Invasion!

There is a very long list of species that are non-native to the UK, many (if not most) are harmful to our native wildlife. I am regularly finding non-native species in my garden as well as further afield, Grey Squirrels are one such example. They were introduced to the UK nearly a century and a half ago from North America and since then they have severely affected our native species, through the severe population decline in Red Squirrels to the predation of young birds and eggs.

You might remember that last year I found several individuals of the slug Ambigolimax nyctelius. It was the first record of this non-native species in Surrey and had most likely come from the nearby garden centre. Well, a few weeks ago I found a small black slimy flatworm under one of the logs in my garden, which upon closer inspection appeared to have two pale lines running down its body. I used this character to identify it, which wasn’t as tricky as I thought it might be. There are 14 species of terrestrial flatworms in the UK, however many are really distinctive, coloured bright yellow or with distinctive head shapes.

Looking through the species in this very helpful PDF, I could see only two species that looked similar to mine: Kontikia ventrolineata and Australopacifica coxii. I originally thought it might be Australopacifica coxii however when I looked closer I could see that on my specimen the two lines were grey and not blue as is more commonly found in that species. So I concluded that my flatworm was most likely to be Kontikia ventrolineata, however as I have never identified any flatworms before I sent a couple of photos to the leading expert on flatworms, Hugh Jones. To my delight he replied and said that there was no doubt that it was indeed Kontikia ventrolineata. He also sent two distribution maps, one before my record had been added and one with my record on the map. I am very pleased to say that this is the first time Kontikia ventrolineata has been recorded in Surrey!

Ever since I found that first Kontikia ventrolineata I have been seeing more and more under logs and stumps in my garden. This isn’t very good news, as this species is believed to prey on our native small snails and possibly slugs. Therefore the flatworms will be in competition with the thrushes and the hedgehogs, reducing the amount of food for them. They might be insignificant at the moment but if the numbers keep on increasing like they have already, then they will be a major blow for the hedgehog population especially.

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Only a week after I found the first Kontikia ventrolineata I found another alien species! This time it was found in our new beetle trap which is baited with bananas. It is tub shaped with a hole in the bottom through which the beetles enter and stay until I check it a few days later. The trap was full of many different types of fruit flies and several wasps but only one beetle, which would have been disappointing if it wasn’t an interesting species.

The beetle was tiny, but identification was aided by the interesting shape and the markings. After a lot of research I was able to narrow it down to a family, Nitidulidae, and from there I eventually reached species level and identified it as Carpophilus hemipterus, also known as the Dried Fruit Beetle. Its favourite food is overripe fruit, which explains its presence in the trap. Although it is native to Asia, it has spread all around the globe on exported fruit and now inhabits all continents apart from Antarctica! map

However, looking at the NBN Gateway map for this species (above) it doesn’t appear very common but seems widespread, at least in England. The NBN Gateway doesn’t always show all of the records of a species on the map, so I don’t know if this might be the first record for this species in Surrey outside of London, however it certainly isn’t common!

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Carpophilus hemipterus. Not the best photo: the beetle was really tiny!

Hedgecourt Invertebrate Survey: Part 1

I am very lucky to live within walking distance of a great Surrey Wildlife Trust reserve in South Surrey near the Surrey-Sussex border. Hedgecourt Nature Reserve is quite a small reserve, but it contains a mix of habitats. It is situated on the edge of Hedgecourt Lake, so that you can get a good view of the open water and the river that feeds into it runs through the nature reserve, creating a few stony streams too. There is a lot of marshland on the reserve, some open and some with tree cover. The woodland near to the lake is almost always flooded, especially so after rain when the lake level rises. This creates a fantastic habitat and I keep saying that it resembles the Florida Everglades in some places. I keep expecting to see a snapping turtle rise up from the murky water! There is also lots of dry woodland – interspersed with many small ponds – which attracts birds such as Nightingales.

