On the 1st, a Ring-necked Parakeet was an unexpected find in Shoebury where at the same site at least one Firecrest persisted all month and the first of this month’s Chiffchaffs was in nearby Friars Park. A Hen Harrier over the old Wakering Tip on the 1st was the only sighting away from Wallasea. The following day, the Ring-necked Parakeet moved slightly to the east where it visited Friars Park, but was not seen again all winter. After the Ravens at Fleet Head went missing on the 31st December, a sighting of two over Coombe Wood on the 3rd was intriguing. The first of five wintering Blackcaps this month was a male seen in a Rayleigh garden on the 3rd where it was joined by a female on the 19th; the other reports this month came from Coombe Wood and two gardens in Leigh. Water Pipits were found at two sites on the 4th with a single at Barling all month and one or two at Vange Marsh throughout. The only Bullfinch sighting this month was of a male on Benfleet Downs on the 5th. A pair of Whooper Swans touched down briefly on Wallasea on the 5th although did not linger, yet remarkably reappeared again on the 8th, but again only briefly. A Firecrest was trapped and ringed on Two Tree Island on the 6th. The Thames held a Shag on the 8th at the Pier and a Guillemot off Canvey on the 10th which was surprisingly the only auk of the first winter period. Two Long-eared Owls were seen flying from their day roost on the evening of the 11th in the south-west. A wandering Raven was seen again over Thundersley on the 12th and five Cattle Egrets flying over Benfleet late the same day were unexpected. A Goosander was seen on Wallasea on the 13th where up to three Great White Egrets, four Short-eared Owls, four Marsh Harriers, two Peregrines, a Barn Owl, and a Merlin joined ranks with the three Hen Harriers and were all present throughout the month. Two Red Kites were reported over Rayleigh on the 17th. The flock of ten Barnacle Geese at Bowers Marsh were present again from the 18th to the 20th, and two Ravens were seen again at Fleet Head. The 19th produced some interesting records with a report of a Lesser Redpoll on a garden feeder in Hockley, a Grey Partridge at Fleet Head, and a quite remarkable three Firecrests on Two Tree Island. The second Chiffchaff of the month was at Fleet Head on the 22nd, the same day that the wandering Raven duo arrived on Wallasea for a protracted stay where remarkably they were joined by a third bird on the 24th. On the 21st the Thames again held a Shag on the Pier and the only Red-breasted Merganser of the month which was off Canvey. A presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat was photographed in a Rayleigh garden on the 27th and had apparently been present since Christmas, it continued its stay until at least mid-February. Continuing the impressive series of records, yet another Firecrest was found on the 30th with a bird in Priory Park. The month ended with a report of a Red Kite along Hadleigh Marshes on the 31st.
The flock of ten Barnacle Geese relocated to West Canvey Marsh on the 1st where they remained all month. A stunning Stoat in ermine was seen on Wallasea on the 2nd, a remarkable record this far south and during a mild winter too; it was seen several more times during the month with a lot of luck and even more patience. A Raven was mobile around Fleet Head on the 2nd and a ringtail Hen Harrier was also seen there whilst an adult male was noted on Wallasea the same day. The plethora of wintering Firecrest records dried up rapidly this month with two in Shoebury on the 2nd the only record this month or next. A drake Smew on the Crouch at Fambridge on the 5th was an awesome and unexpected find given how few now visit our shores. Short-eared Owl numbers peaked at five this month on Wallasea on the 5th where two Hen Harriers, two Great White Egrets, three Barn Owls, two Peregrines and a Merlin continued to be reported throughout. A single Long-eared Owl was seen at a new site in the south at dusk on the 5th. Water Pipits were reported again from Barling as well as South Fambridge on the 6th with another seen at Bowers Marsh the following week. The first butterfly of the year was a Peacock at Bowers Marsh on the 6th. A small flock of six Yellowhammers was found beside the creek at Wat Tyler CP on the 7th where they remained for the next ten days, and the first Common Lizards and Adders tentatively ventured out on Benfleet Downs. Woodcock numbers remained high with four at Canvey Wick on the 8th the most notable. A Lapland Bunting flushed from the seawall at Barling on the 8th was a quite exceptional record given the paucity of sightings in southern England this winter. The Thames was exceptionally quiet all month with a Shag off Canvey on the 15th the only record of note. It was often thought that Bullfinch might still persist at Wat Tyler CP and so it was pleasing to confirm a sighting of a pair there from the 15th to the 17th. The month’s only Chiffchaff was along Prittle Brook in Southend on 17th whereas by contrast there were sightings of eight Blackcaps this month variously reported from gardens in Benfleet, Canewdon, Hockley, Rayleigh, and Thundersley. The first Red Admiral of the year was seen on Hadleigh Downs on the 18th. Two Lesser Redpolls visited a garden feeder in Hockley on the 21st when the trio of wandering Ravens put in another visit to Wallasea on the 21st although were not seen subsequently. The Long-eared Owl at the new site in the south was joined by a second bird on the 27th when both were seen leaving their roost as darkness fell.
