Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Back on the Wight (Day 2)

Day 2 back on the Isle of Wight: after breakfast I drove to the chalk downs above Mottistone to meet up with an old (young) friend, George Greiff. Over the last few years George has been exploring the Bryophyte world of mosses & liverworts on the Island.

We spent most of our time exploring this chalk pit.

Entodon concinnis: This is quite a scarce species and, in this habitat, it was doing exactly what the book says, being ‘most often encountered as scattered shoots several centimetres long.’ Other mosses included the tiny – and special – Pottiopsis caespitosa, and Fissidens dubius.

My favourite Liverwort of the day was the chalk specialist, Leiocolea turbinata.

The real highlight of the day was the discovery of 6 lichenicolous fungi, that is, fungi that are parasitic on lichens. This is not a great photo but illustrates 2 species on the lichen, Physcia tenella. The small pink balls on the right are Illosporiopsis christiansenii and the pinkish colouring on the left is caused by Laetisaria lichenicola.

We found several species on Xanthoria parietina. This is Alan Outen's photo of the lobe I brought back with Didymocyrtis slaptoniensis. We also found Opegrapha physciaria on some lobes....which George found new to the Isle of Wight just a few days previously! We also found the more common Xanthoricola physciae discolouring the ‘jam tart’ fruits of the same lichen species.

George found this interesting-looking dark fungus on some Collema auriforme and took it home to have a look at it under the compound microscope. [George’s photo]

This is George’s photo of one of the spores which has a fascinating structure with 3 long spikes protruding from each end.
After seeking the help of a European expert the species was confirmed as Myxophora leptogiophila which has been found in Scotland but not previously confirmed in England as far as we are aware.

Thanks so much to George for a great morning!

After saying goodbye to George I drove to Freshwater Bay to view a photo exhibition at Dimbola Lodge. Coming out the sun was shining and so I looked for – and found – my first hoverfly of the year: a female Eristalis tenax.

Inspired by this I made my way down the road to Afton Marsh, my favourite hoverfly-hunting spot over several years. Sure enough: species no.2, one of several Episyrphus balteatus hoverflies. My 2018 hoverfly season is underway at last!!

Back on the Wight (Day 1)

I enjoyed 2 brilliant days back on the West Wight last week taking the opportunity to meet up with (not so) old friends and to enjoy the fresh sea air again.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed Freshwater Bay. Unfortunately Low Tides at 6 am and 6 pm meant that rockpooling was out of the question (it was really cold, too!), but I’ve always been happy to just sit and take in the view!

On Tuesday afternoon I visited Ventnor Botanical Garden. It was good to catch up with a few special millipedes:

Cylindroiulus appeninorum, a Millipede that was discovered new to the UK at this location in 2015.

Haplopodoiulus spathifer, the ‘Kew Spine-tailed Millipede’, so-called because it was first found at Kew Gardens in 1976, though the species wasn’t in fact identified until 1986! It hails originally from the Pyrenees region of France and Spain. It hasn’t been recorded from many places in the UK but it is very common in certain parts of the garden with good numbers being found under upturned stones.

I also found a new spider species for me:

Platnickina tincta – a little beauty! This species was found on Fern fronds. It’s quite widespread and has been reported stealing food from the webs of other spiders, and even consuming the residents! This is Alan Outen’s photo of my specimen.

Sunset over Compton Bay

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cricket Tub Spider!!

A few days ago I contacted my good friend, Alan Outen, following a post on the British Spider Identification Facebook page about the spider, Thanatus vulgaris, which regularly arrives on our shores in the tubs of live Crickets purchased by those who keep reptiles and the like. Because I was on my way to the Isle of Wight for a few days I wasn't able to follow this up myself, and so Alan made his way to the local Koi Carp Company at the first opportunity and, almost straightaway, found a spider in a tub which he subsequently bought. Alan's brilliant photos are below. I finally caught up with the spider this afternoon.

Isn't it a beauty!

Being at Alan's home, I wasn't surprised to find 2 new fungi waiting for me:

Gnomoniella rubicola on a Bramble stem

Clypeosphaeria notarisii on a Raspberry cane

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Liking them lichens!

I’d really been looking to Sunday's excursion to Whipsnade Zoo with Alan Outen and our two County lichenologists, Martin Butler & Mark Powell and knew that it was a great opportunity to find some very special species. The day got off to a great start when Alan showed me some locally-found Crowned Earthstar (Geastrum coronatum), and the Woodlouse, Cylisticus convexus, that he had found under a stone in Kent.

At first glance, this species looks like an Armadillidium of some kind as it tries to roll into a ball, but it’s not quite as neat and convincing.

