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!
There were still a few Wheatears moving through at the beginning of the month with six at Bowers Marsh and two at Fleet Head on the 1st, with the last of the spring in Gunners Park on the 5th. The adult Spoonbill on Wallasea was joined by an immature on the 2nd through to the 5th when the adult departed and the immature Spoonbill remained until the 15th. Tern passage was noted off Canvey on the 3rd with 28 Sandwich Terns, 120 Common Terns, four Arctic Terns, three Little Terns, and 200 ‘Commic’ Terns all heading out of the Thames estuary. The first of only two Fulmar sightings all year was off Canvey on the 4th when two Wood Sandpipers dropped in at Vange Marsh building to four on the 6th with one remaining until the 7th. Three Black Terns off Gunners Park on the 5th were the only record of the spring. Little Ringed Plovers remained on suitable habitat with four at Vange Marsh on the 7th and groups of three at Wallasea and at Bowers Marsh. A Wood Sandpiper was at West Canvey Marsh on the 9th only when a Temminck’s Stint was photographed on Wallasea. There was a series of Red Kite sightings from the 9th to the 20th which could have been one wide-ranging individual or more probably a number of different birds. The Black-winged Stilts at Vange Marsh were seen for the last time on the 10th after their nesting attempt failed. A Turtle Dove was present intermittently at Butts Hill NR from the 10th to the 21st. A single Green Hairstreak was at the regular site on Canvey Wick from the 11th to the 24th and a Quail was heard calling at nearby West Canvey Marsh in the evening of the 12th, the same day that another Wood Sandpiper was reported at Vange Marsh. A Shag at South Fambridge on the 13th was most likely a lingering bird from the January influx. Turtle Doves were just about still clinging on at their stronghold at Wakering Stairs with a solitary bird purring from the 18th to the 21st. Equally as scarce these days are Spotted Flycatchers, particularly in the spring, so singles at Fleet Head on the 15th and Gunners Park on the 23rd were particularly noteworthy. A Little Gull at Bowers Marsh on the 20th was the last of the spring. Garganey and Wood Sandpiper were both reported again at Vange Marsh on the 22nd. A Garden Warbler seen and heard near Rayleigh on the 28th was sadly the only one of the summer. Long-eared Owls were proved to have bred again when two juveniles were found in the south-west on the 30th. Three distant darters at West Canvey Marsh on the 30th were seen much better the next day when they were identified as Red-veined Darters.
The Grasshopper Warbler at Wakering Stairs was still reeling on the 1st and up to four Turtle Doves were now present and stayed all month. The three Red-veined Darters at West Canvey Marsh were seen each day through to the 4th which saw the beginning of a good passage of Red Kites, starting with three together over Great Wakering and a single at Hullbridge, followed by another eight singles through to the 22nd. A drake Garganey was reported at Vange Marsh on the 5th and 9th, it also visited Bowers Marsh on the latter date. The Heath Fritillaries which had been on the wing in Hockley Woods since the end of May reached a peak of 42 there on the 10th. The White-letter Hairstreaks on Benfleet Downs were flying from the 10th onwards and reached an impressive peak of 37 on the 15th. The Southend Peregrines were finally proved to have bred successfully on the 12th when a pair was seen with two noisy well grown youngsters begging their parents for food. White Admirals were noted from the 14th onwards with up to seven at five sites this month. A tatty Green Hairstreak was an unusual find on Benfleet Downs on the 14th. The 17th produced a couple of interesting garden records with a Honey Buzzard viewed from Eastwood flying west over Southend and a bizarre record of four Cattle Egrets viewed from Rochford. The drake Garganey appeared again on the 19th, this time at Bowers Marsh, and a Ring-necked Parakeet was an unexpected find near Rayleigh Mount on the 20th. A female Black-winged Stilt visited Wallasea on the 21st when Purple Hairstreaks were first noted across six oak woodlands including an impressive count of 76 in Belfairs on the 26th. The second Honey Buzzard within a week passed low over Belfairs on the 23rd and three Nightingales were noted on Canvey Wick on the 25th. An adult Long-eared Owl with two juveniles continued to be seen in the south-west this month.
