Review of 2016


2016 has been...'eventful' would be the word. Yeah, it's been an eventful year for me. I started well by losing my job in January, which didn't bother me too much as I was more or less guaranteed the position of Assistant Warden at Portland Bird Observatory come mid-March. However I was pipped at the post and came an awkward second in the interviews. Bugger, so now what?

Oh yes I know - I'll walk Land's End to John O' Groats again, but this time starting from Pednathise Head off Scillies (the southernmost point of Britain) and continuing up to Out Stack off the top of Shetland (the northernmost point of Britain). Should be a giggle, though I'd need to find a boat or two en route. Carrying my possessions on my back meant leaving behind my literature/microscope/setting equipment obviously. I restricted myself to just one wildflower guide, a notebook, a 10x handlens and my binoculars. So, after being rather unexpectedly offered full-time work just 20 minutes after arriving on Scilly (and almost as unexpectedly accepting it) I went on to spend the entire summer PSLing pretty much without equipment or field guides! 

Scilly was amazing, even without my PSLing gear, and I spent 6 months camping on St Marys and Bryher. I was taken on as 'crew' aboard the MV Sapphire, which is the boat that does the all the shark-tagging and birder's pelagic trips. This provided me with some amazing opportunities for many incredible sightings from mid-May into September, although I stayed on Scilly until mid-October. After that it was back to Southampton for six weeks and then, at the beginning of December, I moved way up to the Isle of Skye for winter work. Well, who the hell wants to be normal?

Apart from an amazing day in Wales with other PSLers, a weekend at Portland Bill with yet more PSLers, plus a few daytrips out in Hampshire with Tony Davis, I spent the vast majority of this year's field outings on my own and without books. Unfortunately I've left my old camera card in Southampton so there's no pics from the first quarter of the year. Doh! Right, so that's my excuses out of the way. Let's see what (if anything) I actually managed to identify! The numbers correspond to my British PSL totals and additions for each in 2016.

Algae - 47 (6 additions)
Mostly seaweeds, but very pleased to finally add a freshwater alga to the tally. Seeing as I'm living on the coast I hope to find yet more new seaweeds (sorry, dude terminology!) marine alga in 2017.

Haematococcus pluvialis from the birdbath in the garden!
Codium tomentosum - check out those utricles
Slimes - 5 (0 additions)
No change, I'm not even sure I've seen any this year! Very poor indeed, although I have no literature to help me identify them anyway (so I guess that's one improvement I can make for starters). Could be good for them up here in Skye with the nearby humid woodland full of mosses, grasses and dead wood. 2017 should see a significant improvement in this group.

Lichens - 77 (31 additions)
Wow! After a lifetime being positively bored senseless by lichens I've actually started to enjoy them! This is entirely due to my recent move up to Skye, centre of the universe for lichens. Huge boogers such as Degelia and Lobaria cover the trees up here. Even I, stalwart lichenophobe that I was, have been forced to admire at least some of them. I never thought the day would come. Hoping to break into some of the less obvious families during 2017, or at least to smash the 100 species barrier. Now I just need to get Matt and Nicola up here...
Mycobilimbia pilularis in the Celtic Rainforest
Lobaria virens after rain, and no I haven't adjusted any colours!
Fungi - 298 (26 additions)
I didn't attend any fungus forays this year, in fact I barely saw (ie recognised) any 'macro' fungi at all. But I did note quite a few microfungi, particularly those associated with vascular plants. Having Ellis & Ellis to hand came in handy in the final quarter of the year. I'll need to tag along on a few forays if I'm ever going to improve on the macro species though, I'm just crap at them.

Elsinoe mattirolianum on Strawberry Tree leaves.
Penicillium digitatum on a lemon. Bleurgh.
Bryophytes - 109 (4 additions)
I hate mosses and liverworts! I have a serious lack of enthusiasm for these plants. I suppose I shall have to overcome this state of mind, I am living on Skye after all. They do have an awful lot of species up here, most of them will be new for me. Grrrrr. Don't make me do it, you can't make me... If I do manage to get my head around them I can be assured of a substantial gain in species during 2017. 

