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 Franklin’s 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 month’s 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.
The month began with an obvious arrival of Wheatears on the 1st with at least ten at Bowers Marsh, three in Gunners Park and one on Two Tree Island. Red Kites were noted on the 4th at Canewdon and the 6th at Benfleet and Barling. Green Hairstreaks were seen from the 5th at the sole site on Canvey Wick where there was a maximum of 12 on the 8th. Also at Canvey Wick on the 6th was the month’s only Grasshopper Warbler, a clear indication that they have had a poor year. The almost anticipated arrival of Black-winged Stilts happened on the 7th when a pair arrived at Bowers Marsh. As is typical they roamed around a number of sites through to the 19th before disappearing; we still eagerly await our first successful breeding. Also on Bowers Marsh on the 7th were a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and a Wood Sandpiper which remained until the 9th. Wakering Stairs continues to be the local stronghold for Turtle Doves so six there on the 7th was a pleasing record, whilst the only other record this month was a pair at Canewdon which were throughout. A pair of Yellowhammers was seen intermittently at Bowers Marsh from the 10th onwards. The fourth Red Kite of the month was seen over Pitsea on the 14th with others later in the month over Hockley and Ashingdon. A Manx Shearwater flying out of the Thames estuary past Canvey on the 16th was unseasonal. The new lagoons at Wallasea were proving popular with Little Ringed Plovers with six counted there on the 18th along with a single at West Canvey Marshes. Both Short-eared Owl and Long-eared Owl were seen this month with Short-eared Owls at Wakering Stairs on the 19th and Wallasea on the 28th, and a Long-eared Owl at a traditional site in the south west. Four Wood Sandpipers were at Lower Raypits on the 21st which included a pair in display flight and song! The first Heath Fritillary of the year was seen in Hockley Woods on the 24th where numbers quickly built to 16 by the end of the month. Fulmars are surprisingly scarce these days with one past Shoebury on the 24th the only record in the first half of the year. Equally as scarce as Fulmars are Spotted Flycatchers on spring migration so one caught and ringed on Two Tree Island on the 25th was an excellent record. A Black-necked Grebe raised hopes when it took up residence at Bowers Marsh from the 26th through to mid-June but it remained unpaired. The Marsh Tit present in woodland near Canewdon since last November was seen again this month on the 27th. Up to eight Banded Demoiselles were at their favoured site in Cherry Orchard CP on the 28th.
Five Nightingales were singing at Canvey Wick on the 1st; also singing on the 1st was a Dunlin at Lower Raypits! A first-summer Spoonbill visited Bowers Marsh then Wallasea on the 3rd before departing early on the 4th when 30 Gannets and a Pomarine Skua passed Canvey. All six Red Kite records this month fell between the 4th and 13th. A drake Garganey cut a lonely figure on Bowers Marsh from the 6th to the 9th. Heath Fritillaries peaked at an impressive 166 in Hockley Woods on the 8th with another 25 in Belfairs NR a few days later. A female Southern Migrant Hawker on Canvey Wick on the 8th was apparently the earliest ever UK record, there were up to seven at seven other sites later in the month. The bird of the year was a superb adult Rose-coloured Starling in Rayleigh which was initially found in the garden belonging to a former local birder’s parents on the 9th. Not only a long overdue first for the recording area, but a fine adult as well! It was far from easy to connect with but with luck and patience most people saw it as it lingered around the housing estate until the 14th. Nearby, for one lucky observer a flyover Crossbill was a surprise on the 10th. A drake Red-crested Pochard was present at Bowers Marsh for three days mid-month.
As expected at this time of year the butterflies began to draw attention. The first White-letter Hairstreaks were seen on the 13th and reached 30 a little over a week later on Benfleet Downs, whereas White Admirals were first noted on the 15th and numbered ten the following week in Belfairs Woods. Purple Hairstreaks appeared in the latter half of the month with an impressive 50 in Belfairs Woods on the 26th. Following a report of seven Southern Emerald Damselflies on the 24th, one or two were found along Canvey Way from the 27th when the first Willow Emerald Damselflies appeared at nearby Benfleet Downs and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth was seen nectaring in a nearby Benfleet garden on the 30th.
