The New Year started with snow remaining on the ground and cold conditions for a few days before returning to the general theme of the winter with rain and more rain.
The adult Ring-billed Gull remained throughout the month at Westcliff Seafront proving particularly popular with year listers on the 1st. There were usually at least 3 adult Mediterranean Gulls present here also. An overwintering Marsh Harrier at Wat Tyler, first reported in December proved elusive to most but Hen Harriers were generally more reliable around the Wakering Stairs/Potton Island area with up to 3 Barn Owls and 1-2 Short-eared Owls, another of which was resident on Two Tree Island where double figure roost counts of Little Egret were typical this month.
A Water Pipit was a good find at Hadleigh C.P. on the 13th. Passerines also provided excitement in the form of a long overdue Dartford Warbler reported by a single observer at Wakering Stairs on the 6th. If accepted, this will be the first for the SOG area. After a blank winter last year the rediscovery of a Hawfinch on the 14th at Hockley Woods was most welcome. The bird was very reliable and was regularly seen most mornings by birders from across the county through to the end of February. A pair of Bullfinch were also seen here on several dates in the month maintaining this species tentative hold in SOG.
The Waxwing invasion finally reached SOG early this month; following an unconfirmed report of one on Two Tree Island on the 7th, 3 were later found in the Wakering area on the 13th with a further 3 a few days later in Southend, plus 2 in Hawkwell and up to 21 at Tesco’s, Pitsea for most of the month.
Seawatching from Southend Pier provided a Great Northern Diver on the 25th and 27th and up to 6 Guillemots also on the 27th
The weather continued wet and mild with a period of high pressure and sun for a week mid-month. A few centimetres of snow fell on the night of the 24th which heralded a period of snow showers which continued to the end of the month when the Foot and Mouth outbreak started hitting the headlines.
The month got off to a good start with a 3rd winter Glaucous Gull seen independently by two observers on the 3rd firstly at Paglesham Lagoon then shortly after at Fleet Head. The following week, on the 9th, close scrutiny of the gull flock at Barling Tip provided records of Yellow-legged Gull and a couple of good candidates for Caspian Gull with 2 Green Sandpipers also overwintering there. Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl, and Hen Harrier maintained their numbers from January around the Wakering/Potton area with sightings throughout the month.
Warblers were certainly grateful for the generally mild conditions with 4 Chiffchaffs overwintering at Eastwood Sewage Farm, a male Blackcap in a Southend garden on the 4th, and best of all a Cetti’s Warbler in Wakering on the 13th with a Water Rail also seen there.
Waxwings continued to please birders at a couple of Southend sites in the first half of the month with 7 being the peak count this month.
Eastwood Sewage Farm was home to a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker with sightings on a number of dates throughout January and February with Bullfinch and Treecreeper also seen in the surrounding woodland. One lucky observer managed to stumble upon the winters only local record of Jack Snipe here on the 13th whilst Grey Wagtail were resident throughout.
3 Twite on a playing field inland at Leigh mid-month along with 5 Mediterranean Gulls was just reward for going out in the pouring rain. A Kingfisher brightened up a dull day at Fleet Head on the 17th. The Ring-billed Gull at Westcliff remained throughout and the Pied Wagtail roost in Rayleigh High Street reached 420 mid-month whilst the returning drake Red-crested Pochard was reported as being back at Wat Tyler on the 24th.
Foot and Mouth restrictions closed all Essex footpaths and reserves throughout the month resulting in very little rural birding being possible; the weather continued wet and mild with North-Easterlies on the 17th and 18th and a spell of strong Easterlies for a few days from the 19th.
Southend Pier was well watched at the start of the month, providing records of Great Northern, Red-throated, and Black-throated Diver on the 10th plus a Shag on the 4th and 2 Guillemots present on the 4th and the 11th.
3 Siskins brightened up one birders day by feeding in a Westcliff garden on the 9th. Waxwings reappeared at Waitrose, Southend with 3 on the 11th and 4 on the 16th, another flock of 3 were at Hockley Station on the 20th and an impressive 44 were reported just outside the SOG recording area in Vange on the 15th. A Common Buzzard passed over Hadleigh C.P. on the 14th.
