It was early September when David Suter called me over into his field to look at some large wasps. Tentatively I looked around in the general area he indicated and located a hornet's nest. The nest was in an old fence postthat had split and was probably hollow. The hornets had sealed most of the crack with the paper like materialthey use for their nests. As I only had my phone with me it meant getting close to get a good a good photograph. Hornets are not supposed to be as aggressive as wasps so, carefully avoiding their flight path, I was able to get within a couple of feet to take a few shots. I was there for several minutes and the hornets were not bothered at all. I walked back to David who, for some reason, was keeping a safe distance. As I got near him he warned me there was a hornet around my head, foolishly I tried to swat it away and got a sting for my trouble. Had I just kept walking it probably would not have attacked. Not surprisingly I did not find this as amusing as David seemed to! On somewhat safer ground David reported how many late broods of birds he had seen. One robin, near his barn, had three broods during the year.
The female pheasant with chicks, reported last time, managed to rear three to adulthood. This is probably above the average for most broods. With the corn cut the pheasants are returning to the field looking for a reliable source of food. Also returning were a pair of collared doves, the first seen for some time. Walking through Munday's Close in the middle of September I saw a large flock of small birds working their way through the trees. I was able to watch them for some time and it turned out to be quite a mixed flock. The majority of them were long tailed tits. They are wonderful acrobats and they were not the least bothered by my presence. Other birds in the flock were blue tits, great tits and chiffchaffs, though in much smaller numbers. A few days later a small flock of even smaller birds were seen. They were goldcrests and again untroubled by me watching them. Being so small and quick moving made it impossible to count them but I think there must have been at least half a dozen. Towards the end of October I heard a wafting noise and looked up to see a swan flying quite low overhead. They are quite majestic birds when on the wing. The cooler weather means there are fewer insects about although there are still some to be seen. A large ungainly insect flew into me and landed on the drive in front of me. It turned out to be an adult red-legged shieldbug, the immature state of which I mentioned last time. The large amount of flowering ivy along Mickley Lane provided much needed food for large numbers of hover flies and wasps. Another insect found on there was a noon fly (Mesembrina meridiana). A relative of the house fly it is easily identified by its black colour and orangey-gold on the base of its wings, feet and face.The last butterfly seen was a red admiral in late October.The flowering plants are now starting to die back ready for the winter. A couple of fungi were spotted, a field blewitand a jelly ear. Some smaller non flowering plants tend to get overlooked but are none the less interesting. Liverworts are a good example. They are the flat green growths found in damp shady places and often on the surface of the compost in plant pots. Their reproduction is by two methods. They frequently reproduce asexually and little cups appear on the surfaceand produce cells that are distributed by rain drops and will grow into new plants. Older plants produce male and female organs like little umbrellas, some liverworts produce them on the same plant others on separate plants. The male ones look like fully covered umbrellas and the female ones look like just the ribs without the cover. The picture on the website is the liverwort Marchantia.In the garden the success story of the year have been the alstomerias. They have flowered for months and are still flowering now. They were grown in pots last year and, as they are slightly tender, planted out quite deeply in late autumn. They make excellent cut flowers and I used a tip that I read somewhere on how to harvest them. The secret seems to be not to cut them but to gently pull the whole stem from the ground. New shoots should grow from the area around where they were pulled. This seems to have worked as there has been a nonstop supply this year. I am writing this at the beginning of November and an unusual number of other plants still have flowers. This may be due to lack of frosts but also October was a very dry month, I recorded only 24.6mm. The lack of moisture probably prevented the spread of fungal diseases which thrive in a moist atmosphere. I counted more than twenty types of plant that still flowering. Among these were canna, clematis, begonia, geraniums and a triphylla fuchsia, all of which have usually given up by now. The greenhouse is now overflowing with tender plants brought inside for the winter. The cymbidium and blettila orchids came in a couple of weeks ago followed by eucomis, speckelia and potted cannas. The cannas in the ground have still to be dug up and the fuchsias can stay out a little longer until they have lost their leaves. They will be fine in the garage as they don't need too much warmth over winter. There will be no room for geranium cuttings so they will be discarded and tiny plug plants purchased in the spring.