Bracken Map Fungus

Bracken Map (Rhopographus filicinus) is a common and widespread species of fungus that is mainly found in the UK, with some records from mainland Europe, including France, Sweden, Germany, and north to Scandinavia.
UK distribution map of Rhopographus filicinus © NBN Atlas

Not much is known about the fungus, but it is characteristic in its appearance as it forms linear black marks on the petioles (stem) of living Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) plants and becomes more obvious once the plants have died. As such, it is most noticeable in autumn when the Bracken plants turn brown and die.

Rhopographus filicinus on the stem of a Bracken plant on the UEA campus.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any more information about the ecology of Bracken Map Fungus, so that'll have to do.

Diurnea lipsiella

Diurnea lipsiella (aka the November Tubic) is a micro moth in the Chimabachidae family. It is locally, but widely distributed across the UK, with Oak (Quercus spp.) and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) being the preferred larval food plants. As with other members of the Chimabachid moths, the females are brachypterous and therefore flightless. The males however, have a forewing length of 10-12mm and are on the wing in October and November (hence their very imaginative vernacular name).
Distribution map of Diurnea lipsiella using the 292 records from the NBN atlas (

Whenever the weather has been suitable this semester, we have tried to run two moths traps on the UEA campus. On the night of 31st October we set two traps as usual: one with an actinic bulb and one with a mercury vapour bulb. When we checked the traps in the morning, there were quite a few moths in and around the traps, including 26 November Moth agg. (Epirrita dilutata agg.), four December Moths (Poecilocampa populi), two Sprawlers (Asteroscopus sphinx), two Feathered Thorns (Colotois pennaria) and singles of Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) and Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata). Also in the trap was one Diurnea lipsiella, a new species to me, and apparently a new species for the UEA campus too!

Absolutely shocking iPhone photo of Diurnea lipsiella.

The Sprawler

The Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx) is a species of resident macro-moth found throughout most of England and Wales, although it is more common in the South. It can be found in broadleaved woodlands, and other well-wooded ares, including some gardens.

It is one of the later-flying species to be found in Britain, with adults being on the wing from mid-October to early December. The species frequently comes to light, with males usually arriving from midnight onwards, and females arriving earlier.

This species only has one generation each year and survives the winter by overwintering as eggs, which are laid in small crevices on the trunks of trees. The eggs hatch in April and the larvae feed nocturnally on a variety of tree species, including Pedunculate Oak, Blackthorn and Small-leaved Elm until early-June when they pupate in a cocoon beneath the soil surface.

The Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx)
The larvae have a habit of throwing their head back as a defence mechanism, and this behaviour is where the English name 'Sprawler' comes from.

It is classed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species in England due to an 83% decline in its UK population over a 35 year period (1968-2002) and its use as an indicator species for the winder environment.

Over the last two weeks I have been helping run a few moth traps on campus. Considering the time of year we have done quite well for variety, and in 3 nights of trapping with both an actinic and MV bulb a total of 87 individuals of 16 species have been caught. So far, seven of the species caught have been new to me which is very nice, taking my moth list up to 597 and PSL total to 1186. I'm hoping to reach 600 moths and 1200 overall by the end of 2017 so I have my work cut out a bit, but hopefully a few outings around Norfolk and Hampshire over Christmas will easily take me up to my targets.

Relative frequency of species on three trapping dates at the same site.
Cumulative totals of individuals from both an actinic robinson
trap and an MV robinson trap run simultaneously.

If you want to find out any more information about The Sprawler, or moths in general, these websites are a mine of information:

Winterton Dunes NNR

Winterton Dunes NNR ~ 27th October 2017 ~ 

On Friday afternoon we went on a field trip for my Ecology course to the beautiful Winterton Dunes NNR on the NE Norfolk coast to learn about dune systems and practice transect surveys, including designing and carrying out our own mini project.

Winterton Dunes, as the name suggests, is an extensive acidic dune system that boasts an impressive succession of habitats from the open, shingle beach through the embryo and fixed dunes, to the acidic dune heathland and low-lying wet 'slacks' between the dunes. Due to the range of habitats there, Winterton is home to a wide variety of species, including the UK's largest colony of Little Terns Sternula albifrons (c.300 pairs) and some that are more specialist e.g. sand wasps, Natterjack Toads Bufo calamita, Grayling butterflies Hipparchia semele and Downy Birch Betula pubescens.