A Short-eared Owl took up residence around Fambridge and across the Crouch from the 1st through to the 15th whilst two could still be found on Wallasea on the 1st. A Water Pipit was seen on Vange Marsh on the 1st; this site has a good track record in recent years of attracting this scarce species on spring passage as demonstrated by at least two present there on the 8th and five by mid-month. A group of three White-fronted Geese visited Bowers Marsh on the 3rd where they remained through to the 14th and the flock of ten Barnacle Geese continued to favour West Canvey Marsh until the 8th before they moved to Bowers Marsh also. Lesser Redpoll were typically scarce this winter so three together on Canvey Wick from the 8th to the 14th were most welcome. A pair of Siskins visited a Rayleigh garden on the 13th with the only other record this month being a female at Canewdon ten days later. A Spoonbill paid an all too brief visit to Bowers Marsh early on the 15th and the first Sand Martins and Swallow passed through the area on the 18th. A Hen Harrier was seen from South Fambridge on the 21st to the north of the Crouch and it transpired to be the last sighting this winter of this enigmatic visitor. A Black-necked Grebe returned to Bowers Marsh on the 21st with three birds present there from the 28th onwards. Three Cattle Egrets flew over Wallasea at dusk on the 22nd and were most likely the trio seen on Blue House Farm on 20th March and 5th April and latterly at Fobbing on 19th April. Single Little Ringed Plovers returned to Bowers Marsh on the 22nd and Lower Raypits on the 26th and the first Grass Snake of the year was seen on Belton Hills on the 22nd. Small Tortoiseshell and Small White on the 24th brought the number of butterfly species up to six with Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral, and Brimstone making up the rest. Three Short-eared Owls were still to be found around the Wallasea/Paglesham area on the 25th although none were reported from these areas subsequently which is more likely as a result of the ‘lockdown’ conditions imposed on the country rather than lack of birds. With fewer people out and about, records began to dry up, but a Red Kite over a Southend garden on the 27th was the vanguard of a good series of garden records for this species in April.
The last Woodcock sighting of the winter was at Blounts Wood on the 1st. The first of an unprecedented influx of 25 Red Kites this month appeared over Rochford on the 2nd the same day that a significant passage of several hundred Redwings passed through the area. A female Bullfinch was a good find at Magnolia NR on the 2nd raising hopes that a few pairs still linger on undetected in suitable habitat. Overnight on the 2nd/3rd a handful of gardens successfully joined in recording the national overnight passage of migrating Common Scoters. Good numbers of Little Ringed Plovers were present with nine at Bowers Marsh on the 5th whilst later in the month Lower Raypits held four and Vange Marsh held two. Two White-fronted Geese were still to be found at Bowers Marsh on the 5th along with the three Black-necked Grebes; also on the 5th the first of the month’s seven singing Willow Warblers was heard on Two Tree Island and the first of a glut of garden Emperor Moths was attracted to a pheromone lure in South Fambridge. Yellow Wagtails arrived back on the 6th at South Fambridge, seven Sandwich Terns were off Gunners Park the next day and the first Cuckoos were heard around Canewdon. An Osprey reportedly flew high over Rawreth on the 8th and was the only record of the month. A fine male Ring Ouzel was an excellent inland find at Rochford on the 9th, somewhat surprisingly it remained loyal to one horse paddock through to the 22nd. The 10th saw the now anticipated arrival of a pair of Black-winged Stilts in the south; they were still present on the 11th and 12th but were not seen subsequently. The first Large Red Damselfly of the year emerged from a garden pond in Leigh on the 10th and that evening a Brown Long-eared Bat was watched from South Fambridge over woodland to the north and a Spoonbill dropped in briefly at Bowers Marsh. Grasshopper Warblers were reeling at Wakering Common and Bowers Marsh on the 11th and a Hobby was seen at South Fambridge on the 12th with another at Leigh on the 13th. A Common Tern was fishing at South Fambridge on the 13th whilst a Little Tern was reported off Chalkwell on the 16th when a female Garganey was seen at Bowers Marsh. The only Garden Warbler of the month was a report of one singing near Rawreth on the 17th; quite why they are so scarce across the area is puzzling. Nightingales seem to be having a good year with the first of up to 15 across the region at Canvey Wick on the 17th where up to ten were thought to be present by the end of the month. Wheatears were also having a strong showing with six at Bowers Marsh on the 19th the best count with five at South Fambridge and four at Lower Raypits also notable. What may have been January’s duo of Whooper Swans alighted briefly at Lower Raypits on the 19th. A small pulse of Siskins was noted from the 20th through to the 22nd with up to four around Gunners Park each day. The first Hairy Dragonfly and Wall butterfly of the year were both on the wing on the 20th along Benfleet Downs. The 21st saw the arrival of another Ring Ouzel, a female in Gunners Park which remained until the 23rd. Also on the 21st a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling at Vange Marsh and the first Turtle Dove of the year was reported from Friars Park. A late Fieldfare passed through Rochford on the 22nd the same day that the long-staying Ring Ouzel was seen for the last time. Non avian highlights at this time included a Weasel behind Leigh station on the 22nd, the year’s first Small Copper butterflies in Gunners Park on the 23rd and Green Hairstreaks on Benfleet Downs on the 24th. Lockdown garden birding on the 24th provided a superb Spoonbill which flew over Westcliff and two Bullfinches at the back of a garden near Rawreth, whilst next day a Short-eared Owl flew through a South Fambridge garden before crossing the river to Blue House Farm. A pair of Garganey on the tidal Crouch upstream of Hullbridge on the 25th were unusual in terms of location given that the river is saltwater at that point. A short seawatch from Gunners Park on the 28th provided a Black-throated Diver, four Gannets, and a Little Tern whilst nearby at Wakering Stairs a Turtle Dove was seen. By the 28th there were now three Grasshopper Warblers reeling at Bowers Marsh but were unfortunately attracting too much unwelcome attention from over-zealous photographers. The pair of wandering Whooper Swans touched down once more at Lower Raypits on the 29th where they blotted their copy book by remaining into May, calling into question their credentials as truly wild birds, whilst nearby there were now two Short-eared Owls sparring at South Fambridge. A handful of Common Sandpipers were found along the Crouch and the Roach as the month drew to a close although the summer plumage Spotted Redshank on Two Tree Island on the 29th was by far the smartest looking wader. The month closed with a fine Whinchat at Bowers Marsh on the 30th.
