The now defunct Hayling Oyster Beds situated at Hayling Island on the coast of Hampshire have become an annual pre-breeding gathering place for Mediterranean Gulls, which take the opportunity to form pairs and generally get themselves together, before dispersing throughout the adjacent Langstone Harbour and surrounding areas to breed.
I make a trip every year to see this early Spring spectacle as Mediterranean Gulls are a lovely looking bird in breeding plumage and to see a congregation in excess of three hundred, often many more, is a sight that it is well worth making the effort to see.
Due to recently moving house my opportunities were very limited to find the time to travel south to see them but today presented just such an opportunity although the weather looked anything but encouraging. True it was going to be sunny and with only the occasional shower predicted but the winds were going to be ferocious, gale force, blowing at up to sixty miles per hour from the southwest. At such an exposed place as Hayling Island it would surely make viewing nigh on impossible.
I refused to be deterred and with a surge of cussed optimism set off on the two hour drive to Hayling Oyster Beds, arriving in the small car park at just after nine thirty. The prediction about the wind speed proved to be only too correct and looking out across Langstone Harbour I noted a sea that was a mass of white waves running before the wind and with not a bird in sight. I tried to open the car door but such was the force of the wind it required a huge effort to get it open.
Once out I fled to the other side of the car, away from the main force of the wind, and got my bins and camera around my neck and set off into the teeth of the gale towards the remains of the oyster beds, a series of rocky bunds that required a short walk along a small track to an even more exposed point from which to view them. Ooooerr!
It was head down and just walk into the wind as best I could wondering if there would be any gulls at all in such conditions. Hayling Oyster Beds are now a small local nature reserve managed by the RSPB and consist of just the remnants of the oyster beds in the form of rocky bunds, the two main ones being where the gulls congregate but today not a gull was to be seen on the bunds as to perch there was impossible due to the force of the wind.
|The remains of the Oyster Bed bunds as seen from the shelter|
It was quite a sight before me as upwards of five hundred gulls, two thirds of which were Med Gulls with Black headed Gulls forming the remainder, were all facing away from me, heads to the wind on the water, a constantly moving, bobbing phalanx of grey and white bodies bouncing on the ceaseless waves.
|Med Gulls with the occasional Black headed Gull amongst them riding out|
the gale force wind
|The shelter by the track which saved the day|
|Two Med Gulls with a Black headed Gull for comparison|
Gulls are forever on the watch for what their fellows are doing and once one does something the others gain confidence and follow suit. So it was that a number of Med Gulls and Black headed Gulls commenced standing on the rocks that formed the bund and I had some prime opportunities to get some nice images of them displaying, preening or just loafing about. However many still preferred to remain on the sea.
|Displaying Med Gulls|
The two species kept discreetly apart not really mixing unless forced to by the weather conditions. Mediterranean Gulls were continuously rising from the flock and flying off out to sea whilst others came in from the harbour, flying low into the full force of the howling wind with supreme mastery, never looking inconvenienced even in these most extreme of conditions. It was truly exhilarating to watch them.
|Black headed Gull|
|Black headed Gull with Med Gull|
When the sun shone the Med Gulls became almost white, so delicate a shade of grey were the upper parts of their plumage. Many had already acquired black hoods but quite a few had yet to achieve this, the hood still messily infused with white feathering around their bill and forehead, like the grizzled muzzle of an ageing dog. Even so, such birds were still pairing up and no doubt in a few days would be as pristine as their prospective partner.
|Displaying pair of adult Med Gulls with one yet to acquire a complete back hood|
|Two Med Gulls showing varying progress to acquiring their full black hood|
|A second winter Med Gull told by its lack of a black hood and black chevrons|
on its wing tips.It will not breed until next year
|Adult Med Gulls in full breeding plumage|
Some of the Med Gulls on the leeside of the bund were wasting no time and began displaying with a series of bows, where the bird, on rigid legs bends its breast low and dips it head while tilting its rear upwards and then raises itself up on extended legs to pout its breast outwards and stretch its head and neck skywards to their utmost. All this is done with a ritualised and exaggerated slowness as if to give the recipient of this display the maximum opportunity to appreciate the perpetrator's suitability to be a mate.
|More displaying Med Gulls!|
|Dark bellied Brent Goose|
I had to laugh. It was that kind of day.