My trip out today started on one of the classic spring birds, garganey. The males are gorgeous ducks with a brown head and a white eye stripe. They are also known to be pretty elusive birds. This one had been hanging around a pool at Farlington Marshes, a lovely little reserve on the south coast near Portsmouth. I timed my arrival well, just as the overnight rain was clearing away and walked the 15 minutes or so to the pool. There was lots of movement on the marsh itself with birds flying up and relocating but only a couple of swans and 6 teal on the pool itself. On the grassy edges though there were still about 20 brent geese, classic Winter birds still hanging on before moving North.
Within about 5 minutes a duck swam off from the bank and I quickly saw the eye-stripe and confirmed it as the garganey. It promptly disappeared into the reeds and though I waited another hour it didn't appear. The photo below is of a different bird from 2014 at Little Marlow. You can see that eye-stripe showing well.
These were not the only birds around. Woodlarks, new for the year, were in full song and stonechats were patrolling the heath. I even had a pair of hawfinches overfly us. Star of the show though was a particularly aggressive firecrest in the holly by the path. They are closely related to our goldcrests but have a bold black and white eye stripe. They also have a distinctively different song which was what alerted me to its presence in the first place.
For a tiny bird they have a lot of attitude and that crest raising is hilarious.
Rather than carrying on around the coast I finally headed back towards home. The first little gulls of the year had been reported at Staines reservoir so I stopped off there. There were two other birders on site and they pointed me to the 3 or possibly 4 gulls. This is Staines so of course they were miles away!!! Occasionally they came a bit closer though, actively picking food of the water surface allowing me to study the classic id features.
There were two plumages present. The bird above is an adult, without its full black hood yet. Of course it is a lot smaller than the other gulls but on its own at range this is hard to determine. What does show though are those really dark, almost black underwings and that white tail and fringing to the wings. The beak is also a lot more delicate and blacker.
This 1st winter bird shows the other plumage type often seen. Look at the pattern on the upper wings, the V shape mid the leading black edge on the wings and the terminal black band on the tail.
There were no other true spring birds present, but there was one in spring plumage. Black-necked grebes are regular's here and they are now in their breeding finery.
Finally I caught up with the long-staying American horned lark, still seeming to be thriving on the bank of the reservoir.
A good day all round and the real feel of Spring in the air, though apparently it will snow on Sunday!!!!