With birding activity restricted to local sites only due to the lockdown the month produced some outstanding records. Yearlisters were quick to check for the continued presence of the Scaup at Paglesham Lagoon on the 1st which duly remained through to mid-February. The Firecrest was logged as still present in Tile Wood where the neighbouring area of Pound Wood unexpectedly hosted three Hawfinches from the 1st through to the 9th. Cherry Orchard CP held a mobile flock of 53 Lesser Redpoll on the 1st, they were surprisingly elusive and their number gradually reduced to just a single by the 17th. Just across the road at the newly created Southend Business Park a confiding Black Redstart was found wintering along with two Jack Snipe. Last month’s Red-crested Pochard still lingered through the first half of the month where it commuted between Friars Park and Southchurch Park. Caspian Gulls have become much harder to find since the closure of Pitsea Tip and so the first-winter at Bowers Marsh on the 3rd was much appreciated by those that could get there within the hour that it was present. Foul weather on the 4th saw three Pomarine Skuas, five Great Skuas, six Gannets and 12 Kittiwakes off Canvey. Short-eared Owls were scarce this winter with one on Wallasea from the 6th to the 10th the only record all month. Woodcock began arriving from the 7th with two at Canvey Wick increasing to six later in the month, with other sightings coming from Hadleigh Downs and Wat Tyler CP. The pair of Ring-necked Parakeets at Thorpe Hall GC were seen daily from the 8th to the 24th. An ermine Stoat was a superb find on Wallasea on the 9th and was most likely the same ermine individual seen there in 2017 and 2020. On the 11th two Firecrests were found wintering in Hockley Woods where the region’s only Siskins this month flew over calling, and Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and Coal Tit all revealed their continued presence. There was a good run of Bullfinch sightings mid-month with singles at Wat Tyler CP, Benfleet Downs, Lion Creek, and Hadleigh Downs. Notable sightings on Wallasea mid-month included two ringtail Hen Harriers, five Marsh Harriers, two Merlins, two Peregrines, three Barn Owls, a Great White Egret and two Ravens, whilst by contrast, Linnets, Reed Buntings and Corn Buntings were largely absent. The wet areas of Wallasea held three Jack Snipe on the 15th with other flooded areas locally also appealing to Water Pipits with four at Vange Marsh from the 17th and singles at Bowers Marsh from the 18th and Fleet Head on the 23rd. Long-eared Owls had a good winter with a peak count of ten on the 17th at a traditional site in the south-west. A Blackcap in a Leigh garden on the 18th was one of four this month whilst Chiffchaff numbered just two. A covey of six Grey Partridges at Fleet Head on the 19th had increased to 15 the following week when Red-legged Partridges numbered 100, with all likely being recent releases. Ravens were ranging widely all month with records from ten sites which included four together over Belfairs NR on the 19th. The only wintering Common Sandpiper was still at South Fambridge on the 19th, other over-wintering waders this month included seven Green Sandpipers across five sites along with three Spotted Redshanks and two Greenshanks in the creek at Wat Tyler CP. A small flock of five Lesser Redpolls at Canvey Wick slowly grew to a peak of 25 on the 21st. Another species which increased in numbers to unprecedented levels this month was White-fronted Goose. A phenomenal flock of 457 was on Wallasea on the 22nd and coupled with peak counts of 102 on Vange Wick, 80 on Bowers Marsh and 28 on West Canvey Marsh the total number of birds involved in the influx was truly remarkable. Other geese around this month included seven Barnacle Geese at Bowers Marsh, 3,000 Dark-bellied Brent Geese around Paglesham, six Pale-bellied Brent Geese across four sites and even seven Egyptian Geese! On the 23rd a couple more Firecrests were found wintering at Daws Heath and a Mink at Bowers Marsh gave hope momentarily of the first Otter sighting in recent history, but, despite unconfirmed reports from Wallasea and a confirmed sighting across the Crouch at Blue House Farm the wait continues. Last month’s adult Black Redstart at Thorpe Bay surfaced again from the 23rd to the 26th and the pair of Velvet Scoters seen at the end of the year off Canvey also reappeared on the 24th and remained surprisingly loyal to Canvey Point through to the 1st Feb. In a quiet month for Red Kites the sole record came on the 25th with a bird hugging the ridgeline between Ashingdon and Hockley. A Razorbill off Canvey on the 29th was the vanguard of a relatively decent passage of this scarce auk during the coming months.
