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SxBRC

 

 

 

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Species of the month

Every month it is our aim to highlight a species that is “in-season” and, although not necessarily rare or difficult to identify, has been highlighted by our local recording groups as being somewhat under-recorded and for which new records would therefore be welcomed.

If you or your recording group are aware of species such as this then please contact Bob Foreman.

 

April: Lesser Whitethroat Curruca curruca

Lesser Whitethroat - Photo: Gary Faulkner

Lesser Whitethroat, Pulborough Brooks, 28 April 2019.
Photo: Gary Faulkner

blythi Lesser Whitethroat - Photo: Laurence Pitcher

blythi’ Lesser Whitethroat, Birling Gap, 28 October 2019.
Photo: Laurence Pitcher

Lesser Whitethroat map

Lesser Whitethroat,
Sussex Bird Atlas, 2008-11

The Lesser Whitethroat is a summer visitor to Sussex, but is easily overlooked, so unless you are a keen birdwatcher, you may not have seen one. It is smaller, scarcer and less obtrusive than the Common Whitethroat Curruca communis. One reason why it is harder to see in Sussex is that it prefers tall hedgerows and scrub within farmland, a much less widespread habitat than the low farm hedges preferred by Common Whitethroats. Indeed, the 2008-11 breeding distribution atlas for Sussex shows large gaps in the Lesser Whitethroat’s range.

The species is rather plain in colour, lacking the rich rusty-brown in the wing of the Common Whitethroat, another reason why they are easy to miss. The sexes look the same: earth-brown above with a grey head sharply set off from the white throat and greyish-white underparts. Some individuals have pale ‘spectacles’. The males tend to sing from within cover, so will often be overlooked unless the observer is familiar with the quite loud, but repetitive rattle, which is preceded by a short quieter and scratchy warble. Because of these behavioural, plumage and habitat traits, the species is probably under-recorded in our county. During local walks in the spring 2020 lockdown, I found singing males at a new site less than two miles from my home in Haywards Heath, where I had never suspected their presence. The local farmer had carefully managed the hedges so that they were unusually tall and vigorous, which made all the difference.

Compared to other warblers that are summer visitors to Britain, Lesser Whitethroats have a very different migration route. They arrive here in April having flown from north-east Africa and by August the return migration is underway, the birds heading back south-east, not taking the more southerly route to Africa adopted by other warbler species.

Occasionally, a Lesser Whitethroat will appear very late in the autumn in Sussex, or even take up residence in a garden in winter. It is probable that these individuals are vagrants of one of the eastern races that breed in Siberia and usually winter in South Asia. Indeed, two birds of the Siberian race ‘blythi’ have been detected using DNA analysis, one at Pett Level on 8th November 2018 and another at Birling Gap between 27th October and 6th November 2019. Such eastern birds are very hard and sometimes impossible to identify in the field.

If you put fat and sunflowers hearts in your garden next autumn and winter to attract wintering Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, keep and eye out for one of these rarer warblers. Ahead of that, listen to a recording of the Lesser Whitethroat’s song, easily found online, for example at https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Sylvia-curruca and search this spring for this hard to see but characterful little bird, making sure that the habitat looks suitable.

Mark Mallalieu
mallalieum@gmail.com

 

 

March: Lesser Whitethroat Curruca curruca

Lesser Whitethroat - Photo: Gary Faulkner

Lesser Whitethroat, Pulborough Brooks, 28 April 2019.
Photo: Gary Faulkner

blythi Lesser Whitethroat - Photo: Laurence Pitcher

‘blythi’ Lesser Whitethroat, Birling Gap, 28 October 2019.
Photo: Laurence Pitcher

Lesser Whitethroat map

Lesser Whitethroat, Sussex Bird Atlas, 2008-11

The Lesser Whitethroat is a summer visitor to Sussex, but is easily overlooked, so unless you are a keen birdwatcher, you may not have seen one. It is smaller, scarcer and less obtrusive than the Common Whitethroat Curruca communis. One reason why it is harder to see in Sussex is that it prefers tall hedgerows and scrub within farmland, a much less widespread habitat than the low farm hedges preferred by Common Whitethroats. Indeed, the 2008-11 breeding distribution atlas for Sussex shows large gaps in the Lesser Whitethroat’s range.

The species is rather plain in colour, lacking the rich rusty-brown in the wing of the Common Whitethroat, another reason why they are easy to miss. The sexes look the same: earth-brown above with a grey head sharply set off from the white throat and greyish-white underparts. Some individuals have pale ‘spectacles’. The males tend to sing from within cover, so will often be overlooked unless the observer is familiar with the quite loud, but repetitive rattle, which is preceded by a short quieter and scratchy warble. Because of these behavioural, plumage and habitat traits, the species is probably under-recorded in our county. During local walks in the spring 2020 lockdown, I found singing males at a new site less than two miles from my home in Haywards Heath, where I had never suspected their presence. The local farmer had carefully managed the hedges so that they were unusually tall and vigorous, which made all the difference.

Compared to other warblers that are summer visitors to Britain, Lesser Whitethroats have a very different migration route. They arrive here in April having flown from north-east Africa and by August the return migration is underway, the birds heading back south-east, not taking the more southerly route to Africa adopted by other warbler species.

