SOG Summary 2012

by Paul Baker, Southend Ornithological Group


A rather wet New Year's Day resulted in two mustela stealing the highlights with a Stoat on Wallasea and a Weasel on Canvey Wick. The following day, once the rain subsided, it was business as usual on Wallasea with four ringtail Hen Harriers, two Short-eared Owls, and single Barn Owl, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, and Peregrine all of which put on a regular evening show. Last week's Black Swan was also present again on the 2nd following its short trip to Paglesham. A Chiffchaff was heard at Shoebury East Beach on the 2nd where the three Snow Buntings and a Kingfisher continued to attract visitors. The Purple Sandpiper was logged again on the Pier on the 6th where it roosted daily through to the 29th. A Pomarine Skua off the Pier on the same day was part of an interesting and unseasonal run of skua sightings, and was most likely the same juvenile present in the Thames since 4th December. Unseasonably, Canvey Point produced a further two Pomarine Skuas and an Arctic Skua on the 7th with a Pomarine Skua recorded again on the 8th and 28th. The long-staying and rather mobile Great White Egret was seen again on Wallasea on the 6th and 7th before going missing for four weeks. A female Eider off Canvey Point on the 7th was probably the same bird present in the estuary since November and was the first of only three records in the first half of the year. One of last month's Waxwings remained at Vange being seen between the 7th and 12th. A wintering Chiffchaff was seen on several days from the 7th in Friars Park where the three drake Mandarins remained all month. A third Chiffchaff was located on the 8th, this time unusually on Two Tree Island. The Thames continued to produce some good sightings with three Velvet Scoters reported past Wakering Stairs on the 8th, but it was the Pier that really hit a `purple patch'. Highlights between the 7th and 9th included 36 Red-throated Divers, two Great Northern Divers, single Black-throated Diver, 42 Guillemots, seven Razorbills, and two Porpoise. One of last month's Pale-bellied Brent Geese was back on Wallasea on the 11th and 14th after visiting Wakering Stairs on the 8th with Short-eared Owl reaching a month high of seven on Wallasea on the 11th. Continuing the unexpected skua passage, three Great Skuas were reported from the Pier on the 11th with a single also there on the 14th making it three skua species in one week in January! An Essex mega in the form of a Puffin flew out of the estuary past the Pier on the 13th. It is remotely conceivable that it was one of the birds seen in November 2011 still lingering in the outer Thames; remarkably it was seen from the Pier again on the 27th and 29th. Wintering Greenshank reached a high of six on Two Tree Island on the 13th with another two on Wallasea and a single at Wat Tyler C.P. Other notable wintering waders included a Ruff on Vange Marsh all month, up to four Spotted Redshanks at Wat Tyler C.P. throughout the month, twelve widely scattered Green Sandpipers, and five Woodcock. The Corn Bunting flock on Wallasea had swelled to 350 on the 14th, the same day that a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers was located in Thundersley Glen. Coincidentally a further pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers was also seen on the 14th, this time at the more traditional site of Hockley Woods where they remained through to early March, yet proved even more elusive than usual. Worryingly there was a marked decline in Nuthatch records in Hockley Woods with just a single present all month and sadly there were no sightings of Coal Tit following their successful recolonisation last year. On a more positive note a pair of Firecrests were seen regularly from the 14th through to the end of February. Up to five Treecreepers were also present, as was a solitary Brambling on the 16th and 17th, with a Weasel there an interesting sighting on the 14th and 23rd. A Water Rail present in Southchurch Park East since November became unusually bold from the 15th onwards when it would regularly compete for bread with the ducks and gulls. It remained into mid-February when it was joined by a second bird. On the 16th two male Blackcaps were seen at their favoured wintering site, Rayleigh Mount with other singles also noted on Hadleigh Downs and in gardens in South Benfleet and Leigh. An unconfirmed report of a Shore Lark on Shoebury East Beach was received on the 17th but despite extensive searching over the next few days could not be refound. Incredibly it was reported again on the 24th and 30th yet it eluded all locals, even those that got there in record time! Many hours over several weeks were spent trying in vain to confirm the sighting but always without success. An immature drake Eider reported off the Pier on the 18th was clearly a different individual to the female seen intermittently since November, but then on the 23rd both were present together off the Pier for several hours. The fourth Chiffchaff of the month was reported from a Benfleet garden on the 25th. On the 28th the wintering redpoll flock on Canvey Wick numbered 28 Lesser Redpolls and three Mealy Redpolls. Rather unexpectedly the flock of three Snow Buntings present at Shoebury East Beach all month suddenly increased to nine on the 28th after perhaps being joined by the six that visited Wallasea and Foulness in November. A final Great Skua sighting off Canvey Point on the 29th concluded the run of wintering skua records.


