Author Archives: eastshorebirder1

Another Facebook mega


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.

Roger Riddington


From the Birding Frontiers team

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.

Tormod Amundsen

Martin and Ian Lewington enjoying ´the King Eider vortex´ in Vardø, during Gullfest 2013. An amazing day of birding, in the best company.

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?

Dan Brown

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 !

Andrea Corso

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.

Tony Davison

Martin in Shetland

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!

Jochen Dierschke

Martin on Helgoland

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.

Magnus Hellström

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.

Sam Jones

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 López-Velasco



Dani and Martin at Gullfest, April 2012

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!

Yoav Perlman


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.

Tristan Reid


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.

Roger Riddington

From left: Brydon Thomason, RR, Fiona Barclay, Mike Weedon, Martin and Dominic Mitchell, in the Fetlar ‘Taiga Fly garden’.

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!

Terry Townshend


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, I am positioning my scope for Martin to digiscope it.

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.

The Mike Yarwood bird

Even writing that title makes me realise how old I am. For younger readers: Mike Yarwood used to do impressions. I can remember as a small child in the 70s his show was one of my dad’s favourite TV programmes. I was impressed too, even though I was only dimly aware of half the people he ‘did’. I recall that Enoch Powell was a favourite – I assumed he was a cartoon character and couldn’t work out why he never came on after Jackanory. Anyway, I digress. Birds that do impressions: in Shetland there are basically two that are really good at it. The Starling is one and this is the other.


Starlings get me going all the time, but when Wheatears first arrive back on territory they can be as good if not better. They do a fantastic Green Sandpiper, and plenty more besides. How long do such birds retain other species’ calls in their repertoire? I’ve often wondered – and maybe there is some good research on the subject out there? For example, the Starlings at the back of our house were doing a very nice Swallow song ten days or so ago – well before the Swallows (which have bred in the sheds out the back for the past two years) arrived back. Those Starlings might have seen the odd Swallow this year before that but I can’t imagine they had heard any singing.

Also at the back of our house, I was pulled up sharp last Wednesday by the call of a Citrine Wagtail. It sounded pitch perfect to me, I was looking round frantically and eventually spotted the source of the calls as a smart drake Wheatear sat on a stone dyke. Where had that bird got the call from? I walked around all the wet bits within a mile of the house and found… three White Wags.

This story has a happy ending however, as the very next day, stepson no. 2 and I were down at the bottom of the garden discussing rhubarb-growing strategies when that Wheatear started calling again – except that this time it was coming from the edge of a sludgy pool in the next field and a quick look revealed:


Moral of the tale – always listen to bird mimics, they can be good for your find list!

Race Day: the Birding Frontiers story…

by Roger Riddington

I woke soon after midnight, after an hour and a half of deep sleep. The alarm was set for 02.00, but excitement/anxiety levels were instantly high, and the prospect of further sleep quickly faded. By 2.15 I was up, showered, had cleaned the room, watered the geraniums and tracked down some packed breakfasts; by 2.30 Adam (Hutt) and I were at the Agamim to pick up Paul (French), our checklist, Israeli phone and register our start. Jonathan (Meyrav) was there to sign us off and wish us luck. Some teams were already out and about – the Cornell e-birders had ticked Brown Booby at North Beach and the Finnish team found the Yotvata Caspian Plover in their headlights.

Here are your heroes at the Agamim at the start, looking unreasonably cheery for 2.30 am (and tickled pink by Jonathan Meyrav's flowery pyjamas...)

Here are your heroes at the Agamim at the start, looking unreasonably cheery for 2.30 am (and tickled pink by Jonathan Meyrav’s flowery pyjamas…)

We had decided to leave night birding proper until the second night period, in the hope of a couple of hours extra kip, so by the time we were on the road we drove steadily north to Nizzana, at the top end of the Negev and in the northwest corner of the ‘playing field’. After driving for two and half hours, with nice views of Wild Ass and brief views of Wolf (for Adam at least), I handed over to Adam for the last 40k and promptly fell asleep in the back seat. Allegedly I was snoring almost immediately (though I reckon that that was the one stringy claim from my team mates on race day) – and dreaming about what our first bird would be.

