Today's walk around the whole of Forge Mill Lake (which is actually on a bit over a mile) provided loads of different birds to be enjoyed.
Before we had even started walking we were greeted by the sound of an angry Mistle Thrush outside the temporary centre as well as the ever present irritable Magpies. A short walk over the railway bridge and the horse field (which I'm still sure will be good for something one day!) was filled with Woodpigeons and Crows but surprisingly no Collared Doves - have they now left us for the winter?
We carried on up the driveway to the feeding station in front of the old centre which is starting to gain in popularity as it gets colder and natural foods become that bit harder to find. We saw all the regulars like Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches and Greenfinches as well as (the pretty much regular) Willow Tit and Reed Bunting. From here we walked around towards the river accompanied by Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds who did not seem to appreciate us being on 'their' reserve.
As we walked along the river bank, Redwings were regularly flying overhead in all directions and we picked up our third thrush species of the day, a Song Thrush, which was kind enough to sit still on the top of a bush to be ID'ed. We stopped to look back over the island to scan the edge which is opposite the hide (and therefore invisible from it) for Snipe. Sure enough along with the Teal which also seem to have a preference for that edge we found 5 Common Snipe (probably more if we had a telescope to scan the edge). From here we could also see that the lake was full of all regular waterfowl, Coots, Moorhens, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Black-Headed Gulls, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and Canada Geese.
Progressing along the river, a Jay flew overhead, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling and some small silhouetted finches at the top of an alder were probably Lesser Redpoll or Siskin. We dropped on to a lower path which runs along the side of the lake and paused in a gap to look over the deeper end. First spot was a very smart male Goldeneye who dived as soon as he was spotted, only to reappear 20+ ft away and who continued this elusive behaviour all day! There was also a group of 21 Pochard who were just floating around resting presumably after completing a potentially 1000+ mile migration.
Continuing around the lake we were accompanied by yet more Redwings, Blackbirds and the almost constant noise of a large flock of Long-Tailed Tits. We stopped at Forge Mill Farm for a cup of tea and also to see a barn load of House Sparrows, Pied Wagtails and the farms regular compliment of Feral Pigeons. Leaving the farm we came across another flock of small finches which this time were positively identified as a mix of Siskin, Redpoll and Goldfinches.
Things were a little quieter as we moved around the top end of the lake with highlights being a Grey Heron and Little Grebe near the newly re-profiled North Island as a large flock of Starlings congregating on a electricity pilon. As we approached the hide, yet another group of small finches were identified as Redpoll, Siskin and Goldfinches but this time with the added bonus of a pair of Bullfinches with them.
We got into the hide just in time to glance at the back end of a Water Rail disappearing into the reeds. The flock of Lapwing had grown to over 40 and there were now at least 15 Goosander relaxing either on the boom across the lake or with the Pochard. A couple of Cormorants arrived and promptly began drying themselves whist perched on the boom. A scan through the Black-Headed Gulls revealed a Common Gull (unfortunately no Mediterranean Gull today) and the family of Mute Swans from this year swam in convoy in front of the hide. Suddenly the call of Kingfisher came from the other end of the hide but alas it had vanished - or so we thought. After some careful scans through the bushes which it had been seen near it was found perching a few feet above the water. It sat there for about 5 minutes before diving for a fish, bashing the fish around a bit, swallowing it down, diving a couple more times and then flying off. I don't care how many 'rare' birds I may see, I will never get tired of seeing Kingfishers - they are fantastic birds!
After this the sight of a pair of Gadwall floating along was a bit of an anti-climax - it's easy to forget that these birds only bred in the Valley for the first time in 2003 yet now it is a surprise not to see them. As we were preparing to close the hide for the day a Stock Dove flew over, closely followed by a few more.
Walking back up to the temporary centre we saw the winter spectacle which is 100's of Jackdaws heading to roost as dusk falls. A final stop at the feeding table on the way past was rewarded with a Coal Tit and a pair of Willow Tits sat next to each other. We got back to the centre and counted up an impressive 50 species - not bad for a little reserve between Birmingham and West Brom!
That said, we still missed a number of birds that on any other day you would not be at all surprised to see. Dunnocks were conspicuous in their absence. Also missing were Fieldfare, Great Crested Grebe, Collared Dove, Green Woodpecker, Shoveler and Wigeon. Not that I'm complaining of course.
The digger was only on site for only a fortnight but boy oh boy did it do some work!
To the casual observer we shifted some mud around but those with a keen interest in wildlife (or even have an 'ology') will note a few more habit specific alterations. Gone has the bund between the Marsh and Lake. Gone is the willow surrounding the Marsh. Gone is the dry areas of the reedbed.
Like everything, habitat changes have to be accepted by wildlife but I've been told, by an ologist, that our working will greatly benefit the kinds of species we want to encourage here.
I know it looks a mess but just wait and see - I said the hedgelaying by the Marsh screen had ruined the hedge but look at me now eating humble pie.
There have been regular, almost daily, sightings of water rail in the reeds on the bank opposite the hide with up to 3 birds sighted (25th.). More goosanders arrived during in the month, with a count of 19 (22nd.) and a pintail paid a brief visit on the same day. Other wintering visitors included numerous redwing, fieldfare, teal and wigeon.
Flocks of small birds were everywhere including 40+ goldfinch feeding off the teasel, similar numbers of linnet, mixed feeding groups of lesser redpoll and siskin, house sparrows in the hedges, parties of long-tailed tits in the trees and a small flock of swirling starlings on the main island. Also on the island were several common snipe together with more than 50 lapwing and earlier in the month a green sandpiper.
Water birds seen around the main lake were up to 19 gadwall, 20 shoveler, 30 pochard, 40 tufted, 3 little grebe, 2 great-crested grebe, a dozen cormorant and a few grey heron.
A challenge for visitors to the hide was to pick out the mediterranean gull, in winter plumage, amongst the 200 or so black-headed gulls and several lesser black-backed and juvenile herring and common gulls.
On the feeders there were good sightings of 2 willow tit, 4 bullfinch and numerous other finches and tits. Other interesting birds seen were 3 grey wagtail, a kingfisher sat on a post in front of the hide, reed bunting, green and great-spotted woodpecker, ring-necked parakeet and jay. The usual raptors kestrel, sparrowhawk and buzzard could be seen daily
A few lingering swallow flew through (5th.) and a chiffchaff could still be heard. The good weather also produced views of migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies.
Thanks to Colin Sedgwick for compiling this report.