The month started well with a pair of Spotted Redshanks at Vange Marsh on the 1st, the pair of Whooper Swans still present at Lower Raypits where the only Great White Egret of the month flew south across the Crouch on the 2nd and a Wall butterfly was seen nearby. Both Firecrest and a female Whinchat were present at Bowers Marsh on the 2nd. A small pulse of Wheatears were noted across the region during the first week of the month with one or two at four sites, and six Red Kites also passed through from the 1st to the 9th. Short-eared Owls persisted at three sites this month with singles at Lower Raypits on the 3rd, Bowers March on the 8th, and from South Fambridge on the 13th and 18th. Kittiwakes have been unusually scarce this year with one off Gunners Park on the 4th only the second sighting of the year. An Emperor Moth was seen in Gunners Park on the 4th whilst Green Hairstreaks reached eight on Benfleet Downs the same day with smaller numbers this month on Bowers Marsh and Canvey Wick. A Bullfinch on Hadleigh Downs on the 6th was only the second record of the year from the Downs, the former stronghold for this species, with local extinction now looking increasingly likely. Bowers Marsh produced some good sightings on the 7th with Black-necked Grebe, a Grasshopper Warbler, and a Glossy Ibis all noted. Besides Wakering Stairs, Turtle Doves were noted at four other sites from the 10th to the 12th although sadly they were mostly just one day birds. A Black Redstart, one of only two all year, was reported from Gunners Park on the 10th. Up to three Wood Sandpipers were present at Bowers Marsh from the 12th to the 15th when there was a good showing of Little Ringed Plovers with eight at Bowers Marsh, four at Lower Raypits, and two on Wallasea. A singing male Yellowhammer at Bowers Marsh from the 14th until the end of the month was a good site record as was another at Wat Tyler CP on the 15th. A White Wagtail dropped in at Bowers Marsh on the 14th, the same day that last month’s trio of Cattle Egrets put in a brief appearance on Wallasea. The pair of Ravens from the start of the year reappeared from the 15th in the Fleet Head area where they remained through to mid-August. Four more Red Kites passed through from the 16th to the 24th. The Whooper Swans were seen for the final time at Lower Raypits on the 17th when unusually only one was present. Painted Lady butterflies were unusually scarce with the first of just eight records this year on Bowers Marsh on the 17th and a further two at Canewdon on the 28th. The local Heath Fritillaries were seen at three sites this month from the 18th onwards. A summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver off Gunners Park on the 19th was highly unseasonal, and the last Wheatear of the spring was also present there the same day. A smart drake Garganey at Bowers Marsh from the 24th to the 29th was a good find whilst up to five Grasshopper Warblers were now reportedly reeling there. A Badger swimming across a dyke at Bowers Marsh on the 30th made for an unusual sighting whilst next day four Black-necked Grebes and two Barnacle Geese were noted. On the last day of the month Turtle Doves numbered four at Wakering Stairs although sadly none were reported from elsewhere during the second half of the month.
Four of the month’s six Red Kites passed through in the first week of the month when the local populations of Heath Fritillaries reached their peak with diligent counting producing 149 in Pound Wood, 121 in Belfairs NR, and 78 in Hockley Woods. A Guillemot off Canvey on the 4th and two there on the 11th were unseasonal as was a Siskin at Canewdon on the 5th. The dodgy duo of Barnacle Geese visited Bowers Marsh on the 7th where they remained through to the 19th after being joined by a third bird mid-way through their stay. Nightingales continued their strong showing with five still singing on Canvey Wick on the 8th and two at Wakering Stairs. Barely worthy of mention these days, the first Southern Migrant Hawker was seen on Hadleigh Marshes on the rather early date of the 8th, with a more widespread emergence from the 14th onwards. Early signs of return wader passage were indicated by a Green Sandpiper at Bowers Marsh from the 9th to the 24th. Following a national influx a singing Marsh Warbler was found on the evening of the 9th on Benfleet Downs. Being the first local record in recent history and certainly the first twitchable one, it rightly proved to be extremely popular during its prolonged stay through to the 21st. A Treecreeper at Canewdon on the 9th was less exciting but was a site first and all the more notable given the mid-summer date. The roaming trio of Cattle Egrets pitched up among the cattle herd on Blue House Farm and were viewable from South Fambridge, Canewdon, and Ashingdon from the 10th through to the end of the month with four present on the 28th. A Hedgehog at Bournes Green on the 10th was one of only a handful of live records over the last decade. An adult Spoonbill took a liking to the newly created southern lagoons on Wallasea on the 11th and 12th. White-letter Hairstreaks were out from the 11th with two on Belton Hills and up to seven at three other sites over the next fortnight. Several Grasshopper Warblers continued to reel at Bowers Marsh whilst a further three were still reeling on Canvey Wick on the 12th. A pair of Bullfinches were seen at Wat Tyler CP on the 13th and again on the 20th. A Purple Hairstreak in a South Fambridge garden on the 13th was most unusual in terms of both location and the relatively early date although over the next two weeks up to nine were present at a further four sites. The pair of Egyptian Geese at Shoebury Park were still present along with all six