And it was… a singing Crested Lark. A modest beginning. At Ezuz, just beyond Nizzana, still black dark; more critical things were to come though, with a distant Eagle Owl – only Frenchy and Adam could hear it – and a close Sprosser. As light came quickly, and we shivered – despite our matching (and fetching) Swarovski fleeces – new birds trickled in. It was light proper and we were at our third vantage point scanning over the rocky Nizzana terrain when one of the day’s stand-out birds hove into view – a displaying Macqueen’s Bustard in full headless chicken mode. Fabulous. Sadly there was no time to enjoy it, every new bird was vital, even at this early stage. We knocked off Pallid Harrier (a lovely male), Black-eared Wheatear (a lovely male), Chukar (a lovely… oh ok then, it was a Chukar), Cream-coloured Courser, Hen Harrier, Southern Grey Shrike and more.

Dawn at Nizzana...

Dawn at Nizzana…

Frenchy tries to find 'Chukar' on the checklist without getting his torch out...

Frenchy tries to find ‘Chukar’ on the checklist without getting his torch out…

By 7.00, we’d heard Spotted Sandgrouse but failed to record any other sandgrouse and our schedule said: move on. We hit the road, rattling along quickly towards S’de Boquer, picking up new birds steadily from the car, with the occasional emergency stop. S’de Boquer kibbutz was an oasis of calm at that early stage, and we set about trying to find as many of the ‘European’ species as we could. One of two wintering Yellow-browed Warblers was the highlight there, but Blackbird and Greenfinch were equally valuable. We met the Palestine Sunbirders, and Noam kindly pointed us to exactly where the Yellow-browed was. We met the Digitial Stringers too, who had had a remarkably good time at Yerucham Lake, which prompted a change of tack and a quick visit to the lake. We didn’t have nearly as much luck there: Syrian Woodpecker and a stunning male Collared Flycatcher were the hits but Little Bittern, Purple Gallinule, White-breasted Kingfisher and Great Reed Warbler were the misses. Pitta and hummus on the run was breakfast and we were back on the road, bound for Ben Gurion College…

We met several other teams at the grave, where the temperatures were now starting to soar. The high vantage point over this bleached and spectacular desert vista quickly gave us various raptors – Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles – although a perched large falcon was more tricky, we simply couldn’t be certain that it really was a Lanner, so we had to leave it – and large falcons were to remain absent from our total. Alpine Swifts scythed over our heads, and Pale Crag Martin completed the five hirundines that we’d planned for.

Palestine Sunbird

Palestine Sunbird

From BGC, it was time to properly warm up the car engine; we headed south to the Uvda valley via a series of short (scheduled and unscheduled) roadside stops that gave us Desert Lark, Mourning and White-crowned Black Wheatears, but (not entirely unsurprisingly) no Hooded Wheatear, Sinai Rosefinch or Syrian Serin.

We were more or less on schedule by the time we reached the Uvda Valley, and at that point we reckoned we were doing ok. From memory we’d seen c. 75 species and while we had clearly missed some stuff, we’d managed to see many of our key target species as well. Uvda was a disappointment – we spent over an hour in the desert and expended a good deal of energy in the heat of the day, and added only Crowned Sandgrouse and Tawny Pipit. From there to Ne’ot Smadar, and that was disappointing too – we added a female Sibe Stonechat, a male Ruppell’s Warbler and a few waders; but at well past 2.00, and with a lot left to do, our score had advanced very little since the Ramon crater. We met the crack Finnish team – the Northern Lights, one of the pre-race favourites – at NS and they were perhaps even more disconsolate than we were, and were well behind their schedule.

Ruppell's Warbler

Ruppell’s Warbler

By the time we left NS we were still within sight of our own time schedule but we needed Yotvata to deliver. It did just that. Perhaps less in terms of species quantity, but the quality lifted out spirits immeasurably. We bounced down the track to the dunes flanking the Jordanian border, identified a likely looking pull-in, climbed the nearest dune to look for Hoopoe Lark and saw one in less than a minute! Boom!

Namaqua Doves at Yotvata

Namaqua Doves at Yotvata


We backtracked quickly to the southern circular field, and nailed Corn Bunting and Namaqua Dove en route to the weedy strip in the middle, where we found: Oriental Skylark! But wait, what were those other two birds? They looked just the same as the first one, but surely there were not three OS at this well-watched site? After two flushes, we were all happy with the calls and the flight views, and we managed decent scope views of one bird. Kerrrrrboom! At this point, and not without a good deal of soul-searching over standards of decency and general manliness, we staged a boom! photoshoot for our absent leader, although taking the picture was as far as I personally was prepared to go… (And Frenchy is still mildly traumatised by it.)