Following a sighting of two Razorbills off Gunners Park on the 1st there were no other records of any auks all month. The Daws Heath duo of Firecrests were seen again on the 2nd. A count of 80 Pintail on the Crouch at Bridgemarsh Island on the 2nd was notable. Sightings of Hen Harrier tailed off significantly this month with just one sighting of a ringtail on Wallasea on the 2nd and a male on the 28th. Wallasea continued to hold good numbers of White-fronted Geese early in the month with 292 on the 5th when a Pale-bellied Brent Goose became a daily feature in the flock of 2,000 Dark-bellied Brent Geese at South Fambridge. Ravens were much more furtive this month with only three sightings which included a single over Benfleet on the 6th and 9th. The Lesser Redpoll flock at Canvey Wick numbered eight on the 6th whilst the flock at Cherry Orchard CP held nine on the 9th when a Jack Snipe also flew past. South Fambridge hosted another Jack Snipe on the 8th and 9th. Another Bullfinch was found at a historic site on the 10th when a male was unearthed at Magnolia NR and another two wintering Firecrests were found around the old pond in Gunners Park from the 10th through to the 23rd. Mid-month was still busy with geese with two Barnacle Geese, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and two Black Brants now with the 1,500 Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock at South Fambridge and singles of Barnacle Goose, Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Black Brant were on Wallasea where White-fronted Geese still numbered 240. A flighty redhead Red-breasted Merganser frequented the Roach around Wallasea from the 13th to the 16th. The national influx of Woodcock trickled down to our corner of the country with 22 noted at 12 sites between the 9th and the 20th including an impressive eight at Canvey Wick on the 13th. Accompanying the Woodcock was a smaller number of Jack Snipe with additional birds at a further four sites mid-month including two again at the Airport Business Park where a flock of 22 Yellowhammers on the 14th was a welcome and unexpected find. Blackcaps struggled on with five from four sites this month including a pair in a garden near Prittlebrook on the 14th. Short-eared Owls continued to be scarce with just two sightings all month, at Paglesham on the 16th and Wallasea on the 19th. A lonely Cattle Egret looked a little out of place in a grassy field holding no cattle at Lion Creek on the 18th; it remained there through to the 20th. A Merlin was an occasional visitor to Bowers Marsh with sightings this month on the 19th and 28th with a Water Pipit also there on the former date. A Brimstone butterfly at Canewdon on the 21st was very early given the weather and unsurprisingly was the only butterfly sighting this month. A Common Pipistrelle bat hawking insects at dusk at South Fambridge the preceding day gave an indication that warmer temperatures were on the way. Bowers Marsh was still hanging on to 85 White-fronted Geese and seven Barnacle Geese on the 25th and there was a further nine Barnacle Geese on West Canvey Marsh on the 26th. Encouragingly yet another historic site revealed the presence of Bullfinches still lurking among the blackthorn and hawthorn when a pair was found near Rayleigh on the 26th. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea off Gunners Park on the 26th may have been responsible for the flurry of Thames sightings in mid-March. Curiously the 26th was Chiffchaff day with all three sightings this month falling on this day! The final highlight of the month was a Water Pipit found at West Canvey Marsh on the 28th.
The pair of Ring-necked Parakeets at Thorpe Hall GC were seen again on the 1st and 2nd but not subsequently although it is doubtful if they were looked for once golf was resumed after lockdown. A female Black Redstart at Wallasea from the 2nd was seen daily throughout the month and was quite possibly the same bird seen on 14th December; a Jack Snipe was also seen again on Wallasea on the 3rd. Another small flock of Lesser Redpolls was found near Southend on the 3rd when 16 were seen feeding in Fossetts Park and six still lingered on Canvey Wick through to the 9th. Two pairs of Red-crested Pochard on Paglesham Lagoon on the 4th were a nice find, but did not linger, whilst next day a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers were on the adjacent Roach. Seawatching at Gunners Park on the 5th produced good numbers of Red-throated Divers and Razorbills with 39 of the former and 13 of the latter; also noted were three Gannets, two Kittiwakes and two Guillemots. A Great White Egret was seen daily at South Fambridge flying to roost somewhere near Brandy Hole from the 5th to the 13th. Pairs of Bullfinches were seen on the 7th at sites at Rayleigh and Magnolia NR. There were just three sightings of Woodcock this month with two of them occurring on the 7th at Canewdon and Rayleigh. 150 White-fronted Geese were still lingering on Wallasea on the 9th although surprisingly there were no further records from anywhere subsequently. The ermine Stoat also put in another appearance on Wallasea on the 9th as did a ringtail Hen Harrier whilst a Short-eared Owl hunting on nearby Potton was the only sighting this month. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers were seen daily on the Thames between Shoebury and Canvey from the 15th to the 20th. A smart male Brambling visited feeders in a Canewdon garden on the 18th and 19th and was the first local sighting since October. 22 Red-throated Divers were still loitering on the Thames off Gunners Park on the 19th along with a single Razorbill. A female Merlin was seen at Fleet Head on the 20th and again on the 21st. The last Woodcock of the first winter was at Magnolia NR on the 21st where a male Bullfinch was also seen. A small falcon on Wallasea on the 21st transpired to be a ridiculously early Hobby. Single Black-necked Grebes dropped in on Paglesham Lagoon on the 22nd and Bowers Marsh on the 24th whilst Little Ringed Plovers also arrived back at Bowers Marsh on the 24th and Lower Raypits on the 27th. The month’s only White Wagtail was at Bowers Marsh on the 25th whilst next day the highly anticipated return of Wheatears commenced with 19 birds at five sites logged from the 25th to the 29th. Maintaining the momentum, a Cuckoo was heard at Wakering Stairs on the 27th. A male Hen Harrier ghosted through Wallasea on the 28th when yet another Black Redstart was found on Wakering Tip and two Cattle Egrets incongruously passed Canvey Point during an otherwise uneventful seawatch. Red Kites remained scarce with just one record again this month which was seen from a garden in Rochford on the 29th. Vange Marsh predictably held two Jack Snipe on 30th and 31st along with three Water Pipits, singles of which were reported from three other sites this month. The month drew to a close with two Grey Partridges still surviving at Fleet Head and Small White, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, and Comma, all joining Brimstone on the wing in the final days.