The month started predictably quiet. A Dark-bellied Brent Goose and two Little Terns were welcome sightings along the Roach on the 2nd. A Silver-washed Fritillary frequented buddleia at Wat Tyler CP on the 4th with another the following day in Belfairs. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth was seen in Shoebury on the 4th which was followed by an unconfirmed report of a female Redstart at Barling on the 5th. The formerly scarce and recent colonist, Southern Migrant Hawker was recorded at six sites from the 7th onwards and included 22 along just one ditch network on Canvey. Little Ringed Plovers were present in good numbers on Bowers Marsh with 12 there on the 12th. Vange Marsh hosted two Spoonbills on the 15th and the month’s peak of six Green Sandpipers on the 18th. There was a sprinkling of Clouded Yellows from the 21st to the 27th. Bowers Marsh held three Little Stints and the month’s highest count of six Common Sandpipers on the 22nd. A Nightingale was ringed on Two Tree Island on the 24th and a Red Kite was over Benfleet on the 25th with another at Wakering on the 29th. Five Dark-bellied Brent Geese were off Canvey Point on the 31st.
The biggest local news of the month, if not the year, was the discovery of a Marsh Tit visiting garden bird feeders near Hockley Woods from the 2nd until the 27th. With the nearest population many miles away in north-west Essex, one can only wonder as to where it came from. This represented the first local sighting in twenty six years! Also visiting the feeders throughout were two Coal Tits with a single in Coombe Wood. After the disappointment at Vange Marsh in the spring it was great to have a family party of five Black-winged Stilts visit Bowers Marsh on the 4th. The adult pair with their three well grown young were possibly one of the families from nearby Cliffe Pools. They stayed loyal to Bowers Marsh until the 16th. A smart Wood Sandpiper joined them on the 5th and remained until the 10th with the first Whinchats noted there from the 6th. Hummingbird Hawkmoths visited gardens in Rayleigh on the 8th and Shoebury on the 13th. Calm sea conditions on the 9th produced little of note off Canvey but did reveal good numbers of Porpoise with at least eight present. The first of only two Long-tailed Skuas during this poor autumn for seawatching was off Canvey on the early date of the 10th whilst a Purple Sandpiper there the same day was equally early. A migrant Garden Warbler was found in Gunners Park on the 10th where it remained until the 16th. There was a small fall of Spotted Flycatchers on the 13th with four together on Canvey Wick and singles in Gunners Park and on Hadleigh Downs. Two Tree Pipits flew through Gunners Park on the 16th when Whinchat numbers began to increase with three at Bowers Marsh and one in Gunners Park. Two Temminck’s Stints on West Canvey Marsh on the 18th were an excellent find of this less than annual wader. Three Wood Sandpipers dropped in at Lower Raypits on the 18th where one remained through to the 21st. A single Black-winged Stilt on the scrape at Wat Tyler CP on the 19th brought to a close an excellent year of sightings of this striking and increasing visitor. A Honey Buzzard, the third and final one of the year, was seen over Wakering on the 20th. In a dreadful year for skua passage, two Pomarine Skuas past Canvey on the 21st constituted all bar two of the autumn records for this species. Up to three Garganey were present on Vange Marsh from the 22nd through to mid-September. The only Curlew Sandpiper of the month was reported from Two Tree Island on the 2nd. A Cory’s Shearwater viewed from Canvey and lingering in the estuary on the 23rd was a phenomenal record and is the ‘stuff of dreams’ for local seawatchers. Of the two large shearwaters this is the commonest locally with two confirmed records now since the turn of the century. Also present on the 23rd was an impressive 88 Black Terns. A very early Merlin was at Wallasea on the 25th where three Whinchat were also present. An adult male Redstart was a good record at Bowers Marsh on the 25th with another male reported the following day on Two Tree Island. The first Willow Emerald Damselfly of the year was at Star Lane Pits, Great Wakering on the 26th. A Little Stint visited Bowers Marsh on the 26th where it remained until the 2nd September. Another Garden Warbler turned up in Gunners Park on the 27th and remained loyal to a small area of bushes through to mid-September. The 28th produced some good records with the first four Tree Sparrows of the autumn briefly in Gunners Park in the morning, a Red Kite over Benfleet, and a Cattle Egret in the evening on Vange Marsh. An Osprey flew past Canvey Point on the 30th where there were also 15 Arctic Skuas, three Great Skuas, and 40 Black Terns moving upriver. By the 31st the Whinchats had increased to five at Bowers Marsh with one lingering in Gunners Park.
