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Yearly Archives: 2010

Mistletoe Weevil Ixapion variegatum

Mistletoe: worth beating!

This photo was kindly taken for me by Tom at the Oxford Museum using their photo-montage kit. It seems a suitably festive (and rather beautiful) invertebrate, being completely dependent on mistletoe as its host plant. The Mistletoe Weevil was discovered new to Britain by Andy Foster of the National Trust on 11th August 2000 in Herefordshire. It has since also been found in West Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Monmouthshire. This one was in a fabulous orchard that David Gibbs and I surveyed in Herefordshire in July. On that survey, we also found the trio of mistletoe bugs: Pinalitus viscicola (the commonest one), Anthocoris visci (Nationally Scarce B) and Hypseloecus visci (discovered new to Britain by Dave at two sites in Somerset on 22nd & 30th July 2003). These were all new species for me in 2010: western orchards really are the best places to see this fauna, probably because there’s so much mistletoe growing within reach of the beating tray rather than in the crowns of big trees!

I’ve been to some superb sites in 2010 and seen a lot of good invertebrates. The downside to this is a very busy winter identifying them all and writing up reports. Doesn’t look like I’ll have a lot of time to expand this website but I will definitely post any additional staphylinid test keys as and when Derek issues them.

Vismigging

I remember thinking ‘vismig’ was a horrible bit of jargon for the activity of watching visible migration but be that as it may, vismigging has become one of my favourite birding activities in the autumn. It has made me realise how much more I still have to learn about bird migration. Like discovering that ‘resident’ birds like Blue Tits can be seen migrating south in their thousands (listen to the click-counter go!). My local watchpoint is Totternhoe Knolls. It’s quite a nice 25-minute walk to get to the trig point for first light, and after an hour or two when the migration has died down, I walk back through the orchards and scrump plums.

This year’s highlight so far has been 2 Hawfinches flying north-west together on Sunday 17th October. I’ve really got my eyes and ears in on this species in recent autumns and these are the 3rd and 4th I’ve had from Totternhoe Knolls, amidst very few other Beds records. The same morning produced this rarely seen atmospheric phenomenon: a sky-wide ray in which the more familiar crepuscular and anti-crepuscular rays join in an arc right across the sky (click to enlarge).

I am ever hopeful for other scarcities: Waxwing and Lapland Bunting are my best bets for the remainder of this autumn. I’ve yet to see a Ring Ouzel on vismig but I may be too late now for 2010. And surely there’s going to be a vismig Richard’s Pipit in Beds or Bucks before much longer?

But what really gets me up in the mornings is the sheer unpredictability of it. I have been birding since my early teens under the assumption that birds migrate south in the autumn and north in the spring. And yet most of the migration over Totternhoe Knolls in the autumn is to the north-west! I am reliably informed that this is a well-understood migration of birds from the Low Countries heading to winter in western Britain and Ireland but I still find it baffling and somewhat perverse. Secondly, I have been looking at weather forecasts for many years to predict where we might be getting migrants from: in easterlies you head to the east coast, in south-westerlies you head to the south-west. Obvious really! But when it comes to vismig, the best conditions for migration seem to be into a light headwind. It’s as though everything I thought I knew about migration is wrong.

All my counts for this autumn are now on the excellent trektellen website.

Shetland: 26th Sept to 6th Oct 2010

Despite being almost a non-birder for about 50 weeks of the year, there is something irresistible about the autumn bird migration period, not least the chance to discover mega-rarities. This year after dusting off my bins and scope, Jo and I went to Shetland with Dave Gibbs.

The MV Hrossey from Aberdeen to Lerwick was pitching heavily on our northward voyage and I was seasick for the first time in several years. For Jo it was the first time in her life she’d been seasick despite numerous rough crossings to Scilly and northern Spain. There was some compensation in the form of a Sooty Shearwater and some Seabows. So by the time we’d made it to Lerwick on Sunday morning, we were very glad of the hospitality of my old mate Juan Brown in Sandwick. After coffees at Juan and Jane’s, Juan took Dave and I into the field to work part of his local patch at Hoswick. It was a fine day with SE-erlies – classic conditions in which to find rares on Shetland.

Dave and I had both been to Shetland in previous autumns but only once in my case (to Fair Isle) and not for 28 years (!) in Dave’s case. So we both admitted to a certain naivety about where and how to find migrants on Shetland. With Juan as our guide, we looked round some gardens in Hoswick and saw Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Robin, Chaffinch, White Wagtail and flava Wagtail (all migrants here) and I could definitely see their potential for rarities. But as we started walking up the Swinister Burn, an unassuming stretch of irises and rough grassland with a few shrubs, I thought “This is rubbish. We’ll never see anything in here.” Higher up the burn, the scrub closes over the top so Juan waded up the tunnel in his wellies while Dave and I skirted round the edge of the scrub.

Juan looking for the White's Thrush

Juan looking for the White’s Thrush

I heard a convulsion from Juan, as though he’d twisted an ankle or something, but then heard him say to himself “White’s Thrush??!” 13.15: It had flushed from very close, showing (to Juan only) golden-spangled upperparts and white tail-corners but no view of the underwing. With a more conclusive view still needed, we formed a cordon and at 14.00 it broke cover again flying close past Dave and leaving no doubt as to its identity. We put the news out and then finally, about an hour and a half after Juan’s initial sighting I got to see it myself, flying down towards Juan and I, passing within a couple of feet of our heads and then banking left into cover. An awesome sight! As the crowds gathered, we left to grab some lunch, graciously accepting the congratulations of birding friends as we departed!

