I am honoured that Sharon has invited me – amongst others – to continue to post to Martin’s Birding Frontiers blog, following his untimely death after a long courageous battle with cancer. Before I do so, however, I wanted to write my tribute to the great man. It has taken me some time because it has been very difficult for me to put into words just how much Martin meant to me.
It may sound over the top but I make no apology; Martin was an inspiration to me as a birder, photographer and a man. I first met Martin in the late 1990s at Poolsbrook Country Park, Derbyshire when he introduced me to the intricacies of gull identification. By that stage I’d been birding seriously for about 20 years and was no slouch, but Martin’s knowledge far surpassed mine and he opened my eyes. Not only did he open my eyes and expand my knowledge but he inspired me and positively encouraged me to pursue my digiscoping be it video or stills. He recognised my digiscoping skills and his mantra “Be the best you can be” echoes in my ears. To hear Martin say that I was “pushing the boundaries” with my digiscoping is much-treasured praise.
Martin was a real expert in bird identification – he was at the top of his game. Queries were invariably referred to him. Martin was definitely the ” man who does”. It’s no surprise therefore that Birding Frontiers was ground breaking stuff, being interesting and informative with many learned contributors and experts from around the world. I was really proud therefore when Martin asked me to contribute on digiscoping.
I also have Martin to thank for my working relationship with Swarovski which has been beneficial to me in pursuing my digiscoping passion.
Martin will be sadly missed by me and many others but his knowledge and his willingness to spread and share that knowledge will live on through his Challenge books and Birding Frontiers.
What a bird! This doesn’t really come into the sort of taxonomically obscure, hard-to-identify bird that Martin loved best. But he would still have enjoyed it immensely, he would have been in his element among the small crowd gathered on Shetland today. And he’d probably have asked a couple of questions that no-one else thought to ask as well.
It was easy enough to age and sex this terrific Rose-breasted Grosbeak as a 2CY male, with a nice mix of retained juvenile and newly moulted feathers – mostly juvenile remiges (it’s moulted the two innermost tertials on both sides), retained primary coverts and alula, new median and greater coverts, new central tail, old outer tail (etc). It was singing as well! Just occasionally, it delivered a few beautiful, really Blackbird-like, clear fluty notes. It’s the first for Shetland and fourth for Scotland (two Outer Hebs, one Orkney, not including one on an oil rig in Sea Area Fair Isle in 2012).
‘Another Facebook mega’ – the last three mega-rarities in Shetland have all been found at garden feeders, with images posted on Faceboook for the birding community to find there. It’s a major health risk – if you’d just lifted a large pan of boiling tatties off the stove and just happened to glance at your iPad before tipping them into the colander in the sink, you could end up with scalded feet and a right mess on your kitchen floor. Joking aside, the future is surely here though – surfing social media to find images of unidentified megas is the next best thing to being out in the field. First it was Oriental Turtle Dove in Scalloway last November, then Mourning Dove in Lerwick on Boxing Day, now this, in a lovely little garden in the birding backwater of West Burra. So you can forget autumn, all you glory seekers, that’s sooooo last year. Come to Shetland when it’s friggin’ cold and spend your time checking garden feeders.
And the (Facebook) trend will surely continue. To ensure you don’t miss the next monster on your patch, make sure your social media skills are up to scratch.
Grateful thanks to my old Birding Frontiers/Champions of the Flyway team-mate Adam Hutt (in Yorkshire) for being the first to tell me about the Burra Grosbeak – and especially to the owners of all three gardens chosen by the two pigeons and today’s star bird – all of them typically friendly and accommodating.