Typically, there were some excellent sightings on the 1st the best of which was a Common Crane flying over Coombe Wood and a Dartford Warbler by Hadleigh Castle which remained until the 14th and which was often in the company of a pair of Stonechats. The area around Paglesham was also productive on the 1st with a Great White Egret on Potton, female Red-crested Pochard and drake Scaup on Paglesham Lagoon, 30 Goldeneye on the Roach and the only Brambling of the winter in a nearby field. Red-breasted Mergansers continue to remain scarce locally with two off Gunners Park on the 2nd and a single the following week off Canvey the only records all month. Water Pipits were found at Vange Marsh from the 2nd, Roper’s Farm on the 4th, and Bowers Marsh from mid-month. Two each of Nuthatch and Treecreeper were present in Hockley Woods on the 5th. A respectable 27 Red-throated Divers, two Black-throated Divers, 35 Gannets and three Razorbills were all lingering off Canvey on the 5th and 6th whilst 12 Eider and four Guillemots were present off the Pier on the latter date. A small number of White-fronted Geese wintered, commencing with two at Bowers Marsh on the 7th increasing to seven by month’s end. A far scarcer find was the discovery of the Hanningfield Reservoir duo of Tundra Bean Geese at Vange Marsh on the 10th; they remained until the 19th before relocating to Bowers Marsh the following day. The only Great Northern Diver of the first winter period was present off Gunners Park on the 18th and 19th; a Shag was also seen from there on the 18th before roaming around the outer Thames for a week. Nearby in Shoebury Park, the pair of Egyptian Geese were either foolish or optimistic having hatched six young in the frosty weather on the 18th. The decline of the Bullfinch continues with a pair on the 18th on Hadleigh Downs the only sighting this month. The ringtail Hen Harrier on Wallasea was joined by a second bird from the 19th to the 29th and Short-eared Owl numbers peaked there at three on the 19th. Encouragingly, two sites in the south held at least four Long-eared Owls between them this month. A Siberian Chiffchaff was a surprise find in a South Fambridge garden on the 19th, six Common Chiffchaffs and seven Blackcaps were also scattered around the area this month. A Bottlenose Dolphin actively feeding and breaching off Canvey Point on the 20th was a quite exceptional record, particularly in winter. A drake Goosander visited Wallasea briefly on the 21st. Eider continued to enjoy a small resurgence with 16 off the Pier on the 25th, the best count from there for seven years. Wintering wader interest was provided by four Green Sandpipers at West Canvey Marsh on the 26th with a further four singles elsewhere, three Jack Snipe at Vange Marsh, three Spotted Redshanks around the creek at Wat Tyler CP, six Ruff on Bowers Marsh, and one or two Greenshanks at three sites. Seawatching from Canvey on the 29th was uneventful save for a Little Gull, the only sighting of this species in the first three months.
Redpolls were conspicuous by their absence this winter with 12 on Canvey Wick on the 2nd the only record other than two Lesser Redpolls at the end of the month in Pound Wood. Canvey Wick also held four Woodcock on the 2nd whilst a single was on Hadleigh Downs. The month’s only Red-breasted Merganser was on the Crouch at South Fambridge on the 3rd. Seawatching from Canvey on the 4th was slow but did produce the only Black-throated Diver of the month along with 12 Kittiwakes and a Guillemot. The Scaup on Paglesham Lagoon was seen for the final time on the 6th when a Red Kite passed overhead there. Continuing the species surge in numbers in the county it was perhaps not unsurprising to have three Great White Egrets together from the 11th to the 23rd around Paglesham with a fourth bird joining them on the 16th. Common Scoter have been almost entirely absent since the end of November so a drake on the Roach on the 11th was a little unexpected. Two redhead Goosanders frequented Wallasea from the 12th to the 20th where two Hen Harriers, two Short-eared Owls, a Merlin and a Peregrine continued to winter. The two Long-eared Owl roosts were still occupied this month with a single bird remaining at one site and an exceptional eight birds at the other. A Bullfinch at Wat Tyler CP on the 17th was unusual, but given that this is a former site for the species perhaps a few undiscovered birds still hang on deep within the blackthorn thickets. Eider continued their relatively good showing with eight still off the Pier on the 19th along with the second and last Guillemot of the month. A Ring-necked Parakeet over Shoebury on the 19th was unusual and was surprisingly not seen anywhere else subsequently. Two White-fronted Geese visited Wallasea on the 20th whilst the wintering flock of seven continued their stay at Bowers Marsh with occasional sorties to West Canvey Marsh. Unusually there were no overwintering Firecrests this year, with the only record in the early part of the year being one in West Wood on the 21st, the same day that the first Adders of the year were noted when three were on Hadleigh Downs. Goldeneye were seen for the last time this winter on the early date of the 24th on the Roach at Paglesham. A small pulse of Siskins was noted between the 24th and 27th with one or two passing over a handful of sites. By the end of the month five species of butterfly had been recorded with Brimstone, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, and Comma all noted.
