Neil Pont

Wildlife Photography

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Posted on 4 June, 2020 at 9:55 Comments comments (1)

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...

Oops - nearly missed it!

Posted on 29 May, 2020 at 17:50 Comments comments (678)

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"...

Birds - take 2

Posted on 22 May, 2020 at 10:35 Comments comments (946)

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.

Sorting out the stripes

Posted on 12 May, 2020 at 5:10 Comments comments (4)

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!

Home schooling

Posted on 5 May, 2020 at 5:45 Comments comments (501)

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!

Hog Day

Posted on 7 April, 2020 at 5:50 Comments comments (14488)

I suppose our extra interest in Hedgehogs goes back to our time in Jesmond.  Unfortunately we found two injured hogs which we took to rescue centres - neither of them made it.

But we did have lots of hog activity in our back garden - which we could easily observe from our verandah.  Amazingly we had 5 hogs at once on one occasion - probably only one of them was female and she was having a hard time of it. We got more interested and became Hedgehog Champions for our street - making people aware that we had them and asking them to make sure the hogs could travel from garden to garden.  Hedgehogs travel very large distances on their nightly patrols and we can all make it easier for them.  We can thoroughly recommend for information.  We had planned to spread the word in our new street - before something else spread instead!  I have all the information ready and we will distribute it - sometime.  Because we do have Hedgehogs here... The evidence is lower down the page.

Last autumn I constructed a Hedgehog House out of timber that was spare:

Now Mrs P thought this was splendid and so she advertised the fact on her Facebook page - and soon orders were flooding in - and a production line had to be set up.

Eventually ours was installed, suitably decorated for the winter...

And now for the evidence...these are pictures from my trail camera taken in the last couple of weeks.  The hog is here every night and I am giving him supplementary food (puppy food).  There is evidence that the box is used as temporary shleter (the straw inside has been made into a nest) but I haven't actually seen him in there.  I don't think it was used in the winter by a mother.  Of course, all through the winter you do not disturb the box.

Hope you've got hogs too...look out for dark, wiggly droppings!


Posted on 1 April, 2020 at 5:25 Comments comments (5214)

It's not Tuesday and it's not Friday - my blogging days - but thought I would just add this one.  Our NHSN Tuesday bird-watching class has a new 'Covid' WhatsApp group.  Today being April 1st thought I would try a little jape so I posted this lovely picture of a Nightjar (taken last year in Poland) and said I had just seen it the bird on our patio this morning.

Needless to say - a few were fooled (no names...)


Posted on 31 March, 2020 at 6:00 Comments comments (976)

During the first week of 'lockdown' the weather was lovely and our back garden was a bit of a suntrap. Unfortunately the garden renovation that we are undertaking had to be stopped - now we have lots of bare earth and a big hole for a pond (but no liner - so no water or plants).

What we also have is a new 'mowing strip' just put in at the bottom of the wall that supports our patio.  This faces due south.  The concrete was still dampish.  And, lo and behold, this attracted a splendid Comma butterfly who enjoyed basking and may even been feeding on the concrete.  Julia managed a quick snap with her iPhone.

So we saw our first 'Polygonia c-album' ("many sides witha white C") - mostly orange but a design of flame, saffron and mahogony-brown with specks of sun-yellow dotted around the edges.  They begin hatching in June so this one must have over-wintered in a pile of leaves (perhaps the pile that was built around the 'hedgehog hotel' I put out for the winter). Its folded wings are very well camouflaged; the pupae hide by impersonating bird droppings. Their caterpllars can feed on several species - though stinging nettles are a favourite.

Luckily I got close to one when we were in Poland in 2019.


Posted on 27 March, 2020 at 13:25 Comments comments (1030)

This is certainly a resurrection of this Blog.  Can't believe how long ago it is since I posted.  Luckily I will have been busy with so many other things. But now I have no excuse.
Friday March 27th 2020 - Day 4 of the scheduled 12 week 'shielding' because of Covid 19.  I'm not sure how often to post - and not sure I will have new photos always available.  If I do they will be wildlife seen around our garden. 
Yesterday we had a Comma Butterfly long enough for Julia to take a photo with her iPhone.  I'll get hold of that for a later post. 
We are doing a daily Garden Birdwatch - today was the second day. 12 species: Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Magpie, Great Tit, Blue Tit (who was prospecting our nest box), Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Robin and Blackbird. 
But my first picture to post in this revival will be rather nostalgic - because it is a bird photographed on our last birding walk together, at Newbiggin, before the escalation of the current 'situation'.
A Purple Sandpiper for you...