Neil Pont

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Bee Happy

Posted on 17 April, 2020 at 5:10 Comments comments (4)

We are taking part in the Natural History Society of Northumbria North East Bee Hunt.  You can check it out here:
https/www.nhsn.ncl.ac.uk/activities/the-north-east-bee-hunt/ 

NHSN is using 'citizen science' to track five under-reported bees:

Ashy Mining Bee                       Tawny Mining Bee
                 


Red Mason Bee


Tree Bumblebee                             Red-tailed Bumblebee

I have to say that it is only through membership of NHSN and talking with fellow-members like Chris Wren and attending courses led by Gordon Port that I have begun to have any understanding of the amazing diversity of bees and their incredible lives.

As we have been confined to our garden it has given us the opportunity to look more closely at the insect life.  Hoverflies have added to our confusion!  Actually taking our kittens on leads in the garden has helped track them down - they see and hear them before we do and are off like truffle pigs to hunt them down.

We have seen, and reported, three of the species: Red Mason, Tree Bumble and Tawny Mining.  Getting decent pictures is another rmatter.  I have snapped a couple on my phone and also the holes which they have excavated - one advantage of our garden being a sea of mud as we wait for the aborted makeover to be completed post-lockdown.

Tawny Mining Bee (phone picture) - and the hole down which it disappeared...






And a Tree Bumblebee...


I have also been into the garden with my Canon 5D with 100mm Macro lens - kit which I have not used for a while since I invested in the Fuji XH1 mirrorless camera.  I did manage to get some more detailed pictures of a Common Carder bee...






And I was reminded that a couple of years ago Julia and I attended a one day course on macro photography hosted at the Dilston Physic Garden (near Corbridge). 

I managed a fair flight shot of a Honey Bee there:




Here's hoping for more sunny weather and a buzzzzzzz in the garden....


More on being neighbourly

Posted on 14 April, 2020 at 7:15 Comments comments (0)

Our new neighbours here in Forest Hall soon realised that we are keen on wlildlife - and birds in particular.  Our next door neighbour showed me a picture that he had take on his phone of mystery birds that he had seen in the Avenue trees.  These weren't 'tree climbers' this time.  But I could tell from the very distinctive silhouette that he had seen Waxwings. 

Before we moved here I knew that there is a site where Waxwings have visited regularly, just around the corner by the bus stop opposite St Bartholomew's Church.  I had seen them there before.  As luck would have it they visited again.  I was able to get new shots to show Martin of these very charismatic winter visitors.





I was also "inspired" to produce a painting...




Martin and I also have some friendly banter about these chaps...



He has one bird box and never puts out food.  We have several boxes and the garden is littered with various feeders with all sorts of comestibles.  And which box do the Blue Tits choose - not ours!

When I was finding my Benton Waxwing photos I noticed, in the same folder, this picture, hastily grabbed through a tangle of branches, of a Goldcrest. So - a bonus for you Martin if you are reading this.



That's all folks - it is sunny so some bees have appeared in the garden.  There could be a BeeBlog coming up...


Good Friday - good neighbours

Posted on 10 April, 2020 at 4:35 Comments comments (2)

Today is Good Friday - the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown; a situation that means you need Good Neighbours.  And we have them - in abundance. The first neighbour who greeted us - on the day we moved in to this lovely street (sorry..Avenue!) was Mike as he was walking past with the golden retrievers, Orla and the aged Ned (sadly no longer with us).  We soon met Ciaran, his wife, as she took her turn with the dogs.

Ciaran has become a 'cat sitter' for us - she is missing cuddling our kittens as our dooor is currently locked to all-comers.  But she and Mike have been wonderful - collecting fresh bread, delivering homemade scones and fetching and carrying for us at the drop of a hat.

The Avenue has a neighbours' WhatsApp group for mutual support and for posting various observations about this peculiar current lifestyle.  Recently Ciaran commented on the 'tree climbers' she had noticed on the magnificent trees that line the Avenue.  I was (politely) able to tell her the 'correct' name for her tree climbers - though it seems a pretty reasonable name to me...

Some of my best views of Treecreepers have been at the small (but beautifully formed) Clara Vale NR.  When we get mobile again I must return - it's probably two years since I have been there.



It's no wonder they are pretty good on trees when you see the set up of their feet!

Ciaran texted me yesterday about some birds that she was looking at in her garden.  When she mentioned features like 'red on the face', 'yellow on the side' it can only have been Goldfinches.  She described them as collecting nesting material - which is excatly what the two Goldfinches that I saw in our garden were doing.  I'm suspecting it was the same birds...



Bill Bailey (in a very interesting book "Bill Bailey's Guide to Remarkable Birds") tells us that they were very popular as caged songbirds in 19th century Britain. As many as 132,000 were trapped in 1860 alone.  There was also a medieval superstition surrounding these birds.  When someone was sick, a Goldfinch would be brought in.  If the bird looked directly at the patient, then they would get well. If the Goldfinch turned its head away - then you were a goner.  Doctors? Who needs them...?

