The year got off to a good start with the near adult Ring-billed Gull remaining at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Shoebury followed by a 2nd Winter Iceland Gull at Shoebury East Beach late on the 12th. The Iceland proved difficult to connect with on subsequent dates but the fortunate few were rewarded with further sightings through to the 19th. Those searching for the Iceland turned up a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on the 16th at East Beach, and a Purple Sandpiper at the Coastguards on the 19th.
A Great Northern Diver on the River Roach on the 2nd was notable as were 2 overwintering Whimbrel at Wakering Stairs on the 9th. An Egyptian Goose seen at Wat Tyler on the 29th was a welcome addition to some S.O.G. lists with a female Goosander also present there from the 19th to the 4th February. Other notable duck sightings included 3 Scaup at Paglesham Lagoon on the 23rd.
Hen Harriers were more widespread this year than previous recent winters with 2-3 regularly sighted as usual around the Fleet Head area.
A Pomarine Skua was sighted off the Pier on the 8th and again on the 23rd and a Ring-necked Parakeet brought a splash of colour to a Rayleigh garden on the 5th.
Warblers were represented by 2 Chiffchaffs throughout the month at Wat Tyler with a Cetti’s Warbler also reported here. A small influx of Redpolls at the start of the month culminated with 32 seen in Belfairs on the 2nd, and a Mealy Redpoll in Priory Park on the 4th. A count of 65 Twite at Canvey Point on the 16th was good for this much reduced visitor and the month ended with 2 Coal Tits seen in Belfairs on the 30th.
The Egyptian Goose at Wat Tyler remained until the 29th, surprisingly joined by a second bird from the 6th to the 13th. Goldeneye numbers peaked for the winter at 35 at Paglesham Lagoon on the 2nd.
Hen Harriers continued their good showing with 3 ringtails on the 5th at Rushley Island, whilst a Tawny Owl at Rochford railway station on the 4th was unusual. Purple Sandpiper was recorded again this month, with a bird on the Pier on the 25th and again on the 24th March. Passerines were in short supply but a count of 14 Siskins at Rawreth on the 20th was good.
The now annual drake Red-crested Pochard arrived at Wat Tyler on the 4th and remained throughout the summer until 26th August. 3 Scaup were again seen at Paglesham Lagoon on the 4th. Little Stint are unusual outside of autumn passage so 4 birds at Oxenham Farm from the 28th to 2nd April was exceptional. Incredibly another Ring-billed Gull arrived in the area on the 11th, this time a full summer adult at Westcliff Seafront. For the next 4 weeks it was possible to see 2 of these transatlantic visitors within 3 miles of each other.
The last Short-eared Owl of the winter was seen at Fleet Head on the 26th by which time the first summer migrants had arrived with Wheatear logged at Gunners Park and Hadleigh Downs on the early date of the 12th. 2 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Hockley Woods on the 11th were perhaps indicative of probable breeding and the years only Water Pipit was a summer plumaged bird at Vange Marsh on the 27th. After last years colonisation, a Cetti’s Warbler was present at Star Lane from the 19th to the 16th April, whilst 36 Twite inland on a playing field in Leigh from 7th to the 13th were a good find.
At Canvey Seafront, on the 15th, the first seawatch of the spring was well rewarded with 5 Fulmars, a Gannet, plus a good movement of Terns with Sandwich, Common, Arctic, and Little all making their first appearance of the year. Winter visitors had all departed by mid-month with the last Goldeneye seen at Paglesham Lagoon on the 8th and a female Brambling at Gunners Park on the 7th. Both Ring-billed Gulls headed back across the Atlantic this month, with the Shoebury bird last seen on the 7th and the Westcliff bird last seen on the 14th. Surprisingly a 2nd winter Iceland Gull was found at Paglesham Lagoon on the 8th before flying off towards Potton where it was reported again on the 16th; it would seem possible that this was the same bird that was seen in January heading back North. Most summer migrants arrived back this month including a White Wagtail at Vange Marsh on the 5th, 4 Whinchats on Hadleigh Downs on the 7th, a pair of Ring Ouzel reported at Barling on the 16th plus another on Canvey on the 25th. The year's only Grasshopper Warbler was a reeling bird at Wat Tyler on the 22nd and 23rd. The first 13 Swifts of the year arrived together in a flock of hirundines at Paglesham Lagoon on the 24th, and a female Montagu’s Harrier graced Fleet Head on the 29th ending the month in style.
