top of page
  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Mediterranean Gulls at the Oyster Beds Nature Reserve, Langstone Harbour. 15.03.22

I went to the top part of Hayling Island yesterday, visiting the Langstone Harbour Oyster Beds nature reserve (aka West Hayling NR, owned by Havant Council, managed by the RSPB as part of their Langstone Harbour reserve, see: Langstone Harbour Nature Reserve, Hampshire - The RSPB), because I had heard reports of large numbers of Mediterranean Gulls at the Oyster Beds, from a birder friend, and from reports in Going Birding Hampshire Bird news | Hampshire | - and there were indeed large numbers of Mediterranean Gulls there.

I also visited the area of Langstone Harbour around the Langston Bridge, which connects Hayling Island to Hampshire, where there were many icelandica Black-Tailed Godwits and Black-Bellied Brent Geese and and the adjoining North Common Nature Reserve on the north of the Island, facing Hampshire, which is technically part of Chichester Harbour, and is the responsibility of Chichester Harbour Conservancy. I had gone there

For the fascinating history of the Oyster Beds see West Hayling Local Nature Reserves (

I travelled there by public transport; taking the train to Havant from Brighton (currently it is necessary to change at Chichester), journey time ca 80 minutes. I then took the bus from Havant to the Langstone Bridge, see 31 Bus Route & Timetable: Havant - Hayling Island | Stagecoach (, journey time 10 minutes

All photos in chronological order

Birds seen: Black-Belied Brent Geese, Pintails, Mallards, Shelducks, Curlew, Redshanks, a Greenshank, Little Egrets, Icelandic Black-Tailed Godwits, Mediterranean Gulls, Black Headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Magpies, Carrion Crows.

The lagoon between the old railway bridge and the road bridge

The first birds I saw when I got of the bus were these dark-bellied Brent Geese, stuffing themselves with Eelgrass; many Brent Geese have already left Langstone Harbour for their return journey to Siberia; I expect these will be off soon.

It’s that time of year again - we’ve already had reports of brent geese heading north. For all our migratory birds, it’s a busy time preparing to travel back to their summer breeding grounds

As the days lengthen, hormones trigger birds into a feeding frenzy in order to bulk up for their long journeys. While they’re fattening up, their flight muscles also go through significant changes and this happens without having to increase the amount they fly - they don’t have to put in extra flight training before they set off

It’s vital that coastal birds are able to feed and rest without being disturbed at this crucial time. Thanks to everyone who looks out for them and gives them the space they need Facebook Bird Aware Solent 7 March at 12:19 ·

Black-Headed Gulls in summer plumage; half their heads coloured chocolate brown, with black beaks. I always think the look of Black-Headed Gulls in summer plumage look pensive and a little anxious; but this is of course a ridiculous anthropomorphic imposition; these Black-Headed Gulls are thinking nothing!

An Oystercatcher; there were not so many as I have seen on other occasions at the Oyster Beds

Brent Geese by the embarkment of the dismantled railway, that forms the west bank of the lagoon

A Little Egret

The Oyster Bed pools

Oysters have been farmed on the Hayling Oysterbeds since as early as 1819, right up until the 1970s. In 1996, the oyster beds were restored by the Havant Borough Council, creating a wildlife haven which has become an important seabird breeding site.

From May to July Little Terns, Common Terns, Black Headed and Mediterranean Gulls, ring plover nest there.

During the winter vast numbers of waders are to be seen around the harbour and roosting on the sea walls. Tens of thousands of Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Grey plover, Ring plover, Curlew, Bar-Tailed Godwit etc.