The first of four Ospreys this month passed over Potton Creek on the 1st. In what has now become an expected autumn event, eight Tree Sparrows dropped in to Gunners Park on the 1st with smaller numbers on several days through to the 10th. Long-eared Owls were a surprise find at a different site in the south-west from the 2nd to the 16th although only one bird was ever seen each day, photographs showed there were two individuals involved in the sightings. A Redstart in Gunners Park on the 2nd proved popular. Skua passage peaked on the 3rd with a lowly 19 Arctic Skuas off Canvey and up to three Great Skuas on several dates early in the month. A Cattle Egret, possibly the same as last week’s bird at Vange Marsh, arrived on the saltmarsh at Wat Tyler CP on the 4th where it remained until at least the end of October. A Wryneck was reported on Two Tree Island on the 6th with it or another reported there again on the 18th. Curlew Sandpipers have become much scarcer in recent years with Potton Creek holding just one all autumn on the 7th; in past years they were almost guaranteed from here in September. One of only two Spotted Flycatchers this month was predictably in Gunners Park from the 7th to the 9th. The second Osprey of the month was seen over Rochford golf course on the 8th. Bowers Marsh continued to prove attractive to Whinchats with numbers building here to seven on the 10th with one or two present most days throughout the month. There was an obvious movement of Manx Shearwaters from the 13th to the 15th with up to three birds seen each day in the Thames yet none were seen on any other dates all year. A Sabine’s Gull, the only one of the year, was also seen on the 15th at Canvey with the month’s only Guillemot there the next day. The first Short-eared Owl of the autumn was reported from Wallasea on the 16th but was not seen subsequently. Wildfowl of dubious origin were plentiful from the 15th to the 17th when there was a Mandarin at Great Wakering, five Egyptian Geese in Shoebury Park, and six Ruddy Shelduck at Bowers Marsh; a Garganey also at Bowers Marsh on the 16th and 17th restored some decorum to the sightings page. Another Osprey headed over Two Tree Island on the 18th, the same day that the second and last Long-tailed Skua was reported from Canvey. The last Swift of the year was at Bowers Marsh on the 19th and the last of just four Redstarts this autumn was in Gunners Park on the 19th and 20th. Two Curlew Sandpipers roosted over high tide at Two Tree Island on the 20th when a Lapland Bunting dropped in briefly on Canvey Point where it was photographed. This is the first record of this species locally for five years. The only Pied Flycatcher of a poor autumn was in Gunners Park on the 21st and 22nd. Little Stint numbers increased noticeably from the 21st when there were six at Bowers Marsh and up to four at Vange Marsh through to the end of the month. White Wagtail passage occurred from the 22nd to the 28th and included five at Vange Marsh and five in Gunners Park. A Ring-necked Parakeet was flying around close to Rayleigh Mount on the 22nd and was probably the same bird that was seen here in May. A pair of Bullfinch at Wat Tyler CP on the 24th were notable for the location where hopefully a few pairs still persist. The Thames at Canvey provided a few interesting records on the 25th with the only Sooty Shearwater to date, only the second Pomarine Skua of the year, and a Hen Harrier crossing south across the river. A Tree Pipit at Gunners Park on the 26th was the second and last record of the year. A Turtle Dove at Bowers Marsh on the 27th was an excellent site record and the first from there in recent years; a Little Gull was also lingering over the lagoon. The first and only Firecrest of the autumn was in Gunners Park on the 27th whilst the second and last Spotted Flycatcher of the month was reported from Wat Tyler CP. A Yellow-necked Mouse live trapped in woods at Daws Heath on the 29th was only the third ever confirmed local record. The fourth Osprey of the month was seen over Wallasea on the 30th where it lingered, albeit irregularly, through to mid-October.