Spotted Fly

Later that afternoon, we birded Channerwick, which apart from a single Sycamore, also looked rubbish to my untrained eye. However, Juan had found a Booted Warbler in the willowherb beds here some years earlier and assured me it was a good site. Dave flushed a pale warbler but we only got onto Blackcaps.

With the last of the light we twitched an Arctic Warbler in a tiny patch of cover at Sumburgh lighthouse, and then worked the southernmost quarry on Sumburgh Head where in failing light we spotted a Spotted Fly. Could this be the bird that caught out the punkbirders?

An amazingly successful start to our trip. With southeasterlies forecast to continue for at least the next 5 days what more rarities would we find? Prophetically, Juan said we’d probably already peaked.

Monday was a beautiful bright and breezy day. Dave and I worked Quendale Mill and the crop fields up to Loch of Hillwell, allowing Dave to reminisce about the Pallas’s Sandgrouse in ’90 (I’d had exams). Meanwhile Jo looked around the Bay of Quendale and gripped us off on Orca (though I’d rather see one like this). Our best finds were just a Hawfinch and a Yellow-browed Warbler (though we later learned that the YBW had been present the previous day). After birding Spiggie, Geosetter and Bigton with little to show for our efforts, we ended the day back at Quendale to twitch a Paddyfield Warbler. The bird we actually saw was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler though, calling and showing in flight.

That night there was an almost full moon shining through very thin ice-clouds over Juan and Jane’s, and for the first time in my life I saw a 22° halo around the moon with a pair of diffuse moondogs!

Tuesday started pretty well with a Barred Warbler and a YBW both new birds in the Swinister Burn but the rest of the day dragged a bit and our only find was another Hawfinch flying through Wester Quarff.

Norwick, Unst

Greenland Redpoll

On Wednesday we were due to fly to Fair Isle for our last 7 nights on Shetland but the day dawned with poor visibility and strong wind. We spent much of Wednesday and Thursday hanging around Tingwall airport, surely the dreariest place on Shetland, with occasional forays to bird the Loch of Tingwall or the Scalloway gardens, before finally abandoning hope, rebooking for the Saturday and driving to north Unst. With the last hour of daylight at Norwick, Unst, we could see we’d arrived at a birdy place, with several bedraggled Goldcrests in the rain-lashed bushes.

Restored after a night billeted at the Saxa Vord Resort, we were in the field at first light on Friday and birding hard. But weather conditions were atrocious. Our highlights were the 6 Greenland Redpolls Carduelis flammea rostrata and our first Lapland Bunting of the trip, plus a YBW at Lower Voe on our way back south.

Fair Isle

The new obs

Dave in the obs canteen

Finally, on Saturday 2nd October, we were able to fly to Fair Isle, squeezed into one of Directflight’s 7-seater twin-prop planes. It was immediately obvious that Fair Isle was a lot more birdy than the mainland with several migrants just around the observatory building. And within minutes, the red flag was flying from the minibus and Carrie was ferrying us down to the Meadow Burn to see a Lancy. Most of the island birders had been and gone leaving just five of us to dig it out. But miraculously we flushed it into the Quoy chicken-coop where it sat out in the open just a few metres away, looking over its shoulder at us showing its neatly-fringed tertials, before sprinting off across the ground and burrowing into the grass.

The rest of the day’s birding was excellent with loads of trip ticks including Little Bunting in a ditch on the north side of Boini Mire and a Short-eared Owl, plus loads of Laps. Stayed up for the bird-log that evening. As on my previous visit in 2006 it was an uncomfortable ritual in which fresh-faced initiates eagerly call out their counts of common migrants in a spirit of birding camaraderie. A long pause is allowed in which the veterans present either sneer at them in silence or cringe in pity, before the staffers inevitably trump them humiliatingly with their transect counts.

Lancy: neatly-fringed tertials

extensively streaked underparts

Not much in the way of new arrivals on the Sunday other than a Barnacle Goose at South Light but we caught up with the Bluethroat in the Setter crop, and added Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare and Jack Snipe to the trip list. The highlight of the day was seeing the Lancy in the hand, with Derek pointing out all the ID features – considerably better than the views I had at Sheringham on 29th September 1993 (the only occasion when I have forgotten to take my bins on a twitch!)

To the untrained eye this bit of wall looks like any other but the ringers have realised its good for rares! A ‘Heligoland trap’ named after the German island of Helgoland.

A Hen Harrier had been around, though not seen on the Saturday. Jo and I bumped into one at Gilsetter on our way back to the obs on Sunday evening. I was immediately struck in flight by the extensive ginger underparts and underwing-coverts, and by the strongly contrasting face-pattern. I wasn’t able to rule out a possible Marsh-hawk (a.k.a. Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus hudsonius, the North American subspecies of Hen Harrier) but I expect others have seen it better.

the path to the foghorn

just a Swift

Guidicum: photo taken while lying down!

