13/05/2011
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Where to Watch Birds: Kent, Surrey and Sussex (fifth edition)

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Kent, Surrey and Sussex hold many amazing birdwatching sites, covering Britain’s most extensive areas of saltmarsh, large tracts of prime woodland, rugged cliffs and headlands, heath and chalk downland, and unique and novel habitats like the shingle peninsula of Dungeness and the saline lagoons of Cliffe Pools RSPB, both in Kent. The proximity of the two coastal counties to the Continent and migration routes over both land and sea means that they are perfectly placed to receive falls of migrants, continental overshoots and seabird passage of quality and quantity.

 

Helm’s Where to Watch Birds in Kent, Surrey and Sussex has now reached its fifth edition, with a whopping increase of 113 pages and at least 90 sites newly added or expanded from its previous incarnation. The three authors are all known for writing either previous site guides or county avifaunas, and patently know every tree bole and pebble on their native turf, and this up-to-date expertise is reflected in the clearness and thoroughness of the accounts. The volume is noticeably thicker and heavier than the previous edition in 1997, but as the revised maps with their greater clarity encourage field use, it is notable that the book still feels light and manageable. The county descriptions have benefited from an extensive upgrade, and the series’ recently improved layout has also increased the readability and practicality of the book.

 

The guide begins with an introduction to the geography and climate of the region, followed by an overview of each county’s avifauna and habitats. The individual accounts are split into habitat, species, timing, access, calendar and maps. Then it’s the ‘site clusters’, beginning with the Hoo Peninsula in Kent and finishing with Sussex’s Wealden Greensand. The variety of habitats present mean that several of the site clusters can produce 100-120 species in winter or migration periods, with a bit of planning.

 

The region holds some of the most renowned and productive sites in the country for numbers of both common species and vagrants, visible migration and scarce breeding birds, and the grouping of each area’s sites together allows for judicious route planning, according to season and time constraints.

 

Revisions take into account the depressing and hard-to-explain ongoing loss of traditional sites for Willow Tit, Hawfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but are tempered by positive increases in Hobby, Marsh Harrier and Cetti’s Warbler numbers. Some sites could have been covered in more detail, for instance Beddington Sewage Farm, Surrey, with its enviable track record of regional scarcities and rarites, despite its relative lack of public access.

 

The birding sites in the north Kent marshes and along Sussex’s coastal plain can be bewilderingly complex, and this volume comes into its own by making both the habitats and your time more manageable. It is also useful to have brief summaries of less productive sites to be explored, such as Leeds Castle in Kent.

 

This is possibly the most detailed and well-researched volume in the Where to Watch series. Completely investigating this region will always be the work of many seasons and many years, but this guide makes it easier.

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Where to Watch Birds: Kent, Surrey and Sussex (fifth edition) by Don Taylor, Jeffrey Wheatley and Paul James (Christopher Helm, London, 2010).

    432 pages, 48 black-and-white illustrations, 158 maps.

    ISBN 9781408105856. Pbk, £18.99

First published in Birdwatch 214:48 (April 2010)

Available from Birdwatch bookshop