The Hull Natural History Society

News > 2020

Nature Notes
(Alert and Socially distanced)

A slight relaxation of the COVID-19 lock-down has now given us a little more scope for exploration.



Damsel in possible distress

Damselfly larva Yesterday, after early morning shopping at B and Q on St Andrews Quay I stopped at the pond opposite the Sailmakers. I was hoping to see my first adult damselfly of the year. Although only 9am, it was sunny and warm (c.15°C) and close to the date that I found a recently emerged Common Blue Damselfly at the pond last year. I scanned the bankside vegetation for a sun bathing damsel but without success. I then spotted a damselfly larva on a floating algal mat about 30 feet away; railings prevented me from getting any closer. I managed some poor quality photographs which when enlarged showed prominent eyes and well developed wing buds indicating it was a late stage larva. The elongated body shape suggested it could be one of several species including a Common Blue Damselfly but not the larva of the early emerging Large Red Damselfly which has a short squat appearance.

I watched as the larva crawled intermittently across a small algal mat. Once, while resting, it lifted its caudal lamellae which appeared pale brown. When it reached the edge of the algal mat it swam, but without the normal larval sigmoid body flexing, at the water surface the short distance to the next algal mat. I presumed that it was searching for emergent vegetation on which to climb, dry out and moult into a winged adult. However it was heading away from the bank and in a direction devoid of nearby emergent vegetation. From its slow rate of progress I suspected it might succumb to exhaustion (a larva close to its final moult can no longer feed), drowning (if any thoracic spiracles had opened to allow air breathing) or predation (eg by birds, fish or pond skaters).

Richard Shillaker, 10 May 2020

Spring 2020

This year the COVID-19 lock-down has given us all more time (and inclination) to look for signs of Spring.






Furry Drone Fly

A hover fly, identified by Bill Dolling as probably the Furry Drone Fly (Eristalis intricarius) on a Marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris). This is the most convincing of the UK hover flies which mimic bumble bees, flying from March to September, preferring shady woodland. The larvae like stagnant or farmyard ponds and are siphon breathers.

Helen Kitson, 7th April 2020

Garden visitors

Garden bird pictures

Current restrictions on social interaction and travel are forcing us to take a closer look at our own gardens ...

Pictures: by Andrew Ashworth, 25 March 2020

Snail shells - Wawne

Snail shells Recent heavy rains and high tides have raised the level of the River Hull at Wawne, leaving a strand-line deposit of material washed from the fringing reed bed. This resulting "brashy" deposit is particularly rich in the empty shells of terrestrial snails. The most abundant species encountered were Monacha cantiana, Cepaea nemoralis and Cornu aspersum with occasional specimens of Trochulus striolatus. Rather surprisingly the only aquatic species found was a single broken specimen of Lymnaea sp..

Richard Middleton & Rob Atkinson, February 2020

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt 2020

This year the annual race to record as many native and naturalised plants in flower as possible within a 3-hour period ran from 1st-4th January. Six members of HNHS were involved.

On a very enjoyable walk in Hull Avenues area a total of 51 flowers was recorded, mainly, late lingering or winter flowering, apart from some golden Hazel catkins Corylus avellana and an early Dock Rumex obtusifolius. Most grasses were well over, but we managed to spot viable Water Bent Polypogon viridis and Perennial Rye-grass Lolium perenne. Irrelevant to our search, but unusual for the north of England, was a fruiting banana in a Pearson Park garden.

Our longest list of 54 was from Hornsea where, despite a heavy cold, Lesley steered us round largely familiar territory on a bitterly cold day. Bracing! The only grass with exserted anthers was the ubiquitous Annual Meadow-grass Poa annua. Early flowerers in sheltered spots were Winter Aconite Eranthis hyemalis, Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis and Lesser Celandine Ficaria verna. Notable re- finds: Creeping Comfrey Symphytum grandiflorum in an untended corner of a graveyard and Sea Mayweed Tripleurospermum maritimum at the front.

Beverley on 4th January was well scoured/cleaned up and we covered a lot of ground for a total of just 42. Only one plant of White Melilot Melilotus albus was seen in flower on the waste ground and Thale Cress Arabidopsis thaliana was spotted by the beck. A new addition to the list was Shaggy Soldier Galinsoga quadriradiata, known since the Beverley survey at New Walkergate.

The popular New Year Plant Hunt has been running since 2017 with a steadily increasing number of participants and individual records. As you would expect, results depend on location and recent weather, with the South-west and Wales usually doing best. Last year was a freak year with appalling weather in the hot spots, so after a long mild period we in the east did rather well, but in 2020 normal conditions were resumed. Lists ranged from 0 to 115 (Swanage),20 participants, mainly in Scotland and Northumberland reported no plants in flower. 622 species in total were recorded and 14651 unique records made. Daisy Bellis perennis once again figured in most lists. There was no requirement to record frequency, otherwise the ubiquitous Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus would surely have done rather better? This light-hearted competition also performs a useful function as phenological study. It would, perhaps be more useful if continued into the spring when insects emerge, perhaps by the BSBI issuing a list of key species to participants with a request to note dates of first flowering?