Scapania undulata - distinctive enough for me to 'have a go'!
Vascular Plants - 1091 (51 additions)
If there's one thing Scilly is amazing for, it's the combination of rare, scarce and downright ridiculous naturalised plants to be found. Spending six months there allowed me to catch up with a fair few of them. Gems that were new for me include Dwarf Pansy, Orange Bird's-foot, Scilly Pigmyweed, Red Crassula, Thorn-apple, Potato, Pale Galingale, Jersey Cudweed, Early Meadow-grass, Rough-fruited and Small-flowered Buttercups, Slender Parsley-piert, Lesser Quaking Grass - the list just goes on! In Southampton again, Tony Davis endured several botanising field trips into the New Forest with me, unusually not even enlivened by seeing me fall into mud as is tradition. Now that I've relocated 600 miles north I'm in the middle of a whole new suite of habitats, should do quite well next year providing I start to properly tackle grasses, sedges, rushes and ferns.

Dwarf Pansy (Viola kitaibeliana). No idea why they call it that.
Red Crassula (Crassula coccinea) - I only figured what this was when I saw some for sale in a pot!
Scilly Pigmyweed (Crassula decumbens) - I found this at a new site for Britain!
Tubular Corn-lily (Ixia paniculata) - one of two Ixias naturalised on Scilly
Sponges - 1 (0 additions)
Bit disappointing really seeing as I spent the summer on a small island with amazing rockpools. I ought to tackle these someday soon, I now have a pdf to the Key to the British Marine Sponges.

Comb-jellies - 2 (1 addition)
Wow - Beroe cucumis absolutely rocks!!! Love this animal, encountered a total of 15 at sea on the birder's pelagic trips but then had dozens blown into the shallows after persistent gales. I popped several in a bucket and watched them motoring around. Saw the commensal amphipod Hyperia galba that lives inside them. Had many stranded on the beaches too which was sad to see. Man, I just love these awesome beasts!

AWESOME! Beroe cucumis, one of my fave beasts ever!
Cnidarians - 24 (6 additions)
I should really have tried to add a few more anemones/stalked jellyfish/corals to my list whilst living on Scilly. So saying I had an incredibly good time out at sea - 416 Compass Jellies, 3 Moon, 10 Blue and 10 Crystal Jelly, 13 By-the-wind-sailors and 6 Portuguese Men o' War (plus another 10 stranded on beaches). The latter 3 species were all new for me this year. I'm very happy with how my pelagic jelly list has progressed, however my time spent rockpooling should have been better spent. In 2017 I hope to at least add to my epiphytic hydroid tally, I've no idea what it's like up here for other shallow water cnidarians - I need to learn to scuba!

One of these is a Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis)
Molluscs - 114 (13 additions)
Three words: Welsh Slugfest 2016. What an incredible day! Chris Owen and Mark Telfer pretty much doubled my slugs total in the space of a morning. Watching these guys in action was without a doubt one of the highlights of my year. Otherwise I managed to add a few marine species from Scilly and Portland Bill, plus the odd snail here and there. I'm keen to see which slugs and snails are up here on Skye, of course the beach is just a short stroll away too. I can see masses of different shells strewn across the beach but where are the occupants? Buried, yes I know... Looking forward to finding and tackling more molluscs in 2017. 

Rayed Artemis (Dosinia exoleta) from Tresco Sound at the lowest tide of the year
Bryozoans - 11 (1 addition)
The lack of any decent literature and a microscope held me back in 2016. I have both and a nearby seashore for 2017, so I expect to see this total climb.

Annelids - 21 (2 additions)
No real progress made in 2016, again I should have tried harder in the rockpools/sandy beaches of Scilly. However I did key through my first few earthworms using the FSC Synopsis. Not as easy as you'd think, it's also the first time I've used alcohol for killing/storage rather than for drinking! Must try harder (ha, that brings back memories!) in 2017.

Platyhelminths - 9 (6 additions)
I'm very pleased to have recorded so many new terrestrial flatworm species this year, all from either Wales, Cornwall or Scilly. I'm still missing the NZ Flatworm (which is the one I thought would be easiest to find), maybe it's up here on Skye? Polycelis felina has been the only freshwater triclad addition this year. Hoping for more, both terrestrial and freshwater, during 2017.

