Saturday, 14 January 2012


News emerged earlier this week regarding a male SPANISH SPARROW that had been resident in Calshot, Hampshire for over a year!  There were even rumours that there were one or two House Sparrow x Spanish Sparrow hybrids at large in the same location. Although not one of the most impressive rarities to grace the British List this is a species that I had never connected with in Britain and so I needed to move for it as soon as possible.

The SPANISH SPARROW twitch at Calshot Close
As I approached the small village of Calshot on England's beautiful south coast, it was difficult to believe it was the middle of January. Not only was the sun shining bright it was also remarkably mild, just how winter birding should be. To make matters even better the handsome SPANISH SPARROW sat chirping away in a roadside hedge as soon as strolled up on site.  This was way too easy. After a few minutes the bird was eventually disturbed and off it flew with the rest of the sparrow flock.  With a break in proceedings I decided to desert the crowds and check out the rest of the village.

SPANISH SPARROW (male) - my British Bird No: 454
Photo by Dave Hutton

SPANISH SPARROW (male) - Calshot, Hampshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Down on the beach, a quick scan of The Solent produced nothing of note between the mainland and the Isle of Wight except for a single Great Crested Grebe and a few Cormorant.  A leisurely stroll along the shingle turned up just a few Goldcrest amongst the shoreside vegetation.  With most 'tick and run merchants' having departed for an alternative rarity fix, I then headed back up to Calshot Close for some extra views of the local celebrity.  After a short wait the rare visitor from southern Europe performed well for nearly twenty minutes as it hopped around a sun-drenched hedge.  Very satisfactory indeed.

I then dropped in at the New Forest on the way back home. Both Dartford Warbler and Firecrest eluded me during my short visit however a did see a couple of Red Admiral butterflies fluttering around the heathland as if it was May.

Calshot Beach, Hampshire

The SPANISH SPARROW in Great Britain

The nominate race hispaniolensis breeds from the Atlantic Islands east across North Africa, Iberia, Corsica, Sardinia and from the Balkans and Romania down to Israel. The race transcapicus can be found from Iran eastwards to Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. This eastern population are mostly migratory and winter from Egypt down to the India subcontinent whilst those in the west are largely sedentary. It is unknown from where the British records may originate however hispaniolensis is surely the most likely candidate.

If accepted this latest sighting is only the eighth record for Britain.  The previous seven records are as follows:

1966 - Devon - male on Lundy - 9th to 12th June
1972 - Isles of Scilly - male on St Mary's - 21st October
1977 - Isles of Scilly - male on Bryher - 22nd to 24th October
1993 - Pembrokeshire - male at Martin's Haven - 18th May
1993 - Orkney - male on North Ronaldsay - 11th to 19th August (trapped on the 11th)
1996 - Cumbria - male at Waterside - 13th July 1996 to 13th December 1998
2000 - Cornwall - male at Cawsand - 12th November

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