Other birds that can be seen include Great Crested Grebe, Black Necked Grebe, Brent Goose, Goldeneye, Kingfisher, Teal, Wigeon, Common Sandpiper, even a Red-Throated Diver. Portsmouth Local Group - The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (

Aerial photo from, West Hayling Local Nature Reserves (, (c) Havant Council 2014

A Redshank


A Black-Headed Gull

Mediterranean Gulls, ca. 200, mixed in with Black-Headed Gulls

I posed this question to Solent Bird Aware after seeing these gulls on Facebook:

A question about Mediterranean Gulls. I saw about 200 today at the Oyster Beds (Hayling Island). I've been going to the Oyster Beds quite frequently this winter (love them) but this is the first season I have done so (I live in Brighton) and before I have seen no Mediterranean Gulls. I believe that most Med Gulls in the UK in winter are overwintering. I am wondering whether they gather in Langstone Harbour and the Solent before returning "home" to breed? But I think many Med Gulls breed on the Black Sea and Turkey - which I would have thought was warmer than the UK in winter - but perhaps not! Are they gathering in Langstone to breed around the Solent area or are they gathering before flying off "home" to breed? And/or do they treat the area as a "speed dating" site, to mate in and then fly off elsewhere to lay eggs?

To which I received the reply: Thanks for the great photo and question - we love the idea of a 'speed dating' site. Ranger Lizzie tells me that at this time of year loads of med gulls gather at Oysterbeds. They will be breeding in Langstone Harbour this summer. Within the next month or so they will spread off around the harbour to many of the islands. Solent has one of the largest, if not the largest, med gull colonies in the UK each summer.

We don't think there are many med gulls which overwinter in the Solent but it's possible a few do. Not big numbers though. Most travel up from the South to breed here. Bird Aware Solent – Posts | Facebook

I found this very interesting article in Bird Guides on the boom in numbers of Mediterranean Gulls in Hampshire:

NewsHampshire Mediterranean Gulls Experience Population Boom 16/10/2018 Mediterranean Gull is experiencing a remarkably rapid population increase in Britain, with a record 1,736 pairs nesting at Langstone Harbour this year. The Hampshire reserve has enjoyed an incredible 108 per cent increase on last year's breeding population, and a truly eye-catching rise in numbers since the first pair bred on the reserve just 20 years ago. The species first attempted to nest in Britain only 50 years ago, in 1968, when a pair raised two young on an island off Needs Ore Point, Hampshire, also in The Solent. Indeed, until 1962 Mediterranean Gull was still a British Birds description species, but numbers gradually increased – solidly rather than spectacularly – until the turn of the millennium. In 2000, the year of the last breeding seabird census in Britain, the number of pairs was found to be 108, but by 2010 this had increased to over 600-700 nesting pairs nationwide, mostly on the south and south-east coasts of England.

However, during the past seven years, a phenomenal increase has taken place at Langstone Harbour, as the number of occupied nests shot up from 498 in 2012 to 1,736 in 2018. Other exceptional counts have been recorded away from breeding colonies during the past few months, with 1,374 individuals past Hemsby, Norfolk, on 15 August, 1,230 (including 420 juveniles) at Ferrybridge, Dorset, on 31 July and over 1,000 at nearby Chesil Cove, Dorset, on 28 July.

At Langstone Harbour, Mediterranraean Gulls nest among Black-headed Gull colonies, forming denser sub-colonies within them at regular points, with Sandwich Tern sub-colonies often adjacent to them. Over the past two breeding seasons, approximately 200 young have been fitted with yellow colour rings in an attempt to better understand this rapid expansion in numbers. The success of Mediterranean Gull is a dramatic one – around 60 years ago, a westward expansion began in Hungary (where it was breeding regularly by 1953), then into Germany and Belgium during the 1960s, and The Netherlands by 1970. The first recorded breeding attempt in Northern Ireland was in Antrim in 1995, and non-breeding Mediterranean Gulls are becoming increasingly frequent in the far north of Britain.

However, the south and south-east remain the stronghold, with the population boom in the Solent particularly striking. The number of pairs at Langstone Harbour has gently fluctuated during the past two decades, and it's entirely possible that far fewer will return to breed next year. However, in the long term, there seems little doubt that Mediterranean Gull will continue to increase and expand its population in Britain.

The Mediterranean gull is slightly larger than a black-headed gull, with an all-black head in the breeding season. Adults have white wing-tips and underwings, and the younger birds have more wing markings. It has a large, slightly drooped beak, bright red when adult.

