Monday, 31 December 2018

Last Post of 2018

There are just two and a half hours left of 2018, excitement levels are soaring and I'm more or less ready to begin 2019's adventures. Except the weather has turned a bit kind of yucky out there. Nevertheless, I shall begin my latest bout of craziness in the usual style - seeing in the New Year with a big dollop of natural history mayhem.  

So yeah, 2019 is the year I tackle beetles, flies and bugs. At this time of year it's going to be decidedly beetle-orientated - but where to start?

I was planning to head down to Uig Wood for a bit of beetle hunting by headtorch, and if the weather behaves I may still do that, but I'll probably restrict myself to the hotel gardens instead. One good thing about being the gardener here is that I know exactly which logs are the best ones to check beneath. The other good thing is that apart from one other staff member, I have the entire hotel complex to myself for two whole days. I'm hopeful that he'll be indoors later tonight and not wandering the grounds whilst I'm out there. 

The hotel is shut for the next five or six weeks whilst various projects are happening. On Thursday I'll be beneath some floorboards checking central heating pipes. Last time I checked beneath those floorboards I couldn't see any inverts at all, it'll probably be the same story this time too, but I'm going to be scrutinising every bit of dirt and grit and debris for signs of life. There's bound to be something decent living under there. Could the hotel be the northernmost outpost of Blaps? I doubt it, but I'll have a peer anyway.

I've rearranged my bookshelves a tad. I'll be making good use of this row throughout 2019

Bugs to the left, flies centre and beetles on the right!

I do have a few more relevant texts, but these are the main Big Boys that I plan to use. There are plenty of gaps waiting to be filled, particularly regarding the Diptera. 

Right, Nebria brevicollis as first beetle of the year? Place your bets guys, you'll just have to tune in tomorrow to find out!

Have a great New Year everybody, I'll see you on the other side of midnight.

Here's a belter and a half to see out the old year!

Friday, 28 December 2018

A New Blog

With just 73 hours to go until 2019 arrives (not that I'm counting down the minutes or anything) I'm positively raring to unleash my New Blog onto the unsuspecting world.

Yep, there's going to be a distinct change of tack for me in 2019. 

First of all, I won't be participating in the 1000 species in a 1KSQ Challenge. I've undertaken this Challenge in 2017 (1001 species) and 2018 (1200 species by October) but there's only so much going over the same ground - and I mean that quite literally - that I can face. Anyway, I want to slow down and focus my attention a bit differently in 2019. But the 1KSQ Challenge has been great fun, and please do consider signing yourself up for next year. Let's face it dear reader, you already live in a one kilometre square and you're interested in wildlife and nature and stuff (either that or you're reading the wrong blog) which is everything you need to qualify yourself as an entrant. Seriously, it's a great craic and you'll learn absolutely shedloads. Just try it for a month, I dare you! 

Secondly, you may have heard about my possible relocation to warmer climes. Well, the breaking news is that it hasn't worked out after all, so it seems that I'm staying on Skye for the foreseeable. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. Mentally I'd already geared myself up for the big move, secretly I think I'm quietly happy that I get to stay here and discover more about this unique part of the world. I've been here for just over two years and have barely managed to scrape my way through the outermost layers. There's still so much just waiting to be discovered, certainly plenty enough to keep me quietly entertained. 

I'd previously spilled the beans regards my New Blog to a couple of folk. One immediate response was, "you can't even keep one blog going" - haha! Well yeah, that's true to a degree. How will I fare keeping two blogs going at the same time? Who knows, is the honest answer, I guess. But I'll try. I have no requirement to update this blog on any given dates, which is just as well considering the lengths of  time that sometimes elapse between posts, but the New Blog will be different, it will be updated very regularly indeed (he says...)

This blog, you may or may not be happy to hear, will keep on much as it has done these past two years. I'll use it as a vehicle to chronicle my PSLing adventures, discoveries and mishaps through NG3963 utilising my natural dry wit droll sarcasm and stunningly sharp images throughout.

I shall be keeping the New Blog running concurrently with this one. 

Ok, so you're probably about ready to tear your hair out if I mention the words 'New Blog' one more time without providing some sort of a link. Fair play, click here to view my brand new blog

I'm working through up until New Year's Eve. It's already getting dark by the time I finish shifts, hence I very much doubt I'll post here again this year. If I do, you can call me a liar. But if I don't, I wish each and every single one of you a very happy New Year, clocks will be reset and another 12 months of madness will begin. Me? Hell, you have no idea how keen I am to see it started! 

Cheers one and all, see you on the other side!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

The People's Post

I follow a few natural history bloggers, most of whom seem to be busily publishing their end of year round ups - highlighting their best birds, best rares, best moths, best images... Bravo chaps but who, besides yourselves, actually cares? I'm not going to do one of those, it's just ego-tripping and boasting gone mad, as it always does at the close of the year, I guess. 

