Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Roving Records: Un-bee-lievable find in the North West Zone (20/05/2014)

Overlapping ecology surveys and a good dose of sleep deprivation means I'm a bit behind in blogging!
 North West Zone aerial map

After a morning newt-surveying at the Nursery ponds (which turned up only 2 adult Great Crested Newts), mum and I headed off to check on the reptile mats. Just as we arrived, the weather switched from warm and sunny to cloudy and blustery. These rubbishy, changeable conditions have been standard this past month; frustrating when looking out for winged invertebrates. This is what we turned up...

Mother Shipton Moth (Callistege mi), named after a 16th century soothsayer-witch

Long-jawed Orb-weaver Spider (Tetragnatha extensa)

Glow Worm larva (Lampyris noctiluca). Actually a type of beetle and close to pupating

Black Clock or Necklace Ground Beetle (Pterostichus madidus), munching on a caterpillar

While checking the reptile refugia in the scrubby areas for any of our scaley guests, I realised that a couple of mats had gone missing... Subsequently, I've heard they were used as props under the wheels of a Land Rover which had got stuck in some mud nearby. I'm pretty confident that action would have failed and that our Grass Snakes would have benefited from them more!

Reptile refugia (roofing felt mat) - not for un-sticking trucks

So, at the end of a slightly truncated survey, we turned up three Grass Snakes: two less than 20cm long and a 1 meter, camera-shy individual. Its head was buried right down into its coils, in a case of I-can't-see-you you-can't-see-me.

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

We also noticed this lovely little plant growing near to the dry grassy slope...

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) seed pods

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) flowers

After completing the reptile transect, I decided to loop around the clay slope one more time, just in case we could turn up something interesting. Jeremy Early advised me to keep an eye on this area on sunny days, as solitary bees and wasps could be taking up residence in it.

Winged insects, such as Butterflies and Damselflies, like to disappear from view as clouds pass over, then will suddenly reappear with the sun. Reaching the top of the slope, the fickle British sun popped out again and suddenly, small flying things were busily buzzing about. Frustratingly, my netting skills were lacking and I was entirely absorbed while ignoring Mum's incessant calls...

Until I heard that magic word: 'Bees!!'

But this ain't just any type of Bee. Oh no my friend.

Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis) males

This is is the Long-horned Bee, Eucera longicornis; a very scarce species in Britain and we did not only find one, but a small community! Their antennae are extraordinarily long which makes them very distinctive, and laughably cute like little cartoon characters. 

NBN Gateway Distribution

As you can see from the above map, their distribution is very limited and there are very few records since 2000. The designation for this species is Nationally Notable A, which means rare and scarce. It is also UK BAP priority species, meaning it needs some conservation action to help it out, so we will be updating our Biodiversity Action Plan with some new targets! 

Look at that face!! I think they look like some kind of Pokemon

Judging from Jeremy's excitement (that would be very excited indeed), this is one of the best species to have stumbled across in our fair isles. It loves high quality, flower rich grasslands for foraging and clay areas for nesting, which we have in abundance along the sculpted River Mole floodplain. We counted at least 10 of these little guys, possibly even more buzzing around the wildflowers below the clay slope. They will be nectar feeding on the plentiful vetches, meadow vetchling, clover and trefoils.

Difficult to snap as they were eagerly chasing each other around, as well as any poor, unsuspecting Damselflies and Butterflies

My photos don't do this gorgeous little beastie much justice, so here are a couple of Jeremy's which were taken in the past few weeks over at another site...

Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis) male. Photo by Jeremy Early

Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis) male. Photo by Jeremy Early

Once this annoying weather starts behaving again, I'll be back up on that slope trying to spot our first female!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Roving Records - Land East of the Railway Line (14/05/2014)

Powerline Ride in Horleyland Wood

This is probably my favourite spot in the whole of Gatwick (perhaps with the exception of a departure lounge)...

Footpaths in the LERL and woodland rides

Who needs a holiday when you can escape to a spot like this! 

This set of powerlines, running north to south along one edge of Horleyland Wood, is honestly more exciting than it first sounds. A couple of years ago, the path was opened up after some major clearance works in order to keep the overhead cables free from vegetation. Now it has a shrubby edge of coppiced Hazel, graduating down into patches of Bramble and woodpiles, blending further into a fragrant border of Bluebell and Red Campion.

Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae)

This is an insect-haven, catching the sun for much of the day and is largely sheltered from the wind. The mixture of open grassland flora and woodland edge flora provides food resources for a greater suite of species. I could literally spend hours on this path, trying to record the awesome variety of inverts or just watching them bumbling about on their personal business. If only I had the hours to spend in spring!

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) is a distinctive red beetle 
common at this time of the year 

Less common is the Black-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa coccinea)

A species of Crab Spider (Misumena vatia), with the distinctive markings of a male

You might think that your common old Bramble looks unimpressive and not worth the effort, but when the sun hits it, the flowers come alive with excitable aculeates...

Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) male

Honey Bee (Apis melifera). This female worker might be one of Tom's tribe

Cuckoo Bee (Nomada spp.)

Plenty of other lovely stuff could be seen in the woods and grasslands on this day, including Azure Blue and Large Red Damselflies, Small and Green Veined White Butterflies, Garden Warblers singing in the woodland edge and Carrion Crows fighting in the open skies with a Common Buzzard.    

Wild Garlic, or Ramsons (Allium ursinum) carpeting the woodland floor in a tasty, pungent layer

Right now the woodland groundflora is at its peak: Bluebells, Red Campion, Cuckoo Flower and Greater Stitchwort all to be found in one spot

Dingy Skipper Butterfly (Erynnis tages) in Goat Meadow

Another one of my excellent birding pics - Common Buzzard (speck in the clouds)

This ride is also where we found that fantastic specimen of Araneus angulatus, which I'm afraid I am still banging on about a year later...

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Early summer invertebrating

Invertebrates are insanely underrated organisms; up close and personal, their hugely varied body plans and lifestyles make the humans in tabloid magazines look decidedly average.

This spider (Cyclosa conica) has a rear-end a Kardashian can only dream of...

When it comes to managing habitats around an airport, the best practice is not to do anything which might encourage large flocking birds to the area. This can make conservation more of a challenge, but focusing on habitat management for invertebrates is a smart way to go.
   Invertebrates are highly versatile and incredibly important for ecosystems: grazers, predators, nutrient recyclers, soil aerators, habitat manipulators and plant pollinators; to name but a few. Without them, food webs would collapse and biodiversity (including us) would be non-existant.

Searching for deadwood invertebrates

Just last week, I was lucky enough to have a crack team of entomologists visiting our sites in the North West Zone, just north of the airfield. Scotty D, Jeremy and Keith were looking at a variety of habitats, using varied searching techniques in order to list as many different invertebrates as possible.
  Here are some of the habitats we were scrabbling about in:

Entomologist in natural habitat, scrub west of Brockley Wood

Shaded section of Man's Brook, Brockley Wood

Brockley Wood South Ride

Excavated soil on a grass slope

River Mole floodplain grasslands

Everyone was kept busy as Jeremy searched out the solitary bee species, Keith hunted for deadwood invertebrates and Scotty listed everything and anything. Despite the variable weather conditions, the list grew rapidly and the 100 species target was easily passed. Here are some of my highlights (i.e. the stuff I could photograph before it got away)

Silver-ground Carpet Moth (Xanthorhoe montanata)

Spider with no common name (Cyclosa conica), but which I shall now think of as Cone-Bum Spider

Violet Ground Beetle (Carabus violaceus)

Shiny Woodlouse (Oniscus asellus), which is only half shiny because it is in the process of shedding its old exoskeleton in order to grow

 A less common wetland species of woodlouse (Trachelipus rathkii)

Green Hairstreak Butterfly (Callophrys rubi)

Thistle Tortoise Beetles (Cassida rubiginosa), a copulating pair

Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmus angustus)

I've saved Jeremy's pics until last; these really show the jewel-like quality of certain insects. It's incredible to think that we swat these things away and think of them as a nuisance...

Black Colonel (Odontomyia tigrina), a type of Soldier Fly

Malachite Beetle (Malachius bipustulatus) female

Longhorn Beetle (Rhagium mordax) on Hawthorn

Mining Bee (Andrena carantonica) female on Hawthorn

Orange-tailed Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa) female on Hawthorn

Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis), male

Hoverfly (Helophilus pendulus), female

Hoverfly (Xanthogramma pedissequum)

Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis)

It seems like most things want to be a wasp these days.
   I'm already looking forward to the follow up survey later in summer!