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It is usually much wetter than this!

This year I have been given permission to conduct a relaxed invertebrate survey of the reserve. The wardens were very happy to have a free survey take place, they haven’t had one in quite a few years. My target number of species is 1000 by the end of the year but I’ll have to work quite hard to get to that figure! On my Pan-species list I barely have 1300 species, and that includes fungi, birds, mammals and plants!

So far this year I have made a few visits, mainly mopping up the common species before I get weighed down by the bizarre beetles and fantastic flies! Most were in the first winter period (January – March).

However, I have made one April visit so far this year. The walk through the reserve started off well. I had just passed the entrance sign when two Brimstone butterflies flew past across the marsh. A Buff-tailed Bumblebee clumsily flew in front of me and a Peacock butterfly erupted from the path ahead. There is a patch of new iris shoots coming out in the first marsh and I noticed small dark things on them when I walked past. At first I thought they were just holes in the leaves but on closer inspection I saw they were very small beetles. I tried to get one in the pot but it vanished – characteristic of a flea-beetle. One moment it’s there, the next: Whoosh!

When I got home I searched ‘flea beetle on iris’ on Google. Lots of results came up, almost all resembling my beetle. Guess what it was called? The Iris Flea-beetle (Aphthona nonstriata)!

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This mating pair was more reluctant to hop away.

Just 10 metres further up the path the open marsh turned into the woodland marsh. I bent down to have a look at a large ground beetle that was scuttling across the path when another one, smaller, caught my eye. A third species, which I recognised as one I found the other day: Asaphidion flavipes, also ran out from under a clump of moss. This site is great for beetles, I thought! I ran through the first two beetles at home and the first I didn’t find too hard to identify. It was quite distinctive and it turned out to be Elaphrus cupreus. I’m glad we found this species as it is found in very wet habitats so the wooded marshland at Hedgecourt is perfect for it.

The second one was a bit trickier as it was small and there weren’t really any distinctive markings. I spent a quite a while puzzling over this beetle with The Carabidae (Ground beetles) of Britain and Ireland (Luff, 2007) open on my lap. Eventually, using a combination of appendage colour and pronotum shape, I narrowed it down to Bembidion properans. This is interesting as this species is usually found in drier areas, the complete opposite of this section of the path at Hedgecourt.

My favourite part of the reserve is along the river that runs into the lake. The vegetation has recently been cut beside the river, presumably to let new vegetation grow through. The sun was shining directly on this open patch and there was lots of insect activity. Some Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) was already poking through and on one flower I only just spotted a resting Orange-Tip Butterfly. My first of the year!

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There were also lots of flies taking advantage of the warm weather. Three hoverflies were noted – the very common Eristalis pertinax and Helophilus pendulus and the very-common-but-new-to-me Platycheirus albimanus (White-footed Hoverfly). I also saw a Bee-Fly hovering above the cut vegetation, I have seen many this year.

A bit further along the path, I walked out onto the boardwalk to see what was out on the open water of the lake. I was glad to see three Common Terns loafing about on the buoys, showing no interest in breeding. Maybe they had just arrived and were catching their breath! They were sadly the only migrants I saw besides 3 male Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff.

We walked back along the path and turned onto the boardwalk leading into the sheltered reedbed. I was hoping to see an early Reed Warbler, but I did see another Peacock and a Comma butterfly on the boardwalk. They were absorbing up the sun before it goes away again!

There are several old trees by the edge of the lake where the bark is peeling off. I looked under one of these pieces of bark and I found both Common Shiny and Common Striped Woodlouse. I haven’t really looked at Woodlice in great detail before so the Common Striped was a new species to me. It is good to get them both on the year list as I’ll certainly be more busy in the warmer months.

So, I’m currently on 42 species for the year. Only 958 left to go before I reach my target! Hopefully I can find some of Hedgecourt’s specialities before the year ends.