Not that I pretend to be any holier than thou because, oh look! - here I am writing yet another post that I arrogantly believe will keep my audience both captivated and enthralled. And I know I have an audience, Blogger's stats tell me so, so thank you all (whoever you are....) 

I barely publicised this blog when I first started it up two years back. The original intention was to create a means of recording what I get up to, something for me to look back on in the future, to remind myself of all the obscure things I'd discovered whilst blitzing the square. Then you lot showed up and I had to somehow try to keep it mildly entertaining. I do get a bit carried away sometimes, I know this (late night wine-addled blogging was never gonna be a great idea. Still, sharing is caring....)

However, I will say that 2018 has been a great year for me. I added well over 500 species to my PSL and enjoyed some cracking adventures with an assortment of PSL nutjobs. Some of these I travelled to see, others came up to see me, plus there's the regular SNG/SBG bunch that already live up here. Some of these antics and species I blogged about, far too often I neglected to write a single word or take a single image. 

I would like to take this opportunity to make special mention of at least some of the many folks who have helped shape my adventures in the world of natural history this year, for they are all of them lovely people who I'm happy to call friends. I'd like to thank them for the lifers, the mishaps, the memories, the laughter and the magical weirdness that we PSL types enjoy so fully!

Debs and Kev Rylands (collapsed) and Nicola Bacciu (sitting) - probably best not to ask what was occurring here!

The lads from work with a pollack - or Piotr, as we call him (haha - I'm actually very glad you've stayed, buddy!) 
Tony Davis - winner of the coveted 2018's Man of The Year Award - this guy is a legend
Stephen Bungard - a most remarkable botanist and our very own living breathing Indiana Jones of the North
Mark Telfer - to find Bembidion you need to become Bembidion! God of PSL, a true legend and damn fine friend
Bradley Telfer - coolest kid in the world! (Unless it's 6am and you wake to find him already sitting on your chest)
The incredibly house-proud Graeme Lyons, caught here vacuuming beneath some Pampas Grass
My Wee Sis, the craziest tattooed pink unicorn anyone could ever hope to meet :) 
The entire '1KSQ Team 2018' hits Uig - (L - R) Ali, Tim and Pete hit the clippings pile bigtime, marvellous!

My blogging is about to change somewhat, but I'll tell you a bit more about that in the next post, which should be the last of the year unless I jam into something remarkable this coming week. 

This next track is dedicated to Big Lee who moved back home to Glasgow yesterday. We were really good friends last year - Big Lee, Wee Lee and myself formed a bit of an unholy alliance, of sorts. This year we haven't been so close, though we're still mates. A few weeks back I moved into the same annex as Big Lee, and it's been somewhat...'trying'...having him living in the room next to mine. But we managed not to fall out and now he's gone, bless him.

As an aside, I've just stumbled across possibly the greatest single sentence of the year, courtesy of Portland Bird Observatory - "It might have been the shortest day of the year but there were more than enough hours of daylight to ascertain that nothing much had changed on the bird front" - doubtless courtesy of Martin Cade, PBO Warden and owner of the driest wit in all of Dorsetshire.

Friday, 14 December 2018

All the gear, no idea...

I've recently bought myself a few rather nice, shiny natural history books, aimed at plugging a couple of gaps in my literature library. And anyway, sometimes it's good to splash out and treat yourself. 

Firstly, I'm very pleased to now being in a strong position relating to all things hopperish

I already have this book which deals with the handful of British hoppers NOT covered by these German works. To be fair it's pretty pointless without these Big Boys, but I didn't realise that at the time. Hence pennies were spent. Quite a few pennies, truth be told. Anyway, someone throw me a hopper, I bloody dare ya! 

If I really wanted to go the whole hog, including buying several more texts in foreign languages, everything I'd ever need hopper-related can be found on this page. And then there's all of those lovely looking Danish and French language texts on the heteropterans....(stop me now, please!)

I've always been fascinated by the diversity of weirdness that lives in the sea. Hence my next financial splurge-out was to buy this entire series in one hit

Taxonomic upheavals have recently turned the world of marine gastropods on it's head, thankfully these three books are bang up to date, hence I'm now in a very good position to ID any bastard snail I find down on the beach. Not that I tend to spend much time below the high water mark nowadays, but if I did.....

This cost me all of 89 pence. Plus £35 p+p. Haha no, the whole thing came to just over £3, I can live with that. Unfortunately it isn't a key, which is what I was really hoping for. Fantastic reading though, I've learned shedloads about how a nemertean goes about its daily life. They have incredible powers of regeneration (including the ability to grow an entire new brain if the original is somehow lost!) and a proboscis that, in some instances, is armed with tiny teeth that latch onto a prey item, lacerate the surface, then dissolve away through the wounds releasing toxins that paralyse the victim before chemically breaking down the internal organs, ready to be shlurped up by the worm. Nemerteans are mega cool! 