Cold north-easterlies on the 17th brought a brief visit from an Iceland Gull to the larus mecca at Westcliff Seafront with the Ring-billed Gull seen daily until the 24th with a 1st winter Ring-billed Gull also reported here on the 23rd and 24th. The strong winds provided a good local count of 4 Black Redstarts at Gunners Park on the 18th. A swing to easterly winds from the 19th resulted in a superb find at Gunners Park in the shape of a male white-spotted Bluethroat present from late on the 19th until the 27th and proving very popular with birders from across the country. Incredibly, whilst waiting for the Bluethroat to appear on the 20th, an obliging Serin was found just yards away. Not only a first for SOG, but only the 9th for Essex, and most surprising of all, it stayed around until the 31st allowing many to add it to their Essex lists. With all the attention Gunners Park was getting it was not unexpected that some other interesting birds would be found and we were not disappointed as reports of Black Redstarts continued daily through to the 24th and migrant Wheatear, Sand Martin and Redwing all logged here on the 24th also. 2 Tree Sparrows were reported on the 30th with 1 on the 31st and 1st April, if confirmed they will be the first in SOG since 1995. Woodcock were also reported from Gunners Park on 2 dates with another seen flying over Southend on the 30th.
3 Great Northern Divers were sighted off Shoebury Coastguards on the 26th and a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were displaying in Priory Park on the 29th.
Foot and Mouth restrictions continued their stranglehold on the countryside. The first week was warm and typically springlike. Mid-month, a few local reserves cautiously eased their restrictions whilst Easter was ushered in with a cold, northerly airflow. Most summer migrants struggled through to arrive in the area by the months end but the rather wet conditions returned at the end of the month.
An influx of Firecrests arrived in the area during the first two weeks starting with a singing male in Gunners Park on the 1st and 2 in Friars Park on the same day. The Gunners Park bird was joined by a second on the 3rd with both still there on the 4th. One Firecrest was still at Friars Park on the 8th with one at Gunners Park on the 9th. The final bird of the influx was at Star Lane G.P. on the 13th where the Cetti’s Warbler was well reported throughout the month with possibly a second male bird present towards the end of the month.
Gunners Park yielded another report of a Tree Sparrow on the 1st along with 4 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 Siskins and a Guillemot offshore. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was at Rochford Golf Club on the 1st. A Hobby passed south over Canvey Island on the 2nd, and on the 3rd two Common Terns were fishing off Shoebury Coastguards with another Siskin nearby at Gunners Park. Passage was noted on the 8th with Buzzard, Swallow, White Wagtail, Whitethroat, and singing Nightingale all present in Gunners Park along with a Red-tailed Hawk.
Wat Tyler opened its gates on the 9th and to the delight of many a summer plumaged Slavonian Grebe was waiting for everyone in front of the hide and remained until the 16th. A Marsh Harrier was seen intermittently at Wat Tyler throughout and was joined by a second bird from the 29th leaving many to speculate as to breeding possibilities. Birders grateful for the change of venue ensured Wat Tyler was well watched this month. Two Yellow Wagtails and a Green Sandpiper were seen here on the 10th, the first Reed Warbler was recorded on the 13th and the drake Red-crested Pochard was present again on the 14th. The first House Martins were 2 at Two Tree Island on the 13th.
Cold northerlies on the 15th brought 4 Waxwings to Westcliff which stayed until the 16th. The same airflow was probably responsible for the bird of the month, a Rough-legged Buzzard, flying north west over Wat Tyler on the morning of the 16th with a Greenshank and a Nightingale adding interest, nearby 4 Siskins were in a Thundersley garden. A Lesser Whitethroat was in Gunners Park on the 22nd, with the first Swift over Benfleet on the 24th and the first Cuckoo at Benfleet Creek on the 25th. Wat Tyler continued to steal the headlines with a Peregrine on the 22nd, and a Little Egret and 3 Bearded Tit on the 29th.
The wet weather finally relented with fine, dry, sunny conditions for most of the month although temperatures were tempered early in the month with cool north-east winds. What rain there was fell mid-month from the 14th to the 17th.
The biggest news of the month was the belated report of a male Bluethroat on Two Tree Island on 24th March, details of which had to be withheld as the island was closed due to Foot and Mouth at the time.
A Nightingale was heard singing in Gunners Park on the 3rd with a White Wagtail also present there from the 3rd to the 5th. Also seen on the 5th was a male Peregrine at Wakering Stairs and most unexpected of all, a party of 12 Waxwings near Chalkwell Park looking somewhat out of place in the warm, summer sun. The drake Red-crested Pochard continued to be reported throughout the month at Wat Tyler and was joined by a female on the 6th, along with 2 Greenshank. The first reported Turtle Dove was at Rochford Golf Course on the 6th.
A fine Red-necked Grebe drifted lazily out of the Thames past Wakering Stairs on the 7th, with 2 distant Gannets flying by there on the same day. A male Blue-headed Wagtail at Gunners Park was appreciated by several observers on the evening of the 8th.
