The Queen is dead! (Long live the queens).

October 11, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I think it would be fair to say I'm no fan of autumn generally - and regular readers of this blog will probably know that by now.

The swifts and swallows have all packed up and headed orf - and everything else seems to be closing down for the colder, darker months ahead.

The sun is always in your eyes or not present at all.

Our clay garden begins to get water-logged and so needs hard, heavy, hand-aerating this month.

In October I start to rake up the leaves fallen from our poplar trees (see today's photo below), knowing that by November(ish) our trees will be skeletal for about 5 months - and our garden looks uninviting to me because of that.

Finally - I know deep down that I've just had the BEST 6 months of the year (by far!) and it will be another 6 months before I get anything approaching that again - I presume I get "S.A.D." but that would be a presumption - if S.A.D. exists at all?


But there are SOME upsides to autumn  - the arrival of winter birds and a great flurry of activity by all manner of things  - "endo" and "exoskeletoned" - to make as much hay as they can before the frosts arrive (THIS WEEK I HEAR?!)

If you don't live on or near a northern moor, mid October is a great time to walk around your local scrubby fields and see a short-eared owl heading south for the winter and mid October is also a great time to see passage waders drop onto local lakes and gravel pits.


Anna, Ben and I went for one of our regular weekend wildlife walks this morning, around a local(ish) lake I know very well, in quite lovely autumnal weather - I was on the lookout for winter ducks primarily - and wasn't disappointed.

As soon as we got out of the car, the whistling from arriving wigeon greeted me - always a nice sound to hear from these VERY pretty ducks.

There were wigeon and teal and shoveler and gadwall - but no passage waders through as far as I could tell. But I do like to see the arrival of the winter ducks - it gives me a lift as we near winter - when we get our best winter duck visitor of all down here - the goldeneye!


The woodland surrounding the lake which we walked around today is a VERY good place to see two things (other than wildfowl) at certain times of the year.

1 - Spring nightingales - although you'd do well to SEE these - you'll certainly HEAR them in the spring at this place. So much so in fact that I hear "proper bird watchers" travel for 50 miles or so to this lake in Berkshire to get their nightingale fix each year. 

2 - Summer and autumn hornets - less obvious than nightingales (well... they don't sing do they?) with a far more fearsome reputation of course (which they CERTAINLY DON'T DESERVE).


I saw my first ever hornet at this site a decade or two ago (I can't remember exactly when now) and have seen hornets here each time I visit in the summer/autumn. I have no idea why they like this particular spot - but they do.

We have hornets in the garden each year now we've moved from Reading, and one in the house this year too... see photo below, but I've never seen a hornets nest in our garden, unlike the pesky wasps' nests which we seem to attract each year.

I actually thought I'd blogged earlier this year about hornets after that worker hornet (above) flew into our house. I certainly mentioned them after our summer holiday camping in the New Forest - a few feet from an active nest.

They are delightful things, hornets - very impressive to gawp at and very gentle indeed - not like wasps at all in either respect as far as I'm concerned.

I won't bore you with a lot more information about hornets - but if you have time, please visit this link to find out more about these fascinating and gentle creatures. The link takes you to an American website but goes into great detail about OUR European hornet - it's well worth a read.


Today, as we walked around the lake, I spotted a few hornets in the air, and told Anna I thought I knew roughly where* they were coming from  - (I'm weird like that but my wife is probably used to it by now!) so we should see if we could find the "hornet source".

*Almost every time I have visited the lake during previous summers I have seen hornets on the other side of the lake (about 1/4 mile from where we saw them in the air this morning) so I was pretty confident I'd find more if we walked a little further.


Sure enough, a little way further around the lake, I spotted the nest - spilling out of a birdbox - and VERY active it was too. WHAT A FIND! - I may have regularly seen hornets at this site, but never found the nest(s) in the woods before here. I was (rather embarrassingly) completely made up!

At this exact time of year, the founder queen (or"GYNE")  of the colony tends to kick the bucket after getting ignored by the males (and so starves) - and the NEW young queens (which eclosed about 6 weeks ago) will be mated and then immediately begin looking for hibernation quarters.

It won't be more than a month or so (if that) before the colony dies - killed by frosts. Just the new hibernating queens are left -snoring peacefully away until next spring - when they'll form their own new hornet colonies - ready to be found by berks like me (in Berks) with any luck.


It's certainly been a very "hornety" year for me, 2015.  My most "hornety" year ever I guess.

I've entertained one in our sitting room briefly.

We've camped a few feet away from one in the New Forest.

We've had a few buzz through the garden as we do each year.

But the highlight of this "hornety year" for me undoubtedly was the nest I found this morning - a HUGE privilege to see.

I maaaay just return this week with a real camera (all the photos on this blog entry were taken with my phone as I didn't take my camera with me on today's walk) to get some nice shots of these beautiful insects and their impossibly beautiful (and fragile) home.

I just hope the frosts hold off this week - I do hear it might get decidedly chilly this week at night.

Fingers crossed then grapple fans,




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