Neil Pont
Wildlife Photography

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While in Covid-19 lockdown, I am updating this blog twice a week - on Tuesdays and Fridays...

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Perils of parenthood

Posted on 5 June, 2020 at 14:05 Comments comments (0)

We don't have a great variety of birds in the garden - despite the generous supply of varied food.

The Blue Tits are quite confiding (even when we are walking the kittens).  I've noticed what a bedraggled state they are in as they come to feed on the suet balls.  Obviously they are worn out by foraging for their young and bashing themsleves as they go in and out of the nest hole.

Here are two pictures from February at Washington WWT - showing them in all their pre-breeding finery.

And here are pictures from this week in the garden!

But they are always cute...

And all you need to know about Blue Tits:

  • Blue tits are common and widespread throughout the British Isles, but are absent from both Orkney and Shetland.
  • Though the blue tit’s world range extends to North Africa and Turkey, it is considered a European bird, unlike the far more widespread great tit.
  • The blue tit’s favoured habitat is broad-leaved woodland, but is sufficiently adaptable to be abundant in a variety of other habitats, including gardens.
  • Some 98% of British gardens report blue tits in winter.
  • Blue tit numbers have been increasing in the UK in recent years, possibly helped by the provision of nest boxes and supplementary feeding.
  • More than 2.5 million have been ringed in Britain and Ireland.
  • British blue tits are strictly resident, seldom moving far from where they hatched.
  • Studies have shown that only 1.2% of the population moves more than 20km during the winter.
  • In northern Europe this species is a partial migrant, and these birds occasionally arrive on the east and south coast of England.
  • Domestic cats are a major cause of mortality, and responsible for 42% of ringing recoveries.
  • Starvation kills many young birds soon after fledging. Some 21% of ringed fledglings are found dead within 30 days.
  • Though both sexes look similar, the male is considerably brighter than the female, especially in the blue on the head.
  • It is thought that as they get older, they get brighter plumage with each subsequent moult.
  • No other British tit has blue in its plumage.
  • The breeding season varies with location and season, but generally starts in the third week of April.
  • Though blue tits will lay repeat clutches if their first is lost, they rarely try and rear two broods.
  • The clutch size is highly variable, but usually ranges from 7-13 eggs.
  • Clutches as large as 19 eggs, all laid by the same female, have been recorded.
  • Clutches tend to be smaller in gardens than those laid in woodland.
  • Though the typical nest site is a hole in a tree, blue tits have been recorded nesting in a great variety of situations, from letterboxes to street lamps.
  • In summer their principal diet is insects, in winter it is a mixture of seeds and insects, with beech mast particularly important.


Posted on 4 June, 2020 at 9:55 Comments comments (0)

As far as I can tell the problem with loading, and you seeing, photos seems to have been sorted.  So, oh dear  fan, here is a little bee bonus (on a Thursday). On Tuesday June 2nd the sun was shining in the garden and I got very good shots of a large bee with a white tail.

The beauty of taking photos is that you can have a good look afterwards instead of trying to identify the bee while she is buzzing around.

The white tail and yellow bands meant either Bombus lacorum (White-tailed Bumblebee) or Bombus hortorum (Garden Bumblebee).  The long 'horse-like' face and the extra band at the top of the abdomen mean a definite identification as B. hortorum - a Garden Bumblebee in the garden...


Posted on 3 June, 2020 at 8:20 Comments comments (0)

Today is Wednesday 3rd June 2020 - I should, if I am sticking to my schedule, have posted yesterday. But the site has developed a problem which the host is looking into.  Photographs are not all showing properly.  I can't tell whether you will be able to see any new photographs or not.

So, forgive me if I do not spend a lot of time preparing a post that no-one can see!

Here is a 2020 picture of my most avid fan's favourite bird - a Long-tailed Tit for Mrs. P.

Oops - nearly missed it!

Posted on 29 May, 2020 at 17:50 Comments comments (1)

It's Friday at 23.00.  I am meant to post every Tuesday and Friday!  It has been such a beautiful day that I have never stopped in the garden and working on the next in the series of bird tables.  But just before going to bed I rememebered that my loyal fan will be waiting for their Friday edition.

