Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Aaron Bhambra - My Learning Assistant Internship

I never considered myself an educator, it wasn’t a career path that I ever believed would suit me, nor did I feel that I knew enough to truly have an impact on someone else’s learning curve. But that changed the day I found a hideously unnerving dragonfly nymph whilst pond dipping on a lazy Tuesday afternoon. Since then I have not only been aching to tell others about the countless array of life that graces our special corner of the world, but I have also been obsessed with the mind boggling number of different species that hold together the amazing experience that is Sandwell Valley. Before this internship began, I’d never even seen a newt or a toad and my experiences with insects were not happy memories. But that didn’t last long, within my first month I had newts wee in my hand, two damselflies made the sweet act of love on my shoulder and a ridiculous number of horseflies tried to slowly murder me. 

I have benefited from being surrounded by so many knowledgeable people; many of them being passionate naturalists who have trained themselves to a level of professional understanding about their favourite creatures. Not only that, but I have had access to a site that boasts levels of biodiversity that never ceases to amaze me. I was taught how to use telescopes for bird watching, micro-scopes for creepy crawlies and how to utilize my own sense of smell for identifying different plants in spring. I developed my own teaching style that helped me gain confidence in public speaking and enabled me to take control of a noisy classroom. The RSPB gave me heaps of training in handling wildlife enquiries, working with young people and identifying invertebrates, the opportunities to learn in this internship are as endless as you want them to be. I spent a good deal of time on my own out on the wetland, armed with nothing more than a sweep net and a sense of curiosity, trying to capture a glimpse of a secret world that I had heard so much about. Spotting voles and mice in our meadow refugias has been one of the many special moments of my time at Sandwell. Most significantly of all, you are provided with a sense of space, to find out what captures your heart and mind and what intrigues your soul.

There have been too many highlights to pick just a few to mention here, but one of the coolest things that ever happened to me, was finding a Pale Tussock Moth caterpillar clinging to an oak leaf in our meadow. He is the weirdest looking friend I have ever had (If you don’t know what one looks like, I urge you to Google it right now!) and he’s currently overwintering inside a jam jar at the reserve. I had no idea that something so conventionally ugly could be so intrinsically beautiful. Or perhaps my favourite memory is the moment that I’ve witnessed 1000 times by now, of a child’s face completely caught up in the rapture and wonder that surrounds them, when they realise just how mysterious and magical nature is and that they are just another piece of it.  

Pale Tussock Moth,  Photo Credit: Graham Vernon

If you, like me, are yearning to learn, to understand and to help our planet, then this is the path for you, don’t be afraid to just ride the wave and follow your heart. I thought I’d finish this blog with a quote I read in a book not too long ago, which for me symbolizes everything that my time with the RSPB represents.

‘I came late to the love of birds. For years I saw them only as a tremor at the edge of vision. They know suffering and joy in simple states not possible for us. Their lives quicken and warm to a pulse our hearts can never reach. They race to oblivion’. from The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

Using a sweep net to catch and identify insects on the reserve

Friday, 18 November 2016

Heron Lunch Time

This is one of many amazing blog posts from Ruth our fabulous Ranger Volunteer. You can find many more posts on her blog at  https://ruthlawt.wordpress.com/ 

A wonderful sight at RSPB Sandwell Valley this morning – a heron trying to eat a rat but it wouldn’t fit. Yep. Gruesome. Fabulous.
I was walking along the raised bank between the river and the lake and I spotted the heron on the river bank. It was behaving really strangely, dipping its head in the water then raising its head high as if it were eating something but it was so repetitive I couldn’t imagine what it could be eating.
It didn’t fly off when I walked a little nearer along the bank. My camera gave me a close up…
I realised that the heron was trying to change the position of the rat – perhaps it was worried that the rat was still alive and would escape so it was VERY careful. Eventually it was successful.
and once the rat was swallowed, the heron looked very smug.
By this time two other birdwatchers were following the story with me, but the heron was unfazed by our attention – it was too busy digesting! It took it a minute or two to fly off – weight adjustment I expect
The heron / rat lunch documentary was only one part of a lovely ranger session this morning. There was so much to see and enjoy – as always. I arrived a bit wobbly emotionally but by the time I left I had had a little weep, laughed aloud, gasped with amazement and ooh’ed and aah’ed a lot. Walking round RSPB Sandwell Valley is so much cheaper than the NHS


