Thursday, 31 December 2020

Biological Recording and PSL Review 2020

Taking inspiration from various online PSL year reviews (notably Calum’s) I’ve pulled together my summary for 2020. For what has otherwise been a terrible year for all concerned I’ve seen lots of interesting species. I’ve visited plenty of local nature reserves, managed a few UK camping trips during the summer and even made it out of the UK. I’ve found PSL an increasingly enjoyable way to quantify my biological recording efforts and motivate myself to look at taxonomic groups I wouldn’t otherwise have studied. I started the year having recorded 3749 species in the UK and ended on 4600 an increase of 851 propelling me into the top 30 on the PSL website (just, at time of writing). Having set myself targets at the start of the year I overshot them by a considerable amount collectively and only failed to achieve two of my individual targets (Odonata and Western Palearctic birds). 

Table 1. Number of species recorded with targets for 2020 and number of new species added in 2020.

I’ve mostly concentrated on Diptera, vascular plants and moths though I’ve also put in some recording effort on Bryophytes, Hymenoptera and Orthoptera and some twitching effort on Odonata, butterflies and birds.

Below is a breakdown of some of the groups I’ve recorded this year along with my mostly rather poor photos.


I didn’t record many fungi this year but this was a group I started to take more of an interest in towards the end of the year. Prior to 2020 almost all my fungus records were plant pathogens such as rusts, smuts and mildews. In September on a visit to Swyncombe Downs I found a particularly impressive Boletus that piqued my interest. It was identified as  Boletus luridus thanks to Twitter fungi people. As was inevitable I then succumbed to temptation and purchased the two volume Fungi of Central Europe. I’ve collected a couple of fungi on each of my trips out since then and tried to identify them with varying levels of success. Trips to Chiltern beechwoods have turned up common but attractive species such as Coprinopsis picacea, Ramaria stricta and Neobulgaria pura. While putting out the rubbish I collected a Pollenia angustigena mummified on the bin lid by an Entomophthora which I keyed to E. schizophorae. This species wasn’t on the UKSI and, based on advice from Clare Blencowe on FB, I decided I’d bitten off more than I could mycologically masticate and left it for another day.

Boletus luridus

Pollenia angustigena infected with Entomophthora ?schizophorae

In the last few days of December I started looking at Bryophilous fungi of the genus Octospora. Visits to Swyncombe Downs and Aston Upthorpe resulted in three species namely Octospora gemmicola and Octospora gyalectoides on Bryum and Octospora wrightii on Amblystegium serpens.

Octospora gemmicola asci (tl), O. wrightii asci (tr) and habit
 (bl) and O. gyalectoides asci (br) 


A bit of ‘cheating’ here as I relocated my bryophyte specimens from my first venture into bryology back in 2006 and added 39 species based on these. Other than that I recorded the diminutive Microbryum curvicollum and M. rectum on bare chalk at Swyncombe Downs as well as the truly tiny Seligeria calycina on chalk pebbles at the same site. I also added the liverwort Sphaerocarpos michelii new to the NHM grounds.The rarest moss of the year was Rhynchostegium rotundifolium seen at its classic site on a Cotswolds hedge-bank.   

Vascular plants

The main event in terms of vascular plants was a camping trip to the South-West in July. Starting in the Mendips at Cheddar with a fruitless hour trying to add my last Cheddar whitebeam, Sorbus rupicoloides by scanning the cliffs with binoculars. Having gained only strange looks I gave up and added Hieracium schmidtii and Dianthus gratianopolitanus as consolation. The following day a visit to Brean Down added Helianthemum apenninum and Koeleria vallesiana and a flying visit to Weston-super-Mare added my final UK horsetail Equisetum ramosissimum. Having never visited Cornwall previously I added a number of the specialties even if I was a little late to see some things at their best. The Lizard delivered with Trifolium incarnatum subsp. molinerii, Scilla autumnalis, Herniaria ciliolata, Erica vagans and some other specialties. However, I couldn’t find the other two clovers and was far too late for the two Juncus species and the Isoetes so will have to revisit earlier in the year. Limonium loganicum at Porthgwarra and Cystopteris diaphana on the banks of the River Camel rounded off Cornwall nicely. The final stop of the trip was North Devon for whitebeams. A visit to Neck Woods was the highlight of the trip with the quartet of Sorbus: S.vexans, S. subcuneata, S. margaretae and S. devoniensis added despite the treacherous terrain. A final, rule-breaking stop added the ‘no parking whitebeam’ Sorbus admonitor to the list bringing my UK native whitebeam total to sixteen. 

