The year kicked off with a Firecrest in Belfairs on the 1st which was disappointingly the only record in the whole area this winter. More obligingly a female Brambling was found at Bowers Marsh on the 1st where it remained with the finch flock feeding on the sunflower heads through to mid-February whilst another visited a garden in Ashingdon briefly on the 2nd. Nearby on the lagoon a Little Stint overwintered from the 2nd through to mid-March. A Long-eared Owl could be seen at dusk in the south-west from the 1st to the 10th. The Thames estuary held three Great Skuas and a Great Northern Diver on the 1st with the Great Skuas remaining until the 6th. A pair of Blackcaps survived on Rayleigh Mount during the early part of the month. A single Hawfinch around Pound Wood teased everyone by being extremely elusive and mobile from the 2nd to the 11th. Wallasea Island on the 5th produced two White-fronted Geese, two Barnacle Geese, and worryingly the only Hen Harrier sighting of the month, a ringtail. A report of a Slavonian Grebe near Brandy Hole was followed up on the 5th when it was successfully found frequenting the Crouch upriver of South Fambridge where it continued its stay through to the end of the month. A Penduline Tit was apparently photographed on private land near Bowers Marsh on the 5th. Seawatching from Canvey on the 8th was productive with a Slavonian Grebe, a pair of Eider (which proved to be the only ones of the first-winter period), a Little Gull, 20 Kittiwakes, 20 Red-throated Divers, a Black-throated Diver, a Razorbill and a Guillemot. A small flock of potentially wild Barnacle Geese dropped in to West Canvey Marsh on the 9th; their number increased to ten over the next few days and they often commuted to nearby Bowers Marsh but departed after the 12th. A male Blackcap visited a Thundersley garden on the 12th. The Hawfinch invasion finally arrived for many on the 13th when five Hawfinches arrived at a pre-roost gathering in Pound Wood. The flock had increased to seven there the following day with three remaining through to early April along with a handful of Lesser Redpolls and one or two Siskins. Whilst South Fambridge continued to host the Slavonian Grebe, a Shag provided a welcome distraction. It was colour-ringed in the nest on the Isle of May in June 2016 and had previously wintered along the Crouch last year and remained on the Crouch until at least the end of January. Two Whooper Swans were an excellent find along the Roach on the 14th; they were clearly newly arrived, and were initially very wary and as a consequence, very mobile before they settled down on Wallasea on the 18th for four weeks. Mirroring the paucity of Hen Harrier records this winter, Short-eared Owls were also unusually scarce this month with a single on Wallasea on just two dates, 14th and 19th, and another at South Fambridge on the 20th. The only Chiffchaff of the month was in Friars Park on the 14th. The redhead Goosander which was wintering along the Crouch settled onto one of the lagoons on Wallasea on the 18th where it remained loyal to the general area through to mid-February. A Red Admiral flying around a Leigh garden was not unsurprisingly the only butterfly seen this month. Another good local find was a wintering Red-necked Grebe on the 19th along the Crouch opposite Bridgemarsh Island; it continued to be seen until 8th February. Almost as scarce in recent winters was the redhead Red-breasted Merganser also seen there on the 19th and 20th. Wallasea proved attractive to geese over the next few days with an adult male Black Brant from the 21st through to mid-March, and the two White-fronted Geese along with a Pink-footed Goose which took up residency from the 22nd until late March. Red Kites were seen over Ashingdon on the 22nd and Hadleigh Marshes on the 25th. Another wintering Blackcap was favouring a Hockley garden on the 27th.
