Sunday 26 January 2020

Summary of 2019 wildlife recording

Ben Lawers

Here we go again. This is the 6th time I've tried to pull together a summary of "my ongoing quest to experience, understand and enjoy the biodiversity of Britain". (That's what I wrote last year, and it still feels a good summary of what I'm doing). Previous summaries can be found at these links for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

What happened in 2019 then? The year started slowly around Norfolk, peppered with a few valiant but utterly futile attempts to find Snow Flea in the Brecks. We had a short family trip to Tenerife in February, but nothing really started warming up at home until late March when the insects started coming out to play. I had an enjoyable trip to Extremadura with Mark, Ian and Daniel in April, back-to-back with a family trip down to Dorset on returning. I then settled into a pretty intensive period of trying to amass lots of sawfly records in Norfolk, largely via long walks to/from home, or lunchtime expeditions into Thetford Forest from work. In July we took a short break up north with John and Janette, enjoying the botanical highlights of the famous Ben Lawers area. Mostly local again then until September when we had a family trip to southern India for two weeks. We then spent the autumn adjusting to having no kids at home for the first time since 1998, and I largely spent my time working on the insects I'd collected during the summer. The maps show our trips to Dorset and Scotland but a strong focus on south Norfolk.

Record density in Britain in 2019 by 10 km, deeper reds=more records

Record density in S Norfolk in 2019 by 1 km, deeper reds=more records
Over the year I amassed 4,205 UK biological records, comprising at least 1,527 species. This was a big drop on the 2,300 species in 2018, largely because I stopped making an effort to write absolutely everything down - lots of common plants not recorded for example. I was also much more focused on a single group of insects - Hymenoptera (which, to be fair, are quite a big group). Having said this, the 2019 species total will hopefully continue to rise in future as I've still got hundreds of Hymenoptera specimens that I don't yet have the means to identify (i.e. no suitable literature), so I will be returning to these at a future date.

At the time of writing though, the 305 new species this year brings my UK pan-species list total stands at 5,342, which puts me in 26th on the rankings table (of those people who have bothered to add such things up). More significantly, my current total of 477 Hymenoptera species puts me in 4th place of the Hymenoptera rankings; aiming for bronze medal position next year seems a good target.

During the year I appear to have found no less than nine new species for Norfolk - five sawflies, two parasitic wasps, one fly and one beetle. Not a bad haul!

Non-arthropod invertebrates

Molluscs (3 species, 1 new, list total=61)

Most notable find was a weird-looking Sea Hare Aplysia punctata during a very low tide in Portland Harbour - hard to appreciate from the photo but would be interesting to see underwater one day.

Aplysia punctata - that splodgy thing in the middle

Sponges (1 species, 1 new, list total=1)

I believe this orange stuff on a rock found at Portland Harbour is my first sponge, Hymeniacidon perlevis. Difficult one to get very excited about.

Hymeniacidon perlevis - a marine sponge

Non-insect arthropods

Arachnids (17 species, 5 new, list total=123)

Still not doing enough to get to grips with spiders, compared to several other keen pan-species listers. I think the techniques for looking at these are very different to my pursuit of aerial insects, and it's just too much to do both. Anyway, I did come across three new spiders (two with help from Rich Burkmar) but I did work out Amaurobius ferox myself - found in my office at work. I was also shown my first two oribatid mites by Matt Shepherd on a visit to Foulden Common - fascinating but again way off my normal track.

Alopecosa cuneata - Cranwich Camp

Crustaceans (4 species, 0 new, list total=34)

Nothing new but nice to see a few crabs in Dorset in April.

Myriapods (1 species, 0 new, list total=34)

A highlight of the year was the realisation that there was a big colony of Bristly Millipedes Polyxenus lagurus on both the wall of the Nunnery, and along a wall on my road in Shotesham. Presumably I'd been walking past both for years. Amazing little creatures on close inspection.

Polyxenus lagurus - Thetford

Springtails (1 species, 1 new, list total=11)

I was shown the distinctive Neanura muscorum, a warty blue springtail, at Foulden Common.


Coleoptera (84 species, 14 new, list total=567)

In focusing on Hymenoptera this year I've very much taken my eye off beetles. However, I did manage to notch up a few new ones from a range of families. Some of the more memorable ones included the striking Thanasimus formicarius on pine logs in a few places; the sizeable longhorn Stenocorus meridianus in Shotesham; my first oil beetle Meloe violaceus on Ben Vrackie; Diaperis boleti in the garden moth-trap; and a new beetle for Norfolk, Chrysolina banksi at the Nunnery Lakes.