of their young on the 14th whilst nearby a cracking adult Black Tern was feeding close inshore at Gunners Park. Further evidence of return wader passage came over the next few days with a Spotted Redshank on Bowers Marsh from the 14th to the 18th, a Green Sandpiper also at Bowers Marsh from the 15th to the 24th and both Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper at Lower Raypits on the 16th. Pleasingly, and somewhat surprisingly, there were records of Coal Tits from six sites between the 16th and month end. Typically territorial White Admirals were holding station on the 17th at Belfairs NR, Pound Wood, and Hockley Woods, with nine at the former site one week later. An adult Yellow-legged Gull at Paglesham Lagoon was the first of the year, and one of only four records during period from the late summer to autumn. The long staying Black-necked Grebe at Bowers Marsh took a temporary absence of leave after the 19th before reappearing again at the beginning of July. The first eagerly anticipated Silver-washed Fritillaries were seen at Belfairs NR daily from the 22nd. The following day the first Crossbill of the year flew over Belfairs NR where the Palmate Newt colony of at least 30 continued to flourish. An unusually high number of Treecreepers was noted in Hockley Woods on the 23rd with a minimum of ten birds counted indicating a successful breeding season. A Spoonbill paid a brief visit to Bowers Marsh on the 24th. A Long-eared Owl was seen hunting at dusk at a traditional breeding site in the east on the 26th. Three flyover Siskins on Benfleet Downs on the 28th were notable, and were a sign of things to come. The Canvey Way ditch hosted six Southern Emerald Damselflies and 89 Scarce Emerald Damselflies on the 28th, whilst nearby the first Willow Emerald Damselfly of the year was on Benfleet Downs. The month closed with the unexpected sighting of two Grey Partridges at Wakering Stairs on the evening of the 30th.
The flock of Cattle Egrets north of the Crouch and viewed from Canewdon and Fambridge peaked at five on the 1st and remained through to the 9th. The first of seven Red Kites this month was also viewed simultaneously from Canewdon and Fambridge on the 1st. The Black-necked Grebe at Bowers Marsh reappeared on the 2nd and was seen daily through to the 20th before it departed for the autumn. One of the more unexpected records of the month was the Little Gull which passed over Rayleigh on the 2nd and was the first of the year. Several more Silver-washed Fritillaries were recorded during the first week of the month with two still present in Belfairs NR, two on Benfleet Downs, and singles at Coombe Wood and Hadleigh Downs. Conversely the last Heath Fritillaries were noted in Pound Wood on the 3rd. A Southern Emerald Damselfly and two Willow Emerald Damselflies were seen at Canvey Way on the 5th with the Southern Emerald Damselfly present through to the 19th whilst Willow Emerald Damselflies became more widespread this month being reported from six sites. Good numbers of White Admirals continued to be seen in Belfairs NR during the first week with nine still present on the 5th. Purple Hairstreaks continued to be logged during the first half of the month with reports coming from six sites which included a peak of just eight on the 5th at Belfairs NR whilst its congener, the White-letter Hairstreak numbered four on Benfleet Downs on the 6th, the only site with records this month. Last week’s Grey Partridges were seen and heard again at Wakering Stairs on the 6th. From the 10th to the 12th an adult Long-eared Owl could be found hunting fields at dusk in the east whereas from the 11th through to the end of the month, two or three juveniles were seen in dense cover in the south-west. A Clouded Yellow on Wallasea on the 11th was the first of the year. Return wader passage picked up momentum from the 11th with the first returning Ruff and three Spotted Redshanks at Vange Marsh coupled with daily sightings of up to four each of Green Sandpipers and Common Sandpipers from multiple sites. A small but noticeable movement of Siskins passed through on the 11th and 12th with up to three at five sites. The second Yellow-legged Gull of the year, and the only one of the month, was a juvenile at Wakering Stairs on the 12th. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth was a welcome visitor to a South Fambridge garden on the 13th as was a Ring-necked Parakeet in Thundersley on the 17th. On the 23rd a photo emerged on Facebook of three White Storks perched on a pylon at Bowers Marsh that morning. Following no further sign during the day, one had the decency to return to roost that evening and spent the night on the pylon. Being the first ever twitchable one in the area it proved popular and showed well to the gathered birders at sunrise on the 24th when it was also noted to be unringed and fully winged. Stork watchers at Bowers Marsh on the 24th had the added bonus of eight Crossbills flying through; a Spoonbill was seen distantly in flight from South Fambridge that evening. A Long-eared Owl was an unexpected find at Barling on the 26th suggesting there may be more undiscovered birds than we realise. A handful of Painted Lady butterflies were seen from the 26th through to the end of the month but they remained unusually scarce. The first returning Whinchats arrived on the 28th with two at Bowers Marsh which loosely associated with four Stonechats; a Clouded Yellow flew through the following day. Following close behind, the first returning Wheatear was duly logged in Gunners Park on the 30th when three Porpoises were lingering off Canvey Point where they could still be found the next day along with two Black Terns, and most unusually, two Goldeneye.