A very rare UK bird until the 1950s, it is widespread in winter and breeding in ever increasing numbers. Its present UK breeding population makes it an Amber List species. It is a Schedule 1 listed bird of The Wildlife and Countryside Act. UK breeding: 600-630 pairs; UK wintering:1,800 birds Mediterranean Gull Facts | Larus Melanocephalus - The RSPB

Although not a rarity, a summer-plumaged Mediterranean Gull is a match in looks for any of the rare gulls to occur in Britain and Ireland. Despite increasing numbers, away from the south coast the species is scarce enough to make finding a 'Med Gull' in your local gull flock or gull roost a notable event.

Globally, the distribution of this striking gull is restricted to a few localities in Europe, most particularly in the northern part of the Black Sea, where 245,000 pairs breed in the Ukraine. Elsewhere, it has a fragmented distribution across Europe, with the north-western limit in Britain and Ireland. The world population is put at between 120,000 and 300,000 pairs, 99% of which are in the former USSR. The main wintering area is in the Mediterranean where up to 700,000 winter, most in the southern Mediterranean. Smaller numbers can be found in western and northwest Europe to southern Scandinavia. Ringing studies have highlighted the use of the large river systems to facilitate movement.

The species was formerly a great rarity in Britain with only four or five records before 1940 and the BBRC accepted ten records in 1958, its first year of adjudicating rare birds, but ceased to consider records after 1962. Since then, there has been a rapid increase in the number of records and breeding was confirmed for the first time in Hampshire in 1968. There has been a slow and steady increase in the breeding population since then and between 90 and 104 pairs bred in 2001, the majority in southern England. Events in Britain have mirrored those in Europe and it is likely that the breeding population will continue to increase over the coming years; similar events occurred in France where the breeding population increased from over 100 pairs in 1991 to nearly 1,400 pairs by 1998. The wintering population of Britain is put at over 1,200 birds with over 100 in Ireland.

As with other gulls, colour-ringing is starting to provide an interesting picture of the movements of birds throughout Europe. The Migration Atlas reported the origins of some of the birds present in Britain and Ireland where 11 were from The Netherlands, five from Germany, three from Hungary and one from the former Yugoslavia. Focus On: Mediterranean Gulls - BirdGuides

Dunlin, just further south from the Med Gulls

Walking back - more Med Gulls

Mediterranean gulls are known to prey on terrestrial invertebrates, almost exclusively; during their breeding season and in the UK this behaviour results in them needing to forage far from their breeding colony. In contrast to black-headed gulls, Mediterranean chicks rarely move far from their nest sites and, even after fledging, are often seen at the nest in the few days before they head off from the harbour. Their ‘parenting’ behaviour is also noticeable; until a youngster finally fledges, there will always be at least one parent ‘guarding’ it. Chris Cockburn, Warden Langstone Harbour RSPB Reserve langstone harbour gulls,portsmouth,langstone,harbour,gulls portsmouth (

A Greenshank


A Little Egret

A Redshank and Little Egret

Two Little Egrets

Black-Tailed Godwits

Langstone Harbour is a very important overwintering location for the icelandica sub-species of Black-Tailed Godwit that breed in Iceland

The Solent is one of the prime destinations for these birds. Langstone Harbour is listed as an important site for waterbirds in the UK having three species, dark-bellied brent geese, dunlins and black-tailed godwits, occurring in internationally important numbers.

In the last five years, Langstone Harbour supported an average of 37,593 birds, while North West Solent supported 14, 922, Portsmouth Harbour supported 14,324 and Southampton Water supported 13,039.

Chris Cockburn, RSPB warden at Langstone said: “Langstone Harbour, like other sites in the Solent, is an amazing place that hosts thousands of waterbirds feeding and roosting just a short distance from Portsmouth, one of the most densely populated cities in Europe.”

An analysis of the 50 most widespread winter-visiting wetland birds (excluding gulls) shows there have been some very dramatic changes over the last decade.