Stenocorus meridianus in Shotesham

Thanasimus formicarius - East Wretham Heath

Meloe violaceus - Ben Vrackie

Chrysolina banksi - the first Norfolk record

Diptera (108 species, 18 new, list total=434)

Whilst swinging a net continuously for Hymenoptera, I inevitably came across a wide range of flies during the year, but didn't retain/examine most of them. More time would clearly reveal a huge range of additional species, but I did find some pleasing things. Most notable was the first Rhamphomyia marginata for Norfolk, extending its known range northwards from the Thames (and another was found even further north at Sculthorpe a few days later). Other pleasing things were the soldierfly Nemotelus uliginosus and cleg fly Haematopota crassicornis at Halvergate, Dotted Bee-fly Bombylius discolor at Wallingford, and two new conopids - Myopa tessellatipennis and Thecophora atra - both in Shotesham.

Bombylius discolor - Wallingford

Rhamphomyia marginata - Croxton, the first Norfolk record

Myopa tessellatipennis - Shotesham

Hemipteroids (46 species, 9 new, list total=266)

Didn't pay too much attention to the bugs this year but did find a few nice new ones, notably Spathocera dalmanii in the New Forest, Dicranocephalus agilis on Portland and Asiraca clavicornis in several places in Norfolk.

Asiraca clavicornis - Nunnery Lakes

Rhopalus subrufus - Thetford

Hymenoptera (293 species, 126 new, list total=470)

Hymenoptera are currently my main focus of wildlife recording, and I increased my total species list this year by 37%. However, given the huge diversity of this order (nearly 8,000 UK species are known so far) there's no shortage of new things to discover. I've particularly enjoyed just surveying the wide countryside (not visiting nature reserves) but finding things that are unknown (or little known) in Norfolk. Really satisfying to start building up a picture, however slowly, of the status of species.


These were again the principal focus, particularly in the period April to June when the highest diversity are on the wing. I generated 583 records of sawflies during the year, comprising 123 species, of which 45 were new to me. Moreover, it appears that five of them were new to Norfolk and a further 17 were the first 21st century records for the county. The most spectacular find was Tenthredo baetica, of which I found two males on hogweed flowers in East Carleton near Norwich; these seem to be the first record in the UK since 1926 of what is a relatively large and colourful species (although there is a previous Norfolk record from 1905). The new Norfolk species were smaller things, easier to overlook, but all relatively expected from their known ranges elsewhere in the UK: Ardis pallipes, Amauronematus lateralis, Nematus umbratus, Pristiphora insularis, Pristiphora punctifrons.

Aneugmenus padi - common around bracken

Strongylogaster xanthocera - West Harling, first Norfolk record since 1976

Tenthredo baetica - East Carleton, first UK record for 93 years


By far the majority of Hymenoptera species fall into the broad grouping known as Parasitica. I retained quite a lot of the larger specimens I came across when hunting for sawflies, and given the challenging nature of their identification I retained these until the autumn, then spent several months trying to make as much progress as possible. Out of 357 specimens I've identified roughly 50% to species level so far - and everything else to at least subfamily level. For some of the subfamilies of Ichneumonidae and Braconidae I don't yet have access to suitable keys, but will retain the specimens in anticipation of further literature becoming available in future.

The identified specimens involved 96 species, 75 of which were new to me. The family with the most new species found was Ichneumonidae (67), followed by Braconidae (4), Chalcididae (2), Figitidae (1) and Pteromalidae (1). For many of these species, I have no idea how significant these finds were - most are presumably common and widespread species. Of particular interest though was the specimen of Rynchobanchus flavopictus near Fritton which seems to be the 3rd British record of what is a relatively large and distinctive insect. Additionally, the distinctive red-headed braconid Cenocoelius aartseni also seems to be new for Norfolk and has only been found in about five other places in the UK.

Cenocoelius aartseni - Shotesham

Rynchobanchus flavopictus - Fritton


Again, I picked up a few aculeate wasps and bees whilst hunting for sawflies. The 12 new ones comprised four bees and eight wasps from a range of families. I was particularly pleased to find the small hairy-eyed Entomognathus brevis on Barnhamcross Common, Myrmosa atra on Halvergate Marshes an the striking spider-hunting Anoplius nigerrimus in the house.

