Monday, 25 June 2012

www.aloadofbollox?

A few days ago I was on Reigate Heath, walking across a boggy area littered with the stumps of recently felled coniferous trees. A black insect flew into view, at first I thought that it was a melanic damselfly. It landed close by and I was confronted with something that I had not seen before - a large ichneumon fly exhibiting a preposterously long ovipositor. It didn't settle for long, but I was sure that I could nail the identification. Back home my trawl through the literature matched it, I think, to a species of Lissonota - but which one? The popular field guides suggest setosa, or fundator, or 'many similar species'. The world wide web threw up many images of supposed Lissonata, some of which were clearly not, being dragonflies and even shieldbugs! (I came across another at Thursley Common this week (image below) which looked a lot smaller than my Reigate specimen. It didn't stay still for long).


This neatly illustrates a problem that the 'official' recorders of natural history are faced with. There are thousands of people out there armed with digital cameras, all taking photographs of species and then posting/uploading them onto the internet and naming them in all good faith. Many are doing so correctly, but many aren't. So we then get a scenario where somebody (it could be me) who does not possess the literature with which to identify something and will go online looking for help. One incorrect labelling of a species can be replicated many times, which means that I could check my picture/specimen against a few sources and come up with the wrong identification. I would then perpetuate the miscarriage of id.

So we now have multiple records of a species that are not quite right - in fact, all wrong. The internet and generalist field guides can give the impressiuon that insects are quite easy. A plate of beetles suggests that you can match your specimen up to the closest pictures and voila... you have an identification. Oh dear.

I am certainly more wary now than I was a few months ago. I try to be squeeky clean with my records but can I honestly say that all of my identifications are 100% correct - that means every grass, sedge, crucifer, pug, tortrix, beetle? I doubt it. Where does that leave those who look after the official databases of our wildlife? Do they, in the case of critical groups, accept only those records submitted by known, proven fieldworkers. That would be safe, but would also mean an awful lot of genuine records will be ignored. It could also act as a deterrent to those 'new' to that particular field of study if the impression is given that their records are not worthy of consideration.


I end on a positive note -  a bit of Common Blue butterfly love-in at Howell Hill nature reserve in a rare sunny interval. Girls on top...

Friday, 22 June 2012

"I don't care what the weather man says..."

I cannot make my mind up about this weather. Yes, it's been cool, wet and at times windy. Agreed, it isn't good for moth catches, butterfly numbers or overshooting bird rarities. But botanically everything is lush. By now we can usually expect all of the late spring stuff to be burnt off, shrivelled up and beyond identification. Perhaps this is good for a number of invertebrate groups? I don't know whether or not those that study flies are rolling around in ecstacy due to a brilliant year, or arachnid botherers have never had it so good. I would like a bit more warmth and sun though - it makes a poor day in the field all the more tolerable.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bryony Ladybird


This poor, snatched photograph is, I'm suggesting, that of a Bryony Ladybird. I was wandering the border of Norbury Park and Bocketts Farm in north-west Surrey when I came across it. Not being an expert in beetles (or anything else for that matter) I was none the less struck by the washed out browny-red colouration of the wing cases and the carefully spaced out spots. It is found in the general area, having started its history in the UK as recently as the late 1990s.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A chocolate button a day...

This morning, when the postman handed me a small brown parcel, I wondered whether or not I had forgotten about some strange natural history equipment that I had ordered - a gnat's nether region detector box or possibly an electric shock depth charger for water beetles. When I turned the package over my sender was revealed - 'Haig, Seaton, Devon'. This could mean only one thing - Chocolate Buttons!

For a while now, that Londoner/Devonian has owed me Chocolate Buttons big time. World Wars have been fought over lesser instances of debt. As I feverishly ripped open the brown paper, licking my salivating lips, I had already started to imagine lying on the grass, tipping the whole of the bags contents into my wide open mouth in a homage to Homer Simpson.