Whimbrel passage was notable early in the month with 49 at Fleet Head on the 1st and a further 36 at Canvey Point and 22 at Wakering Stairs a few days later. The first of only two Red Kites this month was over Leigh on the 1st with the only other sighting a few days later which was also over Leigh. Four Purple Hairstreaks were still to be found at Barling on the 1st and the last White-letter Hairstreak of the year was at Coombe Wood on the 3rd. A Spoonbill at Wallasea on the 4th did not linger. A pair of Bullfinches was reported from Magnolia NR on the 7th, this site still produces the occasional sighting so there is hope that they still persist here deep within the blackthorn. The 8th produced some good records with a decent sized flock of 18 Little Terns at Wakering Stairs along with the last Turtle Dove of the year, an impressive flock of 26 Black Terns past Canvey, a Crossbill over Gunners Park, a Yellow-legged Gull at West Canvey Marsh, and an Osprey low over Fambridge before going to roost on the north side of the Crouch. The following day the Osprey was seen on Bridgemarsh Island early in the morning and a search for odonata along Canvey Way proved successful with Common Emerald, Scarce Emerald, Southern Emerald, and Willow Emerald all recorded along with the expected Southern Migrant Hawkers. The first Pied Flycatcher of the autumn was in Gunners Park on the 10th and two Ring-necked Parakeets flew over Eastwood. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth was seen in Gunners Park on the 12th and the last Purple Hairstreak of the year was also seen there on the 14th. A Great White Egret and two Curlew Sandpipers were good finds on Wallasea on the 15th with the Great White Egret lingering for three days. A Spotted Flycatcher and up to five Pied Flycatchers arrived in Gunners Park on the 15th with up to three Pied Flycatchers staying through to the 17th whilst one or two were also seen at Shoebury East Beach, Wakering Stairs and Two Tree Island during the month. The seawatch season got off to a rather slow but predictable start on the 16th with the first Arctic Skua and Great Skua of the autumn noted at Canvey along with three Porpoises which remained for the rest of the month. Greenshank passage peaked at 41 on Two Tree Island on the 18th when a Hedgehog was seen in Ashingdon that night which, when added to the one at Bournes Green in June, makes this one of the best years in a decade for live sightings which is quite alarming! Two Cattle Egrets were seen at Wat Tyler CP late on the 19th where numbers built to seven by the end of the month, and comprised of one adult and six juveniles and was surely indicative of local breeding. Autumn migration stepped up a gear from the 22nd with an influx of six Merlins across four sites, two Wood Sandpipers at Wallasea, two Curlew Sandpipers at Wakering Stairs with a single at Canvey Point, and the start of a daily passage of Arctic Terns past Canvey culminating in 66 on the 29th. Little Terns remained scarce with eight at Wakering Stairs on the 23rd being notable as was an Osprey there the same day, with it or another passing over Lower Raypits and Fambridge on the 24th. Gunners Park produced the only multiple count of Wheatears this month with a lowly two on the 24th when a Willow Emerald Damselfly was in a Fambridge garden. Perhaps linked to the early influx of Merlins, a number of Short-eared Owls were also recorded from the 25th onwards with birds at West Canvey Marsh, Fambridge, and Canvey Point. The increasingly scarce Fulmar was seen on the 26th when two flew upriver past Canvey whilst further downriver at Gunners Park a Shag became a fairly regular visitor over high tide and the only Garden Warbler of the month was present in the nearby scrub for two days. The third Osprey of the autumn took up station around Wakering Stairs from the 26th to the 29th. All records of Tree Pipit this year fell in the narrow window of 27th through to the 31st with three singles over three sites. A Spotted Flycatcher was at Bowers Marsh on the 27th, one of only two records all month. Whinchats were a daily feature throughout the month and peaked at six on the 29th at West Canvey Marsh. The 29th and 30th belonged to the seawatchers with 34 Gannets, four Arctic Skuas, eight Great Skuas, five Kittiwakes, an impressive 66 Arctic Terns, and a Black Tern all seen on the 29th, along with 35 Gannets, 36 Arctic Skuas, 12 Great Skuas, a Little Gull, and three Guillemots on the 30th. The month ended with two Curlew Sandpipers on Wallasea, Siskins over Rayleigh and Wakering Stairs, and a family party of five Yellowhammers at Lower Raypits.
Whinchat passage continued to increase this month with approximately 35 passing through which included ten at Bowers Marsh on the 2nd and the 6th. The last Black Terns of the year were seen on the relatively early date of the 3rd when a group moved upriver off Gunners Park as did the first Dark-bellied Brent Goose of the autumn. Of the ten or so Wheatears this month only Wallasea held more than a single with three there on the 4th which was the highest count of the autumn. Finches were on the move this month, in particular Siskins which were seen daily throughout the month and included 100 through Gunners Park on the 4th and 48 there on the 6th which book-ended four Crossbills over Rochford on the 5th. The only Honey Buzzard of the year was an impressive garden tick as one drifted over a Rayleigh garden on the 6th. Garden Warblers were seen on Wakering Common on the 6th and Wakering Stairs and Gunners Park on the 8th. The flock of seven Cattle Egrets were once again frequenting Wat Tyler CP on the 7th where they remained through to early October. Spotted Flycatchers had a relatively good passage with eleven records this month, all falling between the 2nd and the 10th and included a peak of three at Bowers Marsh on the 8th where they were keeping company with the month’s only Pied Flycatcher. A Yellow-necked Mouse was live trapped in Starvelarks Wood on the 8th and was one of only a handful of local records since the first in 2014. It was a shockingly poor year for Painted Lady butterflies with just eight sightings all year, the last of which was in a Leigh garden on the 9th. A pair of Ravens were over Shoebury High Street on the 9th and, demonstrating just how much the fortunes of this species has changed locally in less than a year, further duos were also seen this month at Fambridge, Leigh, and Two Tree Island. Five Little Terns at Wakering Stairs on the 9th were the last of the year, and kept company with a Curlew Sandpiper. The following evening at the Stairs was somewhat magical with four Short-eared Owls newly arrived straight in from the sea, the Curlew Sandpiper still present in the high tide roost, two Redstarts in the scrub behind, and best of all a Leach’s Petrel which headed south close to shore in calm conditions with flat seas and no wind! A Cuckoo at Bowers Marsh on the 10th was a particularly late record. Vange Marsh hosted two Little Stints and three Curlew Sandpipers on the 12th and 13th which proved popular particularly as the former was in short supply this year. The wandering Ring-necked Parakeet continued its perambulations over Southchurch on the 12th and then Two Tree Island on the 13th. September is the month for seawatching although the weather was not conducive for large movements for most of the time but when the wind did finally swing to the east on the 16th and 17th seawatching from Canvey proved worthwhile. The 16th produced a Sooty Shearwater, two Manx Shearwaters, 34 Gannets, an impressive 126 Arctic Skuas and two Great Skuas, whereas next day saw a Manx Shearwater, six Arctic Skuas, a single Great Skua, a Guillemot, an Osprey, and a Short-eared Owl. A Little Stint was reported at Bowers Marsh on the 19th and 20th with presumably the same bird present there on the 24th. Siskin passage this month ebbed and flowed throughout but delivered another triple digit movement on the 20th when 103 passed Wakering Stairs. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth visited a Fambridge garden on the 21st when Great White Egrets began arriving with one or two at Bowers Marsh, Wallasea, and Wat Tyler CP from the 21st through to the end of the month. A small number of Lesser Redpolls began moving from the 22nd with 19 across four sites from the 22nd to the 30th. The 26th was the first of three good passage days at sea with a summer plumaged Red-throated Diver, a Sooty Shearwater, a Shag, and a Guillemot off Gunners Park on the 26th to get things started. The 27th saw an impressive movement of seabirds through the Thames with 320 Common Scoter, 725 Gannets, a Merlin, a Pomarine Skua, 35 Arctic Skuas, the year’s only Long-tailed Skua, 83 Great Skuas, five Kittiwakes, 18 Arctic Terns, two Guillemots and four Puffins. The next day dawned with relative calm at sea with only a drake Eider and three each of Arctic Skua and Great Skua although four Gannets well inland at Fambridge was most unexpected, two of which continued west overland and perhaps over the country. Seawatchers at Canvey were not to be left disappointed however as two Common Cranes were tracked north-east from Kent, past Canvey, then Leigh, Wallasea, and onwards over the Dengie, Blackwater, up the Colne and into Suffolk. Redstarts were still moving through as evidenced by two in Gunners Park on the 28th bringing the total this month to a reasonable eight. Siskins continued to march through in numbers accompanied by a handful of Lesser Redpolls with yet another ton-up day on the 28th when 100 Siskins and four Lesser Redpolls went over Rayleigh. An eventful month drew to a premature close on the 28th with six Clouded Yellows on West Canvey Marsh, part of the 25 across the area this month.
As expected, good numbers of Siskins continued to pass through with approximately 285 logged this month which included 78 at South Benfleet on the 1st, the highest count this month. Last week’s summer plumaged Red-throated Diver was still to be found off Gunners Park on the 1st. An all day seawatch from Canvey in classic weather on the 2nd produced some excellent records, the highlights of which were Red-throated Diver, a Fulmar, 300 Gannets, a Shag, the year’s only Purple Sandpiper and Grey Phalarope, the latter of which settled on the sea close inshore several times, a Pomarine Skua, nine Arctic Skuas, 27 Great Skuas, and a Razorbill. One that got away was a distant small gull believed by some to be a first-winter Kittiwake whilst others were happy with it being a Sabine’s Gull. Predictably the seabird movement ceased the following day with just a Little Gull offering a crumb of a consolation although on land at Gunners Park, a Firecrest was to be found. The autumn flock of seven Cattle Egrets at Wat Tyler CP were seen for the last time on the 4th. Two Crossbills and two brief Swifts were at Wakering Stairs on the 5th with the Swifts raising a few eyebrows given the late date. The last Whinchats of the year were two at Bowers Marsh on the 5th. Increasing numbers of Lesser Redpoll and/or redpolls were seen this month with approximately 200 recorded, the vast majority of which were flyovers although a decent flock of 30 Lesser Redpolls were feeding in birches on Canvey Wick on the 6th. Shades of summer continued on the 7th with a Yellow Wagtail at Bowers Marsh, three Clouded Yellows at West Canvey Marsh, and a Wall butterfly at Canewdon, all of which were the last of their kind to be seen this year. October is always a good month for Stonechats and so it proved with a total of 50 seen which included a peak of at least 15 at Bowers Marsh on the 9th. Mirroring its upturn in fortunes across the country it was pleasing to see a number of Great White Egrets wintering in the area with two along the Crouch at Hullbridge from the 11th onwards being particularly obliging. Other Great White Egret records this month came from Bowers Marsh, Wallasea, and Wat Tyler CP. The eagerly anticipated autumn arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers finally reached the area on the 13th when one was predictably found in Gunners Park where it stayed until the 17th although became increasingly elusive during its stay. Yellow-browed Warbler is becoming almost annual now with just three blank years since 2010. Maintaining the autumnal feel, small numbers of Brambling began arriving from the 13th with eight noted in total during the latter half of the month. Birders looking for the Yellow-browed Warbler in Gunners Park on the 14th were also rewarded with a male Firecrest, whilst at Hadleigh CP a Black Redstart was reported the same day. Short-eared Owls were seen flying in-off the sea at Canvey, Shoebury East Beach, and Gunners Park on 14th, 15th, and 16th respectively and male Hen Harriers were also seen actively migrating over Coombe Wood and Two Tree Island on the 14thalthough it is possible that the same bird may have been involved in both sightings. A seawatch at Canvey on the 14th was disappointingly quiet although did produce an impressive count of eight Razorbills along with two drake Eiders, 120 Gannets, and a wandering pair of Ravens which were seen again three days later over Wat Tyler CP. Although the Thames was quiet on the 16th it did produce two good records, with five each of Eider and Little Gull. The last Wheatear of the year lingered in Gunners Park through to the 17th where unusually two Bearded Tits could also be found. A gem of a find came on the 18th when a Pallas’s Warbler was seen at Shoebury East Beach, it was the first local sighting in over twenty years but frustratingly it disappeared into the treeline before anyone else could enjoy it. A Water Pipit was found on the saltings at Fambridge on the 22nd where it remained into November and an adult Whooper Swan was an unexpected visitor to Wallasea on the 23rd but did not linger. Diligent ‘VisMigging’ on the 27th at Gunners Park resulted in good numbers of finches being recorded with 100 Chaffinches, two Bramblings, 45 Greenfinches, 475 Goldfinches, 31 Siskins, 35 Linnets, and 40 Lesser Redpoll all noted. The local Ring-necked Parakeet had reached the far north-west of Rayleigh on the 29th, but quite why it refuses to settle anywhere is both a mystery and a frustration to year-listers!