Anthophora plumipes - female in Shotesham

Anoplius nigerrimus - female in Shotesham

Lepidoptera: butterflies (25 species, 1 new, list total=52)

We were lucky that our trip up Ben Lawers in July coincided with decent weather, so finally able to nail Mountain Ringlet without too much effort, although mostly fast-flying and hard to get great views of. Otherwise, nice to see Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary at Ben Vrackie, Green Hairstreak in Thetford Forest and continued presence of Silver-washed Fritillary in Shotesham.

Mountain Ringlet - Ben Lawers

Silver-washed Fritillary - Shotesham

Lepidoptera: moths (372 species, 10 new, list total=1085)

Quite a reasonable haul of 10 new species despite not really targeting moths this year. With the exception of Satyr Pug at Ben Vrackie, the rest were all micros. Particularly pleasing ones were the smart Ectoedemia decentella in the garden trap, the recently described Anarsia innoxiella, spectacular case (reared to adult) of Coleophora kuehnella near Croxton and the highly localised Mountain Plume Stenoptilia islandica shown to us by Dan Watson at Ben Lawers. Good local finds were Forester on Shotesham Common (very rare in SE Norfolk), Marsh Pug at Hempnall and Small Yellow Underwing in three local spots, including Shotesham Common so surely expanding its range around here.

As usual, I trapped in the garden on at least a weekly basis throughout the summer. In comparison to previous years, numbers of moths and diversity of species seem to be holding up pretty well (although that's a rough and ready assessment rather than a detailed analysis). The catch of 568 moths on the night of 26th July was my highest ever, with that night's total of 108 species just one behind my all-time garden best of 109 on 18th July 2014. Notably absent this year were Buff Arches, Garden Carpet, Common Marbled Carpet, Engrailed, July Highflyer, Lime-speck and Common Pugs, Rosy Rustic and Pale Prominent amongst others.

Coxcomb Prominent caterpillar - Shotesham

Anoxia innoxiella - Shotesham

Larval case of Coleophora kuehnella at Croxton

Odonata (18 species, 0 new, list total=37)

Norfolk Hawker was noted again in Shotesham and also in Swainsthorpe, well away from wetland habitat. Willow Emerald Damselflies were noted in Thetford but no Shotesham records this year. Nice to see Golden-ringed Dragonfly up in Perthshire.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly - Ben Vrackie

Orthopteroids (8 species, 0 new, list total=28)

Nothing of note - no further sign of Southern Oak Bush-cricket yet after last year's find.

Remaining small insect orders (15 species, 4 new, list total=88)

In addition to two new caddisflies and one new stonefly, the highlight was finding the snakefly Atlantoraphidia maculicollis in Thetford Forest near Croxton in April, which it transpires is the first post-Victorian county record.

Atlantoraphidia maculicollis - Croxton


Amphibians (1 species, 0 new, list total=7)

Just Common Frog, no toads or newts recorded this year.

Birds (165 species, 1 new, list total=435)

Another year with relatively little birding activity. My only new bird was the Eastern Yellow Wagtail in Norfolk in December, having missed the Suffolk one a few weeks earlier. Other scarcer species seen were Lesser Yellowlegs at Lodmoor, Ring-necked Duck at Radipole and several Great White Egrets. Probably my best find of the year was a calling Yellow-browed Warbler in Shotesham at the start of November which was really pleasing, whilst I also finally added Goshawk to my Nunnery Lakes list. As usual in recent years there were loads of common birds I never got round to seeing, mostly seabirds and waterbirds - particularly surprised to see I never wrote down Pintail or Sanderling throughout the whole year.

Lesser Yellowlegs - Lodmoor
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - Sedgeford

Fish (2 species, 1 new, list total=16)

Pleasing to add another rockpool species - Rock Goby Gobius paganellus - on a very brief visit to a crowded Lulworth Cove.

Rock Goby - Lulworth Cove

Mammals (15 species, 0 new, list total=43)

Most notable were Water Vole at Radipole Lake, a freshly dead Badger in Stoke Holy Cross, Red Squirrel in Perthshire and an obliging House Mouse in a cafe in central London.

Reptiles (2 species, 0 new, list total=6)

Just Grass Snake and Common Lizard noted.


Algae (4 species, 2 new, list total=20)

Amongst a plethora of seaweeds in Portland Harbour during a very low tide, I only managed to pick out the relatively striking Colpomenia peregrina and Saccorhiza polyschides as new species. Must have been dozens more.

Colpomenia peregrina, aka Oyster Thief - Portland Harbour

Saccorhiza polyschides aka Furbellow - Portland Harbour

Seaweed Smorgasboard - Portland Harbour - don't know what most of this is

Bryophytes (2 species, 1 new, list total=71)

Very little attention paid, but added the fairly distinctive Philonotis fontana from near the top of Ben Lawers.