This blog is one in a series we are running about the fabulous volunteers that keep RSPB Sandwell Valley alive and thriving. We want to show off the amazing mix of people who come here from all walks of life helping save nature and inspiring others about wildlife on our reserve, and we want to encourage you to get involved too. 
Whether it's getting your hands dirty, showing a little one their first frog, or being that friendly face in our new visitor centre there's something you can have a go at.  Visit rspb.org.uk/volunteering or contact Lucy hodson: lucy.hodson@rspb.org.uk, 0121 357 7395.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

European Visitors by Graham Vernon (Hide Guide Volunteer)

Visitors from Norway

We had three visitors from Stavanger, Norway who were obviously keen bird spotters. I found that one of them, Erik, was already a member of the RSPB.

They were visiting several parts of England and as I said previously one was a member, Erik, acted as a guide for the other two. They were full of praise for our nature reserve, and that the visitor centres and the hides in their country were not as good, but our hide was closer to the birds.

They were really lucky to see a bird that is rare in their country according to their guide Erik- the grey wagtail. Their eyes lit up when they saw one in front of them.  They went on their way really happy and full of praise.

Other visitors from Rome in Italy

They arrived at the hide the next day some more visitors arrived; a father, daughter and son-in-law. It was the daughter and her Husband that were on holiday and due to go home to Rome two days later.
They really enjoyed their visit to the RSPB and asked if they could leave a message: “Very nice nature centre bird staff”!

The Staff at RSPB Sandwell Valley look forward to seeing all visitors either local or from abroad.

Something else I thought might interest you is the picture below of a Pale Tussosk Moth Caterpiller (latin name Calliteara pudibunda). This was found by a couple of our volunteers, Aaron and Andy.
For people interested in photography I took the photo with a Nikon D4s that had an 80-400mm Lens- hand held and no flash. Camera settings were ISO 2000, F9 and Speed 1/320

Finally, just a few photos so you can see how hard RSPB Volunteers are working to give nature a home for the winter.
This would have been done a lot quicker if the RSPB had more volunteers. So if you know someone that would like to help, ask them to contact the visitor centre on 0121 357 7395 and speak to one of their lovely team, who I am sure would more than happy to help.

Thanks for all your efforts so far and keep up the good work!

Autumn and Winter fun at RSPB Sandwell Valley

The days are getting shorter and a bit chillier, but don’t worry there is still lots going on at RSPB Sandwell Valley! We’re bursting at the seams with events this autumn and winter!

The view from our visitor centre

Starting with October half term treats, we are holding our school holiday regular  Wild Wednesday on 26 October. There will be campfire cooking and wild crafts – a great idea to get the kids out of the house and kept busy, drop in to take part anytime between 11am and 2pm. 

As it gets dark on 26 October, we will head out on to the reserve on a Spooky Story Nature Walk, we’re already sold out for the earlier walk, but have a few places left on the 7.15pm – 8.15pm walk. Booking is essential, so book quickly to avoid disappointment.

If you can’t make it to those events, don’t worry, we have spooky Halloween Bat Trails going on throughout the week as well. Ideal for younger children to explore the reserve, finding creepy crawly things along the way. These will be going on from Sunday 23 October – Sunday 30 October on the days the visitor centre is open.

