Birding Frontiers was launched in autumn 2010, and has since become one of the most popular birding blogs in Britain and beyond. It was the brainchild of Martin Garner, and its style and character perfectly reflected his continuous quest for new discoveries and for learning. Martin’s irrepressible enthusiasm was the rocket fuel that powered this particular spacecraft. Boooom!
Once the blog had taken off and become properly airborne, Martin enlisted the help of various other people, who were cajoled and persuaded to write for Birding Frontiers. It became more of a team effort after that although Martin remained firmly anchored at the heart of the project: his expertise, his vision and above all his communication skills were critical.
Martin died in late January 2016, after a battle with cancer that lasted more than two years. His death leaves a gaping hole in the birding scene; he was a larger-than-life character who inspired everyone who met him and spent time with him in the field. Now that Sharon has posted her own tribute, we, the team members, wish to pay our respects and record our thanks to Martin; send our deepest condolences to Sharon, Abigail and Emily; and acknowledge that life without Martin will not be the same.
It is unbelievably sad to think that Martin is no longer with us. He touched so many people with his enthusiasm, curiosity and positivity. I am one of them. I started following his Birding Frontiers blog soon after its launch in 2010, just a year after having changed my US mail address and moving to Varanger. I had moved to a new place full of expectations and a desire to make difference, all based on my passion for birding. In Martin’s blog I found a voice that inspired my own birding and sense of discovery. It was a voice with that rare combination of the expertly skilled birder but at the same time it was humble and open. Moving to Varanger was a big choice for me, and my family. We wanted to make birding and nature a key part of our lives.
It did not take long before I had an opportunity to contact Martin. Sometimes, I guess, that is how a friendship can start – with a guy in Arctic Norway sending some photos of an odd-looking Bean Goose to a guy in Sheffield. That was the start of a longer correspondence, with eye-opening and inspirational input from Martin. Soon after that, I found an opportunity to invite Martin to Varanger. In 2011 he joined a trip I led, and that was the start of a good friendship based on our shared passion for birding.
Martin was the most generous person I have ever met. We talked birds and birding, and Martin’s sharp thinking was already predicting new birds in Varanger, birds that surely had to be found if we only we looked for them! Glaucous-winged Gull, Stejneger’s Scoter and Pacific Eiders are well documented now, as Martin expected them to be. But our passion for birds also included people. Since our first tour in Varanger we have shared so many great experiences both on tour in the UK and on several events in Varanger.
Thinking of Martin now I am left with so many great memories. For that I am very thankful. Our crazy busy and buzzing ‘Pushing the Boundaries Tour’ around the UK was one of the highlights of my birding life. It was everything we set to do: enjoy great birding, meet inspirational people and to share our passion for birding with others. Martin will be dearly missed as a key influence in my life. Thank you, Martin.
Martin and Ian Lewington enjoying ´the King Eider vortex´ in Vardø, during Gullfest 2013. An amazing day of birding, in the best company.
In every profession, in every walk of life, there are those that stand out from the crowd, those that push boundaries, those that set the bar for the rest of us to aim at. Martin was one of those people. With boundless energy, big inquisitive eyes and an ear-to-ear smile Martin pushed our understanding of bird ID, and how we should look at bird ID, further in a decade than had been done in the previous half century.
My involvement with Birding Frontiers started at the Hula Valley Bird Festival – where better. Martins enthusiasm for my and Richard Moores’ interest in mammals was amazing and he soon invited me to contribute to the Birding Frontiers website. Throughout the time I knew him, his enthusiasm never faltered and he was always keen to hear any thoughts I might have had on mammals or birds in a never-ending quest to learn more about the subject we are all most passionate about. His legacy, as well as happy memories and informative pages to turn, will be the way we approach identification, with open minds and without the fear of being wrong. If nothing else Martin taught us that being wrong is absolutely fine, why else do we fall if not to learn?
