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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Bee Happy

Posted on 17 April, 2020 at 5:10 Comments comments (875)

We are taking part in the Natural History Society of Northumbria North East Bee Hunt.  You can check it out here:

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 (775)

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 (674)

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".

Hog Day

Posted on 7 April, 2020 at 5:50 Comments comments (12756)

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!

Vespula vulgaris

Posted on 3 April, 2020 at 6:25 Comments comments (729)

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!):



Posted on 1 April, 2020 at 5:25 Comments comments (4146)

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 (730)

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 (738)

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...

A request

Posted on 17 March, 2019 at 18:40 Comments comments (3181)

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:


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.