'The Goldfinch' is also a long and tedious book by Donna Tartt that I read when we sailed up the coast of Norway to see the Northern Lights.  As it got dark so early (and for so long) there was a lot of reading to be done - I stuck with it....hhmmmmm.

And, just to finish off, here is a view of our lovely (deserted) Avenue...



These are the trees that Ciaran's "Treeclimbers" love.  So - thanks for good neighbours on this Good Friday. As the 99-year old veteran said on the BBC Breakfast show this morning, "Tomorrow will be a GOOD day".




Vespula vulgaris

Posted on 3 April, 2020 at 6:25 Comments comments (2)

We have 2 bird boxes with cameras in.  They need to be linked by wires to the TV - in our new garden that is quite a long way, so I haven't fixed them up (though the boxes are out in situ).  We decided that one was in the wrong place - south facing, so probably a bit too warm.  When I went to take the box down to move it, I found this strange construction around the camera.  I have added some objects to give it scale:


Being no insect expert (I presumed it was some sort of nest) I consulted Chris Wren, who is a guru from the volunteer group at the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN).  This is what he told me:


"It is a wasp nest, most likely a common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). In the spring mated queens emerge from hibernation and each starts her own nest construction using chewed up wood fibres to make paper. Different bits of wood make different colours which you can see in your photo. Normally the queen raises a dozen or two workers by herself and they then join in and greatly expand the colony and the nest while the queen concentrates on egg laying. It isn’t unusual for something to go wrong, such as the queen being killed or eaten, and then construction stops."

Picture from the web:



I can thoroughly recommend Chris's blog (as long as you don't abandon mine!):

www.trogtrogblog.blogspot.com

          

A request

Posted on 17 March, 2019 at 18:40 Comments comments (23)

My friend Peter Tracey has viewed this Blog for the first time.  In his complimentary comments he suggested that the photos would be enhanced by the inclusion of Goldfinches - which recently have been coming to his garden in Holywell.  Happy to oblige...





Both photographs taken (again) at Washington WWT

2019 - a new year

Posted on 9 March, 2019 at 6:55 Comments comments (0)

We are into March 2019 and it is about time I brought this blog up to date! I've seen 120 bird species so far this year - at a variety of sites: at home in the North East; in Tenerife; and in Scotland.

The year started at St Mary's Island. Lots of usual birds, including Sanderling, Turnstone, Rock Pipit, Gulls (of course) and 3 Snow Buntings - that stayed right through to March.  They have featured on my Facebook page.  Ther was quite a large flock of Curlew in the fields to the west of the pond area:

In January Bitterns were being sighted regularly in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  This led to the hides being stuffed full of photographers - some of whom are not quite au fait with hide etiquette.  They wedge themsleves in for hours (sometimes watching nothing), are reluctant to share the space and drone on about matters photographic.  I managed to find a quiet time one Thursday - but no Bittern obliged.  A couple of juvenile Mute Swans did a fly past:

After about 45 minutes of watching swaying reeds I moved to the Geoff Lawrence hide to watch birds in the feeding station. They always oblige.  Lovley views of all the Tits, plus Nuthatch:



Treecreeper:



And many, many Chaffinches:



From the Ridley Hide the lake did not show many birds, but there were Wigeon close by.  It is often easy to overlook the subtle beauty of female feathers:



A further visit to GPNR later in the month coincided with a bit of snow - good backdrop for this Blue Tit:



Washington WWT is always a fruitful site - captive birds of many varieties; the lake and river; and the feeding station. In many parts of the country it is quite hard to see Bullfinches, but the vivid male and the more muted female are always on view here.  This male is certainly 'in the pink':

Another bright male swam on the lake - a Shoveler:




I was back at Washington in February, mainly to try out my new Fuji XH1 mirror-less camera. It was good to see Redpolls.  It is difficult to distinguish between the Lesser Redpoll (which is more common) and the Mealy Redpoll (scarcer but, confusingly, also sometimes called the Common Redpoll!!).  This one could well be a Mealy - they are said to have a 'frostier' look with paler under-feathers:





Since we have moved to Forest Hall, the Rising Sun Reserve in Wallsend is very accessible by foot.  Our walk there takes us past the Newcastle United Training Ground (not much to see there of any note....) and East Benton Farm where there is an abundance of House Sparrows:



Mid-February we took a short break with the Heatherlea bird tour company who are based in Nethy Bridge on Speyside.  Chris Packham and his BBC 'Watch' programmes are coming from there this year.  We didn't see Chris - but this is what a group of birdwatchers looks like:

Another favourite local spot - only 10 minutes by car - is the Big Waters Reserve near Wideopen.  A good lake and a feeding station that usually has visits from Yellowhammers:




I also like to appreciate the plumage of what can be dismissed by birdwatchers as 'little brown jobs'.  Look more closely at the Dunnock:





and at this female Reed Bunting:





Interspersed with these visits to local reserves are trips to the coast.  Sanderling, seen at Boulmer, are a favourite:





A new spot for our Tuesday morning bird class was Warkworth and Amble.  On the way back home, Julia and I dropped in to Cresswell, hoping to see the resident Barn Owl. He obliged:





We saw another Barn Owl at Far Pastures (Thornley Woods) and also a Short-eared Owl in Durham (near the Tanfield Railway).  These sightings were led by Keith Bowey - as part of his Natural History Society of Northumbria course 'Owling at the Moon' which Julia and I enjoyed over two weekends at the end of February.