The month opened with a rather pallid looking female Red-crested Pochard photographed in Southchurch Park East on the 1st. It was relocated in Friars Park on the 7th where it remained through to the 18th with the occasional visit back to Southchurch Park East. A prolonged seawatch from the Pier on the 2nd yielded the only Red-necked Grebe of the first-winter period (which was presumably the same one seen later at Cliffe, Kent), a Slavonian Grebe which remained in the estuary through to the 15th, and six adult Little Gulls. The wintering Purple Sandpiper had departed as it was not seen all month, but of interest one was reported at Hullbridge on the 2nd. Also on the 2nd, Hockley Woods revealed four Treecreepers, a peak winter count of just two Nuthatches, and the pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers which continued to be reported occasionally throughout the month. The wandering Great White Egret took up residence again on Wallasea on the 2nd where it stayed all month. A Woodcock at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 2nd was the first of eighteen widely scattered sightings this month which included four in suburban gardens coinciding with heavy snowfall. The Black Swan had returned to Paglesham on the 3rd where it remained all month after also visiting Stambridge on the 14th. An obliging Jack Snipe in Southchurch Park East from the 3rd to the 7th was appreciated by many as it offered the opportunity to observe this notoriously inconspicuous and cryptic species feeding and resting undisturbed in the open. The Snow Bunting flock at Shoebury East Beach gyrated between one bird on the 26th and a new high of ten birds on the 4th. The five Grey Partridges initially found on Bowers Marsh in November were seen again on the 4th and 5th but not subsequently. Two Barnacle Geese were reported from Brandy Hole on the 5th, but by associating with Canada Geese did little to help their credentials. Another Jack Snipe was reported on the 8th and 9th from a lake near Hullbridge, with a third individual on Bowers Marsh on the 11th. A colour-ringed first-winter Caspian Gull was an excellent find on the scrape at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 9th where it was successfully photographed; it was seen the following day on nearby Pitsea Tip. A handful of Blackcaps persevered this month with a male and a female at Rayleigh Mount on the 9th, a male in a Benfleet garden on the 11th, and another male in Friars Park on the 18th. On the 10th the bunting flock on Wallasea reached a month high of 300 Corn Buntings, 40 Reed Buntings, and a single Yellowhammer, the same day a Coal Tit was claimed visiting bird feeders in a Rayleigh garden. A Great Northern Diver along the Crouch at South Fambridge on the 11th was unusual and was surprisingly the last record from anywhere during the first-winter period. With 25 years since the previous record, a drake Smew was close to the top of everyone's most wanted list. Wishes were answered on the 11th when one was found late in the day on Paglesham Lagoon. Thankfully it hung around until the 16th and was the highlight of the winter for many. Even more remarkable was the arrival of six redhead Smew that flew in from the east and dropped in on Paglesham Lagoon briefly on the 12th. Also on the 12th on the adjacent seawall at Paglesham, three Short-eared Owls were roosting. The three drake Mandarins in Friars Park were seen for the final time on the 12th as were 23 Lesser Redpolls and two Mealy Redpolls on Canvey Wick. Another redhead Smew was reported on the 13th, this time from the Crouch upstream of Hullbridge, along with three fly-through Goosanders. The Black-throated Diver was seen for the last time on the 15th when it was off the Pier as were four Red-throated Divers, seven Guillemots, and seven Razorbills. A Rough-legged Buzzard was seen well as it drifted low over South Fambridge on the 22nd. A Brimstone at Wat Tyler C.P. also on the 22nd was brave or foolish given the harsh conditions of the previous week. It was pleasing to receive a report of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Belfairs on the 24th, the same day that the near mythical Shore Lark at Shoebury East Beach was reported again by a visiting birder before promptly vanishing once more. A typically elusive Bittern at Wat Tyler C.P. from the 25th to the 28th, which only ever revealed itself in flight, marked four years in a row now that this much sought after species has been recorded in the area. The fourth and final Jack Snipe of the month was seen on the scrape at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 25th. Evenings on Wallasea continued to provide wonderfully close views of Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl on a daily basis. Although roosting numbers of both species were much reduced since early January there were still two ringtail Hen Harriers, a Marsh Harrier, two Merlin, three Short-eared Owls, and a Stoat to be seen on the 25th. A further count of four Short-eared Owls was also made on the 25th at Wakering Stairs where two Weasels were seen the following day. A Firecrest was seen for the last time in Hockley Woods on the 26th whilst in contrast the first Adder of the year was sunning itself on Two Tree Island. The only Chiffchaff of the month was singing at Eastwood Sewage Works on the 28th.

