On the 1st, a Ring-necked Parakeet was an unexpected find in Shoebury where at the same site at least one Firecrest persisted all month and the first of this month’s Chiffchaffs was in nearby Friars Park. A Hen Harrier over the old Wakering Tip on the 1st was the only sighting away from Wallasea. The following day, the Ring-necked Parakeet moved slightly to the east where it visited Friars Park, but was not seen again all winter. After the Ravens at Fleet Head went missing on the 31st December, a sighting of two over Coombe Wood on the 3rd was intriguing. The first of five wintering Blackcaps this month was a male seen in a Rayleigh garden on the 3rd where it was joined by a female on the 19th; the other reports this month came from Coombe Wood and two gardens in Leigh. Water Pipits were found at two sites on the 4th with a single at Barling all month and one or two at Vange Marsh throughout. The only Bullfinch sighting this month was of a male on Benfleet Downs on the 5th. A pair of Whooper Swans touched down briefly on Wallasea on the 5th although did not linger, yet remarkably reappeared again on the 8th, but again only briefly. A Firecrest was trapped and ringed on Two Tree Island on the 6th. The Thames held a Shag on the 8th at the Pier and a Guillemot off Canvey on the 10th which was surprisingly the only auk of the first winter period. Two Long-eared Owls were seen flying from their day roost on the evening of the 11th in the south-west. A wandering Raven was seen again over Thundersley on the 12th and five Cattle Egrets flying over Benfleet late the same day were unexpected. A Goosander was seen on Wallasea on the 13th where up to three Great White Egrets, four Short-eared Owls, four Marsh Harriers, two Peregrines, a Barn Owl, and a Merlin joined ranks with the three Hen Harriers and were all present throughout the month. Two Red Kites were reported over Rayleigh on the 17th. The flock of ten Barnacle Geese at Bowers Marsh were present again from the 18th to the 20th, and two Ravens were seen again at Fleet Head. The 19th produced some interesting records with a report of a Lesser Redpoll on a garden feeder in Hockley, a Grey Partridge at Fleet Head, and a quite remarkable three Firecrests on Two Tree Island. The second Chiffchaff of the month was at Fleet Head on the 22nd, the same day that the wandering Raven duo arrived on Wallasea for a protracted stay where remarkably they were joined by a third bird on the 24th. On the 21st the Thames again held a Shag on the Pier and the only Red-breasted Merganser of the month which was off Canvey. A presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat was photographed in a Rayleigh garden on the 27th and had apparently been present since Christmas, it continued its stay until at least mid-February. Continuing the impressive series of records, yet another Firecrest was found on the 30th with a bird in Priory Park. The month ended with a report of a Red Kite along Hadleigh Marshes on the 31st.
The flock of ten Barnacle Geese relocated to West Canvey Marsh on the 1st where they remained all month. A stunning Stoat in ermine was seen on Wallasea on the 2nd, a remarkable record this far south and during a mild winter too; it was seen several more times during the month with a lot of luck and even more patience. A Raven was mobile around Fleet Head on the 2nd and a ringtail Hen Harrier was also seen there whilst an adult male was noted on Wallasea the same day. The plethora of wintering Firecrest records dried up rapidly this month with two in Shoebury on the 2nd the only record this month or next. A drake Smew on the Crouch at Fambridge on the 5th was an awesome and unexpected find given how few now visit our shores. Short-eared Owl numbers peaked at five this month on Wallasea on the 5th where two Hen Harriers, two Great White Egrets, three Barn Owls, two Peregrines and a Merlin continued to be reported throughout. A single Long-eared Owl was seen at a new site in the south at dusk on the 5th. Water Pipits were reported again from Barling as well as South Fambridge on the 6th with another seen at Bowers Marsh the following week. The first butterfly of the year was a Peacock at Bowers Marsh on the 6th. A small flock of six Yellowhammers was found beside the creek at Wat Tyler CP on the 7th where they remained for the next ten days, and the first Common Lizards and Adders tentatively ventured out on Benfleet Downs. Woodcock numbers remained high with four at Canvey Wick on the 8th the most notable. A Lapland Bunting flushed from the seawall at Barling on the 8th was a quite exceptional record given the paucity of sightings in southern England this winter. The Thames was exceptionally quiet all month with a Shag off Canvey on the 15th the only record of note. It was often thought that Bullfinch might still persist at Wat Tyler CP and so it was pleasing to confirm a sighting of a pair there from the 15th to the 17th. The month’s only Chiffchaff was along Prittle Brook in Southend on 17th whereas by contrast there were sightings of eight Blackcaps this month variously reported from gardens in Benfleet, Canewdon, Hockley, Rayleigh, and Thundersley. The first Red Admiral of the year was seen on Hadleigh Downs on the 18th. Two Lesser Redpolls visited a garden feeder in Hockley on the 21st when the trio of wandering Ravens put in another visit to Wallasea on the 21st although were not seen subsequently. The Long-eared Owl at the new site in the south was joined by a second bird on the 27th when both were seen leaving their roost as darkness fell.
