The New Forest is always an interesting place to visit because the mix of heathland and woodland habitats is good for a variety of species which are generally scarce elsewhere. An additional attraction was the presence of a few vagrant species, so Dave and I decided to take a trip...
After setting off late on Friday morning, we arrived at Calshot, a village near the entrance to Southampton Water, early in the afternoon, and it wasn't long before we found the bird that we were looking for - a male Spanish Sparrow. Although common in parts of southern Europe less than 10 of these have been found in the British Isles, although when they have turned up they have sometimes stayed for long periods. Considering the location of this one, it is very likely that it had somehow ended up on board a ship, and had then hoped off as the ship approached Southampton.
Superficially similar in appearance to a male House Sparrow, the Spanish Sparrow could be picked out fairly readily by the lack of any grey on the crown, extensive black markings on the underparts, and more obvious pale lines on the mantle. We did also see a hybrid male, showing intermediate characteristics, and were told by a local birdwatcher that there were a few hybrids around - suggesting that this male has been present for some time and has probably bred with one of the female House Sparrows.
Another shot of the Spanish Sparrow, with a photo of a typical male House Sparrow underneath for comparison (unfortunately we didn't get any shots of the hybrid male).
In the late afternoon/evening we visited a nearby site in the New Forest where a Dark-eyed Junco, from North America, had been present for some time. We had good views of this, as well as Raven, and Common Crossbills, but the light was too poor for photography.
After staying in the area overnight, we started a full days birdwatching in the village of Hordle, where a 1st year male Rose-coloured Starling had recently been found. It wasn't long before we had very good views of it on the roof of one of the houses, followed by even closer views when it dropped down to feed on the front lawn. It wasn't in the best plumage it could have been, but it was starting to change into its first breeding plumage, and it was also singing at times, giving a song that was very reminiscent of Common Starling song.
After the starling flew off we decided that we would try the Dark-eyed Junco again, and this paid off when it gave two other birders/photographers and ourselves a good chance to take some close up photos. We had already seen it quite frequently, and most of the dozen or so other birdwatchers that had been present had already left, satisfied with the views that they had been able to get.
There had been plenty of other birds to watch in the immediate area as well, with Common Crossbills in the trees, and also coming to the ground (presumably mainly for grit, although I did see one picking up fallen pine seeds) being one of my favourites. Other species included Peregrine, Raven, a very brief Goshawk, and Common Buzzards.
Nearby, in other parts of the New Forest we managed to find Dartford Warblers, which showed very well but wouldn't come into camera range, Woodlark, and Eurasian Stonechat.
We decided that we would leave the new forest in the mid afternoon, and head along the south coast to Pagham Harbour in West Sussex, where there had been another rare bird present for a few weeks - a Paddyfield Warbler, which should have been spending the winter in India, or somewhere nearby.
This bird was a bit of a skulker, and again it wasn't until most other birdwatchers had left that it finally showed well, feeding at the edge of the reed filled ditch it was inhabiting. No photos unfortunately, because it just wouldn't stay still!
The different habitats, marshland and coast, naturally held very different bird species from the New Forest, and while waiting for the Paddyfield Warbler to show we were able to find a good variety of waders and other wetland birds, including Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Grey Plovers, Little Egrets, Pintail and Brent Geese (Dark-bellied), as well as a small flock of Mediterranean Gulls, and a Short-eared Owl - which passed almost overhead soon after we arrived.
We finished the day with a look over the nearby sea, where we found three Scaup and an adult Little Gull. All in all, a very good day and a half!