MARCH 2012

After nearly two months of chasing rumours, the fabled Shore Lark at Shoebury East Beach was finally pinned down, confirmed, and photographed on the 3rd allowing many to add it to their local list. Despite still going missing for long periods of time on the MOD range, it settled into a routine of sorts and was eventually seen by everyone during its week-long stay through to the 10th. On the 4th a Black Redstart was also discovered at Shoebury East Beach and this too also stayed through to the 10th, with one or two Snow Buntings staying until the 6th only. Two Black-necked Grebes on the sea off Canvey Point were a surprise find on the 4th with one still present on the 5th when the last divers of the winter were seen with one or two Red-throated Divers off Canvey Point and Shoebury East Beach. The Bittern at Wat Tyler C.P. gave a final surprise fly past on the 6th. After going unreported for six weeks the Purple Sandpiper was found roosting once more on Southend Pier on the 11th. The Great White Egret roaming around Wallasea since late 2011 put in just a single appearance this month on the 16th and a Weasel was seen again at Wakering Stairs. The first Wheatear of the year was logged on the fairly typical date of the 16th with a single predictably in Gunners Park quickly followed by a single on Hadleigh Marshes and three on Two Tree Island on the 18th. Chiffchaff arrived in numbers from the 17th with over forty birds singing across the region by the end of the month. By contrast wintering raptors were in no hurry to leave Wallasea with the two ringtail Hen Harriers, two Merlin, and three Short-eared Owls all still present on the 17th when the Corn Bunting flock reached a staggering all time high of 460. Woodcock were still around in good numbers mid-month with four on Hadleigh Downs on the 18th, three on Two Tree Island, and a further three singles elsewhere. The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in Hockley Woods were seen for the third and final time this month on the 18th. A Tree Sparrow reliably reported on the 18th at Wakering Stairs constituted only the second local spring record this century. A Black Redstart reported from Shoebury Coastguards on the 18th could have been the Shoebury East Beach individual whilst another was reported at South Fambridge the following day with what was presumably the same bird seen again at South Fambridge on the 28th. A Weasel was seen on Two Tree Island on the 19th. Blackcaps arrived en-masse from the 20th with at least twelve on territory by month's end. A Little Gull on Vange Marsh on the 23rd was a pleasant surprise. The last Fieldfares of the winter were singles in Gunners Park on the 24th and Two Tree Island on the 25th. A Water Vole was in the brook at Rochford Golf Course on the 25th. The changing of the seasons was illustrated over the final few days of the month, firstly with a male Brambling in a Hockley garden on the 27th , which may have been the bird seen in nearby Hockley Woods in mid-January, contrasting with the arrival of the first House Martin over Canewdon the same day. The last Redwings of the winter were a flock over South Benfleet on the 29th, the same day that nine of the more common butterfly species were all seen at Rayleigh Mount. On the 31st the first Swallow of spring was reported from Hullbridge and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was reported from Pound Wood.

APRIL 2012

A drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was reported again on the 1st in Thundersley Glen. Two Little Ringed Plovers arrived on the 3rd, somewhat predictably at Vange Marsh, the same day that the first Sand Martins began trickling through. Water Voles were seen at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 6th and again at Rochford Golf Course. On the Roach on the 8th, nine Red-breasted Mergansers were the last of the winter whereas two Sandwich Terns and two Yellow Wagtails at Paglesham the same day were the first of the year. On the 8th Wallasea still held 300 Corn Buntings, the two ringtail Hen Harriers, and three Short-eared Owls. Several other Short-eared Owls were also noted passing through at coastal sites with a bird on Two Tree Island proving particularly reliable mid-month. The first Cuckoo was unusually early with one at Fleet Head on the 10th followed by a widespread arrival in the final week of the month. Wat Tyler C.P. hosted three Little Ringed Plovers on the scrape on the 11th as well as the first Reed Warblers and a Willow Warbler. On nearby Vange Marsh three Common Sandpipers also arrived on the 11th with at least one remaining through to the 21st. A cracking male Ring Ouzel was found in Gunners Park on the 12th; it proved popular and was seen through to the 16th, and was accompanied by the first Whitethroat. In Gunners Park on the 13th Wheatear hit a month high of just three with a total of five other birds seen at other sites this month. Hen Harrier was logged on Wallasea for the last time on the 13th although singles were seen subsequently at Wakering Stairs and South Fambridge on the 28th. The Little Ringed Plovers at Vange Marsh had increased to five on the 14th when a small passage of White Wagtails was noted with three there the same day and two on West Canvey. Grasshopper Warbler returned to Two Tree Island on the 14th with a single reeling male there through to the 2nd May which was joined briefly by a second male on the 21st. A Weasel with an injured foreleg was optimistically stalking rabbits in Gunners Park on the 14th whereas a reptile hunt on Benfleet Downs on the 15th revealed six Common Lizards and four Adders. Nightingale returned to Two Tree Island on the 19th and the following day another Weasel was logged on the island. A late Jack Snipe was flushed from Canvey Wick on the 21st where the first Lesser Whitethroats were also noted. Nearby on West Canvey, a reptile survey there found 16 Common Lizards, one Adder, and four Slow Worms. The first Sedge Warbler arrived at Barling Pits on the 21st and the first Swift was over Two Tree Island three days later, with Hobby at Vange Marsh on the 25th. Between the 28th and 30th strong easterlies offered the rare prospect of a spring seawatch off Canvey. 48 Gannets and a Great Skua started the show on the 28th, 35 Gannets, three Great Skuas, a Black Tern, and a Porpoise passed through the following day and on the 30th came the only Fulmar of the spring, four Sandwich Terns, 40 Common Terns, and three Arctic Terns. The highlight of the three day seawatch though was undoubtedly the Alpine Swift watched coming in-off the sea from the south-east on the 29th before flying directly overhead and heading inland north-west and subsequently photographed later the same day over Vange Marsh.