After years of trying, a Woodlark was seen and heard over Gunners Park on the 4th, the first local record in over 17 years. Wallasea had a good run of form on 4th and 5th with two Hen Harriers, two Great White Egrets, two Ravens and a Merlin all arriving for the winter whilst a pair of Whooper Swans there on the 4th stayed only briefly. A female Bullfinch put in a rare appearance on Benfleet Downs on the 5th where it remained all month albeit elusive. The local pair of Egyptian Geese at Shoebury Park paraded their four full grown youngsters on the 6th. Sawbills and seaduck were the order of the day on 7th with a female Eider and three Red-breasted Mergansers off Wakering Stairs and the first returning Goldeneye on the Roach at Paglesham. A count of four Spotted Redshanks in the creek at Wat Tyler CP on the 8th was notable for the time of year whilst an adult Yellow-legged Gull along the Crouch at Hullbridge the same day proved an interesting distraction from the two Great White Egrets there. The Yellow-legged Gull remained well into December as did one of the Great White Egrets. Several Firecrests were found eking out an existence in various stands of holly around the area from the 9th with three in Tile Wood, two in West Wood, and one in Coombe Wood. Two tardy Chiffchaffs in Gunners Park on the 10th were probably late migrants whereas the other three singles at three sites in the latter half of the month were likely to be over-wintering birds, as was the Blackcap in a Rayleigh garden. There was a very small passage of Water Pipits this month with the one at South Fambridge still present on the 1st followed by two at Bowers Marsh on the 11th with one remaining throughout the month, and another was on the seawall at Barling later in the month. A female Red-crested Pochard was a good find locally in Southchurch on the 12th where it remained into 2021 commuting between two nearby lakes. A covey of 40 Grey Partridges at Fleet Head on the 14th were no doubt recent releases rather than a surge in numbers of wild birds and unfortunately calls into question the provenance of all local records. Also at Fleet Head on the 14th was, somewhat surprisingly, the first local Caspian Gull of the year. Aged as a 2nd-winter in put in another brief appearance there two days later. A Common Sandpiper on the river Crouch at Hullbridge on the 14th was unsurprisingly the only record this month whereas by contrast Green Sandpipers were relatively widespread with seven at five sites. The first Pale-bellied Brent Goose of the winter was singled out at Fleet Head on the 17th. A Ring-necked Parakeet dropped in briefly to Leigh on the 20th before predictably departing shortly afterwards as did two at Westcliff on the 29th. A vocal Nuthatch in Hockley Woods was the only record in the second half of the year. A flock of nine Lesser Redpolls were found feeding in silver birches on the 23rd at Cherry Orchard CP; it’s tempting to surmise that these are the same birds seen there in early 2021 albeit with no sightings in December. The last butterflies of the year were, as expected, Red Admirals which were seen at Cherry Orchard CP and Paglesham on the 23rd. Short-eared Owls were extremely scarce at the end of the year with just one record this month (and next) with a distant sighting from Paglesham on the 23rd. By contrast Long-eared Owls continued to prosper with seven birds across three sites this month. A solitary Cattle Egret was found on West Canvey Marshes on the 23rd whilst three days later the flock of 10 at South Woodham Ferrers could be viewed distantly from Brandy Hole where a Merlin provided a welcome distraction. The last five days of the month produced some excellent seawatching records primarily thanks to the north-east winds. Things started quietly with a Black-throated Diver off Canvey on the 26th and little else of note, next day at Gunners Park there was a modest improvement with 103 Common Scoter, 98 Gannets, a Great Skua, and 12 Kittiwakes. The 28th saw a lull in seawatching although a Pink-footed Goose over Paglesham Lagoon was a precursor of what was to come. Back to the seawatching at Gunners Park on the 29th and a female Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Puffin, Black-throated Diver, Great Skua and a Razorbill were all excellent local birds, and then…a single White-fronted Goose came in calling and landed on the lake. By the next day there were now three White-fronted Geese on the ground in Gunners Park and in addition, two Pink-footed Geese landed out on the Thames and seawatching again produced the goods with two Scaup, a female Long-tailed Duck, a Red-breasted Merganser, two Black-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver, 20 Red-throated Divers, and two Great Skuas all logged. As the day drew to a close 21 White-fronted Geese dropped in on Wallasea to roost, an impressive count, or so we thought at the time!
