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.