The duo of White-fronted Geese on Wallasea was joined by another pair on the 2nd with all four remaining through to late March. A ringtail Hen Harrier was seen on Wallasea on the 3rd and 5th, visiting Barling on the former date. The first of a handful of Water Pipits was found on the 3rd along the Roach near Barling. The Thames estuary held 25 Guillemots and four Razorbills on the 3rd and all three Diver species on the 4th. The first of four Blackcaps this month was in a South Benfleet garden on the 4th where it was briefly joined by a second bird. Other singles visited gardens in Rochford and Rayleigh. The flock of Barnacle Geese returned to Bowers Marsh on the 8th where ten resided through to the 24th, occasionally visiting West Canvey Marsh. A Water Pipit frequented Bowers Marsh from the 8th and a Jack Snipe was at Vange Marsh from the 9th until early April. One of the highlights of the winter was the discovery of a flock of 11 Shore Larks on Wallasea on the 10th. They were often elusive and difficult to find among the myriad of creeks and pools but they remained on site until the 23rd and were the biggest ever flock in the recording area. Small groups of six and four Siskins passed over Rochford golf course on the 11th and 18th and were surprisingly the only records this month. A male Hen Harrier on Wallasea on the 11th was a welcome sight; although it would often go missing for long periods it lingered on the island until mid-April. Water Pipits arrived at Vange Marsh from the 13th with a single there initially, increasing to two from the 17th and then three in early April. Only the second Chiffchaff of the winter was braving the cold in a Rochford garden on the 14th and a Red Admiral on Wallasea the next day must have been feeling equally hardy or foolish. A Slavonian Grebe was off the Pier on the 15th and was possibly the same as that off Canvey last month. A single Brambling was at Wakering Stairs on the 16th and a Ring-necked Parakeet visited Wat Tyler CP. It was pleasing to report two Nuthatches in Hockley Woods on the 17th - after a single last October and again last month, there remains hope that they may recolonise this former stronghold. Both the ringtail and male Hen Harrier were seen on Wallasea on the 22nd where a female Merlin was also now showing daily. A Slavonian Grebe dropped in briefly on the lagoon at Bowers Marsh on the 24th but did not linger. Pound Wood continued to hold one or two Hawfinches and a Nuthatch as well as a Brambling on the 24th. The first Adder braved the weather on Hadleigh Downs on the 24th. A Short-eared Owl on Wallasea on the 26th was the only record this month although an escaped Bengal Eagle Owl in Leigh the same day would have been quite a sight. During the heavy snow came news, swiftly followed by a photograph, of a Serin visiting a back garden near Gunners Park on the 27th and 28th.
A Goosander and a Great Skua were reported from Canvey seafront on the 1st which saw the start of a weather induced movement of Woodcock across the area. There was an initial wave from the 1st to the 6th with nine birds turning up in unusual locations, often gardens. A second movement occurred from the 21st to the 23rd when a further ten displaced birds were seen. Little Gulls were also affected by the conditions resulting in a total of 20 birds passing through the estuary between the 2nd and 4th.† An adult Iceland Gull was claimed at Bowers Marsh on the 7th. Continuing the gull theme, the rarest bird of the period was a second-winter Franklinís Gull which flew east past the Pier on the 9th. A Waxwing was photographed in Shoebury the same day but also evaded all but the finder. The first of six Red Kites this month was over Bowers Marsh on the 10th. A first-winter Caspian Gull roosting on the boom at Shoebury East Beach on the 10th was an excellent find locally. Between the 10th and 12th the Serin showed briefly in Gunners Park allowing those with time and patience to connect. A pair of Scaup visited Wallasea on the 13th where the drake remained until the 22nd. Two Sandwich Terns off Canvey on the 17th were particularly early given the prevailing weather. Also off Canvey there was a second, smaller passage of Little Gulls from the 17th to the 19th with seven birds in the estuary. Both the ringtail and adult male Hen Harrier were seen on Wallasea on the 20th where the Merlin also continued its stay. A return passage of Short-eared Owls was noted from the 20th onwards with two birds on Wallasea through to the end of the month and one or two at Canvey Point, Two Tree Island, and Paglesham in the final week. The Serin reappeared in the private garden near Gunners Park on the 20th through to the 23rd. On the 21st Wallasea hosted a Barnacle Goose with the four White-fronted Geese and the Pink-footed Goose all for the final time along with a Red-breasted Merganser and three Barn Owls. A Black Redstart in paddocks along the Roach on the 21st was a good spring record when Chiffchaffs began arriving back in force with up to ten together at nine sites. There was another Slavonian Grebe sighting on the 22nd, this time from a boat on the Roach. After an unexpected record of a Marsh Tit in private woodland near Canewdon last October, the bird surprised everyone when it was seen again on the 22nd. Permission was obtained to enter the wood where the bird was seen daily through to the 7th April. Lesser Redpolls were clearly on the move from the 23rd onwards with groups of up to nine passing through in the last week at Canvey Wick, Hadleigh Downs, and Pound Wood. The Canvey Wick flock also held between one and five Mealy Redpolls throughout. Bizarrely we experienced a small passage of Ring-necked Parakeets from the 24th to the 26th with singles seen at Canewdon, Canvey, Gunners Park, Rochford, and Westcliff all in a three day window and involving more than one bird. Siskins were also on the move from the 25th onwards with up to seven seen at eight sites through to the end of the month. Similarly Bramblings also passed through, albeit in smaller numbers, with up to five at two locations. A Firecrest was a good find in Gunners Park on the 25th and 26th. A Jack Snipe was seen to fly out across the Thames at Canvey on the 25th. Quite unbelievably a male Serin, different to the Gunners Park individual, visited feeders in a Canewdon garden on the 26th. Two Great Northern Divers were present on the 27th including one in full summer plumage. A Waxwing was reported from Prittlewell on the 27th. A Spoonbill flew upriver past Gunners Park on the 29th and was likely the bird that arrived at Cliffe Pools later that day. A Great White Egret was seen distantly from Paglesham on Potton on the 29th and 31st. †The first Wheatear was predictably in Gunners Park on the rather late date of the 31st when three Red-breasted Mergansers were on the Roach and a Firecrest was found in Pound Wood. Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, and Peacock butterflies were all seen from the 21st onwards.