Winterton Dunes itself is designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR), but about 50% of it also sits within the Norfolk Coast Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) and it is also part of the Winterton-Horsey Dunes Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The priority feature for the areas' SAC designation is the Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes that are present, as this is the only example of acidic dune heath and its associated acidic grassland anywhere on the east coast of England. This is in contrast to the majority of north Norfolk's coastline, which are mainly calcareous, species-rich dunes.

Our visit to Winterton was split into two main parts: an initial rapid transect assessment moving from the beach inland, over the embyro dunes, fixed dunes and their slacks and onto the acidic heath; we also designed and carried out our own mini project to assess the impact of trampling from visitors on the lichen abundance and distribution along footpaths.

For the initial assessment, we were investigating how the number of plant species, maximum plant height and plant abundance and changed over a transect that started on the beach and moved inland over the dunes. Moving an equal distance each time, we placed 50x50cm quadrats randomly, each time counting the number of species, the height of the tallest plant within the quadrat and the estimated the amount of bare ground to give an idea of plant cover.

Figure 1. Change in the total number of plant species within each quadrat. Quadrat 1 was located on the beach at the foot of the embryo dunes, and successive quadrats were located an equal distance apart, moving inland from the beach.

The maximum number of species (7) was recorded in quadrat 12, however there is quite wide variation over the course of the transect. Initially there was just 1 species recorded, Marram Grass, which is adapted to be a salt and wind tolerant plant. Moving inland, species richness increased due to the more stable conditions created by the pioneer Marram Grass; its roots help bind the sand together and trap moisture. When it dies and decays, the nutrients are returned to the soil, all in all, creating a more hospitable environment for other species of plant. As you move inland, not only does the substrate become more appropriate for a wider range of species, but the fixed dunes also provide shelter from the wind and the sea spray, which allows plants that are not salt tolerant to grow.

Figure 2. Change in the maximum plant height within each quadrat, moving an equal distance inland between each quadrat starting from quadrat 1 which was placed at the foot of the embryo dunes.

Generally speaking, the tallest plants were found in quadrats located nearer the coast compared to those further inland and there is a plausible explanation for the pattern shown in Figure 2. Marram Grass is the dominant species on the beach and embryo dunes and can grow up to 1.2m in some cases. Therefore, as it is one of the only species present in the initial quadrats, it is able to grow tall, however as you move inland and the soil becomes more accessible to other plant species, there is more competition for space and resources, so individual plants are probably unlikely to be able to grow very tall. Also, as you move inland, the dominant plant species changes to Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias and Red Fescue Festuca rubra. There are a few quadrats that buck the general trend of decreased maximum plant height with distance inland, however these are likely to be quadrats that happened to include a Gorse Ulex europaeus bush as we moved inland towards the grey dunes.

Figure 3. Change in the percentage of bare ground within each quadrat, moving inland.

Figure 3 shows that the amount of bare ground is greatest within the first 7 quadrats (excepting quadrat 5). This is probably because of the low species diversity on the embryo dunes and at the beginning of the fixed dunes. Moving inland, there is a greater species richness, and lichens because much more abundant on the grey dunes, helping to cover most of the ground within each quadrat.

For the second part of our visit to Winterton, we were split into small groups and had to design and implement a study to assess the impact of trampling on lichen abundance along a footpath. Lichens are important bioindicators for a range of environmental factors, including air quality and soil pH. Our group decided to place a 50x50cm quadrat in the centre of a well-defined path and count the number of squares within our quadrat that contained lichen. We repeated this at 1m intervals for 3m on both sides of the path, starting from the same centre point each time. We also moved along the path at 1.5m intervals, which we repeated 10 times. Overall we counted the lichen cover in 70 quadrats.

Figure 4. The mean percentage cover of lichen at quadrats situated in the middle as well as 3m, 2m and 1m left and right of the path, from the middle.

