Saturday, February 25, 2012

Odd things to see on a late winter afternoon

Not a honey comb, but remnants of a wasps' nest.
Today with the snow blowing hard and the whole earth looking white, I harkened back to another warm but totally different day a week or so ago. There wasn't a lot of snow, but a dusting of little snow bubbles had blanketed some of the ground making it look fresh.

It was warm and sunny and the dogs and I took a last long meander around the property. I decided to clean out some of the nest boxes for the (hopefully) bluebirds or more likely tree swallows. Last year's detritus needed to be removed in preparation for spring.

And I found some interesting things. Among them as soon as I opened the side door of one box, a papery grey thing that hung by a thread to the door. I instantly removed it and took it off to the edge of the property where the dogs couldn't get it. It looked like a honey comb but I knew well from past years' experience that this was not made by bees but by paper wasps. It is for breeding not feeding.

Some of my friends will say "Ugh!" at this photo - three of the wasps that obviously have hatched due to the warm weather we've been having. It must get nice and cozy in those boxes, protected from wind and snow and with the sun beating on them. But of course Mother Nature has been fickle this season. It's been well above freezing only to drop well below. The insects have frozen and died. But just in case I didn't want them in there to sting adults or baby birds. So out they came. Of course I have to go back and really give a thorough clean with vinegar when once again the weather is warm. Not today though.

This is the underside of that nest - you can clearly see each of the cells and the brilliance of the construction from these industrious insects. The larger piece appears to be the stem by which the Queen wasp attached the nest to the inside of the nest box. Apparently she surrounds it with some sort of ant repellent so that those marauders who would eat the eggs and the larvae aren't able to feast and destroy her majesty's hard work. One has to wonder how many other creatures haven't survived because of the abnormal winter we've had.
 And finally I found the remains of a nest... a tree swallow from the look of it. They make their nests with bits of grass and line it with feathers that they pick up. It was a successful nest - no little skeletal remains and if I recall correctly there were about six babies in this box... fun to watch them poke their heads out as they got ready to fledge... and this all makes me think spring on this snowy day.

On the other hand, it's good to have the snow coming down. The little birds - all kinds of finches, chickadees, and sparrows are vying with the bluejays, woodpeckers and mourning doves for breakfast, and will feed much more often today if the snow keeps up. A true winter day - nice since we've had so few here this year.

Hope your weather is the kind you usually have, but I doubt it given this unusual year. I do hope though that you get to enjoy whatever it is - inside with a good book or tv show, or wonderful company and great food, or outside playing.


  1. The wasps nests would be scary for me, ever since I was stung by one. Sad about the swallow nest. We are having a colder and windy day. I hope you have a great weekend!

  2. Hello Eileen, not sad about the swallow nest - it had served its purpose with two families and needed to be replaced. I hauled it out of the nest box and threw it away. I'll scrub out the box later when it's warm. Right now though the sun is out we have two feet of snow in two days! so I'm not doing anything but bird watching. Yes I agree about the wasps - they can give a nasty sting which is why I try to locate and clean them out in winter... Love your blog by the way - this post today is sensational.