Monday, 16 March 2015

Sandwell Valley - March 2015

Yesterday I was volunteering once again at RSPB Sandwell Valley. Despite some signs of spring, there was still a rather powerful chill in the air and I wrapped up warm before heading out! When we arrived, there were plenty of volunteers to staff the hide, so Alf and I went for a wander around the reserve. 

The chilly temperatures weren't putting off many of the birds, and very soon we heard singing from Chaffinch, Dunnock, Bullfinch, Robin, Wren and Greenfinch among others. We had a fruitful stop at Kingfisher Corner, spotting pairs of Teal and Little Grebe along the River Tame, and hearing a Green Woodpecker. Onwards we proceeded, with flocks of Goldfinches twittering around above, following the river where we encountered seven Wigeon grazing on the opposite bank.

Can you spot the Wigeons? I couldn't achieve a decent close-up in the terrible light!
Up on the windswept path between the river and Forge Mill Lake we bumped into a couple of regulars and stopped for a chat. During said chat we saw a pair of Grey Wagtails on the River Tame, a Chiffchaff skulking through the willows on the lake bank - calling but not singing - and heard a Water Rail screeching in the reeds. Across the lake we could see the new visitor centre which is taking shape very quickly, and now has the beginnings of a roof!

View of the new visitor centre across Forge Mill Lake.
We continued along the path and one of the volunteers in the hide phoned to say they were watching a Ringed Plover! Alas we couldn't find it from the other side of the lake; as the viewers in the hide said it was foraging around the shoreline of the islands closest to them, it was likely obscured from our view by the rise of the islands. We decided to head back up to the centre to warm up and have lunch, and hoped that the Ringed Plover would stick around for a bit!

After lunch we went down to the hide; although I was on the look out for wildflowers en route we hardly saw any - far fewer than I've been seeing on my canalside commute through south Birmingham lately. Perhaps temperatures at Sandwell are lagging behind those in my local area somewhat, which may experience a bit of an urban heat island effect and I think is probably a little more sheltered. All I could find was some Blackthorn blossom and Willow catkins:

Who doesn't love FUZZY Willow (Salix sp.) catkins!

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) blossoms.
In the trees at the top of the path to the hide Alf tracked down a singing Song Thrush. Alas, when we reached the hide the Ringed Plover had already departed! But a Little Ringed Plover was still about, as were the Oystercatcher pair who were mainly having a snooze for most of the afternoon. Lapwing numbers were quite low, but there were loooads of Black-headed Gulls, and most of them seemed to be actively feeding on something in the surface waters - they kept picking stuff (we couldn't see what - presumably very small) out of the water. Maybe they were exploiting some kind of spawning event - perhaps it was tiny eggs or larvae they were feeding on?

Feeding Black-headed Gulls.
We also enjoyed watching a pair of Great Crested Grebes nest-building and doing a bit of courtship - mirroring each other's head-shakes, although no full-on dancing or weedy gifts. They did copulate on the nest at one point though, hopefully they will continue with their nest and settle there as it was eminently viewable from the hide - would be grand to watch them raise their chicks in plain view! There were still a few wintery ducks about - Shovelers, Goosanders and one Pochard, although that may well be the one Pochard that stays in the Valley all year round. We also had a brief Kingfisher fly-by. I attempted some drawings but the Grey Heron flew off just as I'd started; the grazing Wigeon is a little more complete at least, if a bit on the chunky side!

Drawings of Grey Heron and Wigeon.

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