Monday, 22 July 2013

Sandwell Valley + bonus Rowley Hills!

Today was my monthly volunteering jaunt at RSPB Sandwell Valley, but it was actually 2 months since I last volunteered - I had to skip it in June due to being too busy with my studying :o( So it was great to be back there today with summer now well underway! I also got rebranded with a new blue RSPB t-shirt!

Although the quiet time is now upon us, with many birds hiding away in thick foliage and no longer attracting attention by singing, we did fairly well considering. The hide was well manned for the morning so Alf and I went for a walk around the reserve, we had a good start with a Kingfisher and around 16 Tufted Ducklings with their parents on the River Tame. We also heard the Ring-necked Parakeets but they were scared off by a couple of loudmouth dog walkers before we could find them. Not to worry though as we later saw one in the top of the trees by the visitor centre!

The reserve was looking particularly verdant (although water levels were getting low in the marsh and lake) and I spotted a few new plants to try and learn.

The marsh.
This one had me puzzled, I think it could be Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria). Possibly.
Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) I reckon.
I think this is White Bryony (Bryonia dioica).
I was amazed by this plant's small beautiful flowers. We had a wild flower book in the hide with which I attempted to make an identification, I thought it looked closest to Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), which the book said smelt unpleasant. There was only one way to check the ID, and I can confirm that this lovely plant did indeed smell BAAAD.
Whilst on our walk round, we heard and saw juveniles of many species, including Reed Warbler, Robin, Whitethroat, Great Tit, Little Ringed Plover and Blackcap, as well as birds such as Song Thrush carrying food to chicks. The low pressure conditions (it was rather cloudy with the odd spot of drizzle) brought Swifts and House Martins right down to whizz past our heads as we walked along the path between Forge Mill Lake and the River Tame.

From the hide, we had nice views of the juvenile Little Ringed Plovers which had probably bred elsewhere, as there'd been no sign of them breeding on the reserve. Kingfishers were very active flying back and forth, and this Coot had its feet out for all to see, always fun to see Coot feet!

 Outside the hide I practised my butterfly ID skills in preparation for later on.....

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus).
Back in the hide I think my field drawing skills are slowly improving:

Sketches of Lapwing, Starling, Coot and Little Ringed Plover.

After Sandwell, Alf and I were not yet done! Since catching a glimpse of my first Marbled White butterfly in the Clent Hills a couple of weeks ago, I've become a bit obsessed with seeing more, and just generally trying to learn more about butterflies. So I had mentioned to Alf that I was keen to check out the Rowley Hills, an area of species-rich grassland in the Black Country between Birmingham and Dudley, and Alf liked the sound of it too, so off we went. 

The Rowley Hills.
The Rowley Hills, showing their very urban setting in the background.

Neither of us had visited before, and within metres of entering the site, we were already enjoying some fine butterfly action. The sun had finally come out (after struggling for most of the day) and the conditions were pretty excellent for a butterfly quest! Soon enough we didn't know which way to look, there were so many Marbled Whites around! They were quite hard to photograph, being very busy and seemingly not stopping to rest much, but I did manage some OK photos:

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea).
Marbled White (Melanargia galathea).

As well as these, we also saw Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Large White, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Ringlet, Comma and Small White, brilliant!

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina).
Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris).
We also saw tons of what I think might be Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moths (possibly - not great on moths, they could be Five-spot Burnets, am making the assumption based mainly on habitat), along with their empty chrysalises:

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae). Probably.
Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae) chrysalises.
And this caterpillar, which I think might be that of a Peacock butterfly:

Peacock (Inachis io) caterpillar.
What an excellent place, Alf and I thoroughly enjoyed our walk around and I will definitely be going back there! A small part of the site has recently been bought by the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country as it was threatened by development, and they are trying to buy more to secure its future. I think I might make a donation to their appeal :o)

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