After all the arrivals and departures of the previous month, May was relatively quiet. A Guillemot off Canvey Seafront on the 2nd and 3rd was unseasonal, whilst a Fieldfare at Gunners Park on the 2nd was exceptionally late. The first Hobby was late with 2 arriving over Southend on the 6th. 2 male Pied Flycatchers were a good spring find at Gunners Park on the 9th but had gone the following day. On the 14th an adult summer Little Gull loafed lazily at Paglesham Lagoon all afternoon and a pair of Common Tern were on a nest there on one of the islands. Saving the best till last, a singing male Golden Oriole was in Belfairs on the 22nd but did not hang around long enough for most people to appreciate it.
June was particularly quiet, with the only notable record being a report of 2 Quail calling at Canewdon on the 20th. Of the breeding records received it was pleasing to note a total of 3 pairs of Great Crested Grebe at 3 sites, Grey Heron raising at least 2 young from 2 nests at Paglesham Lagoon, and Mute Swan raising 14 young from 3 pairs. Avocet continue to prosper with 3 pairs at Two Tree Island where Stonechat was also confirmed as breeding. Little Owl successfully raised 1 young at Paglesham and reports of Grey Wagtail continued throughout the summer along Prittlewell Brook suggesting a local breeding attempt. 10 Bearded Tit were ringed on the 25th at Wat Tyler, evidence of breeding success there again. Records of Marsh Harrier came this month from Wakering Common on the 4th and 17th, and Wat Tyler on the 9th and 16th, with expanding populations in neighbouring counties maybe we can look forward to a breeding attempt within SOG in the near future.
An escaped Harris Hawk was a surprise when it flew over an Eastwood garden on the 1st later being re-located in Belfairs Wood where it settled until 18th October at least. Marsh Harriers continued to be sighted this month with a male at Havengore on the 8th and a female on the 30th. A Kingfisher was at Barling on the 1st, suggesting nearby breeding. The first returning migrant was logged on the 23rd with a Whinchat at Vange Marsh. The bird of the year would have been the small Crake species seen briefly at Vange Marsh on the evening of the 24th and morning of the 25th, had its identity been positively clinched. Almost certainly either a Little Crake or Baillons Crake, with the latter the most likely, it will be remembered as the one that got away as views were brief and inconclusive. The month ended with an unseasonal Red-breasted Merganser at Wakering Stairs on the 30th.
The first returning Wheatear was at Two Tree Island on the 3rd, and a Water Rail in reeds besides Paglesham Lagoon on the 4th may well have been a local breeder. Eider reached a peak of 107 off Wakering Stairs on the 5th. All went quiet until the 15th when an evening visit to Vange Marsh revealed high numbers of Sandpipers. 23 Green Sandpipers, 20 Common Sandpipers, a record SOG count of 8 Wood Sandpipers, and best of all a flighty adult Marsh Sandpiper were all present. The birdlines and pagers were soon buzzing with the news and so early on the 16th, birders were able to connect with the Marsh Sandpiper and 7 Wood Sandpipers, but by 9:30 am the Marsh Sandpiper flew off never to return.
Seawatching at Canvey gave the year's peak counts of Black Tern at a respectable 55 and Common Scoter at 11 on the 21st; plus peak counts of 28 Arctic Skua on the 26th, and 8 Pomarine Skua on the 28th.
5 adult Yellow-legged Gulls were on the River Roach on the 22nd when passerines started moving through with a Pied Flycatcher at Hadleigh C.P. on the same day followed by another in Gunners Park on the 31st. Redstarts were represented with 1 at Coombe Wood on the 24th and another in Gunners Park on the 30th with Whinchat peaking at 12 on Hadleigh Downs on the 27th. It was pleasing to count 12 Turtle Doves at Fleet Head on the 26th where 25 Curlew Sandpipers were present on the 31st.
The month started with a very early Razorbill flying past Canvey on the 1st, an Osprey at Havengore Creek on the 3rd, and a female Goshawk at Fleet Head on the 9th. 2 Tree Pipits at Belfairs on the 11th were the only record for the year and another Redstart was found, this time at Barling on the 17th the same day that the adult Ring-billed Gull returned to Westcliff Seafront where it remained into 2001. Long-tailed Skuas were logged off Canvey with singles on the 19th and 26th, both juveniles, and the last Swift of the year whizzed past Wakering Tip on the 21st. A juvenile Montagu’s Harrier on Potton Island on the 20th and an adult male on the 21st were the vanguards of an exceptional movement of raptors. On the 22nd, SOG experienced the unprecedented raptor passage which started a few days earlier further north in the country. A special feature follows at the rear of this report detailing the sightings but in summary, over the next 10 days 69 Honey Buzzards passed through SOG smashing all previous records several times over, and a welcome addition to several garden lists! Caught up in the movement were several Common Buzzards, 4 Ospreys, around 25 Marsh Harriers, 4 Hen Harriers, plus a few Merlin, Hobby, and Peregrine. Even now, raptors did not steal all the headlines as 42 Little Egrets on Potton Island on the 24th set a new SOG record, a Manx Shearwater flew past Canvey on the 27th, and incredibly on the 30th, a flock of 6 Sooty Shearwaters spent some time on the water off Canvey before flying back out to sea, setting a new Essex record in the process.
