Somehow I find myself on the cusp of a new year and realise that, if I’m not quick, it’ll be too late to look back on the past twelve months as I’ll be too busy looking forward to the year to come… so I’d better get a move on, then.
Personally, there’s been a sense of a clock half-struck for much of 2017 – the manuscript for Orchid Summer was completed almost a year ago now, and has been passing through the various hoops and hurdles of the publishing process. Bloomsbury have been a joy to work with throughout and, while the most obvious manifestation of this is the gorgeous, Arts & Crafts-esque cover their talented designer Holly Ovenden has created for it, there has been plenty of other activity behind the scenes that has taken my raw material and wrought something I’m quietly proud of.
There’s not long now to wait until publication day – 8th March 2018 – so the waiting is almost over. While I’ve held bound, uncorrected proofs of Orchid Summer in my hands and had a little disbelieving I-did-this shiver, I can’t wait to see the finished hardback in the flesh. I only hope people enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.
Meanwhile, there have been some fabulous orchid moments for me in the field again this year. The year began with some detective work on my part, marrying my local knowledge of the west Dorset with some online sleuthing to work out where a colony of Woodcock x Fly Orchid hybrids were to be found – they’d been reported in the BSBI’s excellent journal, BSBI News, but the location was withheld. I couldn’t miss seeing this new plant for Britain, and happily my intuition as to their whereabouts proved correct. Spring was off to a flying start.
My first foray into the countryside near my new French base in the Aude was all-too-brief, but promised enormous potential in the years to come. The sheer numbers of Lady Orchids were astounding – they grow on the roadside verges there, commoner than dandelions – and off the beaten track I found myself lost in a plethora of novel species and hybrids. The milky subtlety of Neotina conica makes it a new favourite of mine.
I led my first wildlife tours for two companies this summer – a week of butterfly watching in Estonia for Greenwings, and closer to home here in Shetland a trip for Shetland Nature. Both companies make such a pleasant change, and are genuinely friendly, lovely wildlife tour operators to represent. Estonia was a new country for me, and that meant a host of new butterflies – and some new orchids too, including the incredibly localised Estonian endemic, Saaremaa Marsh Orchid, found only in a tiny corner of that lovely island. The fritillaries were particularly gorgeous and numerous, and it was terrific to renew my acquaintance with the improbably iridescent Purple-shot Copper.
I’ll be leading several tours for Greenwings in the coming months, starting with a week-long Orchid Odyssey in Rhodes in early April. I’m particularly looking forward to this one, as it promises 40-50 species of orchid (and many other wildflowers, freshly emerged butterflies, and migrant birds) in a sun-kissed and friendly island setting. The perfect way to emerge from a cold, northern European winter…
Much closer to home, I made a handful of orchid discoveries in Shetland as the past summer wore on: a new, small colony of the coccinea subspecies of Early Marsh Orchid; the rare and spectacular hybrid between Early and Northern Marsh Orchid; and, thrillingly, an entirely new orchid species for Shetland – an isolated, small colony of Pugsley’s Marsh Orchids.
As the flowering season closed, the autumn bird migration began in earnest. While this was far from a classic autumn for Shetland, we had our moments… Personally, seeing my first ever Black-billed Cuckoo in Britain was completely overshadowed by the discovery of an American Golden Plover in the fields surrounding my home and, later on in the autumn, the first Steppe Grey Shrike for Whalsay in the vicinity too. After a few quiet years, Whalsay at least had enjoyed a golden spell.
2018 will doubtless hold a few more surprises – I’ve laid some plans for more overseas orchid-hunting, and will keep you posted as I explore some of the outer fringes of the Western Palearctic region. This blog has been shamefully neglected in recent months, but Twitter remains a good place to see what’s happening – I find it’s a tremendous place to keep abreast of all manner of natural history news around the world. It’d be remiss of me not to thank everyone who’s followed my Twitter account ( @dunnjons ) in the past couple of years since I started tweeting in my own right – thank you all! Stay posted, as there’ll be plenty more news about Orchid Summer and more besides in the coming year.
And for now… wishing you all a happy, peaceful and wildlife-filled new year!