If you, like us want to enjoy the gorgeous colours autumn brings and would like to know how reserve changes this season come along on the Autumnwatch Walk, Saturday 5 November 10am – 12pm no need to book!
 Some Fungi found around RSPB Sandwell Valley recently 

We’re giving you the opportunity to have a close-up encounter with wildlife. There is a Bird Ringing Demonstration being held at RSPB Sandwell Valley on 27 November. You can learn how and why we ring birds with our experts. Booking is essential for this event. We will also be making a variety of different bird feeders to take home.

The annual Winter Warmer Walk is a favourite, this year it is on Saturday 3 December. Take a chilly meander outdoors, looking for goldeneye and goosanders, then return to the centre to warm up with festive punch, hot chocolate and mince pies. Very festive!

On Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 December drop into the visitor centre any time between 11am – 3pm to make some Christmas crafts. We’ll be making frosty pine cones, woolly sparkle sticks and log fire bundles to hang on both your trees and ours.

Phew what a lot of stuff going on, wait one more activity to take part in ...every day the visitor centre is open, during the Christmas school holidays, families can become yuletide detectives and join the search for festive treasure around our reserve. This Christmas Treasure Hunt runs from 19 December to 26 December.

Head over to our facebook page facebook.com/RSPBWestMidlandsWarwickshire for more information on all of these events.

For any other information just call our visitor centre on 0121 357 7395 or email alex.sharrod@rspb.org.uk.

Imogen, Connecting People and Nature Intern, RSPB Sandwell Valley

Recent Sightings: Birds of the Summer Holidays

So it's getting towards the end of the quiet bird season, and that vaguely warm time of year we often refer to as 'summer'. Despite the muggy weather over the last few days, we can sniff out the first few hints of autumn, and the birds are starting to get fidgety.

The month of August, and the last few weeks of the summer holidays saw all our feathery regulars taking a bit of a break after raising this year's brood, and a visit to the hide was often a quiet and lazy affair.

Graham is one of our newer hide guides, which means you'll often see him in the lakeside viewpoint waiting to greet visitors and point out what's about. Below is a collection of his photos, taken throughout the summer, of some of the bird life you can hope to see from the hide at this time of year.

 Hi! All

It’s time to show those of you who have not visited RSPB Sandwell Valley some of the birds you could see if you come at the right time of year (as you may know birds do migrate). There are volunteers like myself who man the lakeside viewpoint (hide) and we will be happy to try to answer any questions you may have. As I have said before; we know a man that can! So why not come and spend a few quiet moments or a chat at the hide?
One of the many beautiful lapwings, bathing in the shallows of the lake. Photo by Graham Vernon.
Two common sandpipers have been seen regularly from the hide from the end of August. Photo by Graham Vernon.
A common tern with chick, which bred successfully on the islands. Photo by Graham Vernon.

The pictures in this blog were all taken at the lakeside viewpoint and show birds from across the summer. If you wish, why not visit the centre Nature’s Reach and speak to some lovely staff, or even, as so many people do, simply enjoy a stroll round the reserve and see where the RSPB spend the donations given every month from people who care to give nature a home.
One of our oystercatchers, which also successfully raised a chick this year! Photo by Graham Vernon.

Late spring and early summer is the best time to catch a glimpse of the great crested grebe's famous courtship dance. Photo by Graham Vernon.

If, like me, you are a keen photographer, then maybe I can help you or even learn something from you; either way I will look forward to seeing you!

Meet our Hide Guides - Graham Vernon Volunteer

Hi! My name is Graham Vernon ( No relation to the football pools Ha! Ha! ) I have been a volunteer now for about three months and I am only 74 years young.
I first went to RSPB Sandwell Valley in Tanhouse Ave, Great Barr about four months ago even though I have lived near by for about three years, it’s a great place  to visit  and meet some great staff and volunteers, who are there to answer any of your questions you may have.
I understand that the old building was destroyed but now have a great new one that’s up to date, it is well worth the visit.
Although I have only been a volunteer for a very short time I have always been interested in all of nature, this came about because I am a very keen photographer  of which my main subject was birds and flowers, insects, butterflies;  in fact anything  to do with nature.
One of the goldfinches feeding on a teasel head's seeds. These finches love the teasels, but we had to remove the seed heads to stop them spreading too much on the lake's islands! Photo by Graham Vernon.