The rest of the Yotvata fields added no Caspian Plover, sadly, but White Stork joined the list; while the sewage ponds added a few waders, and the only Bluethroat of the day. We finished the Yotvata leg at K50; our schedule said we should have left already (it was now 4.00) but the light was good, we had over three hours of light left and we decided to invest time in a the more-or-less guaranteed Little Green Bee-eater and the possibility of Arabian Warbler. The Bee-eater was easy, and Frenchy and me jammed in to great views of the male Arabian Warbler. One last little boost, to compensate for the lack of the reported Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin.

Little Green Bee-eater

Little Green Bee-eater

But it was now pushing 4.30, and we had 90 species… It was time for the K20 saltpans. Arriving in a cloud of dust and spitting gravel, we proceeded to eat up the waders (including at least two Greater Sandplovers, 20 or so Collared Pratincoles, Marsh Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalaropes and plenty more) and other waterbirds on offer; all more or less as expected although the only tern was Gull-billed (a super flock of 11) and there were no real surprises. Red-throated Pipits were calling and we added Osprey here as well.

Black-Winged Stilt - easy at K20

Black-Winged Stilt – easy at K20

Bouncing down the rough tracks past the canal, the previous days of scouting paid off as Dead Sea Sparrow, Common Snipe and Citrine Wagtail all appeared on cue so by 5.30, things were looking a little better. We’d need a faultless performance from now until the finish, but adrenalin was back, and optimism with it.

We headed for North Beach via the birders highway and the rough tracks past the birding centre. North Beach did us OK – we missed Brown Booby but not much else, with three spp of terns, three of gulls (incl. White-eyed) and Western Reef Egret. We knew we had no time for Holland Park, and its Sand Partridge and Sylvia warblers, nor any spots that might yield Scrub Warbler or Silverbill; we invested five minutes in a fruitless search of the imax park for Common Myna (the one trash town bird we were missing) and for one final time wound up the standard issue Renault Floozy to head north again to the K17 sewage pools for Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse and (we hoped) a slew of late ticks. We gratefully took on board Little Crake, Night Heron and the expected sandgrouse, although we failed with Tufted and Ferruginous Ducks and Gadwall.

With the light gone, we headed back to our hotel, via the birding centre, where we failed to hear Scops Owl but scored a hugely satisfying Great Black-headed Gull in the roost, courtesy of the extraordinary light gathering of our 95mm Swarovski giant scope.

Scoping Great Black-headed Gull in the dark...

Scoping Great Black-headed Gull in the dark…

And then we really did take a breather, with some dinner and a comfy seat. We were back out just after 9.30, and we spent a couple of hours on a gentle run to Yotvata, where we found several species in our car headlamps (White Stork, Stone-curlew, Quail  – as well as Desert Hedgehog) – sadly none of them boosting our total of 151.

And so 151 was where we ended. Three more species (Goldfinch, Penduline Tit and Whimbrel) were heard by just one team member, so had to remain off the final list. As the following day’s ceremony revealed, that score wasn’t enough to win, but we consoled ourselves that it was at least halfway respectable. We were all well behind the co-champions – the joint Israeli/Palestine Sunbirders, who notched a blistering 169, and the superbly organised e-bird/Cornell crew, who ran in 165. It was an entirely fitting end to the whole event that these two teams elected to share the inaugural Champions of the Flyway award. Guardians of the Flyway, the award for the most money raised (a whopping $12,000+), went to the Flyway Racers, while the Knights of the Flyway award (for sharing information) went to the Focussing on Wildlife Sprinters – click here for more details

The Batumi Raptors team (Alexander Rukhaia, Brecht-Verhelst, Johannes Jansen and Pim Wolf) receive a cheque for $30000

The Batumi Raptors team (Alexander Rukhaia, Brecht-Verhelst, Johannes Jansen and Pim Wolf) receive a cheque for $30000

The event as a whole was brilliant. As competitors we couldn’t have asked for more. The organisers – Jonathan and Dan, supported by an army of others, not least Yoav Perlman – laid out the red carpet for all the teams. Thank you guys.