So I'm a little bit ashamed to admit that I didn't already have Duff's beetle book. Long overdue. The Ich Wasp book has only just been published, I was in contact with Gavin Broad (main author) earlier this year and managed to successfully key through a few Ophions. This new book is amazing, I can hardly wait to collect some more specimens and see how far I get with them. Nobody else is looking at Ichs up here, or if they are they're not doing anything further with them. 

But sometimes it's all too easy to get carried away with oneself. I gleefully ordered the FSC's Earthworm key. Guess what...

Fooksakes man! 
So if anybody out there would like a copy, coz I now appear to have a spare...

In other news, there are now three Niptus (Golden Spider Beetles) wandering around in my downstairs loo. If you'd like to tick it off whilst picking up an unwanted earthworm key, just let me know and I'll make sure I'm in for you. 

For no good reason at all, tonight I give you a classic (in my eyes) from The Prodigy

I have to admit, I find this particular album hard going. Masterful tracks interspersed with pure dross, but here's an absolute belter for you, possibly the best track on the album, in fact. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Tunnel Vision

Had a day off today and I wandered a fair whack of the square, re-finding the (presumably resident) Barn Owl in its rocky niche high above the River Conon. I had a local birder contact me today asking for directions to this bird and I've agreed to walk him up to the spot should he be determined enough. It's a steep clamber and he's not the nimblest looking fella. We'll see... to be fair, he did fetch me when he found a White-billed Diver in the bay this spring, so I do need to repay the favour.

Edit - we went up there 3 days later - no sign of the owl. But the wind had changed direction, so it may have merely relocated to a more sheltered roost site rather than having entirely buggered off.

My (thus far) utterly unsuccessful quest to find Hazel Gloves led me into a small watercourse today. There's a wee burn runs beneath the road before it spills it's way into the sea a coupla hundred feet below. I have a hunch that I could turn up Killarney Fern in this particular gulley, the whole place seems just a bit primordial to me. I looked, I failed. Again. 

Oooh a hole!  I should probably check that out...
So this is the overflow tunnel. It runs underneath the A87 and spills out into the croft below, whence it runs into the sea. It's probably/maybe over 4ft diameter so I hit the "LED on" button on the top of my camera and entered. My camera made it a whole 40ft in before the battery died. Arse! Peripherally, I could see a vague brightening of daylight ahead and below me, clearly the tunnel must angle downwards once it clears the road. I didn't risk going further, the water was running between my feet and the tunnel's contours were rather slick. I had visions of losing my footing and being ejected from a height, windmilling my arms through the air, before landing on the croft far below! However, I shall definitely be visiting this tunnel again, for I spied dozens of Cave Spiders before the light died. No hibernating Peacocks, Small Torts, Heralds, bats or anything (though they could be further back) but it's definitely gotta be worth another look soon! 

I found this beast beneath a rock in nearby woodland, apologies in advance for the appalling pic...

Dromius quadrimaculatus - a distinctively patterned carabid
I recognised this distinctive beetle straight away (I still ran it through the keys in case there's a lookalike species - nope, there isn't) Checking the records, it appears that this is just the second record of this nationally widespread beetle for Skye, and only the third for The Hebrides as a whole. Rather annoyingly, my good buddy Mark Telfer (who, I believe, has only been to Skye once) found "Dromius 4-mac" near Ord several years back. Darnit, Mark, what ya like? 

It seriously shocks me that this song is THIRTY FIVE years old! How, just how? 

And through the magic that is YouTube's autoplay...(I actually don't want to know how old this is!)

I'm feeling very, very, especially chilled this week and an awful lot of that has to do with this one track. I've only recently discovered their work, they've achieved a truly sublime sound


Sunday, 2 December 2018

Englandshire - Week 1 of 3 (Part II)

Hot on the heels of yesterday's blogpost, here's some more of the first week's action as I pan-species listed my way around Hampshire and Sussex with Tony. 

Day 4 - 29th September - Tony had to finish off some important office work today (euphemism for 'I've had enough of you, Gibson. Piss off') so I did the only logical thing available and buggered off to twitch the Beluga that had been swimming up and down The Thames all week. 

If I'm being totally honest, Gravesend isn't precisely the dazzling jewel in north Kent's coastline and some of the residents do look a bit kinda squiffy around the edges, but that doesn't bother me any. I rocked up at the back end of some sort of trading estate and headed off down a rubbish strewn alleyway in search of a white whale. 

Welcome to Gravesend - you'll never leave!
Despite the whole place looking dodgy as fkk, everyone I met along the walkways and alleys was friendly and polite, asking if I was looking for the whale, had I already seen it, was it this way, etc etc. One bloke, who looked a right murderous crackhead if ever there was, stopped me to say that he thought it was "fkkn 'mazin' bruv, there's a fkkn whale jus' over there!" before continuing on his merry way again. Belugas, bringing harmony and unity across the free world...