 

3 West Sussex firsts in one summer!

This summer has been a productive one, with my first three vice-county firsts all being found in my garden. I find out whether a species is a vice-county first or not by emailing the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, who are really kind and give me all the information I need. These are the three species:

Orius laevigatus – I came across quite a few of these small bugs on various bushes in my garden including Yew and our Buddleja. They may be small, but they are also predatory, and will feed on small invertebrates like bug nymphs and so on. There are 12 records in the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre database for this species, but believe it or not they are all from East Sussex! Most of the records are concentrated around nature reserves like Rye Harbour, so I’m really pleased to have found it in the garden!

Entomobrya nivalis – Entomobrya nivalis is a species of springtail, which are tiny invertebrates you can sometimes find hopping around among leaf litter. However, this is quite a conspicuous species and is covered in stiff bristles and has greyish mottling all over. This time there are only 9 records in the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre database, but again they are all in East Sussex!

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Entomobrya nivalis

Now, I’ve saved the best for last – Bright Four-spined Legionnaire (Chorisops nagatomii) – The Bright Four-spined Legionnaire is a fly with not only a great name but is quite colourful too. It has a yellow abdomen with black stripes running horizontally across it as well as a beautiful iridescent blue-green thorax. I was very surprised to find it on my kitchen window while I was having lunch, and even more so to find out that there are only records for Sussex and neither of them in West Sussex!

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Bright Four-spined Legionnaire (Chorisops nagatomii)

Teifi Marshes, home to the Welsh Wildlife Centre

The week of 13th to the 17th of July, I went to Teifi Marshes, the home of the Welsh Wildlife Centre. It’s owned by the fourth largest Wildlife Trust in the UK, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Nestled on the banks of the River Teifi between the town of Cardigan and the village of Cilgerran, Teifi Marshes is known for its Otters. We stayed in a tiny but cosy cottage near the visitor’s centre, with access to the reserve well after all the other guests had left. That meant we stood an even better chance of spotting Otters as they’re a nocturnal mammal, but we didn’t have much luck.

We arrived at our cottage at 5 in the afternoon and began the process of unpacking. But we didn’t get very far before I spotted two Scarlet Tiger moths sitting right in the open in a flower bed! They are classed as a ‘local’ species in my moth book, which means they are only found in less than 300 sites across the whole of the UK! They are called Scarlet Tiger because of the beautiful red hindwings, visible in the second photo. Scarlet Tiger is also a new species for my pan-species list, which I am hoping to expand this holiday.

Scarlet Tiger

Scarlet Tiger

Scarlet Tiger, showing hind wings.

Scarlet Tiger, showing hind wings.

A pan-species list is a list of species which covers all groups (fungi, plants, invertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians) found in a certain place. My list is of all species found in Britain and I only started putting together my list this spring. It had 781 species at the beginning of this trip but we’ll see how it expands.

After everything was unpacked, I decided to explore the area close to the cottage. The visitor centre closes at 5pm, so I already almost had the whole place to myself! Right next to the cottage is a play area for small children. I found that it was full of wildlife too! Two small Toads were found but were hard to get a good look at as they hopped into a tussock of long grass as soon as I spotted them. I also found a lot of wildlife on the umbellifer-like plants around the play area, mostly Meadowsweet and Hogweed. A large larva had made itself a tunnel of silk from which it fed on the flowers of a Meadowsweet and when I disturbed it it quickly retreated into its tunnel. Lots of Hoverflies were enjoying the sweet nectar of the umbellifers, and there were especially large numbers of Marmalade Hoverfly darting about. Also, annoyingly, Horseflies, or Cleg Flies, were aplenty. I managed to fight them off for most of the duration of my walk, but their persistence paid off when one managed to bite my hand when I was looking at a Brown-lipped Snail!

The following morning it was still drizzly as it had been for the whole journey. I did manage an early morning walk to the river viewpoint though, with the hope of finding Otters. Unsuccessfully.