Jo maintains a safe distance from the cliff edge

I was a bit late getting into the field on Monday (08.10) but was soon greeted by a new bird. Single, well-spaced ‘c-lip’ calls over Gilsetter and then I got onto a red male Crossbill. The call was much more disyllabic than any I can remember hearing from a Crossbill before and when that evening I listened to The Sound Approach recordings was clearly a match for their Glip Crossbill Loxia curvirostra type C. Added Dunnock and Tree Pipit to my Fair Isle trip list in the crofting area but nothing more exciting. After lunch Jo and I headed north and there was a delicious heart-stopping moment at the crumbling walkway between the lighthouse and the foghorn as a swift shot past … but which one? It soon showed again and was just an extremely late Common Swift (damn!) With a Redstart at the foghorn, 3-6 Ring Ouzels, a brief view of the harrier again, loads of Snow Buntings, and a Pied Flycatcher incongruously sitting on a concrete block on top of Ward Hill, it was a good afternoon. I really lost my nerve birding the geos in 2006 with a gusting gale at my back. This time I just belly-crawled to the edge of the really fearsome ones. Got back to the obs raring to do it all over again tomorrow.

The brick allows holidaymakers to picnic on Fair Isle even in a Force 10

The Omen

Tuesday 5th October, our last full day in the field, was a bit too windy and birding was hampered. Dave and I had two streaky Locustella warblers in the Meadow Burn Phalaris bed but these strangely failed to elicit any interest from the ringers. A House Martin on the north cliffs in late afternoon was new but dissatisfying. But as I trudged back for dinner, there was an unmistakeable omen of good luck … a White Rabbit!

Will Miles gave an absolutely brilliant talk in the evening about St Kilda: how to get there, its history of human presence, his research on interactions between Bonxies and Leach’s Petrels, and the rares he found while he was there. It’s now a lot higher on my list of places I must see.

Sykes’s Warbler

Wednesday 6th October and the journey home begins. It looked like it would be touch and go for the flight but we got away with only a slight delay. With five hours on mainland Shetland, Dave and I tried for the “mobile and elusive” Sykes’s Warbler at Channerwick. I was fully expecting this to be Shetland birding at its worst: a crowd of twitchers booting a poor beleaguered bird around and getting nothing but untickable flight views and glimpses. And for the first hour or so it lived up miserably to my expectations, with added rain. I wished I’d gone shopping in Lerwick with Jo! But it did keep returning to an area which could be viewed from the opposite bank of the burn from a less intrusive distance. Dave fetched the scopes from the car and we ended up scoping it for over an hour in which it was static and showy, frequently zooming up to 60× on it; possibly the best views anyone has had of it so far? My photo is dreadful but a better one here. Excellent: a British tick (and lifer) for both of us, the only one of the trip and a good way to end. Hmmm … we never did nail that pale warbler here the Sunday before last.

So would I do an autumn birding trip to Shetland again? On the one hand, it was a lot of hard work, travel and expense for just one tick and a paltry self-found haul of 1 Barred Warbler and 3 YBWs. And there were times when the weather, flight delays and logistical hassles were such that it really wasn’t enjoyable. But we were in on Juan’s discovery of one of the classic British rarities, and all around us mega-rarities were being found every day. Yes, we could have been strolling the picturesque bulb fields of Scilly in our shirt sleeves, but we’d have been wishing we were on Shetland! I’ve learnt that even the most unpromising habitat can harbour rare migrants, and that (although it is still anathema to me) flushing birds is probably a better way of finding rarities on Shetland than politely waiting for them to show.

Dungeness, 28th-29th August 2010

Fourteen coleopterists converged on the Dungeness RSPB reserve for this field meeting on the August Bank Holiday weekend. During a period of unsettled weather, the field meeting fortunately coincided with some dry and bright conditions. The impetus for this field meeting came from the results of monitoring the beetles of the pit margins in 2009: pitfall traps which caught 977 specimens of Omophron limbatum (Carabidae) in 2006, caught none in 2009. So would we find Omophron in 2010? Well our first sampling site at the best silty bit of the New Excavations was worked by almost everyone and yielded Augyles hispidulus (Heteroceridae) and Cercyon bifenestratus (Hydrophilidae) amongst others but no Omophron. We soon relocated en masse to a more extensive area of silty margins at the south end of ARC pit, the spot where Howard Mendel found a single Bracteon argenteolum (Carabidae) in 1987. We soon started to find Omophron, albeit in small numbers, by pouring water over bare silty ground, often several metres from the water’s edge. Amazingly, after seeing the technique Bill Urwin returned to the first spot in the New Excavations and found a few Omophron there, where the whole mob of us had drawn a blank earlier in the day!

L to R: Andrew Duff, Eric Philp, Pete Akers, Tony Allen, Mark Gurney, James McGill, Graeme Lyons, Roger Booth, Bill Urwin and Grant Hazlehurst. John Paul and Martin & Julie Collier turned up later on.

For the remainder of the weekend, our party dispersed more widely over the area, depending upon personal interests, reconvening for dinner in the Britannia Inn. There were a couple of Icky’s in the gorse between the Bird Observatory (where most of us were staying) and the Inn. The find of the day on Saturday was John Paul’s single teneral specimen of Polistichus connexus (Carabidae) found at this spot in the Trapping Area. A five man search of the area on the Sunday morning failed to locate any others, though we did find Ponera ants which may be P. testacea, recently added to the British list.

