Bowers Marsh had an excellent run of records at the start of the year beginning with a flock of 18 White-fronted Geese which pitched down there on the 1st where they remained until the end of the month. A flock of eight Bewick’s Swans flew over calling on the 2nd when the single adult present in the area for a week lifted off to encourage them down. There were then three Bewick’s present on the 3rd, two on the 4th, and one through to the 10th. Bowers Marsh also attracted a Pink-footed Goose and hosted two Water Pipits on the 2nd and an immature Iceland Gull which remained until the 19th and best of all, a smart drake Smew on the 3rd only. The Glossy Ibis visited Wat Tyler CP again on the 2nd but not subsequently. A mini-influx of Shags on the 4th resulted in five along the Crouch, predominantly at Fambridge, and singles off Gunners Park and Westcliff where two Eider were also seen and an obliging female Long-tailed Duck took up residence through to mid-February. Twenty Gannets, two Great Northern Divers, and a piratical Great Skua were all logged off Gunners Park on the 4th. Just two Chiffchaffs were seen this month with one in a Leigh garden on the 4th and another at Magnolia NR the following day. A superb Mealy Redpoll was an unexpected find in atypical habitat on Wallasea on the 6th; it occasionally kept company with the four Twite which remained there all month. A prodigious immature Glaucous Gull was found on the 6th at Bowers Marsh where it stayed all month and up to nine Barnacle Geese were also present there from the 6th through to mid-March and a female Red-crested Pochard put in a brief appearance the following day. Waxwings arrived at their traditional haunt in Pitsea on the 7th with 22, rising rapidly to 70 on the 10th. The Velvet Scoters on the Roach were seen for the last time on the 8th. At Shoebury Park the pair of Egyptian Geese which now seem to be permanently resident were already nesting on the 9th; of even more questionable origin though was the Ring-necked Parakeet flying around the gardens bordering Magnolia NR on the 9th. A Purple Sandpiper at Wallasea on the 10th was a very good site record and the three Hen Harriers and six Short-eared Owls remained there all month. A total of seven Short-eared Owls, including a group of five together, were further along the Crouch at South Fambridge on the 10th where a Great Northern Diver could also be found along with last month’s female Eider. The flock of four or five Waxwings at Rayleigh were seen for the last time early on the 11th and coincidentally a flock of four was found at Shoebury later the same day. The only record of Hen Harrier away from Wallasea this month was a ringtail at Paglesham Lagoon on the 14th, the same day that a female Blackcap was logged in a South Benfleet garden where it remained an infrequent visitor over the next two weeks. A Short-eared Owl at Vange Marsh on the 17th was a very good site record. A Peacock butterfly successfully evaded a hungry Stonechat at Bowers Marsh on the 19th. A male Bullfinch at Bowers Marsh on the 20th was the first for the site in recent years and a pair was also seen intermittently at Magnolia NR mid-month. Up to 14 Yellowhammers frequented a weedy field in Canewdon from the 20th to the 27th. The final three Waxwings at Pitsea were last seen on the 21st when coincidentally again, a flock of four visited a Daws Heath garden. The infrequent and often elusive Glossy Ibis put in a final appearance on the 22nd, this time at Vange Marsh, the same day a Jack Snipe was flushed from a ditch in Southchurch East Park. The Purple Sandpiper on Canvey gave itself up at high tide on the 27th, 28th, and 29th when it roosted on the Point, whilst offshore, one of only two Guillemots this month was present on the 27th. The relatively small flock of 200 Dark-bellied Brent Geese on Wallasea hosted a fine Black Brant on the 28th and 29th, whereas the Barnacle Goose there on the 28th did itself no favours by hanging out with the Canada Geese.