Cystopteris diaphana

Trifolium incarnatum subsp. molinerii

Other notable vascular plant additions included Fumaria densiflora, F. parviflora, Althaea hirsuta, Valerianella dentata, Filago pyramidata and Bromus interruptus at Ranscombe; Chenopodium vulvaria at Landguard; Limonium recurvum subsp. portlandicum at Portland; Centaurium tenuiflorum at Eype, Melampyrum cristatum at Sharpenhoe, Melampyrum arvense at Brogborough Pit, Utricularia stygia at Hartland Moor, Najas marina and Sonchus palustris at Hickling, Carex digitata and Polygonatum odoratum at Siccaridge; Romulea columnae at Dawlish; and Liparis loeselii at Upton Fen.



Having previously neglected Odonata I set myself a target of recording 13 new species this year and managed 10. Considering my trip to Scotland was canceled I’m happy with this even if it is the only blot on my UK target achievement for the year. Common species added locally included Cordulia aenea (downy emerald), Erythromma viridulum (small red-eyed damselfly) and Platycnemis pennipes (white-legged damselfly). A trip to Parsonage Moor added Coenagrion mercuriale (southern damselfly), Bucklers forest added Ischnura pumilio (scarce blue-tailed damselfly), Beaconsfield for Lestes barbarus (southern emerald damselfly) and Scotney for Lestes dryas (scarce emerald damselfly). A rare visit to work added Lestes viridis (willow emerald damselfly) in the Wildlife Garden. Despite more than one attempt I never caught up with Aeshna affinis (southern migrant hawker) at Otmoor so that’s one for another year. 

Lestes barbarus (southern emerald damselfly)


Another group I’d previously not put in much effort with prior to this year. The main event of 2020 in Orthoptera terms was the mini-influx of Ruspolia nitidula (large conehead) which prompted me to visit Dungeness where, thanks to Dave, I also added Oecanthus pellucens (tree cricket), Phaneroptera falcata (sickle-bearing bush cricket) and Ectobius montanus. Other species added in 2020 included Stenobothrus lineatus (stripe winged grasshopper) at Aston Rowant; Stethophyma grossum (large marsh grasshopper) at Hartland Moor; Meconema meridionale (southern oak bush cricket) in my home village of Benson; Gomphocerippus rufus (rufous grasshopper) at Hartslock; Labia minor (lesser earwig) in the garden moth trap and Ectobius panzeri (lesser cockroach) at Land's End.

Stethophyma grossum (large marsh grasshopper)


I didn’t make much effort with Hemiptera this year but still saw a few nice species. Reduvius personatus was my favourite hemipteran find, hardly requiring me to leave the sofa. New shieldbugs included Canthophorus impressus at Hartslock and Eurygaster testudinaria at Nettlebed. Other nice species included Agramma laeta at Hartland Moor and Eremocoris podagricus in the garden moth trap.

Reduvius personatus



As always I looked at many more parasitic Hymenoptera that I couldn’t name than ones I could but that made it even more satisfying when I did manage to name one. Possibly my two favourite Hymenoptera of 2020 were the tiny egg parasitoids Brachygaster minutus (Evaniidae) which develops in the oothecae of our native cricket species (Ectobius spp.) and Sparasion cephalotes (Platygastroidea) which utilizes bush crickets eggs. I also puzzled my way to adding species from a few other families I’d not recorded previously such as Melanips opacus (Figitidae), Psilus fuscipennis and Acropiesta flaviventris (Diapriidae), and Phaneroserphus calcar and Proctotrupes gravidator (Proctotrupidae).