Anyway, I saw it. The Beluga, a creature of myth and legend come to life, on this occasion watched swimming between barges and tugs from a pub beer garden in Gravesend, complete with giant metal cranes and industrial units as backdrop. Scenic Arctic oceans this ain't! No pics from me, it's appearances were way too brief and distant for my wee clickamatic to capture, though there are plenty of images online. One guy was heard describing it as a giant inflated condom floating down the river, someone else said white inner tube. Twats. Clearly it was more like an old fashioned white Fairy Liquid bottle.

Coming in at a close second for my top sighting of the day, I glanced down and found Andy Musgrove looking up at me (he's not tiny, by the way, it's just that I was standing on a raised bit of decking whilst he was still in the alleyway below). We had a chat and I met his lovely wife, Trudy. His opening line was, "you haven't seriously twitched this all the way from Skye have you???" They already had some good pics of the Beluga, it even looked a lot more like a whale than a condom/inner tube in their pics. We wandered down some more alleyways and into a park where I finally had decent views of the Beluga, and in far better light too

I let a bunch of local kids look through my binoculars, they lined up and took turns using them - all under the watchful eye of their nan who patted my arm in thanks. She had some seriously impressive tattoos! The kids all thanked me and a policeman I hadn't even noticed nodded at me and smiled. Blimey, I've never had a copper do that before. Truly the Powers of the Beluga are indeed all encompassing.

Back in the alleyways I managed to tick Erysiphe urticae, a mildew on Common Nettle leaves, spotted a Stag's-horn Sumach growing in a gateway and even found some Pot Marigolds growing in a weedy verge beneath Buddleia bushes. Unfortunately I didn't think to check for Alternate-leaved Buddleia until afterwards and I didn't see any Rambur's Pied Shieldbugs on the Black Horehound patches either, despite checking quite closely. Spotting some mildewed leaves on a Sycamore, I asked Andy if he needed Sawadaea bicornis. His hilarious response was to hold his phone to my face whilst saying, "speak it again" - haha, what a fella!  

 Stag's-horn Sumach seedling (and not Tree of Heaven as I first thought)
Pot Marigold - quite a few of these amongst weeds below a fenceline
Great to bump into The Muzza again, it's been about three years I think? Back in Hampshire that evening, Tony was still neck-deep in paperwork, reviews, reports and stuff, but he worked far into the small hours and the next day we were back to PSLing the heck outta some unsuspecting nature reserves in deepest darkest Hampshire.

Lifers - BELUGA, Erysiphe urticae

Day 5 - 30th September - We didn't put in too many miles today, by way of a change, but we still managed to find some really top quality stuff including a moth that John Langmaid hasn't seen yet!!! If you don't know who John Langmaid is, just check pretty much any serious paper or publication pertaining to British microlepidoptera or their larval stages and look out for the initials JRL. He's legendary.

But first Tony took me to a service station situated along a very busy stretch of dual carriageway, jumped out of the car and started walking along the sliproad back onto the carriageway. Erm...Tony, where you going mate?!? "This'll be the rarest thing you see today" he declared and pointed at a dead thing behind a cordon of tape. Oh, cool. So what's that then?

Taped off because a truck once drove over it!
This is the only known plant of Field Eryngo in Hampshire.  It's a very rare and declining plant in Britain, being restricted to an ever-reducing handful of sites in southern England. Quite how/why this individual is clinging on here is a bit of a mystery, I guess it's pure luck it wasn't buried beneath tarmac!

I wondered why it's so damn rare in Britain, I think the climate may have something to do with it. I found reference to sowing it from seed and this is what the supplier had to say

Sow seeds IMMEDIATELY you receive them, at any time of the year, they depend on having several months, sometimes up to a year in cold, damp compost, (NOT DRY IN A FRIDGE) before they will germinate. Keep the seed tray moist in a cold greenhouse or shady corner and do not discard. These fresh seeds can be very slow to germinate but do not use any artificial heat in an attempt to germinate them as it may simply disrupt their germination mechanism causing them to enter even deeper dormancy.

So it looks as though we may see this plant becoming ever increasingly rare in Britain as our winters warm up, foiling any attempts of new seed germination.

But I didn't know any of that at the time, so my spirits were still high as we moved on to our next stop somewhere north of Winchester. We explored woodland and open areas finding a good variety of plants including a large number of Blue Fleabane that had gone to seed. Tony soon had me sifting through the seedheads for signs of an uncommon moth. Didn't take us long to find it in good numbers

That dark thing is the larval case of Coleophora squamosella hidden within the seedhead
We found plenty of these larval cases inside Blue Fleabane heads, I managed to 'encourage' one larva to briefly stick its head out of the case and waggle around for me. They will overwinter in the seedhead before emerging as adults next summer. Tony's GPS informed him that by moving a mere 15 metres or so to the right he'd be in a different tetrad. He duly moved and recorded the moth 'new' for that tetrad too, ha!

Suddenly Tony excitedly called me over so that I could examine one particular seedhead. Ooh, a free-living moth larva, what's that then?

