As expected, the year got off to a good start with many birders eager to start their yearlists. Highlights on the 1st were a Shag at South Fambridge, two Jack Snipe and three Water Pipits at Vange Marsh, the returning adult Yellow-legged Gull at Hullbridge, a Hawfinch at Pound Wood, and three Bramblings at Stambridge. Birds remaining from December included small groups of White-fronted Geese at three sites, Black Brant and Pale-bellied Brent Goose at South Fambridge, Red-crested Pochard at Southchurch, and three Spoonbills, a Hen Harrier, and a Short-eared Owl on Wallasea. Wintering waders included a Common Sandpiper at South Fambridge, six Green Sandpipers and six Spotted Redshanks at four sites each, and four Greenshanks at three sites. There was even a Small Tortoiseshell logged on the 1st. A male Bullfinch noted at Wat Tyler CP on the 2nd and 13th were the only sightings this month of this much reduced resident. There was an influx of Guillemots into the estuary on the 3rd with 32 birds counted off the Pier along with two Razorbills. Last year’s wintering Black Redstart at Southend Business Park was reported on the 4th but despite searching it was not seen subsequently. A Glossy Ibis spent the following day on Wallasea, but disappointingly did not linger. A drake Velvet Scoter flew past Canvey on the 6th and was the only record of this species this winter. The Ring-necked Parakeets at Thorpe Bay remained around the golf course all winter with four together there on the 6th. A Red Admiral made the most of the weak sunshine on the 7th. One of the Dengie Red-breasted Geese dropped in on Wallasea on the 8th before visiting South Fambridge on the 10th, after which it spent most of the month across the Crouch on Blue House Farm and Marsh Farm. The three Twite which spent mid-December on Wallasea reappeared from the 8th until the 22nd although only two were present after the 8th. The Hawfinch at Pound Wood was joined by two more on the 9th and 10th with one remaining through to the 12th. The finch flock at Hampton Barns, Stambridge, attracted two Lesser Redpolls from the 12th through to the end of the month. With 100 Chaffinches, ten Reed Buntings and Corn Buntings, and a handful of Greenfinches, Bramblings and now two Lesser Redpolls, it made for quite a spectacle. Two Woodcock were seen on Canvey Wick on the 15th, with singles reported from a further three sites this month. A Snow Bunting was an excellent find along the Roach seawall at Barling on the 16th; it remained through to the 28th. Merlin were in short supply this month although males were seen at Bowers Marsh on the 16th and Barling on the 18th, with females reported from South Fambridge and Wallasea. A movement of Red-throated Divers into the estuary was noted mid-month when there were 60 from the 16th to the 18th, with a Little Gull also present on the latter date. Four Barnacle Geese arrived on Wallasea on the 18th and increased to six by early February. What little chance they had of being deemed truly wild was scuppered when the colour ring on one of the birds was traced back to a ringing scheme from north Norfolk in July last year. The 21st and 22nd saw some excellent birds recorded starting with a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Hockley Woods, which was totally unexpected given that the last local sighting was here in 2015. Seven White-fronted Geese on Wallasea on the 21st constituted the highest local count this month, two Jack Snipe there the same day were a good site record as was the Lapland Bunting present on the 22nd and 23rd and which was only the second local record in the last ten years. Whilst searching for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Hockley Woods on the 22nd a male Hawfinch was found and was joined by a female from the 23rd; these were the first Hawfinch sightings in Hockley Woods, a once regular wintering site, since 2013. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker remained for only a few short days whereas the Hawfinches were seen intermittently through to early March. Also present in Hockley Woods throughout the month were up to six Nuthatches and six Treecreepers. A flock of twenty Siskins were found on the edge of Hockley Woods on the 24th where they remained for a week. Two Goosanders were photographed on Wallasea on the 26th where they stayed through to the end of February. Following a report of six Short-eared Owls along the seawall at South Fambridge on the 26th, three were found to be still present on the 27th. Although this was clearly an influx, it was very localised as none were noted at any other sites at this time. Meanwhile, up to three Long-eared Owls were present all month at a traditional roost site in the south. In a predictably quiet month for Red Kites, the only one recorded was over Coombe Wood on the 30th. Good numbers of auks were in the Thames once again on the 31st when 35 Guillemots and ten Razorbills were seen from Canvey Point.