MAY 2012

A very late Fieldfare was in Gunners Park on the 1st. Two Siskins passed over Shoebury on the 2nd when two Whinchats dropped into Gunners Park and marked the start of a few days of good spring passage for migrant passerines. A female Redstart along Westcliff seafront on the 3rd and 4th was an excellent spring record and remarkably was in the company of a Spotted Flycatcher and a Nightingale on both days. A good passage of Wheatears was evident from the 4th onwards, possibly indicating a pulse of `Greenland' birds through the region and peaking at 12 on Bowers Marsh where a female Ring Ouzel was also present on the 4th and 5th. Unusually high numbers of Short-eared Owls were still present early in the month with singles at five sites and two on Wallasea on the 4th. A pair of Whinchat was found on Wallasea on the 4th where they remained through to the 6th. Bowers Marsh came up trumps on the 5th when both Glossy Ibis and Great White Egret were seen, with the Glossy Ibis also visiting the scrape at Wat Tyler C.P. Unfortunately the Ibis was just a one day bird whereas the Great White Egret remained in the area until the 7th. A seawatch at Canvey Point on the 5th yielded an unseasonal Great Skua and a Guillemot. Four Arctic Terns off Wallasea the next day was a good site record. The only Little Ringed Plover of the month was a single at Vange Marsh on the 6th and 7th. Bowers Marsh hosted a singing Quail on the 7th through to the 23rd, and a Weasel was also noted there on the 7th. A small movement of Buzzards on the 7th included three over Rochford, two over Eastwood and one over Hadleigh. A fine drake Garganey spent the 7th at Wat Tyler C.P. and six Common Sandpipers at Vange Marsh marked the spring peak count. A single Green Sandpiper was also present on Vange Marsh on the 7th and a Wood Sandpiper on Vange Wick from the 8th to the 10th was an excellent spring record and completed the trio. Although the Grasshopper Warbler on Two Tree Island was heard for the final time on the 2nd, South Fambridge provided another opportunity to see and hear this species locally on the 9th. The first confirmed sighting of the year of Coal Tit was on the 11th at Coombe Wood with a presumed pair present intermittently at this former haunt through to the autumn. A Stoat was recorded near Rayleigh on the 11th the same day that there was a small fall of Spotted Flycatchers in Gunners Park, with up to three birds on the 11th and 12th and a single on the 18th. A handful of Crossbills moved through Rochford mid-month with singles on the 12th and a flock of eleven on the 19th. A solitary Green Hairstreak was found on Canvey Wick on the 13th at last year's site where it was seen again on the 27th only. The first of two Red Kites this month passed high over Southend town centre on the 15th. An Egyptian Goose on Vange Wick on the 19th proved popular as locally this species is still less than annual. It was pleasing to note four Turtle Doves at Wakering Stairs on the 19th with additional records of this species this month including three at Paglesham and two at Wat Tyler C.P. Two Guillemots upriver past Canvey Point on the 20th were unseasonal. The second and last Red Kite of the month was reported over Hadleigh Downs on the 22nd. At Wallasea Wetlands a Little Stint on the 22nd was a good find, it remained to the 24th. A male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on the 26th on Hadleigh Downs was an interesting record whereas the two Bullfinches there were more expected. The wet weather led to a poor season for butterflies with Wall peaking at just four this month at Bowers Marsh on the 26th and a few individuals at Barling, Benfleet Downs, Canvey Wick, and Two Tree Island. A Black Tern was seen from a boat on the Roach on the 26th and three Arctic Terns flew by Gunners Park on the 27th. A Cockatiel flew rapidly and raucously through an Eastwood garden on the 27th, a Honey Buzzard was circling over a Rochford garden on the 28th, and West Canvey played host to a first-summer Little Gull on the 29th.

JUNE 2012

The Little Gull at West Canvey was joined by a second bird on the 1st with both still present the following day and one remaining through to the 5th. A Red Kite was reported flying over Benfleet towards Canvey on the 1st. A single Brown Argus at Cherry Orchard C.P. on the same day was the only record of the month of this much overlooked butterfly. Turtle Dove numbers at Wakering Stairs had reportedly increased to a respectable seven on the 4th. A Common Sandpiper at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 4th was the last of the spring passage with a Green Sandpiper on Wallasea on the 9th similarly the last. Following a small and unseasonal influx of `Stormies' along the south coast on the 12th, a seawatch at Canvey Point was rewarded with a Storm Petrel in the wake of a container ship in the evening. In addition, a Gannet, a Kittiwake, two Arctic Terns, a Black Tern and two Porpoise were all recorded making the day more reminiscent of autumn than mid-summer. The last two Dark-bellied Brent Geese were still lingering off Canvey Point on the 13th. A Water Vole at Cherry Orchard C.P. on the 16th was a good record and was possibly a site first. The only Bullfinch of the month was a male near Rayleigh on the 20th. On the 22nd the pair of Coal Tit in Coombe Wood put in their only appearance of the month while a Muntjac was noted in Hockley Woods the next day. In a poor year for butterflies, three White-letter Hairstreaks were on Benfleet Downs on the 23rd and 24th and just a single White Admiral was in Belfairs N.R. from the 28th through to mid-July. Also in Belfairs on the 28th closer inspection of a small pool revealed the presence of a colony of twelve Palmate Newts, a much localised species in Essex. A Common Sandpiper on Two Tree Island on the 29th marked the beginning of the return autumn wader passage.

