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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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 have (at the 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 www.cloleoptera.org.uk 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...   :)


Home schooling

Posted on 5 May, 2020 at 5:45 Comments comments (2)

I had planned to post various bugs and beastie pictures today - but, once again, have changed my mind.  Confinement to the garden has made me look more closley at the bees and there has been a steep curve of learning.  I am definitely being schooled at home.  So today I am starting to share some of that learning, using my own photographs as visual aids.

The bee of choice is the Common Carder, which loves to visit our flowering Rosemary.



One of our commonest bees, she is quite distinctive with a bright gingery coloured thorax and stripey abdomen.  Which brings me to the 'naming of parts'...



The three main part of the bee are (1) the head (2) the thorax (3) the abdomen.  The abdomen is divided into 5 tergites (not all visible here).  The bumblebee wears its skeleton on the outside - hard plates of chitin joined together by flexible sections.  It is black but covered in coloured hairs.
The pygidium, at the base of the abdomen, is used to make a waxy secretion for lining the nest.
Hopefully I may be able to get a close up of the head and eyes at some time.

Here you can see the tongue (or proboscis) in action.  The bee dips its tongue in nectar, usually deep inside the flower, and the fluid soaks its way up the tongue and into the bee's mouth - they don't suck it up!





Bumblebees are covered in branched hairs. As they fly this creates a static charge attracting pollen grains as the bee lands on a flower and encourages them to stick to the hairs. The bee grooms itself using the spurs and stiff bristles on their legs to comb the pollen out of their fur.  This action pushes the pollen into the pollen baskets on the tibia of female bumblebees' hind legs.  Pollen, wetted by a little saliva, builds up into a lump with the consistency of plasticine.  A full pollen basket may contain up to a million grains of pollen.



And another good view of the Common Carder - the view you may well get when spotting Bumblebees in your garden (or out on your walk - lucky things...)



The text books for my home learning are:



Tune in for more lessons on Friday!




More Macro Magic

Posted on 1 May, 2020 at 5:30 Comments comments (1)

Well - o loyal fan - I promised macro bugs and beasts today.  But I've changed my mind...

Firstly, there will be no photographic mumbo jumbo following my admonishment on Tuesday's blog. I've got that out of my system - and whatever I said then still holds today (and does not bear repeating).

Secondly there was a very rare occurence last night for April 2020 - it rained! Ever the opportunist I ventured outdoors with my camera.  Here are some of the results - so - no more words, just pictures. Hope you enjoy...

















And I've changed my mind again...if you have reached this far down the blog here is a minute beastie that I snapped too.  You can see the size when you realise that it is balancing on the petal of apple blossom.  No idea what it is!!


Next Tuesday could bring bees, wasps and flies - you have been warned...



Macro Magic - take one...

Posted on 28 April, 2020 at 9:40 Comments comments (3)

Macro photography is a unique form of photography that involves photographing small objects to make them look life-sized or larger in the photo. The usual subjects include flowers and small insects, which we don’t normally get to see up close with the naked eye.

I now basically work with two bits of kit for photography.  I switched to Fuji Mirrorless (XH1) for my long range shots, with a 100-400 lens (sometimes with a 1.4 'converter' to reach even further) - the equipment is lighter and more portable.

When I bought the Fuji I traded a lot of Canon equipment (which I had bought over the years - and seldom used!) but kept my rather battered Canon 5d iii and one Canon lens - my 100mm 2.8 Macro lens.  This lens lets you take images 1:1 - and then, of course, crop in closer on the computer.

Use of the Fuji is now very limited as we are confined to the house and garden. But I have been able to practise some macro skills. The fine sunny weather has made things easier and has given us some beuatiful colours in the flowers.



It also allows you delve right into the flowers - and even see what beasties are lurking there!


Here you can see the rhodedendron's stamen and anthers in great detail - quite an arty picture!



And here too on the tulip...



Another feature of good macro lenses is that they go 'down' to a large f-stop...in my case f2.8. This means a lot of light can enter - but also that there is a very shallow 'depth of field'. This means that only a small part of the picture will be in focus. This can be a help or a hindrance depending on what effect you are trying to achieve.  In this picture of a lavender flower, I wanted just a tiny flower tip in focus with the rest blurring in the background.



In order to get well-focussed pictures you need a fast shutter speed - or you need to work on a tripod.  Camera shake can be a problem.  But, all these pictures were taken 'hand-held' because the light was so good that I could achieve shutter speeds of 2000th of a second or more.

MacroMagic - part 2 (you will have to wait until Friday!) will feature insects - bees, hoverflies, wasps and ladybirds.  And perhaps something else if I can capture any photos before then...


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