I’m very fortunate to be flying to Africa in a couple of days, so this year-in-review is slightly early. However, it’s great to be celebrating what has been another excellent year of natural history. It has been hard to condense the hundreds of species I’ve added this year to just 10!
10. Sea Mouse
In November, I gratefully hitched a lift with Brad Scott to Dungeness for a meeting of the South-east group of the British Bryological Society. It was my first visit, and we were treated to several rare bryophytes including Porella obtusata. After the meeting, we decided to look for some marine springtails to add to the site list. Although we weren’t successful, we did come across some bizarre organisms that had been washed up following a storm. Sea Mice, Aphrodita aculeata, are, unbelievably, closely related to earthworms despite appearing like some sort of iridescent marine slug.
9. White-rumped Sandpiper
New birds are already becoming hard-to-come-by these days without going many miles out of my way. Therefore, when a White-rumped Sandpiper – a species that certainly wasn’t on my radar for December – arrived at Pulborough Brooks just last week, it was a rare opportunity to add to my British bird list. This is the fifth species of Nearctic (American) bird to make it on to my list, following Long-billed Dowitcher, Horned Lark, Pectoral Sandpiper and Bonaparte’s Gull. Sadly, it was incredibly distant – I hope you weren’t expecting needle-sharp photos…
8. Frog Orchid
Admittedly, Frog Orchids are not the most beautiful of orchids (their name is not all that glamorous either), however the time of year I saw these rare plants was remarkable. By mid-October, most flowering plants, let alone high-summer specialities like orchids, are long gone. But not this peculiar population of Frog Orchids which had definitely not read the books.
Stratiotes aloides, commonly known as Water-soldier, may be a garden escapee in this part of England, but it was my 3000th species and therefore worthy of recognition. It was found on 14th July, on a field meeting to the Pevensey Levels with the Sussex Botanical Recording Society.
6. Rootless Duckweed
Featuring on this list has to be one of the coolest plants I’ve seen. Wolffia arrhiza – Rootless Duckweed or Spotless Watermeal – is the smallest flowering plant in the world. It looks just like a tiny clump of algae, but it can produce minuscule flowers in a small depression on the plant. This, along with the Water-soldier, was found by the SBRS group on the field-meeting to the Pevensey Levels.
5. Black Darter
From the world’s smallest flowering plant, to Britain’s smallest dragonfly. The Black Darters I saw at Thursley Common in July were certainly smaller than I expected, and a new addition to my pan-species list.
To continue the dragonfly theme, almost exactly a month earlier, I was watching a completely different species of Odonata. Despite its name, the Common Clubtail is not common, and one its main British strongholds is along the River Arun in West Sussex. Here I managed to make a double-figure count of these striking dragons.
Like birds, new butterfly species for my list are becoming much harder to find. However, this year, an amazing discovery was made in the heart of Sussex. A population of Black Hairstreaks appeared to have established itself at Ditchling, a long way from known populations of this localised species. I was fortunate to see a handful of them when I visited in June. Hopefully this population will prosper!
Unlike the Frog Orchid, this delicate plant did appear at the right time of year. However, it certainly makes up for the beautiful colouration that Frog Orchids are sorely lacking. Between revision sessions I was fortunate to be able to appreciate the variety in patterning that this scarce orchid exhibits, not a hundred miles away on the South Downs.
This was the undoubted highlight of my year. In January, I would never have guessed that I would be watching this near-mythical Polar whale just outside Greater London.
It’s been another fantastic year, it’s amazing what can be found with minimum travelling – everything on this list was encountered in the South-east of England! I’m looking forward to an even better 2019, can I progress towards 4000 species? Only when GCSEs are over though…