The pair of Turtle Doves at Canewdon was joined by a third bird on the 5th, whilst at nearby Wallasea the first of the month’s 12 Clouded Yellows was noted the following day. The 7th onwards saw an unprecedented influx of Silver-washed Fritillaries with up to four in Belfairs Woods and singles at several other sites. Mid-summer records of Coal Tit came from Belfairs Woods, Hockley Woods, and Coombe Wood. A Southern Emerald Damselfly was still present along Canvey Way on the 14th with a Red Kite over nearby Benfleet the following day, one of only two sightings this month. An eclipse Garganey at Bowers Marsh on the 23rd along with seven Ruff and a Common Sandpiper heralded the start of autumn migration. Willow Emerald Damselflies were discovered at Wat Tyler CP on the 27th, the same day that the first Garden Warbler of the year was noted in Canewdon. Following a nationwide influx of returning adult Curlew Sandpipers Wallasea got in on the action with a group of 15 on the 30th which increased to 18 the following day. Early signs of passage continued with two Garganey and ten Spotted Redshanks at Vange Marsh on the 31st.
The Curlew Sandpiper flock at Wallasea had reduced to five on the 1st and rather surprisingly constituted the last record of the year! Return passerine migration began on the 1st with a Wheatear in Gunners Park followed by a Pied Flycatcher there the next day with two Pied Flycatchers there on the 4th and another at Wakering. The first Arctic Skua of the year was off Canvey on the 4th along with 37 Black Terns. The Marsh Tit near Canewdon was seen again on the 5th. Twenty years after the last local sighting, a Stone Curlew was a much appreciated visitor to Bowers Marsh on the 6th, where it remained through to the 17th. The first Whinchats were also seen at Bowers Marsh on the 6th where 2-4 were present all month. A Great White Egret took up residence from the 7th on Bowers Marsh and remained in the area through to early October and occasionally visited Vange Marsh and Wat Tyler CP. Bowers Marsh continued its good run of form when a Glossy Ibis visited there from the 9th to the 14th. The only Great Skua of the month was seen off Canvey on the 9th along with another Arctic Skua. A Wood Sandpiper at Bowers Marsh on the 10th and 15th was the only autumn record and surprisingly no Little Stints were recorded anywhere all autumn. An Osprey over Rochford on the 12th was one of only three all year with none of them lingering. A Black-necked Grebe visited Bowers Marsh again from the 13th to the 21st when Garganey numbers began to build, with up to six at Vange Marsh and four at Bowers Marsh. A Ring-necked Parakeet over Rayleigh and a Barnacle Goose on Wallasea, both on the 13th were far from exciting but still fair game for the year-listers. Willow Emerald Damselflies increased to 12 on Benfleet Downs on the 17th with one also present in Gunners Park. A Merlin through Lower Raypits on the 19th was very early. The first Redstarts of the year arrived on 22nd, with up to three in Gunners Park, but after a single there on the 26th there were no more records from anywhere for the remainder of the year. A Fulmar off Canvey on the 23rd was followed by a peak monthly count of five Arctic Skuas there the next day. A count of seven Wheatears at Fleet Head on the 25th was slightly surprising given that the four other records this month were all of singles. Another Black-necked Grebe was seen on the 29th, this time on the sea off Canvey Point, and a Spotted Flycatcher in Belfairs Woods was the first of a poor autumn.
A Red-necked Phalarope arrived on Vange Marsh on the 1st where it entertained through to the 4th along with three Garganey and a Spotted Flycatcher. Two Tree Pipits flew over Gunners Park on the 1st and were the only ones of the year. What could have been the bird of the year was a cracking Icterine Warbler photographed in a Benfleet garden on the 1st and only identified subsequently. Just like London buses, you wait twenty years for a local Stone Curlew and then another one turns up! The second bird of the autumn took up an extended month long stay at Lower Raypits from the 2nd where a Merlin was seen again on the 3rd. The month’s only Red Kite passed low across Rawreth on the 2nd and the semi-resident Great White Egret favoured Vange Marsh from the 2nd to the 4th. Seawatching on the 2nd at Canvey was largely uneventful although there was a significant passage of 120 Black Terns, but surprisingly little else of note. On the 4th, a Wryneck was photographed on a fencepost at Wallasea but despite searching was not seen subsequently. Arctic Skuas passed through on the 4th with an autumn peak of 39 off Canvey, but little else was noted other than a Puffin. The 5th however was an excellent day of seabird passage, both in terms of numbers and variety, with the highlights being a Fulmar, an Osprey, seven Pomarine Skuas, 49 Gannets, 15 Arctic Skuas, 25 Great Skuas, 20 Arctic Terns, 20 Black Terns, seven Porpoise, and