Figure 4 clearly showed the lack of any lichen in the middle of the path and very little up to 1m either side as well. Average lichen abundance was much greater 2-3m from the middle of the path, showing the extreme effect that trampling from visitors has on lichen abundance and distribution. Due to the significant number of paths throughout the dune system at Winterton, as well as the fact that the paths vary in size, with some up to 2m wide, it is clear that trampling has a large-scale impact on lichens on this site.

If we'd had more time, it would have been good to carry out the same methodology on a number of paths around the Winterton dune system in order to make the results more representative of the whole site and to see whether the effects of trampling were evenly distributed, or whether some parts of the site suffered from trampling more than others.

To reduce the impacts of trampling on lichens, the number of paths throughout the dunes could be restricted and visitors encouraged to use 'main' paths instead of many smaller ones. Also, it could be possible to have information displays around the site to highlight the sensitivity of the area to human disturbance, or some sort of exclusion zones could be created in order to prevent any sort of human-inflicted damage to key areas of the dune system.

Candlesnuff Fungus

Xylaria hypoxylon, or Candlesnuff fungus if you don't fancy trying to pronounce the scientific name, is a very widespread and common fungus in the UK and throughout mainland Europe, as well as in many parts of North America. It can be found all year round, but is particularly noticeable during late autumn and winter and is normally found on the dead wood of broad-leaved trees, and more rarely on coniferous trees. Candlesnuff fungus is usually one of the last fungi to attack rotting wood, and is often preceded by other species, such as Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea and co.) and Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare).

Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) on the UEA campus. The whole of
the stroma (fruiting body) turns completely black as
the ascospores (spores uniques to the ascomycetes fungi) ripen.

The fruiting body of Candlesnuff is between 3-5cm in height and some are simple spikes, but most tend to branch like antlers. They are black and velvety below, and whitish towards the tip and are usually found in clusters. The binomial name is derived from the fungi's habits, with the genus name Xylaria coming from a Greek noun that means wood and the species hypoxylon coming from hypo- which means beneath (or less than), and -xylon, also meaning wood.

Surprisingly (to me anyway!), there are a number of bioluminescent fungi in the UK, with Candlesnuff being one of them. The phosphorous that accumulates within the mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus consisting of a mass of branching hyphae) reacts with oxygen and other chemicals within the fungus to emit a continual light. Unfortunately the bioluminescence is very weak so you can only see it in really dark conditions or using an image intensifier or by taking a long exposure photograph in a pitch black room. 

Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) on rotting wood in NE Hampshire.

Further reading:

Velvet Shield Fungus

Velvet Shield (Pluteus umbrosus) is a fungus in the class Agaricomycetes. It can be found throughout late summer and autumn, and although it is widespread throughout the UK, it is fairly rare. It is also found throughout much of northern and central mainland Europe, and has also been recorded in North America. Inhabiting the rotting fallen branches and other woody debris of broadleaf trees, this species is either found alone or in small groups. Its radially wrinkled cap and pale pink gills make it distinctive.

Distribution map of Velvet Shield Fungus (Pluteus umbrosus) © NBN Atlas

The cap is 3-9cm in diameter, mid brown colour - darkest towards the centre and usually with quite irregular marks aligned radially. The stem is 3-8cm long  and 5-12mm in diameter along its whole length and rather pale in colour. Underneath the cap, the gills are white at first, before turning pale pink with distinctive dark brown edges.

Velvet Shield Fungus (Pluteus umbrosus) on rotting
deadwood on the UEA campus.

In a German study investigating the long-term effects of logging intensity on a number of different taxonomic groups, Pluteus umbrosus was one of 36 species of wood fungi that was used as an indicator of pristine conditions. This is due to its requirements for rotting wood which is generally found more abundantly in pristine woodlands, compared to logged areas as logged/fallen wood is often removed from the site.

2017 catch up

Well, since it's been almost 9 months since my last blog post, I figured it was about time I got round to writing an update... 2017 has so far seen me complete my A Levels via distance 'interesting' experience, and begin studying BSc Ecology at the University of East Anglia.

In the last few months I have also been trying to broaden my natural history knowledge away from just birds, so I have been doing a lot of moth trapping, started trying to ID hover flies and have also begun delving into the botanical world too... it's slow progress but at least it's a start! Getting much more involved in Pan-species Listing has really helped drive my curiosity and interest in the lesser-known taxa, as every species is equal when it comes to PSL. I would really urge any aspiring naturalist to sign up and start delving into taxa outside of your comfort zone... the sheer variety of wildlife on your doorstep will no doubt amaze you!