A pair of Garganey were found on Wallasea on the 2nd where they remained until the 8th, there were no other spring records of this desirable duck. A Cattle Egret was seen briefly at Bowers Marsh on the 2nd whilst a Great White Egret seen flying in-of the sea at Gunners Park on the 2nd made for an interesting observation. Seawatching at Gunners Park the next day produced the first Great Northern Diver of the year along with six Red-throated Divers and the only Common Scoter of the month, whilst on land, Black Redstarts continued their good showing with one on Canvey and at least one in Westcliff which began singing the following day. The final Hen Harrier sighting of the winter was on the 4th with a ringtail on Wallasea. A garden in Canewdon hosted another Brambling on the 5th and 6th along with a female Siskin. An Osprey over Vange Marsh on the 7th was an excellent record, and a Jack Snipe and two Water Pipits were also still present. Short-eared Owls were seen from South Fambridge on the 7th and Wallasea on the 9th. Last week’s Cattle Egret resurfaced at Bowers Marsh on the 9th where it remained until the 12th along with two Great White Egrets. A Spoonbill was also present at Bowers Marsh on the morning of the 9th before it relocated to Wallasea that evening where it remained until the 18th. Yet another Black Redstart was discovered on the 9th when a male was seen and heard singing from the rooftops in Shoebury, it reappeared once more on the 20th. A White Wagtail was on Wallasea on the 9th where a ‘Channel’ Wagtail was among the 18 Yellow Wagtails there the next day. The first returning Nightingales were in song on Canvey Wick on the 11th where numbers soon rose to six a few days later, and 27 Lesser Redpolls were still also present. A flock of seven Cattle Egrets were present on Blue House Farm from the 12th to the 18th with up to six of them seeing flying to roost from South Fambridge. A timely phone call from the former county recorder advising of a White Stork on Fobbing on the 14th led to a fortuitous sighting of it departing shortly afterwards over Canvey Wick. Another ‘Channel’ Wagtail and a Water Pipit were found on Wallasea on the 14th with the ‘Channel’ Wagtail still present on the 18th. A male Common Redstart at Shoebury East Beach on the 14th was a great spring record. The penultimate Short-eared Owl of the winter was watched flying high south inland near Ashingdon on the 15th. A third ‘Channel’ Wagtail was on Bowers Marsh on the 17th where the first returning Grasshopper Warbler was reeling. Continuing their recent good run, the fourth Black Redstart of the month visited a Benfleet garden on the 17th. It is possible there may have been up to three birds in Westcliff on the 3rd in which case an impressive six birds may have passed through this month rather than a conservative four. A daytime flying bat at Canewdon on the 17th was photographed well and was adjudged to be a Serotine. Both Jack Snipe and Water Pipit were seen for the final time at Vange Marsh on the 18th when fine weather saw the first of several Emperor Moth sightings with reports from South Fambridge, Rochford, Rayleigh and Bowers Marsh. A Grey Partridge at the Airport Business Park on the 19th was most unusual in terms of location; up to three could still also be found around the Fleet Head area. The second Common Redstart of the spring was a female at Wakering Tip on the 20th. Seawatching from Canvey on the 21st was predictably slow but the two Fulmars moving upriver made it worthwhile as this species becomes increasingly difficult to connect with locally. A reeling Grasshopper Warbler was back at Canvey Wick on the 21st where it proclaimed its territory daily into May. A migrant Garden Warbler in Gunners Park on the 21st was a good spring records of another species that is unusually difficult to see locally. A smart male Ring Ouzel was a good find on Bowers Marsh on the 22nd; it was typically elusive but showed again on the 24th. Two Nightingales were heard singing at Wakering Stairs on the 24th but were often unreliable unlike the six at Canvey Wick which were in full voice throughout and showed with patience too. Black-necked Grebes numbered four at Bowers Marsh on the 25th. The second Great Northern Diver of the year was reported off Canvey on the 27th and a second spring Ring Ouzel was found at Bartonhall Creek on the 28th but eluded everyone except the finder. The month closed with a Glossy Ibis on floods near Bowers Marsh from the 30th through to the 2nd May.
