So, bar a trip out tomorrow to look at flood debris, that's me done for the year, beetling-wise. I still have about 10 tubes of beetles to look at from this year but I'm not going to get to them before the year's end.
What a year it's been! From every conceivable angle really. The world got more mad, and society fundamentally changed but throughout the whole debacle, beetles have been an amazing distraction and challenge.
I started the year having seen 445 species of beetle in the UK. It had taken me from Spring 2014 to see that many. It all began when I decided to attend a carabid course run by Brian Eversham at my local Wildlife Trust. Something to do with Brian's infectious enthusiasm and something about the beetles themselves had me hooked. Since then pretty much my entire natural history focus has been on beetles, although garden mothing continues.
Things began really slowly, mostly because as with all things new, one is learning the ropes and lacks the confidence and knowledge to jump in more fully. I remember clearly wondering how I'd ever be able to tell a Nebria from a Pterostichus without going through the whole process of keying it out!
Looking at my records I can see that in 2017 I recorded 124 beetle species across the year. In 2018 that rose to 153 and in 2019 I managed to record 223 species. By the end of last year I was feeling more confident in my ability whilst also being able to make the occasional howler of an ID. It's all part of the learning process. I was also having a go at a variety of different techniques to add some further interest and different beetles.
I started the year by trying my hand at some winter beetling techniques. I sieved and tussocked like a man possessed and when the rains came I was ready to walk the local rivers picking up flood debris and seeing what was there. By the end of March I had added 55 new species to my list and a vacuum sampled Metopsia clypeata became the 500th species of beetle that I'd found and identified. It also pretty much coincided with the first lock down and so my plans for venturing further afield took a hit and I was restricted to the garden and my daily walk.
|Metopsia clypeata my 500th beetle|
I also spent a fair amount of time improving my dissecting skills which opened up (literally) a whole load of beetles that I'd previously ignored. My garden became my primary focus and I looked under every stone and beat every bush and flower. My piles of rotting garden waste became a source of myriads of beetles. It was a revelation to see the species mix change over time both as new material decayed and also across the year.
|Ontholestes murinus, the biggest of the many staphs to grace the piles.|
All in all the garden has produced 254 species this year. I'm lucky to have a reasonably sized garden but it's surrounded by arable monoculture with no woodland for miles. I'm sure this is only the tip of the iceberg and the year's tally takes the garden list to 300 species. I suspect there's more to come.
A big feature of the garden beetling was the light trapping. Ostensibly for moths, by mid-summer it was all about the beetles. We had some nights where the temperature remained above 20 all night and these delivered beetles in number and diversity. I also had a couple of trips to a local fen to do more of the same and these trips also turned up some goodies. All in all I recorded 118 species to light this year, at the two Cambridgeshire sites (my garden and the Fen). There are another 10 or so species still to put a name too, so that total will only grow.
There were too many good beetles to list, but Harpalus griseus was the first UK record for several years and it was possibly my beetling highlight of the year to record several Polistichus connexus over several hot nights.
|Light beetles: Harpalus griseus, Palorus depessus, Opilo mollis and Polistichus connexus|
Once the first lockdown eased I made a few trips to other sites. Visits to Woodwalton Fen and Panshanger Park were particular highlights and added a good haul of new beetle species from habitats that I don't often visit.
My other project this year also started to produce beetles.
The numbers haven't been huge but there are now a few new water beetles on the garden list thanks to this pond and as it matures it will hopefully bring in others.
By July I had added a further 100 new species my list and I was finding new species at a rate of about one a day. With the end of summer that rate dropped significantly and an increasingly busy work load plus all the family stuff meant that my target of 700 might not be hit. Hitting the tubes in December eventually brought that figure with a new species of staph, easily my favourite group of beetles.
So all in all and despite the carnage of the wider world it's been a really productive year and I've continued to learn lots. I've also been helped by a large number of folk on Facebook and Twitter with IDs and tips for finding new stuff. I finish the year having seen 468 species of beetle across the 12 months plus quite a few that I've only got to genus or family in the case of the dreaded aleochs. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that number hits the 500 mark as I continue to put names to specimens or get the tentative IDs confirmed by other more experienced beetlers. That also means that as of today my list of beetles that I have seen live and IDd stands at 705. That means I have added 260 new species this year.
That's been a seismic shift in my beetling, also highlighted by the fact that I have made almost a 1000 individual records across the year. That's more than all my previous records combined. It's now also the case that when I look at a beetle I almost always now know which family it's in and for things like carabids and staphs I now can usually get to genus just by eyeballing it. But I'm still making mistakes. And that's fine.
So what will 2021 hold?
Well I'm still really enjoying it so the beetling will continue. I'd quite like to see if I can find a beetle list for Cambridgeshire or if not try and find a way to amass one, so that I can try and fill some gaps and see if I can work out how to produce some maps. It would also put my records in some sort of context.
I'm going to try and do some more water beetling and I have even bought myself a net, so riffle beetles here I come. Apart from that, I will just keep plugging away and hopefully there may be a chance or two to visit other parts of the UK if corona abates somewhat. Who knows?!
Anyway, if anyone reads this, may you have a Happy New Year and I hope that the coming 12 months bring you health and happiness.