The area now known as Sandwell Valley is actually part of the Tame Valley, and was formerly made up of woodland, farmland and the Hamstead and Jubilee Collieries. After the closure of the mine, the building of the M5 and the diversion of a stretch of river to create flood defences, the area was landscaped for various amenities such as golf, sailing and walking. The main area of interest to birders lies to the east of the motorway and is made up of the RSPB's Sandwell Valley Reserve and the adjacent country park owned by Sandwell Council. The reserve contains marsh and reedbed and one end of Forge Mill Lake. There is a visitors centre and a nature trail with viewing screens.
Forge Mill Lake extends into the country park, and the river Tame runs alongside it. The Beacon Way footpath can be followed southwest from here along the edge of the golf course, and across Forge Lane to Swan Pool. South of Swan Pool are Priory Wood (with the remains of the Benedictine Sandwell Priory) and the Icehouse pools.
Although the country park is a popular amenity it is usually fairly quiet during the winter, even at weekends. During the summer an early morning or weekday visit would be advisable to miss the crowds. While there are fewer birds of interest about between the two passage periods, early summer warblers in the reedbed provide plenty of interest. In mid and late summer many local birders turn their attention to the large variety of butterflies and dragonflies found in the Valley.
Sandwell Valley is located to the north of West Bromwich, near the junction of the M5 and M6. The Birmingham/ Sandwell border runs through the site. Map reference: SP0291 .
Those arriving by motorway should leave the M5 at junction 1 and take the A41 (Birmingham Road) towards Birmingham. After passing the Hawthorns football ground on the right take a left turn into Park Lane. This leads into Forge Lane with the Swan Pool car park on the left followed by the Forge Mill Lake car park on the right.
For the Vistor Centre at RSPB Sandwell Valley (20 Tanhouse Avenue, Great Barr, Birmingham B43 5AG; 0121 357 7395 (SP035928 )), continue along Forge Lane and turn right at the end onto A4041 (Newton Road). After about a mile turn right into Hamstead Road, and then right again into Tanhouse Avenue. There is no charge for entrance. Even when the Visitor Centre and car park are closed, the reserve is accessible on foot, from public footpaths.
Alternatively, from M6 juntion 7, take A34 south towards Birmingham for ¼ mile to Scott Arms junction, turn right onto the Newton Road (A4041) heading towards West Bromwich. About ¾ mile along the Newton Road turn left onto the Hamstead Road (B4167) — look out for the brown and white tourist signs. Approximately ¾ mile along the Hamstead Road turn right at the first mini-roundabout onto Tanhouse Avenue.
Bus number 16, from Birmingham, and Hamstead railway station (Birmingham — Walsall line) serve the RSPB reserve; buses 403, 405 & 406 from West Bromwich serve the other end of the Valley — get off by the ‘Five Ways’ pub.
Sustrans National Cycle Route 5 passes through the Valley.
The RSPB visitor Centre and reserve paths are accessible to wheelchairs. Paths around Swan Pool are paved. Other paths are very muddy.
Note: The RSPB Visitor Centre is closed due to arson, and services at the reserve are limited. Alternative facilities are available at Forge Mill Farm.
The RSPB Visitor Centre has a shop, drinks machine and accessible toilets. It is normally open on Tuesday to Friday, 9am–5pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 10am–5pm. The RSPB hosts a number of events, for families, birding beginners and more advanced ornithologists, plus regular conservation work parties during the autumn and winter months. RSPB staff also work with local schools on curriculum-linked programmes and deliver informal education activities for community groups and two reserve-based Wildlife Explorer groups. The reserve can also host organised visits from RSPB Local Groups and Bird Clubs. The centre's carpet was specially designed by nature artist Greg Poole .
Forge Mill Farm has viewable farm animals, a shop, toilets and refreshment vending facilities.
Sandwell Park Farm (Salter's Lane, West Bromwich B71 4BG; 0121 553 0220 (SP017913 ); accessed by footbridge over the M5 motorway, to the West of Swan Pool; admission charged) has rare breed farm animals, a museum and tearooms.
Since the creation of the country park and nature reserve this has arguably been the best place in the county for birdwatching. Forge Mill Lake is good for wildfowl during the winter, the star bird being Goosander with flocks of up to 80 from November to March. Up to sixty Wigeon are also present together with Teal, Shoveler (95 in October 2001), Pochard and Tufted Duck and occasionally Goldeneye. The marsh on the RSPB reserve often holds Jack Snipe and Water Rail.
Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Tufted Duck, Sparrowhawk, Lapwing, Stock Dove, Little Owl, Tawny Owl (scarce), Kingfisher, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Skylark, Grey Wagtail, Willow Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Tree Sparrow (scarce), Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting.
Little Ringed Plover, Common Tern, Grasshopper, Reed and Sedge Warbler, Lesser and Common Whitethroat and Garden Warbler.
Regular passage migrants include Hobby, Peregrine, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Common and Green Sandpiper, Kittiwake, Cuckoo, Sand Martin, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher.
Cormorant, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard, Goldeneye, Goosander, Buzzard, Water Rail, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Common Gull, Fieldfare, Redwing, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll.
A visit during migration time is usually productive. Spring 2001 produced amongst others Knot, Whimbrel, Rock Pipit and Pied Flycatcher. Sightings in autumn 2001 included Little Egret, Spotted Crake, Arctic Tern and Common Crossbill.
Migrants during spring 2002 included Goshawk, Spotted Redshank, Turtle Dove, Barn Owl and Ring Ouzel.
The pool in Redhouse Park (nearer to M6 junction 7; entrance from Monksfield Avenue, off Newton Road) has Little Grebe, occasional Pintail and a Collared Dove roost (over 30 birds on 1 January 2001).
Images courtesty Nick Martin/ RSPB Sandwell Valley.
Ornithology in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire & the West Midlands county, since 1929.
Fetched fromon Friday 07 March 2014 19:14:23
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