The month opened in style with a stunning, and obliging, Woodchat Shrike found along the Roach between Rochford and Stambridge Mills on the 1st. Thankfully it remained in the area until the 12th allowing many birders from Essex and further afield to connect; it was the fourth record locally following birds in 1991, 2008, and 2010. Considerably less exciting, but still well received, was a reeling Grasshopper Warbler at Bowers Marsh from the 1st through to the 20th with three there on the 9th. Turtle Doves are becoming increasingly difficult to see locally and so it was with some relief that they arrived back on the 2nd at Wakering Stairs, the only reliable site now for them, yet even here their numbers fell to just three birds this year. A Red Kite was seen on the 2nd circling high above the Woodchat Shrike at Rochford, whilst early morning on the 2nd the local ringing group on Two Tree Island stumbled upon a Hoopoe which was unfortunately not seen again. In keeping with the vanishing Hoopoe, a smart Little Gull was photographed on Two Tree Island the following day but it too promptly disappeared. Nightingales continue to do well locally with reports coming from seven sites this month including an impressive 11 on Canvey Wick on the 3rd. A group of six Arctic Terns flew out past Gunners Park on the 3rd and were the only ones seen this spring as was the male Whinchat at Bowers Marsh on the 5th. A Spoonbill and a Red Kite were reported from Bowers Marsh on the 7th where Wheatear numbers peaked locally at four, with a minimum total of 13 passing through at five sites this month. A flock of eight Gannets heading upriver past Canvey Point on the 8th were the only record this month. The first Painted Lady butterflies of the year were two on Wallasea on the 9th where the last Short-eared Owl of the spring was seen the following day. A Lesser Redpoll over Bowers Marsh on the 11th was unusual in terms of both location and date. The first Wall Brown of the year was on Wakering Tip on the 12th with others noted at five other sites this month. An Osprey over Gunners Park on the 12th was an excellent spring record and a Great White Egret at Bowers Marsh the next day was the last one of the spring with no further sightings until July. Two Turtle Doves spent a day in Friars Park on the 14th in the same area as last year, but as before they did not linger, whilst nearby a Long-eared Owl was present the same evening near to where they have bred previously. Another superb find was made quite late in the day at Wat Tyler CP on the 17th when a Golden Oriole was heard singing. It proved typically elusive and mobile but continued to sing through much of the evening and was eventually seen briefly too. The second Spoonbill of the month was reported on the 18th, this time at Wallasea, but did not linger. Green Hairstreaks were on the wing from the 23rd with sightings coming from Bowers Marsh, Canvey Wick, and Hadleigh Downs in the final week of the month. A Spotted Flycatcher was a very welcome visitor to a Benfleet garden on the 27th and was the only spring record. A Hooded Crow in Gunners Park on the 28th was an extraordinary record. Not only have they become incredibly scarce in Essex in recent decades but whenever they do occur they are typically seen in winter making this record all the more remarkable. Continuing the unseasonal theme, a ringtail Hen Harrier was seen from Canvey Point on the 28th. The month closed with another Red Kite over Bowers Marsh on the 30th.
Small numbers of Grey Partridges were around at the start of the month with birds seen at the Airport Business Park, Fleet Head, and Wakering Stairs. A Bullfinch at Wat Tyler CP on the 2nd proved that they are still hanging on at this seemingly ideal site, and on the 6th four Yellowhammers were singing at South Fambridge, another species which is barely hanging on locally. Single Spoonbills at Bowers Marsh on the 7th and Wallasea on the 10th were the forerunners of increasing numbers mid-month when six were at Bowers Marsh on the 20th and three on Wallasea on the 13th. Heath Fritillaries were seen in relatively low numbers this month from the 8th onwards with maximum counts of 16 at both Belfairs NR and Hockley Woods. Noctule Bats were seen at a number of sites around Leigh from the 8th onwards. On the 9th, one lucky lady out for a walk around the Lion Creek area photographed a superb male Montagu’s Harrier. A Muntjac along the seawall at Paglesham on the 10th was notable given the unusual location. The 11th saw two Barnacle Geese and an Egyptian Goose at Bowers Marsh with another Egyptian Goose at Rochford GC. A singing Firecrest in suitable habitat was videoed in a Benfleet garden on the 13th. The only Gannets this month were four past Canvey on the 18th. On the morning of the 20th a Caspian Tern was found and photographed at Bowers Marsh. Despite rapid dissemination of the news the bird’s stay was all too brief and it promptly departed just moments before the first wave of local birders arrived. With the last twitchable Essex record as long ago as 1981 this bird had the potential to be the bird of the year for many Essex birders but frustratingly it was not to be.
A quick check at Vange Marsh failed to produce the hoped for Caspian Tern but did produce what was arguably the first returning Green Sandpiper of the autumn. A drake Eider was an unexpected find off Gunners Park on the 22nd and 26th. Bowers Marsh held a brief Garden Warbler on the 22nd, the first Southern Migrant Hawker of the year on the 23rd, and a family party of six Black-necked Grebes on the 24th comprising three adults and three new born chicks. A Norfolk Hawker on Benfleet Downs on the 24th was the first for the area and perhaps not that unexpected given their recent range expansion. The following day, the famous Canvey Way ditch held 200 Scarce Emerald Damselflies, two Southern Emerald Damselflies, and two Southern Migrant Hawkers. The first White-letter Hairstreaks of the summer were noted on Benfleet Downs from the 26th and an unseasonal Dark-bellied Brent Goose was present at Two Tree Island on the 26th and Gunners Park on the 27th.