Both male and female Blackcaps were present, the male singing its socks off in a tree a metre away from me. Males and females are similar apart from one striking feature: the colour of their cap. The female’s and juvenile’s cap isn’t black at all, but in fact brown. The male’s cap is a glossy black though! During my adventures with bird ringing in southern England, I was fooled by a juvenile Blackcap. We had caught a brown-capped Blackcap in the net during a ringing demonstration, and my trainer asked me whether it was male or female. I confidently said “female!”, but had forgotten about juveniles. My trainer didn’t hesitate to point out a few minuscule black feathers in the cap, therefore making it a male!

Moving on from the Blackcaps, I was surprised to see a group of 5 Curlew fly over the river. I had first mistaken the silhouettes of the birds for those of gulls, which are abundant over the river. But their long, curved bills were the stand out feature when I looked through my binoculars! But then, out of the corner of my eye, a spotted a shape. It was swimming downstream, low in the water and diving regularly. Otter? Unfortunately, no. It was in fact a Cormorant, but it fooled me! It was the only Cormorant we saw on the trip which is surprising, I was thinking we’d see a lot more due to the abundance of large water bodies.

After breakfast, we embarked on another walk, longer this time. We went on the Wetland Trail, one of the most popular trails for wildlife spotting. It was marked as 2.8km on the map, but it was tiring after visiting all the hides. Throughout the walk we were spurred on by the soundtrack of Sedge Warbler song – the reedbeds punctuated by small shrubs are perfect for them! However the drizzle which was still coming down beckoned the snails onto the path. We had to watch our step the entire way as Brown-lipped, Garden and other snails saw this as an opportunity to cross to the other side. Sadly we saw nearly as many crushed shells as intact ones, other people didn’t seem to be paying attention. From then on I moved every snail I could to safety!

Most of the snails were crossing over the tarmacked path where most of the hides were. From the tarmacked path we spotted an Oystercatcher piping as it flew over the reedbeds and five more Curlew from a hide.

I must say that Eurasian Oystercatchers are currently my favourite waders. They often nest near human habitation, they have been known to nest in flower pots on patios and are sometimes approachable. They are an unmistakable wader with the mix of black and white and a bright red bill. They are found all over the country, inland and coastal, so they are seen more often than strictly coastal birds like Sanderlings. Also 12 species of Oystercatcher (genus Haematopus) are spread over the whole world, so it’s not only Europe which can enjoy them!

We had lunch at the Glasshouse Cafe in the visitor centre, from which you could see the nearby village of Cilgerran, which we walked to afterwards. The village was certainly different to the rural setting around our cottage but it was a chance to find some suburban wildlife: House Sparrows which were absent in the reserve. Also the loose stone walls harboured a lot of plants, including Maidenhair Spleenwort, Wall-rue and some hardy Herb Roberts.

The following morning got off to a good start. My dad found a moth in the sink when he got up, put it in one of my pots and showed me when I had breakfast. It was a Dark Arches moth which I have caught in the moth trap before at home. It may just be a coincidence but I think it is often found indoors more than other species. I think this because I have found another one at home, but not in the trap. It was in fact on one of our towels! Maybe they like the warmth of human habitation?

Today’s walk was to Poppit Sands, the closest patch of coastline to the reserve. It was near enough to low tide, and there were lots of shells on the beach. Many of them unidentified, I have little experience with shore life as we live far from the coast. We did see a few Compass Jellies though, which were spectacular:

Compass Jellyfish washed up on the beach

Compass Jellyfish washed up on the beach

There were lots of birds down by the beach. When we were just about to walk onto the beach I spotted a Red Kite circle over ‘the last pub before Ireland’ before heading west (in the direction of Ireland). The Red Kite was being mobbed by Corvids, namely Jackdaws and Carrion Crows, of which there were a lot. On the way back to the reserve I saw a Buzzard being mobbed by around a hundred Jackdaws! None, apart from one or two, were very persistent and gave up after a few minutes. Also from that pub we had a great view of a feeding Whimbrel, with a huge flock of Canada Geese. I was hoping to spot some dune fungi by the beach, but unfortunately none were to be seen.

