Monday, 10 March 2014

Sandwell Valley - March 2014

Spring was definitely in the air yesterday at RSPB Sandwell Valley, although there were still plenty of wintery friends still around too - I love they way the birds tell you about the changing seasons, a quick look at who's doing what will tell you exactly what time of year it is. 

On our walk down to open the hide, we stopped off to have a look at the feeders by the old visitor centre, as a Brambling had recently been reported there. Sure enough, we must have timed it well as within a few minutes of raising our binoculars he was spotted, with his breeding plumage starting to emerge - his head was looking rather dark. We watched the feeders for 10 minutes or so and possibly partly due to the warm sunny weather, managed to see pretty much every species it's possible to see on them, including Willow Tit, Reed Bunting and Greenfinch (which are scarce on the reserve these days), alongside the usual tits, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch and tons of Bullfinches. It was particularly good to see Willow Tit, and hear several different individuals singing too - with their great decline nationally, it's a worry whether they'll persist at Sandwell Valley, but so far they seem to be doing OK.

On the way down to the hide we also heard and saw another winter resident, Redwing, which surely won't be around for much longer here before they head off back up to more northerly climes. At the hide, we saw that there was a flock of 22 Barnacle Geese on the island! They were spooked when we opened the hide and flew off down the lake, but soon came back up again and remained on and around the island for the rest of the day. They are most likely a feral flock that moves around Birmingham, often seen in Cannon Hill Park and on the Vale at Edgbaston among other places, but still very nice to see - Barnacles are my favourite geese. It was interesting to see how they responded to other birds - mostly they were quite chilled out, but they didn't seem to like Grey Herons, all yapping loudly whenever one flew over! 

I think my digiscoping attempts are slowly improving, a bit vignette-y but a higher proportion were in focus this time:

Digiscoped Barnacle Geese.
Digiscoped Barnacle Geese.
The right-hand island was busy!
 I also enjoyed trying to draw the Barnacle Geese, and I would've liked to have drawn more, but the good weather meant we had loads of visitors, so I had to pay them some attention instead! :oD

Barnacle Goose sketches. After the first one, I made sure to start from the head in all subsequent sketches...
Barnacle Goose sketches.
Out on the lake were still a few winter ducks - Goosander and Shoveler - and no signs of any returning spring migrants yet, but plenty of springtime behaviour from many of the residents. Great Crested and Little Grebes were looking splendid in their breeding plumage, Lapwings were starting to display, and outside the hide I saw a pair of Goldcrests frantically chasing each other around, and a pair of Long-tailed Tits - no others present, so they've obviously broken off from their family flocks now to pair off. I also saw a few Peacock butterflies, and other volunteers had spotted Comma and Brimstone too. The Blackthorn blossom was looking super!

Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) in Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) blossom.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) blossom.
Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) in Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) - digiscoped and heavily cropped!.

Now winter is over I must get plant-spotting again, in my continuing efforts to expand my plant ID skills.

The day ended well with a Rose-ringed Parakeet sighting from the temporary visitor centre - we were just having a well-earned cup of tea after counting up the day's grand total of 125 visitors to the hide, when I heard a racket and spotted the lone squawker flying over outside. Hurrah!

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