Two Bullfinches were seen again at Wat Tyler CP on the 1st and were thought to be a male with a well-hidden juvenile. Hockley Woods proved popular on the 4th with 150 Heath Fritillaries, six Silver-washed Fritillaries, five White Admirals, three Treecreepers and a cronking Raven whilst the first Purple Hairstreak of the year was seen at Barling the same day. At Bowers Marsh on the 5th, a second pair of Black-necked Grebes appeared from out of the reeds with a new-born chick in tow whilst the original pair still had their three chicks all present. Wallasea held four Spoonbills on the 9th along with a good count of six Painted Ladies and 75 Common Seals which included 26 youngsters. Four Great White Egrets and a Spoonbill spent much of the month at Vange Marsh from the 9th onwards and were probably also responsible for the multiple sightings around Bowers Marsh this month. A Southern Emerald Damselfly at Shoebury East Beach on the 10th was an interesting record whilst at Canvey Way five were found on the 11th and 100 Scarce Emeralds were still present. Five Dark-bellied Brent Geese were loitering around Wakering Stairs on the 11th unsure of whether they were coming or going or just simply staying. Last month’s Montagu’s Harrier was photographed again by the same person around the Lion Creek area on the 16th but once again it quickly melted away much to the frustration of many, although a Turtle Dove and six Yellowhammers were found in the vicinity the following day. The month’s only Red Kite was over Coombe Wood on the 17th and the next day a Ring-necked Parakeet blasted through a Leigh garden with it, or another, through Bowers Marsh on the 21st. A Purple Emperor was reported from Belfairs NR on the 18th and was then seen regularly with luck and patience from the 31st onwards. Wallasea continued to lure Spoonbills to its saltpans and pools with five present on the 21st along with two Great White Egrets. Nuthatches were unusually more vocal and prominent during the last week of the month with two seen regularly in Belfairs NR and two in Coombe Wood. The first Willow Emerald Damselfly of the year was in a South Fambridge garden from the 25th onwards, whilst a Hawkwell garden played host to a Hedgehog throughout the month and was shamelessly twitched on the 26th. A Whinchat and a Garganey were at Bowers Marsh on the 26th with Garganey increasing to three on the 29th. An Eider was at Wakering Stairs on the 29th as were the last two Turtle Doves of the year; we wait with trepidation to see if they will return again next summer. Little Ringed Plover passage was evident at Vange Marsh on the 29th when nine were present. A couple of Clouded Yellows rounded off the month with one in Gunners Park on the 29th and one at Canvey Way on the 31st.
Three Yellow-legged Gulls were at Hullbridge on the 1st, a Southern Emerald Damselfly was in Gunners Park on the 3rd , the second for the site, whilst three were still also present along Canvey Way where numbers of Scarce Emerald Damselfly had dropped rapidly to just four on the 4th. A Serotine Bat hunting over Butts Hill pond during the daytime on the 4th was unusual. Garganey peaked this month at four on Vange Marsh on the 6th. Passage picked up a little from the 10th with the first returning Wheatear and Whinchat at Bowers Marsh but the summer lull continued. The Purple Emperor in Belfairs NR was seen for the last time on the 11th when eight Purple Hairstreaks were also counted. Unexpected but welcome news broke on the 12th with sightings of several Large Copper butterflies at a coastal site. Given that the species has been extinct in the UK since 1851 these were undoubtedly from an unauthorised release, but that did not detract from their incredible beauty. Up to seven were present through to the 19th. A Ring-necked Parakeet was seen on the 13th when it passed through another Leigh garden. Three Silver-washed Fritillaries on Hadleigh Downs on the 14th were the last of the year. A typically elusive Purple Heron at Bowers Marsh on the 14th and 15th was an excellent find and proved popular to those with luck and patience; there were also two Garganey at Bowers Marsh on the 15th whilst at nearby Vange Marsh six Spotted Redshanks were present from the 15th to the 18th. Spoonbills had their best ever year locally with a group peaking at eight on Wallasea from the 15th through to early September and another three commuting between Bowers Marsh, Vange Marsh, and Wat Tyler CP; Cattle Egrets also appeared the 15th with two juveniles on Vange Marsh. Common Emerald Damselflies numbered 20 on the 15th at Butts Hill whilst Willow Emerald Damselflies reached four at nearby South Fambridge on the 18th. Very few Clouded Yellows were seen this month with records coming solely from Wallasea with a peak of just three on the 19th. Autumn passage finally began on the 22nd with a Little Stint at Bowers Marsh, a Curlew Sandpiper on Wallasea, and the first Arctic Skuas and Black Terns of the autumn off Canvey. The following day saw the year’s highest count of Arctic Skuas and Black Terns off Canvey with 26 and 40 respectively; three Little Gulls lingered there through to the 31st. The 24th was also productive away from the sea with two