best of all, a juvenile White-winged Black Tern. A Spotted Flycatcher was in Gunners Park from the 7th to the 9th with it or another there on the 13th and 14th; two Siskins there on the 9th were the first of the autumn and the only record this month. The last Garganey of the year was present on Bowers on the 11th and was most likely the lingering individual there since the start of the month. The last Turtle Dove flew across Lion Creek to Wallasea on the 13th. After a nationwide influx of Cattle Egrets, two birds spent a few days on the ‘wrong’ side of the Crouch at Blue House Farm but with a decent ‘scope, no heat haze, and the high ground of Ashingdon church they made a questionable entry onto the SOG database on the 13th. A flock of eight Spoonbills were photographed flying south over Gunners Park on the 13th. Not only were they the largest ever local flock but the same group was seen flying out to sea over Dungeness several hours later. An Osprey drifted east along the Thames estuary on the 15th. The Glossy Ibis paid a return visit to Bowers Marsh on the 19th after going on a sojourn. A Pectoral Sandpiper was an excellent find at Lower Raypits on the 22nd and continues this site’s recent run of form. The Pectoral Sandpiper remained through to the 24th. Optimum weather for seawatching on the 23rd yielded results off Canvey with a Manx Shearwater, 76 Gannets, and impressive counts of 35 Arctic Skuas and 55 Great Skuas, whilst on land a Spotted Flycatcher was seen at Shoebury East Beach. A Purple Sandpiper was reported from Canvey Point on the 24th and 26th. Seawatching from Canvey on the 28th provided a few notable sightings including a fine adult Pomarine Skua, a Manx Shearwater, two immature Eiders and a Kittiwake. The first Short-eared Owl of the autumn flew over the Roach to Wallasea on the 29th where there was an impressive 15 Clouded Yellows along the seawall.
A Purple Sandpiper, presumably the Canvey Point bird, roosted on the Pier on the 1st. A minimum of three Great White Egrets patrolled the South Essex marshes on the 3rd with sightings coming from Wat Tyler CP, Vange Marsh, and three together at Bowers Marsh. A Shag frequented the Crouch around Wallasea from the 2nd to the 6th with another at Gunners Park on the 5th. A Whinchat was at Bowers Marsh on the 4th and the first wintering Short-eared Owl took up station on Wallasea from the 5th where it remained all month. An impressive 122 Gannets were logged off Gunners Park on the 6th along with two Sandwich Terns and two Kittiwakes. A drake Mandarin was reported at Southchurch Park East on the 9th when there were two Common Sandpipers and 30 Clouded Yellows at West Canvey Marsh and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth visited a garden in Leigh. A late Hobby was wheeling over Hadleigh Downs on the 13th. The flock of 14 Egyptian Geese on Bowers Marsh on the 15th assumed the reluctant title of highest ever local count. Two Whinchats at West Canvey Marsh on the 17th were particularly late and unsurprisingly were the last of the year. The first of several decent seawatches this month was on the 18th when all four skua species were logged off Canvey, albeit all in very low numbers with two Pomarine Skuas, four Arctic Skuas, one Great Skua and the year’s only Long-tailed Skua. Other highlights included a pair of Velvet Scoters, a late Wheatear on the seawall, and a remarkable observation of five Short-eared Owls all coming in-off the sea separately. A calling Yellow-browed Warbler in Gunners Park on the 19th proved frustratingly elusive. It was great to have wintering Hen Harriers back on Wallasea with a ringtail there from the 21st increasing to two ringtails by the month’s end. With favourable weather conditions all eyes were focussed out to sea on the 28th. Totals off Canvey were three Manx Shearwaters, a Leach’s Petrel, two drake Eider, 30 Common Scoter, 8 Red-breasted Mergansers, a confiding Purple Sandpiper, eight Pomarine Skuas, nine Great Skuas, three Little Gulls, 30 Kittiwakes, four Arctic Terns and a Puffin, whilst Gunners Park chipped in with three Velvet Scoters and a Guillemot. On the evening of the 28th some fascinating behaviour was witnessed on Wallasea where the wintering Common Buzzard took umbrage to one of the two Barn Owls there and attacked it for some considerable amount of time before eventually decapitating it. Another Yellow-browed Warbler was found again in Gunners Park on the 29th, initially elusive, it eventually gave itself up to the assembled crowd in the early afternoon. Also on the 29th, three Great White Egrets were reported at Vange Marsh. Our local Brent Goose enthusiast not only picked out a Black Brant at Shoebury East Beach on the 31st but also found a Firecrest and a Snow Bunting there too. The month ended well with a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard ghosting in to roost on Wallasea in the fading light on the 31st where it remained, albeit intermittently, into early November.