If you have not been it is a must place to visit and a great place to walk or cycle round, look out for carvings like a four- poster bed at one end with a fox at other end (see in my photo below), also our wooden train carving, just to name two. Also why not visit the bird hide, where at the right times you might see a great verity of birds and dragonflies, where people like myself  will be happy to try and answer your questions and if we can not we know a man who will! His name is Pete, but I call him Hawk Eye as he spot birds long before we do and his knowledge of birds is outstanding.
A lot of work was done as can be seen in the photo above, so well done to all for Giving Nature A Home! Photo taken and edited by Graham
Over the last few weeks the staff have been on the islands in the lake, working hard de-heading the teasels. At the same time they came across a tufted Duck’s nest, which had a chick hatching so they left that area, but they did manage to fill about 20 black bags of teasel heads to stop them spreading on the island..
 I look forward to seeing you at the RSPB in Sandwell Valley!
This blog is one in a series we are running about the fabulous volunteers that keep RSPB Sandwell Valley alive and thriving. We want to show off the amazing mix of people who come here from all walks of life helping save nature and inspiring others about wildlife on our reserve, and we want to encourage you to get involved too. 
Whether it's getting your hands dirty, showing a little one their first frog, or being that friendly face in our new visitor centre there's something you can have a go at.  Visit rspb.org.uk/volunteering or contact Lucy hodson: lucy.hodson@rspb.org.uk, 0121 357 7395.

Meet Jake - Sandwell Valley's youngest volunteer!

Hello, my name is Jake,I am 7 years old and have been a regular visitor to RSPB Sandwell Valley for about 4 years.
Jake in his RSPB uniform - with his binoculars of course!

My dad is a volunteer for the RSPB & works with the children’s group Sandwell Swans which I go to with my sister Hannah.
Jake and his sister Hannah bird watching at Sandwell Valley

We help out with lots of exciting events at Sandwell Swans, including my favourites which are bug hunting and pond dipping.

When we first came to the RSPB, we really didn’t know what to expect but in time we got to know the really friendly staff & became regular visitors, to all of the events, which were then operated out of the temporary classroom.

Since then, I am a few years older & more knowledgeable about the things around me, and me and my sister have become RSPB Volunteers. I can identify most of the birds I see around the valley, as we attend the monthly guided walk & also told what’s around by some of the other Experienced Bird Watcher Volunteers.
A goldfinch feeding outside the Visitor Centre - Taken by Jake

Also I know a lot of the bugs, butterflies and some of the plants and trees. We also like looking at fungi but this I find is quite difficult to identify properly, so we are still working on that.
A peacock butterfly and a bee, both taken by Jake in the Wildlife Garden

Since the new Visitor Centre Nature’s Reach has opened, it has really improved the amount of things we can do around the valley, including being able to pond dip whenever we want to & having our lunch in the warm, while looking out of the window at all the different bird on the feeders & the fox & squirrel.
Finding newts, mayfly larvae and other creatures while pond dipping!

I think most of the staff now  know me and my sister, as we have been coming here for a long time now but they still greet us with a smile and are also very helpful and friendly towards us.
That’s the main reason we keep coming back to RSPB Sandwell Valley.

This blog is one in a series we are running about the fabulous volunteers that keep RSPB Sandwell Valley alive and thriving. We want to show off the amazing mix of people who come here from all walks of life helping save nature and inspiring others about wildlife on our reserve, and we want to encourage you to get involved too. 
Whether it's getting your hands dirty, showing a little one their first frog, or being that friendly face in our new visitor centre there's something you can have a go at.  Visit rspb.org.uk/volunteering or contact Lucy hodson: lucy.hodson@rspb.org.uk, 0121 357 7395.