I have been aware of Martin’s papers since I was a little lad, a very young birder ! I remember reading all his papers with great admiration as I could get the feeling that I could find in his work my own way of life: CURIOSITY! PASSION! LOVE! And that the main target was to pose questions and to study more… not necessarily to solve problems definitively or to give the (presumed) final word on something. That was how it was for me, that is like it still is. At the time I had several ‘heroes’, including Killian Mullarney, Richard Porter, DIM Wallace, Lars Jonsson, Hans Larsson and MARTIN GARNER! Among the bird artists my heroes were and still are John Gerard Keulemans, K. De Mees, John Smith (for reptiles), Lorenzo Starnini, Ian Lewington, Brian J Small, Lars Jonsson and Hans Larsson. Over the course of many years, I have met and become a friend of most of these (apart from the artists of the 1800s of course!).
I first met Martin in Linosa island, a paradise for Italian birders. I invited Martin and he came straightaway! Typical of his true enthusiasm for life, for descovering, for SHARING! He then invited me to join BF team. When I, and the rest of my birding team MISC met him, we discovered that he was not only a great birder, that’s too easy; he was a great MAN as well, and that’s really hard ! Martin was like a luminescent person, one of those person you met once and they shine light on you. I AM MISSING HIM! That’s it… no other words !
I first met Martin on Shetland, in September 2011. I was birding in Unst, when a minibus came whizzing up the road and pulled up alongside my car. I instantly recognised Martin, and the look of excitement on his face. It was the start of a short but great friendship.
‘Hi guys, I’ve found a really interesting Lesser Whitethroat and I’d like a few others to see it!’ Very soon we were watching that Lesser Whitethroat, at close quarters, feeding in a lines of rose bushes. Martin quickly began to point out the interesting features of this ‘eastern’ bird and his attention to detail was amazing. It soon became clear to me and the rest of the group watching the bird, that it was not a normal Lesser Whitethroat.
This was Martin in his element, ‘frontier birding’ in real life. Martin’s enthusiasm for birding was there for all to see and this has had a massive impact on me, as it has on many other people. I feel so very privileged to have had Martin as a friend, if only for a short period of time.
I was very flattered, in fact amazed, when he asked me to join his BF team. At the time I didn’t really know why. Who am I to be asked to join such a distinguished group? I questioned Martin and in his amicable way he said: ‘Don’t worry Tony: enjoy, become part of the learning, there is so much more out there to be discovered.’ He put those words into my two Challenge Series Books, at the birdfair last year and I’ll treasure them always.
So, many thanks Martin, for your enthusiasm, spirit and belief and for pushing the boundaries of birding in such a unique way. Au revoir.
Martin in Shetland
I’d often heard of Martin Garner and when I asked him to give a lecture at a birders’ meeting on Helgoland, I was very happy when he agreed. When I met him here on my tiny home island, I realized that he was not only an excellent birder, but also a great person! On the meeting as well as later in many discussions by email he was full of new questions, mainly concerning the recognition of difficult-to-identify species. When he invited me to the Birding Frontiers team, I felt honoured, although I could not contribute as much as I would have wanted. I was really shocked when I heard of Martin’s illness, and when finally the news of his death got through to me (I was in a remote part of north-east India), I was very sad. I will miss the many discussions with him and would have liked to meet him more often than just once!
Martin on Helgoland
Martin’s work was a great inspiration, not only for British birdwatchers, but also reaching out to the rest of Europe and beyond. More than anything, I think that his greatest contribution to the birding society was getting people to talk to each other and think together; ignoring prestige and instead focusing on the increase of our collective knowledge. And always with a smile.
Unlike others here, it is with great sadness that I have to admit that I never met Martin. Like all others here, however, all I have is positive memories from many excited phone conversations and correspondence over the last few years. Thus, it is with some apprehension that I write this, in the knowledge that many others knew him far better than myself and that I can’t do it the justice I wish I could.
Martin and I began corresponding a few years ago due to some of the work I am involved in, primarily in the tropics, where often even the most basic information on species is completely unknown. I vividly remember our first chat on the phone, his famed enthusiasm oozing through the airwaves as we talked on and on about how very much there is to learn, both at home as much as the remotest mountains in the unbirded regions of the word. It was as clear to me then as much as it is now that Martin was a master of the trade, not only in the field, but also in connecting people, motivating ideas and removing the stigmas that birding and ornithological circles can sometimes generate. Naturally, I was flattered when Martin asked if I’d be interested in getting involved in his new vision for Birding Frontiers. It became apparent to me, however, that it was never about pedestals, it was his way of getting people to look deeper, learn more and get excited, all with the idea that if you’re doing it with a smile on your face, you’re doing it right- what a legacy to be remembered by.
