Ahh, summer. What could be better than warm weather, picnics, hiking and leisurely walks. Unless, of course, you have the misfortune to disturb a nest of the Bald-faced Hornet. It seems that every summer I hear of or read about an incident involving this species. Sometimes by accident , other times by sheer recklessness. A Close-up of a Bald-faced Hornet, which is not actually a hornet but in the same family as Wasps and Yellow Jackets.
In all my years outdoors photographing nature, honestly, I never paid much attention to hornets, bees or wasps. It may have been I simply didn't want to get stung or in the deep recesses of my mind I respected their space. Until two years ago.
I was photographing small moths, late one night, when one landed on my arm. It was different than the others so I helped it into a jar so I could photograph it. A quick photo and it was off again. Later, paging through the guides, I discovered it was a Bald-faced Hornet. My first thought was, well that could have ended badly. But my curiosity took over quickly.
The Bald-faced Hornet, actually, is not a hornet at all but a type of Wasp or Yellow Jacket and relatively small, about 3/4 of an inch, with white markings on a black body. Most people are afraid of them, or anything that stings, however, they are beneficial. They prey on moths and other insects that harm our gardens or bother us, including Yellow Jackets. They also help pollinate flowers while searching for nectar.
In the spring, a queen, that has wintered over in a protected spot, begins building a nest. She will lay eggs and care for the larvae until they become adults. These adults are "workers", and will take over all tasks of nest building and feeding and care of all future larvae. The nest, a football shaped structure, with an opening at the bottom, is made from chewed wood mixed with a sticky saliva to create a grayish paper like material when it dries Larger nests may have more than one entrance.
Most often the nests will be hidden in the upper branches of a tree, not seen until the leaves fall. Sometimes they may build in shrubs or on the side of a building or, as I discovered, only 4 feet off the ground. A single nest, depending on the size, can contain between 200 - 700 workers. The "Workers" are all female and have stingers. Unlike bees their stingers do not come out so they can sting as many times as they want. The "Drones" are males and they do not have a stinger. Their sole purpose is to mate with suitable females to produce future queens.
The Bald-faced Hornet is not considered dangerous unless they perceive a threat to their nest and then will very aggressively defend the nest. So don't poke it with sticks, throw rocks at it or fly a drone into it, it may be your undoing.
Nests are active until late October or early November, depending on the weather, when entire colony will die off except for the following years queen. She will find a safe place to spend the winter, maybe in a hollow tree, rock pile or by burrowing under a log.
Most nests will not make it through the winter as birds and animals will take it apart looking for spiders and other insects that take shelter there.
SOMETHING TO REMEMBER
All animals have a safe zone, a distance that they will allow an intruder to approach before retreating or attacking. Hornets and bees are no different. Over the years I have learned to keep a keen eye on this. Some of these photos here were taken at a distance of only 6 feet and there were hornets watching my every move. I do not recommend anyone try this. Each nest, each colony, each hornet is different.
Go out, enjoy nature and be safe.
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A recent trip to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge at Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod was to visit the intertidal zones around the refuge and photograph a variety of birds present at low tide. An Intertidal zone is an area that is covered with water during high tide and exposed land during low tide. At low tide the area may resemble a large sandy beach with tide pools and narrow shallow flowing channels. As the sandy bottom, once covered with water, becomes exposed, as the tide recedes, the whole place comes alive with activity.
The first low tide of the day was at 3:00 am, too dark to take photographs, so I planned my arrival for around 6:30 am. There would be plenty of light and time to explore the area as the next low tide was not until mid afternoon. The first bird of the day was a Great Egret standing at the edge of a small marshy area.
When I arrived at the beach there was very little going on as the tide was still coming in and all the sandy areas, exposed during low tide, were covered with water. Some seals were working their way along the outer beach and every so often one would venture closer to see what I was up to.
Terns, Common and an occasional Least Tern would fly by searching for food. I always find the terns interesting to watch as they suddenly stop in mid air just before they dive into the water to catch a small fish. There were also a few of the ever present Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls.
As I walked the shore I happened upon a lone Horned Lark, busily foraging, and a Fish Crow, standing on a piece of weathered wood, wings out stretched, sunning. The dunes had large clumps of Rosa Rugosa in both purple and white and, of course, beach grass everywhere. There were several other plant species, however, my main purpose this trip was birds.
Eventually as the time for low tide approached everything began to change. As sandy stretches began appearing so did the birds. There was an immediate increase in Common Terns, calling, hovering, diving and on the wet sand resting and preening. Small bands of Least Terns began arriving and large groups of gulls. As I sat on the edge of a dune watching the increasing activity I could see a group of Great Black-backed, Herring and Laughing Gulls had formed with Common Terns and Snowy Egrets mixed among them. In the distance there were small groups of Common Cormorants in flight. I heard a familiar call and turned to see two Willets land just yards from me and began working the shallow waters. What more could I ask for ?
I slowly moved in as close as they would allow and settled in watching all the goings on and capturing as many images as I could. I watched, with fascination, as the Snowy Egrets moved back and forth capturing what they could. And I watched as one egret seemed to be stalking something. It stopped, perfectly still. Then suddenly turned and snapped up something from behind him. ?? how did he do that ? At this point this bird had my total attention. A nearby Laughing Gull looked like it was stalking something also when suddenly the egret ran past and plucked whatever it was out of the water. I chuckled a little in amazement, however the gull found nothing humorous about it and let out a squawk at which point the egret turned and faced the gull which then backed off. Nasty little egret I thought. As it turned out, with the exception of the Black-backs, all the other birds were afraid to engage this little egret as he would run up and snatch food up from right in front of them.
Later on as I followed a pair of Willets, foraging in a tidal pool, two Common Eiders flew past. The Willets were soon joined by four Piping Plovers which would fluff up then chase each other, all the time chattering, a mating display I imagined. This kept me busy for quite awhile. I was also approached by six American Oystercatchers, two of which were banded, and a "peep", a lone Semipalmated Sandpiper, that forced me to retreat a short distance so I would be able to focus on it.
As the tide began coming in again it was time to pack up my gear and head home. All in all a great day at the beach and another of our great National Wildlife Refuges.
Comments are always welcomed and
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For me spring is the best time of year, not because it gets warmer, tho that helps, but because the world comes alive again after a long winter sleep. Birds began moving north, mammals begin to emerge from hibernation and plants begin sprouting.
Spring is a time of renewal. In the woodlands we begin finding wildflowers blooming and for me some of the prettiest wildflowers are the large flowered Trilliums.
One of the first to bloom is the Red Trillium ( Trillium erected ) also known as Wake-robin.
Next we might find the magnificent White Trillium ( Trillium grandiflorum ). These are sometimes called Large-flowered Trillium or White Wake-robin. It is not uncommon to find large groups of these flowers covering the forest floor.
And the third of this trio is the beautiful Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum ) or Painted Lady. So if you are out walking the woods in early spring keep a lookout for the beautiful trilliums.
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