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Birdwatchers descend on Hampshire to see a Spanish Sparrow
1:30pm Wednesday 11th January 2012 in News
HUNDREDS of twitchers today descended on a quiet, suburban crescent desperate to catch a glimpse of an incredibly rare sparrow.
The normally peaceful street in Calshot, was inundated with enthusiasts hoping to spot a small brown Spanish Sparrow - the only one in the country.
There have only ever been seven sightings of the rare bird in the UK since 1966 and it was last seen as long ago as 2000.
The discovery has caused a huge stir among bird watchers and as many as 2,000 are expected to descend on Calshot by the weekend.
Police have had to set up a cordon to control the massive influx and the local army base has even been warned.
Resident and bird lover Claire Milgate-Whitcher has been overwhelmed with twitchers since spotting the bird in her garden.
The 45-year-old admitted she and her family, husband Shay, 43, and children Lesley, 13, and Hollie, 11, had no idea about the importance of the discovery until now.
The family have now set up a refreshment stand in the local hall for the visitors, the proceeds of which will go to local charities.
She said: "When we first spotted it we thought it was just a strange looking sparrow.
"But after showing it to a neighbour, who is a keen birdwatcher, we realised it was something quite special.
"It's caused quite a stir in the bird-watching world, I didn't expect it at all.
"We've had lots of people appearing on our doorstep, asking where the bird is and we've been told there will be thousands by the weekend.
"Some have spent hours looking in to our back garden. It's incredible how long they stay.
"It's been incredibly overwhelming but we do find it quite funny. At first we thought it was a joke but the reality of it all is now dawning.
"Police have had to put up cordons and we've had to help arrange parking.
"We've even had to warn the local army base - in case they become suspicious of so many people wandering around with cameras.
"We were quite isolated here until now.
"I think we've put Calshot on the map. It's the most exciting thing to happen here in a while."
The bird was formally identified on Sunday but news of the discovery was delayed in order to give residents a chance to prepare for the influx.
The six inch-long sparrow is classed as a 'Mega' species in bird-watching circles - a bird that is only spotted in exceptionally rare circumstances in the UK.
Simon Ingrim, from the Hampshire Ornithological Society, said: "We warned residents the discovery would cause what is known as a major twitch.
"This kind of thing might never happen again so it has generated a lot of excitement.
"Things will build to a crescendo by the weekend - we are estimating as many as 2,000 people to arrive by then."
The 48-year-old draughtsman, from Eastleigh, added: "We've been negotiating with the local residents.
"We should be able to keep things organised despite the high numbers."
The Spanish Sparrow is most commonly found in southern and eastern Europe and very rarely appears in the UK.
Sightings are few and far between - the last was as far back at 2000 in Cawsand, Cornwall.
This latest appearance is only the 8th ever since records began in 1966.
Experts believe the bird either hitched a lift into the UK on a ship or was blown off course during migration.
Paul Stancliffe, from the British Trust for Ornithology, said: "To see this kind of bird in the UK is very exciting and it will generate a lot of interest.
"It's been 12 years since the last sighting and only the 8th ever recorded.
"It's very rare to see this bird in the UK and a lot of new generation bird-watchers won't have seen it here before.
He added: "The spanish sparrow is not native to the UK - populations are found in southern and eastern Europe.
"This bird may have either come in on a ship or could have been blown off course during migration."