Vascular Plants (316 species, 99 new, list total=1149)

A massive 99 new species this year, although 95 of these were from a few days up north, benefitting from the botanical expertise of John Martin and others. The other four were Pink Knotweed in Weymouth, the rarely established garden throw-out Pelargonium Storksbill in Norfolk, Fragrant Evening-primrose at Great Yarmouth and long-overdue Zigzag Clover in Shotesham.

The northern expedition started out with a short stop by Ullswater to see Alpine Enchanter's Nightshade, Creeping Spearwort, Purple Iris and Shoreweed. The following day, a Wild Flower Society walk up Ben Vrackie (above Pitlochry) produced 37 new species, including many common upland plants but I was particularly pleased to see Moonwort, Alpine Milk-vetch, Purple Oxytropis, Alpine Cinquefoil, Alpine Bistort and Scottish Asphodel. We also ticked off Motherwort at Logierait. The following day we climbed the legendary Ben Lawers and added another 41 new plants, including Alpine Meadow-rue, Roseroot, Drooping, Alpine and Mossy Saxifrages, four new willows, Sibbaldia, Cyphel, Snow Pearlwort, Moss Campion, Mountain Sorrel, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Forget-me-not, Rock Speedwell and Ben Lawers Dandelion. A shedload of sedges on these two days also of course. Slightly lower altitude the following day in Tayside, but 9 more new plants included Small Cow-wheat and Greater Butterfly Orchid (at last). Finally, stopping in Cumbria on the way home allowed a sneaky Angular Solomon's-seal twitch at Gait Barrows.

Alpine Milk-vetch - Ben Vrackie

Star Sedge - Ben Vrackie

Small Cow-wheat - Tayside

Alpine Cinquefoil - Ben Lawers

Net-leaved Willow - Ben Lawers

Drooping Saxifrage - Ben Lawers

Angular Solomon's Seal - Gait Barrows

Fungi etc.

Fungi other than lichens (12 species, 4 new, list total=208)

Didn't look at these much during the year. The new ones were Ramularia succisae (microfungus on Devilsbit Scabious leaves at Keltneyburn), Cumminsiella mirabilissima (similar on Mahonia in Thetford), Taphrina pruni (galling fungus on plums in Thetford) and Rhodotus palmatus, aka the Wrinkled Peach, on a log in Shotesham.

Wrinkled Peach - Shotesham

Lichens (3 species, 1 new, list total=57)

The only new one was Solorina crocea, pointed out to me at the summit of Ben Lawers.

Solorina crocea (the orange stuff) - Ben Lawers

Foreign travel


A short trip with family, but gave me a chance to finally mop up the endemic birds. We saw all the target landbird species (and a fair few of the endemic subspecies) but it was too early for much in the way of seabirds. A few nice cetaceans, butterflies and weird looking plants too. Highlight had to be the Blue Chaffinches.

Berthelot's Pipit - common around coastal areas

Short-finned Pilot Whales

Blue Chaffinch - male above Vilaflor

Tenerife subspecies of Robin - Vilaflor


A loop from Madrid south to Extremadura, back up to Gredos and Sepulveda - largely a repeat of the ground I covered on a work trip in 2010 but this time a few weeks later in April instead of March, and this time with BUBO compadres Mark and Ian, and second-gen BUBO lad Daniel. Saw a ton of expected speciality birds, with new ones for me being several Western Orphean Warblers and the established non-native Red Avadavat, alongside some fantastic Spanish Imperial Eagles, Great Bustards, Black-shouldered Kites and best of all, a brief but highly satisfying view of the legendary and near-invisible Dupont's Lark. Non-avian highlights included a range of lizards, terrapins, butterflies, moths, dragonflies and plants.

Western Black-eared Wheatear - male at Sepulveda

Schreiber's Green Lizard - Parador de Gredos

Plataforma de Gredos - not quite high enough for Alpine Accentors this time round

Star Clover - one of my favourite plants


Our last big family holiday before Duncan left to university. We spent two weeks doing a loop from Chennai to the Western Ghats and back, meeting BUBO's man-in-India Mike for several days in the middle. Separate write-up here but the highlights were some amazing encounters with Asian Elephants, a memorable evening Leopard, huge Gaur, Malabar Giant Squirrels, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Laughingthrush, Brown Fish-owl and much more.

Black-and-Orange Flycatcher - Coonoor

Malabar Giant Squirrel - near Ooty

Asian Elephant - Bandipur

Leopard at dusk - Bandipur