After becoming fairly widespread last year, Raven reverted to its scarce status this year with one seen over South Fambridge on the 1st and one over Benfleet Downs on the 12th the only records this month, following none in January. The only record of Woodcock this month was the two seen at Canvey Wick on the 1st. Last month’s Goosander duo was finally pinned down on Wallasea on the 1st where they remained through to the 22nd. A sizeable flock of White-fronted Geese visited Wallasea several times this month, with the first occasion being on the 3rd; they appeared to be wintering on Foulness but made the occasional sojourn to the east end of Wallasea. The first Great Northern Diver of the year was seen intermittently from Canvey between the 1st and the 9th and was briefly joined by a second bird on the latter date. The first and only Black-throated Diver record of the first winter was an individual that drifted past Canvey on the 3rd. The 800 strong Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock did the decent thing and settled down at South Fambridge from the 4th through to early March. Within the flock, the stand out highlight was the fine Red-breasted Goose although a couple each of Black Brant and Pale-bellied Brent Goose added extra variety. Auks were still present in the Thames during the first half of the month, peaking at 15 Guillemots and four Razorbills on the 4th; they had all departed for their breeding grounds from the 15th with no more records in the first half of the year. Taking a short break from South Fambridge, the Red-breasted Goose visited Wallasea on the 5th for its second and final time this winter. The 9th saw the first of three Blackcap records this month with a male in a South Benfleet garden while Chiffchaff numbered just two this month. Pleasingly, a flock of up to 21 Yellowhammers was noted inland at South Fambridge from the 4th to the 17th; with no records from other sites this month, this has sadly become their last stronghold. A flock of ten Hawfinches was a great find in Hadleigh West Wood on the 13th. With no previous records from here, they were entirely unexpected and a sign of what can be found, as well as what probably goes undiscovered. The Hawfinches showed through to the 26th albeit in smaller numbers, and the female in Hockley Woods also put in an appearance mid-month. Canvey Point produced some sawbill action mid-month, with four Red-breasted Mergansers on the 13th and a pair of Goosanders on the 20th. The Wallasea Twite were reported again on the 14th but could not be refound despite searching. Interestingly, South Fambridge experienced another influx of Short-eared Owls on the 26th and 27th with four on the former date and an impressive seven on the latter, the joint highest ever count away from Wallasea. An early passage Brambling was a welcome visitor to feeders in a Canewdon garden on the 26th and 27th, and was surprisingly the only record all month. Towards the end of the month, both Brimstone and Peacock were on the wing, bringing the number of butterfly species up to four for the year.
A Great Northern Diver past Canvey Point on the 2nd was the only record this month and also the last of the winter. The hoped for spring arrival of Black-necked Grebes at Bowers Marsh, which has become a feature of recent years, started with one on the 2nd before being joined by a second bird from the 10th, and rising to four from the 20th onwards. A Bullfinch or two were present in Magnolia NR from the 3rd to the 11th; historically this was a regular site for this species. On the 3rd the Foulness flock of 57 White-fronted Geese visited Wallasea for the final time this winter, whilst nearby at South Fambridge the Red-breasted Goose was still to be found on the 5th. Seawatching on the 6th at Canvey produced the only Great Skua sighting in the first half of the year along with 16 Kittiwakes, the highest count during the same period. Two male Red-crested Pochards dropped in on Bowers Marsh on the 7th, whilst next day two Hawfinches at Hockley Woods were the last of a good run for this species locally. Good numbers of Short-eared Owls remained throughout the month with four still present near South Fambridge on the 10th and a single at Bowers Marsh the same day. Chiffchaffs began arriving from the 11th with Blackcaps following one week later from the 18th. A spring passage of Jack Snipe has been evident at Vange Marsh in most years recently and so it was no surprise that three were found on the 11th with at least one remaining until the 18th. The Red-breasted Goose was