Occasionally, a Lesser Whitethroat will appear very late in the autumn in Sussex, or even take up residence in a garden in winter. It is probable that these individuals are vagrants of one of the eastern races that breed in Siberia and usually winter in South Asia. Indeed, two birds of the Siberian race ‘blythi’ have been detected using DNA analysis, one at Pett Level on 8th November 2018 and another at Birling Gap between 27th October and 6th November 2019. Such eastern birds are very hard and sometimes impossible to identify in the field.

If you put fat and sunflowers hearts in your garden next autumn and winter to attract wintering Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, keep and eye out for one of these rarer warblers. Ahead of that, listen to a recording of the Lesser Whitethroat’s song, easily found online, for example at https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Sylvia-curruca and search this spring for this hard to see but characterful little bird, making sure that the habitat looks suitable.

Mark Mallalieu
mallalieum@gmail.com

 

 

February: Peniophora laeta

Peniophora laeta

Peniophora laeta, a collection from Worth Park, Crawley
Photo: Nick Aplin

Peniophora laeta close-up

Peniophora laeta, detail showing hyphal ‘pegs’ peeling away the outer bark
Photo: Nick Aplin

Peniophora laeta scetch

Peniophora laeta, sketch of microscopic anatomy. Top: Basidiospores, Bottom hymenium with crystal-encrusted metuloid cystidia, gloeocystidia containing oil droplets and basidia with four sterigmata
Sketch: Nick Aplin

Peniophora laeta map

Tetrad distribution of records of Peniophora laeta and Hornbeam Carpinus betulus in Sussex
Source: SxBRC

Peniophora laeta is a distinctive looking fungus with quite a lot going on. Surprising then, that it remains so seldom recorded…

Like many other members of the genus Peniophora, it likes to live up off the ground, often on branches still attached to trees. British records strongly suggest that the species is host-specific here, only living on Hornbeam Carpinus betulus branches, where it gets all up in the tree’s cambium before slowly prizing off the outer bark (from the inside!) with its creepy hyphal ‘fingers’. The plan is to get the bark out of the way so that it can have a party, flinging its spores all around to land on neighbouring branches.

Peniophora laeta can be found throughout the year, but in dry weather it looks a bit dull, shrivelled and inconspicuous. Things are different after a nice bit of rain however, when this species is more active (is that the right word for something that barely moves?) and easier to find. Next time you’re sheltering from the rain under a Hornbeam in your local park, why don’t you take a look above you - I bet you’ll find it!

Under the microscope P. laeta has gently curved, cylindrical spores, and several types of hymenial cells including those filled with oil drops and others reminding me of those science toy Christmas trees that grow crystals. What these cells actually do, nobody really knows. Probably they’re something to do with moisture control (it can dry up there in the Hornbeam canopy!). Here are some other difficult questions that I can’t answer about this species:
    • Since there are so many Hornbeam trees in Sussex, why are they so few Peniophora laeta records?
    • Why hasn’t this species got a common name? Shall we make one up? Hornbeam Peeler is my favourite…

Observations of this lovely species can be inputted to iRecord for verification by your friendly County Basidiomycete Recorder, Martin Allison.

Nick Aplin (your friendly County Ascomycete Recorder)

 

 

January: Two common garden liverworts

Marchantia polymorpha distribution map

Map showing distribution of Marchantia polymorpha records in Sussex

Lunularia cruciata distribution map

Map showing distribution of Lunularia cruciata records in Sussex

Marchantia polymorpha

Marchantia polymorpha
Photo: Brad Scott

Lunularia cruciata

Lunularia cruciata
Photo: Brad Scott

Marchantia polymorpha

Marchantia polymorpha
Photo: Brad Scott

As the compass of our natural history worlds shrinks in the Covid universe, there is always the garden to explore, or even the pavements on the walk to the shops. In the shady damp corners and cracks you can often find two of our common thallose liverworts. And, as is always the case with bryophytes, they are remarkably under-recorded throughout the county, as can be seen from the distribution maps.

Often found as ‘weeds’ on soil in gardens and greenhouses (often in plant pots), these two plants look quite similar at first glance, but are in reality very easy to tell apart. They don’t need much soil, either, and can be found as pavement plants, in those small, damp and protected gaps between paving stones.

They are both made up of a tough-looking green thallus on the ground, rarely more than a centimetre across, though you can find large areas covered in them, carpetting the ground.

Lunularia cruciata has the English name Crescent-cup Liverwort, and that exactly captures what you need to look for; it has crescent-shaped cups on its surface containing gemmae, small balls of cells that can be dispersed, typically by the rain, and enable the plant to reproduce vegetatively.

Marchantia polymorpha (Common Liverwort) looks very similar, but its gemmae receptacles are fully cup-shaped and the thallus of the common subspecies (ruderalis) has an irregular thin black median line. They can frequently be found with mature reproductive structures, borne on little stalks sticking up from the surface of the plants; the males have flat-topped receptables with rounded lobes, and those of the females look like a miniature forest of palm trees.

We want to see how many records we can receive by the end of February, and especially how many new tetrad records there will be, so please have a look in your local area. Please submit any records with some photos to iRecord, or with location, grid reference and date to @Trichocolea on Twitter, or by email to sue@rubinstein.plus.com.

There are (normally) regular field meetings recording the mosses and liverworts of the area organised by the South-East Group of the British Bryological Society, to which all are welcome, and you are encouraged to sign up to our email list. You can also follow the bryophyte recording activity in the county on our blog: https://sussexbryophytes.wordpress.com/bbs-se-group/.

Brad Scott