JULY 2012

A White-letter Hairstreak on Two Tree Island on the 1st was presumably a wanderer from the Benfleet Downs colony. A Grasshopper Warbler at South Fambridge began reeling and showing well on the 2nd and continued to do so through to the 4th, and was quite likely the same individual present in early May. A handful of Crossbills flew through during the month and included two over Canvey Wick on the 3rd, a single over Rochford on the 24th, six over Leigh on the 25th, and two over Rayleigh on the 26th. The White-letter Hairstreaks on Benfleet Downs reached a high of just six on the 5th. Return wader passage was in full swing on the 7th with a Wood Sandpiper, nine Green Sandpipers, six Common Sandpipers, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a Ruff all present on Vange Marsh. A Merlin on Wallasea on the 10th was incredibly early and was seen again on the 26th. On the 13th White Admiral butterflies in Belfairs peaked at just three, compounding a miserable summer for butterflies. By contrast, sightings of Porpoise continue to increase with three at Canvey Point on the 14th and three also in the Roach this month. A Weasel was noted at Wakering Stairs on the 15th. A Curlew Sandpiper was reported from Two Tree Island on the 21st. A Whinchat at West Canvey on the 23rd and 24th was exceptionally early. Continuing with an unseasonal theme a Short-eared Owl flushed the Merlin on Wallasea on the 26th although given that five Short-eared Owls were reported from Foulness earlier this month, the sighting is less surprising. A Stoat was patrolling the saltmarsh at Canvey Point on the 26th. Seventeen Green Sandpipers were reported from West Canvey on the 27th and the second Curlew Sandpiper of the autumn was reported, albeit briefly, from Vange Marsh the same day. A pair of Garganey was a nice find on Vange Marsh on the 28th where they remained the next day. As expected, numbers of Little Egrets increased from mid-month onwards reaching 85 at roost on Two Tree Island on the 31st. There was just one sighting of Long-eared Owl from the entire recording area all summer with a solitary bird at a coastal site at the month's end.


The pod of Porpoise frequenting the Roach had increased to five on the 1st. Crossbill records this month came solely from Coombe Wood with six on the 1st and a further four on the 16th. Wallasea played host to the first returning Wheatear on the 4th, as well as an early Whinchat and a Curlew Sandpiper. The number of Wheatears was low this month with approximately sixteen birds across the area and a peak count of three at South Fambridge and on Wallasea. Curlew Sandpipers were in short supply this autumn too with three adults at Tewke's Creek on the 5th the largest gathering of the autumn; Wallasea held another two adults mid-month, and Tewke's Creek produced a single on the 20th. It is a sign of the times that Osprey is now expected each autumn at Wakering Stairs and sure enough one arrived late on the 6th where it remained through to 1st September. Southern Migrant Hawkers continued to consolidate their status following their recent colonisation with up to five at Wat Tyler C.P. from the 8th to the 12th and two on West Canvey from the 8th to the 23rd. Surprisingly, none were seen at Hadleigh Marshes this year. Little Egret numbers remained high with 82 on Two Tree Island on the 10th and a similar number at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 21st. Last month's Short-eared Owl was seen again on Wallasea on the 10th where there was an unexpected influx of Quail. Commencing with two singing males on the 10th, numbers quickly rose to at least five on the 12th. Several birds continued to be heard daily through to the 29th. The first of three Painted Lady butterflies was seen in an Eastwood garden on the 11th with others seen on Wallasea and in Gunners Park on the 19th and 22nd respectively. Wall butterflies were more numerous with eight on Bowers Marsh and four on West Canvey on the 11th and two at Wakering Stairs on the 12th. The first seawatch of the autumn was on the 15th at Canvey Point and produced 21 Gannets, a Pomarine Skua, ten Arctic Skuas, two Great Skuas, five Little Gulls, and 38 Black Terns. Records of Stoats came from Wallasea on the 16th, Paglesham Lagoon on the 20th and West Canvey on the 28th with a Weasel at Wakering Stairs on the 19th. Green Sandpiper numbers reached a respectable 25 on Vange Marsh on the 19th when a worn and wayward White-letter Hairstreak was seen at Daws Heath. A Little Stint was found on Wallasea on the 20th with presumably the same bird seen there again on the 28th. Also on Wallasea good counts were made of Yellow Wagtail and Linnet with flocks of fifty of each present mid-month. It was pleasing to hear of a group of five Turtle Doves at Wakering Stairs on the 20th which included two juveniles. A birdwatcher took a photo of a funny looking 'Marsh Harrier' sitting in a field at South Fambridge on the 21st and had the foresight to request help to confirm the identification. A few emails later confirmed the bird to be a juvenile Montagu's Harrier. Despite a thorough search during the afternoon the bird could not be relocated, although seven Marsh Harriers hunting together over one field must have been quite a sight. A party of three Garganey dropped in to Wat Tyler C.P. on the 21st where they remained on the 22nd. A Wood Sandpiper visited Bowers Marsh on the 22nd where it was soon joined by several others until four were present on the 27th with two lingering to the 29th. What was almost certainly an adult male Montagu's Harrier was seen over Wallasea on the 24th making it two of these fine raptors in three days to elude all but the finders. A juvenile Osprey reported at Canvey Point on the 26th may well have been the Wakering individual on a sortie. The first Redstart of a good autumn for this species was found in Gunners Park on the 26th with a different bird seen on the 30th. Remarkably, a tern flock around a trawler off Wakering Stairs on the 27th attracted three Pomarine Skuas, twelve Arctic Skuas, one Long-tailed Skua, and two Great Skuas! Further upriver on the same day only two Guillemots and five Porpoise could be found off Canvey with the Porpoise family continuing to be seen each day through to the 30th. The 28th saw a small fall of Whinchats with eight on West Canvey and four on Wallasea. Six Purple Hairstreak butterflies on Benfleet Downs on the 28th was the only record all year. An immature Shag spent two weeks around the Shoebury boom from the 31st and was the first record of the year. Nearby at Gunners Park, a Dark-breasted Brent Goose on the sea on the 31st may have been the first of the returning birds.