Martin Garner was a truly admirable person, and one who has inspired countless birders, including me. His deep enthusiasm and willingness to discover, ask questions about everything, and especially share his findings with others, definitely led many of us to becoming better birders – and people. I will always be grateful to him for that. I first had contact with Martin regarding my local Yellow-legged Gulls, a subject he was really passionate about, and ever since then we have had constant email exchange, about all sorts of things. After meeting him for the first time at Gull Fest, and attending one of his lectures (which was truly inspirational) I then had the opportunity to invite him to come along to Lanzarote, to experience our pelagic trips. We were fortunate in having Martin with us a couple of times, spending a lot of time with him out in the field, and thankfully I got to know him better. He was, above all, a great guy, always trying to help, and none of us will ever forget him and his attitude. Rest in peace my friend.
Dani and Martin at Gullfest, April 2012
In November 2013 Martin visited me in Israel. We birded in the Negev and saw this female Siberian Stonechat. In the field it showed no white on the tail bases at all. I was convinced it was a female hemprichii. Martin didn’t believe me. We set a net up and in a few minutes it was in the hand. One blow on the uppertail coverts, and boom! White bases to tail feathers! Martin couldn’t stop laughing for a long time!
I feel very lucky to have known Martin Garner as a friend and as a birder. Martin devoted his life to care, encouragement and inspiration of others. He inspired and guided me in my personal life and also with my birding; encouraging me to believe in myself and to never be afraid to ask questions (even if there were no answers)! I was lucky enough to spend time birding with Martin during trips abroad, where his infectious enthusiasm, wealth of knowledge and willingness to teach (and be taught) made for an incredibly rich experience. The photograph below was taken by Jonathan Meyrav during our trip to the Hula Bird Festival. Martin is stood with me in front of a tree containing a Great Spotted Eagle and an Eastern Imperial Eagle. This is one of many fantastic memories I have of my time spent with Martin.
It is so sad and unfair to have lost such a wonderful and beautiful human being. I feel very privileged to have known him.
Martin first came to Shetland in 2009, on the first of many successful tours with Shetland Nature. The photo below sums him up: at the centre of a rare-bird discovery in the most unpromising of circumstances, and an integral part of the team event that unfolded that afternoon. And with a great big smile on his face.
From left: Brydon Thomason, RR, Fiona Barclay, Mike Weedon, Martin and Dominic Mitchell, in the Fetlar ‘Taiga Fly garden’.
Even though I met Martin only once, I will miss him as if he was a family member. He was, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me as he has been to countless others. This photo is of Martin receiving a book – The Natural History of Selbourne, by Gilbert White – a gift from Beijing birders in recognition of the value of the Challenge Series to east Asian birders. It has been a huge honour to be associated with Martin through the Birding Frontiers website and the Challenge Series and his spirit will live on!
I first met Martin during one of the annual Dutch Birding days, where he was the main speaker, I guess around seven years ago. His talks blow me away – and not only me…! We had some email contact before about ID issues but wooow, this man was not just a great birder and nice guy, but a fabulous speaker too! At the end of the day we came to talk about Steppe Buzzard ID and a friendship was born. A few years later we did two days birding around the north of Holland, together with my friends Diederik Kok en Jeroen de Bruyn. It was an extreme cold period and even the Waddensea towards Texel was largely frozen.
Over the last five years we have discussed many ID issues, and even until this day, every time an ID issue comes across, I think, I wonder… what would Martin think about this? The loss is just starting to sink in, but the inspiration he gave me and so many others will live much longer.
Nils van Duivendijk
Martin on Texel in February 2012. Martin, who else, had just found a very good candidate adult Russian Common Gull (heinei). Here, Nils is positioning his scope for Martin to digiscope it.