News broke late on Monday 9th January of a SPANISH SPARROW in Hampshire. At first before the news was fully released, I had visions of it being on private land and seen in 1990 or something similar. But when the news was released, it was in someones garden in Calshot. It had also been around since early December 2011, and there were also reports of hybrids in the area, suggesting it had been around a lot longer. Before access arrangements could be made, the SPANISH SPARROW was seen the following morning from the road, and so there was no need for a repeat of last years ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE queuing to get in a house.
Although I had to wait all week before I could go, it wasn't a nervous wait. I just made sure all the arrangements were in place and nothing hopefully could go wrong. There was also a very healthy supporting cast in the area with the DARK-EYED JUNCO nearby, a FERRUGINOUS DUCK, CATTLE EGRET, RING-BILLED GULL etc. Hopefully it would be another good day's birding. PJ had seen the Cumbria SPANISH SPARROW way back in the 90's and so it was just myself, GAS and CJW who headed down for the Hampshire Bird Fest, setting off at the incredibly early 03-30hrs.
It was a cool night, with temperatures as low -5.5C on the journey down, but at least we didn't experience any of the predicted fog. We arrived at Calshot at 07-00hrs when it was still dark. We were met by a car park attendant, resplendent in a high viz vest who came over to us, setting the scene, telling us what time it would appear and where we could get food from. All in all, it was an highly organised affair.
ABOVE - We really felt at home round here. The houses were exactly the same as the ones back in Stoke - even the same types of boats parked in the gardens.
Above - the expectant crowd standing around in the early morning
We set off in the dark so that we could get a good place, and we stood on the verge in front of the hedge, and waited for it to get light.We thought we were really lucky to get such a good vantage point, especially as the crowd started to grow - that was until the organiser came up to us to say we were stood in front of its favourite perch (we were facing the wrong hedge as well). At 08-10hrs, I sensed mumblings, movement and pointing from the roadside, and sure enough the Spanish Sparrow was sitting deep inside a hedge.
Above - The Calshot Spanish Sparrow - its first showing of the day.
It eventually flew out, and showed better in the hedge just in front of us.
Above - the Spanish Sparrow showing out in the open at last
It then flew off into the gardens, and didn't show again for quite a while. There were a few other birds in the area to look at while we waited. Two Green Woodpeckers flew over and a Peregrine was sat on the power station chimney.
ABOVE - A Peregrine on the chimney (I was laughed at when I took this potential Steve Seal frame-filling shot).
The Spanish Sparrow was relocated in the hedge by the village hall. I walked round to join the crowd in the car park, and had decent views again. We decided however, that we would leave now, while it was still showing, so as to be ahead of the pack at the JUNCO site. (We just knew everyone would be doing the same circuit as us, and the JUNCO was the logical next stop).
ABOVE - the crowd in the car park
And so with our first tick of the year safely tucked in our belts, we headed off into the New Forest, and to Hawkhill Inclosure. We had received no news on the JUNCO yet, but when we arrived we could see quite a healthy gathering in the clearing just beyond the car park. As we walked over, some of the crowd were suddenly moving, and some were running. As soon as we were in place, the Dark-eyed Junco came into view and we all enjoyed our 2nd British Dark-eyed Junco. It was to be a very enjoyable session, we some cracking views as the Junco kept appearing and disappearing, flitting around the area, loosely associating itself with a small Reed Bunting flock. We also had three Crossbill drop in, one a cracking red male.
ABOVE - The 1st winter male Dark-eyed Junco in the New Forest
ABOVE - A New Forest Pony
Next stop was at Blashford Lakes for the FERRUGINOUS DUCK. We had a bit of a nightmare finding this place (mainly due to the appalling internet coverage in the area, I just couldn't get my phone to work to find out where we were). Eventually after asking two people, the second one a birder, we found the reserve. The car park was full, and the place was heaving. We found the hide, only to find it full, but we just about managed to perch at the back. We had only just started to scan and settle in when a warden came in a kindly requested that if at all possible, could we please vacate the hide (if we wanted to) as a party of children were coming in. We duly obliged.
ABOVE - This was as good as it got with the Ferruginous Duck I'm afraid.
ABOVE - Loads of birdwatchers on site, no doubt attracted by the 450 different types of feeders dotted all over the reserve.
We could have stayed longer to be honest at Blashford, but we decided to head over to Warblington for the CATTLE EGRET that had already been reported during the morning. It was a 45 minute drive across Hampshire, and on arrival things looked promising with six Little Egrets feeding in a field, but we just couldn't turn any into a CATTLE. We met some locals who assured us it was a creature of habit, and she promised that it would return to the cattle field as it was high tide soon. We had a little walk around the area while we were waiting, seeing 500+ Dark-bellied Brents plus Red-breasted Merganser, Wigeon, Shelduck, Teal on the sea. There was also a pair of Gadwall (can't recall seeing one on the sea before). We hung around until 15-00hrs and then we decided to head for home. It had been another cracking day, and the CATTLE EGRET was the only blip. At 15-45hrs, as we were hurtling up the A34, we received news that it had indeed returned.
ABOVE - A pair of Gadwall sat on the sea
ABOVE - Brent Geese feeding at Warblington