Two Painted Lady butterflies were seen on Wallasea on the 1st when Common Seal numbers reached 43 on the nearby Roach and surrounding creeks. A Porpoise was seen again off Canvey Point on the 1st. Little Egret numbers remained high with 89 on Two Tree Island on the 2nd and 70 at Wat Tyler C.P. towards the month's end. Green Sandpipers were numerous on the 2nd with 24 at Vange Marsh, 21 on West Canvey, and 13 on Wallasea. Common Sandpipers were much fewer in number with just four on West Canvey on the 2nd the highest count. Passerine passage increased from the 2nd with Gunners Park scoring two Spotted Flycatchers and a Pied Flycatcher, all of which remained to the 5th. There was a small arrival of Redstarts on the 3rd with birds noted at Barling, Gunners Park, and Wat Tyler C.P. with a different bird in Gunners Park on the 5th. The only Garden Warbler of the entire year was seen in Gunners Park on the 3rd when the first Tree Pipit of the autumn passed over Canewdon. An immature Montagu's Harrier was reliably reported from Wallasea on the 4th bringing to three the number of these fine birds reported in the area over the last two weeks, all of which eluded everyone but the initial finder. A Short-eared Owl at Canewdon on the 4th was possibly an early migrant. Two Tree Pipits dropped in to Gunners Park on the 5th with at least one remaining to the 7th. At Bowers Marsh, a Pectoral Sandpiper was an excellent find on the 5th. Special access arrangements were put in place allowing birders to visit this private site and enjoy the bird which was present to the 8th. A Merlin on Wallasea from the 6th to the 10th was a different bird to the female present in July. On the 6th the pair of Coal Tits in Coombe Wood put in their only appearance of the month. A Little Stint and a Curlew Sandpiper were found together at Shoebury East Beach on the 6th with both remaining until the 8th while another Curlew Sandpiper was found in the high tide roost at Canvey Point on the 8th. The only Clouded Yellows of the year were the two seen in Gunners Park on the 7th. A Pied Flycatcher and a Redstart were reported from Gunners Park on the 10th. A Porpoise was seen again off Canvey Point on the 13th. The last Painted Lady of the year was seen in Hockley on the 15th and brought the total count this year to just six. There was a distinct passage of Siskins between the 15th and 17th with small numbers noted near Rayleigh, Eastwood, and Rochford. Additional small flocks of Siskins were noted over Benfleet Downs and Gunners Park towards the end of the month. A seawatch off Canvey Point on the 16th was largely unproductive but did produce a Red-throated Diver and a fine adult Pomarine Skua. The first Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock of the autumn was predictably at Two Tree Island where thirty birds were present on the 16th. Two Willow Emerald Damselflies on Benfleet Downs on the 22nd were the only ones recorded all year. A very slow seawatch at Canvey Point on the 22nd produced little of note until two separate Sabine's Gulls flew by. The good autumn for Redstarts continued with another new bird found in Gunners Park on the 22nd which brought the tally for the autumn to seven so far. On the 23rd a deep depression moved up from the Bay of Biscay with accompanying strong easterly winds and driving rain. Eager seawatchers gathered in anticipation at Canvey and the Pier to see what bounty the storm would bring and they were not disappointed. Totals for the day included a Black-throated Diver, two Fulmar, two Leach's Petrels, 22 Gannets, two Scaup, 160 Common Scoter, an adult Pomarine Skua, 25 Arctic Skuas, an immature Long-tailed Skua, eight Great Skuas, two Arctic Terns, four Little Terns, 14 Little Gulls, an Essex record of five different Sabine's Gulls, and 12 Guillemots! The truly wild coast open day on Wallasea the same day was exactly that, truly wild! However at least 15 Buzzards were reported passing through over the weekend of 22nd and 23rd. Seawatchers tried Canvey Point again in the relative calm from dawn on the 24th to see if any birds had been `wrecked' up the Thames. The theory worked with no less than three of the target species, Leach's Petrel prior to 10:00 am. Other highlights included another Fulmar, a juvenile Pomarine Skua, twelve Great Skuas, and two Little Gulls. One observer reported two Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Great White Egret from Two Tree Island on the 24th and another observer reported five Goldeneye past Canvey Point on the 25th but not much else. With the return to calm conditions, a Porpoise was seen again off Canvey Pont on the 26th. A Muntjac on Wallasea on the 27th could not have been in a more inappropriate and unsuitable place, with no trees and very little cover other than a few crops. It also raises the question as to how it got on the island and where did it come from?! Interestingly, a Short-eared Owl was seen at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 27th with another at Brandy Hole on the 29th indicating a small arrival. A Curlew Sandpiper frequented the high tide roost on Two Tree Island, albeit infrequently, from the 29th to the 6th October.


