Monday, 20 July 2015

Sandwell Valley - July 2015

Yesterday I was back for my monthly volunteering stint at RSPB Sandwell Valley. Exciting times afoot, as the brand new visitor centre 'Nature's Reach' is now open to the public! Although I think it's been open for a couple of weeks or so, there is an official grand opening event on 2nd August so come along to that for the full experience! Yesterday though as they were a bit short of volunteers I was in the hide in the morning, and on reception at Nature's Reach from 2:30 in the afternoon until closing time at 5, so I had a nice varied day :o)

Down in the hide there was some excitement due to the presence of two Black-tailed Godwits, fairly unusual visitors to the reserve. One looked smaller than the other and had brighter plumage, although both had their breeding season rusty red feathers on. They seemed fairly settled, busily feeding mostly around a group of Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings, and although they did fly up a couple of times when disturbed, always returned again. I had a go at sketching them:

Black-tailed Godwit sketches.
There were quite a few juvenile birds about. The Common Terns have been successful, raising two chicks that it seemed were taking their first flights this very day - apparently they hadn't been flying at all the previous day. Their parents were vigilant as ever at seeing off Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Magpies that got too close, but now the young'uns can fly they are hopefully pretty much home and dry. We also saw one Little Ringed Plover juvenile scuttling about but it probably came from elsewhere - don't think they've bred at Sandwell this year. There were a few Tufted Ducklings about also. 

Juvenile Little Ringed Plover, digiscoped through the hide scope as I didn't have my own with me today.
Forge Mill Lake looking splendid.
Behind the hide we had a brief and unexpected encounter with a Garden Warbler - well not entirely unexpected as we'd heard one singing in the same location on the breeding bird survey, but now everything's stopped singing you don't really expect to get a great view of anything really, much less a Garden Warbler. I didn't spot any new plants to try and identify this time, but the damp bit behind the hide always has some nice plants, like this Meadowsweet and Water Figwort:

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).
Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata).
Around the reserve throughout the day I saw plenty of butterflies - Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Large Whites and the highlight - one Marbled White in the grassland as I was walking up to the visitor centre. I'd never seen Marbled White at Sandwell Valley before, although apparently a few do pop up here and there every year.

The only photo I managed to get of the Marbled White - they never sit still!
In the afternoon I enjoyed familiarising myself with Nature's Reach and selling LOTS of ice creams and cold drinks to visitors - cheers nice weather! Here are a couple of pics of the interior - in some ways it's similar to the old centre, but a lot more spacious and with even bigger windows looking down onto the marsh and Forge Mill Lake:

A bit blurry, the new reception area.
For all your snacking and beverage needs!
Take a seat and enjoy the view.
Best of all, about an hour before closing time Chris and our friends Andy and Ellie (who were visiting for the weekend) came to visit :o) They enjoyed looking round Nature's Reach and searching for newts in the ponds, then once the centre was closed up for the evening we went for a short walk around the reserve. I craftily steered us towards the best spot for checking whether the Black-tailed Godwits were still there, and indeed they were. One was roosting with his beak tucked away, but we all enjoyed watching the other having a good preen - Chris, Andy and Ellie had never seen a godwit before and were suitably impressed by its very long beak! After a nice walk in the sun we all headed home together - infinitely better than my long solitary bus journey to the reserve that morning.

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