Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sandwell Valley - August 2015

On Sunday I was back once again for my monthly volunteering stint at RSPB Sandwell Valley, but it was a bit of a different day to normal. We had a big Family Fun Day event arranged to celebrate the opening of the brand new visitor centre and with wildlife activities aplenty expertly organised by Alex, Cathy and Nadia, and a good weather forecast, were hoping to get a good turnout! When Alf and I arrived the place was teeming with volunteers; we'd all been allocated a role in Alex's Rota (our masterplan for the day). Instead of my usual place in the hide I was down to be a 'roving' volunteer in the morning and afternoon, walking around the reserve and talking to visitors, and to cover other volunteers' lunch breaks around lunchtime. Sounded good to me - I would get to do a nice variety of things.

I started off with a walk around the reserve which was looking great in the sunshine.

The Marsh.
Forge Mill Lake.
I saw and spoke to a few people; bird-wise it was fairly quiet as expected for the time of year. There were lots of Reed Warblers skulking around in the reeds fringing Forge Mill Lake; a fair bit of Green Woodpecker activity (we'd seen a juvenile and an adult from the centre before I set off) and the usual suspects on the lake. The juvenile Common Terns were still around and doing well, and I saw a very cute juvenile Blackcap hopping around in the bushes on the lake bank. I also saw quite a few Large White butterflies and a few Small Whites, plus the odd Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown. The Himalayan Balsam was in full flow and getting a bit out of hand in places - it's very difficult to keep on top of. It does provide nectar for various pollinators though.

As well as this hoverfly I saw plenty of bumblebees visiting the Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera ) flowers.
I also managed to find a plant I'd never seen on the reserve before.

Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea). Lovely.
I headed back to the new volunteer room in the visitor centre for an early lunch, in preparation for covering other volunteers' lunch breaks. At 12:30 I was scheduled to cover pond dipping at pond 2! The last time I did any pond dipping was probably at least 2 decades ago, although I did also remember a bit of the identification stuff from the short aquatic invertebrate monitoring project I did much more recently as part of my degree. After watching the demonstration from chief pond-dipper Rachel though I soon got the hang of it and had a great time looking at what everyone had found and helping them identify their critters. There were plenty of newt tadpoles, water boatmen, whirligig beetles, snails, leeches and the like. Both kids and parents were well into it! It was a big contrast to my relatively quiet morning wandering around the lake but it was good fun. Each session lasted half an hour then at the end we had to make sure everyone had put all their pond beasties safely back into the pond, and rinse out and fill the trays and pots with a bit of pond water ready for the next group.

Learning how to pond dip!
At 13:30 I was covering pond dipping at pond 1! As it turned out, pond 1 seemed to be short of volunteers for the rest of the afternoon so that's where I stayed until 16:00 when it was time to start clearing up. The afternoon was so hectic I didn't have time to take any more photos! It was great helping visitors find and identify pond creatures and seeing them getting so excited about nature. I also saw Mike Poulton and we had a quick chat about the latest Friends of Rowley Hills antics, things are going well with our group. Once the pond dipping equipment was tidied away I caught up with Alf and Colin who'd had similarly busy days in the centre, showing visitors birds through their scopes. The centre was still packed with people; visitor numbers had far exceeded what we were expecting. They did all eventually leave though, and we were left slightly dazed but very happy with how successful the day had been!

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