If you're somehow reading this, JRL - I'm really sorry buddy! 
This is the larva of  Cochylidia heydeniana, a locally distributed Tortix moth and presumably the only moth I've seen in Britain that John Langmaid hasn't (he's had over 1000 species in his garden, for crying out loud!) I think Tony said that he'd seen it before, but it was a good find anyway. Pity John wasn't there to share our find, wow - it must be over ten years now since I last saw him.

Lifers - Field Eryngo, Coleophora squamosella, Cochylidia heydeniana, Phragmidium sanguisorbae

We mooched around for a while longer before heading off to Heckfield where we failed to find the Copse Bindweed that used to occur. Mildewed Foxglove leaves turned out to be the protist Peronospora digitalis which was new for both of us. We departed after a Range Rover with personalised plates performed several slow passes, showing great interest in us. Only then did I notice the Private No Trespassers sign... Meh, you don't get this kind of shit happen on Skye.

Lifers - Peronospora digitalis

We headed across to Castle Bottom NNR and bumped into one of the Rangers that covers that site. Tony spent FOREVER talking to the poor chap, but the astonishing news is that this particular Ranger seems to actually be interested in nature!!!! Mind blown, I know right? He's really into spiders, knows his plants quite well and has a seemingly sensible head on his shoulders regards site management, species recording and dealing with the public. I liked him, so he can't be that bad. Tony seemed positively stunned to find 'a goodun' at long last.

After I'd managed to prise Tony away from the poor chap, we had a wander around the site and soon started finding some nice inverts. Silver Birches (been a while since I've seen one of those, we only have Downy Birch on Skye) were happy hunting grounds and Tony was quick to find me a couple of new moths

Larval Swammerdammia caesiella beneath its flimsy webbing on birch leaf
Silver Birch leaf folded over by a larval Parornix betulae
Parornix betulae larva - complete with parasite, ick!
We found lots of Parornix  betulae larvae in their silken leaf-tents, both of the green and brown morphs, plus the one in the pic with a parasite. Rather fewer Swammerdammia caesiella though. We wandered into a copse of mature trees where I spotted a fragment of lichen that looked somehow 'wrong'. Looking closer I was thrilled to find myself eye-balling this wee stunner of a beast

I was pretty damned surprised when this bit of 'lichen' ran away when prodded!
I knew what I had found, and was pretty stoked, but Tony hadn't figured out what it was that I was pointing at. He got really close to the trunk, maybe expecting a Psychid case or a small bug, and absolutely jumped a mile when this wonderfully camouflaged Philodromus margaritus burst into action and shot around the trunk and out of sight - haha!!! How I wish I'd have been filming that particular moment! Once his heartbeat had dropped to a steady 150bpm and he'd changed his trousers (haha!) Tony uttered words that I never thought I'd hear him speak, "That's really stunning, it's the sort of thing that could get me into spiders". Remember, more than six legs and Tony just isn't interested, so this spider really must have impressed him!

We quit Castle Bottom and headed to one of Tony's old sites, Shortheath Common. Tony used to be a warden here back in the day, so knows it intimately. Which is handy, else we'd never have found my next lifer, despite it being about sixteen feet tall.

Guaranteed the worst pic of a Juneberry that you'll see today! 
And this'll be the second worst pic of a Juneberry that you'll see today!
So this is Juneberry Amelanchier lamarckii, presumably birdsown rather than planted (I mean, why would anybody plant it in the middle of secondary woodland anyway?) and hence perfectly eligible to count for my fast-growing PSL. I took pics of the buds, bark and leaves too, but I'm really not sure I'd ever recognise this again if I found it elsewhere. A bit of an oddity really which never has managed to get me particularly enthused, maybe because I'd never heard of it before, maybe because I just can't be certain of its provenance? The BSBI map shows it to be widespread across the London/Surrey/Sussex/Hampshire area (and scattered across much of the rest of mainland Britain) so I'm a bit surprised I've not encountered it before.

One final plant caused a bit of discussion, Tony suddenly halted mid-stride along a grassy path and fell to his knees. Heart attack, stroke? Nope, just a tiny plant at his feet

Mossy Stonecrop - tiny but it shows up well when it turns red
Tony suggested Mossy Stonecrop and I wholeheartedly agreed. I then mentioned that I'd seen it at its first British site, down at Par Beach in Cornwall. Tony carefully explained that it was a native. I just as carefully explained that Crassula is an alien genus and this is a recent addition to the British flora. Tony disagreed. I disagreed with his disagreement. That evening, back indoors, we checked. Bugger me but he's right - it's a native! Arse, I blame Danny the Pirate for this! Danny told me the patch I was looking at on a sandy patch of track at Par Beach was the first site in Britain. Or maybe he said Cornwall, it was a while back. Anyway, I was wrong and Tony was right. Fairplay, I'm a gracious in defeat (I mean, at least I'm not a wee short arse...)