Over August and September I was fortunate enough to spend five weeks volunteering with the Bardsey Island Bird Observatory. Throughout my five weeks there I assisted with a wide variety of tasks, from the organised chaos of changeover days, to helping check Manx Shearwater productivity burrows, and co-leading the annual Next Generation Birders week. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and was brilliant to get an insight into the huge array of daily tasks that enable the Bird Observatory's high standards to be maintained. My thanks must go to Steve Stansfield (Warden), Emma Stansfield (Steve's wife), Ephraim Perfect (Assistant Warden), Liam Curson (Assistant Warden) and many others for having me, and for making my time on the Island so memorable.

As part of my Ecology course I am required to keep an Electronic Journal, with a weekly post about a new species I have encountered on campus. This means that there should be many more posts here over the coming weeks and months; I hope to get that off to a start in the next few days, once I've had a chance to spend some more time wandering around the greener areas of the UEA Campus.

Monfragüe National Park, Extremadura: PART 2

Monfragüe National Park PART 2 ~ 17-19th October 2016 ~ 

Carrying on from PART 1...

Day 4 (18th): After breakfast we made our way to Serradilla. From there we took 'La Ruta de la Garganta del Fraile', aka Friar's Gorge Route. It was a stunning walk, with some amazing scenery and great birding along the way with highlights of Serin, Hoopoe, Iberian Magpie and Rock Sparrow! After a coffee stop in Serradilla, we headed to Mirabel Castle for lunch and some birding. The best of the bunch here was Black Vulture, Woodlark and Cirl Bunting. After lunch we went to a cork oak forest to see "Padre Santo", one of the oldest Cork Oaks in the region. In this area we also saw Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Short-toed Treecreeper. Before heading back to our accommodation in Plasencia, we met with the Mayor of Mirabel to talk about ecotourism in the local area, as well as how undiscovered the National Park and Biosphere Reserve are, despite their fantastic array of wildlife.
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)
"Padre Santo" 

Day 5 (19th): Some members of the group left mid-morning, leaving the rest of us to explore Trujillo, our final destination of the trip. The municipality of Trujillo is full of history, with many medieval and renaissance buildings. We explored the old town for a few hours, learning a lot about the local history. In Plaza Mayor the Red-rumped Swallows and Crag Martins kept me suitably occupied, while we also saw Merlin, Hawfinch, Serin and Black Redstarts on our wanderings around the town. At about 12.30 I began the 3 hour journey back to the airport where I then flew back to the UK. The drive to the airport was not without birds, of course, with more Griffon Vultures, Spotless Starlings, an Iberian Grey Shrike or two and our one and only White Stork of the trip.
Cospsoptera jourdanaria
View from Trujillo Castle
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable few days spent exploring an incredibly biodiverse environment with excellent company and seeing a plethora of new species (26 birds and lots else besides). A huge thank you once again to David Lindo and the Diputación de Cáceres for making the trip possible and for the invite!

I would highly recommend a visit for the birds, the history and the culture and I hope it's not too long before I return to Extremadura to explore it some more...

Monfragüe National Park, Extremadura: PART 1

Monfragüe National Park PART 1 ~ 15-17th October 2016 ~ 

Back in October I was lucky enough to spend 5 days in the Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura. I had never been to Spain before, nor had I really birded Europe outside of the UK, so there were plenty of new experiences to be had!

Before I go any further I must say a massive thanks to David Lindo (@urbanbirder) for inviting me on the press trip, the good folks at Diputación de Cáceres (@Turismo_DipCC) for making the trip possible, Martin Kelsey (@casaelrecuerdo) for all his local knowledge and to the other trip participants, Sorrel Lyall, Emma-louise Cole, Niki Bloom and Miriam Darlington, for their great company! It really was a brilliant trip and I hope it won't be too long before I get to return to Extremadura to explore it some more...