Among the Ichneumonidae I recorded were Euceros pruinosus (Eucerotinae) a species with expanded antennae and a fascinating life cycle, Tymmophorus suspiciosus (Diplazontinae) a possibly uncommon parasitoid of Syrphidae larvae and an Exochus (Metopiinae) collected in 2017 that seems to fit E. argutus and may be new for the UK. Nocturnal Ichneumonidae included a Netelia (Tryphoninae) from the garden trap that represents a currently undescribed species, the sawfly parasitoid Absyrtus vernalis (Ctenopelmatinae) as well as a range of Ophion (Ophioninae) species. 

Exochus ?argutus

I’ve retained any sawflies I’ve caught over the last few years and worked through the backlog this year. I didn’t find anything rare though my record of Arge ochropus was apparently the first for Bedfordshire since 1970 which is surprising given its a relatively obvious species.


A group I rarely record with the exception of some large and obvious species. Two scarce Cerambycidae: Anoplodera sexguttata at Savernake Forest and Leiopus linnei at Oversley Wood were among the highlights along with the very colorful Cassidinae Pilemostoma fastuosa at Dry Sandford Pit.


I recorded lots of flies in 2020 as they increasingly become the main focus of my biological recording. Highlights included:

  • A trip to Parsonage Moor to see the assemblage of Stratiomyidae that breed in the shallow Chara pools. Lots of the very rare and impressive Stratiomys chamaeleon were  active as well as four other species namely Oxycera trilineata, Stratiomys singularior, Stratiomys potamida and Oplodontha viridula

    Stratiomys chamaeleon

  • Finally getting round to putting out some baited bottle traps. My first attempt was in November and used bits of chicken spine which may not have been quite smelly enough but still yielded a few Heleomyzidae and a number of the pNS Muscid Phaonia mediterranea.

  • Starting to identify fungus gnats. Each one takes hours but the diversity of genitalia is fascinating and they’re a good group to collect late into the autumn and then puzzle over for the entire winter.

  • Recording my favorite fly the Mad Max-esque barnacle predator Aphrosylus celtiber with its shiny and chrome palps along with the much smaller A. ferox

  •  Lots and lots of other flies I don't have time to write about.


I finally caught up with most of my missing butterflies this summer adding. I added ten species overall including  Thymelicus acteon (Lulworth Skipper), Leptidea sinapis (Wood White) and Hamearis lucina (Duke of Burgundy)

Thecla betulae (Brown Hairstreak)


Lockdown 1 prompted me to gather the necessary ingredients to build an actinic trap which I ran most nights through the spring and summer and occasionally into the autumn and winter. New macros from the trap included Eupithecia insigniata (pinion-spotted pug) Hyloicus pinastri (pine hawk-moth), Orthosia opima (northern drab) and Bena bicolorana (scarce silver-lines).

Eupithecia insigniata (pinion-spotted pug)

New micros in the trap included Ectoedemia decentella, Haplotinea insectella, Coleophora ibipennella, Coleophora saxicolella, Ethmia dodecea, Bryotropha basaltinella, Platyedra subcinerea Pexicopia malvella, Celypha rosaceana, Ancylis achatana, Hypochalcia ahenella and Euzophera pinguis.

Ethmia dodecea

I recorded five species of clearwing in 2020 four of which were new for me. Synanthedon andrenaeformis (orange-tailed clearwing), Synanthedon myopaeformis (red-belted clearwing), Synanthedon vespiformis (yellow-legged clearwing), and Synanthedon tipuliformis (currant clearwing) were recorded using pheromones while Bembecia ichneumoniformis (six-belted clearwing) was swept.

