Monday, 20 January 2014

Sandwell Valley - January, with a mini-twitch!

Yesterday I was back at RSPB Sandwell Valley for the first time this year. However when Alf picked me up in the morning, he told me he'd had a text from Mike I. asking if we'd be interested in a short trip up the road from Sandwell to see the Glossy Ibis that's been loitering near Brownhills for a little while now. Of course the answer was yes! So once we arrived at the Valley, we jumped in Mike's car and were off on a mini-twitch in search of the shiny creature, which would be a life tick for Alf and I!

When we arrived at the wet paddock that the ibis had been frequenting, it was nowhere to be seen, however we could see a crowd of birders further up the track alongside the fields. Within only a couple of minutes though the Glossy Ibis had taken off from where they were watching it, and come in to land right in front of us - cheers ibis! The tide of birders duly followed, and we spent the next half an hour or so enjoying watching the ibis busily feeding in the deep mud, working its way along the pools of water until it was quite close. It looked great in the bright sun, here are a few photos:

Glossy Ibis in the paddock just after we arrived.
With a hooved friend.
Getting a bit closer.
My partner Chris gave me a Moleskine sketchbook for Christmas for field sketching, which I had been looking forward to starting - alas I didn't have time for more than a few very sketchy lines at the paddock!

Feeding alongside the ibis we also saw both Pied and Grey Wagtail, the latter's plumage looking especially bright and fresh, and several Buzzards soared and called overhead. Eventually the ibis was disturbed by someone from the stables coming into the field to fetch some ponies, and it flew off. But I can't imagine it minds that disturbance too much overall as it keeps coming back to the same spot. Well pleased with this morning's birding, we headed back to Sandwell and went down to volunteer in the hide for the afternoon.

I think the continuous mild weather we've experienced this winter has maybe caused a reduction in the numbers of wildfowl we're used to seeing at Sandwell over the winter normally - although we counted 25 Goosanders, there were hardly any Teal, Pochard, Shoveler and Wigeon around. 

Mild and pleasant weather at Sandwell Valley!

There were Lapwings aplenty though as usual, and probably the highlight of the afternoon was a Kingfisher that Mike spotted landing in overhanging vegetation at the far side of Forge Mill lake. Although it wasn't visible while perched, the Kingfisher dived repeatedly from this vantage point, returning to it each time, and we could observe this behaviour clearly - don't think I've ever before managed to watch a Kingfisher hunting for this length of time.

I did some more sketching, a bit more successfully this time:

Looks like Lapwings are becoming one of my favourite subjects, definitely need a lot more Gadwall practice though!

I decided to try and have a go a drawing some behaviour - this Lesser Black-backed Gull was enthusiastically ripping away at the corpse of what looked like a Teal which I thought would be an interesting subject. I also tried to draw its winter plumage head-pattern.

Once we'd locked up the hide, as it was still light Alf and I decided to end the day by dropping in on the juvenile Great Northern Diver that had been hanging around at Swan Pool! Brilliant! It's been a few years since I last saw one, I forget how big they are, especially that super-sharp bill - a serious fishing implement. The diver was soon to be found, and we found a good vantage point on the bank to enjoy views of the diver in the light from the setting sun. Its behaviour was very regular - it would surface for around 10 seconds, have a look around, stick its head underwater a couple of times to look down there, then dive and remain underwater for 30 - 40 seconds. The only differences in this pattern were the distances it travelled underwater - sometimes resurfacing very close to where it had dived, other times (like when some irresponsible dogwalkers without leads on their dogs let them splash around in the lake) resurfacing much further away. The poor light meant that this shoddy record shot was the best I was able to get!

Distant Great Northern Diver!

However the sunset was slightly easier to photograph :o)

Swan Pool. Obviously.

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