A birding guide to Surrey (sort of)
Is Surrey the worst county to go birding in?
It has no coastline. If we forget about the Middlesex reservoirs, it has little in the way of large bodies of water. Arguably its best birding site is behind high fences and a locked gate. Great swathes of the county are privately owned.
As far as county bird totals go, it must be at the lower end of the league table, possibly struggling with the likes of Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire for relegation (if such a thing existed). Attempts at a big year list will not reach 200 species. One birder recently attempted to break this figure, over back-to-back years, having cleared his calendar by leaving employment. He had an excellent network of informants and he birded from dawn until dusk, seven days a week. He failed to reach 200 on both occasions.
So, if you find yourself in the county, where would you go to get your birding fix? What sites offer you a modicum of hope?
Beddington Sewage Farm
Unless you want to get arrested while using wire-cutters to force entry, the best way of gaining entry to the farmlands is by hanging around the Hackbridge gate and awaiting the arrival of one of the key holders. These men (for they are all men) are members of a shady cult, who worship the Gull God. Offerings of refuse are made to the gulls, who come from miles around to feed at the altar. Birders who are permitted entry to the inner sanctum need to stoop in subservience and pray through a telescope at these feeding times. Talk of species other than gulls is permitted, but can only be of birds likely to be seen from offshore Mediterranean islands.
Holmethorpe Sand Pits
When visiting you must ensure that you take a pair of step ladders with you, so that you can actually see the open water above the top of the profuse, unkept hedgerows. Any aversion to wire fencing will be sorely tested. A fondness of dogs is recommended and an ability to stomach the removal of the mutt’s ’business’ from your boots. You will most probably recorded a higher number of dog breeds that you will species of bird.
Up and coming ‘new kid on the block’ whose birding fraternity is made up entirely of armed forces personnel and carp fishermen. All overseen by a ‘birding elder’ who has landmarks named after him.
Try to time your visit with the single day in the year when it is good for birds. If you like counting Wood Pigeons and corvids then this might be the place for you - might, because even they can disappear at times. Another place to boost your ‘dog breed’ list.
Leith Hill Tower
Stronghold fiercely defended by a band of mercenary birders, driven away from other Surrey sites by a combination of boredom and lonliness. Rumoured to shepherd overflying migrants with tame Goshawks.
Island Barnes Reservoir
A mythical thing - a true Surrey reservoir. A magical key will unlock this kingdom, or the alternative is to run the risk of being chased by security men with dogs, or ripping your clothing on barbed wire. Rumoured to be full of seabirds early in the morning.
London Wetland Centre
At only £50 a visit (£150 if parking a car), this is the cheapest way of guaranteeing seeing a Bittern in the county. Unless you visit…
Frensham Great Pond
…where a fortnight’s wait on the shoreline, in some winters, will give you a 5% chance of seeing one. Sometimes. Also good for Alsatians, Labradoodles and those little yappy dogs.
Mainly dog free, so if you are searching for that elusive ‘blue roan’ Cocker Spaniel for your year list, best look elsewhere.