Gabrielle Jarvis, 10 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020
Shaggy Soldier

Shaggy Soldier flower

Picture Andrew Chadwick, January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt
Shepherd's Purse

Picture Andrew Chadwick, January 2020


Rustyback fern Rustyback fern (Asplenium ceterach) continues to maintain its precarious toe-hold in Hull.

Gabrielle Jarvis, 21 May 2020


Water-violet flowers After an absence of around 30 years, Water-violet (Hottonia palustris) has flowered again in Priory Meadows.

Andrew Ashworth, 16 May 2020

The orchid's back

Green-winged Orchid I'm delighted to report the return of a solitary Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio) to Beverley Westwood, in the same location as last year’s find.

Helen Kitson, 4 May 2020

Local birds

bird pictures
  1. Mistle Thrush recently fledged with parent looking on.
  2. Yellowhammers are still feeding in small flocks. Not all our resident species start breeding at the same time. Yellowhammers are quite late and Corn Buntings start even later.

Andrew Ashworth, 4 May 2020

Wood Lane Whitethroat

Whitethroat Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats are now to be seen battling for territory and a mate. The species have very different songs and Whitethroats usually very obvious often singing from a high perch or in flight if the competition is stiff. Lesser Whitethroats are essentially invisible! Their presence is announced by a loud rattle lasting about a second following a short quiet warble deep within a hawthorn or sloe.

Andrew Ashworth, 29 April 2020

April on Beverley Westwood

Skylark and flowers It’s so uplifting in these strange times to hear Skylarks, which breed successfully here every year. I read that the young wander about for days in the grass being fed by the adults before they can fly, so vulnerable.

Bitter Vetchling is peeping out now from below a single hawthorn, and our earliest flowering sedge, Spring Sedge, is on the spoil heaps by the Limekiln Pits. Tiny and inconspicuous, its leaves are grass-green so unlikely to be spotted outside flowering time.

Helen Kitson, 27 April 2020

Small Tortoishells courting

Pair of butterflies It's been a good spring for the Small Tortoiseshells. I found this pair in Beverley and looked them up in Peter Eeles' brilliant new book 'Life Cycles of British and Irish Butterflies' (2019). It looks like the smaller male is 'drumming' on the hindwings of the female in front, part of the early courtship ritual. In the evening, if no rival males come along to spoil the fun, they'll retreat into vegetation and start the mating process, which can last all night.

Helen Kitson, 19 April 2020

Enough to make you itch

Caterpillars Brown-tail Moth caterpillars are notorious for having hairs that can cause an itchy rash in humans. They are also have periodic population explosions. On April 15th I noticed a surprising large number of their silken 'tents' on Sea-buckthorn and Hawthorn bushes on St Andrew's Quay and wondered if we were going to be inundated in 2020.

Andrew Chadwick, 16 April 2020


Seedling Since we had a shower room put in upstairs we don’t use the downstairs bath much. A couple of weeks ago we noticed a tiny shoot sticking out of the bath plughole. Being scientists, we potted it up. It’s turned out to be Cleavers (with a very long root!). Now we need somewhere safe to plant it.

Kath Middleton, 16 April 2020

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly A few years ago I bought some native flower plug plants, amongst them Primroses. They nicely settled in the garden and have also colonised the ten foot. The early flowering period of Primroses makes them ideal in the garden to attract emerging solitary bees and butterflies. During the lockdown Primroses in the garden have been visited by Peacock butterflies and Hairy-footed Flower Bees, but also by the Dark-edged Bee Fly, Bombylius major. This is a furry fly with a characteristic long proboscis, which allows it to reach nectar in the deep corolla of Primroses. Bee Flies are parasitic, and lay their eggs near the entrances of mining bees' nests, for the larvae to enter the nests and feed on the bee larvae. It might appear gruesome, but the presence of these flies indicates thriving populations of mining bees. I only found my first Bee Fly in Hull in 2013, and judging by the records submitted to iRecord, they appear to have been increasing in numbers in East Yorkshire.

Africa Gómez, 13 April 2020

No social distancing for hedgehogs

two hedgehogs I have been monitoring the garden with a trail camera since before Christmas and first saw a hedgehog on February 26th, which is fairly early. Since then it (or so I thought) was a regular visitor and I began feeding it. To stop cats getting to the food first, I place it out of their reach down the piece of pipe in the picture. Normally the hedgehog happily trundles down the pipe and makes short work of the food. However on March 31st it seemed to have trouble fitting in and had to make an ungainly backwards exit, in the process rolling over and exposing itself as a male. I should have realised then, but all became clear on April 4th when I captured a video of two hedgehogs, from which the picture is taken. The significantly larger one is a male as was obvious by his attempts to woo the other. The smaller one is a female and was presumably the one I had been seeing regularly who was slim enough to negotiate the pipe. In a month or two I’m hoping for a video of a young family!