Seawatching on the 1st continued to be productive with many of the target birds still lingering in the estuary including the female Eider, the Red-breasted Merganser, 40 Kittiwakes, and three Razorbills, whilst next day a very confiding Black-throated Diver afforded excellent photo opportunities at Gunners Park and an extremely late Swallow was whizzing around there and was likely the same bird seen the previous day along Southend seafront. Two Pink-footed Geese dropped in for one day only at Bowers Marsh on the 2nd where there were now seven Barnacle Geese and four White-fronted Geese, but it was not until the 5th that the goose jackpot was hit when two Tundra Bean Geese joined the array of geese at Bowers Marsh for two days. Also on the 5th another three Tundra Bean Geese joined 40 White-fronted Geese and three Barnacle Geese at Fleet Head where a male Hen Harrier, Merlin and two Grey Partridges provided additional excitement. A female Red-crested Pochard was found in Friars Park on the 6th, a different bird to the Southchurch individual, with both birds overwintering into the new year. Red Kites over Bowers Marsh on the 6th and 18th were the only records all month. Over on West Canvey Marshes, two Cattle Egrets present during the first week were seen for the final time on the 6th. A stunning male Black Redstart took a liking to suburban gardens and rooflines in Thorpe Bay on the 6th where it proved very popular through to the 15th. A local garden also produced the month’s only Blackcap with one in Leigh on the 7th and the only Chiffchaff of the month was on Hadleigh Downs the next day. Last month’s Water Pipit at Bowers Marsh was seen intermittently through to the 10th but not subsequently. Woodcock were noted from the 11th onwards with six seen at four sites over the coming weeks including three on Canvey Wick. The other denizen of the dark, the Long-eared Owl was still to be found in good numbers at one site in the south where 10 were present on the 11th although this was surpassed by 11 towards the end of the month. Seawatching records began to dwindle as the month wore on with 40 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver, 14 Gannets and a Guillemot on the 12th off Gunners Park the only sightings of note mid-month. A small flock of eight Lesser Redpolls were feeding on Canvey Wick on the 12th where they remained into the new year. A bit of sleuthing resulted in two of the highly mobile local Ring-necked Parakeets finally getting pinned down at Thorpe Hall Golf Course from the 14th through into January. Hot on the heels of the obliging male, a female Black Redstart was seen on Wallasea on the 14th although its appearance was much more transient as it had moved on one hour later. It is always exciting to report Hawfinch locally and so news of one at Pound Wood on the 15th, a good site for them in previous winters, was treated with much excitement although it failed to appear again until January. A Common Sandpiper along the river Crouch at South Fambridge on the 16th was notable whilst duos of its more numerous counterpart, the Green Sandpiper could be found on Bowers Marsh and West Canvey Marshes. Last month’s Firecrest in Tile Wood popped up again on the 17th and 21st and remained in situ into January. Two Yellow-legged Gulls were identified at Holehaven on the 18th with at least one still present on the 22nd. Whilst the Hawfinch continued to evade at Pound Wood, three Lesser Redpolls offered some consolation on the 19th and 20th when the ever burgeoning flock of White-fronted Geese on Wallasea now numbered 270. Nearby at Paglesham, two Pale-bellied Brent Geese were singled out among the 1,500 Dark-bellied Brent Geese and continued to be seen with luck and patience into 2021. An overwintering Scaup was a good find on Paglesham Lagoon on the 25th where Goldeneye numbers continue to fall after a drop last winter to nine failing further to just six present this winter. Another Tundra Bean Goose turned up at Bowers Marsh on the 26th among the 45 White-fronted Geese, it was seen again on the 28th and 30th. An extremely confiding Great White Egret was found busily devouring rodents right alongside a busy Rawreth Lane from the 28th, a handful of others were also present at several coastal sites. Surprisingly there was only one record of Short-eared Owl all month which was predictably on Wallasea on the 28th where two ringtail Hen Harriers, a Merlin, and a pair of Ravens were wintering although worryingly no Corn Buntings or Linnets were reported from there this month! A pair of Velvet Scoters were gratefully received by one fortunate observer at Canvey Point on the 29th when nearby at Holehaven a Caspian Gull was a deserved reward. Geese continued to dominate the news at the end of the year with a Pink-footed Goose, a Barnacle Goose, and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose all present among the Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock on Hadleigh Marshes on the 29th. Meanwhile, the White-fronted Goose flock on Wallasea had relocated across the creek to Paglesham and was drawing in new arrivals with every passing day, and so, by the 30th the flock numbered an eye-watering 442 and, in addition, there was still another 42 on Bowers Marsh and 32 on West Canvey Marsh meaning that over 500 White-fronted Geese were present in the area, a quite unprecedented occurrence in recent times.
The species total for the year was a relatively poor 207 but given the difficulties of two lockdowns and a global pandemic it was a mightily good effort. Bird of the year was undoubtedly the singing Marsh Warbler along Benfleet Creek, the first definite record and readily twitchable too. The roosting White Stork was also well received being the first twitchable one locally although there is a strong suspicion we may be seeing more of these over the coming years. Other highlights included a putative Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, drake Smew, Lapland Bunting, a pair of Black-winged Stilts, Glossy Ibis, two Common Cranes, six Tundra Bean Geese, Leach’s Petrel, Yellow-browed Warbler, Grey Phalarope, Woodlark, Honey Buzzard and a stunning Pallas’s Warbler and, it would seem, we will now be enjoying Ravens on a more regular basis.