A Short-eared Owl took up residence around Fambridge and across the Crouch from the 1st through to the 15th whilst two could still be found on Wallasea on the 1st. A Water Pipit was seen on Vange Marsh on the 1st; this site has a good track record in recent years of attracting this scarce species on spring passage as demonstrated by at least two present there on the 8th and five by mid-month. A group of three White-fronted Geese visited Bowers Marsh on the 3rd where they remained through to the 14th and the flock of ten Barnacle Geese continued to favour West Canvey Marsh until the 8th before they moved to Bowers Marsh also. Lesser Redpoll were typically scarce this winter so three together on Canvey Wick from the 8th to the 14th were most welcome. A pair of Siskins visited a Rayleigh garden on the 13th with the only other record this month being a female at Canewdon ten days later. A Spoonbill paid an all too brief visit to Bowers Marsh early on the 15th and the first Sand Martins and Swallow passed through the area on the 18th. A Hen Harrier was seen from South Fambridge on the 21st to the north of the Crouch and it transpired to be the last sighting this winter of this enigmatic visitor. A Black-necked Grebe returned to Bowers Marsh on the 21st with three birds present there from the 28th onwards. Three Cattle Egrets flew over Wallasea at dusk on the 22nd and were most likely the trio seen on Blue House Farm on 20th March and 5th April and latterly at Fobbing on 19th April. Single Little Ringed Plovers returned to Bowers Marsh on the 22nd and Lower Raypits on the 26th and the first Grass Snake of the year was seen on Belton Hills on the 22nd. Small Tortoiseshell and Small White on the 24th brought the number of butterfly species up to six with Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral, and Brimstone making up the rest. Three Short-eared Owls were still to be found around the Wallasea/Paglesham area on the 25th although none were reported from these areas subsequently which is more likely as a result of the ‘lockdown’ conditions imposed on the country rather than lack of birds. With fewer people out and about, records began to dry up, but a Red Kite over a Southend garden on the 27th was the vanguard of a good series of garden records for this species in April.
The last Woodcock sighting of the winter was at Blounts Wood on the 1st. The first of an unprecedented influx of 25 Red Kites this month appeared over Rochford on the 2nd the same day that a significant passage of several hundred Redwings passed through the area. A female Bullfinch was a good find at Magnolia NR on the 2nd raising hopes that a few pairs still linger on undetected in suitable habitat. Overnight on the 2nd/3rd a handful of gardens successfully joined in recording the national overnight passage of migrating Common Scoters. Good numbers of Little Ringed Plovers were present with nine at Bowers Marsh on the 5th whilst later in the month Lower Raypits held four and Vange Marsh held two. Two White-fronted Geese were still to be found at Bowers Marsh on the 5th along with the three Black-necked Grebes; also on the 5th the first of the month’s seven singing Willow Warblers was heard on Two Tree Island and the first of a glut of garden Emperor Moths was attracted to a pheromone lure in South Fambridge. Yellow Wagtails arrived back on the 6th at South Fambridge, seven Sandwich Terns were off Gunners Park the next day and the first Cuckoos were heard around Canewdon. An Osprey reportedly flew high over Rawreth on the 8th and was the only record of the month. A fine male Ring Ouzel was an excellent inland find at Rochford on the 9th, somewhat surprisingly it remained loyal to one horse paddock through to the 22nd. The 10th saw the now anticipated arrival of a pair of Black-winged Stilts in the south; they were still present on the 11th and 12th but were not seen subsequently. The first Large Red Damselfly of the year emerged from a garden pond in Leigh on the 10th and that evening a Brown Long-eared Bat was watched from South Fambridge over woodland to the north and a Spoonbill dropped in briefly at Bowers Marsh. Grasshopper Warblers were reeling at Wakering Common and Bowers Marsh on the 11th and a Hobby was seen at South Fambridge on the 12th with another at Leigh on the 13th. A Common Tern was fishing at South Fambridge on the 13th whilst a Little Tern was reported off Chalkwell on the 16th when a female Garganey was seen at Bowers Marsh. The only Garden Warbler of the month was a report of one singing near Rawreth on the 17th; quite why they are so scarce across the area is puzzling. Nightingales seem to be having a good year with the first of up to 15 across the region at Canvey Wick on the 17th where up to ten were thought to be present by the end of the month. Wheatears were also having a strong showing with six at Bowers Marsh on the 19th the best count with five at South Fambridge and four at Lower Raypits also notable. What may have been January’s duo of Whooper Swans alighted briefly at Lower Raypits on the 19th. A small pulse of Siskins was noted from the 20th through to the 22nd with up to four around Gunners Park each day. The first Hairy Dragonfly and Wall butterfly of the year were both on the wing on the 20th along Benfleet Downs. The 21st saw the arrival of another Ring Ouzel, a female in Gunners Park which remained until the 23rd. Also on the 21st a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling at Vange Marsh and the first Turtle Dove of the year was reported from Friars Park. A late Fieldfare passed through Rochford on the 22nd the same day that the long-staying Ring Ouzel was seen for the last time. Non avian highlights at this time included a Weasel behind Leigh station on the 22nd, the year’s first Small Copper butterflies in Gunners Park on the 23rd and Green Hairstreaks on Benfleet Downs on the 24th. Lockdown garden birding on the 24th provided a superb Spoonbill which flew over Westcliff and two Bullfinches at the back of a garden near Rawreth, whilst next day a Short-eared Owl flew through a South Fambridge garden before crossing the river to Blue House Farm. A pair of Garganey on the tidal Crouch upstream of Hullbridge on the 25th were unusual in terms of location given that the river is saltwater at that point. A short seawatch from Gunners Park on the 28th provided a Black-throated Diver, four Gannets, and a Little Tern whilst nearby at Wakering Stairs a Turtle Dove was seen. By the 28th there were now three Grasshopper Warblers reeling at Bowers Marsh but were unfortunately attracting too much unwelcome attention from over-zealous photographers. The pair of wandering Whooper Swans touched down once more at Lower Raypits on the 29th where they blotted their copy book by remaining into May, calling into question their credentials as truly wild birds, whilst nearby there were now two Short-eared Owls sparring at South Fambridge. A handful of Common Sandpipers were found along the Crouch and the Roach as the month drew to a close although the summer plumage Spotted Redshank on Two Tree Island on the 29th was by far the smartest looking wader. The month closed with a fine Whinchat at Bowers Marsh on the 30th.