Andrew Chadwick, 13 April 2020

Garden visitor

Heron pellet

Yesterday morning, when belatedly (9 am) peering out of the bedroom window, I noticed a Grey Heron fishing for frogs in the garden pond, just a few metres from the house. Although neighbours have previously lost goldfish in clandestine early-morning raids this is the first time I have seen the bird in our garden.

A little later in the day I found a rather damp pellet, which appeared to contain two enormous sunflower seeds, on the roof of the greenhouse. Closer investigation revealed them to be the elytra of a female Great Diving Beetle (Dytiscus marginalis). On dissection the pellet was found to contain most of the chitinous parts of the beetle, the head and one damaged elytron of another beetle (?Colymbetes fuscus) and a Water Boatman head (Notonecta sp. - thanks to Bill Dolling for identifying this), bound together with fibrous pellets and what appeared to be the less-digestible parts of a frog. It seems that the Heron had left its calling-card.

Richard Middleton, 28 March 2020

A patch of Colt’s-foot

Bees on Colt's-foot On Monday I walked from Kilnsea to Easington, mainly on the beach, with Gabrielle Jarvis. On the base of the low till cliff off Easington Beach Caravan park there is an accumulation of sand, and some vegetation is growing. This is because of the sheltering effect of the rock revetment north of it. We were pleasantly surprised to find this wonderful patch of flowering Colt’s-foot, Tussilago farfara. It was cloudy at the time, and we noticed a number of mining bees feeding or resting on the flowers. Steven Falk confirmed they are Andrena nigroaenea, a common mining bee the size of a honeybee with a long flight season starting in mid March. This bee is not very fussy with which flower it feeds from, feeding on willow, hawthorn, gorse and many herbaceous plant flowers. It digs its nests in paths and cliff faces.

Africa Gómez, 19 March 2020

Chicken of the Woods

Fungus on tree Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureous) making its annual appearance on a willow on the south bank of Beverley Beck. It looks like someone’s cut some off for a fry-up.

Helen Kitson, 22 May 2020

Orange Tip

Orange-tips have been busy in our garden. A female went to roost on Garlic Mustard as the sun went in. Later I found an egg on the same plant. They turn orange after 2-3 days from pale yellow. Lady’s-smock is the favourite egg plant but can apparently only support one caterpillar. Assuming the eldest is fit it will cannibalise smaller larvae to survive. Garlic Mustard can support two or more per plant. On sunny days males stop,for a few seconds, to nectar on Herb Robert.

Andrew Ashworth, 19 May 2020

Grey Wagtail by the River Hull

Grey Wagtail In a recent visit to the River Hull by Oak Road Lake, I heard an unfamiliar high-pitched song coming from the bottom of the bank.A Grey Wagtail flew to the other bank, a summer plumage male! In the last year I have seen a pair of Grey Wagtails at Zebedee Yard in town and also a recently fledged young at East Park. I'm used to Grey Wagtails as upland birds in summer, although I come across them in the city during migration and during the winter. I wonder if they are becoming urban birds?

Africa Gómez, 5 May 2020

Osprey in Hull

Osprey Since the lockdown, I have been doing daily morning walks as exercise. When the three laps around Pearson Park became a bit repetitive I started to widen my repertoire and included the General Cemetery, and Jack Kaye fields, and expanded to the 4 tetrads around my house. Yesterday I took a longer walk to The Deep. I made my way to the River Hull near the Hull and East Riding Museum. Suddenly, dozens of Herring and Lesser black-back gulls took to the air calling, flocks of Feral Pigeons crossed the river in a rush, followed by Goldfinches. I watched a Carrion Crow flapping laboriously, climbing up. There is a raptor somewhere. I look up and see a large gliding raptor silhouette with long, narrow wings, an Osprey! I manage a few shots, only the attached one clear. Eventually the Osprey slowly drifts to the north and disappears over the rooftops. The Crow never reached it. One of those truly magical moments, urban birding doesn't get much better than that!

Africa Gómez, 26 April 2020

April - Wood Lane, Cottingham

Bluebells, Orange-tip and Chiffchaff
  1. Bluebell
  2. Orange-tip
  3. Chiffchaffs,like this one, have been widespread for weeks, but just this week other birds have been arriving. Blackcaps were here with the Chiffchaffs but Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroat are also now singing at breeding sites in Cottingham.

Andrew Ashworth, 22 April 2020

City of Dragons 2020

Large Red Damselfly A warm thank you to all Hull Nats members, and to other local naturalists, who contributed damselfly and dragonfly records to our City of Dragons 2019 survey.