A flock of 50 Waxwings was seen circling over Benfleet on the 3rd but was not seen to land and so were not relocated and the only Brambling in the first half of the year flew over Barling. Similarly the only Razorbill records of the first half of the year were a group of three off Gunners Park from the 4th to the 6th along with a single Guillemot, a Black-throated Diver, and a Great Northern Diver. The pair of Egyptian Geese in Shoebury Park hatched three youngsters on the 4th although they appear to have been predated shortly afterwards. Up to three Long-eared Owls were found at a daytime roost in the south-west from the 4th to the 19th and Short-eared Owl numbers remained high around Wallasea with eight there on the 4th with the Black Brant also continuing its stay, being reported from the 5th to the 14th. Searches for Woodcock along Hadleigh Downs on the 6th and 7th were successful with three on the former date and four on the latter. There were still two Water Pipits at Bowers Marsh on the 7th with one remaining until the 16th; other singles were at Canvey Heights and Barling mid-month. The popular flock of four Twite on Wallasea were logged for the final time on the 10th, and the three Hen Harriers were all still present and correct the following day. A drake Eider was an all too rare sighting at Canvey Point on the 11th where the Purple Sandpiper put in another series of visits through to the 21st. A Red Kite over Two Tree Island on the 12th was the only record this month. A different immature Glaucous Gull from last month commuted between Bowers Marsh and Wat Tyler CP from the 12th to the 18th. Seawatching at Canvey on the 13th was remarkably productive with 23 Red-throated Divers, two Black-throated Divers, two Great Northern Divers, a Guillemot, and three Kittiwakes all making their way into the notebook. Last month’s adult Bewick’s Swan made an unexpected return visit to Vange Marsh from the 13th to the 16th. A single Long-eared Owl was seen at dusk at a traditional site in the south on the 14th. A flock of scoter off Canvey on the 15th comprised of 14 Common and two Velvet Scoters. On the 19th the over-wintering female Blackcap at Benfleet was joined briefly by a male. The first pulse of sunshine on the 20th resulted in Red Admiral, Brimstone, Comma, and the first Adder of the year all being recorded. It’s not often the ‘Mega Alert’ goes off and you find the bird in question is on your local patch, so there was much excitement on the morning of the 26th when the Lesser White-fronted Goose which has been wintering on Foulness moved across the Roach to Wallasea along with 29 White-fronted Geese. Unfortunately for everyone its sojourn away from Foulness was all to brief and it soon returned from whence it came, frustratingly out of bounds to all and out of view from the surrounding viewpoints. A flock of 37 wary and flighty Barnacle Geese there on the 26th and 27th were interesting but scant consolation. The month closed with two Firecrests but very little else of note in Hockley Woods on the 28th.
Only two Short-eared Owls remained on Wallasea on the 3rd reducing to just a single on the 8th. The continuing local decline of Red-breasted Merganser was evident with a pair on the Roach on the 4th being the only sighting in the first-winter period since a couple of records off Two Tree Island in mid-January. The Water Pipit along the Roach at Barling was seen again for the final time on the 4th when a male Bullfinch was reported from its former stronghold at Wat Tyler CP. Nuthatch remains extirpated from Hockley Woods so it was pleasing to find the Belfairs pair back on territory from the 6th to the 19th along with up to five Treecreepers. Single Red Kites were noted over Leigh and Coombe Wood on the 6th and Daws Heath on the 9th. The 11th produced a remarkable record of a Stoat in full ermine on Wallasea, one of only a handful of Essex records ever. The last Goldeneyes were on Paglesham Lagoon on the 16th and the first Sand Martin arrived at Bowers Marsh the following day. A Great Skua was typically harassing the gulls off Gunners Park on the 19th. The Egyptian Geese pair in Shoebury Park were incubating again on the 21st. There were still two Hen Harriers on Wallasea on the 21st but only one subsequently through to the 30th. Wallasea also laid claim to the first Wheatear of the spring with a smart male on the 21st. The first Sandwich Terns was a party of three which moved upriver on the 23rd from Gunners Park to Canvey. Unusually the only diver record all month, and indeed the last of the first-winter period was a Red-throated Diver past Canvey on the 24th. What was probably last month’s immature Glaucous Gull put in another couple of appearances between the 24th and 29th when it commuted between Bowers Marsh in the daytime and Hole Haven Creek in the evening. A melanistic Adder, the archetypal ‘Black Adder’, was an excellent find on Belton Hills on the 25th. The first Swallow of the summer zipped through West Canvey Marsh on the 25th where a summer plumaged Water Pipit was seen from the 27th to the 31st. The last two Shags of the mini-influx lingered at South Fambridge from the 16th to the 28th and included a colour-ringed bird from the Isle of May. The first Little Gull of the year was an immature over Bowers Marsh on the 29th. Remarkably, for the fourth consecutive spring, Black-winged Stilts chose to visit the area, beginning with a pair on Bowers Marsh on the rather early date of the 30th. A male White Wagtail stopped by at West Canvey Marsh on the 30th for a week, the same day that the first Yellow Wagtail arrived on Wallasea. Little Ringed Plovers arrived in the closing days of the month with a pair on Wallasea on the 30th and a pair on West Canvey Marsh the following day. The first Reed Warbler of the spring on Two Tree Island on the 31st brought the month to a close.
