A tale with a sting

Have you noticed that birds are already looking for a place to nest? I have seen blue tits going in and out of our bird box opposite the kitchen window.

At the bottom of our garden I have a little summer house. It is beyond the woodland and away from it all. A place to read or listen to the radio or just to look out and soak up the sun and watch the comings and goings of birds.

I had an idea a few years ago, that I could have a glass sided nest box and if there was a rectangle cut out of my summer house wall, I could see the birds and watch their antics. It was such a simple idea with no special equipment needed. I even made a curtain to give the birds privacy. What could go wrong? Well, everything went wrong because no birds have ever nested there.

Perhaps they don’t like the position, perhaps they don’t like the glass or even my curtain. Whatever the reason, they don’t nest there. I have stopped looking until this week. I went to check, just on the off chance.

I pulled the curtain back and it was full – of something. At first, I could not quite make it out. It must be a bird’s nest – it was flaked grey – the long-tailed tit makes nests from grey lichens. I looked closer and it was a nest but not made by a bird. It is a wasps’ nest.

Domed and made to fit, there are layers and layers of a soft papery material of grey, cream and white.
In the warm weather, you have probably heard wasps rasping a wooden fence or, in my case, our back door that needs painting. The wasps chew these slivers of wood to make the walls of their nest.

Last spring a queen wasp must have found my empty and dry bird box and could not believe her luck. She had found the ideal spot to lay her eggs which would hatch into workers.

This old nest is abandoned now, and all the wasps are dead, apart from young fertilised queens who are not here. They are hidden elsewhere in cracks and crevices until the warm spring. The process starts again soon, so watch out, you might have the beginning of a nest in your garage or porch.

Wasps should be our friends – they are sociable and work together like honeybees. They also eat garden pests. But we do not like wasps. They should be welcome, but they are not and that’s because they sting.

Sometimes in the summer we accidentally come across a wasps’ nest on Oak Meadow in our light soil. The wasps chase us and get in our hair and our clothes. Then they sting. But we must not run into the house because this brings the wasps indoors and they will sting everyone else. We must hit our heads hard to kill the stingers in our hair. Then we must take our clothes off and check that we are free of wasps before we come indoors.

 So, if you visit us don’t be surprised if you see a scantily clad person frantically hitting her head. Don’t laugh, it could be your turn next!

(Adapted from my Nature Notes column)


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