still favouring South Fambridge from the 12th to the 14th, it will be interesting to see if it returns next winter; meanwhile the Black Brant was also recorded here on the 13th, 19th and 20th. A small passage of Black Redstarts was discernible during the second half of the month with birds noted at Little Wakering on the 13th, Shoebury on the 20th, and Hockley on the 24th. However, all were seen only by the finders as all were in gardens. Water Pipits were recorded from Vange Marsh on two dates mid-month with two on the 14th and 18th. Garganey arrived back on the 15th with three at Bowers Marsh which remained through to the end of April. The over-wintering trio of Spoonbills on Wallasea were joined by a fourth bird on the 17th and 18th. A Hen Harrier was also seen there on the 17th, with it or another at South Fambridge on the 18th. In addition, an early Little Ringed Plover was reported from Wallasea on the 18th. Nearby at Canewdon, a light passage of Bramblings was apparent from the 18th through to the 30th with six birds passing through one garden during the period. A flock of six Lesser Redpolls at Cherry Orchard CP on the 20th were the only record this month, and the last of the winter. A Raven at Haven Point on the 20th had most likely wandered across from Foulness, likewise two at South Fambridge on the 27th were almost certainly from across the Crouch. A Great White Egret took up residence at Bowers Marsh from the 21st until the 16th April, and was occasionally joined by a second individual. In what has been a good winter locally for geese, three Tundra Bean Geese at Lower Raypits from the 23rd until the 3rd April were probably the least expected. Seeing them in the sunshine in the company of three Little Ringed Plovers and a White Wagtail on the 24th was an interesting juxtaposition. A Glossy Ibis dropped in on Wallasea on the 25th but frustratingly did not linger. The first Sandwich Terns were logged off Gunners Park on the 26th, a day that saw four Emperor Moths attracted to a South Fambridge garden. The last Hen Harrier sighting of the winter was a ringtail at Lower Raypits on the 27th. Bowers Marsh hosted a pair of Little Ringed Plovers from the 27th onwards and a typically elusive Ring Ouzel on the 28th. Wheatears were conspicuous by their absence this month with one photographed on Two Tree Island on the 29th the sole record. The month finished with two Little Gulls upriver past Canvey on the 31st, and the butterfly species count rose to six with the addition of Small White and Comma this month.
The first half of the month was largely uneventful as the anticipated summer migrants and passage migrants failed to appear. A Black Redstart in Gunners Park on the 1st was the highlight of the first two weeks but once again, just like the previous sightings this year, it was only seen by the finder. A female Merlin at Canvey Point on the 4th was the last record this winter of this delightfully diminutive falcon. The trio of Spoonbills on Wallasea were seen together for the final time on the 6th although a single was seen on a handful of dates over the following week. Gunners Park held a White Wagtail on the 10th which transpired to be the second and final sighting of the spring. The 11th saw the first returning Whimbrels and Cuckoos with good numbers of each recorded from many sites this month. The 12th saw a noticeable arrival of Nightingales with six on Canvey Wick, swelling to nine a few days later, five at Wakering Stairs, and two singles elsewhere. The Black-necked Grebe gathering at Bowers Marsh peaked at six on the 12th, with five reported on several dates subsequently. Just seven Dark-bellied Brent Geese remained in the sunshine at South Fambridge, yet incredibly the Black Brant was still to be found with them on the 13th and 14th; two Cattle Egrets were seen flying to roost there on the 13th. A fine male Pied Flycatcher photographed on Canvey Wick on the 14th was an excellent spring record. The first of seven Wall Brown butterflies sightings this month came from Fleet Head on the 15th, and the first of two Green Hairstreaks this month was on Canvey Wick the following day. There was a welcomed arrival of Grasshopper Warblers from the 16th to the 19th with two at Bowers Marsh, one at West Canvey Marsh, and one on Two Tree Island. The fields around South Fambridge continued to attract Short-eared Owls with three still present on the 17th. Totally unexpected was the report of a Hoopoe in a garden in Southchurch on the 18th which was then photographed in another nearby garden the following day. An