A solitary Siskin in Gunners Park on the 5th was the only sighting all month of this species. Jack Snipe enjoyed a strong spring passage with four birds at Vange Marsh on the 9th with a single remaining there all month. Yellowhammers are only just clinging on locally with a flock of 12 at Lion Creek on the 11th the best count of the winter. Water Pipits peaked at an impressive seven at Vange Marsh on the 15th with five still present at the end of the month. On the 20th six Gannets appeared off Gunners Park and two of last month’s Great White Egrets resurfaced on Potton. Last month’s pair of White-fronted Geese on Wallasea also reappeared there again on the 20th whilst the wintering flock at Bowers Marsh also now numbered just two. There were still two each of Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl on Wallasea on the 20th although Hen Harrier slipped to a single thereafter. Woodcock were on the move from the 20th to the 28th with five birds seen, all at non-traditional sites. After a Brambling dropped in at Gunners Park on the 19th there was a small passage from the 22nd through to early April with up to three this month in Coombe Wood. A Spoonbill on the north side of the Crouch on Blue House Farm on the 23rd stretched the limits of our recording area, however as it was viewable distantly from the high ground at Ashingdon it passed muster. Garganey and Little Ringed Plovers began arriving with both present on Bowers Marsh on the 24th and also on Vange Marsh on the 30th, with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers also seen on West Canvey Marsh on the 28th. Red Kites were noted on the 25th and 30th at Bowers Marsh and Westcliff respectively, and the first Whimbrel of the year passed over Bowers Marsh on the 29th. The last day of the month yielded a Great Skua and two Sandwich Terns off Gunners Park whilst 27 Sand Martins and a Swallow were over Vange Marsh.
A Jack Snipe was seen for the last time this spring on Vange Marsh on the 1st where there was still a remarkable five Water Pipits, numbers of which then declined thereafter until the final sighting of a single on the 13th. A Firecrest in Gunners Park from the 1st to the 3rd was the only spring passage record of this species whilst a Red-throated Diver past there on the 3rd was the last diver of the winter. A smart adult Spoonbill visited Bowers Marsh early on the 5th before relocating to Vange Marsh later the same day where it could still be found on the 6th. There was an increase in Short-eared Owl numbers with returning birds passing through with up to four on Wallasea on the 6th where one lingered through to the 22nd, and another loitered around Bowers Marsh for a week mid-month. A female Black Redstart was a good find in Gunners Park on the 7th; it was unusually elusive at times but remained until the 9th. Numbers of Little Ringed Plover began to swell from the 7th with four at Bowers Marsh followed shortly after by two at Lower Raypits, four on Wallasea and four on Vange Marsh. Inclement weather on the 8th saw five Little Gulls, a Black Tern, and what was almost certainly a first-winter Bonaparte’s Gull drop in briefly at Vange Marsh. Another Little Gull was on Bowers Marsh on the 9th when the third local drake Garganey of the spring arrived at Lower Raypits. Four Red-breasted Mergansers and a Great Skua were off Canvey Point on the 9th when an impressive 150 Redwings amassed in Gunners Park first thing. The first of 14 local Wheatears this month was in Gunners Park on the 10th. Nightingales arrived back on the 11th with at least five holding territory across two sites and the wintering Merlin on Wallasea was seen for the final time. The arrival of a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Vange Marsh on the 12th was eagerly anticipated, but unlike recent years they did not stay long and departed the following day. An adult Little Gull was at Vange Marsh on the 13th when a White Wagtail was at nearby Bowers Marsh with another White Wagtail seen a few days later in Gunners Park. The last two wintering White-fronted Geese at Bowers Marsh finally moved on after being seen for the final time on the 14th when a Red Kite passed over Rochford and another over Coombe Wood two days later. Vange Marsh experienced an incredible arrival of Garganey on the 15th with five drakes and two females present, an unprecedented spring count in recent times although curiously none were seen subsequently at either site in the spring or summer. The last Hen Harrier of the winter was seen on Wallasea on the 17th where 20 Yellow Wagtails and a ‘Channel Wagtail’ were present on the 20th. A drake Mandarin at Southchurch Park East from the 21st to the 27th was rather too tame, but was a stunning looking bird nevertheless. A Grasshopper Warbler reeling at Bowers Marsh from the 21st to the 28th became increasingly more elusive during its stay and was sadly the only bird holding territory this year. Marsh Frogs continued their range expansion with one calling near Leigh-on-Sea from the 22nd to the 24th whilst a Fieldfare on Wakering Common on the 22nd was remarkably late. The first Green Hairstreak of the year was on Canvey Wick on the very early date of the 23rd. Three splendid summer plumaged Black-necked Grebes arrived at Bowers Marsh on the 24th with all three remaining into late May at least. Water levels on Vange Marsh were perfect for attracting spring waders which was demonstrated on the 24th when a Wood Sandpiper, five Spotted Redshanks, six Ruff, 11 Greenshank, a Common Sandpiper and a Green Sandpiper were all present, but it was the following day, on the 25th, that it really excelled itself when a superb Marsh Sandpiper was found early in the morning and remained throughout the day. Incredibly, this site has a good track record of attracting Marsh Sandpipers with four records now in the last twenty years. The afternoon of the 25th saw an Emperor Moth attracted to a lure in an Eastwood garden. Several Arctic Terns and a Fulmar were seen passing through the Thames on the 27th. A Grey Partridge at Bowers Marsh on the evening of the 28th was a good local record whilst the following day there a drake Ring-necked Duck was an excellent find and proved to be the bird ringed at Abberton Reservoir exactly three months earlier, and was a long overdue and much anticipated first for the recording area. It remained until the 18th May before debunking back to Abberton Reservoir. An excellent month finished in style with an Osprey and 14 Little Terns passing Gunners Park on the 30th, both very notable spring records.