Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Getting tough

Back at the beginning of the year I set myself a target of seeing 1000 new species (in any taxonomic group) during the year. I haven't mentioned it much in the blog because it's only a bit of fun that was prompted by a friends attempt to do the same thing a couple of years ago. I've really been treating it as a motivation to get in to groups that I've been planning to learn more about but have never got around to doing. It's certainly been a success in that respect, although being out of the country for nearly a month in late July to mid-August didn't help.

So how is it going? As of tonight I've seen 933 new species so the target is still attainable but it's getting tough to find new species. The recent frosts have reduced the amount of fungi around and the last fungus group meeting that I went to produced just a handful of new species.

Common Stump Brittlestem Psathyrella piluliformis
Nectria punicea
The Nectria punicea is apparently quite rare as it was new to virtually everyone in the group. The most impressive species to me though was Marasmius hudsonii due to the fact that it grows out of a dead Holly leaf. I also liked the hairy cap but you can't really see that in the photo.

On the way home I stopped at a random roadside to do a bit of leaf mine recording. A patch of Ground-ivy unexpectedly produced two new species for me; the leaf-mining fly Phytomyza glechomae

and the gall midge Rondaniola bursaria - the picture showing the galls on the right and the raised holes where the mature galls have fallen to the ground to over-winter.

I also called in to see the 1st winter male Long-tailed Duck at Hayling Oysterbeds. Whilst walking back to the car I remembered my failure to find Sea Slaters at Emsworth recently so thought I'd have another look. The third rock that I turned over produced

and about 40 others!

So what of the remaining 67 new species that I need to get to 1000? I've certainly got that many insects that I collected earlier in the year which are awaiting identification but will I be able to confidently identify enough of them without feeling that they need to be verified? Probably not, given that Christmas will get in the way and I can't really ask people to look at specimens for me during that period. So it's still all to play for, I may need to get the moss key out.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Carry on fungus

For the benefit of Steve and anyone else whose humour is at the 'Carry On' level, today I've been checking out the Bishop's Ring (SU950156) but I saw little of note apart from Cut-leaved Crane's-bill still in flower.

So back to a fungus foray at Oxshott Common. Apparently this site has the largest number of recorded fungi anywhere in the world, with a list of over 3000 species. Well I'm glad it has something going for it because I wasn't impressed! An extremely dull secondary woodland that is so riddled with dog shit that it was impossible to avoid stepping in it. I was delighted to leave.

Whilst there I did see some interesting fungi. Plicaturopsis crispa was, surprisingly, new to the site.

The Funnel Chanterelle Cantharellus tubiformis wasn't new for me but is worth a photo nonetheless.

Earth Fan Thelephora terrestris was common in one small area.

One of my favourites from the day was the Ear-pick Fungus Auriscalpium vulgare which grows on old pine cones.

The undoubted highlight though was the non-native Aseroe rubra. This species is a native of Australia and Oxshott Common is its only known British site. It seems to have been twitched by every man and his dog this autumn and it was great to catch up with it. Continuing with the Carry On theme, I can't help looking at the stem and thinking that it looks like some sort of animals phallus. What could have happened to a phallus to make the end like that doesn't bear thinking about though.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Smurf Spider

Another fungus foray but I forgot my camera so have a look at Graeme's blog to see what we found. In the evening we went looking for the Plumed Prominent moth on the Sussex Downs. Anything that flies in November is going to be tricky and I've only seen this species once in about ten attempts.

The plus side is that it tends to fly by about 7.30pm so you don't have to stay up all night. The temperature dropped quickly at dusk and we didn't hold out much hope of seeing any Plumed Prominents so as usual we took to looking for other things. There's an old lime kiln at the site and we usually see a bat on the 'ceiling' but we've never managed to identify it. The first time we looked there was a group of hibernating Herald moths so it seemed unlikely that there would be any bats this year.

 However when we looked later there were two bats sat a couple of feet from the moths. This time I managed to get a photo which proved sufficiently good for a bat boffin to identify them as Natterer's.

