham Gap, hoping for Shore Larks (a lifer for all of us!). After a little while walking the saltmarsh, the only birds we’d managed to flush were Meadow Pipits and Linnets, by the hundred. Luckily, I spoke to a few local birders who pointed us in the right direction. Five minutes later, Dad called out that he’d seen some Shore Lark-like birds skulking in the dead sea lavender. We walked a little closer, and up flew 13 Shore Larks! Photo courtesy of Toby Phelps, hence it isn’t a phone-scope for once.


As we followed the flock, they flew up again, and were joined by a further 12 birds. 25 Shore Larks! After a little while appreciating the Shore Larks on the floor, we headed back across the marsh. A small flock of 8 Brent Geese flew onto the marsh next to us. “Could be a Black Brant in there” said Toby (there was one reported at Holkham Gap a few days before) shortly followed by “There, I’ve got it!”. The Dark overall colour, large white flash on the flank and very distinct white neck ring were definitive. It was an Asian/Siberian bird, so the back wasn’t as dark as an American bird would be. Photos are Toby’s again, bird is second from the right in the top photo, and central with its head up in the bottom.


As we walked further back through the marsh, we flushed yet another flock of Shore Larks, this time numbering 20 birds. That brought the total to 45 Shore Larks!

The final place to visit was Cley Marshes, where we hoped for Caspian Gulls or White-wingers (Iceland or Glaucous Gulls) in the roost. From the hide, we had excellent views of Marsh Harriers, causing every bird on the marsh to fly up. The Golden Plovers eventually spiralled back down from above, bringing with them 21 Ruff. The few Gulls which had settled in the usual roost spot had been scared onto an adjacent pool, behind a reedbed! It was too far to walk round and view the pool before darkness fell, so we had to watch as the Gulls filtered out of the sky, and out of sight for good. No Gulls for us!

The day ended with another Water Rail swimming across in front of the hide, and hundreds of Brent Geese flying in V-formations across the grey, wintery skies. Stunning!