Saturday 2 January 2021

Summary of 2020 wildlife recording

Meadow Saxifrage on Shotesham Common, my extended garden for 2020

Here's my 7th consecutive annual wildlife blogpost covering 2020. As so many others have said, this was really a year quite unlike any other in living memory, with the Covid-19 pandemic affecting every aspect of life. However, although my year was a little different to how I'd planned it, it was still full of variety and exciting finds. The beauty of pan-species recording is that there's really never any shortage of things to look for. Having said that, it was also a year where I realised more than ever how lucky I was to live in a nice house in a small village surrounded by miles of footpaths. Lockdown was not a personal hardship.

The year started quietly, with little to report in the first few months - hardly any trips anywhere and only a handful of new species noted. Everything changed mid-March when the country was requested to work from home and to avoid travelling. Along with almost all my colleagues I started working from home and this situation persisted for the whole year. I had actually been planning to focus heavily on sawfly recording in south-east Norfolk anyway, so this didn't really interfere too much with the plan. However, I had also resolved this year to spend more time joining groups of other naturalists to do more collective wildlife watching around the county. That plan went entirely out of the window - one to rekindle in 2021 hopefully.

Our lockdown pond! Rectangular because that was the shape of an existing hole under the old shed

Until mid-May I only recorded wildlife in places I could get to on foot from home. After then, as the first lockdown eased, we visited a few other nearby locations in East Anglia for a bit of variety (and to maintain sanity). A major difference to previous years was not going to work in Thetford, and I did virtually no Breckland recording at all. My only journeys outside Norfolk & Suffolk were a quick there/back trip to Coventry in June to pick up Duncan's stuff from uni, and a trip to Kew Gardens in August (our summer holiday). We finally had a longer break with a week in Speyside in October, and that was it for the year. My other resolution for the year had been to cut my carbon footprint significantly, which was something I achieved spectacularly. I hadn't been planning to fly anywhere, which was lucky as we mostly weren't allowed to anyway.

Local recording in 2020 (1 km resolution). Not a lot of Brecks records!

All records 2020 (10 km resolution)

Fortunately, our immediate family stayed healthy and reasonably sane throughout the year. My main health crisis was caused by excessive swinging of my insect net which resulted in a rotator cuff tendinopathy - basically, a shoulder that was out of action by September. At time of writing (Jan 2021) it's on the mend, so hopefully I'll be back chasing insects by spring.

Anyway, I did collect quite a lot of records in the year, particular sawflies but also a range of other things. Overall I collected 4,521 records involving at least 1,485 species; I didn't make a particular effort this year to record every plant etc, and indeed don't seem to have written down Meadow Brown either. (In fact, I also hadn't written down Mute Swan, Coot, and a number of other common waterbirds, but I could remember some of these to record retrospectively!)

To date it looks like I've added 206 new species to my personal all-time British tally, although I still have over 300 specimens to work through (mostly parasitic Hymenoptera). This is a bit of a slow-down in my rate of increase, but that's as expected given my change of focus (as well as the restrictions).

Non-arthropod invertebrates


Thanks to information from other like-minded naturalists, I tracked down the Two-lipped Door Snail Laciniaria biplicata in London near Kew in August.


Looking closely at duckweeds in our new garden pond, I was delighted to find Green Hydra Hydra viridissima attached to one of the plants. Presumably very common, but a fabulous chance find!

Hydra viridissima, garden pond in July

Non-insect arthropods


No real effort made again this year, but I did find the little jumping spider Sitticus pubescens in the garden in June, as well as the galls of the mite Phyllocoptes populi on aspen leaves in our local Tesco car park.

Sitticus pubescens, on the house wall in June



Relatively little effort made with beetles this year, but 13 new species were found. Particularly memorable ones were the striking Oxyporus rufus at Langley Marshes, the carrion beetle Dermestes undulatus under a dead Gannet on Cley beach, and an infestation of Oryzaephilus surinamensis in a bag of rice at my son's hall of residence at Warwick University.

Archarius salicivorus, on sallow catkins Shotesham Common in April


I made a bit more effort to hang on to some of the flies I caught whilst chasing sawflies this year and noted 171 species including 45 new to me. Many of these are fairly non-descript to the unaided eye, but I did particularly like Polyporivora picta in the garden moth-trap in October and the stunning Loxocera aristata on the Common in August. It was also pleasing to find Black Colonel Odonotomyia tigrina in the garden, my 24th species of soldierfly in the home 1 km square.

Polyporivora picta in garden moth-trap


I didn't look at bugs much this year, adding just four new species: Oncopsis carpini from a local hornbeam wood, Eriosoma lanuginosum gall on village elms, Trigonotylus caelestialium in the garden moth-trap and the aphid Cinara cuneomaculata beaten from larch in Earlham cemetery.


My continuing main focus. Last year I said I'd like to get to 3rd place in the Hymenoptera rankings. That was over-ambitious, but I'm still enjoying learning ever more about this vast group of insects. They're still a hugely challenging group to identify, and require patience, but that's what makes them really rewarding and there's so much to discover. I suspect they'll keep me busy for many years to come.


Trying to increase knowledge of sawflies in Norfolk remained my main wildlife focus in 2020, particularly in the spring and early summer. It's really not easy teasing out which species are truly scarce vs those that are simply hard to detect, but I feel I'm making a bit of progress. Extensive searching and excessive net-swinging yielded a grand total of 731 records of 133 species (plus a few that remain unidentified). Of these, 29 were new species for me, bringing my sawfly total up to 195 species. There are still numerous species I'm clearly overlooking, some of which may well be common, and there will be plenty more to look for in 2021.

The best find of the year was a bizarre record of the huge horntail species Urocerus augur which crash-landed in the garden pond in front of our eyes. We assumed it would prove to be the common U. gigas but a closer look proved otherwise. To date, the only other British record I can find seems to be from Kent in 1924 or 1925 so this was quite remarkable. I rather suspect it's overlooked, and some gigas records may well refer to this species. It's considered likely to be introduced with imported timber, although there was no obvious new building work going on nearby.

A further six species were found that were the first Norfolk records this century: Allantus togatus at Horsey, Pachprotasis variegata at Arminghall, Tenthredopsis scutellaris at a number of places (ID still very uncertain of this genus though), Euura fasciata and  E. incompleta on Shotesham Common and E. triandrae galls on Almond Willow at a number of locations.

Urocerus augur from Shotesham, new to Norfolk

Pristiphora testacea ovipoisiting on birch in Shotesham

Metallus lanceolatus mines in Geum urbanum, Shotesham 

Phylloecus xanthostoma from Shotesham Common


Chasing sawflies does turn up a lot of parasitic wasps as by-catch. For a second year running I've tried to progress with these, despite it being exceedingly tough going at times. Many specimens will probably remain unidentified for some years. By time of writing though (1st Jan 2021), I've managed to name 72 species, of which 31 are new to me. Most of these are in the family Ichneumonidae, and for many of these there's not a huge amount of detail known about their status. However, it looks like my records of Lissonota cruentator from Winterton Dunes in August were clearly notable and apparently new for Norfolk; a scarce dune-dwelling species that is thought to parasitise the moth Synaphe punctalis. Similarly, Fredegunda diluta netted from the edge of Minsmere in August seems to be quite a scarce thing. Away from this family, I was really pleased to find Ibalia leucospoides, a larger relative of the cynipid gall wasps, swept in a small conifer plantation at Rushall really in the proverbial middle of nowhere as far as wildlife recording is concerned.