Although Omophron and other beetles of the silt margins can be easily found by splashing in daytime, it is not until you head out onto the margins at night that you realise just how many there really are. In the past, I have seen the margins literally crawling with thousands of Omophron to the extent that it becomes impossible, no matter how slowly and carefully you walk, not to crush them underfoot with every step. Bill Urwin and James McGill returned to the south end of ARC pit by torchlight and saw about 80 Omophron, far more than we’d seen by day.

John Paul and Grant Hazlehurst joined me on a bit of a wild goose chase: nocturnal sweeping of roadside carrot and other flowers in the hope of Ophonus parallelus, a BAP carabid which has been recorded from Dungeness. I got a new moth out of it, sweeping two very attractive caterpillars from toadflax which turned out to be the Toadflax Brocade. However, the evening was most memorable for an encounter with a passing motorist: rather than the familiar “Do you mind if I ask what you’re up to?” we got “Are any of you interested in buying an entomological cabinet?” As JP said, it’s quite a surrealist marketing strategy for a cabinet-maker! After that, when armed police approached us, torch into the eyes, as we swept along the perimeter of the nuclear power-station, it all seemed perfectly normal.

Bill and James also torched the old railway sleepers near the Obs, after I’d said they were a good place for Helops caeruleus, a stonking big bluish tenebrionid. At breakfast, we learned they had seen loads and kept a few to show round. This was even a new species for alpha-coleopterists Roger Booth and Tony Allen, who duly went out on the Sunday night and saw them for themselves.

For Dungeness virgins there was much to see but for veterans, the pit margins were disappointing by the high standards of years past. Most people, including myself, have yet to finish identifying their specimens, or send in their records, but as far as I know there were no sightings of any of these carabids: Acupalpus maculatus, Dyschirius obscurus, Bradycellus distinctus, Bembidion caeruleum, Bembidion decorum, Bembidion pallidipenne or Bembidion semipunctatum. But once all the samples are identified, and the records are in, what’s the betting that Dungeness will surprise us and yield yet another first for Britain?

Beetles apart, I really enjoyed the meeting just for the chance to socialise with other coleopterists towards the end of a long field season of solitarily pooting my way round various brownfield sites! It would be great to make an annual tradition of having a weekend coleopterists’ meeting somewhere in the country … please step forward if you want to organise the next one!

I have received records so far from James McGill, Andrew Duff and Martin & Julie Collier, plus Bill Urwin has posted some of his photos here, and Graeme Lyons has blogged about the meeting here. I’ll collate a full report on the meeting once I have everyone else’s records, and when I’ve detted my own samples!

Last but not least, big thank you to Pete Akers at Dungeness for hosting the meeting and making the visitor centre facilities available to us, to Mark Gurney from The Lodge for some exceptionally fine catering, and to Dave Walker for letting us take over the Obs.

A weekend in the rainforest

Back when flights were cancelled all across Europe because of the Icelandic ash cloud, I went to the tropical rainforest for a weekend, and popped into the Mediterranean for a few hours on Saturday afternoon! Of course, I was at the Eden Project. Following a very interesting visit on 17th April 2009 with the British Myriapod and Isopod Group (BMIG), I arranged for a return visit on 17th-18th April 2010 for myself and Jo, along with Steve Gregory (woodlouse expert), Darren Mann and Clive Turner plus friends and partners.

The two biomes

The two biomes

In the Rainforest

In the Rainforest

You might say that studying the wildlife within a greenhouse is a trivial thing, and not nearly as interesting as studying the native wildlife outdoors. But for me this is about as close as I have come to my unattainable dream of being the first naturalist to step ashore on some undiscovered land, seeing species that no-one has laid eyes on before. And yes … I have seen undescribed species.

Identifying the species that I and others have found in the biomes at the Eden Project is a slow business, and I am reliant on the help of the top experts in Britain and abroad, whose time and expertise is greatly appreciated. This blog gives a summary of work-in-progress.

Thanks to Marc Mappley and colleagues for allowing us to study the invertebrates in the biomes.

The Rainforest Biome: Woodlice

Gabunillo

Gabunillo

Prior to the 2009 visit, only two species of woodlouse were known from the Rainforest Biome: the pill-woodlouse Venezillo parvus (discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project) and Trichorhina tomentosa (known from several other tropical glasshouses in Britain). Steve Gregory has now got records of a further 12 species detailed below: 4 aliens new to Britain (of which 2 new to science), 6 known glasshouse aliens, and only 2 native British species.

1. A species apparently new to science and probably in the genus Gabunillo. I found 13 (all females) of these small pill-woodlice on 17th April 2009, mostly in the bamboo litter of the Malaysia zone. Steve Gregory passed them onto world expert Stefano Taiti, who commented “Most probably a new species of Gabunillo Schmalfuss & Ferrara, 1983. The only species known in the genus, G. coecus, was described from some caves in Gabon. Your specimens differ in the lobes of the schisma and presence of the single reddish ocellus. For G. coecus males are known”. Several more were found in 2010 but although about 50 examples have been found so far, still no males. It may be a parthenogenetic species.

2. A species apparently new to science in the genus Pseudotyphloscia (a genus close to but distinct from Burmoniscus). Steve had 2 males of this philosciid from soil samples collected in the Rainforest Biome in 2004 and 2005 by the Natural History Museum and extracted by Tullgren funnel. He sent them to Stefano Taiti in March 2010 and Stefano commented: “This is a new species of Pseudotyphloscia Verhoeff, 1928. Up to now the genus includes only one species, P. alba (Dollfus, 1898) with a wide distribution in southern China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Philippines.” On our visit in 2010, Steve located this species in good numbers (including many males) associated with wooden pilings and shorings near the stream.