Pied Flycatchers in Gunners Park which remained until the 25th; another Pied Flycatcher was at Shoebury East Beach, two calling Quails were on Wallasea remaining through to 4th September, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, a female Red-veined Darter in Southchurch Park East which was only the second local record. Great Skuas began passing through the Thames from the 24th but were only ever seen in single numbers all autumn and the only Spotted Flycatcher of the month was at Wakering Stairs. The 26th saw a group of six Cattle Egrets on West Canvey Marsh, three Little Terns off Canvey along with 40 Arctic Terns, and two or three Whinchats at Wakering Stairs, Wallasea, and Gunners Park which also hosted a late Cuckoo the same day and a Redstart and Garden Warbler the next. Osprey is now an expected autumn passage migrant and this year was no exception with one hanging around Canvey Point from the 27th until the 3rd September; a Guillemot and up to five Porpoises were also seen off Canvey Point on several dates. Somewhat surprisingly, the Purple Heron at Bowers Marsh was seen again on the 29th after seemingly going missing for two weeks. A Pied Flycatcher at an inland site near Southend Hospital on 29th and 30th was a very good record. Canvey Point on the 30th provided one of the few highlights of the seawatching season when a superb juvenile Sabine’s Gull lingered just offshore with the tern flock for the whole afternoon and was still present early the following day. Besides the Sabine’s Gull, the sea was still desperately quiet although a drake Velvet Scoter on the 30th was an unexpected sight. A Shag took up station at Gunners Park from the 30th where it remained throughout the autumn over every high tide and a Merlin arrived on Wallasea where it remained throughout September. There was an arrival of Little Stints from the 31st onwards which began with two on Wallasea and a single at Bowers Marsh where one lucky observer also saw a Wryneck briefly. The month closed with a brief and flighty Red-necked Grebe photographed off Canvey Seafront on the 31st.
Little Stints continued to build at the start of the month peaking on the 4th with three at Bowers Marsh, six at Vange Marsh, and four on Wallasea. On the 5th Little Terns peaked with 21 passing Wakering Stairs whilst at nearby Fleet Head there was a Redstart, one of only two all month. Spotted Flycatchers trickled through with three at Canvey Wick on the 5th and a single near Coombe Wood on the 7th and a Honey Buzzard went north over Leigh. The six Cattle Egrets were still around but were typically dispersed although five were together at Wat Tyler CP on the 9th when Great White Egrets peaked with three at Vange Marsh. Two female Ruddy Shelducks resided on Wallasea from the 10th to the 22nd and proved popular regardless of their origins. An Osprey was a regular visitor around the Roach from the 11th to the 21st and could be seen roosting at dusk on Foulness from Wallasea. A pulse of Curlew Sandpipers arrived on the 11th with six at Haven Point and three on Wallasea although there were no further records at all after the 12th. A Red-necked Phalarope was photographed on Paglesham Lagoon on the 11th although news did not get out until dark and unfortunately it was not present the following day. All of this year’s Tree Pipit records were compressed into the 11th and 12th with records coming from Gunners Park, Wakering Stairs, and Paglesham Lagoon. A contender for bird of the year was the Barred Warbler found in Gunners Park on the 12th, only the third local one in thirty years and interestingly it was favouring the exact same trees as the last one seven years ago. The Spotted Flycatcher which was accompanying it was the last one of the year and neither bird was present the next day. Vange Marsh held 11 Spotted Redshanks, seven Ruff and 13 Green Sandpipers on the 13th but nothing rarer. There was some passage on the sea on the 14th with 19 Common Scoter, the first returning Red-throated Diver, seven Great Skuas, a Little Gull, and a Fulmar whilst along the shoreline at Shoebury East Beach two Little Stints were notable. On the 15th a Tree Sparrow landed in the SSSI in Gunners Park and a Short-eared Owl was hunting along the Roach at Wallasea. A colour-ringed Whinchat on Wallasea on the 17th and 18th piqued interest and was traced back to a scheme at RSPB Geltsdale in Cumbria where it was ringed this summer as a chick. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth spent much of the day visiting a Rayleigh garden on the 19th. The Tree Sparrow in Gunners Park was ringed on the 19th and was still present on the 22nd, a Redstart there on the 20th and 21st added variety. The first Red-breasted Merganser of the autumn flew past Canvey on the 20th as did another Little Gull but passage then ground to a halt on land and at sea although two Manx Shearwaters did fly up the Thames off Canvey on the 26th. Other bits and pieces comprised a Death’s Head Hawkmoth caterpillar on the seawall on Wallasea on the 26th which was certainly intriguing, and a Yellow-necked Mouse live trapped in Stavelarks Wood. The month closed with a Short-eared Owl on the seawall at Upper Raypits on the 30th.