Alan, Martin and I arrived at the Zoo car park to pick up Mark and found him next to one of the surrounding trees where he had already located a new County record, Melanohalea laciniatula with its tiny, deep-green lobes (not a great photo, I'm afraid).

We had an amazing day and I was really inspired by Martin & Mark as they pointed out various lichens on all kinds of substrate. It was only later in the day, when I looked up from examining a fence rail and suddenly noticed two Sea-lions swimming around a pool right in front of me, that I realised that I had hardly noticed the ‘big stuff’ all around me!

Mark found another new County species, too: Leptoraphis atomaria, which was located on what we think was an aspen trunk.

Through the day I picked up over 40 new species of Lichen, together with a determination to continue to get to know this difficult, but fascinating group.

Here are a few more photographs from the day:

Peltigera didactyla on a sandstone block:

Punctelia jeckeri:

And the moth bagworm, Luffia ferchaultella, a dozen or so of which were located underneath a hawthorn branch by the Hippo Pools:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Moths from near and far!

Everyone agrees that moth trapping so far this year has been pretty dire, but we're all hoping that the numbers and species start to pick up over the next few weeks. On the other hand, it's actually been a pretty exciting few weeks for some of the migrants making their way across the Channel in suitable winds.
Bordered Straws have been turning up in good numbers. One person in the Ventnor area has had 40 or so separate individuals in his trap over the past month or so. I finally caught up with 3 on the West Wight whilst trapping at Tennyson Down a week or so ago. Since then a number have been spotted on the cliff edge around Compton Bay.

A species we're still hoping to come across on the West Wight is the impressive and aptly-named Striped Hawkmoth.

They have turned up in several places in the UK over the past few weeks but this one - caught on Luccombe Down a few days ago - is the first one to be found on the Isle of Wight so far this year. Let's hope it's the first of many!

The Clearwings are really special little moths. Having seen a photo of one on a friend's page, I grabbed my Currant Clearwing pheromone out of the freezer and set off down the road to Freshwater allotments. Having gained permission from one of the allotmenteers (?) I stood upwind and attached the net bag containing the pheromone (an impregnated little rubber bung) to a handy cane. Several minutes later the first of 3 males arrived - that's pretty impressive. I've got a whole set of pheromones so I'm hoping to record more species over the next few weeks during their flying season.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Just as the sun is starting to shine and the cold wind of the last few weeks is diminishing I've been frustrated by 2 things:
a) A badly infected knee which has meant that I have spent too much time sitting on the settee at home with my foot up, and....
b) My video camera having given up the ghost. John Lewis have discontinued the model so I've got to search the internet and try to find something that will do what I want without breaking the bank!

But one thing I have been able to do is to take the camera down to Sett C to look in on what the Badgers are up to. It won't be too long before the cubs start appearing above ground!

I was really pleased with the footage - 5 Badgers at one point is a good number for this sett, and there are various bits of family life on show including scent-marking and establishing dominance. As always, self-grooming give the 'ah' factor! When it goes quiet a Red Fox turns up. It looks in good shape until it turns sideways and we can see the mangled remains of the tail. Basil Brush was proud of the subject of his surname, but this one looks a bit sorry for itself! The footage finishes with a Brown Rat that turns up when everything else has moved on.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

...and Spring continues to march on!

I've had so little time to blog in recent days  but Spring continues to march on. Today Swallows were seen at Carisbrooke Pond & Bembridge - maybe we will get our first ones for the West Wight this weekend, though the weather forecast is not good. I remember my first Swallow of 2014, suddenly sweeping over my head close to the Freshwater Causeway!

Paul Swain photographed this flock of Shelduck this week - there has been a constant presence on the Western Yar over the last few months but they'll soon be gone. Over the next few weeks anything can turn up on the Estuary. An Osprey was spotted flying over just a few days ago, and there have been Sand Martins feeding on the flies over the Yarmouth Pools. Over the next few weeks I shall be looking out for the first Sandwich Terns and listening out for the first Cuckoo! I was also thrilled to come across two resplendent male Yellowhammers belting out their '...little bit of bread and no cheese' song in the early morning sunshine at Headon Warren a few days ago.

Badger & Fox cubs may very well start appearing this month...watch this space for the first Trailcam footage!

And, of course, I shall be out looking for insects, especially hoverflies. This is the impressive-looking Criorhina ranunculi, which I caught at Afton Marsh a week or so ago. There are more spectacular creatures on the way! Butterflies are increasing with Brimstones, Red Admirals, Commas & Small Tortoiseshells all flying around whenever the sun comes out! This year I will also be focusing on getting my head around the various species of solitary bee that make their home on the West Wight.