Saturday, 5 January 2013

Exciting New Lichens in Sussex

Sussex Teloschistes chrysophthalmus
On Boxing Day 2012, I enjoyed some most exciting natural history. On 23rd of December, I received an e-mail informing me that the lichen Teloschistes chrysophthalmus had been found on two hawthorn bushes to the north of Brighton. The finder, Mark Jackson had recently just got interested in lichens, and asked me about the status of Teloschistes chrysophthalmus in East Sussex. The answer is simple, it is the first recent record for Sussex, there being three early 19th Century records from Shoreham, near Brighton and also near Lewes. On 23rd of December my knowledge of the current history of Teloschistes chrysophthalmus was as follows:

·    In 1994, it had been discovered at Slapton Ley, but the bush on which it grew was cleared as part of conservation scrub clearance.
·    Next, it was found on a hawthorn bush on the shores of the Drift Reservoir in Cornwall, but when the water level rose and submerged the bush, its only known modern site was once again lost.
·    More recently it was found on a branch fallen from an apple tree in Herefordshire.

Not a very promising situation for its continued survival, but shortly after that, it was found in County Cork and as far as I know, that site is still extant. It also occurs on Guernsey on two bushes where I saw it recently. In Jersey however, it was last seen in an orchard back in 1966. A recent trip to the site confirmed that all the apple trees had gone.

On Boxing Day I met up with Mark Jackson and he showed me the two bushes each with just one Teloschistes chrysophthalmus. We had a good look round at other trees, but found no more. However, on our way back to the car, Mark found a minute, pink lichenicolous fungus growing on a twig. I photographed it, and sent off the photograph to the experts. It is Illosporiopsis christiansenii and new to Sussex. Mark is lucky in having an excellent eye for lichens, as well as a great enthusiasm for them.

Waxwings and People

Waxwings in sunshine
The weather of New Years Day in East Sussex was glorious, unlike the previous day when it was wet, and cloud reduced light levels to impossible levels for photography. With little hope, my wife and I drove into Lewes to try and take a nice series of photographs of the flock of waxwings that have taken up temporary residence in an area with luscious, bright red berries. One reason for the lack of optimism was an experience we had a day or two previously when there were no waxwings present when we arrived. We were told that they had been driven off by a few over enthusiastic people. The birds had been chased backwards and forwards as they attempted to descend from a row of poplars to feed on the berries below. The berries were on the other side of the road from the poplars. After we had parked the car, it was another two hours before the flock returned, and I achieved silhouette photographs of them sitting high in the poplars. There were still one or two people sitting in their cars, but as soon as the birds arrived, without any care taken, they were out of their cars, and rushing towards the best vantage point, between the poplars and the berries. While I was there, sitting patiently in my car, my wife off shopping, the birds never did descend to feed, and I left without any photographic success at dusk.

Best shot in the rain
It was a different story on New Year’s Eve. I decided to go into Lewes to do some supermarket shopping, and to see if the waxwings were behaving. Before shopping, I went to have a look at the roadside hedge with the berries. No sign of waxwings, or of people. However there really was plenty of rain. I did my shopping, and then thought I might as well go and have another go. There was one car there, and I could see its occupant was pointing his binoculars up at the poplars. A few starling like dots in the trees proved, with the help of my binoculars, to be waxwings. After a few minutes, he came and asked me if I had managed some good photos. All I had achieved were a few distant silhouettes. He drove off. The waxwings began to descend from the poplars, and feed on the berries. For me, the hedge with the berries was on the opposite side of the car, so I drove off, and turned round. By inching the car ever so slowly towards the berry laden bushes with the window already down, I was able to stop opposite, and within about four feet of several feeding waxwings. Two problems arose however. First, as soon as I had lowered the car window, I was splattered by rain, as was my camera lens when I tried to take photographs. Secondly I had not checked to see how much space there was left on the card in my camera. At that definitive moment when a row of three waxwings posed for me on the top of the fence, no more than six feet away, I pressed the shutter button, and nothing happened.