Here's hoping for plenty more birds as Spring arrives - when will we spot our first hirundine and our first warbler?  Hopefully before our forthcoming trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos - which we know will provide some exciting photographic opportunities.



Prespa (Greece and Albania)

Posted on 6 August, 2018 at 6:50 Comments comments (0)

This entry is a bit out of order - but never mind...

In June 2018 Julia and I visited Greece and Albania, the region known as Prespa.  The tour was organised by a company we met at Birdfair 2017 called Balkan Tracks.  We had a personalised tour just for us and our friends Chris and Anne Newman.



Our guide, Iannis Theodoropoulos was outstanding.



We saw about 115 bird species - including some 'lifers'.  On our first day we had great views of a Lesser Kestrel.  And it went on and on... Olivaceous Warbler, Long-legged Buzzard, Roller, Bee-eater, Rosy Starling and lots of Nightingales - one of which we could actually see instead of just hearing!

Prespa Lake is the meeting place for 3 countries, Greece, Albania and Macedonia.  There has been 30 years of dispute over the name of Macedonia - you may have noticed at the Olympics it features as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).  The arguments are founded on the fact that a large part of Greece is also known as Macedonia (Thessaloniki is the capital of that region).  While we were there, there was a momentous meeting of Prime Ministers (at Lake Prespa) to agree a new name for the country - the Republic of North Macedonia.  Our travel plans were interrupted and Chinook helicopters and police were seen in abundance!





One of the attractions of the trip was to see Albania - a country that was closed for so long.  The country is one of the poorest in Europe with a simple agrarian economy.



But it does have good bird life. As the tour continued we saw Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush, Golden Oriole, Little Bittern, Alpine Swift, Short-toed Eagle, Cirl Bunting, Penduline Tit, Turtle Dove, Woodchat Shrike and so on and so on.
There are galleries of birds and other wildlife elsewhere on the website.

But here are a few to finish with - Great Egret, Red-backed Shrike and female Bearded Reedling.












Short break in Scotland

Posted on 29 July, 2018 at 8:30 Comments comments (0)

July 29th 2018 - we have just returned from a short break in Scotland, staying at the wonderful Grant Arms Hotel.  Good old fashioned hospitality and everything geared up for birdwatching too.  This time we had a DIY visit without any local guiding.  We now know a lot of the best places to visit - and we found some new ones too.

On the first morning we were very lucky to find Black and Red Throated Divers in full breeding plumage.  We had a close up view of a Red Grouse family plus we saw the lovely Crested Tit.  Over 50 other species followed - including Crossbill.  Other highlights were Spotted Flycatcher and the fantastic Ospreys at Loch Insh.  I have created a new page especially for the Ospreys on the website.  Here are few of the photos taken...

Red Grouse


Crossbill


Juvenile Robin




Spotted Flycatcher

Willow Warbler

Roe Deer


Big Waters Posing Perch

Posted on 29 January, 2018 at 3:15 Comments comments (2)

A visit to Big Waters when everything was frozen meant that there was not much action on the lake - but there were plenty of visitors to the feeding station.  Eight different species posed on the same perch for me over a period of an hour or so.  Very obliging!



1. Blue Tit

2. Chaffinch


3. Dunnock



4. Great Tit


5. Reed Bunting


6. Robin


7. Willow Tit


8. Yellowhammer








Happy New Year - slightly late...

Posted on 10 January, 2018 at 10:40 Comments comments (0)

The first post of 2018.  I'm not sure if I am making a determined effort for 200 UK birds this year - but I might as well count them anyway.
January 10th and I'm on 63.
I went to Wallington NT yesterday to the hide and feeding station hoping to see Brambling.  That's where I had good views last year - good enough for this bonny bird to appear in Calendar 2018.
Not lucky this time - but still plenty going on.  Mostly tits and finches - but also a Field Vole (I think) and a mole hill erupting like Vesuvius in front of me (but no sight of Moley).

I was pleased to snap Sparrowhawk, Marsh Tit and Goldcrest.  Though it was incredibly dark - so to get pictuures at f5.6, 1/400 I had to boost the ISO to 12,800.  Hence a horrible lot of 'noise' in these pictures.  But never mind, it was still a good morning...