A Little Stint continued at Bowers Marsh from the 3rd to the 8th. Southend Pier produced a sighting of a Honey Buzzard on the 4th and a Manx Shearwater on the 6th with potentially the same Manx Shearwater being seen again from Shoebury East Beach on the 9th and 10th. A Red-necked Phalarope was a great find at Bowers Marsh on the 6th and unlike when last month’s bird was found, news was put out early in the day allowing many the opportunity to connect. Bowers Marsh also held the only Great White Egret of the month on the 6th and the last Hobby of the year on the 6th and 7th. Wheatears were logged for the last time on the 8th with birds in Gunners Park and on Wallasea where a smart male Hen Harrier was also present but did not linger. Finch passage began very slowly from the 10th with a Brambling over Shoebury East Beach and two Siskins over Rochford GC. On the sea, a Great Northern Diver drifted out past the Shoebury boom on the 11th, Razorbills were outnumbering Guillemots with five of the former and one of the latter all lingering until the 23rd and a female Red-breasted Merganser was seen most days along the Thames too. A male Bearded Tit was a good find at South Fambridge from the 11th to the 23rd; in addition there were parties of five at West Canvey Marshes on the 18th and at Bowers Marsh throughout. A Jack Snipe in Gunners Park on the 12th was a new arrival as was an unusually dark White-fronted Goose with Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the nearby mudflats on the 14th and 19th and which was thought to be a hybrid between the two species. Seawatching from Canvey on the 15th produced 145 Gannets and the only Pomarine Skua of a miserable skua passage with peak counts of just four Arctic Skuas and two Great Skuas this month and no Long-tailed Skuas all year. The first of just two Little Gulls this month was seen from Canvey on the 19th and the first Black-throated Diver of the autumn was also seen there on the 21st when the last Little Stint of the autumn was at Vange Marsh. The Thames attracted 164 Gannets on the 22nd as well as a drake Red-breasted Merganser. A pale phase Common Buzzard with a propensity for hovering was later confirmed from photos as being responsible for the claims of a Rough-legged Buzzard around the old tip at Bowers Marsh on 22nd and subsequently. A late Garganey found during the confusion at Bowers Marsh on the 22nd was thankfully less troublesome. A couple of Spoonbills were still frequenting Wallasea on the 23rd after which date one was seen intermittently into November. Arguably the most popular bird of the month was the obliging Snow Bunting at Thorpe Bay from the 23rd to the 27th. Three Eider were noted passing Gunners Park and Canvey Point on the 24th and were the only sightings this month. Two pairs of Willow Emerald Damselflies were still enjoying the autumn sunshine at Canewdon on the 24th whilst at nearby Wallasea a ringtail Hen Harrier was seen on the 24th and 25th and again in November. Two Short-eared Owls and a female Merlin were all noted at Lower Raypits on the 25th and were the only records of either species this month. Another Hedgehog was found wandering around in the daytime on the 25th at the Hawkwell Hedgehog hotspot. A Cattle Egret was present on Wallasea from the 28th into early November. Gunners Park produced some classic late autumn passage on the 30th with five Goosanders, four Tree Sparrows, two redpoll and an adult Little Gull. The month finished with two adult Yellow-legged Gulls back at their wintering grounds along the Crouch at Hullbridge.
A moderate north-westerly wind on the 4th brought some seabirds into the Thames, of which the most notable was a minimum of 77 Razorbills off Canvey along with two Little Auks, a Puffin, and three Guillemots. The count of Razorbills is quite possibly the highest ever recorded in Essex. Other seabirds caught up in the movement were five Eider, 25 Common Scoter, a Great Northern Diver, two Great Skuas, an impressive 186 Kittiwakes, and an incredibly late Common Tern. Typically, the following day was disappointingly quiet at sea although did provide an obliging Black-throated Diver. The 5th produced two Brambling flocks, with ten west over Wallasea and four in Canewdon. Wallasea also held the last Clouded Yellow of the year on the 5th and a Woodcock, an exceptionally rare visitor to the island. That evening, news came of two confiding Snow Buntings along the seawall at South Fambridge which frustratingly were not present the following day having apparently relocated across the Crouch to the north seawall, although a Guillemot was some consolation and an unexpected find so far upriver. Small numbers of Siskins passed through this month although the only double-figure counts were 25 on the 6th over Gunners Park, and 12 on the 14th, again over Gunners Park. A Guillemot sitting on the saltmarsh at Hullbridge on the 7th was incredibly far upriver and may have been the bird seen at South Fambridge the previous day. Three Spoonbills were at Fleet Head on the 7th before moving onto Wallasea the next day; they remained unsettled until the 12th December when they then became a permanent feature on the lagoons throughout the winter. Four Little Gulls were reported past Canvey on the 10th heading upriver, and a video appeared on Facebook of an apparent Minke Whale close to Southend Pierhead in flat calm seas. The only Short-eared Owl of the month was predictably on Wallasea on the 11th. A Bullfinch was a good find at Wat Tyler CP on the 13th where two Spotted Redshanks were also present. Seawatching from Canvey on the 14th produced 103 Gannets, a Great Skua, a Merlin crossing the