Day 1 (15th): I arrived at Madrid Airport where I met David, Martin and Niki and had a beer or two to chill out while we waited for the others to arrive. A little while later Sorrel, Emma and Miriam arrived and we soon began the 3 hour drive to our accommodation. On the drive we saw 19 species, including a rather incredible juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle (the first of so many lifers)! On arrival at the accommodation it wasn't long before bins were donned and scopes unpacked. We were soon treated to brilliant scope views of hundreds of Griffon Vultures swirling around on the thermals and some Crag Martins whizzed over. A short walk with Sorrel produced Hoopoe, Zitting Cisticola, Grey Wagtail, Great White Egret, Crested Lark and a large roost of House Sparrows. The day ended with our first taste of traditional Spanish cuisine.
Beautiful Gothic (Leucochlaena oditis)

Day 2 (16th): After a traditional Spanish breakfast of meats, cheese and pastries we made our way to Castillo de Monfragüe. On the way we stopped to look at some geology where you could see ripples in a rock which used to form the seabed near Australia - pretty neat indeed! At Castillo de Monfragüe we saw lots more Vultures, both Griffon and Black, a Red-billed Chough, some Crag Martins and a stunning Hawfinch! The views were spectacular out over the River Tagus and the surrounding dehesa.

View from Monfragüe Castle overlooking the River Tagus
View from Monfragüe Castle overlooking dehesa
We then headed to Peña Falcón (aka Falcon Rock) where we were greeted with more vultures, some stunning Black Redstarts, Rock Bunting and the amazing Blue Rock Thrush! Blue Rock Thrush is a bird I have long admired in my Collins guide so to actually see one was awesome and it totally exceeded my expectations! For lunch, we headed to Villareal de San Carlos and added Red-rumped Swallow to our list. We also saw numerous butterflies and a Large Psammodromus Lizard which posed for photos. The afternoon was spent at Portilla del Tietar where we got insane views of a Spanish Imperial Eagle coming down to drink and rounded the day off with the eerie sounds of Eagle Owl!
Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
Large Psammodromus Lizard (Psammodromus algirus)
Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti)
Day 3 (17th): After another delicious breakfast we headed to Arrocampo Reservoir, an impressive wetland site with a number of elevated bird hides for improved viewing. We spent most of the morning at the reservoir and saw an impressive array of species. The highlights for me were Squacco Heron, Bluethroat, Sardinian Warbler and hearing Penduline Tits. A local coffee shop in Almaraz beckoned, after which we headed to the Orchydarium for a special tour and introduction to the great work they do on Orchids. After the tour, we headed back to Arrocampo to explore a different part of the reserve. The species list was much the same as the morning except for an Iberian Grey Shrike, a small flock of Corn Buntings and a Dartford Warbler. To finish the day we headed to Toril, where we visited an information centre and learnt a lot more about the local area, its history and the environment.
View from the hide at Arrocampo
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
My Swarovski ATS 65HD and 25-50W eyepiece are an epic combo for birding!
Moorhen and Purple Swamphen
Inside the Orchydarium
Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis
The information centre in Toril

I have written about the rest of the trip in PART 2.

Australia: The Birds

Australia: The Birds ~ December 2016 ~ 

Over Christmas I spent 2 weeks in Australia visiting a friend and birding. In this post I will focus solely on the birds we saw and will write about the other wildlife encountered in another post (or two). As well as the birds illustrated below, we also saw loads of other species, including some particularly cool species such as Crested Shrike-tit, Australasian Bittern, Noisy Friarbird, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Mulga Parrot and Golden Whistler!

Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii)
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis)
Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea)
White-winged Fairy-wren (Malurus leucopterus)
Jack Winter (Microeca fascinans)
Rufous Whistler (Pachycephalu rufiventris)
Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus)
Red-kneed Dotterel (Erythrogonys cinctus)
Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata)
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti)
Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos)
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae)
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops)
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina papuensis)
Rock Warbler (Origma solitaria)
Olive-backed Oriole (Oriolus sagittatus)
Dusky Woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus)
Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis)
Brown Falcon (Falco berigora)
Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)
Lewin's Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii)
Flame Robin (Petroica phoenicea)
Bassian Thrush (Zoothera lunulata)
White-cheeked Honeyeater (Phylidonyris niger)
White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus)