Recording North East nature in 2021 – ten highlights

2021 has been a funny old year but despite the big c and the various restrictions it brought, it has also been a memorable one. While time outdoors has been limited this year, thankfully, I have still been lucky enough to observe, enjoy and record some fantastic wildlife. As the New Year dawns, I thought I’d share some highlights here.

Brilliant bees

Truthfully, I have seen more bees in 2021 than in any other year of my life to date, but perhaps that is because I have actually been looking?

Regardless, spurred on by NHSN’s North East Bee Hunt and supported to no end by helpful local experts, I have encountered some rather lovely species this year: my first Moss Carders on Lindisfarne, my first Hairy-footed Flower Bees (a county scarcity) and some delightful Bilberry Bumblebees to name but a few. All of which goes without mention of a dazzling assortment of other leafcutters, yellow-faced bees and bumbles.

Perhaps the highlight of the year on this front was finding this little Northern Mining Bee on spring wander through Ingram Valley in North Northumberland. This marked the first vice-county record for this attractive little insect and certainly made the hike worthwhole.

Lots of ladybirds

2021 marked my first year of purposefully seeking out ladybirds and I have been lucky to find and record a great many this year. Some of these, the 22-spot, 7-spot and Orange Ladybirds were familiar while others including the Eyed and 11-Spot Ladybirds shown below were entirely new for me.

A real highlight was discovering the inconspicuous but beautiful Water Ladybird at several new sites around Newcastle; while I also caught up with my first Adonis’ and Kidney-spot Ladybirds locally,

A little account of ladybird recording in Newcastle can be found here.

Notable plants

Befitting two exciting (but equally terrifying) new roles as joint BSBI vice-county recorder for North Northumberland, and joint Botany Specialist Group lead for NHSN, much of this year has been spent admiring plants.

Highlights here are too numerous to list with many interesting sites visited and many species observed. Instead, a few local finds spring to mind including the first county record of Curry Plant growing in the pavement here in Heaton, and a county-first Marshmallow spotted beside a local pond. Vosges Whitebeam was a notable find at a couple of local sites, if only because it took some time to ID it, while it has been interesting to observe several Thorn-apple plants growing close to home. A sure sign of their spread into the North of the UK.

Of course, our native species have enchanted too with a particular highlight coming from an encounter with my first-ever Maiden Pinks on the North Northumberland coast. I will make a point of revisiting these next year.

Surprises in the wildlife garden

Spending so much time at home, it was inevitable that more time would be dedicated to recording wildlife in our little garden. With over 200 species encountered, there are too many to list but standout moments include the arrival of Currant Clearwing and Mint Moth, plenty of Davies’ Colletes and some nice moth trap finds, including the superb Figure-of-Eighty shown below.

A short talk on the subject, delivered for the Natural History Society of Northumbria, can be found below.

Tackling trees

In the latter half of 2021, I set about attempting to learn urban trees with a focus on the more unusual, non-native species so commonly planted in our parks, towns and cities. Spending countless hours roaming various sites in Newcastle, I was delighted to encounter dozens of new species, from North American Pin and Red Oaks to Himalayan Birch and a range of unusual maples. While conifers still baffle me, getting to grips with the various globe-trotters with whom I share the city has certainly been eye-opening – there are so many out there!

You can share a closer look at Newcastle’s trees (and shrubs) with me here.

Investigating shieldbugs

A slightly unusual one now and while searching for ladybirds, I have been amazed by the quantity and diversity of shieldbugs uncovered at a range of local haunts. Some of these, like the Green, Hairy and Hawthorn Shieldbugs were familiar to me already; though a range of new species were encountered too including the striking Spiked Shieldbug and aptly named Parent Bug. I will certainly spend more time exploring this group in 2022.

Bumper Bee Orchids

A small, artificial reserve on the fringes of the city, Silverlink Biodiversity Park in North Tyneside has long been a favourite of mine when it comes to plants and invertebrates. Each year, I make a point of visiting the site in Summer with the aim of counting and enjoying its beautiful Bee Orchids and this year, the plants did not disappoint.

2021 was a record-breaking year for these colourful little wildflowers and here, hundreds were observed blooming across the site’s small but diverse grassland areas. It was also great to share this little-known with local naturalists as part of a guided walk back in July.

A first trip to Teesdale

At the tail end of Spring, I was lucky enough to pay my first visit to the botanist’s paradise that is Upper Teesdale. While our walk may have been a little longer than planned – I severely misjudged the route – it was sensational to observe many of the plants that help make this area so special. Iconic and beautiful Spring Gentians, Alpine Meadow-rue, Bird’s-eye Primrose, Mountain Pansy and Green Spleenwort, there was certainly much to see.

I look forward to visiting again in 2022 and hopefully catching up with a few of the species that eluded me this time around. I’m looking at you Shrubby Cinquefoil and Holly Fern…

Dabbling in other taxa

While pottering about in search of plants, bees and ladybirds, it would have been rude not to pay closer attention to the other taxa seen on my travels. From butterflies and hoverflies to fascinating fungi, highlights have been too many to count but a few stand out moments include more Dingy Skippers than I can shake a stick at, thirty species of hoverfly, some impressive longhorn beetles and the first record of Diprion similis, a scarce Sawfly, for North East England.

While I have a long way to go before I can confidently identify species in these groups, I look forward to broadening my horizons further next year.

A whole bunch of wonderful people

Nature is better when enjoyed together and it would be rude of me not to mention the many passionate naturalists I have had the pleasure to meet and work with this year. By offering help with species identification and sharing experiences in the field, it is the people that have made 2021 so rewarding for this amateur naturalist.

Special thanks go to Louise Hislop and Charlotte Rankin for their help identifying bees and to Chris and Hazel Metherell for some memorable botanical moments, but really, it has been wonderful to share experiences with so many committed wildlife-watchers. I hope to meet many more next year.

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