It's nice when a plan all comes together, and rare as well. The plan was to take a day off and swing down to the south coast to keep the year-list going. The weather forecast according to both BBC and met office (why do i check both hoping one will say something better!!!!) was heavy rain all day but i set off in the dry at 5.45am hoping to at least not get washed away.
The trip was planned with military precision, requiring 5 or perhaps 6 different stops along the way for a serious of variously nice birds.
Stop number one was Walpole Park in Gosport. For the last 4 years a ring-billed gull has been overwintering with the local black-headed gulls. This is a bird that really should be in the USA, where they are quite common. They look a bit like a small herring gull, being only a bit bigger than black-headed gulls but the bill has a nice black band just in from the end. It was only just light when i got there and the gulls were streaming in from off the nearby creek onto what is basically a boating lake in a park. It took about 10 minutes but eventually i tracked it down catching worms on the grass. First leg completed successfully and well on time.
Traffic out of Gosport was DREADFUL and i lost time getting to stop number 2. Lakeside Country Park in Eastleigh is right next door to Southampton Airport and houses a small-gauge railway to take tourists in a circular route round the park in the Summer. I was there for hawfinches. I got them 2 years ago here, and a small number over winter and had been reported as near the railway sheds. Hawfinches are now very rare and only occur in a small number of locations. They are the largest of our finches and are often described as being like a small parrot. One distinctive feature is their ENORMOUS heavy beak. Anyway, i got there about 9.20 with the weather holding up - cold and miserable but not really raining. There were a lot of birds moving around, including reed buntings which were a year tick. Redwings must have numbered about 50 in the whole park and there was a mixed flock of bullfinches, greenfinches and goldfinches but no sign of hawfinch. I walked round the whole park, which was very wet, without any sign. On my second circuit, focusing around the railway sheds, i picked up a largish finch overlflying my position, but not good enough to i.d it. It did lead me towards a stand of tall trees though and perched in the top were two, or possibly three, hawfinches. Both the noes i saw well were very smart males but they flew off quite quickly, followed by i think a female but couldn't be sure. Second leg completed, bit behind time but one bonus bird!!!
Next was another 40 minute drive to the coast, Lepe country park to b precise. I first went there in November when a lesser yellowlegs dropped in. It has now decided it very prefers Hampshire to New Hampshire and has taken up residence on some small pools. Another birder was already there and onto a b ird, although it was only a grey plover. There was also half a dozen redshank, a dunlin and a snipe around. Only ab out 3 minutes passed before the yellowlegs popped up albeit briefly before dropping back into some long-grass. The shore-line also got me another year-tick, ringer plover. There were also very large numbers of dunlin as well as turnstones, oystercatchers and a lone knot. Third leg done and back on time.
Longer trip to stop 4 - Blashford :Lakes. This was promising to be hard. A ferruginous duck had been present for a few days but was on one of the lakes with poor visibility. Basically you had to peer through a hedge with chain-link fencing onto a small area of lake. You thene moved down a few yards and repeated this for a slightly different area. At least there were 3 other birders on site and so we all grabbed a hole in the hedge and peered into the increasing gloom. Apparently the bird was there earlier but had been flushed by a bloke in a boat. I was about ready to give it up when one of the guys got onto a group of 4 ducks appearing from behind an island. Three were clearly pochards, diving frequently. The last was almost black in the poor light but showed a lovely white rear-end. This is diagnostic for fudge ducks, as they are known. As our eyes adapted you could just make out a more russet than black colouration and rounded head. Worst view ever but stop 4 completed.
Another 45 minute drive then too me to Sopley, getting there about 1pm. The stop was outside the cemetery on the main road through the village, but looking out onto a large (many acres) flooded area. Ducks must have numbered in the thousands and in the immediate vicinity were 500 black-tailed godwits. I was after one particular duck, a green-winged teal. These are almost identical to our "common" teal but have a vertical white stripe roughly where their shoulder is. The weather was getting worse, not raining that much but the light was rubbish. Just as i got there one of the blokes at the fudge duck with arrived and he got onto it almost immediately. Before i could though it disappeared. He saw it go behind a tussock chasing a female, the nothing. He was happy so left me to it. 20 minutes and still couldn't find it. Another bloke came and went and it had reached about 2.20. I was ready to leave but as ever gave it "one more go through the flock" this time focusing on the far-side of the flood which i hadn't grilled too much before as it wasn't near where the bird was seen before. There were about 20 or 30 teal pottering around but the poor light and the distance made it hard to make them out. Suddenly though, one of them turned side on to me and there was a bright white vertical line going down its flank. I stayed on it for a minute or so before it got lost in the flock. Success though and tine to go home.
So, the plan worked perfectly. Five stops, 7 year-ticks, 5 of them "good birds". Year total now up to 135 and i'm in 11th place on the BUBO site. No lifers yet this year, but really anything I've missed within 200 miles either so can't really complain.