Birdwatching in Staines with The Urban Birder

By David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

My well-timed visits to Staines Reservoir as an 18 year old resulted in seeing some great birds, such as flocks of spring Black Terns, an eclipse Garganey and a first winter Glaucous Gull. That was over 20 years ago, so my return, escorted by veteran Colne Valley birder, Pete Naylor, was long overdue.

Built in 1901, Staines Reservoir is the oldest reservoir in the region and over the ages has been the birding stomping ground for many of the good and the great in the London birding scene. It is in fact two reservoirs (north and south basins) that lie southwest of Heathrow Airport and are usually under the shadow of a noisily landing Jumbo. A central causeway that has general public access separates the water bodies and the site is a SSSI due to the important numbers of wintering diving ducks.

A remarkable array of rarities has occurred here including a host of waders attracted in when one of the basins is drained for maintenance. Beauties such as Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole and Wilson’s Phalarope have all turned up, whilst interesting terns and gulls are regular. It can be quite an exciting place to be on the right day as you can often see migration in action watching waders sweeping in.

Owing to the close proximity of Heathrow Airport and the accompanying post 9/11 security measures, a special permit has to be obtained from Thames Water to visit certain places, such as King George VI Reservoir. My guide Pete had a permit so we took a quick stroll up to the bank for a sneak preview and we were treated to parties of waterfowl that included Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and a solitary female Velvet Scoter. It was the first time that I had seen this normally maritime duck in London.

Next door to the west, bordered by the busy M25 and split by the River Colne, lies SSSI designated Staines Moor recently made famous as the temporary home of a much admired wayward Brown Shrike. At 516 hectares it is one of England’s largest areas of neutral grassland, furthermore it contains the oldest known anthills of the Yellow Meadow Ant in Britain. Pete informed me that the usual expected warblers breed here, whilst in winter the area and the adjoining Stanwell Moor attracts winter thrushes, Snipe, Jack Snipe and the occasional Barn Owl.

Other lesser known nearby sites include Hithermoor Lake, which is fairly good for wintering duck and Water Rail, and Wraysbury Gravel Pits, which is a great winter spot for finding Smew, although the classic numbers reported over 20 years ago are sadly a thing of the past.