Birdwatchers: Sandwell Valley 24th May 2017

This was the first time that Sandwell had appeared on our programme, but it as a struggle to turn that occurrence into reality. A motorway closure on the M6 halved the number of cars attending as two were forced to turn back by traffic density. The two cars that did make it were compelled to undertake a two-and-a-half hour trip that took in a good part of Shropshire. Sandwell’s position next to the M5 in Birmingham does little to inspire confidence, and some among us, rightly, were wondering whether the effort had been worth it.

The Visitor Centre was the first stop for our much-attenuated group of eight, and almost the first sighting was the bird of the day – a Rose-ringed Parakeet (or Ring-necked Parakeet) suspended from the feeders. This bright green addition to our avifauna established itself around London in the 70s, and has spread north in time. The RSPB’s estimate now puts its population at 8,600 pairs. Colour seemed to be the order of the day, as at least 3 pairs of Bullfinches adorned the feeders with up to 4 Greenfinches. Green Woodpecker and Jay flew across the glade in front of the Visitor Centre’s deck, while on the scrub edges Whitethroat and Great Spotted woodpecker attracted attention.

The piping and the sight of Oystercatchers finally urged us to leave the Visitor Centre and head through the woodland to the Lakeside Hide, serenaded by the song of several Blackcaps. The hide gave great views of an Oystercatcher pair, with two fluffy youngsters playing hide-and-seek amongst the undergrowth on one of the islands. Pairs of Black-headed Gulls were on the islands, while Lesser Black-backed Gulls and up to a dozen Herons watched the beach-side nest of a pair of Little Ringed Plover. We were lucky enough to watch their nest changeover while we were there, but the threat to their as yet unborn chicks was evident. Stock Doves were on the ground nearby, and Gadwall floated among the islands. Further out on the lake were several Mute Swans, a number of perched  Lesser Black-backed Gulls along a mooring rail, and two or three Great Crested Grebes.

We returned to the Visitor Centre for lunch overlooking the feeders, but of new list additions there were none. We set out for the east side in the afternoon, and the sound of Song Thrush and Willow Warbler set the list going again. We stopped at the Marsh Screen, where the local knowledge had directed us to listen for Reed Warbler, and sure enough they obliged. George, looking out of the side of the screen into the reeds, found a preening Water Rail, and all of us had prolonged views of this normally secretive reed denizen. A Sedge Warbler vaulted to the top of a small willow close to the screen, and began his song, an opportunity to separate it from the more distant Reed Warbler’s notes. We walked round on to the South Bank, alongside the River Tame and opposite the hide, and here, as promised by the locals, came the vocalisation of the Garden Warbler, another opportunity to compare the song with that of its cousin the Blackcap. Chiffchaff also rang out from across the river, and we turned back to the car park for an early departure, aware that traffic could still be dense on the motorways.

We need not have worried, we had a very quick transit back to Sandbach, and in the opinion of all, an excellent day, well worth the long outbound journey. Thanks must go to the drivers, George and Derrick, for their perseverance. We saw 52 species for the day, and took the group’s tally to 120 for 2017, and 126 for the season 2016/17. Additions to those totals at Sandwell were Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Parakeet, Little Ringed Plover and Swift, proving the variety available here.

Sandwell Valley Bird List  24th May 2017                                                                          

Mute Swan Several on lake.
Greater Canada Goose      Several on and around lake.
Shelduck                  One on lake below VC.
Gadwall                   Pair in front of Lakeside hide.
Mallard                   Several
Great Crested Grebe       3-4 on lake.
Grey Heron                10-12 on lake/lakeshore E. of Lakeside hide.
Buzzard                   Seen soaring.
Kestrel                   One hovering to south of lake.
Water Rail                One seen inside reed bed from Marsh Screen.
Moorhen                   Seen from VC.
Common Coot               Seen from Lakeside Hide.
Oystercatcher             1-2 pairs seen flying, calling, on shore.
Little Ringed Plover      Pair on nest to east of Lakeside hide.
Lapwing                   4-5 on lakeshore.
Black-headed Gull         Small numbers on islands.
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Good numbers on rails on lake.
Herring Gull              One high overhead.
Common Tern               Pair on islands.
Rock Pigeon               Overhead.
Stock-Dove                Overhead.
Wood-Pigeon               Several.
Rose-ringed Parakeet      One on feeders in front of VC.
Common Swift              High overhead.
Green Woodpecker          One flew across in front of VC.
Great Spotted Woodpecker  Heard and seen several times.
Wren                      Heard in car park and several times thereafter.
Dunnock                   Seen near Marsh Screen.
Robin                     Seen near Marsh Screen.
Blackbird                 Seen near Marsh Screen.
Song Thrush               Near R. Tame.
Sedge Warbler             Seen from Marsh Screen.
Eurasian Reed Warbler     Heard & seen from Marsh Screen.
Blackcap                  Heard a number of times.
Garden Warbler            One heard on South Bank.
Whitethroat               One seen in front of VC.
Chiffchaff                One heard very clearly on South Bank from across river.
Willow Warbler            Many heard & seen.
Long-tailed-Tit           On seen from VC.
Blue Tit                  On VC feeders.
Great Tit                 On VC feeders.
Jay                       One flew across in front of VC.
Black-billed Magpie       Seen from car park on arrival.
Jackdaw                   Seen from Lakeside hide.
Carrion Crow              Several seen.
Chaffinch                 On feeders in front of VC.
Greenfinch                On feeders in front of VC.
Goldfinch                  Near Marsh Screen.
Bullfinch                 On feeders in front of VC.
Reed Bunting In reed bed