There aren't any obvious crevices in the lime kiln so it's a mystery where they were hiding earlier. It was great to see a new bat but the species of the evening was the spider Cyclosa conica with it's bizarre abdomen. According to Wikipedia it has no English name - until now; it is undoubtedly the Smurf Spider!

A few days later and I planned on going to another fungus foray but I got delayed in traffic so would have missed the start and so I diverted into Liss to have a look for a new fern for me, the excellently named Rustyback. As it was growing on someone's garden wall I only snapped one quick image and didn't think about getting a picture showing the dense scales on the underside that give it it's name.

I then went down to the coast at Emsworth to look for the Sea Slater; Britain's biggest woodlouse. I'd only ever seen this species dead and despite turning over loads of rocks on the beach, that remains the position. All I could find were Shore Crabs.

The weather that day was sunny and once out of the wind it was warm enough for Red Admiral and Ruddy Darter to be basking - probably my last butterfly and dragonfly of the year.

Friday, 22 November 2013

No dodgy title

Well what a surprise, the slightly dodgy title to my last post produced by far the highest number of page views this blog has ever had. I wonder what proportion of visitors were interested in natural history and how many very severely disappointed. No sympathy, saddo's.

Spent a great day in West Sussex recently with the aim of looking for a few plants that I've not seen before but at a relaxed pace and looking at anything else of interest that we saw. On the way to meet my friends I stopped in at some allotments in Havant where there was Common Ramping Fumitory growing up the fence and Weasel's Snout nearby.

Common Ramping Fumitory
Weasel's Snout
We started off on a ridiculously steep slope on the downs hunting for Limestone Fern. No luck with that but we found various other things of interest including a couple that have defied identification so far.

Unknown slime mould
Unknown lichen
We still have high hopes of finding out what the lichen is as a specimen has been sent to an expert.
The next stop was a site further along the downs where out target was Fly Honeysuckle. As well as the plant itself we found leaf mines of the moth Phyllonorycter emberizaepennella and vacated mines of the fly Aulagromyza luteoscutellata. The fly was first discovered in Britain in 2007 and according to the main web sites, had only been seen in Hampshire and Kent and had not been found on Fly Honeysuckle in Britain. Of course this proved to be wrong on both counts and it has now been found as far north as Cheshire.

Vacated mine of Aulagromyza luteoscutellata
We then moved to Arundel Park to look for White Horehound. I had looked for this a couple of weeks previously and both sites had been destroyed so it was good to actually find it but the area had been topped (presumably because the disturbed ground that suits this plant also suits nettles and thistles) so few plants had managed to flower or set seed. I can see why it's so rare. A few other bits and pieces there included the first spider I've ever managed to identify (and as it was identified on the internet, I got someone who knows what the are doing with spiders to confirm the ID).

Araneus diadematus
Finally we went to Cocking. Plenty of potential for a dodgy title there but I can live without those readers. Our target was Dwarf Elder and we found about 200 plants in a very non-descript hedgerow. In complete contrast to the White Horehound, it is very difficult to understand why this plant isn't all over the place.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The biggest nipples I've ever seen

A fungus foray at The Mens near Petworth in early November produces lots of new species for me as I've done very little with fungi in the past. Inevitably, I only photographed the more attractive or interesting looking ones.

This is the Veiled Oyster Pleurotus dryinus growing out of a rot hole in a Beech.

The White Saddle Helvella crispa - this is what they look like, it isn't a knackered specimen.

Beechmast Candlesnuff Xylaria carpophylla looks like a tiny version of the Candlesnuff Fungus but only grows on Beech mast. The experienced members of the fungus group had rarely seen this species but whether it is rare or just rarely found is difficult to know. This was found by Graeme who was looking for beetles under a log - you can't stop a good entomologist from being distracted!

After the meeting ended, Graeme kindly agreed to show some of us the wax caps and other interesting fungi that he'd recently seen at Ebernoe. I've never previously identified any wax caps, which I guess are the orchids of the fungus world, so I was dead keen to see some.