A Red Kite flew low over Hockley on the 1st when a solitary Black-winged Stilt arrived at Vange Marsh before disappearing overnight. Vange Marsh also held a female Red-crested Pochard on the 2nd and a Jack Snipe which could be observed ‘bobbing’ in the margins each day through to the 8th. Single Egyptian Geese were at Bowers Marsh and West Canvey Marsh on the 2nd and two Short-eared Owls on Wallasea proved to be the last of the winter. The pair of Nuthatch in Belfairs were photographed on the 2nd and were seen on two more occasions mid-month. A second-winter Caspian Gull was photographed on the Pier on the 4th when last month’s immature Glaucous Gull again commuted between Bowers Marsh and Hole Haven Creek, and continued to do so until the 7th. Three Siskins flying over Gunners Park on the 5th were remarkably the first of the year. Little Ringed Plover numbers doubled to four on the 7th on Wallasea where they remained all month. The 8th saw four Black-winged Stilts arrive at Vange Marsh, seemingly two pairs, with one of the pairs remaining all month and visited by a lone male on the 17th. A pair of Garganey at Fleet Head on the 9th was a good find with the female typically not seen subsequently, although the drake remained until the 14th before possibly relocating to Wallasea. The second and final Red Kite of the month drifted over Two Tree Island on the 9th when four Bullfinch were counted at their favoured site near Rayleigh. A first-summer Little Gull hawked insects over Vange Marsh from the 10th to the 17th. A Ring-necked Parakeet was on Benfleet Downs on the 11th with it or another in Shoebury High Street on the 14th. More Little Ringed Plovers arrived on the 11th with a pair at Vange Marsh which remained all month and another pair at Bowers Marsh which also stayed the month. Similarly Nightingales arrived in numbers from the 11th to the 17th with ten singing males back on territory. A group of three male Ring Ouzels at Wakering Stairs on the evening of the 13th was a good spring record; they did the decent thing and remained on site through to the 17th. Grasshopper Warblers arrived back on the 14th with reeling males at Benfleet Creek, Wakering Stairs, and Two Tree Island. Bowers Marsh attracted a number of White Wagtails from the 14th to the 21st with up to six present together. A drake Garganey, quite possibly the Fleet Head bird, dropped in at Wallasea on the afternoon of the 14th and remained until the 21st after being joined by a second drake from the 17th. A Dotterel on Wallasea on the 17th was almost expected, but frustratingly it only spent ten minutes on site whilst the Yellow Wagtail flock there now numbered thirty. Grey Partridge is now barely annual with no records at all last year so a single male which remained faithful to a field at Bowers Marsh from the 17th to the 23rd proved popular. A new pair of Black-winged Stilts arrived at Bowers Marsh on the 20th and remained until the 23rd whilst the Vange Marsh pair continued to remain on site all month. A Painted Lady on Canvey Wick on the 20th was a good early spring record and the first of the year. A Jack Snipe flushed on Wallasea on the 21st was the first record there this century. White Wagtails continued to pass through with a single at Gunners Park on the 21st and 29th. Spring records of Osprey are few and far between so one feeding off Canvey Point early on the 22nd was appreciated and was almost certainly the bird which roosted at Northward Hill, Kent the previous evening. Another male Ring Ouzel was observed flying in-off the sea at Wakering Stairs on the 23rd. The first returning Hobby was reported over Wat Tyler CP on the 24th. A Jack Snipe was seen again at Vange Marsh from the 28th to the 30th. Wheatear passage peaked at the end of the month with five at Fleet Head on the 29th the best count along with three at Gunners Park and smaller numbers at five other sites resulting in 22 individuals across the area this month. Wallasea hosted a Spoonbill and two Blue-headed Wagtails on the 30th and a Little Tern was off Gunners Park and was the only record this month. Yet another new pair of Black-winged Stilts arrived at Vange Marsh on the 30th to join up with the long-staying pair. It is considered that at least eight and possibly nine birds visited the area this spring!