Pseudotyphloscia

unknown pill-woodlouse

3. An unknown pill-woodlouse new to Britain. I collected a single specimen on 18th April 2010. It is similar to ‘Gabunillo’ but smaller, yellowish, with dark tapered bristles (rather than colourless clubbed scales), with differently shaped outer margin to first pereonite, and with different uropods, excavated to accommodate an appendage. Steve and I would still like to get Stefano Taiti’s opinion on this one. However, Steve suspects it is just an immature Venezillo parvus.

4. Another philosciid species was collected by NHM in 2003 but just a single female and in a very poor state of preservation. It is coloured chocolate and white, 3.5 mm long. It may not even be possible to determine to genus but is something new to Britain.

5. Reductoniscus costulatus, a small bumpy pill-woodlouse, known from Kew Gardens since 1947. Common in the Rainforest Biome in 2009 and 2010, its second British locality. More recently, Steve has found two specimens from soil samples collected by the NHM in 2003 and 2005.

6. Agabiformius lentus. Once thought to be the most widespread alien woodlouse in British glasshouses, the 3 specimens I found in 2009 (det. SJG) were the first British records since before 1980.

7. Nagurus cristatus. Recorded from Northumberland in 1965 but not since (Gregory, 2009). I found 2 in 2009 and Darren found it in 2010 (all det. SJG).

8. Nagurus nanus. Steve had lots (males and females) of this species (identification confirmed by Stefano Taiti in March 2010) from samples collected by NMH in 2004 and extracted by Tullgren funnel. New to Britain but there is one Irish record of a single specimen from a heated glasshouse in Belfast Botanic Gardens in 1911.

9. & 10. On 17th April 2009, Helen Read found a female styloniscid woodlouse, possibly Cordioniscus stebbingi (det. S.J. Gregory). There is also a single female styloniscid from the NHM soil samples in 2004 which appears to be a different species. There are three styloniscids on the British list, all hothouse aliens. Males are needed to determine which, if any, of these are present in the Rainforest Biome. However, our visit in 2010 didn’t turn up any styloniscids.

11. & 12. In 2009 I found a few specimens of Haplophthalmus danicus near the edge of the Rainforest Biome. This is a common pygmy-woodlouse outdoors in Britain. The NHM samples also contained Armadillidium nasatum, a common greenhouse species in Britain but also fairly widespread outdoors.

The Mediterranean Biome: Woodlice

Armadillidium ?assimile?

Chaetophiloscia sicula

Lucasius pallidus

The Mediterranean Biome is not quite so well-stocked with exotic invertebrates but in 2005, Tony Barber recorded three species of woodlouse, two of them new to Britain: 8 females of an Armadillidium sp. new to Britain (males needed for identification), a single female ?Chaetophiloscia? (again, males needed) and Porcellio scaber (perhaps the commonest British woodlouse; also present in 2010).

In 2010, Steve Gregory was keen to try and find males of the Armadillidium and the ?Chaetophiloscia? He succeeded in finding a male of the Armadillidium which he has provisionally identified as A. assimile.

Steve’s searches also turned up an unfamiliar porcellionid which he identified within the week as Lucasius pallidus, new to Britain, a woodlouse of Mediterranean France and Spain.

Steve kindly showed me the spot where he’d found what turned out to be Lucasius pallidus, and by heaving over a large and deeply-embedded rock, I found some of the ?Chaetophiloscia?, including a single adult male. I have confidently identified this as C. sicula but will get Steve to check it in due course.

Millipedes

The Rainforest Biome had been better worked for millipedes prior to the 2009 BMIG visit, with five species recorded, including the superb Paraspirobolus lucifugus which was discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project and was common in 2009 and 2010.

Amphitomeus attemsi and 2 Reductoniscus costulatus

I didn’t pay as much attention to millipedes as I did to woodlice on the 2009 visit (nor the 2010 visit for that matter) but I did find 12 specimens of a tiny white pill-millipede that seemed likely to be new to Britain. Helen Read also found one on that visit and quickly pinned it down as Amphitomeus attemsi, new to Britain (Barber et al., 2010).

Siphonophorida sp.

close-up of horn

Better was to come in 2010 though when I found a single small, white millipede by digging down at the side of some damp, rotting, wooden pilings. Now I love the instant thrill of discovering a rarity that you instantly recognise, like the Bee-eater that came and flew about overhead one fine June day on the Deal sandhills. But I also love the feeling of staring at an invertebrate in a state of complete bafflement. Under the microscope, this millipede was like nothing I’d ever seen and after consulting every book in my possession and googling everything I could find, I was still not even entirely sure it was a millipede! Description here. Fortuitously, Helen Read recognised it as a millipede of the Order Siphonophorida, a pantropical group in which she is something of an expert. This is a new Order for Britain, and maybe a new Order for Europe! Unfortunately, they are a taxonomist’s nightmare and the chances of being able to identify my specimen to species are very small. No-one knows what they feed on or what the narwhal-like head-spike is for.