Thames, and 11 Red-breasted Mergansers, only the second double-figure count locally in the last ten years. A Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Shoebury East Beach on the 14th was the first of the winter. Long-eared Owls began to gather mid-month at a site in the south-west where six birds were present from the 14th to the 17th. The last odonata record of the year was of three Ruddy Darters at Bowers Marsh on the 17th although Migrant Hawkers were also noted at two sites at the start of the month. A Black Brant was reported at Leigh-on-Sea on the 18th, and again, nearby, on the 22nd. A Grey Partridge at Bowers Marsh on the 19th was unusual, although not unprecedented, whilst six the next day at Fleet Head had probably only recently left their release pens. Undoubtedly the most exciting record this month was of an Otter seen on a night time trailcam on Wallasea on the 21st. There is yet to be a modern day live sighting in the recording area, but it feels like the opportunity is ever increasing following trailcam sightings here and on Blue House Farm recently too. Seawatching from Canvey on the 22nd yielded a couple of good records with a Black-throated Diver and a juvenile Glaucous Gull which was following ships up and down the river. Auk passage continued on the 22nd with ten Razorbills and six Guillemots, whilst on the 24th the second Puffin of the month drifted past the Point. The following day, a pair of Scaup took up temporary residence on the Thames between Canvey and the Pier where they were seen daily through to the end of the month. On the 29th, Wallasea reaffirmed its position as the raptor hotspot with Merlin, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Buzzard and Marsh Harrier all recorded although there was no sign of the two Whooper Swans reported the previous day.
Six Eider were noted off Canvey on the 2nd with two lingering there throughout much of the month. A Long-eared Owl was a surprise visitor to a Rochford garden on the 2nd whilst next day, two Short-eared Owls arrived on Wallasea where they remained until mid-month with one lingering into January. From the 3rd, two Great Northern Divers became a daily fixture off of Gunners Park for several days with one occasionally drifting up to Canvey where the month’s only Black-throated Diver was seen on the 8th, along with another diminutive Little Auk. A Goosander was found on Wallasea on the 9th where it remained into the new year. A Glaucous Gull following ships past Canvey on the 9th may well have been last month’s bird lingering in the estuary. Late on the 9th, news of a probable Black Guillemot close inshore at Gunners Park was received. Remarkably, the report proved correct and this extremely scarce and dainty auk went on to delight many Essex birders as it appeared each day over high tide until the 21st. As the only truly twitchable one in Essex since 1981 it drew quite a crowd most days; analysis of photos suggest it may have been the Swalecliffe, Kent bird. Three Twite were photographed on the 10th on Wallasea and were then seen daily through to the 16th before a four week hiatus when two reappeared in mid-January. The Southchurch Park Red-crested Pochard continued its protracted stay and was recorded from the 11th onwards when the month’s only Chiffchaff was seen in Friars Park. Five Goosanders flew by Gunners Park on the 11th and a quintet of Grey Partridges was still lingering at Fleet Head the next day. A Pale-bellied Brent Goose was singled out among the brent flock on Wallasea on the 13th. Black Guillemot twitchers at Gunners Park also enjoyed good views of a Shag from the 14th. With increasing numbers of Hawfinch appearing at traditional sites across the country, it was perhaps not too surprising to find three in Pound Wood from the 15th through to 2022, although they could prove frustratingly difficult to connect with, unlike the two Nuthatch there which showed well daily. The month’s only Blackcap was, unusually, not in a garden but at Bowers Marsh on the 17th where a Water Pipit was also residing. A healthy, adult, Common Whitethroat was pulled from the mist nets on Two Tree Island on the 19th, when Canvey Wick held three Woodcock and a Lesser Redpoll, whilst offshore, from the Point, a staggering 178 Red-throated Divers were feeding on the sprat shoal the following day. A Short-eared Owl at Bowers Marsh on the 20th was the only sighting away from Wallasea this month. The end of the month was mostly about geese, with 19 White-fronted Geese over Bowers Marsh on the 21st and ten on Wallasea the next day, followed by a Black Brant and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at South Fambridge from the 24th onwards. The only other records of note were a Shag on the River Crouch at South Fambridge from the 29th onwards, and three Bramblings amongst the flock of 70 Chaffinches at Hampton Barns the same day.
A respectable total of 210 species was recorded in the area this year and included some excellent birds once again. One of the highlights was the long-staying and popular Woodchat Shrike in Rochford, however, from a purely local and county perspective, the Black Guillemot goes down as bird of the year. Other notable sightings include the Caspian Tern, which would have been bird of the year if only it had lingered long enough for others to connect with it, Purple Heron, Barred Warbler, Golden Oriole, Hooded Crow, Montagu’s Harrier, Quail, White Stork, Hoopoe, Sabine’s Gull, two Red-necked Phalaropes, and a record-breaking influx of White-fronted Geese. Non-avian highlights included Purple Emperors, Norfolk Hawker, Stoat in ermine, Minke Whale, and Otter (albeit on trailcam).