We are planning for a wildflower meadow in our garden makeover.  One plant that will feature will be Red Campion.  We havee (at he moment) just one plant of that species.  I've planted it.  And have taken a close up of its deceptively simple flower..

As Zebedee said, "Time for bed"...

Him or her?

Posted on 26 May, 2020 at 9:25 Comments comments (2)

A brief blog today...

As mentioned previously a queen bumblebee's first offspring - workers - are females who do not reproduce but go out foraging.

Later, males are produced and they often look different from the females.  New queens are also produced later in the season.  The males will die off in autumn while the new queens hibernate.

This is the first male bee that I have (knowingly!) seen.  This is male Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum).

And this is the female - who has certainly been foraging; she has a good full pollen sack

Birds - take 2

Posted on 22 May, 2020 at 10:35 Comments comments (1)

So - we ventured out on our second trip yesterday.  Realising that coastal spots would probably be very popular - not necessarily with 'birders' but certainly with dog walkers and kite fliers - we headed for a little known reserve at Linton Lane. We've been quite fortunate with warblers there before - and other passerines too.

On the way we called in at QE II Park at Woodhorn.  We stayed in the car as it was pretty busy - Mute Swans, Coots, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls on view.  We didn't stay long.

At Linton Lane we did get out of the car. We crossed the disused railway line and turn right towards the broken down hide which overlooks a large pond. We didn't get many good views of birds - but certainly heard our first Willow Warbler - and Chiffchaffs too. They are easier to tell apart by their calls rather than looking at them!  Here are pictures from a couple of years ago - taken at Big Waters NR and at Shibdon Pond.

As we drove away from Linton Lane we saw a Linnet and a Yellowhammer in an almost leafless ash tree - a great help when trying to take photographs.  The Yellowhammer co-operated - the Linnet didn't...

We meandered home via Linton Village, Widdrington, Druridge Pools and Cresswell.  We pulled in at Cresswell to take a quick look at the small pond and then stopped on the farmer's rutted track to get close up views of a Meadow Pipit.  Like the Yellowhammer, singing lustily.  On this occasion the car acted as a good 'hide'.

So, another enjoyable jaunt even though it was a bit limited in scope. 25 species seen or heard - and some new ones, different from our previous trip.

Birds - at last...

Posted on 19 May, 2020 at 8:30 Comments comments (1)

Last Friday, as the lockdown loosened, we went for a drive up the coast - just to look, not walk.  Many of the spots we had thought of were blocked off - but we stopped at Lynemouth Flash, to look over the wall. We saw birds we would expect - including our first hirundines of the year: sand martins, house martins and swallows. Later we saw a swift too.

Just over the wall, on the edge of the Flash, I spotted a wader.  I was pretty sure it was a sandpiper - and knew it was not a Common Sandpiper.  So I slipped out of the car with my camera and was able to get good pictures of what I later confirmed was a Wood Sandpiper.  A great first 'lockdown bird'...

Despite having just about forgotten how to adjust the camera, I did manage a flight shot of a Lapwing.

And here are some photos I've taken earlier in the year - and perhaps in 2019, of other birds we  saw...

On our little outing, which included a stop at Widdrington Moor Lake, we clocked up 33 species clearly heard or seen.  A pretty good effort which we hope to repeat soon.

The bad, the good and slightly interesting

Posted on 15 May, 2020 at 4:55 Comments comments (1)

More insects to day - but no buzzy, stingy things.

First, the bad...our roses are suffering - but these are all God's creatures...

I'm trying to convince myself that we have to 'live and let live' because the greenfly are a good feed for these...

I have had a quick visit to to ascertain that this is called (not surprisingly) the Two Spot Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata - and I even get the Latin!)

I have heard of Harlequin Ladybirds and thought of them as being black with red spots.  But not always so apparently.  They can come in many guises.  I believe this is one:

And, indeed, I think it is Harmonia axyridis succinea - the name just trips off the tongue.

