Thursday, 21 January 2016

Sandwell Valley January 2016

On Sunday I was back for the first time this year for my monthly volunteering day at RSPB Sandwell Valley. We started the morning with an enjoyable half an hour watching the feeders from the warmth of the visitor centre, where alongside the usual suspects the highlights were the occasional Willow Tit, Coal Tit, Reed Bunting and Song Thrush; it was also good to see such high numbers of Greenfinch, which seem to have well and truly bounced back after their populations here were decimated by trichomonosis a few years ago.

It was then time for my stint down in the hide and I had wrapped up well in preparation. It was rather chilly! We were on the lookout for a female Smew which had briefly spent some time on Forge Mill Lake the previous day, but sadly she didn't show up again. No Goldeneyes either despite the freezing temperatures! We made do with a couple of Wigeon, some Shoveler, Pochard, Goosander, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Lapwing, as well as the ever-present Black-headed Gulls. There was also a Grey Wagtail and a Pied Wagtail around, and a nice group of Snipe sheltering by a large willow stump at the end of one of the islands, which I attempted to draw:

Snipe sketch.
The female Oystercatcher also put in an appearance, having first returned to the reserve in December, a couple of days before New Year - around a month earlier than her usual return date! We know it's the same one every year as she only has one foot. We did see one more unusual visitor to the reserve - a Great Black-backed Gull.

The female Oystercatcher.

Great Black-backed Gull.
I went back up to the visitor centre to eat my lunch and warm up; luckily there were enough volunteers in the hide that afternoon for me to stay in the warm for the rest of the day! We continued to watch the feeders and there was quite a bit of excitement when a Fox appeared underneath them and swiftly dispatched a Rat that had been eating fallen birdseed! This Fox has been seen taking out Rats in this fashion a few times - it seems he has become quite skilled at it. We saw him again, although he didn't catch a Rat the second time. It was amazing how he just seemed to be able to appear out of nowhere!

Fox with his tasty Rat prize.


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