early Hobby, the only one of the month, was hawking near Battlesbridge on the 20th. Three Arctic Terns were off Canvey on the 22nd, three others passed over Canvey Wick on the 24th and a single was off the Point on the 1st May. With no Sandwich, Little, or Black Terns this month, it was a poor tern passage this spring. The first Small Copper of the year was seen on the 21st in Gunners Park where the next day a Black-throated Diver flew past. A Broad-bodied Chaser at South Fambridge on the 24th was particularly early; Large Red Damselfly, Hairy Dragonfly, and Common Blue Damselfly were all also seen in the latter half of the month. Two Siskins over Hawkwell on the 24th were the last of the spring. The only double-figure flock of Yellow Wagtails this month was 20 on Wallasea on the 26th, the flock also hosted a smart ‘Channel Wagtail’. Two Wheatears at Oxenham Farm on the 26th was the only multiple count this month, eight singles were also noted at several other sites. A near summer plumaged Great Northern Diver was close inshore off Gunners Park on the 27th which, when coupled with a Red-throated Diver off Canvey on the 1st and the Black-throated Diver on the 22nd, meant that all three diver species were seen this month on the Thames. A smart Black-necked Grebe was at Paglesham Lagoon on the 27th and was a good record away from Bowers Marsh. The first Swift of the year was at Vange Marsh on the 27th, with numbers of all hirundines being considerably lower than usual this month. The month closed with a report of five Cattle Egrets over Benfleet Downs on the 30th.
The flock of 20 Yellow Wagtails on Wallasea held a different ‘Channel Wagtail’ on the 1st. On the 2nd, an immature Little Gull was found on the flood at West Canvey Marsh where surprisingly it stayed for almost the entire month. The Black-necked Grebes at Bowers Marsh reached an even higher peak this month, with seven present on the 3rd and 9th reducing to four by the month’s end. It was with some relief to have Turtle Doves back at Wakering Stairs from the 3rd; they continue to maintain a precarious foothold here with up to four present mid-month. Pleasingly, one or two birds were also noted at three other sites this month although all were likely to have been passage birds. A Long-eared Owl in the east afforded good views most evenings from the 4th onwards. An Osprey on Wallasea on the 8th and 9th predictably spent much of its time sat on a post; two Wheatears there on the 8th was the only multiple count this month, with four singles noted elsewhere in the first half of the month. A Glossy Ibis on Wallasea on the 9th once again eluded most of the locals as it promptly departed overnight just like the previous two records this year. A Great White Egret was present at South Fambridge on the 12th and 13th where an Osprey was also present on the latter date. A female Whinchat was present along the Roach near Stambridge on the 13th, the same day that up to three Spotted Flycatchers arrived on Canvey Wick. Three Black-winged Stilts spent the day on Vange Marsh, but as is often the way, they remained unsettled and were gone the following morning. A count of 17 Wall Brown butterflies at Wakering Stairs on the 14th was notable; smaller numbers were seen at six other sites this month. Meanwhile, the first Painted Lady of the year was recorded on the 18th in Gunners Park and a further 12 were seen at several other coastal sites over the next few days including six on Wallasea. The female Red-crested Pochard in Southchurch, which proved popular at the start of the winter, was reportedly back again on the 18th. Two Spoonbills were new in at Bowers Marsh on the 19th, with another two visiting Wallasea on the 23rd. Surprise of the month, although not entirely unexpected, was the return of the wintering Black Guillemot, now in summer plumage, off Gunners Park again on the 20th and 21st. A single Black-winged Stilt visited Wallasea on the 21st, however much like the previous week’s trio it was not present the following day. A Little Tern off Gunners Park on the 21st was the first of the year and the only sighting all month. A female Goldeneye which unusually had wintered on the shallow flood at Bowers Marsh extended her stay through to the 26th. In what looks to be a good year for Long-eared Owls, two were seen hunting in the south-west on the 28th. Remarkably, another Hoopoe was seen and photographed on the 28th when one was seen from the seawall at Wakering Stairs. By the 29th, the first Heath Fritillaries of the year had emerged with 11 counted in Hockley Woods.