The five birds faring the worst, compared with a decade ago, include: ringed plover; pochard; bar-tailed godwit; and the Greenland white-fronted goose. While the five recording the greatest increases over the period include: little egret; whooper swan; black-tailed godwit; avocet and the Greenland barnacle goose. The RSPB: News: Langstone harbour Internationally important site for seabirds

The Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa is a familiar and perhaps iconic species of the Solent and along with the dark-bellied brent goose Branta bernicla bernicla, is one of the primary reasons for the Solent’s designation as a Special Protection Area. The black-tailed godwits frequenting the British Isles in the winter are of the Icelandic race L. l. islandica. The species only began regularly wintering in Hampshire in the 1940’s: numbers increased initially but levelled off in the 1970’s. Despite this population undergoing a sustained growth for many years, with the national wintering population showing a similar growth, the Hampshire population has not shown a corresponding increase. Solent Reserves Blog,

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (2017( A Grand Old Age for a Godwit | Solent Reserves Blog (

Little Egret

The lagoon between the old railway bridge and the road bridge

Spring was beginning to show in early blossom and bus

There were a large number of Black-Tailed Godwots in the lagoon, some in summer breeding plumage

From Black Tailed Godwit Facts | Limosa Limosa - The RSPB:

In flight

In a line with Redshanks to the right and some Black-Headed Gulls

With two Black-Headed Gulls

Black-Tailed Godwit, Little Egret and Herring Gull

Black-Tailed Godwits, and a Redshank

Black-Tailed Godwits and a Black-Headed Gill

Views of the North shore, Hampshire - Warblington Castle See Warblington Castle | Hampshire Garden Trust Research ( for history

The Saxon St Thomas à Becket Church, Warblington

Langstone Mill. For history see: Langstone Mill on the south coast of Hampshire (

Blue Tit

The Langstone Road Bridge

North Common Nature Reserve

For information of North Common Nature Reserve see listing-KOEEhU9wv1.pdf (

The north channel, separating Hayling Island from Hampshire is part of Chichester Harbour, which with the Solent and Langstone Harbour, makes up one of the most important wetland bird locations in the UK, if not the world.

Chichester and Langstone Harbours Special Protection Area (SPA) is located on the south coast of England in Hampshire and West Sussex. The large, sheltered estuarine basins comprise of extensive sandflats and mudflats exposed at low tide. The two harbours are joined by a stretch of water that separates Hayling Island from the mainland. Tidal channels drain the basin and penetrate far inland. The mudflats are rich in invertebrates and also support extensive beds of algae, especially, eelgrasses (Zostera spp.) and Enteromorpha species.

This site supports breeding little tern (Sterna albifrons) and sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis); on passage little egret (Egretta garzetta); overwintering bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica) and little egret (Egretta garzetta). The site also supports the migratory species of ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula), black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa islandica), dark-bellied brent goose (Branta bernicla bernicla), dunlin (Calidris alpina alpine), grey plover (Pluvialis squatarola), redshank (Tringa tetanus) and ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula). The area also regularly supports an assemblage of at least 20,000 waterfowl. MMO Report Style and GIS Guide (


A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee Queen

More Brent Geese

Northney Marina and Brent Geese

South Downs in the background - Hampshore shore

Sailing boats moored in the channel between the mainland and Hayling Island

Salt marsh of North Common NR

Herring Gulls

The entrance to Northney Harbour

Great-Crested Grebe

Langstone and the South Downs

Looking westwards along the channel between the mainland and Hayling Island

The saline lagoons of North Common NR

A Black-Headed Gull with plumage turning from winter to summer colours

More Brent Geese!

A Shelduck

More Brent Geese

Northney Marina

From the north-west shore of the mainland, looking at the north-west corner of Langstone Harbour (Bridge Lake) at low tide

Very large numbers of Brent Geese, Dunlin and Black-Tailed Godwits, with some Curlew, Redshanks, Teal and Wigeon, and Black-Headed Gulls, and a few Shelducks, and possibly some Ringed Plovers. The light was dark, and it was difficult to see.

Portsea in the backgorund

The old rail bridge. Often there are Red-Breasted Mergansers here, but there were none today; may be they have returned to their nesting grounds: the north-west of Scotland, England, Wales and in parts of N Ireland.

Bird-themed adverting at Havant Station

bottom of page