Jonathan Meyrav and Dan Alon

Jonathan Meyrav and Dan Alon

Massive thanks to all the sponsors of the event as a whole, to the backers of the Frontiers team (Swarovski, Spurn Bird Bird Observatory, Yorkshire Coast Nature) and to everyone who sponsored us or one of the other teams. The whole event was characterised by great spirit and friendship, among the teams and within the wider army of people involved in the event. Most importantly, the event did its job of generating some serious cash for conservation – and if it provides the platform for an annual flyway race, raising awareness and funds for key conservation projects it will have been well worth all the effort.

All pics by Paul French, Adam Hutt & Roger Riddington, apart from the first one – by Jonathan Meyrav


The Fair Isle Collared Flycatcher

by Roger Riddington

Sunday 9th June 2013 was day 2 of the FIBOT AGM weekend, and in the morning I was helping out with the daily census, since warden David Parnaby had gallantly forgone census duties to do a Puffin walk for punters on a visiting cruise ship. I was in the southwest sector of the isle, and the other Obs staffers were covering southeast (Will Miles) and north (Richard Cope). It was a gloriously sunny day with a light easterly breeze; there was not much evidence of new arrivals in southwest but there is always hope on Fair Isle.

Just before 12.00 the Obs transit hove into view with David at the wheel and Will already on board. Richard had an interesting flycatcher at Lower Station (the communications tower near the top of Ward Hill), a female ficedula that was distinctly grey and had a big white primary patch. The implications were clear and it seemed like a good excuse for a detour.

Before we even saw the bird, Richard showed us his best image on the back of his camera. It was an arresting photo to say the least – a distinctly cold, grey-looking bird, with an obvious pale band across the rump, a diffuse but distinctly paler/greyer collar and – most significantly – a great big wedge of white at the base of the primaries, in the classic ‘club’ shape – i.e. wider towards the primary tips. The bird duly appeared and, after 15 minutes or so, everyone was agreed: the primary patch alone was totally different from anything we’d ever seen in a female Pied.


First views for Richard – bit distant but looks distinctly interesting…


and closer… oooeerrrr!! That’s a primary patch and a half…

From behind - an obvious whitish band across the rump, and a diffuse grey collar...

From behind – an obvious whitish band across the rump, and a diffuse grey collar…

Richard had two pictures where he’d captured the upperwing in flight, which showed the wingbar white and broad almost to the edge of the wing. It was these pictures perhaps more than anything that made me start to believe it must surely be a Collared. I focussed on looking at the wingbar in flight through bins and it was incredibly obvious.


There was a general consensus about what we had in front of us but none of us, least of all me, could remember whether there were any accepted records of female Collared that had not been trapped. [In fact, at the time of writing, there are four accepted British records of female/imm. Collared Flycatchers – Skerries May 76, Fair Isle October 86, North Ron May 99 and Bryher May 09 –  and the three in spring were not trapped.] Since the weather was remarkably fine, a decision to try and trap it was made. Will set off to get nets, while the rest of us stayed to observe and photograph.

An incredibly slick trapping operation followed, everyone with a job, mine being to ferry people up and down the hill road in the transit, so that people had a chance to see it in the field. As it was, it was caught quickly. It was taken back to the obs, where Dave Okill and Deryk Shaw joined us in the ringing room – a team effort of poring over the literature meant we didn’t miss anything critical. It was processed, shown to the assembled crowd, photographed, and on its way back to the trapping site for release in little more than half an hour – I was impressed.

The open wing. What a wingbar! A broad band of white on P4 with a clear spot on P3. Pied typically shows white to P6 to P7, 'sometimes P5, extremely rarely a white spot concealed at the base of P4' (Svensson). Note also the two ages of greater coverts - the replaced inner ones are presumably prebreeding, but are the older ones adult post- breeding or juvenile? Any ringers out there with lots of experience? Would be good to have any opinions.

The open wing. What a wingbar! A broad band of white on P4 with a clear spot on P3. Pied typically shows white to P6 to P7, ‘sometimes P5, extremely rarely a white spot concealed at the base of P4’ (Svensson). Note also the two ages of greater coverts – the replaced inner ones are presumably prebreeding, but are the older ones adult post- breeding or juvenile? Any ringers out there with lots of experience? Would be good to have any opinions.