Kontikia ventrolineata under a rock on Bryher
Arachnids - 125 (16  additions)
Started the year in brilliant fashion on Great Orme with Jenni Louise Cox, spider lady extraordinaire! Loads of new spider species for me, mostly either down old mines or by torchlight after dark. Pride of place has to go to the friendly female Atypus affinis which was extracted from her purse web and placed on my nose for a celebratory pic! As you do... But apart from that one surge in new species I've done precious little regards finding arachnids in 2016, another spider, a mite and a couple of harvestmen being it. So far all I've seen up here on Skye are a few harvestmen and a couple of unidentified Amaurobius, so I'm not entirely sure how productive 2017 is going to be. But I have keys and a microscope....what could possibly go wrong?

The mighty Atypus affinis!!!!

Kinda glad she didn't bite! This was after a sudden rainstorm, I don't have a frizzy perm!
Myriapods - 39 (14 additions)
Again, Welsh Slugfest 2016 pretty much says it all. Chris Owen (aka The MyriaGod) pulled out all the stops and with the additional company of Mark Telfer, Keith Lugg and Steve Gregory an amazing array of species was always guaranteed. Two species of millipede recently new to Britain (one being new to science!) were obvious highlights. The following two days were also spent with Keith Lugg where we explored several of his local woodlands which resulted in yet more goodies for my tally. Up here in Scotland I found Geophilus insculptus on my second outing. It has since been confirmed as the first record for Skye! Lots of millipedes in the woods here, though not many centipedes. I anticipate yet more new species in 2017, maybe even some more firsts for Skye. Or Britain.

Henia vesuviana doing its inside-out ball trick
Crustaceans - 63 (12 additions)
Buoy Barnacles were the best crustacean I saw on Scilly. They float about in small bunches, I counted 190 'bundles' whilst out shark-tagging/birding on the open sea. Hyperia galba, a small amphipod with big eyes that lives inside jellyfish (it's true) was also seen several times at sea and washed up on stranded Comb Jellies. The sea was ace! Meanwhile back onshore...back to griping about those Scilly rockpools again. I really ought to have gone shrimping and added a few new species. Maybe gone out with the lobster fishermen/crabbers too. Hopefully I can do a bit of that sort of thing up here on Skye in 2017. However, Keith Lugg came to the rescue once more with field trips to Portland Bill and his local woodlands delivering the goods. I managed several new woodlice including the stunning Armadillidium pulchellum and equally striking Porcellionides pruinosus. The multitudes of hoppers beneath stones on the local beach here will hopefully provide me with at least a couple of lifers in 2017, though I suspect they'll be hard to pin down to species. A few new crabs would be nice too.

Hyperia galba INSIDE a Comb Jelly!
A tangle of Buoy Barnacles (Dosima fascicularis) 6 miles offshore
Orchestia gammarellus, ID finally properly clinched.
Springtails - 10 (2 additions)
Onychiurus ambulans and Podura aquatica were the only additions in 2016. Considering I see springtails just about everywhere that's a pretty appalling result. However I can only manage 40x from my microscope. Time to invest in some serious zoom power? Hoping for a better year in 2017. 
Podura aquatica - microscope pic
3-tailed Bristletails - 4 (2 additions)
I managed to key a couple of species of Dilta that were new for me in 2016. No chance of adding any new species from Skye though, so I will have to travel south if I plan to see new ones in 2017.

Odonata - 37 (0 additions)
A truly terrible year for me, probably worst ever! Stuck on Scilly for most of the flight season which ruled out any additions to my list. There are several very getable species that I still need, White-faced Darter being the only one at all feasible for me up here in Scotland. A week down south could clear up on half a dozen species if planned properly. Hmmm...I may need to do just that!

Orthopteroids - 34 (1 addition)
My poorest year for Orthopterans ever, there's only one species of grasshopper occurs on Scilly. One! However, I did add Laboratory Stick Insect to my tally, it being my 3rd species of Stick in Britain. No hope of anything new up here in Scotland next summer so will definitely have to head south at some point in 2017.

Laboratory Stick Insect (Carausius morosus) with its red armpits - trust me on that
Hemipteroids - 154 (6 additions)
Really poor again, I need to start showing some decent interest in this group! Shouldn't take an awful lot of effort to bump the tally over the 200 barrier. Far greater effort required in 2017.

Mealy Plum Aphids (Hyalopterus pruni) on their secondary hostplant Common Reed
Hymenoptera - 66 (4 additions)
For fear of sounding like a stuck record, I had a really poor year for recording bees/wasps. The bizarre looking Heteropelma amictum was commonly encountered on Scilly and seeing Ivy Bee the week after they were discovered there was cool, although not a lifer for me. But I have Falk's Bee Guide now and plan to make 2017 my best year ever for hymenoptera (which won't be difficult!) Watch this space...

Andrena nigroaenea, my only new bee this year.
Coleoptera - 297 (18 additions)
*sigh* You ready for this? Yep, it was a really crap year. Really. But mostly because I didn't have the books with me or facilities to kill/store them. Ok, it's crap I know. I shall try harder next year. Maybe get some more Keys too. Maybe. Heck, surely I can make it across the 300 mark at least? Why have beetles so fallen by the wayside for me? I did find my first Burnt Pine Longhorn on Scilly, they've had less than twenty records before. Mine came a week after Bob Dawson's individual (which he pinned, so it was definitely not the same one!) OK, so I'm going to say 60 new beetles in 2017. Umm.
 
Burnt Pine Longhorn (Arhopalus ferus), about the 17th record for Scilly!
Diptera - 136 (7 additions)
It's a ridiculously low tally for such a huge group, but somehow I think I'm going to do alright in 2017. I have literature on several families and, let's face it, I'm living in proper cleg country now. Not to mention midges. Looking forward to adding many species next summer. 

Butterflies - 62 (0 additions)
No additions in 2016, but I'm not too worried about this. I've seen all the regulars already (apart from Cryptic Wood White in Ireland - I've never been to Ireland). Remainders include Camberwell Beauty, Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell, Queen of Spain, Short-tailed Blue, Berger's Clouded Yellow (getting pretty rare now, you can see why I'm not fussed!) Be nice to jam into one of the above, maybe I'll just have to refind Arran Brown on Rannoch Moor while I'm in Scotland? 

Moths - 1049 (11 additions)
Been a long time since I paid much attention to moffs, and most of what I once knew I've forgotten! I managed a few new species though, mostly to light at the toilet blocks in the campsite where I was staying this summer. There are a few decent additions waiting for me up here on Skye, although a lot of the micro's are absent (or unrecorded thus far...) I don't have a MVL trap, but the walls here are white and the night lights are bright, so may glean a few species by checking walls after dark. Be nice to get back in the swing of moffing though, get myself a bit closer to that 1100 species barrier in 2017.

Barred Red (Hylaea fasciaria) on the toilet block window at the campsite.
Other Insects - 22 (2 additions)
These being a flea and a caddisfly. I really should make an effort to try to do a lot more recording of both Caddisflies and Mayflies in 2017 seeing as they're undoubtedly under-recorded up here. There are probably a lot of Stoneflies up here too, which would be new ground for me. It's another case of watch this space!

Rabbit Ear Flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculi) in a...umm...rabbit's ear!
Limnephilus affinis - flew into the room one night
Echinoderms - 10 (2 additions)
Added just a couple from Scilly, a brittlestar and 7-armed Starfish (which was bloody awesome!) I think this is one group where it would really benefit me to learn how to scuba-dive. Would be nice to add a few more species in 2017, not sure my local beach is particularly well-suited though. May have to travel in search of more.

7-armed Starfish (Luidia ciliaris) caught out at extreme low tide between Tresco and Bryher
Tunicates - 8 (1 additions)
Yeah, back to that moaning about not enough time spent rockpooling this summer! I feel I could have done a lot better with just a little more effort. Who knows what Skye holds for me in 2017? Be great to add a few more species though, get myself into double figures.

Fish - 62 (10 additions)
Quietly chuffed at adding ten species to the tally in 2016. All were from the MV Sapphire, skippered by Joe Pender, seen whilst out on shark-tagging trips or birder's pelagic trips. Apart from the 70 Blue Sharks tagged (not a lifer) lifers were 2 Porbeagles (WOW!!), Spurdog, Ling, Whiting, Coalfish, Garfish, Red Gurnard, Grey Gurnard, Cuckoo Wrasse and Scad. All hooked on a line, but that's fine by me. In 2017 I'd like to jump out on the occasional fishing boat (working rather than tripper, have to see what's on offer first) which will offer me the opportunity of seeing more fish. Plus maybe some nice bycatch (octopus, lobster, crabs, who knows?) As long as it's alive it's tickable.