Cylindrodesmus hirsutus is a millipede known from the Palm House at Kew and from a tropical butterfly house in South Yorks as well as from the Rainforest Biome. This and/or a comparable species were found in 2009 and 2010: whitish specimens lacking paranota which seem to be C. hirsutus as well as pinkish-terracotta coloured specimens with distinct paranota which seem to be a different species. Steve is trying to figure this out with advice from Henrik Enghoff.

Anthogona brittanica is an outdoor millipede, described new to science from a male specimen collected at Slapton Ley, South Devon by Steve Gregory in 1993 (Dick Jones had also collected a specimen there in 1983) and still believed to be a British endemic. Lee (2006) mapped it from four contiguous 10-km squares of South Devon. I collected one specimen in 2009 near the edge of the biome and although it is a female, it is probably A. britannica (Steve Gregory, who described the species, tentatively agrees!). It would be good to find a male and clinch this as it would be a significant record of a rare, endemic invertebrate.

Of the three other species known from the Rainforest Biome prior to 2009, Oxidus gracilis was fairly common in 2009 and 2010 but neither Poratia digitata nor Rhinotus purpureus was seen. Later in 2009, after the BMIG visit, Tony Barber discovered Pseudospirobolellus avernus new to Britain and in fact a new family (Pseudospirobolellidae) to Europe (Barber et al., 2010). There is some evidence that species in the biomes change in abundance and it is possible that some have established only temporarily and now died out.

Beetles

Disappointingly, there are very few beetles in the Rainforest Biome. In fact, I have only found two species, though one is quite an unusual species: the silvanid Cryptamorpha desjardinsii (common in 2009 but less so in 2010). The other was Harpalus rufipes, a very common carabid beetle.

I have found several species of beetle in the Mediterranean Biome but all are common species of outdoor habitats in Britain.

Other invertebrates

A short-tailed whip-scorpion Schizomida sp.

There are lots of other invertebrates in the biomes, and with the need to screen everything carefully as a potential new to Britain or even new to science, it is quite difficult to record across all groups. However, some of the highlights are:

  • Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae
  • Surinam Cockroach Pycnoscelus surinamensis
  • a jumping spider Hasarius adansoni
  • a short-tailed whip-scorpion Schizomida sp.
  • 5+ species of ants including Hypoponera punctatissima
  • big earwigs, probably a species new to Britain
  • 4 known species of centipede: Mecistocephalus guildingii, Tygarrup javanicus, Cryptops doriae and Lamyctes caeculus.
  • several species of snail including Subulina octona and Striosubulina striatella

There’s sure to be a lot more to be found, and I know there’s a lot more still to be identified from Darren and Clive’s samples. It would be interesting to have a look round the biomes at night!

Reference
Barber, T., Gregory, S. and Lee, P. (2010). Reports on the 2009 BMIG Spring Meeting in Cornwall. Bulletin of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group, 24, 65 – 74.

A web-spinner (Order Embiidina) in Britain

Web-spinners are one of the few insect Orders in the world that we don’t get in Britain, and I have never managed to set eyes on one when abroad. So it was a surprise and a pleasure to find one in Buckinghamshire on Friday 16th July. Long known as Embioptera, web-spinners are now properly known as Embiidina.

The web-spinner Haploembia solieri (Rambur, 1842)

The web-spinner Haploembia solieri in its tube-web

Is it a new insect Order for Britain?! Well, not really, as it has been imported from Italy on some building stone. It has however, succeeded in surviving outdoors for about two months. In any case, Darren Mann tells me that there have been previous British records of imported web-spinners that he’s heard about. Identification to species could be difficult but World Wide Webspinners is a good resource and this Italian website looks promising and has some good photos. Haploembia solieri (Oligotomidae) is my current best guess.

5th May 2012 update: I have now identified the specimen as an adult male of Haploembia solieri (Rambur, 1842) thanks to this paper by E.S. Ross (1966) on The Embioptera of Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Also present on Friday was a nest of an ant which I suspect to be Lasius neglectus though that must await expert confirmation. This is a potentially invasive alien which has been detected once before in Britain, at Hidcote Manor, where eradication was undertaken.

The insects were found on some blocks of tufa at a site in north Bucks. These were quarried in Italy and imported to Britain as building material about two months ago, complete with a covering of vascular plants, mosses and associated animals. They have been sat on pallets in the open since then and are very desiccated.

Biodiversity on the lounge carpet!

Moribund Panchlora cockroach

underside

I am always deeply envious of people who find exotic insects in grocer’s shops, bakeries, restaurants and the like. It never seems to happen to me despite much furtive searching in the fruit aisle at Tesco! So I was absolutely delighted when Jo found this tropical cockroach in the middle of our lounge carpet, waving its legs in the air.

How it got into our house is a complete mystery, perhaps in some cut flowers Jo was given a few weeks ago. Darren Mann was able to identify it straight off as a female Panchlora species (family Blaberidae) of central/south American origin.

Dungeness Coleopterists’ Meeting 2010

I am organising a coleopterists’ meeting over the weekend of 28th/29th August this year at Dungeness, Kent, in collaboration with the RSPB. Pete Akers (Dungeness RSPB reserve warden) and Mark Gurney (RSPB Biodiversity Ecologist) will be helping and we will have the exclusive use of the education room at the reserve centre for the weekend where we can set up our microscopes and gather for refreshments.