The nape feathers - bit of a clincher. That white stripe across the middle helpfully eliminates both Pied and Semi-collared and could have been modelled on the drawing on p226 of the 'green Svensson'

The nape feathers – bit of a clincher. That white stripe across the middle helpfully eliminates both Pied and Semi-collared and could have been modelled on the drawing on p226 of the ‘green Svensson’

This is a great pic, with Collared on the left and a female Pied spliced in beside it - the latter was caught later the same afternoon. Check out the differences in primary patch,  tertial pattern (especially the thin white tips on Collared), the colder upperparts and great long wings of the Collared and that ghostly pale neck boa...

This is a great pic, with Collared on the left and a female Pied spliced in beside it – the latter was caught later the same afternoon. Check out the differences in primary patch, tertial pattern (especially the thin white tips on Collared), the colder upperparts and great long wings of the Collared, and that ghostly pale neck boa…

Back at the mast it quickly re-settled in the area, and showed well later that afternoon (after the AGM).

Showing well in the afternoon sunshine...

Showing well in the afternoon sunshine…

All in all, a great team effort (I’ve mentioned the word ‘team’ three times now, which qualifies me for a bonus ‘boom’ point from Captain Garner), though of course specially to Richard for finding it and getting everyone there. And it was the icing on the cake of a brilliant three days – the first Temminck’s for the isle since 1987, male western Subalpine Warbler present through in the Obs garden, a nice scatter of other migrants such as Red-backed Shrike and Wood Warbler, a lingering pod of 150 White-sided Dolphins and stupendous views of Orcas, when 15 animals circumnavigated the isle on the evening of the 8th. See some of the pics at the FIBO warden’s blog. If I’d been there a day earlier I’d have seen a River Warbler as well. Fair Isle, spring or autumn, it’s not always easy to decide…

[Pic credits of the images: Pics 1, 2 & 4 by Richard C, 3 & 8 by RR, 5 & 7 by Will M, no. 6 by David P]

Eastern Grasshopper Warbler – are they do-able in the hand?

Now that I’ve rediscovered the login details for the BF site, here’s another bird from Shetland, a Grasshopper Warbler trapped last weekend (11th May) in my garden in the south mainland.



I was chuffed with my first locustella in the garden – looking forward to the next species (and hoping it won’t be too long). The next day I caught it while I had the nets open for migrants in general. When I got it back to the ringing bench I was surprised to find that it was surprisingly short-winged. Plumage-wise it didn’t look like anything other than a fairly standard spring gropper but I rebagged it and went to check the critical biometrics in the BB paper on Eastern Grasshopper Warbler by Paul Harvey and Brian Small – read it here.

I measured the key features: wing 60.5, tail 55, tail/wing thus 0.91, tail graduation 20.0. P2 fell level with P4, and P4 was slightly emarginated. All of which means that it looks better for straminea, if not conclusively so (proportionately, it’s very long-tailed for a small naevia; and both the tail/wing ratio and the tail graduation measurement are close to or beyond the limit for naevia in the various sources given in the BB paper). Paul Harvey nipped down the road and checked my measuring.


Following the bird on Fair Isle last autumn, which was confirmed as straminea by DNA analysis, some lab work on the one flank feather I found in the bird bag afterwards is going to be the acid test for this bird too.

If it proves to be just a nominate gropper, it does raise the question of how useful the biometrics are, and suggests that all you can reasonably do without a DNA sample is identify the extremes – i.e. that a large majority of straminea might go unproven, even in the hand. All of which reinforces the cautious approach that the authors of the BB paper took I guess.

More on the Shetland diver

Many thanks to all those who have commented so far. Still in the process of checking out all the angles but an encouraging response so far.

Keith Brockie posted an interesting comment earlier this morning:

Are there any photos showing the side of the neck? The easiest way to separate a summer plumaged arctica from pacifica is the extent of the white neck stripes. In arctica they extend right down the neck ‘flowing’ with the belly stripes. In pacifica the neck stripes end before the base of the black throat patch, look at any photos and it can be easily seen and to my knowledge has never been commented on!

The difference Keith describes seems obvious in some photos, but less so in some others for example this Pacific in Manitoba, by Martin Scott.


Sadly, I don’t have much in the way of decent, side-on images of the Grutness bird with the neck fully visible. This is probably the ‘best’…


Or maybe this one