We are planning to repeat the survey this year and therefore would like to encourage you to submit your sightings again. Whilst COVID-19 restrictions are in place, reports of sightings and/or photographs from ponds in gardens and allotments are especially welcome. Hopefully we will also receive records from other locations in the city and the immediate surrounding area of the East Riding.

The flight season of damselflies and dragonflies in Hull should be starting in the next few weeks. Although our first record last year was on 13th May (a Common Blue Damselfly), in the past there have been sightings in the East Riding as early as mid April. We are especially keen to learn if there are any sightings of the Large Red Damselfly because we received no reports of this species last year. This is often the first adult damselfly or dragonfly to be seen (there have already been sightings near Doncaster and Selby), and has a flight season lasting until July. Attached is an annotated photograph, provided by the British Dragonfly Society, of the Large Red Damselfly showing its key ID features. Notably it is the only red and black bodied damselfly in our area; its abdomen is 2.5-3.0 cm long. Please send any sightings/photos of this or any other damselfly/dragonfly species to Africa at; don’t worry if you cannot ID the species. Of course, sightings can be submitted directly to iRecord if this is the system you use for wildlife recording; we regularly check iRecord.

If you are interested in a copy of the City of Dragons 2019 report it is free to download as a pdf - see our Dragonflies 2019 page for details. We have also produced the report as a small booklet which can be obtained from Africa at a cost of £5, or £6 if posted.

Here’s hoping for a good year for dragonfly and damselfly recording in spite of the current restrictions. Thanks again for your support,

Africa Gómez and Richard Shillaker 16 April 2020
Picture © Iain Leach

Garden visitors (2)

Garden birds
  1. Starling in fresh green Beech
  2. Young male Sparrowhawk
  3. Blackbird having a drink

The Sparrowhawk is a juvenile told by the blotchy chest markings. This was small, so a male. Adults have a very finely barred chest. It visited the garden a few times in the winter and mainly missed. Since then a pair have clearly set up territory nearby, They breed at Thwaite I think. We have three fewer blackbirds and I've seen two of the kills during lockdown. The female took a Blackbird and it was all over in 10 seconds. She is big. I saw probably the same bird kill a feral pigeon easily in 2019. A male made a kill last week and the poor blackbird took two minutes to go quiet. A Blackbird is pretty much the upper limit for a male. Anne wanted to run out but I persuaded he not to. The victim was sure to die anyway and the Sparrowhawk would have to kill again.

Andrew Ashworth, 13 April 2020

Danish Scurvygrass

Danish Scurvygrass

Andrew Chadwick, 13 April 2020

Not a moth

Burying Beetle This Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus humator) was a recent surprise in my moth trap.

Richard Middleton, 12 April 2020

Mistletoe in the cemetery

Mistletoe on tree stump I went for my daily local walk for exercise this morning and I took a detour on the western side of the General Cemetery off Spring Bank. I was pleasantly surprised to find a fine specimen of Mistletoe, Viscum album, growing on a stump, maybe Apple or Hawthorn. I assume the stump must be still alive for the mistletoe to survive. I haven't come across Mistletoe in the avenues area and it was interesting to have one so low down for a close look.

Africa Gómez, 2 April 2020


Eelgrass clump Picture: Africa Gómez

The previous week on a bright, windless day at Spurn there was an exceptionally low tide so that large areas of mudflat on the estuary side were exposed. We had our first ever sighting of clumps of the normally submerged Eelgrass Zostera, thought to be Z. noltei. (We await id confirmation from Tim Smith of IFCA who recently surveyed the colony by boat). Zostera has a complex inflorescence in its leaf sheaths pollinated by shrimps and currents and is a significant habitat for marine life. Its importance for biodiversity and need for protection are recognised at Spurn where there is an Eelgrass exclusion Zone for fishermen digging for bait, as Eelgrass does not cope well with disturbance and turbulence.

Once common around UK coasts Eelgrass meadows have been depleted by more than 90% through algae-boosting pollution, anchor damage and port and marina building. Rohan Lewis provided a link to an article about the Seagrass Ocean rescue project - Seagrass is another name for Eelgrass - a Swansea University initiative to restore eelgrass to Dale bay in Wales by underwater gardening. Seeds collected from a number of existing meadows are placed in hessian bags at one metre intervals on a long rope, which is then deployed along the shallow seafloor, where they will sprout and restore the habitat. As well as harbouring up to 40 times more marine life than seabeds without grass, this habitat is considered important in the fight against climate change as it is said to store carbon 35 times faster than rainforest. If successful this project could be extended to estuaries like the Humber.

Hull BAP committee is currently looking into the possibility of reintroducing Eelgrass on to local mudflats.

Gabrielle Jarvis, 20 March 2020