Golden Waxcap Hygrocybe chlorophana
Meadow Waxcap Hygrocybe pratensis
Parrot Waxcap Hygrocybe psittacina
Scarlet Waxcap Hygrocybe coccinea
And my favourite wax cap of the day:
Pink Waxcap or Ballerina Hygrocybe calyptriformis 
Other interesting species seen included the Orange Grisette Amanita crocea

and the Liberty Cap (or Magic Mushroom) Psilocybe semilanceata. We were looking at some individuals and discussing whether they were this species but weren't convinced as they didn't have much of a 'nipple' on top, some others nearby were much more convincing and provoked the comment which forms the title of this blog.

On foreign birding trips, a 'bird of the day' is often chosen. Having seen the sort of number of new species that I would normally expect only on a foreign birding trip, it seems appropriate to pick a fungus of the day. The Beechmast Candlesnuff and Pink Waxcap were strong contenders but in the end the title is won by the amazing ecology of the Scarlet Caterpillar Club Cordyceps militaris which grows out of a buried moth caterpillar.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A fern with the wrong name

Spent a day in the New Forest looking for a few ferns that I've not seen before. The first target was Beech Fern, so that was going to be in an area of mature Beech wood right? Err, wrong, the grid reference took me to an area of Alder carr; about as unlike a Beech wood as a wood can be. Fortunately the book put my mind at rest - 'not especially, or in some districts at all, associated with beeches'. It's amazing how many species have inappropriate names.

I must have walked past these lots of times as they are within my Wood Warbler study area. You can be blind when you're focussing on other things.

Next stop was for Southern Polypody. I had details for a couple of specific trees on which this species was supposed to be growing but at the first site I wasn't entirely convinced by the identity of the ferns that I found. Those at the second site seemed more convincing.

I diverted to Hatchet Pond where I failed to find a couple of plants, probably too late in the year for them. I did find a live freshwater mussel which would be new if I could identify it! Unfortunately, with the limited information I have, I cannot be sure what it is.

Back to ferns for the last species of the day; Marsh Fern. In pre-GPS days I wouldn't have stood a chance of finding it and I do wonder how the first person ever did but the habitat (birch woodland on fairly wet ground) is not rare in the New Forest so it is equally a mystery as to why the species isn't more common than it is.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Exploring new territory

I've focussed much of my attention this year on trying to improve my botany but I've been running out of options for things to go and see recently. I did come across a nice patch of Coral-necklace whilst trying to find something else.

This species is classed as Vulnerable but according to the county recorder it has spread rapidly in recent years, probably being spread around and between sites on military vehicles.

So with few plants to look for, what to do? Well there's fungi and bryophytes, both of which I've done virtually nothing with before. I went on a fungus foray in the New Forest on National Fungus Day (or something like that) which was all a bit manic and I didn't get any photo's because the weather was awful. Fortunately I was back at the same site a couple of weeks later for a bryophytes meeting and was able to refind a couple of the more interesting fungi.

Podoscypha multizonata
Hericium erinaceum
There have been a lot of problems with commercial fungi collectors hoovering up anything and everything that they can find in the New Forest this year and on my first visit someone had removed most of the Hericium erinaceum, even though it was hidden inside a Beech trunk, so it was good to see a couple of new fruiting bodies growing unmolested in the same trunk when I returned.

The bryophytes meeting was interesting, although my brain was starting to bleed by lunchtime! One species that the experts got excited about was Zygodon forsteri. It is rare but that meant little to me as virtually everything was new. I did find its ecology interesting though. It grows around wounds on Beech trees and it seems that the wounds exude something that kills off the commoner mosses but which forsteri is immune to. There was always a very clear demarcation between the forsteri and the more dominant species.

