Close encounters with hornets in 2011
Hornet numbers in south-east Worcestershire around Ashton-under-Hill have fluctuated over the past ten years, but overall they seem to be doing very well. Numbers seemed to dip in 2008 and 2009, but 2010 saw a sharp rise in sightings, and in 2011 they seemed to be everywhere from early spring until late autumn.
Their unjustified reputation for being aggressive is confounded by how easy it was to take some of these close-up photographs. My faith in their relatively placid nature was tested on one occasion when I was asked for advice on what to do about a hornets’ nest under some wooden steps into the back door of a house. The householder, who was obviously a nature-lover, took the advice not to annoy them but to carry on as normal whilst avoiding sudden movements or loud noises close to the nest. I was pleased to hear subsequently, and perhaps a little relieved, that the hornets proved to be model neighbours for the rest of the year.
I was fascinated to see Douglas Gregor’s photograph in ‘Hornet stories’ in the April 2011 Worcestershire Record as, although late in the year hornets frequently feed on ripe fruit and flowers, I had not seen the sap feeding. Then in early October having heard several hornets, I found a young willow tree on which numerous hornets were feeding. They had stripped considerable lengths of bark to release the sap flow, dropping the chewed bark like sawdust. As with Douglas’s picture, several flies were feeding alongside the hornets, but none were attacked while I watched. Earlier in the year in the same location, hornets were often to be seen searching for prey in open grassland. Their searching appeared to be quite systematic, but most prospective prey appeared to either hear or see them approaching and make their escape in good time.
Gregor, D. 2011. ‘Hornets stripping bark and also catching fly’. A note within ‘Hornet Stories’. Worcestershire Record, 30:33.
Fig. 1. Hornet head on. Roger Umpelby
Fig. 2. Hornets feeding and damage on willow. Roger Umpelby
Fig. 3. Hornet and greenbottle feeding on willow. Roger Umpelby
Fig. 4. Hornet drinking water. Roger Umpelby
Fig. 5. Hornet feeding on ivy pollen and pollinating. Roger Umpelby
Fig. 6. Hornets aggressive - surely not. Roger Umpelby