It's about 2 weeks since the last update, at which time we had two "visiting" Queens in our nest, one of them busy collecting pollen and seemingly brooding.
A third queen had turned up and spent the a night in the nest along with them. She made a maiden flight the next day, then stayed in the nest. Over the next few days it was hard to tell which Queens were active as the first two in particular were very similar in appearance. However, within a few days, Queen "3" had certainly emerged and started making trips out from the nest. They were fairly sporadic, about 4 or 5 a day of about an hour's duration.
Intriguingly, the day she started doing this turned out to be the last day the previous Queen was active. She had made 12 trips, and the next day made none. We've seen no more of her. We've no idea if she died in the nest or changed behaviour (such as began permanently sitting on her brood) but I'm fairly certain she never left the nest again.
The day after this, Queen "3" swung into action and has been doing so ever since. She's been making 4 or 5 trips a day, every day, regardless of the temperature or weather, spending as much as 7 hours away from the nest. It's really tough finding pollen and it's been really hard to tell if she has been bringing any back. One some occasions I do think she's been bringing some dark grey/green pollen back.
We have no idea how long this is going to go on for - collecting pollen would usually be to store food for a newly emerging brood, who would then take over the role; and this has gone on longer than we have seen before. It begs the question whether she has laid anything yet. All things being equal, I suspect she may (ought to) have done, but her eggs have not survived/developed due to the low temperatures in the nest; meanwhile Queen knows no better than to keep bringing pollen back.
Which leads to another observation about this Queen: over the last 5 days she has been getting up earlier and ealier in the morning to start exploring the nest entrance and even coming right out onto the lodge in the pitch black. This has been as early as almost 3 in the morning, despite not having sufficient light to leave and fly till 7.30 (sunrise). [These times are GMT, after the clocks went back from BST].
When I do my final write up, I'll be plotting all this hourly activity, as I've been tracking it in detail - with the hope of trying to draw some behavioural insight.
One theory is that she's trying to cram as many hours forgaging as possible into shorter and shorter days (sunset is now about 4.30pm), so would naturally start as early as possible. It may be that the infrared cameras around the nest are confusing her about the temperature outside - it will seem warmer than it ought to for the light levels; she keeps checking on reality; in some cases having to get right out of the lodge to calibrate the outdoor temperature with the light levels.
All just a theory at this stage, hopefully more will become clear..