The last Wheatear of the year was at South Fambridge on the rather early date of the 1st. An Osprey was seen over the Roach and Southend town centre on the 2nd when Two Tree Island held 104 Little Egrets, a Curlew Sandpiper, and two Pale-bellied Brent Geese. Another Pale-bellied Brent Goose was found at Wakering Stairs on the 3rd and the 6th. The first Hen Harrier of the autumn was a ringtail which flew in-off the sea at Wakering Stairs on the 3rd. Also on the 3rd a Little Stint was found on the lagoon at Two Tree Island and Gunners Park held onto two Spotted Flycatchers with one still present on the 6th being particularly late. Small numbers of Short-eared Owls continued to arrive this month with two at South Fambridge and one at Bowers Marsh on the 4th and two on West Canvey and one on Wallasea later in the month. A Firecrest was in Coombe Wood on the 4th where it continued to be seen intermittently through to the 27th. The three drake Mandarins dropped in to Friars Park on the 5th but had promptly moved off by the following day. The Curlew Sandpiper which made sporadic appearances on Two Tree Island was seen for the final time on the 6th with a late Redstart there the same day a very notable record. A Black Brant was reported from Wakering Stairs on the 6th with one reported the following day from Two Tree Island. The first Redwings of the autumn flew over Leigh at night on the 6th. A Yellow-browed Warbler was an excellent find in Gunners Park on the 7th making it three years in a row that this site has hosted this dainty phyllosc. Unfortunately this year's bird was lost to view after only twenty minutes. Nearby, two Hummingbird Hawkmoths in a Shoebury garden on the 7th were notable given the paucity of records this year. On the 8th, two Black Brants were reported from Two Tree Island with a third individual found there the following week which remained all month. Also on Two Tree Island on the 8th a female Goshawk was reportedly harassing the Brent flock which now held five Pale-bellied Brent Geese. On the 9th a late juvenile Honey Buzzard was seen over Bowers Marsh and was only the second record of the year. Bearded Reedlings often disperse at this time of year and resulted in one at South Fambridge on the 10th while a Common Sandpiper there on the 13th was getting late. Two Crossbills dropped in briefly at Leigh on the 13th with a single also over Friars Park on the 17th. A flock of eight Eider lingered off Wallasea Ness from the 13th to the 18th. Following an influx of Ring Ouzels down the east coast a party of three were reported from Wakering Stairs on the 14th. Small parties of Siskin passed through between the 18th and 28th with 35 birds in total and redpoll were also on the move between the 19th and 31st with 54 birds noted. The pair of Pale-bellied Brent Geese on Two Tree Island were seen again on the 20th having been present for a month. A Great White Egret, a Shag, and a Stoat all showed well along the Roach at Paglesham Lagoon on the 21st. A seawatch at Canvey Point on the 21st was slow going but did produce the year's peak count of Pomarine Skuas with six birds including three with spoons; other sightings of note were 35 Gannets, 44 Common Scoter, three Red-breasted Mergansers, an Arctic Tern, a Little Gull, and a Porpoise. A ringtail Hen Harrier at Wakering Stairs on the 21st may well have been the bird seen arriving on the 3rd. A fine male Hen Harrier came in to roost at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 22nd and was seen on West Canvey the following day. The 22nd produced a very late Whinchat at Bowers Marsh and a female Ring Ouzel. Gunners Park on the 22nd held a Black Redstart, the first three Bramblings and Fieldfare of the autumn, and an elusive pipit with a yellow wag-like call which was found just as it was getting dark surely an Olive-backed Pipit!? Sure enough the following morning the first Olive-backed Pipit for Essex since 1994 had been confirmed. It would often go missing for long periods but allowed most people to connect with it before it departed overnight on the 24th. Weather conditions were ideal for seawatching on the 25th and 26th so 7.5 hours were `put in' at Canvey Point on both days and the sightings rewarded the effort. On the 25th the highlights were two Black-throated Divers, a Fulmar, 301 Gannets, two Long-tailed Ducks (less than annual and included a stunning male), 250 Common Scoter, two Pomarine Skuas, 20 Great Skuas, one Arctic Skua, 29 Little Gulls, a Sandwich Tern, three Razorbills, and the hoped for Little Auk. The 26th produced two Red-throated Divers, a Sooty Shearwater, two Manx Shearwaters (strangely these were the only shearwaters seen all year), 206 Gannets, an Eider, one Long-tailed Duck, six Red-breasted Mergansers, four Pomarine Skuas, 18 Great Skuas, 63 Little Gulls, a Sabine's Gull, 170 Kittiwake, two Common Terns, six Guillemots, and ten Razorbills not bad for two days of seawatching in Essex! Away from the sea the only record of note was a Black Redstart reported from a Shoebury garden on the 25th. The Black Brant at Wakering Stairs was seen again on the 27th where the first Snow Bunting of the second-winter period was also claimed. A Velvet Scoter flew past Gunners Park on the 28th the same day that two Stoats were by the car park on Wallasea. A Tree Sparrow dropped in briefly to the feeders at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 28th with another reported from a Great Wakering garden on the 31st. And finally…a casual glance at a recently posted photo of a `Stonechat' on a local website on the evening of the 30th revealed a stunning male Siberian Stonechat which had been showing well and photographed in Southchurch Park East on the 29th and 30th. Needless to say, despite searching from dawn on the 31st it had departed overnight, a near miss to haunt us all on Halloween!