Lifers - Swammerdamia caesiella, Parornix betulae, Aulagromyza tremulae, Philodromus margaritus, Rhamphus pulicarius, Juneberry, Pilophorus cinnamopterus, Neottiglossa pusilla, Stictopleurus punctatonervosus, Rhopalus parumpunctatus

Tomorrow we'll hit October in the final instalment of Week One....fifty four lifers so far, where will it be after a solid week's worth of PSLing madness???

Ah! Just realised that I've forgotten to add some music after the last couple of posts. Being my usual random self, I have nothing lined up for you. BUT...this is on YouTube's autoplay thingie. It's coming up in three songs' time and I have no idea who they are or what it sounds like. But YouTube knows what I like, so hopefully it isn't too dire.

So - this is new to me and quite possibly new to you too. Let's hope we enjoy it!

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Englandshire - Week 1 of 3

So this post is just a tad overdue. By about seven weeks or so, I reckon (hush now, I've been busy).

Initially I was planning to compose three posts covering my three weeks down in England, but judging by the length of this first instalment I think I'm going to need at least five posts, maybe nearer fifteen. Should complete it by late 2019 at this rate...

Alright, so it's now late September again. Are you sitting comfee? Maybe go grab a coffee - or beer - coz this could take us a while. As an aside, it's important for you to realise that I use this blog for several reasons, one of which is as a nature diary for myself. I fully realise that this post's content is of limited interest to most sane folks, it's more for me to look back on than for your enjoyment. Basically, what I'm saying is feel free to cut and run at any point, I won't be offended :)


After months of badgering the bosses for time off, they eventually agreed that come mid-September things would have quietened down enough that I could finally take a holiday break. That was in early August and I immediately put the word out to a few naturalist buddies in southern England that I'd be dropping by to visit. My provisional departure date from Skye was September 11th and various folks started making plans for my arrival.

So you can probably imagine my utter frustration (and theirs) when I was forced to delay heading off until the 26th September, a full fortnight later than planned. 'Work duties comes before holidays', said the boss. Yeah, yeah - alright w'eva... My first port of call was Hampshire where I'd be staying with Tony Davis, an old friend and my 'Chief Partner in PSL Crime'. 

So I told him there's this rare moss that grows down wormholes - poor chap believes everything I tell him...
Tony's just brilliant, an absolute top class fella - he puts up with me for starters. For twelve whole days he pulled out just about every stop possible to ensure that I saw as many lifers as was physically possible. The consequence of my late arrival was that a number of moths and plants had already gone over by the time I rocked up. On the other hand, a few extra moths were now starting to come online. I think the actual tally of potential lifers Tony had initially lined up for me stood at an astonishing 253 species! Obviously we had no chance of completely clearing up, but he was determined to show me at least as many new species as I'd shown him up on Skye earlier in the year. But would he manage it? 

Day 1 - 26th September - Picked up the hire car without any issues and headed straight down to Worksop Priory in Nottinghamshire in search of  the enigmatic harvestman currently known as Leiobunum sp. A that occurs there. It was already dark by the time I arrived at Worksop and, despite a few road closures, I was soon pulling into the priory carpark where I found myself eye-balling a mob of about ten youths, all sitting on the bonnets and roofs of their cars, smoking shit and seemingly very interested in my clearly unwelcome appearance. All of a sudden I wasn't quite so keen on the idea of wandering around looking for harvestmen on the walls by torchlight. Bugger, I'd just have to try again on the return journey to Skye. This was not the great beginning I'd been hoping for. I kipped in the car that night, the first time I've done so in far too long. I love roughing it in a car, brings back many happy memories.

Lifers - none. Yet...

Day 2 - 27th September - I arrived at Tony's house feeling ever so vaguely refreshed and rested. But Tony wasn't wasting time with petty pleasantries - no sooner had I chucked my stuff into his spare room than we were off to explore a bunch of Sussex churchyards in search of scarce fungi. Pretty quickly we realised that the drought had scuppered all hopes of us finding our fungal targets, everything was severely parched and crisped, not ideal. Happily Carron Lane Churchyard came to the rescue and yielded several patches of Large Thyme plus the amazing ant-like spider Steatoda phalerata running amongst its prey. Tachina fera was also a lifer for me here, rather overdue I know, but it is what it is. The robberfly Machimus atricapillus was netted at Midhurst Churchyard, another overdue addition to my (frankly laughable) diptera tally. Yes folks, I'm now approaching the dizzy heights of having recorded nearly 3% of the British fly species...woohoo!

Lifers - Machimus atricapillus, Steatoda phalerata, Large Thyme, Tachina fera

Tachina fera - common as muck and a complete Tart's Tick! 
Quitting the churchyards we headed for Burton Mill Pond where we soon spotted clumps of Cowbane, growing here at its sole Sussex site. I suspect it has been widely dug up and destroyed in the past - as the name suggests, Cowbane is lethal to cattle once ingested. Which makes me wonder how Leopard's-bane got its name. We didn't actually see any Leopard's-bane (we didn't see any leopards either, though I did once see a Black Panther in Cornwall) so I guess its powers must work from afar. A Kingfisher was a nice bonus, don't get many of those up on Skye.