Omophron limbatum

The main reason for organising this meeting is to look for some of the Dungeness beetle specialities of the gravel pit margins including Omophron limbatum (RDB1), Dyschirius obscurus (RDB2), Augyles (was Heterocerus) hispidulus (RDB3), Acupalpus maculatus, Bembidion caeruleum and Bembidion semipunctatum. It is now several years since gravel extraction ceased here and the RSPB’s monitoring of this beetle assemblage has detected substantial declines in these species. The following figures compare the monitoring by pitfall trap in 2006 with the repeat monitoring in 2009:
Omophron limbatum from 977 to zero (but it was seen at Dunge in 2009);
Acupalpus maculatus from 307 to zero;
Augyles hispidulus from 103 to 84.
RSPB will be very interested in our results to try and understand how to conserve these beetles. Away from the gravel pit margins, there are a lot of other rare and specialist beetles, and at Dungeness there is always the chance of finding a species new to Britain, recently arrived from France.

You will need to arrange your own accommodation for the meeting but Dave Walker at the Dungeness Bird Observatory has 10 beds available which are reserved for coleopterists until about the end of this month. I’ve got one: there are 9 left! In two dormitories of 4 and 6. Bring your own sleeping bag (or sheets), pillowcases and washing gear. £7 a night. If necessary, Dave will allocate one dorm to women and the other to men. For greater comfort, you’ll need to search for local B&Bs, etc. This is the Bank Holiday weekend so some may wish to stay on to Monday.

For evening meals, the Britannia Inn is close to the bird observatory and would be a good place for us all to meet up in the evenings wherever we are staying.

For new coleopterists, this should be a good chance to meet others, and to pick up tips in the field and in the microscope room. For anyone who hasn’t been beetling at Dungeness, take this chance – it isn’t getting any better.

Please let me know if you are interested and I’ll then keep you informed of arrangements as we get nearer the date.

Cyprus carabid records

Specimens from CyprusI have worked through my carabid samples from Cyprus and identified them as far as I can for the time being. Spreadsheet of records here. I was surprised how many I was able to identify with confidence by using the photographs in Austin et al. (2008), supplemented by Trautner & Geigenmuller (1987) and Jeannel (1941) and by looking at the photos on the Coléoptères de Chypre website here and here. Hopefully with help from Kevin Austin and others I will be able to name the remainder in due course.

Cyprus: 26th March to 4th April 2010

This trip was conceived when Kevin Austin sent me a copy of the 2008 catalogue of the Carabidae of Cyprus. John Walters and I have been trying to compile a collection of clean, neatly-carded specimens of all the British and Irish carabids for some years. Cyprus looked like it might be a good place to find some of the species which are now ‘missing presumed extinct’ in Britain and thus to fill some of the gaps in that collection. Kevin advised March and April to be the best months for carabids on the island so it looked like an ideal holiday before my UK field season gets into full swing.

Unfortunately, Jo was taken ill and spent two nights in hospital the week before we were due to leave. It was great news that she recovered fast and received doctor’s approval to travel on Friday 26th March but we were both exhausted by the time we disembarked at Pafos airport. And so our trip began slowly with both of us needing a good rest rather than dawn-till-dusk nat hist.

Sat 27th: A slow start to the holiday with a migrating Glossy Ibis over our apartment, and 7 species of carabids found in trashy habitat around Pafos. All the carabids were of genera that occur in Britain, and including a Platyderus that I presume to be the undescribed species numbered 214 in the Austin et al. (2008) catalogue.

Sun 28th: Pallid Swifts amongst the Common Swifts over the apartment and a Nightingale seen well nearby. We set off east to Fassouri reedbeds and Akrotiri Salt Lake in search of Acupalpus elegans. This small carabid was last seen in Britain on the Isle of Grain, north Kent in 1952. In the British literature it is reportedly confined to saline habitats, and found in saltmarshes, and in wet flushes on coastal cliffs and undercliffs. This had seemed to be the most guaranteed of my target species: “Really quite common in spring amongst damp reed litter in saline areas. Also found under stones, rubbish, etc in the same areas but normally in proximity to reeds”. Well I never did find it! In fact, carabids in general were really hard to find and this day yielded 15 species, mostly as single specimens though one or two species (Agonum nigrum and Tachys scutellaris/ centromaculatus) approaching double figures. Quite frustrating to see so many tiger-beetle larval burrows in the salt-flats with no adults around. Bumped into Black Francolin and Spectacled Warbler during the day. No new birds for me on this trip but Black Francolin is one of several species that I have not seen since I did my 6-week birding trip round Turkey and northern Cyprus in 1988.

Cyprus Grayling

Mon 29th: So far, we’ve been nowhere that you could actually describe as nice habitat, let alone pristine. Everywhere seems to be affected by development, hunting, tipping, and general abuse of the environment. So we strike out north towards the Akamas Peninsula where the battle against coastal development has not yet been lost. I am astounded by the dearth of carabids – just a single Carabus anatolicus despite rolling over a fair tonnage of boulders! Some good birding though with Cyprus Wheatears showing well, plus Cretzschmar’s Bunting, male Collared Flycatcher and an all-too-brief possible Goshawk.

Tues 30th: I’d had to shoulder the apartment door open on Friday evening as the latch had stuck, so spent the morning repairing the door frame. We spent the rest of the day admiring the archaeological sites of Pafos, including some superb mosaics. Added Short-toed Lark, Spanish Sparrow and Black Redstart to the bird list, and Swallowtail and Small Copper to the butterfly list.

