hornetAn early autumn walk in the woods is almost eerily silent. The songsters – blackcap, garden warbler and blackbird – have either gone quiet or simply gone. Instead there is the quiet pipe of long tailed tits and busy flit of goldcrests working the canopy. Only the wistful robin offers more than a couple of notes of song.

With less aural intrusion our ears pick up softer sounds. A dead leaf flicking through the branches or the tap-tap as a nuthatch works at an acorn. Then, beneath the sharp sounds, resonates the low drone of the hornet.

The hornet is well suited to autumn. The hibernating queens are late risers and spring is swinging as they strip the first of the birch bark to mulch into paper for their nests. It will be deep into autumn when her fertile offspring make their way into the cool air by which time there is little to do but mate and hibernate.

On a sleepy autumn morning the hornet eases gently through the forest swinging carefully around obstacles with an almost apologetic demeanour. They aren’t looking for trouble, just an easy life.

I found a nest this week and one individual regarded me with an apparently quizzical look. I offered him a hand and he wandered softly across my skin. No hint of aggression, just a respectful investigation. A truly gentle giant.

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