The two ringtail Hen Harriers on Wallasea were joined by another from the 3rd and the juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard continued to roost daily through to the 6th before relocating north of the Crouch. One or two Siskins and Bramblings passed through between the 2nd and the 4th at three sites; surprisingly there were no other records of either species by the end of the year. Three redhead Goosanders were together on Wallasea on the 9th with two still present on the 24th. Bowers Marsh hosted four Spotted Redshanks, a Ruff, a Green Sandpiper and four over-wintering Stonechats on the 9th. A Benfleet birder was treated to a real surprise when a Long-eared Owl chose to spend the 11th roosting in a tree in his suburban back garden. The last of ten Clouded Yellows this month was seen on Hadleigh Downs on the 17th. Conditions were perfect for seawatching on the 19th and the hardy souls were not disappointed. Among the highlights were 14 Red-throated Divers, four Black-throated Divers, 22 Gannets, four Scaup, 43 Eider (the highest count since 2002!), 135 Common Scoter, five Velvet Scoter, five Great Skuas, a Little Gull, 51 Kittiwakes, and 11 Razorbills. The following day saw similar numbers and species still lingering off Canvey, but also included an increase in Little Gulls and Kittiwakes to 32 and 165 respectively along with a Puffin. From the 25th, Short-eared Owls increased to three on Wallasea and Marsh Harriers to ten along with two Hen Harriers and a Merlin intermittently. The only Blackcap of the month was a male in a garden by Coombe Wood on the 28th. A superb adult winter Black-throated Diver flew in and landed on the small lake at Gunners Park on the 29th. It afforded superb views through to the 1st December although there was some concern for its wellbeing as it was not seen feeding during its stay. Remarkably it was joined on the lake by a Shag on the 29th. Birders watching the Black-throated Diver in Gunners Park on the 30th were treated to a fly-over Ring-necked Parakeet. Surprisingly, either it, or another flew over Eastwood at dusk the same day, however a fly-over Crossbill the same day at Thundersley was even more unexpected. The month ended with two adult White-fronted Geese found among the Greylags on Wallasea on the 30th.
The only Great Northern Diver of the second winter period was unusually found on the Crouch near Raypits on the 2nd. The first two Jack Snipe of the winter were in their favoured spot at Vange Marsh on the 4th and 6th. Seawatching this month was dire with a Shag and two Guillemots off Canvey the only sightings worth mentioning. Hockley Woods hosted three over-wintering Firecrests from the 9th onwards along with a pair of Nuthatch and a Lesser Redpoll. Another Firecrest visited a garden by Coombe Wood on the 11th along with a female Blackcap. A further three Blackcaps attended gardens in Benfleet and Leigh later in the month. The pair of White-fronted Geese on Wallasea were joined by another two on the 12th and increased further to seven on the 17th with a Barnacle Goose and two Goosanders also present on the island. Two Merlins there on the 18th was the only multiple sighting this month and two Hen Harriers continued their stay whereas Marsh Harriers crashed to just three from the 19th onwards. The Short-eared Owls continued to prove popular on Wallasea and their number increased to five on the 24th, whilst Long-eared Owls were seen at two sites. The first Woodcocks of the winter were singles at Canewdon on the 22nd and Canvey Wick on the 24th. Careful counting of the bunting flock on Wallasea on the 24th revealed 50 Reed Buntings and 150 Corn Buntings. A walk out to Paglesham Lagoon on the 26th was rewarded with a female Red-crested Pochard and a drake Scaup, with both remaining into 2019. The first Water Pipit of the winter was seen at Bowers Marsh on the 29th and the year closed with two Long-eared Owls in the south on the evening of the 31st.
A total of 215 species was reliably recorded in the area this year, the exact same number as 2017 and 2016! Highlights included Rough-legged Buzzard, Black-winged Stilts, Stone Curlew, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, White-winged Black Tern, Serins, Yellow-browed Warblers, an influx of Hawfinches, a record flock of 11 Shore Larks, and belatedly identified, photographed only, Wryneck, Icterine Warbler and Penduline Tit. Bird of the year goes to the fine adult Rose-coloured Starling, a first for the recording area and seen eventually by all that tried for it.