A late Spotted Flycatcher and 2 Pied Flycatchers were at Gunners Park on the 3rd where the last Wheatear was seen on the 14th along with another Redstart and a female Ring Ouzel there on the 16th. Surprisingly, 3 Ring Ouzels had the decency to visit one observers garden in Eastwood on the 13th with 1 still present on the 15th. A Reed Warbler in Gunners Park from the 17th to the 19th was particularly late and a male Black Redstart at Oxenham Farm from the 17th to the 21st was most obliging. Canvey yielded another juvenile Long-tailed Skua on the 8th. A SOG record count of 13 Mediterranean Gulls was made on the Pier on the 18th. Careful analysis of Med. Gull sightings suggest a minimum of 63 different individuals seen in SOG this year, undoubtedly the best area in Essex to see these birds. The 30th was another memorable day with force 9-11 south westerly gales. Local seawatchers expected some surprises and were not disappointed with 15-20 Storm Petrels from Canvey setting another Essex record, along with 2 Leach’s Petrels, another juvenile Long-tailed Skua, a Pomarine Skua, and a Razorbill there. Another Leach’s Petrel was seen off Shoebury Coastguards also on the 30th.
37 Pintail flew past Wakering Stairs on the 4th. Canvey on the 6th produced the highest counts of the year for Great Skua with 12, and Gannet with 16, both disappointingly low. Also from Canvey on the 6th was the only record of the year for Sabines Gull with an adult there, and 7 Bewick Swans also seen flying out towards Kent. A suburban Black Redstart was found in the heart of Southend on the 7th, the last House Martin was over Priory Park on the 23rd, and by the 24th the first Short-Eared Owl had returned to Two Tree Island where 55 Snipe were seen flying from the marshes at dusk. The 24th also produced an unusual Gull at Westcliff Seafront which would appear to have been a second winter Caspian Gull. Canvey’s last contribution of the year was 4 Scaup there on the 25th. The year's only Snow Bunting was an unconfirmed report of one by the lagoon on Two Tree Island on the 28th. The 29th produced the only record of Red-necked Grebe this year with 2 in The Middleway and a paltry peak count of 12 Little Gulls from the Pier.
The month opened with a drake Goosander flying over Hadleigh C.P. on the 2nd and an adult Little Gull on the lagoon at Two Tree Island also on the 2nd where a Greenshank was present most the month. Peak counts of Little Egret at this site reached 23 on the 22nd and 31 Snipe were again seen on the 16th. A Kingfisher and a male Hen Harrier were at Paglesham Lagoon on the 2nd and there were several coastal sightings of Merlin including a male in Southend on the 4th. The last Swallow of the year passed Thundersley on the very late date of the 4th, also here were 5 Blackcaps throughout the month and 2 Coal Tit nearby in Coombe Wood on the 29th with another in Belfairs on the 15th. There were 5 records of Woodcock in the month including 1 in Hawkwell on the 9th and another at Hadleigh C.P. on the 16th and 30th. A Tawny Owl flew out of woodland at dusk at Eastwood S.F. on the 17th whilst Corn Bunting numbers rose to 80 at Two Tree island on the 19th. A Shore Lark was a fine Christmas present at Wakering Stairs on the 25th with a Gannet and an Arctic Skua also there the same day. Eider numbers peaked offshore at 83 on the 16th. The Pier provided 18 Guillemots, and 2 Razorbills on the 26th and the year's only Slavonian Grebe on the 27th along with an unseasonal Fulmar. Saving the best to last, an adult Franklin's Gull was seen by one observer off the Pier on the 29th following fishing boats in the Thames along with 70 Kittiwake. Despite an extensive search the following day with all coastal watchpoints manned, there was no further sightings although it was possible to establish the presence of up to 20 Mediterranean Gulls in the area with the Pier producing 2 Shag, 2 Little Gulls, 7 Guillemot and a Great Northern Diver. As the cold snap at the end of the month continued the year closed with 2 Blackcaps in Priory Park on the 28th, 15 Red-breasted Merganser on the River Roach on the 29th and a Water Rail at Wakering Stairs on the 31st.