The last Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year was seen in a garden in Thorpe Bay on the 2nd, the same day that the last Hobby and Common Sandpiper of the autumn were at Wat Tyler CP. Little Stint numbers remained high early in the month with four at Vange Marsh and three at Bowers Marsh on the 3rd with one remaining at Vange Marsh until the 11th. Wheatears put in a final appearance on the 3rd when there were two at Bowers Marsh and one in Gunners Park; Whinchat followed soon after with a single at Bowers Marsh on the 4th the last record. A Short-eared Owl was seen briefly at Wallasea on the 8th where there were also two Barnacle Geese present. The first Redwings of the autumn began trickling through from the 10th. A ‘lutino’ Ring-necked Parakeet in Southend on the 11th pushed the boundaries of ‘tickability’ with most yearlisters refraining, whilst the California Quail on Two Tree Island the same day presented less of a dilemma. The Osprey lingering around the Wallasea area was seen for the final time on the 14th. The first of three Ring Ouzels this month was seen on Canvey Wick on the 15th. Two Spoonbills flying north-east over Hullbridge on the 18th were unexpected. Canvey produced a Puffin and a Guillemot on the 18th with a Short-eared Owl there the following day crossing the Thames. A passage Purple Sandpiper was an excellent find on the seawall at Gunners Park on the 20th and 21st. Seawatching from Canvey Point on the 21st was unusually slow but did produce a bonus Glossy Ibis distantly towards north Kent. The last Little Stint of the autumn was on nearby West Canvey Marsh the same day. Several Swallows, a House Martin, and a Sand Martin were all still present over Bowers Marsh on the 23rd when the finch passage which first began over Gunners Park on the 17th reached a peak with up to 1730 Goldfinches, 200 Linnets, 86 Lesser Redpolls, 30 Siskins, 21 Greenfinches, and two Bramblings seen each day between those dates. A Short-eared Owl was seen again on Wallasea on the 25th for only the second time this month, the same day a Coal Tit was seen in a Rayleigh garden whilst the regular two continued to visit a Hockley garden with a further two in a Coombe Wood garden and a single in Leigh. The local woodlands came up trumps on the 27th with a Hawfinch in Thundersley Glen on the 27th and the first Nuthatch in Hockley Woods since February 2016. The first Fieldfares were noted passing through on the 27th and two Willow Emerald Damselflies were seen at Mucking Hall Lake. The second Ring Ouzel of the month was reported from Wakering Stairs on the 28th. After a dismal autumn seawatching season, northerly winds on the 29th finally produced a modicum of interest off Canvey with a Fulmar, a Manx Shearwater, 650 Gannets, three Red-breasted Mergansers, four Pomarine Skuas, two Great Skuas, an Arctic Skua, 120 large auks, of which most were considered Razorbills, and a Painted Lady. Two Woodcocks were found away from their traditional haunts on the 30th, one of which was in a suburban garden in Westcliff. A morning of vis-mig at Hockley Woods on the 31st produced a number of interesting fly-over sightings including three Hawfinch, two Bullfinch, and a Ring Ouzel.
There was an obvious influx of Clouded Yellows across the area from the 2nd to the 5th with up to four seen at several sites. A Brambling dropped in briefly to feed with Chaffinches in Gunners Park on the 2nd. A seawatch from Gunners Park the next day produced a female Eider which lingered until the 9th and a Short-eared Owl which tried unsuccessfully to cross the Thames from Kent, but was thwarted by repeated mobbing by gulls. The family party of four Egyptian Geese visited Gunners Park on the 4th and 8th. A wintering flock of 100 Chaffinches at Bowers Marsh pulled in the first of three Bramblings on the 4th with at least one remaining into 2018. Canvey Point was the place to be on the 5th when the unusual array of species present included Razorbill, Ring-necked Parakeet, White Wagtail, and a Black Redstart, the first of the year. Adding further to the excitement of the 5th was the discovery of a Marsh Tit in a private woodland near Canewdon, and a Firecrest in a Canewdon garden. The second Black Redstart of the year closely followed the first when a female was found at South Fambridge on the 6th, the same day that two Little Stints were reported at Vange Marsh. Goosander are less than annual in the area so news and video of a redhead on the lake in Gunners Park on the 6th caused much excitement, although its stay was all too brief and it soon departed. Their congener, the Red-breasted Merganser, is becoming increasingly scarce around the tidal waterways now so three off Canvey Point on the 8th were notable. Wallasea hosted a Short-eared Owl on the 10th and a Merlin on the 10th and 11th only. A Little Stint was noted at Bowers Marsh on the 11th where unusually it chose to overwinter, being seen through into 2018. A redhead Goosander