Ok so it isn't much to look at! 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Olive Crescent - coming to a moth trap near you

Not so long ago, the Olive Crescent was confined to the Stour Woods RSPB reserve in Essex. I did a bit of work on its ecology there, with much assistance from the RSPB staff and volunteers. The larvae feed on dead leaves of oak and Sweet Chestnut there and we found that they had a preference for Sweet Chestnut leaves that were in full shade.

Occasional individuals at south coast locations show that Olive Crescents do occasionally migrate from the continent and in the early 2000's it seems that such migrants managed to establish one or more colonies in the far east of East Sussex. Over the next few years they seemed to consolidate their foothold but there wasn't much evidence of significant range expansion. Last year one adult was caught near Tunbridge Wells which was as far west as it had been seen in suitable breeding habitat. So this year the RSPB at Broadwater Warren and Sussex Wildlife Trust at the adjacent Eridge Rocks cut some oak branches and hung them up in the hope that larvae could be found later in the year. I joined them for the search and we found larvae quite easily at both sites.

Flushed with success I decided to have a look for larvae in Hampshire near Petersfield where several adults had been seen earlier this year. At this site they were likely to be feeding on Beech leaves (as they do at Friston Forest and some other sites in East Sussex) and luckily there had been some thinning of the Beech at this site earlier in the year, leaving stacks of suitable branches. I quickly found several larvae which were exceptionally variable in colour.

This was the first confirmed breeding in Hampshire but there was still no record of breeding in West Sussex so I headed over to the downs above Graffham where an adult had also been caught earlier this year. I didn't have the luck of having pre-prepared branches like at Broadwater Warren or forestry thinnings like at Petersfield and it took a long time to find any suitable branches but when I finally found a snapped off beech limb I instantly found three larvae.

During the hunt for the branches I came across a new plant species for me in a game strip; Small Nettle.

So what about the gap between Tunbridge Wells and Graffham? There are very few moth recorders in central Sussex away from the coastal towns and I suspect that the moth has been quietly spreading west without anyone noticing.

Olive Crescents are also spreading in Essex and the first larvae were found in Suffolk this year so if you live in south-east England, look out for this species in your trap soon.  

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Punishment for twitching birds

In mid-October there was a Dipterists Forum meeting in Surrey and I managed to join them for a day. Autumn is a good time for craneflies and I hoped to see a good selection in the company of some of the top experts. The weather wasn't great but that doesn't account for the almost total absence of craneflies at all the sites we visited. This is even more surprising given the huge numbers of craneflies that were around in September but these were mainly two species - Tipula paludosa and T. oleracea - which are tolerant of dry conditions and it seems likely that the hot, dry weather in late summer was responsible for the dearth of other species.

The experts concentrated on fungus gnats - and one person got a new species to Britain that day - but these are way beyond me so I just bumbled around looking at all sorts of bits and pieces. The best new species for me was in fact a moth; Diurnea lipsiella. I've tried to find this species in previous autumns without any success but one flew past me at Nower Wood. Sod's law dictates that I then saw several more a few days later!

A few days later I had a trespass around some arable fields near Emsworth. At this time of year, arable fields can be one of the most interesting places to looking for plants that are still in flower and I'd seen reports of a couple of species that I'd never seen, with directions that seemed good enough to track them down.

In the end I got three new species;

Sun Spurge
Dwarf Spurge
Field Woundwort
A few days previously, a Semipalmated Plover had been found on Hayling Island. I'd seen one previously in Britain and the thought of the crowds that it would attract was enough to put me off going. But after I'd finished looking for the arable plants, news came through that it was back on the beach and it started to rain which I thought would thin the crowds out a bit so I decided to go and have a look. It was raining quite heavily when I got to the car park but by the time I reached the bird it had become a downpour of biblical proportions. Despite full waterproofs I quickly started to feel wet patches appearing - someone was clearly trying to tell me something; time to leave.

I headed off to Sussex to look for White Horehound but West Sussex County Council had helpfully mown the whole site so no joy there. I did find an interesting 'fungus' as I walked back to the car. It turned out to be Leocarpus fragilis which is actually a slime mould but not at all what you expect a slime mould to look like.