… leads to Hampshire this week, thanks to the presence of a Spanish Sparrow in a coastal village and a Dark-eyed Junco nearby at Hawkhill Inclosure in the New Forest. I followed it early on Saturday morning, picking up Jono, Nick and James en route, and arriving at at rather chilly Calshot around 7.30am to find a crowd of no more than 100 people. Hot bacon rolls showed very well (though briefly, as you might imagine) and shortly afterwards, so did the target bird – my first UK lifer of 2012. I rather liked Nick’s description of the black patterned underparts: “like it’s wearing a dodgy hand-knitted jumper”.
After a leisurely cuppa, dispensed from the enormous Thermos given to me for Christmas, we headed up into the New Forest where a heavy frost was still lying on the ground. Once again, our timing was good as the junco appeared almost immediately we arrived, feeding in and around two fallen trees with numerous Chaffinches and Reed Buntings. Several Crossbills were also seen in the same area, including a couple of stonking red males.
Next stop was to be Blashford Lakes, but missing the turn gave me the opportunity to take a quick look at a large herd of swans at Harbridge – at least 150 Mutes, two family parties of two adult and one juvenile Bewick’s, and a single adult Whooper. Back at Blashford, we quickly located the adult male Ferruginous Duck. Not for the first time, this sparked off a conversation about whether it’s definitely a pure individual, given the atypically rounded head shape (which was constant, all the time we were watching). There’s a bit of debate online >here<, though it doesn’t reach any firm conclusion. Despite the head, the rest of the bird looks spot on: pure white iris; reasonable bill pattern; white belly clearly demarcated. If it is a hybrid, then it must be an F2 or F3 backcross – first generation Pochard x Fudge are way more obvious than this.
Another considerably commoner and less controversial species of duck gave good views while we talked Aythya – I reckon Gadwall are a bit under-rated. And it give me a chance to use a favourite word: check out the vermiculations!
As you see, they even do synchronised swimming!
The other talking point at Blashford were the utterly useless windows in what were otherwise a couple of very nice new hides. Someone in their infinite wisdom has evidently decided that fixed glass windows are a good idea – I would beg to differ! They have a marked blue tint, and looking through them at anything other than a perfect perpendicular angle basically reduces quality optics to little better than milk bottles. Needless to say this meant there was a bit of a scrum to get near the one or two windows that actually opened, to have any chance of taking sharp photos. An enormous shame, since the bird feeding station was attracting Lesser Redpolls, Siskin, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and a pair of Great-spots… but thanks to the windows, I have no photos to show you.
Final stop was Blackwater Arboretum, on the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. This is a regular roosting site for Hawfinch, and from about 2.45pm onwards, there was a steady stream of sightings to give Nick his first views of this rather awesome bird. Unfortunately for the photographers, they invariably perch pretty high up, and this combined with fading light made life difficult… but here’s a record shot nonetheless.
This afternoon, I’ve been for a wander at Rainham – still generally very quiet, though a confiding male Reed Bunting was quite smart. At the end of the day, a couple of Short-eared Owls were seen hunting on the silts, though they apparently had a Sunday afternoon lay in and only appeared when the light had all but gone. The pic below was taken last weekend, at high ISO in similarly gloomy conditions. Cracking birds, though – look into those eyes!