Evidence of passage decreased significantly after the 8th with very little of note for the rest of the month. A Grasshopper Warbler heard reeling at Wat Tyler on the 13th, a Spotted Flycatcher in Priory Park on the 16th and a late Common Sandpiper at Wat Tyler on the 25th were the only records of note for the latter half of the month. With patience, several Bearded Tit and the Marsh Harrier pair could be seen at Wat Tyler, where the final bird of interest was an aythya type resembling a drake Canvasback x Pochard hybrid on the scrape there on the 25th and 26th which caused some confusion and momentary excitement.
Seawatching at Wakering Stairs on the 3rd was rewarded with a fine Osprey flying out of the Thames estuary mobbed by Oystercatchers, plus a rather unseasonal count of up to ten Guillemots along with 12 Common Scoter, 28 Gannets and two Fulmars. The drake Red-crested Pochard continued its stay at Wat Tyler Country Park but only until the 11th; it was joined on the 9th by a female Ruddy Shelduck of dubious parentage, later seen at Vange marsh on the 23rd and 24th. Little Ringed Plover could always be seen on the scrape at Wat Tyler Country Park with up to five together during the month and a pair of Avocet took up residence there during the middle of the month. Fulmars were seen again during the month with two off Canvey on the 17th along with three Gannets. A typically elusive Grasshopper Warbler was reeling along the seawall at Wakering Stairs on the 24th remaining loyal to a small area of scrub and continuing to sing up to July 14th. Two Greenshanks and three Spotted Redshanks were at Barling Pits on the 27th along with a Barn Owl.
The now much declined Bullfinch was seen at Ashingdon on the 1st, whilst a Marsh Harrier was at Wat Tyler Country Park along with a report of an elusive Red-necked Grebe which was reported again on the 12th. A pair of Oystercatcher hatched four young on the scrape at Wat Tyler and the family were all on view on the 3rd. On the afternoon of the 4th a Quail was heard calling from a field near Barling and continued to be heard until the 22nd although never seen. Evenings spent listening for the Quail also produced a Little Owl on the 4th and a Barn Owl on the 18th. The 8th began a remarkable run of sightings of Peregrine at Wat Tyler Country Park; it would appear that one or possibly two of these fine falcons took up residency here until the end of August. Equally intriguing were the Cetti’s Warbler records also at Wat Tyler with occasional sightings from the 8th and three different birds ringed in the month, surely indicative of successful breeding. The year’s only Crossbill was a bird flying over Benfleet on the 13th. A pair of Marsh Harrier summered around the Fleet Head area. Spotted Redshanks were already heading south with 13 at Fleet Head on the 14th being the best count of the month. Following a number of sightings along the East Anglian coast, a probable Cory’s Shearwater was seen from Wakering Stairs on the 21st along with six Gannets and the first Arctic Skua of the autumn. Wader numbers continued to build with 75 Greenshanks reported at Wakering Stairs on the 25th, 11 Common Sandpipers at Vange marsh on the 26th, 70 Whimbrel and 22 Ruff at Fleet Head on the 28th. Wood Sandpiper passage was particularly good this autumn with the first birds being four at Fleet Head on the 28th and one at Vange marsh on the 29th with a Little Stint also here on the 28th.
The protracted Wood Sandpiper passage continued with daily reports of one to two from Fleet Head and Vange marsh until the 19th, accompanied by one to two Little Stints at Fleet Head on the 4th and 5th. Two Grey Partridges at Oxenham Farm on the 4th were the only record in the recording area this year of this previously common resident. Wakering Stairs gave a year high count of 127 Little Terns on the 4th and 100 Greenshanks on the 5th. A Marsh Warbler was ringed at Wat Tyler Country Park on the 7th and unsurprisingly was not seen or heard of subsequently. A report of a Pectoral Sandpiper at Vange marsh on the 8th was received too late for local birders to connect with it before it apparently departed. Six Yellow-legged Gulls were counted at Two Tree Island on the 11th when the first signs of passerine passage was evident with two Wheatear and a Whinchat in Gunners Park, and a Spotted Flycatcher at Fleet Head. The first good seawatch of the autumn was on the 18th when a Great Skua, eight Arctic Skuas, a Fulmar, and 14 Gannets passed Canvey. A Sooty Shearwater was an excellent sighting for one observer as it passed north off Wakering Stairs on the 19th and it was subsequently seen a short time later by another observer as it passed Foulness. Common Sandpipers peaked at 14 at Vange marsh on the 19th. Six Spotted Flycatchers, including two juveniles were in Priory Park on the 21st. On the 22nd, an immature Spoonbill was seen distantly from Wakering Tip flying north from New England Island. A Pied Flycatcher was found in Gunners Park on the 25th. Curlew Sandpiper numbers were low this year with just five at Wakering Stairs on the 25th being the best count, along with an immature Pomarine Skua. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was a welcome visitor to a Westcliff garden on the 27th. A Wryneck showed well though briefly in Gunners Park on the 27th before diving into cover never to be seen again. Arriving birders did however find a fine male Redstart which remained until the 30th, plus two Pied Flycatchers, and six Whinchats, with a further ten Whinchats at Fleet Head. On the 29th at least 225 Sandwich Terns passed Canvey, accompanied by ten Arctic Skuas which were joined by four Pomarine Skuas the following day. On the 31st, a juvenile Montagu’s Harrier flew over Gunners Park and that thought everyone was the last that would be seen of that…!