I got up at 4:45 am the next morning because I had set the moth trap and was anxious to see what we’d caught.

  • 2 Brussels Laces. These were the only scarce moth we caught in the trap, and a new species for me. They’re quite a drab moth, similar to the Willow Beauty, but much smaller.
  • 2 Scalloped Oaks. I’ve caught their similar cousin, Scalloped Hazel, in the trap at home. Scalloped Hazels are browner and fly earlier in the year. The Scalloped Oaks look ‘fresher’:
Scalloped Oak

Scalloped Oak

  • 1 Elephant Hawk-moth. I was really pleased when I caught an Elephant Hawk-moth in the trap, as they seem to avoid me. It’s the first ever one I’ve caught in my trap, whereas other people have caught 22 in one night!
  • 2 Clouded Borders. I was really thinking we would catch more as I catch numbers in excess of 10 at home. They’re related to the magpies, Clouded Magpie and Magpie.
  • 1 Magpie. The Magpie we caught in the trap was the first I’ve ever seen and it was also the second largest moth in the trap, after the Elephant Hawk-moth. They’re larger than Clouded Borders and covered in spots instead of black patches.
  • 7 Uncertains. These are the common LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) of the moth world, but they have a great name!
  • 2 Riband Waves. There are two forms of the Riband Wave: the banded and non-banded. I find that they are both abundant but some nights I catch more of one than the other. Both Riband Waves we caught were non-banded.
  • 2 Buff-Tips. I am always amazed by their camouflage. When I discovered one on the bug house next to the moth trap in the morning I actually thought it was a twig!
  • 1 Buff Ermine. These are common moths and I never fail to catch them when I put the trap out at the right time of year.
  • 1 Buff Arches. This concluded the buff moths of the night, but it’s the prettiest of the three.
Buff Arches

Buff Arches

  • 1 Common Wainscot. This is quite a drab, pale moth which is average sized. It flies earlier in the year than other wainscots.
  • 1 Snout. Snouts are a large, odd moth. They actually look like the have a snout which gives them a comical appearance.
  • 1 Drinker. After catching one in the trap in Wales, the Drinker became my favourite moth. It also has a snout like the Snout, but when I saw it wiggle its nose it looked like it had just sneezed!
  • 2 Shaded Broad-bars. These confused me for a while as I have never caught them before. Their colour can be quite variable, ranging from yellow to brown.
  • 1 Spectacle. These moths are distinctive as they have marks at the front of their head resembling white-rimmed spectacles!
  • 1 Southern Wainscot. It was great to catch one of these as they are a localised species and a reedbed specialist, so this reserve is a great place for them!
  • 3 Lackeys. Two males and a female caught in a trap. The females are larger than the males and usually paler, but the colour is variable.

So not as many as I thought I would catch. But there were still a few new species for my list: Southern Wainscot, Shaded Broad-bar, Magpie, Lackey, and Brussels Lace.

For today’s walk we went to Cardigan Castle. Good for history but not so good for wildlife! The walk there was quite good though, as we followed the river most of the way. One of the highlights was when I spotted a lone Sand Martin fly upstream, had to pick out from the 100+ Swallows and House Martins also hawking above the river. It’s my first one this year! I also managed to find a Small Tortoiseshell flitting between buildings,  which I expect is one of the few I’m going to see this year as sadly they don’t seem to be doing well.

Unfortunately that was the end of our incredible holiday. Sadly no Otters, but that doesn’t matter as I was amazed by the amount of wildlife we saw in less than a week!

At the beginning of this post, I said that I was hoping to expand my pan-species list this week. I was very successful! I added around 50 new species, including 18 plants!