Its been a long time coming, on New Year's Eve I got a message about the Dark-eyed Junco in Hampshire, it would have to wait - which was a blessing in disguise as a couple of weeks later news came out of a Spanish Sparrow not far away from the Junco. A plan was hatched to twitch the birds but the day before we were going to go I couldn't be bothered with the drive so we bailed. Again this seemed to work in our favour as last week a Paddyfield Warbler (and apparent Parrot Crossbill) was found near to the Junco and Sparrow location. Another plan was hatched, what could go wrong... we hadn't banked on wind, snow, rain and freezing weather conditions!
Rodney came round to mine late Friday afternoon and we set of around 5pm. A very smooth drive got us down to the B&B to the south of Southampton at around 10pm. The only bird of note was a York area Little Owl just south of North Duffield at dusk.
Early Saturday morning we awoke to a beautiful sunny, yet incredibly cold day and went straight to the council estate at Calshot and waited for the Spanish Sparrow to show up, this didn't take long - good job as it was freezing! A really impressive bird that showed well on a roof, a telegraph pole, a road and then in a hedge next to a plastic bag! Real natural birding!!! There was plenty of other birds in the area such as Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit etc. I only managed the following shot as my hands were too cold to work the phone.
Spanish Sparrow - phone shot
We then headed over to the New Forest and Hawkhill Plantation – a beautiful area, much nicer surroundings to bird in. The sound of displaying Common Crossbill and Siskin rang out from the car park and during the morning both gave great views. As we walked to the Junco spot a couple of Woodlarks could be heard singing and were soon seen overheard, obviously not bothered by the minus temperatures. We waited for two hours with no sign of the Junco (that had been seen just prior to our arrival).
By this point we were both really getting cold so I decided to stretch my legs and go water the trees, at this time I walked away from the crowd of 8. With a kitkat in my mouth I looked up at some movement, the Dark-eyed Junco was sat in the tree right in front of me and I was the only one there! I looked round wanting to get Rodneys attention but it was quite hard to whistle with a mouth full of chocolate! Eventually I got his, and the others attention and they all came over and after a while the bird gave itself up feeding high in the pine trees. It then flew off, calling as it went where it dropped right onto the bird feeding area, a quick and careful maneuver and we were stood less than 12 feet away watching it feed. If only the others had of been as careful, they came charging over and flushed it. The bird was quite vocal so as it flew off I tracked it back to the area I’d had it originally so Rodney and I quietly went our own way and spent 10 minutes watching the bird on our own in a bit of peace and quiet. A fantastic bird.
Dark-eyed Junco - taken on my phone
Dark-eyed Junco - taken on my phone
This was a really nice bird and area in general and if it had of been a bit warmer we’d have probably had a bit more of a look around. Instead we headed out of Hampshire into and increasingly cloudy West Sussex and Pagham Harbour. I’d not been to this location before so wanted to get the access sorted for Sunday morning. We had a walk about along the North Wall enjoying Stonechat, Bearded Tit and lots of Water Rail out on the ice, and witnessed some amazing stringing such as:
Member of the crowd: “That’s it” [Paddyfield Warbler]. No that’s a Stonechat.
Another equally skilled member of the crowd: “That’s it” [Paddyfield Warbler]. No that’s a Robin.
This went on with Dunnock, Wren and Reed Bunting! It then got even better when two Meadow Pipits landed in the bush where the Paddyfield Warbler had been ‘showing well’ (at over 100m range….): Member of the crowd: “Looks like Yellowhammer to me…..” It was clear that many were going to tick whatever they wanted, so we left! It was really, really cold by this point and not much fun.
Sunday morning saw us back on the North Wall at Pagham and after an hour plus wait we were rewarded with a brief but satisfactory view of the Paddyfield Warbler as it fed in the grass along the wall. Happy with our view we decided to head for home rather than try for the putative Parrot Crossbill, slightly worried about the route back with all the snow – however, despite a few jackknifed lorries a good journey home was had. I even managed to finish off the day with a nice walk with the dogs in Harrogate in the snow and enjoyed a few Red Kite as the sun set.
Walking the dogs in the snow
All in all a great weekend with good birds from Siberia, Southern Europe and the United States!