The Montagu’s Harrier was relocated in the Wakering Stairs/Fleet Head area on the 1st and put on a daily hunting spectacle along the seawall for the many visiting birders from across the county until the 8th. In the same area, a Red Kite took up residence from the 1st and it was possible to see both birds from the same vantage point with patience. The Red Kite remained until the 9th before flying out across the estuary to Kent. Time spent raptor watching from Wakering Tip revealed high numbers of Little Egret coming to roost on Foulness with a staggering 93 counted on the 6th. Skua passage gained momentum this month with all four species seen from Canvey on the 4th including the first Long-tailed Skua of what turned out to be a record-breaking passage. A report of a Ring-billed Gull at Shoebury East Beach on the 5th may well have been the returning bird from Westcliff seafront orientating itself, as it was later back at its usual patch by Rossi’s Ice Cream Parlour on the 7th where it settled down again for the winter. Tern passage past Canvey on the 6th gave rather disappointing peak autumn counts of 25 Arctic Terns and 15 Black Terns. A juvenile Sabine’s Gull was seen from Canvey on the 7th when Mediterranean Gull numbers peaked at 16 on the Pier. Weather conditions on the 8th brought the promise of good seawatching. The Thames did not disappoint with an Essex record of up to 16 Long-tailed Skuas, two Pomarine Skuas, a Manx Shearwater, and another Sabine’s Gull, all seen from Canvey, whilst Southend Pier produced nine Long-tailed Skuas and a distant Leach’s Petrel. Seabird movement continued over the next few days with a good count of 50 Arctic Skua from Canvey on the 9th along with another two Long-tailed Skuas, and another Leach’s Petrel reported on the 13th. Canvey continued to steal the headlines with two Puffins on the 17th whilst next day all four skua species including another Long-tailed Skua were again recorded along with another Sabine’s Gull and, on the 19th the first Purple Sandpiper of the winter. Little Stint numbers peaked at 25 at Vange marsh on the 21st, whilst an afternoon on Two Tree Island gave two Firecrests and 31 Little Egrets on the 22nd. The 23rd was yet another good day at Canvey when a juvenile Sabine’s Gull loafed around just a short distance from shore for a few hours and a Shag was also present. On the 24th a Grey Phalarope swam slowly upriver past Canvey. Yellow-browed Warbler is at the top of the SOG most wanted list so it was particularly frustrating that one was heard to call three times in Gunners Park on the 25th but despite extensive searching was never seen. The first Redwing arrived in Gunners Park on the 26th just in time to see the last Redstart depart from here on the 28th when the last Long-tailed Skua of the autumn was reported past Canvey. The month ended with a Pied Flycatcher at Landwick and three Siskins at Wakering Stairs.