Northern Wheatear on Pafos Headland

Wed 31st: Feeling more rested and decide to set the alarm and do some proper birding in the morning, back on Pafos headland. About 60 Black-headed Wagtails going over SE in just 5 minutes standing outside the door at first light – so I reckoned straight away that it was going to be an interesting morning for migrants.

dombrowskii Wagtail

And so it was, with 45 Slender-billed Gulls NW, 1 Great Cormorant over, 2 Spur-winged Plover briefly at the point before flying off, 1 ‘dombrowskii’ Wagtail amongst the Black- and Blue-headeds, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Wryneck and 5 Cretzschmar’s Buntings.

Red-throated Pipit

Also great views of 4 Red-throated Pipits within about 100m of a flock of 4 Tree Pipits.

We plan a day in the Troodos mountains where I could potentially hope to find 3 of my target carabids. Two of them are alien species probably never established in Britain: Elaphropus quadrisignatus (a.k.a. Tachyura quadrisignata) and Porotachys bisulcatus. The other is a vagrant to Britain and a long shot on Cyprus: Calosoma sycophanta.

Elaphropus quadrisignatus site

We get good views of the distinctive Cypriot races of Coal Tit and Jay, as well as a lovely pair of Masked Shrikes and then actually find Elaphropus quadrisignatus, amongst stream-side pebbles intermixed with Oriental Plane leaf-litter, 2 specimens. A quick stop by the River Diarizos on the way back to Pafos yields a range of wetland carabids including two familiar British species: Chlaenius vestitus and Anchomenus dorsalis.

Thurs 1st April: Jo joins me for another dawn round of Pafos headland. Fewer migrants then yesterday but we get cracking views of a male Pallid Harrier as well as our only Hoopoe sightings of the trip.

Marine litter at Pafos headland: an un-palletable sight.

Decide to have one last-ditch attempt to find some of the target carabids, starting with Ophonus subquadratus at Asprokremmos Dam. After what seems like about an hour I find my first carabid of the day (Broscus nobilis) and after more unrewarding hard slog, I give up. Jo shows me a Long-eared Hedgehog – a charming creature but this one a road casualty. We move on to Zakaki reedbed. This is an appallingly degraded brackish, reed-fringed lagoon, remnant of a once much larger site now under a port development. Acupalus elegans was the target again but I still couldn’t find it. Did turn up a reasonable selection of carabids though including a single Daptus vittatus and a single adult Megacephala euphratica – the most superb carabid of the trip! Other compensation in the form of another male Pallid Harrier and a mole-cricket.

a mole-cricket

Fri 2nd: Back to culture today. We make an early start and arrive at Ancient Kourion for opening at 08:00 to make the most of the cooler part of the day. This must be the best place to go to see both Cyprus’ endemic birds (Cyprus Wheatear and Cyprus Warbler) easily and in the most spectacular of settings. I spend the heat of the day chasing around vainly with my net after what can only have been a Vagrant Emperor Hemianax ephippiger. It was unwise and most of the afternoon is spent resting in a shady beach restaurant at Avdimou, where an Audouin’s Gull flies past us.

Back into the field in the late afternoon and I indulge in one of my favourite ways of finding carabids – rolling over roller-bales in weedy arable fields. Sometimes you need at least four hands to grab all the beetles as they dash for cover but sadly not here. Thin pickings and just four species of carabid, though one of them (Orthomus berytensis) is a new one for the trip. It becomes apparent that not only has the sun driven all the carabids into deep cover but it has also given me sunstroke.

Sat 3rd: After throwing up yesterday evening and then sleeping for 15 hours, I still feel terrible. What a great holiday this is! In the evening, we gently stroll down to the seafront, and find a female Desert Wheatear. I’ve twitched 3 in Britain but this is the first I’ve seen abroad and the first I’ve found for myself.

female Desert Wheatear

Sun 4th: We’ve a few hours spare on our last morning to bird the Pafos headland before going to the airport. It gets quite a turn-over of birds and we add Black-eared Wheatear, Tawny Pipit and Skylark to our trip list, as well as seeing a flyover Purple Heron and getting more good views of Nightingales and Red-throated Pipits.

male Black-eared Wheatear

Black-eared Wheatear

Not a very inspiring trip report I know! Obviously this reflects the fact that Jo and I were both knackered at the start of the trip and never got into our usual hard-core natural history stride. Part of the reason we didn’t was that we found many of the sites we visited to be degraded and abused and it was pretty dispiriting to see what Cyprus’ prosperity has done to the environment. Part of the reason too was that carabids were so unexpectedly difficult to find. I’m really basing this on experience in Britain but I have also done some carabid-hunting in Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Only on Ibiza in high summer have I ever before felt that it was so unproductive as to be a waste of time. Seems like this spring has been a dry one for Cyprus and in a different year with different weather it might have been better.

95 species of birds seen without trying very hard. Annotated list here.

13 species of butterfly, also for little effort. Our annotated list here but for a superb guide to the island’s fauna see Eddie John’s website.

Beetle list to follow, eventually! Only collected Carabidae, Tenebrionidae, Elateroidea, Cerambycidae and Pselaphinae. Getting a collecting permit was simple thanks to this advice on Eddie John’s site and only took a couple of weeks to come through.