Not only was there a bag of buttons - GIANT buttons - but a card addressed to 'Tick Ticker'. It read, 'Please find enclosed well-known cure for Lyme disease. Correct dose is 2 tablets, 4 times a day, but latest research suggests efficacy vastly improved by consuming all the tablets with a single cup of tea or coffee. Enjoy! Gavin'

Such concern amongst the blogger fraternity is humbling. I now feel as if I can bin the antibiotics my GP prescribed in favour of this confectionery medication. Maybe eat them as I watch England stutter win against Ukraine this evening.

Many thanks Gav. I've now called off the heavies...

Monday, 18 June 2012

A few for the pan list

The hoverfly Eristalis pertinax
A day spent 'pottering' about (what a great middle-aged word 'pottering' is). The upshot of it was I found 10 pan list ticks for myself, all of them common. I spent a fruitful half hour checking the flowering heads of Hogweed that had attracted a fair number of insects. If you can spot any schoolboy errors, please let me know. New pan-list total is now 3092.

Diaea dorsata in the garden

Pamene aurana, up to six of these micro moths

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Meet my new favourite spider...


...Mangora acalypha - smart, isn't it!


A few Man Orchids are present on Colley Hill, always a pleasure to see them.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Rosemary's beetle

I couldn't resist the cheap pun in the headline and apologise to any younger readers that think film making is all about Jabba the Hut, 3D glasses and Johnny Depp doing poor Keef Richards impersonations...

I received a text at work from my daughter Jessica, telling me that she had potted up a 'pretty beetle' that she had found on the lavender in our garden - that's my girl! I was delighted to find that it was a Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana). Please click here for a good digest of its distribution and status.


What about my suspected Lyme Disease I hear you wonder? Thank you for asking! Well, three antibiotic doses in, the red rash has diminished and I felt decidedly spaced out earlier.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Lyme's Disease - a warning

I ended up going to the doctors this evening as my 'tick bite site' has developed an encircling red rash -one of the classic signs of stage one in Lyme's Disease. My GP decided that the eveidence before her, plus my already compromised immune system called for decisive action and prescribed a two-week course of strong antibiotics (Doxycycline if your interested). So, what I would suggest to all of you people out there who go into the countryside and crawl through grass and bracken looking for all sorts of wildlife is this - check your body thoroughly each day (get someone to do your back if you can) and if you find a tick remove it immediately (tweezers and pull with a twisting motion). Do not ignore any subsequent rash or general unwellness. Antibiotics will stop the disease from reaching the potentially serious later stages. There is more here...

Tick bites are commoner on humans in the spring and summer months, so we are at the height of 'tick time'. Most ticks do not carry the potential for this illness, but do not use that as an excuse not to take the threat seriously. There are plenty of victims out there who have led debilitating lives because it wasn't diagnosed early enough.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Not the sort of tick I'm after


I was scratching my stomach yesterday morning (it's a bloke thing), when my finger nail detected a hard object inside my navel. It was what I suspected it was - a tick. It certainly didn't want to give up its comfy spot and was a devil to pull off, but looking at the image above I think I got it all. If you find yourself ticked, just pull it off (that enough double entendres!) with a pair of tweezers - do not use a naked flame or neat alcohol.

I have now filled said navel with Vaseline (other brands of petroleum jelly are available) because this will apparently do harm to anything living that might be left. There is now one less bit of mystery about me as I have fessed up to having a concave navel and not one of those sticky out ones.

It is sore around the site, a bit inflamed, but Lyme's Disease is still not suspected. If I get flu-like symptoms in the next week or two I'll start to panic.

By the way, if anybody knows what species the tick is, please let me know. I can then tick the tick!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

More Ground Pine

Another check of the Fames Rough ploughed strip revealed eight Ground Pine plants plus at least 20 of Cut-leaved Germander. I'm happy about that.


This Lesser Stag Beetle was found on the trunk of a long dead tree and provided the best photographic opportunity of the day. I don't see many of these.