A Temminck’s Stint was reported late on the 3rd at Vange marsh but could not be found early the next day. The first Hen Harrier of the winter was a ring-tail at Oxenham Farm on the 9th and this bird was also logged at Wakering Stairs on the 12th and Fleet Head on the 13th. A juvenile Red-backed Shrike was a good find at Wat Tyler Country Park on the 12th and stayed until next day. An impressive passage of Stonechats was noted on the 13th with 11 counted in Gunners Park and a further 11 on Canvey Island. The first returning Merlin was at Fleet Head on the 16th whilst a probable Honey Buzzard flying south over Hadleigh Country Park on the 18th was less expected. Seawatching from the Pier gave a remarkable count of 220 Gannets, eight Pomarine Skuas, and an early Red-throated Diver on the 19th, and a juvenile Sabine’s Gull on the 20th. A male Ring Ouzel in Gunners Park on the 19th heralded a good passage of commoner thrushes on this day that brought with it the first Fieldfares with 12 at Canewdon. Little Egret numbers at Two Tree Island reached a high of 39 on the 21st, an increase of over 50% on last year. The Woodlark is a species which should be reported more frequently in Essex with the recent upsurge in numbers in neighbouring counties, so it was pleasing to have one flying over at Wakering Stairs on the 27th. A Black Redstart was found at Oxenham Farm on the 27th repeating it’s showing from last year almost to the day. An intriguing report was received of a Spoonbill on Bridgemarsh Island on the 27th along with seven Twites and a Short-eared Owl. Unfortunately these birds could only be seen from the north side of the River Crouch thereby falling outside of our recording area. A Short-eared Owl along Benfleet Creek on the 27th was presumably the Two Tree Island bird returning for the winter. A pair of Goldeneye at Paglesham Lagoon on the 28th were the first of the winter and a Brambling was at Canewdon on the 30th.
A female Marsh Harrier at Fleet Head was a notable winter record. A Kingfisher was seen in Gunners Park on the 2nd with another at Canewdon next day. The wintering ring-tail Hen Harrier was recorded again at Wakering Stairs on the 3rd with another at Benfleet Creek on the 11th. In the evening of the 3rd 24 Little Egrets were counted on Two Tree Island and a Water Rail was heard calling. The 4th brought a report of a Firecrest in Friars Park at Shoebury and the following day a Peregrine was a good suburban tick as it flew over Southend. Redpoll is a much reduced winter visitor to the area with two at Hadleigh Country Park on the 10th one of the few reports this year. Another scarce winter visitor was found on the 10th when a female Snow Bunting was found feeding along the seawall at Wakering Stairs where it remained until next day. The Little Auk influx finally arrived in the Southend area on the 14th when two were reported past Canvey and one was seen from the Pier along with nine Red-throated Divers. The Ring-billed Gull continued to be reported at Westcliff and the Two Tree Island Short-eared Owl was seen again on the 18th. The 20th brought the first Great Northern Diver of the winter to Canvey Island, along with two Guillemots.
A pair of Hen Harrier were seen from Wakering Tip on 1st whilst 7 Red-breasted Merganser could be found off Canvey Seafront. 30 Pintail were present on the Crouch around Bridgemarsh Island on the 2nd when Little Egret numbers reached 18 at Wakering Stairs. A Kingfisher was at Gunners Park on the 3rd. Both the Short-eared Owls on Two Tree Island were seen on the 7th and again on the 20th and 31st, and 2 Tawny Owls were calling on the 7th at Hadleigh Downs. 3 Barnacle Geese consorting with Brent Geese on Hadleigh Marsh on the 8th and 9th were good candidates for genuine wild birds. A wintering Greenshank was present around Benfleet Creek early in the month. Harrier numbers were relatively high this winter with 4 different Hen Harrier and 2 Marsh Harrier present around the Wakering area. 4 Blackcap wintered together in a Thundersley garden whilst another was in a Westcliff garden. On the 14th a long walk around Belfairs Woods was rewarded with heard only records of a Coal Tit and a Lesser Redpoll. The 16th brought 4 Whooper Swans flying north over Hadleigh Downs plus peak counts of 24 Common Scoter and 14 Eider recorded from Haven Point and the erratic Ring-billed Gull was seen today at Westcliff. Surprise of the month was an American Black Vulture which was at large in the Leigh area on the 20th and 21st, where it came from and where it went to is unknown. The 23rd gave a Woodcock in Westcliff with another seen the following day in Hockley Woods. The Mute Swan herd on Barling Marsh was counted at an impressive 87 on the 24th, the same day that a Peregrine, a Merlin, Hen Harrier and Marsh Harrier were seen at Fleet Head. A wintering Firecrest was reported on the 28th from Friars Park and 2 drake Scaup were at Paglesham Lagoon. Another Peregrine, this time at Wat Tyler was seen on the 29th. Birding on the 31st found a Jack Snipe and Water Rail wintering at Eastwood Sewage Works with both staying around for the next few weeks, 11 Mediterranean Gulls, 7 Kittiwake and a confiding Great Northern Diver in residence at the Pier, a Slavonian Grebe close inshore off Shoebury East Beach was more unexpected, a wintering Chiffchaff in Friars Park, a Green Sandpiper and 3 Ruff at Fleet Head, a respectable 40 Corn Bunting were at Two Tree Island and the year ended with 23 Little Egret coming to roost along the Thames along with a probable Long-eared Owl and Little Owl.