at Canvey Point on the 12th may well have been the Gunners Park individual. Two Hawfinch dropped in briefly to Coombe Wood on the 12th but the invasion which other areas were enjoying was still yet to materialise in our area with no further records this month. A Red Kite was watched drifting over Bowers Marsh to Coombe Wood on the 13th. There were now four Red-breasted Mergansers stationed off Canvey Point on the 14th whilst a Shag was favouring the Pier on the 15th. An influx of scoter into the Thames on the 16th saw an impressive 110 Common Scoter and two Velvet Scoter off Canvey Point. There was an unconfirmed report of a Bittern at Wat Tyler CP on the 17th whilst at adjacent Bowers Marsh a pair of Egyptian Geese could be found. A redhead Goosander, potentially the same as the Thames bird, took up station on the Crouch at Hullbridge from the 17th through to early December where it afforded very close views swimming among the Mute Swan herd there. Hen Harriers were very scarce this winter and along with Short-eared Owl were seen on Wallasea only twice this month and once in December with the 18th being one of the dates that the Hen Harrier was seen. A Common Sandpiper at Hullbridge on the 19th was an interesting record although it was not seen subsequently. The two Barnacle Geese which flew onto Paglesham Lagoon on the 23rd were probably the feral duo which have been around the Roach for several months. A Black-throated Diver was a good find off Gunners Park on 24th particularly as it showed well in flat calm conditions. There was some evidence of Short-eared Owl passage in the final week of the month with singles at South Fambridge on the 24th, Benfleet on the 26th, and Two Tree Island on the 29th. The Hen Harrier put in its second and last appearance of the month on Wallasea on the 26th. Encouragingly, Coal Tits were reported from six gardens in the last half of the month ranging from Thundersley to Hockley and Rayleigh. A seawatch from Canvey Point on the 29th produced 85 Gannets, a Pomarine Skua, and last week’s Black-throated Diver which went on to overwinter on the Thames.
The month started well with a seawatch from Canvey Point where a record 140 Red-throated Divers were counted along with the year’s only Little Auk, and singles of Eider, Guillemot, Razorbill, and Great Skua. On the 3rd, Shags were seen at Hullbridge and the Pier whilst Woodcock were noted at Canvey Wick and Bowers Marsh. Also on the 3rd a Bullfinch was reported from its former stronghold at Magnolia NR. The Black-throated Diver was again offshore from Gunners Park on the 4th when the pair of Egyptian Geese were favouring the Wat Tyler CP scrape. The Goosander at Hullbridge was reported for the last time on the 6th and a single Hawfinch was seen in Pound Wood on the 8th. Another Canvey seawatch on the 11th produced two Shags, nine Great Skuas, three Little Gulls, and 40 Kittiwakes. Wallasea hosted a Short-eared Owl and Merlin on the 12th with the Merlin putting in another appearance on the 19th. Following a recent and rapid increase in records, a Great White Egret over Bowers Marsh on the 14th was surprisingly the first of the year. A Great Northern Diver was reported off Canvey Point on the 14th and again on the 20th and 24th. Three Hawfinch were found in Pound Wood on the 16th but still eluded all but the finder. In the adjacent Tile Wood, two Nuthatches were found the same day with another confiding Nuthatch showing regularly in Pound Wood from the 18th through to 2018. A Slavonian Grebe reported from the Pier on the 20th was surprisingly the first record of the year. A flock of 16 Lesser Redpolls settled briefly on Two Tree Island on the 21st. The only Blackcap of the month visited a South Benfleet garden on the 23rd. Yellowhammers continue to decline locally with a flock of 11 at Lower Raypits on the 26th one of the highest counts this year. The Black-throated Diver was noted off Canvey Point again on the 30th, the same day that a Pygmy Shrew was found sheltering under a reptile mat on Canvey Wick. The year ended with a flourish with Slavonian Grebe, four Guillemots, a Razorbill and two Merlins seen from Canvey Point, and Great White Egret, Hen Harrier, and a (or the) redhead Goosander at Wallasea on the 31st.
In summary there were 215 species reliably reported this year which represents an average year and matching last year’s total exactly which is surprising considering both passage periods felt relatively slow. Highlights included Black-winged Stilts, Temminck’s Stints, and Cory’s Shearwater although only the Stilts were widely available. The same can be said of the Lesser White-fronted Goose, a first for the area, and a clear contender for bird of the decade had it lingered for any more than twenty minutes on Wallasea. Therefore, given that most local birders were able to connect with it, and there has not been a local record for over twenty-five years, the bird of the year was arguably the Marsh Tit in Hockley.