I've added a link to Sarah Patton's blog, Patton's Tiger. The blog is named after a rather special moth that she recorded as new to the British Isles. No little brown jobbie for her, it's a spectacular one that I'd love to see.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Ajuga do nicely

Nestled in amongst woodland along the south-facing slope of Chipstead Bottom is an unassuming strip of chalk downland known as Fames Rough. To most botanists that name will immediately bring to mind two very rare plants - Cut-leaved Germander and Ground Pine.

It was during World War Two (when this strip of land was ploughed up for the war effort) that the buried seeds of both of these plants were kicked back into life and flowered profusely. From that time onwards a watchful eye has been kept on these rare plants. Neither of them like their habitat to scrub up, and will head back underground until the top soil is disturbed to create the open sward that they need. Regeneration of the surrounding vegetation has lead to spells in which they have largely failed to appear. In 2000 I can remember being overwhelmed by the number of Cut-leaved Germander plants present. Conditions were then good for them. However, two years ago I failed to find either species.

The Downlands Project has, together with interested parties, managed a small part of the area to try and maintain both plants presence. Fortunately the buried seed can stay that way for many years and still be viable. A light raking of the soil does not seem to be enough - a deeper toiling seems to be needed to awaken the seed.Yesterday, when Graham Lyons and I checked the far eastern end of Fames Rough we came across one such 'ploughed' strip (maybe 25m x 1m) and were pleased to find at least a dozen good sized Cut-leaved Germander plants (not yet in flower) plus one flowering Ground Pine (image below). We did not check further along. Whatever was done to this small strip has worked! I will return at the end of the month to take in what I'm sure will be a good flowering and to also look further along for more of these botanical gems. Congratulations is due to those who have enabled these plants to survive.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Lyon's share

It's a cheap trick I know - give a post an adult title (as in yesterday's 'Roman Snail porn') and watch and wait for the poor unsuspecting web-surfers who will arrive at your site expecting to see large Italians fornicating but instead will view just shell-on-shell action. One of those lured was our very own pan-lister and blogger, Graeme Lyons. When he found out that, apart from the snails there could be a bit of rare plant ticking to be had as well, he was on his way up to the North Downs.

I would like to report that I showed him everything that I mentioned as a possible tick. The truth is I showed him the area in which I expected to find the target species and he then looked down on the ground and said "There it is". That bloke has a sharp pair of eyes. We did go through the card without a miss - Roman Snail, Greater Yellow Rattle, Cut-leaved Germander, Ground Pine and Green Hound's-tongue. I will post tomorrow about these species as it is worth expanding upon, particularly the plants at Fames' Rough where a bit of land management seems to have paid off. With Graeme in tow, it also meant a notebook full of additional species that I would have overlooked or shrugged at - mosses, beetles, hoverflies, snails - a few extra pan-species lifers to take in at my leisure with the field guides and keys in front of me.


The picture above is of Graeme taking in the first (it was small) Cut-leaved Germander plant that we came across. There were, however, plenty of larger specimens to come. A cracking day spent with a knowledgable and most likeable bloke. We even took time out to disect the work of Terence Malick - you won't find him in Stace, by the way.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Roman Snail porn


Like a land snail version of Rodin's 'Kiss', these two Roman Snails were found doing whatever it is that they're doing (Greco Wrestling?) on the short turf at Fame's Rough. I felt slightly grubby as I knelt down to take this shot. If you do find this sexually stimulating, may I suggest you book a course of electric shock therapy. It's helped me no end...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Check those garden Ox-eyes

Inspecting the flower heads of Ox-eye Daisy in the garden I noticed a couple of small beetles. They were so small, and my eyes so middle-aged, that the colouring and patterning was not at first clear. A hand lens revealed a couple of beauties - it was a species that I hadn't knowingly seen before, although I was sure that I had seen images of it somewhere. A brief search of the literature and I had an identification, that of Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci), pictured above. Soon after a number of Oedemera nobilis were also visiting the daisies (below).