The harlequin ladybird, native to Asia, was introduced to North America in 1916 but became established much later in 1988. It is now a common and widespread ladybird species on that continent. It has also invaded much of Europe and South America and parts of Africa. It was first found here in 2004. The link between its arrrival and the decline in native species is still being investigated. (Something spreading all over the world from Asia?...hhmmm...)

Staying on the good, we have had very few butterflies yet in the garden but I have managed photographs of two.

And because my friend Chris Newman might be reading this, here is something 'sightly interesting' - a Zebra Jumping Spider (on Julia's trouser leg).

See you next week - and I have no idea what I will be writing about!

Sorting out the stripes

Posted on 12 May, 2020 at 5:10 Comments comments (1)

Many insects are yellow and black.  This gives off the message 'I can sting you!' Some do sting, some don't - but it may not be worth finding out...

I photographed this beastie last week in the garden.  It had me confused (not unusual...) but I could see it was not a wasp. [I'll show a picture of a common wasp later].  I also now realised, because of my 'learning from a book' (and from Charlotte at NHSN) that is probably a bee because of the long antennae.  Hoverflies have very big eyes and very stubby antennae. 
So what is it?

It is a Nomad Bee.  In particular, Nomada Marshamella (male), common name, Marsham's Nomad Bee.

Nomad bees (Nomada sp.) can easily be mistaken for small wasps. Most feature yellow and black waspish markings, or have brick-red/brown-red and black bodies and heads. They are a 'cleptoparasite' (cuckoo) species.

Cleptoparasites are organisms that take over the nest or nest cell of the target host species. The cleptoparasite's offspring then feed off the food supplies intended for that of the host.

Nomada lay their eggs in the nests of other bees, especially Andrena (mining) species. Some species have very specific hosts, whilst others have several target host species.

N. marshamella targets the Chocolate Mining Bee - interesting that I photographed one of these in the garden too..

Although the Nomad bee has a wasp-like look there are clear differences on close inspection.  This is Vespula Vulgaris - our common wasp.

And the other stripey critters are some hoverflies. As I am battling to get to grips with bees, hoverflies are trailing low down on my learning curve.  But my book tells me (!), rightly or wrongly, thay this is probably of the Syrphus tribe ('tribe' seems to be a term used in hoverfly circles to sort out the species)

Just to emphasise the 'big eyes, stubby antennae' ID feature here is another hoverfly - Eristalis tribe, I think.

And one hovering...

It really is amazing what is all around us - without us noticing.  Thankfully I am starting to notice a bit more...and just in our garden!

Bees for VE

Posted on 8 May, 2020 at 7:50 Comments comments (1)

As Manuel said in Fawlty Towers, "I learned it from a book"...

Queen bumblebees that are emerging this spring were mated last year and then hibernated. All other bees - males, old queens (!), workers - will die before winter comes. The first bumblebees to emerge in the UK are usually Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Tree Bumblebee and, not surprisingly, Early Bumblebee.

Having found a place to nest she creates her first brood cell - about the same size as her body. She collects pollen and nectar and puts the pollen into the brood cell. This will be the food for her first offspring. She also fills a honey pot with nectar brought back in her honey stomach. Once the brood cell is full of pollen she will lay her first eggs.

Several eggs are laid onto the top of the pollen in the brood cell. She then seals them in with their food, with wax.  The bees will go through the normal insect life cycle - egg, larva, pupa, adult.

The queen is able to control the sex of each egg she lays (how? that's a whole other chapter!) and the early eggs will all be female workers as they will forage for food once they reach the adult stage.  Males will be produced later in the summer.

We've certainly seen several worker bees in the garden. This is an Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratotum):

You can clearly see that she has been busy collecting pollen.

Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum):

And Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum):

I'm, slowly, starting to recognise the difference between the species...

The cotoneaster horizontalis has also been very popular with Honey bees (Apis melllifera):

And the fact that our garden is a sea of mud seems to attract mining bees - here is a Chocolate Mining Bee - named after its colour, not its taste..

Tuesday's plan is to carry on with bugs and beasties - but, you never know, I may change my mind...   :)