Goldeneye, in lichen form

Running backwards into the Devils Dyke Pub to get out of the fierce hail certainly wasn’t the intended end to today’s outing. We had been caught out on a grand scale; a band of completely unforecast precipitation left our clothes so sodden that not even a hot chocolate and four-cheese pizza could warm me up. But was it worth it?

Birders may be used to the sight of a goldeneye floating out on a windswept gravel pit or reservoir at this time of year. Although the diving duck breed in trees, the nesting sites are solely in cavities in larger trunks and at latitudes further north than the UK. So, how many British birders can say that they’ve seen a goldeneye in a tree? I doubt many of them – yet as of this morning I can, but not sensu stricto.

The goldeneye lichen, Teloschistes chrysophthalmus, is named after the bright orange apothecia borne on blue-tinged stalks. The apothecia are disks containing the asci, which in turn contain the spores which will be carried on the wind to colonise new sites. Indeed, this is likely to be how the goldeneye lichen arrived in the UK. In the 19th century there were several sporadic records along the South Coast, and this decreased to only two in the 20th century. Yet, since 2007, recolonisation has been in full swing and there have been records from most South Coast counties along with an outlier in Herefordshire. It is still a fairly rare species, but definitely on the increase. It is not completely known what might be driving the recolonisation. Increasing temperatures could be a factor, yet in the early 19th century when well-established populations could be found in the south, it was relatively much colder than modern times.

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The bright orange apothecia really stood out on this drab, dull day

For this sighting I am indebted to @apeasbrain who first found the lichen last weekend and who provided brilliant directions (only the one individual plant has been found so far, like a needle in a haystack). However, it turned out that despite the lichen being the main instigator for my visit to Devils Dyke, it was not the only highlight. Just past the Hawthorn on which the lichen is growing, the path descends into a copse of Ash trees. On one of these trees I managed to spot some movement, out of the corner of my eye. At first glance I took it to be a ladybird larva, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. On arrival home, I realised it was in fact a pre-adult Endomychus coccineus, known vernacularly as the False Ladybird. This was a species I’d been wanting to see for months, so it’s a bit embarrassing that I didn’t recognise it immediately – but coupled with the Teloschistes, the incredibly painful scramble back to the pub once the hail set in was absolutely worth it.

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Teloschistes chrysophthalmus becomes my 100th lichen and Endomychus coccineus my 250th beetle. Together they put me on 69 new species for the year so far, a good pace I think!

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Some New Book Reviews

Looking at my statistics page, the page entitled ‘Book Reviews’ appears to be quite popular. I hope this is because they are good and not just because the page is the second one after ‘Home’. I have realised that I don’t get quite so many page views after ‘Book Reviews’ though…

Anyway, here are some new book reviews. They will also be available on the ‘Book Reviews’ page.

Title: The Lichen Hunters
Author/s: Oliver Gilbert
Summary: This is a lovely collection of tales from the point of view of an experienced lichenologist, Oliver Gilbert. It retells stories from places like remote islands and mountains, the Lizard and various churchyards. This is not just a dry book about lichens, it is often exciting and even terrifying and spooky in some places! Unfortunately Oliver passed away in 2005, but this and other books by him will hopefully be a long-lasting legacy.

Title: The Carabidae (ground beetles) of Britain and Ireland
Author/s: Martin L. Luff
Summary: This is one of the few great detailed books for people wanting to identify what ground beetles are around them. I find that constant referral to the diagram of the beetle anatomy is needed, so some beginners might find the jargon quite confusing. However, once you successfully get to the end of the key, there is a lot of information about the beetle you have identified. This is a feature I don’t often see in keys like this and it is an easy way to check your identification.

Title: Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Author/s: Martin Townsend and Paul Waring (Illustrations by Richard Lewington)
Summary:This is an easy-to-use, concise guide which is perfect for the beginner, the amateur and the professional. The illustrations are incredibly detailed, which is often needed for this type of identification, all done by “one of Europe’s leading natural history illustrators”. The wiro-binding design lets the book sit permanently open whilst you are peering at a moth, very convenient in the field along with the ‘waterproofness’!