Ibalia leucospoides, swept near Rushall in August

Lissonota cruentator, new for Norfolk, from Winterton in August


Without any particular effort to focus on this group it turned out that I identified 108 different species this year, which was a surprise. Although I've been looking at these for some time, I still found 26 new aculeates for me, including 11 bees, 13 wasps and two ants. Highlights included Formica aquilonia and sanguinea in Speyside, the vespid Microdynerus exilis in non-descript countryside in SE Norfolk, Ectemnius dives from Surlingham Church Marsh, Nomada zonata from Shotesham, Chelostoma campanularum from bellflowers in the garden  and Andrena labialis from Rockland Broad.

Nomada zonata from Shotesham, a rapidly spreading colonist

Chelostoma campanularum on bellflowers in the garden, a tiny bee that is surely hugely overlooked


Seven new moths this year; I made a quick diversion to Lolly Moor to see Anania fuscalis but the others were all chance encounters. The best was finding a Gypsy Moth on a wall along Millbank just down from the Houses of Parliament, which momentarily flustered me. The garden trap produced Caloptilia hemidactylella and Notocelia trimaculana, and Shotesham Common yielded the cases of Coleophora binderella on alders and the mines (occupied ones at last) of Stigmella aceris on Field Maple. The other new one was a Phyllonorycter cavella mine on birch at the Insh Marshes.

For the first year for ages, I achived a pretty full run of (at least) weekly moth-trapping in the garden. Normally we miss some weeks for various holidays, but not in 2020. Having said that, it wasn't a particularly good year, with 306 species during the 67 nights not feeling particularly spectacular. (I think I'll rename it a wasp trap, and treat the moths as bycatch now.) There were some good finds though, notably first garden records of Great Prominent, Marbled Clover, Water Carpet, Feathered Ranunculus and a number of micros.

Butterflies were unremarkable, and I even seem to have forgotten to write down both Meadow Brown and Essex Skipper which are both numerous in the village.

Gypsy Moth, Millbank

Great Prominent in the garden

Marbled Clover in the garden


Nothing new this year, but continuing evidence of the spread of Norfolk Hawker, which I encountered four times in featureless arable farmland in SE Norfolk in addition to from damper habitats. This is clearly spreading fast, although given my additional time at home I was very surprised not to add it to the garden list. Willow Emeralds were encountered widely again also, including one which flew into the house.

Willow Emerald at Potter Heigham

Remaining 'small' insect orders

I identified a random scatter of other insects during the year. I was pleased to put a name at last to my first species of Thrips, Aeolothrips intermedius, which was numerous one day on Meadowsweet on the Common. I also did a bit of testing of the draft new caddisfly key and came up with Agraylea sexmaculata and Agrypnia varia from the garden light trap in September. The only other new 'other insect' species were the lacewing Wesmaelius nervosus in the light trap in April, and the stonefly Leuctra fusca by Loch Garten in October.



A long-desired target achieved this year when we popped in to Buchanty Spout in Perthshire to see Salmon leaping. Only saw a handful, and it proved impossible to anticipate them to photograph, but still a thrill - would love to visit again when numbers were higher.

Just imagine Salmon jumping through here a split second earlier...


An inevitable focus on birds in rural SE Norfolk this year, which is not the most inspiring area. Nice to see continued colonisation by Red Kite, whilst I still managed to locate a handful of Turtle Doves. It felt like a better year for Cuckoo than I've seen for a while, but my miles of tramping around the countryside only turned up a single Garden Warbler. I added Mediterranean Gull and Stonechat to the village list, as well as a lucky spot of a high-flying male Hen Harrier migrating south one day. I also chanced upon a few Great White Egrets around East Anglia as their colonisation continues (still not yet in Shotesham though).

Elsewhere, I was tempted into twitching two new species, the Rufous Bushchat at Stiffkey in October and the Greater Yellowlegs at Dunwich in November. Both satisfied my new "only twitch birds you can reach by electric car" rule.

Overall I only noted 154 species all year, with all sorts of common species not noted. Peregrine was the biggest omission in many ways, as I've seen this species annually since my first at a 'secret site' in Borrowdale in 1983.