Male Cuckoo Wrasse (Labrus mixtus) - such a beautiful fish! 
Bernard the Grey Gurnard (Eutrigla gurnardus)
and a Red Gurnard (Chelidonichthys cuculus) for comparison
The deep green eyes of a Spurdog (Squalus acanthias)
The feistiest shark I have ever seen, half a second before it ragged the sh*t out of that tacklebox!
Subdued at last, 80lbs of muscular Porbeagle (Lamna nasus). Glad the larger Blues don't fight like that!
Reptiles - 9 (0 additions)
Really, really cheesed-off that I was actually on board the MV Sapphire when a Leatherback Turtle was sighted. Twice!! Both times it offered subliminal views to one or two people (I was at the prow in front of the wheelhouse both times, spotting for the birders), first time I wasn't quick enough and the second time I didn't even hear the call. Grrrrrrr... there's a (very) slim chance that one may be encountered up here (or anywhere!) in 2017. I live in hope of being in the right place at the right time! 

Amphibians - 7 (0 additions)
An annoyance really, the PSL Meeting in Norfolk this year found Natterjacks and in Somerset the water frogs at Ham Wall have been identified as Perez' Water Frog. So that's two I should have had safely under the belt by now. Living on Scilly really did kinda get in the way sometimes!! There aren't any amphibian ticks for me up here in Scotland, so a southbound journey is required for 2017. 

Birds - 445 (1 addition)
Living on Scilly does have benefits, like waking up to hear there's an American Cliff Swallow a mile and a half down the road! Eastern Subalpine Warbler was also new for me, a male singing on St Agnes, but it hasn't been split (yet) so can't be added to my tally. Otherwise it was a whitewash of a year, I used to be such a hardcore twitcher too! I think there were 12 lifers for me in Britain at one point, probably over 30 throughout the year, and I didn't even try for any of them. Unheard of! This PSL mallarkey is playing havoc with my birdlist. If (when!) I get a car next year I think I shall have to treat myself to the odd twitch...yeah! Nobody mention Sibe Accentor. Ever.

American Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), just stunning!
Mammals - 51 (1 addition)
Oh yeah baby!!! Finally clawed back a monster grip. Unblocked to the maxx. Risso's Dolphin at point blank range from the MV Sapphire, under the prow while we were drifting, it tilted onto its side to gaze at us, we saw the battle scars, we heard the blow as it surfaced, it came around again, we all stood transfixed, pointing like children. Then another one appeared. Seriously - this was the absolute highlight of my year. And did I get a pic? Nope, not a one. Amazing. In 2017 I'd like to hop across and see the wallabies in Loch Lomond. Maybe Orkney for Common Vole, everything else I need is down south. Oooh Black Rat is up here isn't it. So many trips required...

Other Animals - 2 (1 addition) 
Another brilliant find on the Welsh Slugfest 2016 tour, Argonemertes dendyi known as the smiling nemertine worm, as spotted by Mark Telfer. This is a bit of a catch-all category, I suspect you'd need decent literature and a high-powered microscope to make much headway here, but you never know and I'm happy to prove myself wrong.

So I make that 258 new species during 2016. Who knows what 2017 will bring me, up here on the edge of the known universe?



4 comments:

  1. Great review Seth, three more ticks tomorrow to end the year on a nice round number. Look forward to more updates from PSL's northern outpost (and good luck finding alpine rockcress...)

    Cheers
    Kev

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  2. Black rat has gone mate! I found me notebooks! Can't beat being at sea! Aaaarrr!

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  3. Deeply deeply jealous about the Porbeagles. WOW. Fako's almost as high as Mako on my most wanted list. Maybe I should go fishing! Good to see some Lobarian getting thru'

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  4. Northern Outpost? Ha, I like it! Cheers Kev :)

    Damn RSPB, what have they ever done for Black Rats! Cheers for the update Dan, I see Paul St.Pierre had a hand in it, lol.

    Matt, what can I say? Get yer arse on the Sapphire this summer and keep your fingers crossed. Took me 173 hours at sea to get those 2 Fako Sharks!!!

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