Lifers - Cowbane

Next up was Duncton Hill where Tony traps for Plumed Prominent in late autumn/early winter. We were far too early for that, but there was still stuff to be found including this distinctive beast

Helicodonta obvoluta - aka the Cheese Snail with its weirdly triangular mouth aperture
Tony is Senior Moth Officer (or Mofficer as my wee sis says) for Butterfly Conservation, so it was only to be expected that he show me a decent moth or two. In fact, thanks to Tony, my moth tally made a significant jump and saw me leap-frog several notable naturalists on the PSL Moth Rankings Table. Happy days! Here's one that's already known from the site, preferring young leaves growing in the shade

Tenanted mine of Ectoedemia rubivora in a young Bramble leaf 
Lifers - Ectoedemia rubivora, Podosphaera fusca, Erysiphe circaeae, Helicodonta obvulata, Phytomyza agromyzina, Liriomyza eupatoria

After Duncton Hill, we toured a bunch of sites picking up yet more lifers for me including a small patch of Oak-leaved Goosefoot growing in the thinnest veneer of dirt at the base of a kerb. Tony has no idea how it managed to survive the drought and heatwave in such a seemingly inhospitable spot, but it appeared to be doing just fine.

Oak-leaved Goosefoot happily managing to survive in less than 1cm depth of cracked mud
Lifers - Agonopterix arenella, Enteucha acetosae, Oak-leaved Goosefoot

We waited until after dark before heading off to Portchester Castle in search of Bloxworth Snout on the walls. No such luck, though we did find a nice selection of spiders including a great many Steatoda nobilis...

Flippin massive Teg!
...and quite a few moths at the toilet block security lights, including a dead L-album Wainscot just under the eaves which was a bit gutting really seeing as I've never seen one before. Much to my amazement, despite it being caught in a web, one quick poke and it burst into life and landed near the base of the wall allowing a few pics. Nice, my first new macrolep of the trip. Wonder if I'll get any more? 

Once regarded as a scarce migrant to Britain, L-album Wainscot has now colonised Hampshire
Lifers - L-album Wainscot

Day 3 - 28th September - 

Today was all about Hayling Island. I admit I've never been a fan of the place despite birding it several times in the past, but Tony guaranteed a veritable multitude of decent species and so, with a cheeky glint in his eye, we set off in search of goodies.

I've changed my mind. I bloody love Hayling now!

Crazy 'snail trail' mine of Phyllocnistis xenia on a scrubby Grey Poplar
Phyllocnistis xenia was first discovered in Britain in 1974 but only arrived in Hampshire in 2003. Nowadays it's quite widespread here, we saw mines on many of the small suckering Grey Poplars that we passed.

Our first port of call was a godforsaken place called Gutner Point where acres of gunky saltmarsh and a muddy channel beckoned. It was pretty darn fresh in the cool wind too, for some unfathomable reason I'd forsaken my coat in favour of a thin sweatshirt, fooled by the blue skies I guess. However, I soon forgot about being cold when we began keying through Salicornia, a family of plants I have studiously ignored until now. Happily (?), the plant taxonomists have made life easier for once and recently lumped them from a tricksome seven species (including between 20 and 30 hybrids) into a far more manageable three species. With the help of a handlens we quickly keyed Salicornia europaea and Salicornia procumbens but it wasn't until a while later that we found Salicornia pusilla, though it stood out like a sore thumb amongst the other two species - I'm fairly confident we hadn't overlooked it earlier. I took a barrage of pics showing the size and shape of adjacent flower scales but they all turned out crap. Here's the best of a bad bunch for you

The rather extravagant flowers of Salicornia europaea
We spent time searching for the solitary clump of Sea-heath Frankenia laevis that occurs here, a rare plant that Tony discovered on the edge of a small pool a couple of years back. Sure enough it was still there plus we found a few smaller plants nearby - quite exciting really!

Sea-heath - a real rarity! Clearly I was far too excited to actually focus the camera properly...
We found shedloads of Scrobipalpa nitentella spinnings on almost any leafy plant examined and extracted a few larvae just to confirm the ID. We also found a couple of Coleophora atriplicis cases, though didn't find the larvae until later in the day. Here's a sneak preview for you

Coleophora atriplicis cases on Annual Sea-blite. How many can you see?
And the larva itself, here found feeding on Salicornia pusilla
Tony is a bit of a whizz when it comes to finding the early stages of moths. This somewhat inhospitable looking expanse of saltmarsh was positively hotching with life, much of which I'd have overlooked had Tony not been there to point out the various clues and signs. I learned a lot out on that saltmarsh. But all of that paled into insignificance when he called me over to a certain patch of smelly mud in a deep channel to see my next lifer

Behold! (clue - it's the dark green patch in the centre of the foreground)
This manky patch of green gloop is actually a vascular plant and not a seaweed at all, despite it being surrounded by them. At high tide this expanse of muck is fully underwater, which means that we're looking at a marine grass. Under the handlens it has a clear notched tip to the frond, only three veins and clasping shoots, all of which tells us that this is Dwarf Eelgrass, another rare plant that I'd not seen before. Good work Tony, where to next? Northney Saltmarsh for the Coleophora, which we found in quantity including the larva. Job done, we moved towards the southern end of the island for a different set of habitats and species

Lifers - Phyllocnistis xenia, Dwarf Eelgrass, Sea-heath, Salicornia europaea, Salicornia procumbens, Salicornia pusilla, Scrobipalpa nitentella, Aceria macrocheluserinea, Lobesia littoralis, Coleophora atriplicis.

