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.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The disappointment of the shiny black slag, and other stories

The Easter weekend provided a rare opportunity - a day with no commitments when I could do absolutely anything I wanted. Rather than spend the day locally I thought I'd take advantage of the chance to go somewhere further afield. But where could I go so early in the year where there would be interesting things to see? For no reason other than the fact that I'd noticed that Bristol Rock-cress was flowering at this time of year, I decided upon the Avon Gorge. I mentioned the plan to the Sussex posse and they were all up for it.

Warm sunshine greeted us upon our arrival at Durdham Down and one of the first things that we saw was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth. Before the trip, one of my friends had asked if there was any chance of seeing any of the rare whitebeams that occur in the Avon Gorge. I rather scathingly replied 'only if they've got labels on as they won't be identifiable without leaves'. So what do we find? Yep, the whitebeams had got labels on! The first one we looked at was the critically endangered Sorbus wilmottiana although all the subsequent ones were just Common Whitebeam.

While we were still trying to work out whether we were in the right spot, we came across a number of flowering Bristol Rock-cress.

Bristol Rock-cress Arabis scabra
In true pan-species style, we recorded a number of other species across a range of taxonomic groups that were new to one or more of the group, including the Nationally Scarce Lygaeid bug Rhyparochromus pini, the ant Temnothorax nylanderi, the pill woodlouse Armadillidium depressum, the moth Mompha miscella (larva mining the leaves of Common Rock-rose), Dwarf Mouse-ear, the rust Phragmidium sanguisorbae which is found on Salad Burnet and the galls on Red Valerian that are caused by the psyllid Trioza centranthi. It was also good to see the Dotted Bee-fly Bombylius discolor.

Dwarf Mouse-ear Cerastium pumilum
At lunch we decided to move on to another site. We had info on various (mainly non-native) plants that we all needed but the vote went to the Snake's-head Iris Hermodactylus tuberosus so we headed off to Sand Point. Whoever named this site needs to check the particle size of the soil here. Sand? What sand? Try Mud Point. We found the iris easily enough but it had finished flowering so we decided to head down to the point to see if there were any decent rock pools. There weren't but we did find Common Scurvygrass on the way.

Common Scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis
The site didn't hold anything to inspire us so we decided to head off to a final site. On the way back from Sand Point we stopped for a mystery plant that we'd seen from the car on the way in. This proved to be Spring Starflower and we also picked up Sweet Alison Lobularia maritima at this stop.

Spring Starflower Tristagma uniflorum
Our final destination was a former lead mine where the target was Alpine Penny-cress Noccaea caerulescens. The directions told us to walk up from the car park and look for the shiny black slag from the old lead workings. We found this easily enough but the predicted 'plenty' of Alpine Penny-cress eluded us.

The shiny black slag, not looking very shiny in this photo
Nevertheless, a great day out to kick off the field season with some great company and some good cracks.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The road to 5000

At the end of 2014 my Pan-species list stood at 4881 species. Over the winter it crept up slowly as I worked through insect specimens from last (and previous) years and added the odd moss or fungus. This left me a few 10's short of the 5000 mark. The start of the new field season meant it was all systems go to hit the magic number.

The first excursion was to Ambersham Common with a couple of friends, one of whom specialises in groups such as spiders that I know little about. This inevitably resulted in quite a few new species, the best spider being the Red Data Book Uloborus walckenaerius.

One of the most interesting finds of the day though was of these galls on a Scot's Pine.

These are caused by the mite Trisetacus pini. I have spent a lot of time on heaths over the years and have never seen these before but this one tree was riddled with them.

The next trip was a Shoresearch event run by Sussex Wildlife Trust at Beachy Head on one of the lowest tides in decades. I have done very little marine stuff so new species a plenty were in order. There is still a major shortage of identification literature on marine species though so quite a few finds remained nameless, or at least could not be named with absolute certainty. Despite that, it was great to see loads of new things.

Butterfish Pholis gunnellus
The Green Paddle-worm looks like a massive green millipede.
Green Paddle-worm Eulalia viridis
Green Sea-urchin Psammechinus miliaris 
Long-spined Sea-scorpion Taurulus bubalis - not a new species but so ugly I just had to include a photo
a Sea-fir Dynamena pumila
Sea-firs are related to corals, sea anemones and jellyfish and this species is widespread and common around the coast of Britain, although seemingly scarce in the south-east.

Squat Lobster Galathea squamifera
I presume that I can still count this, even though a big chunk of it was missing!

Velvet Swimming Crab Necora puber - stunning and vicious! 
Finally, the commonest fish of the day was the Tompot Blenny. I feel a bit bad about this as it is one of the most-wanted species of the person who told me about the Shoresearch event - and he wasn't there.

Tompot Blenny Parablennius gattorugine
A few more insects from last year and a couple of fungi courtesy of Penny at the Knepp Estate left me on 4999 the day before a work trip to the Isle of Wight. I haven't been to the IoW for about 30 years and to be honest I won't be in a rush to get back, but it did give me the chance to get number 5000 from a taxonomic group that you probably wouldn't expect at this time of year.

Glanville Fritillary larvae
Four hours stuck on the motorway on the way home meant that I wasn't in much of a mood to celebrate but I've made it. Here's to the next 5000.