When lockdown dawned in 2020 and naturalists across the country were forced to redirect their wildlife-watching close to home, I set myself a challenge: to find and record as many species as possible on and around my Newcastle street. Birds, bees and butterflies; mammals and molluscs, everything and anything counted. An easy task, or so I thought – there couldn’t possibly be much to be found within a small area of parkland, rail verge, and urban conurbation.
Fast forward to the start of 2021, and with a few final pleas for help identifying the last few remaining invertebrates, it seems I concluded the year with 272 species recorded on the streets of Heaton. Not a bad total for someone almost entirely new to biological recording and with little experience with anything lacking feathers.
A few highlights and musings follow…
Throughout 2020, 137 plant species were recorded during walks in Heaton. Unsurprisingly, the highest total of any group. Many of these were to be expected – Groundsel, Danish Scurvygrass, and Sun Spurge – ‘weeds’ often associated with urban areas. That said, there were several surprises and highlights. The presence of Northern Marsh Orchid and Sneezewort in the local park, deep-red Scarlet Pimpernel and sprawling Bittersweet tucked into the hidden corners of the street, and the odd bloom of Cuckooflower and Goat’s-beard.
Befitting my location, many of the plants recorded here in 2020 were somewhat tropical in origin. Heaton, it seems, is home to a wealth of globe-trotting flora. There was, of course, plenty of Buddleia, Trailing Bellflower, Yellow Corydalis and Opium Poppy to be seen; though there were a few surprises. Stands of Greater Quaking-grass and Black Nightshade were notable, Procumbent Yellow-sorrel was an interesting find and Causican Crosswort was most unexpected. I suspect there will be a few more escapees and garden renegades to uncover in 2021.
Bees (and related beasties)
Prior to 2020 and the onset of the Natural History Society of Northumbria‘s North East Bee Hunt, I confess, I hadn’t spared much of a thought for bees and certainly couldn’t identify them. With this in mind, I was delighted to record 17 species of bee close to home. Some of these were to be expected – Tree Bumblebee, Common Carder and the omnipresent Buff-tails – but others were slightly more interesting. In the local park, colonies of Chocolate, Tawny and Buffish Mining Bees were unearthed (not literally). In the garden, Bronze Furrow Bee and Blue Mason Bee became regular visitors and a bit of sympathetic planting lured in Patchwork Leafcutter and Fork-tailed Flower Bees.
When it comes to wasps, I still haven’t a clue, though some friendly advice from the good folk of Twitter identified a moribund wasp as Median Wasp – a new species for me altogether.
Flies (mostly hoverflies)
Like bees, flies were new to me in 2020 (and even more confusing). With the help of the superb Wild Guides hoverfly publication, I was, however, able to make a start identifying the various species present on and around my street. In total, 21 species were observed. Among these, Pied Hoverfly and Narcissus Bulb Fly were particularly abundant. The garden also came up trumps again in this regard luring in Scaeva selenitica, Sphaerophoria scripta and Melangyna labiatarum.
Other flies were few and far between or rather, overly taxing, but Dark-edge Bee-Fly, Holly Leafminer and the tiny Trypeta zoe were all interesting spots.
Doubtless, there will be many more to uncover in 2021, should I develop the patience…
It was a poor year for moths here owing to street lights that overhang our yard, though the moth trap did yield one notable highlight: Obscure Wainscot, a regionally scarce species and a specialist of marshland and fens. Neither of which are present in the immediate vicinity. A brace of more familiar species including Peppered Moth, Grey Pug, Barred Yellow and Bee Moth at least ensured an entirely unrespectable list of 23 species recorded on the street. Another stand-out highlight was a Mother Shipton netted as it crossed the garden in Spring.
Whilst it was a bad year for moths, it was certainly a good year for butterflies with 9 species seen. Orange-tip in Spring was a welcome addition as was a new colony of Holly Blue that appears to have sprung up on the outskirts of the nearby allotments. Small Skipper and Ringlet adorned the local park throughout summer and our ever-trusty garden Buddleia succeeded in luring in Red Admiral, Peacock and Speckled Wood.
Let us hope for a Painted Lady in 2021, a species conspicuous in its absence last year.
Other smaller life
Records of other insects were few and far between and there is clearly still much to do in this regard. Among the beetles, Rosemary Beetle and Cream-spot Ladybird were highlights, and we did manage four species of Shieldbug. One of which, the Blue Shieldbug, was quite exciting.
We got off to a good start with molluscs too with Great Ramshorn and Great Pond Snail scooped from a local pond and the garden attracting Green Cellar Slug, Iberian Three-band Slug and some impressive Leopard Slugs.
The surprising lockdown hobby of counting woodlice also yield five species, one of which – Porcellio spinicornis – was entirely new to me.
As for spiders? Two notable records were had. The first, Hypositticus pubescens, constituting the first record for North East England for around 90 years. The second, Pseudeuophrys lanigera, is a similarly rare (or under-recorded) jumping spider.
Birds were never going to be the most numerous group so close to the city, but I did manage a respectable 42 species on walks close to home. Setting aside the tits and finches, it was nice to catch up with Siskin and Meadow Pipit as they migrated south over the house and the daily commutes of the local Ring-necked Parakeets added a splash of colour on dull days. A lone male Reed Bunting perched atop the tiny stand of Phragmites in Iris Brickfield Park was most welcome, as were a party of Redwing in late winter. Other highlights included Jay, Blackcap, Stock Dove and Oystercatcher.
Whereas like many I suspect, I thought lockdown and the resulting banishment from my favourite haunts would lead to endless boredom, I was pleasantly surprised to find the process of observing and recording wildlife close to home both cathartic and educational. I’ve learnt a great deal and, dare I say it, seem to be developing a wider appreciation for natural history in all its forms – as opposed to the birds, colourful orchids and iconic mammals that interested me previously.
I think I’ll continue with the process (or at least the attempt) of documenting my local, urban wildlife in 2021, albeit with a few changes. In the interest of diversity, I’ll be spreading out from the street to cover a circular 1-mile of Newcastle. What I’ll gain from this remains to be seen, but the extra shred of parkland, a small portion of the nearby Ouseburn, a cemetery and a few more streets to comb will undoubtedly help. I’ll also make a much more concerted effort to add everything I find (or at least the species I can competently identify) to iRecord.
Already, at the start of 2021, some twenty new species have been found in the local area. Fungi, bryophytes and molluscs mainly, which coupled with a renewed focus on invertebrates in Spring and Summer should provide challenge enough for this year.
Let’s set a target of 500 species by 2022 within the urban mile…