We pulled into the carpark at Sandypoint and headed for the beach. This is a great spot for vegetated shingle, at least the bit that's closed to dogwalkers! Plenty of Sea Spurge everywhere and Tony soon pointed out the tell-tale feeding signs of a new moth for me

Note the droopy, withered-looking stem in the middle of this plant
We saw quite a few plants exhibiting this drooping stem and a bit of gentle teasing apart of leaves revealed the culprit - a small caterpillar! This was Acroclita subsequana, an uncommon moth restricted to coastal shingle where its foodplants Sea Spurge and Portland Spurge grow. And another new one for me, good work Tony! However, he let me down badly with our next target. We were after Sea Knotgrass, a plant I've been very keen to see for years. Tony was messing around in the upper reaches of the shingle, I knew that was wrong. I headed down onto the barren beach and soon found a sandy depression full of Sea Knotgrass - huzzah!

Sea Knotgrass - what a terrific plant! I loved this!
I lay flat on my belly, merrily papping away (on the wrong settings, of course...) before keying it through noting all the features that made it Sea Knotgrass rather than the maritime form of Knotgrass or even Ray's Knotgrass. I've wanted to see this plant ever since I first learned that it occurs on The Scillies and, despite living there for six months, failing to find it. So it was pleasing to finally meet the little stunner. As is so often the case, it really is one of those "you'll know it when you see it" things.

Tony found it quite hilarious that I'd never seen Hare's-tail before, it's a rampant grass throughout the dunes and pathways all across this part of Hayling Island. Well, what can I say - I'm a tart! I notched up another Tart's Tick in the shape of Spanish Broom at nearby Black Point and again at The Kench where top plant had to be the large bush of Bladder-senna complete with flowerheads and huge, inflated seed pods. It's a pretty cool plant!

There were also several of these growing near the entrance track. I don't know for sure, but suspect it's one of the sunflowers. Hopefully Tony has gone back and nailed the species by now.

Lifers - Sea Knotgrass, Acroclita subsequana, Hare's-tail, Spanish Broom, Bladder-senna

We were casually driving along a track at Beachlands when I spied a clump of colourful flowers out in the field. I ran out, grabbed a few pics and a bit of the plant and tried to figure out what the heck it was

Definitely not a marigold, which is what I thought they were from the car 
Anyway, after a stupendous bit of detective work later that night, I sussed it - Gaillardia x grandiflora aka Blanketflower and already recorded from this tetrad by the BSBI (as welcome confirmation!)

As an aside, the scatter of beach huts immediately south of this field is the location for Mediterranean Stick Insect. We'd both seen them before so didn't try for them on this particular occasion.

Our next destination on this botanical tour of Hayling was Sinah Common where we bashed a load of Tamarisk, I ticked a couple of hemipterans associated with it, plus some weird-shit plants including Tartarian Honeysuckle and Cock's-eggs, the latter having naturalised all along the side of an overgrown field. Here's a poor pic, taken whilst Tony stayed in the car whilst parked up on double yellows. Such a rebel!

The Tamarisk Hopper Opsius stactogalus

Cock's-eggs Salpichroa origanifolia growing prolifically in an area of rough grassland
Lifers - Blanketflower, Tartarian Honeysuckle, Cock's-eggs, Aceria echii, Opsius stactogalus, Tuponia brevirostris

Our final stop on Hayling was to investigate a weedy corner of a large arable field. Tony has recorded several weird weeds here and I was thrilled to clap eyes on my first ever Amaranth, then I remembered what tough buggers they are to identify. I've often used a handlens to ID plants, but I'm not sure I've ever had to use a microscope before, which is exactly what was required of this beast! Tony had a go first, then silently handed it to me. Our IDs didn't match! I went back through the keys, so did Tony. Turns out that we'd both misinterpreted a (different) couplet and after each having a second go we solidly agreed on an identification. Happily, some intense Amaranth-related internet trawling revealed that online images of the plant we'd keyed it to did indeed match the plant we had in front of us. And the result? The snazzily named Indehiscent Amaranth. All to do with how the fruit covering behaves when you rip it open, y'see...

Amaranth - the scariest alien family in Britain maybe?
Lifers - Indehiscent Amaranth

I managed a grand total of twenty two lifers today - when the heck did that last happen!! :)

Part two (of Part 1) will follow soon...…….