Two new mammals this year. The first was just a black blur of a Water Shrew running around the back of our garden pond - I really need to get a decent view of one of these, given that I suspect they're common in the village! The second was perhaps the highlight of the year, seeing two Pine Martens at last at a hide in Speyside (alongside four Badgers!) Bit of a shame to have to 'throw money' at this one, but actually it was well worth it - amazing animals! Other notable mammals this year were some great views of Water Vole in the village (finally, after hints and brief sightings over the years), and Red Squirrels, Feral Goats and Bottle-nosed Dolphins in Scotland.

Pine Marten in Speyside, wow!



I didn't look at these during the year, but was so struck by this fantastic birch branch at Speybridge I forced myself to identify the moss as Hypnum andoi.

Hypnum androi, Speybridge

Vascular plants

A nice selection of new plants during the year, including some that had clearly been hiding in plain sight for years. Two were from the garden; Greater Duckweed was a new arrival as it turned up in the new pond, but Creeping Bellflower had been at the edge of the drive for years without me putting in the effort to work out what it was until now.

Greater, Common and Ivy-leaved Duckweed in the garden pond

Still in the village, I found a large patch of Medium-flowered Winter-cress in a field margin, and shabbily added both Phacelia and Common Flax that had self-seeded themselves from previous sowings. However, Sticky Groundsel was more interesting; found originally by Nick and Rubyna on one of their village walks, I eventually found over 50 plants that had clearly come in with aggregate laid down for new farm tracks.

Sticky Groundsel, Shotesham farm tracks

Slightly further afield, I was pleased to finally get my eye in and locate multiple Midland Hawthorns on my sawfly hikes in SE Norfolk. I also put in the effort to work out which willows were Almond Willow, in part to find their galling sawfly. Chance encounters with Honey Garlic in Alpington and Greater Quaking-grass in Earsham were nice too.

Midland Hawthorn in flower at Woodton

Honey Garlic by a path near Alpington

Greater Quaking-grass in an alleyway in Earsham

Elsewhere in Norfolk, I finally worked out that the polypodies on the ruins of The Nunnery in Thetford are Intermediate Polypody. Also in Thetford, there was an amazing discovery of a 2nd British site for Creeping Marshwort, on a patch of ground I've walked/driven past literally thousands of times. It's thought that it was brought up from the seedbank by conservation surface-scraping. I had to make a short diversion to see it when passing in October. Later in the autumn, a recce visit to Houghen Plantation revealed Borrer's Scaly Male-fern (thanks to Alex P for the name on this) and a patch of naturalised Italian Lords-and-Ladies (I managed that one myself).

Creeping Marshwort in Thetford - a lot smaller than it looks here!

Finally, our week in Speyside saw us doing some fun plant twitching, thanks to a selection of grid references from John M. It was partly a bit daft trying at this time of year, and I haven't counted a number of Wintergreens etc that I only saw putatively ("in winter plumage"), but we did definitively locate Interrupted Clubmoss, Cloudberry, Chickweed-wintegreen, Pearly Everlasting, Twinflower and Large-flowered Selfheal.

Interrupted Clubmoss high on the slopes of Cairngorm

Fungi etc


I added a further 12 species this year, which were mostly a range of rusts and similar, many found whilst mooching around the garden in the early days of lockdown. For example, the smut Urocystis eranthidis was found bursting out of our numerous Winter Aconites in the garden. Later on, a striking find was Exobasidium juelianum galling cowberry at Loch Garten and Anagach Woods.

Urocystis eranthidis on Winter Aconite in the garden

Exobasidium juelianum on Cowberry at Loch Garten


Just three new species this year, with the spectacular Cetraria islandica high on Cairngorm followed by both Phaeophyscia orbicularis and Physcia caesia which we had to clean off our solar panels!

Cetraria islandica on Cairngorm

Other protists

An unusual blotching on Teasel leaves in Shotesham was tracked down as being caused by Peronospora dipsaci, which is apparently an ''oomycete'. Always nice to find something from outside the usual three Kingdoms!

Peronospora dipsaci on Teasel in Shotesham