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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Posted on 23 June, 2020 at 7:35 Comments comments (2235)

Wallsend Rising Sun Country Park is our 'go to' place at the moment - right on the doorstep and there is often some interesting stuff to see. We had received reports of successfully breeding Long-eared Owls - with the owlets often being easy to spot.

So, last Saturday, off I went.  The walk, past East Benton Farm, usually has some surprises as well as regular sightings. There is always a goodly number of House Sparrows and Hogweeed makes statuesque flower and seed heads.

There were Goldfinches feeding...

Also feeding was a male Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius).  Why male? The yellow hairs on his face and the yellow collar distinguish him from the female.  There are no pollen sacs because he does not forage.  He is feeding himself up - ready for the one job he has to perform later in the season (!)

Further on, just before entering the park I came across some really smart new Small Tortoiseshells feeding on thistles...

As I entered the park I was lucky to bump into a well-known local birder.  He had been to see the owlets and was able to tell me exactly where they were - which was about 50m away from where they had been the day before.  This certainly saved me a lot of time and frustration. There are 3 young in this brood.  I got good views of two.  The first was playing hard-to-get and was not easy to photograph.

I could see a second bird further back in the tree - which, luckily, was right next to the footpath. I was able to work my way through some longish grass to get behind the tree and get a good look.  At times the bird stared me straight in the eye and did not seem fazed at all.  The gentle click of the camera got his attention...

I plan to post more pictures of these birds on Friday - along with owls I have seen in the past.  So tune in on Friday, O loyal reader, for more strigine surprises.


Posted on 19 June, 2020 at 5:25 Comments comments (2028)

Haven't been far or seen much the last couple of days - so here is what I was doing in June 2017.  Photographs from some of my favourite local sites...


Posted on 16 June, 2020 at 7:50 Comments comments (6670)

First of all, O Loyal Fan, apologies for not posting last Friday.  Excuse? It was my birthday and - amid all the jollity - I forgot!

On Sunday (14th June) we went on one of our rare outings.  Tired of the continuous low cloud hanging over the coast, we travelled westwards along the Military Road and Hadrian's Wall.  We ended up at Walltown Crags - where it was, indeed, a lovely sunny day.

There were plenty of interesting plants for Julia to look at and we saw Large Skippers 'at it'...

There was a Meadow Brown showing his under-wing markings well too...

The large pond was obviously suffering from the prolonged drought in May but there were thousands of tadpoles ready to lead a frog takeover...

There were plenty of birds to listen to as well.  We had good views of a Song Thrush at full volume - a sound we don't actually hear all that often - and Willow Warblers and Whitethroats too.  But best all - we heard a Cuckoo!  Sadly this is a very rare occurence.  It reminded me of our trip to the Danube Delta in 2017.  They were ubiquitous.  And often perched showingly...

We came home via Aydon - just north of Corbridge - hoping to see a field of glorious poppies.  It was not to be - but there were a few dashes of vivid vermillion amongst the green.

We reflected that this had been what we would regard as a 'normal' day: a trip out into our beloved Northumberland; binoculars and cameras to hand; flask and comestibles to refresh us.  This is what it was like 'before'. 

So - we were cheered and in good spirits and realised what there is plenty to look forward to....

Gosforth Nature Reserve

Posted on 9 June, 2020 at 9:45 Comments comments (1003)

The Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) plays quite a big part in our lives - and Gosforth Nature Reserve in particular. The Reserve has been closed for several weeks now - but has just re-opened, with social distancing guidelines in place.  Unfortunately, our 'shielding' situation means that it is not really an option for us.

Here are some images I've taken at the Reserve - to show what we are missing!
Kingfishers always attract the photographers...

Common Terns nest on the platform in the lake.  They make for some beautiful flight shots...

Moorhens are very common - and largely overlooked.  But I enjoyed watching this one tussling with reeds for nest-building purposes...

And, of course, the other activity I miss is the forced labour of the working party - clearing reeds is always a popular pastime!

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 (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...


Posted on 3 June, 2020 at 8:20 Comments comments (1454)

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 (735)

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 (1423)

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.