The weather had continued unseasonably throughout the week, with more rain and mild temperatures, but now with some periods of sunshine as the showers moved through. Today's forecast was expected to deliver much of the same so as I headed south towards the Haying Oyster beds in dry weather I was hoping it would last long enough to at least allow us to get some birding in.
I met Ian in the car park, and while we finished off the mugs of tea we watched a female Red-breasted Merganser diving close in to the shore.
We followed the footpath around the edge of the water, behind us somewhere in the trees lining the road a Song Thrush was in full song, and he kept going all the time we were there. On a flooded area on the land side there were several pairs of Mallard, and as we scanned for something else we picked up a Green Woodpecker apparently feeding on the ant hills that stood out from the flooded water.
As we turned to get closer to the water, a Grey Plover was on the mud quite close in, a bird that can be overlooked at this time of year.
The tide was high, and still rising and the Dunlin and Grey Plover were vying for the best position on the exposed mud.
Redshanks and Oystercatchers were also looking for suitable roost site but were making an awful lot more noise about it as they flew around over the water and exposed marsh. Scanning across the water into the groups of roosting birds one stood out from the grey brown of the Redshanks, and while it had its head tucked under its wing and was a fair way off it was clearly a Greenshank.
We reached a suitable point where we could see both the calmer waters of the oyster beds, and out into Langstone harbour. Another birder pointed out a Slavonian Grebe in the open water, and we just managed to get on to it briefly as it dived amongst several Great Crested Grebes. You would get very short glimpses before it managed to disappear completely. In the pools there were several Little Grebes and a pair of Goldeneye.
The tide now was beginning to submerge many of the islands and the Dunlin would suddenly take off in large dense flocks, wheel around as if looking for a safer site, but then return to where they had come from.
We continued to search for the Slavonian Grebe, but without any luck, but did manage to locate a Great Northern Diver. This diver eluded us in 2015 so it was nice to catch up with one early in 2016, then as always seems to happen another turned up with it. This is a very distant view but clearly shows the two birds.
Then one took off and flew south towards the large expanse of the open water and out of sight.
We were covering most of the open water, and picking up Great Crested Grebes when we found a smaller Black-necked Grebe far out on the water, again short views but clearly a Black-necked and our fourth grebe of the day.
The waders were restless still on the disappearing islands, Grey Plover moving from one to another. In one of these exchanges it was possible to pick up a Bar-tailed Godwit in amongst them. The Dunlin were now moving from the islands, and pouring onto the higher banks of the Oyster Beds, however they were still not sure this should be the final roosting site and would continue to fly around, banking all the time to show the dark and light sides.
Where the water could pour into the beds a Little Egret sat waiting for any opportunity for food, it was joined by Black-headed Gulls dipping down to pick anything worth eating off the surface of the water.
There were also several Red-breasted mergansers in the pools and around the breaches where the water was coming in. One male drifted quite close, concentrating on preening.
With the tide now quite high, and all the grebes moving into more sheltered water we walked back towards the car park. Scanning the open water though we managed to find the Great Northern Dive once again, but only Great-crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Goldeneyes.
A short shower sent us back to the car park, the Song Thrush still singing and the Green Woodpecker still on the ant hills. We decided to head to the seafront at Southsea, in search of Gulls.
We parked on the seafront, and walked to the pier, and then towards the castle. The sea was quite rough with the high tide and southerly wind, Gulls could be seen hanging above the beach in the wind scanning the surf and beach, but not he gull we were looking for. As we reached the castle we could see at least three Shags in the surf.
Smaller and a lot more delicate looking than a Cormorant I was amazed at how long they would spend under the water.
when they did come up you could see the green sheen of the plumage, again different from the blue hue of the Cormorant and even the green eye. More a sea bird than there cousins who will occupy inland freshwater lakes and rivers, they have probably been pushed in by the recent strong storms.
Around the castle there were at least four birds, and it was nice to see them early in the year, and they were also a county tick for me.
We checked the sea wall around the castle for Purple Sandpipers but the tide was too high with waves still crashing over the sea wall. As we walked back large gulls past us, but still not the one we were looking for. Already the Herring Gulls and this splendid Great Black-backed Gull were almost in full breeding plumage.
In the area around the beach working there were plenty of gulls, all hanging in the air and dropping down into the surf. There were plenty of Young first and second year Herring Gulls, some looking quite pale in the sunshine but they were not the first year Iceland Gull we were hoping for.
We made our way back to the pier, and I spent sometime watching the Black-headed Gulls riding the waves as they crashed onto the beach. They would bob about on the water and make a last minute decision if the go over the top on the water or fly up to avoid the surf.
As I watched them I noticed a smaller more delicate bird with a fine black bill. Clearly different it was a Little Gull, and if we couldn't find the Iceland this was more than compensation. It was first bobbing with the Black-headed Gulls but appeared more assured with the waves.
From the wings and the head markings you could see this was an adult bird, but what I really wanted was for it to fly, which it then duly did.
Here you can see the clean grey wings with a lovely defined white trailing edge, and the dark smudge on the back of the head and behind the eyes.
As it brings the wings up the diagnostic dark black underwing could also be clearly seen.
It was adopting a similar behaviour to that of the Black-headed Gulls flying up and down along the beach and scanning the surf by turning its head to look down.
Then dropping into the water and almost dancing on the surface, sometimes settling with the wings held up.
In addition to the white trailing edge, the tail too was brilliant white, and overall the bird gave the impression of a very smart "little" gull.
It continued to fly up and down, and I continued to photograph it waiting for the killer shot. This wasn't bad.
But I think this one nailed it!
Leaving the Little Gull to continue feeding we walked to the other side of the pier where there were more larger gulls feeding, but we could locate the Iceland. Another Shag though did fly past heading west, making it the fifth of the day. We received information on a Red-necked Grebe back at Hayling, and decided to go back to get what would be our firth grebe of the day, and the nap hand, but before we did we decided to check out the gulls on the Canoe Lake, just in case.
There were mainly Black-headed Gulls but in amongst them were several Herring Gulls, mostly first winter birds, but there was smart adult on the water close in.
It just needs to grey smudges on the head to go and it will be in full breeding plumage.
In the middle of the lake the swan pedaloes were stacked together and were occupied by more first winter Herring Gulls, but at the back was an immature Shag, sitting out in the open. This would make six for the day at least.
Leaving the lake we headed back to Hayling, this time parking outside Northney Marina, and then walking through to the entrance of the marina. The water level was now dropping but fortunately the Red-necked Grebe was out in front of us diving with a pair of Great-crested Grebes.
Unfortunately too far off for a decent photograph, but sufficient as a record shot.
It has been a long while since I saw a Red-necked Grebe, and in addition I can't recall ever having seen all five grebe species commonly found here in the UK in a day before.
It was now decision time, two hours of daylight left, where next? We decided to make a dash to Titchfield haven in the hope that the Pendulines would still be showing. But as we headed west the skies darken and the rain began.
The last part of the journey was torturous, stuck behind a very slow horse box, but we arrived with about an hour of daylight left and the reserve closing, unfortunately the rain was getting harder. We made our way the Meadow Hide, where they were last seen at 14.00. It didn't look good the rain quite heavy and the light very bad. The meadow was flooded, and in front of the hide was a large flock of feeding Canada Geese, and on the river, Wigeon, Shoveler, teal and Gadwall, and these three Pochard.
We stuck it out but decided after about 30 minutes that they were not going to show, so left and after a quick pop into the Suffern hide where the highlight was three Stock Dove we decided to call it a day and head home.
Not a bad one though, four county ticks, not a bad start to the year.