I usually summarise the past year on this blog in one post but, as 2020 has been so very different to every year that’s gone before, it seems appropriate somehow to break it down into some broad themes instead.
What they mostly have in common is Shetland. Indeed, most of them are very much based on or very near to my croft. The Covid-19 pandemic meant, of course, that my usual wildlife tour-leading activities were completely torpedoed throughout the year – which meant I got to spend a lot more time at home than usual between March and the time of writing.
It was a reminder that I’ve chosen to make my home in a wonderful place for naturalists – in an archipelago that boasts incredible breeding birdlife as well as being a dream location in which to witness migration; where sightings of marine mammals are a daily occurrence, ranging from the Otters that breed metres from my house to the regular visits of varied species of dolphins and whales; and a place that is home to a rich and varied flora.
Throughout the months of strict lockdown, I made a point of looking at the wildflowers on my croft with more care and attention than in any preceding year. I thought, at first, that this was just an opportunity to get better images of some species than I’d previously taken…
…but whilst I did just that, there were surprises along the way. Some were about simply realising just how good the croft is for wildflowers – much of it hasn’t had any lime or fertiliser applied to it for many years, if ever – certainly not since I’ve been here, and very likely not for decades before that. I knew that Marsh Violets occurred in one area – but had previously only noticed a handful of flowering plants. This spring, I realised there were hundreds of them!
That wasn’t all. There were new things entirely I’d not noticed before. I knew there was plenty of Creeping Buttercup that paints the grazing pastures gold in midsummer, but found an outpost of Meadow Buttercups on a well-drained knoll and, in damp ditches, Lesser Spearwort too.
Down where the croft meets the sea, Sea Pinks are unmissable on the low cliffs – I picked a foggy day to don my climbing shoes and scramble up to a lichen-encrusted outcrop to take some images from a different perspective to usual. It was fun to find the old bouldering skills weren’t entirely lost! But I also found Buck’s-horn Plantain and Common Scurvygrass on those cliffs – again, I’d looked straight past them in previous years.
Some finds were more colourful – and it’s with a little shame I have to admit to never noticing a small patch of Water Avens before now…
Likewise, the eyebrights that stud the croft as the summer wears on. For the most part, they’re a challenge for another year – eyebright identification is a dark art, and one I’ll approach with more confidence now I’ve got a copy of the BSBI Eyebrights Handbook. That came too late for the flowering season this year, so the only plant I’m reasonably confident to pin a name to was a patch of statuesque Common Slender Eyebright.
I was on safer ground with the croft’s orchids! Curiously, Heath Spotted Orchids didn’t have a particularly good flowering season, but I was pleased to see that the small outpost of pulchella Early Marsh Orchids were enduring, and that Northern Marsh Orchids were spreading in the damper places.
On the subject of the rarer things, my Autumn Gentians also didn’t fare especially well – I’m hoping for better things from them in 2021 – but Moonwort and Small Adder’s-tongue remained prolific in their favoured corner of maritime heath.
By the end of the summer, I’d identified a number of species that, surely, had been here all along but I’d never noticed on the croft before. I felt prouder than ever to live in this wonderful place. And, by this point in the year, lockdown restrictions had eased sufficiently to allow some judicious local travel within Shetland – I set out to see what I could find, hoping for some entirely new species to me, and maybe some chance discoveries all of my own. And that’s the subject of the next 2020 blog…