Synanthedon andrenaeformis (orange-tailed clearwing),
Synanthedon myopaeformis (red-belted clearwing),
Synanthedon tipuliformis (currant clearwing) and
Synanthedon vespiformis (yellow-legged clearwing)

Other interesting species included Glyphipterix schoenicolella swept from its food plant in large numbers at Parsonage Moor; the very attractive tortrix Olethreutes arcuella at Siccaridge Woods; Coleophora salicorniae larva on Salicornia at Levington in Suffolk; Mompha terminella mines on Circaea lutetiana near Woodstock in Oxon and larvae of Shargacucullia lychnitis (Striped Lychnis) on Verbascum nigrum locally in Ewelme.

Shargacucullia lychnitis (Striped Lychnis)



I’ve gradually started doing more birdwatching after a break of about a decade. I added 1 new species in 2018, 7 in 2019 and 27 this year. This included a few relatively common species that I hadn’t seen in the UK such as Tundra Bean Goose, Red-necked Grebe, Wood Sandpiper, Caspian Gull, Water Pipit and Cirl Bunting. A pelagic trip from Penzance also finally added Storm Petrel as well as brief views of Cory's Shearwater. New this year were:

  • Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris

  • Blue-winged Teal Spatula discors

  • Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata

  • Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

  • Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus

  • Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus

  • Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes

  • Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola

  • Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca

  • Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola

  • Sabine's Gull Xema sabini

  • Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla

  • Franklin's Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan

  • Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans

  • Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus

  • Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus

  • Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis

  • Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus

  • Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla

  • Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus

  • Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta

  • Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides

  • Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti

  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis

  • Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta

  • Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus

  • Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla

Very poor pictures of nice birds

The two largest and most impressive species I saw in the UK this year can't be added to the list. In September I finally cracked and went to see the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
which was definitely my bird highlight of the year. At the start of December I went to see one of the reintroduced Great Bustards (Otis tarda) that had taken up residence in a field just down the road.

Big and far away

 Western Palearctic

I started the year on 333 species and ended on 367, an increase of 34 species. Most of these additions were species seen in the UK (only Black-winged Stilt , Desert Wheatear, Water Pipit and Cirl Bunting weren't also WP ticks). I managed two trips abroad in 2020 which was more than most. Neither of these were primarily birdwatching trips but I still managed to see plenty of nice species including 11 new for me. 

I spent a week in Cyprus in February before everything kicked off and recorded 60 species including nice species that I’d seen before such as Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) and Blue Rock-Thrush (Monticola solitarius). I caught up with two of the endemic subspecies in the snowy forests of the Troodos namely Cyprus Jay (Garrulus glandarius glaszneri) and Cyprus Coal Tit (Parus ater cypriotes) as well as Cedrus brevifolia (Cyprus cedar). Six species were new for me with the clear highlights being a stunning male Finsch's Wheatear and, after a lot of effort, a decent view of a male Black Francolin in flight. New in Cyprus were:

  • Chukar Alectoris chukar

  • Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus

  • Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis

  • Cyprus Warbler Sylvia melanothorax

  • Finsch's Wheatear Oenanthe finschii

  • European Serin Serinus serinus

I had booked a trip to Sicily for October but Italy was removed from the flight corridor list so I ended up changing my plans at the last minute and going to Crete. I recorded a total of 51 species during the week including five new with good views of Booted Eagle and abundant Eleonora's Falcon being the highlights. New in Crete were: 

  • Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca

  • Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus

  • Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata

  • Eleonora's Falcon Falco eleonorae

  • Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus

Targets for 2021

I’ve set myself a similar target for next year with an aim to add 800 species taking me to 5400 overall. I’m going to try and record something from each of the PSL categories which will hopefully make me start to look a bit more at marine species and finally record at least one lichen. Obviously nothing is certain but if things improve in time for the 2021 field season then I’m planning on visiting Aviemore and the Cairngorms in June and I’ve three days of Scilly Pelagics booked for August so plenty to look forward to.