The first half of the month saw an unprecedented number of Swallows lingering with nine reports of seventeen birds which included a very late bird claimed along Canvey seafront on the 29th! Other unseasonal sightings this month were two Common Sandpipers at South Fambridge on the 1st, a Red Admiral in Leigh on the 5th, an Adder on Hadleigh Downs on the 7th, but arguably the most unseasonal of them all was a fly-over Tree Pipit at Hockley confidently identified on call on the 9th. Two redhead Goldeneye still present off of Canvey Point on the 5th were first seen on 26th October and were probably the same two birds seen at the end of November off Shoebury East Beach. Corn Buntings on Wallasea numbered 180 on the 5th while a Bullfinch at Wat Tyler C.P. on the 10th was a welcome record from this former stronghold. Two Waxwings and a Lapland Bunting were noted flying over Rochford Golf Course on the 11th, the same day that single Snow Buntings dropped in briefly to Gunners Park and Two Tree Island. A peak of four Short-eared Owls was claimed on West Canvey Marshes on the 11th where at least two performed daily throughout the month. Other Short-eared Owls included two at South Fambridge mid-month, a wintering bird on Wallasea throughout, and a transient bird on Two Tree Island on the 20th. Four Bullfinch were reported from Hadleigh Downs on the 18th. A Ring Ouzel at Southchurch Park East on the 19th was most unexpected both in terms of location and date. A Firecrest was reported from a Benfleet garden on the 23rd, whilst two days later the Bullfinch was seen again at Wat Tyler C.P. A group of ten Whooper Swans flew in from the east and circled West Canvey Marshes on the 29th before heading high north, and by the 30th the three drake Mandarins were encamped back at Friars Park where they stayed until the 1st December before promptly disappearing once again.


A Blackcap in a South Benfleet garden on the 1st was one of eight over-wintering birds this month which were all to be found in gardens and were typically all males bar one, and also included a sighting of two males together in Leigh on Christmas day. A fly-over Brambling in Friars Park on the 1st was the first since the end of October. A party of nine Bewick's Swans was reported flying north over Wallasea on the 1st where an immature Spoonbill was also reported flying north the following morning. Six Waxwings near Rochford on the 4th heralded the beginning of the invasion with flocks arriving daily through to the first week of January. With 450 birds reported from across the region this month there were probably 300 roaming individuals involved. The largest flocks were 110 in Westcliff on the 15th, 74 in Rayleigh on the 23rd, and 50 in Southchurch on the 23rd. A flock of 14 Lesser Redpolls were found feeding on the saltmarsh at Vange Marsh on the 5th where they were seen again in mid-January. Nearby at Wat Tyler C.P. two Water Voles were watched from the hide on the 8th. At least 150 Pintail were counted on the 8th at their favoured site, Bridgemarsh Island. Early on the 10th in the pre-dawn gloom a group of four birds flying north-west over Rochford station were considered by the observer to be Glossy Ibis. Nine adult Bewick's Swans touched down at Vange Marsh on the 11th where they remained overnight before departing at midday on the 12th. It is tempting to speculate that they were the same group seen flying over Wallasea on the 1st. An immature Glaucous Gull put in a very brief appearance on the private Pitsea Tip on the 15th. On the 16th, wintering Greenshank numbered a respectable five on Two Tree Island whilst in a nearby Leigh garden a hardy Comma butterfly was taking advantage of the weak winter sun. Wintering Firecrests in Hockley Woods have become a regular event recently and a determined search for them on the 17th was rewarded with a single in their preferred holly tree habitat. Three Bearded Reedlings at Paglesham boatyard on the 17th were well out of range and most unexpected. On the 19th, seawatching at Canvey produced two Black-throated Divers, while the month's only Chiffchaff was found at Wat Tyler C.P. sewage works. An obliging female Long-tailed Duck arrived on the lake in Gunners Park on the 21st where it kept company with a Common Scoter. Both birds remained into 2013 and proved very popular. Following a long day `gulling' on Pitsea Tip on the 22nd which resulted in a fourth-winter Glaucous Gull being found, a Bittern was seen to fly into the reeds around the adjacent Wat Tyler C.P. scrape at dusk. The Bittern showed sporadically to those with luck and patience through to the 3rd January. Also present at Wat Tyler C.P. were up to eight Marsh Harriers and a Green Sandpiper. Two Purple Sandpipers roosting on Barge Pier at Gunners Park on the 23rd were a surprise but were not seen subsequently. After the Christmas break birders were back in the field on the 28th when a first-winter drake Scaup was found at Paglesham Lagoon, three Hen Harriers were on Wallasea, and five Bullfinch were on Hadleigh Downs. The Scaup remained into 2013 whilst the Hen Harriers remained scarce and were not as reliable as in recent winters. Seawatching at Canvey on the 29th and 31st produced twelve Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver on the former date and ten Guillemots and three Razorbills on the latter. An Egyptian Goose on West Canvey Marsh on the 29th was only the second local record of the year. A Jack Snipe and a Water Pipit at Vange Marsh on the 30th were both the first of the winter locally and interestingly another Water Pipit was found just an hour later on the saltmarsh at South Fambridge with both the Water Pipits remaining into 2013.

In summary, a respectable 216 species were reliably recorded including five Leach's Petrels, a drake Smew, Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret, three Montagu's Harriers, Rough-legged Buzzard, Pectoral Sandpiper, five Sabine's Gulls in one day, an Alpine Swift, a Shore Lark, and a Yellow-browed Warbler. Top billing arguably goes to the Olive-backed Pipit due to it remaining for three days, just ahead of the Siberian Stonechat which although was a new bird for the SOG recording area was unfortunately only identified from photos and not seen by any local birders.