Seven Grey Partridges were seen at Wakering Stairs on the 1st with two still there on the 13th and another at Fleet Head on the 6th indicating a recent release rather than a revival in fortunes. The Waxwing in Prittlewell was reported again on the 3rd. Yellow Wagtails arrived back on Wallasea and Lower Raypits on the 7th. A Black Redstart in an inland suburban garden in Leigh on the 8th was a remarkable record and two Water Voles were particularly showy on Wallasea from the 8th to the 16th whilst nearby the three Red-breasted Mergansers on the Roach were seen daily through to the 9th. The Prittlewell Waxwing was finally pinned down on the 9th and remained faithful to some roadside berries through to the 12th and was one of the last ones in the country this winter. The first of nine Red Kites this month were birds over Canvey Wick and Thundersley on the 10th. Finch passage picked up noticeably mid-month with Bramblings peaking at six in Canewdon on the 10th, Siskins peaking at 19 in Ashingdon on the 11th, and Lesser Redpolls peaking at seven on Canvey Wick on the 12th. The male Hen Harrier on Wallasea was seen for the last time on the 11th when there was still an impressive flock of 90 Fieldfare in Wakering, contrasting with a high of just four Redwings at Lower Raypits on the 13th. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers made it back to Wallasea on the relatively early date of the 11th where they stayed for the rest of the month. The wintering Merlin was seen there for the final time on the 12th. A Firecrest was seen in central Southend on the 13th when one of last monthís Ring-necked Parakeets was seen again on Canvey. Cuckoos arrived back from the 13th with a widespread arrival at eleven sites by month end. Common Tern struggled back on the 14th with a single at Wat Tyler CP. A displaced Hawfinch at Bowers Marsh on the 15th was unexpected. An Arctic Tern was resting up on Wallasea on the 17th and Nightingales returned to three sites from the 18th, peaking at six at Canvey Wick. A Stone Curlew was heard flying over a Rochford garden in the dark on the 19th heading north. A fine drake Garganey was on the lagoon at Bowers Marsh on the 20th and 21st where a Grasshopper Warbler was also seen and heard. A further three Grasshopper Warblers were at Canvey Wick on the 21st with a single at Wakering Stairs the next day although all six fell quiet after the 22nd. A stunning Black-necked Grebe was at Bowers Marsh from the 21st to the 23rd where three Little Ringed Plovers could also be found. Swifts returned on the 22nd by which time all the hirundines and common warblers had returned. A smart male Whinchat in Gunners Park on the 23rd was an excellent spring record and four Wheatears were also present. A Long-eared Owl was seen again the south-west at a day roost from the 26th until early May. The first Hobby, the only one of the month, was over Gunners Park on the 27th when a flock of 18 Arctic Terns passed Canvey with a further 22 there two days later. It was good to hear Turtle Doves back at Canewdon and Wakering Stairs on the 29th with a Ring Ouzel also seen at the latter site on the 29th. Finally, a drake Garganey was deserved reward for braving the wind and the rain at Lower Raypits on the 30th.