Author Archives: Martin Garner

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit

One of Eighteen

The Challenge Series: AUTUMN

Two weeks before the official book launch. With lots of interest about the new book’s content, I propose to try and post at least one photo a day which relates to each chapter for the next 14 days. Hope it’s of interest.

One of the chapters covers Hen Harrier and Northern Harrier. For More on the content and how to buy the book click HERE.

grey male Northern Harrier hudsonius Shaun Robson.

grey male Northern Harrier hudsonius Shaun Robson.


A letter from Essex on the Spurn Migration Festival


 6-8 September 2013

Louise and John Sykes came up from Essex last September to Britain’s first Migration Festival at Spurn. They  wrote up their experience of the festival in ‘Essex Birding’, the journal of the Essex Birdwatching Society. Get a real feel for the whole event! Here’s what they had to say (with grateful thanks).

To BOOK TICKETS for the Migration Festival this September:

Please call 01904 659570 or email Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

The Spurn Migration Festival runs from the 5th – 7th September 2014 and the prices are as follows: £14 for a day ticket, £21 for the weekend ticket and £8 for the evening lecture with delicious hog roast.


Louise and John Sykes


Spurn Migration Festival oneThe first event of its kind in Britain, Spurn (East Yorkshire) hosted a national Migration Festival. Bird migration is one of the great wonders of the natural world and the Spurn Peninsula is arguably the best place in Britain to witness this spectacle.

The event was hosted by Spurn Bird Observatory and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) in partnership with Birding Frontiers and Westmere Farm.


We left Chelmsford around 8.30am Essex Birding 300 on Friday 6 September, and arrived at Westmere Farm at 1.30pm. Driving time was 4.3/4hrs. We were greeted at registration by Rob Adams and Martin Garner, then signed up for a selection of activities. When we booked three nights B&B at Westmere Farm, we did not realise that this would be the hub of activities, so it was so convenient for making the start of walks and attending the lecture programme.


Lying 32 miles south-east of Hull (on a road to nowhere), in 1946 Spurn was the site of the first bird observatory to be established on mainland Britain and it remains an excellent place to observe migrants and rarities. The observatory occupies buildings near the YWT information centre and at the Point. It is run by the committee of the Spurn Bird Observatory Trust, a registered charity. The observatory buildings are rented from the YWT, who are the owners of Spurn National Nature Reserve. The observatory records the wildlife of the peninsula and conducts bird migration studies, which involves the catching and ringing of birds by people specially trained and licensed to do such work.


Armed with our festival map we set out mid afternoon to explore the Canal Zone. It was overcast but dry, the tide low. Dunlins, Redshanks and Turnstone were feeding on the mudbanks of the Humber Estuary and Swallows were flying everywhere. From the Canal Scrape Hide we watched 3 Snipe feeding, while Sedge Warblers, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings were flitting around the hedges. A report of a Rosefinch flying nearby came over on someone’s radio. A Yellow Wagtail appeared in front of the hide. Another radio report announced a sighting of a Pied Wagtail, 38 Manx Shearwater and a possible Long Tailed Skua. We moved to the Sea Watching Hide and watched 2 Arctic Skua, Gannets and a steady flow of Fulmar. Volunteers counted 82 Manx Shearwater and called a Sooty Shearwater. A winter plumage Guillemot bobbed up and down on the waves, and a raft of Fulmars was called (195 Fulmars were counted in 45mins). It was good to see a group of young, enthusiastic birders at this hide. An announcement came from the Warden Paul Collins that a Rosefinch had been caught and was being rung. Fifteen minutes later we had a brief but good view of the Rosefinch in Paul’s hand before it was released. As we were walking back to Westmere Farm, we saw a birdwatcher taking photos at Southfield Farm. Chris (Opticron Rep) pointed out a very showy Red-backed Shrike sitting on the wire fence, 25 feet away.

rosefinch MP


Back at the farm ‘café’ we relaxed with coffee, talking to Andy Gibson, YWT, about habitat management and working with farmers. Tea and coffee were courtesy of the farm that evening. We also enjoyed homemade butternut squash soup. There was also a great selection of homemade cakes.

The festival itself began with an illustrated talk on ‘Visible Bird Migration’ by pioneer Keith Clarkson. Back in the 1970’s Keith began recording the migration of Meadow Pipits over Redmires Reservoir, South Yorkshire. This led to observing other species migrating, to developing identification and counting skills, to developing a model for observation, including call and patterns of group flight. Keith even used a hot air balloon for a week one September to see if this helped with recording. One statistic quoted was amazing, nearly 100,000 wood pigeons were counted moving over Gwent in one morning. This informative but very humerous talk was a great start to the festival.

Spurn Migration Festival 2013


Saturday morning breakfast was at 6am, and by 6.30 we were ready to our first migrant walk to the Numpties Watchpoint. This was led by Mike Pilsworth, currently warden at RSPB Blacktoft Sands. Roe Deer were seen in the fields and 4 Gannets were feeding near the shore. Guillemots, Curlew and Black Headed Gulls were flying. We were told that the Crown and Anchor pub car park was a good place to find resting warblers, especially at high tide. As we walked along the Canal Zone, we saw Fulmar, Redshank, a Marsh Harrier, Dunlin, Turnstone, a flock of Wigeon and a Sandwich Tern. Flocks of Curlew flew up and down the Humber Estuary. Mike pointed out that during his time at Spurn, he had recorded rare species in the bushes along the Canal Zone. Four Little Egret and lots of Meadow Pipits were seen. A small group of Roe Deer were jumping in the undergrowth by the Estuary, a flock of Hebredian black sheep were grazing along with Long Horned cattle. Swallows were whizzing about everywhere. A Great Skua was called on the radio. Two Snipe flew onto the Canal Scrape. The wind was far too strong for many warblers, but we noted a Sand Martin, a Yellow Wagtail and a Knot flying among a flock of Redshank, a Sedge Warbler, 4 Common Tern, a flock of Goldfinch and a Herring Gull.  7 Whimbrel were seen and the Sea Watch reported over 300 Manx Shearwater and 4 Sooty Shearwater.

Sooty Shearwater 4.9.11 M Standley


By 9am the cloud had given way to sunshine. We were walkingwryneckstandley back to Westmere Farm , when we heard that a Rosefinch was showing in Church Field. We waited for it to pop out of the bushes and were rewarded with two of them. Back at the farm we were enjoying bacon rolls and coffee, when a call came over the radio that a Wryneck had been seen at the Canal and another by the listening dish. A volunteer offered us a lift to the Canal Scrape, so with roll and coffee we jumped into his car. We lined up with about 50 other birders for an hour but the Wryneck did not show again. That morning a Corncrake was flushed on Sammy’s Point.


We walked to the Warren to ask for a lift to the lighthouse. The YWT female volunteer suggested that we look at the radar station while she arranged transport. The radar equipment was recording bird movement 24hrs a day, and although migration was not visible, flocks were showing on the monitor.

We climbed to the top of the lighthouse for amazing views of the Spurn and Humber Estuary. We also noticed the bat detection equipment. The standard of art in the exhibition was excellent, and we talked to Ray Scally about his work which is regularly commissioned for bird reports and publications. He also showed us 2 juvenile Dunlin that had been recently killed by flying into the telephone wires.

After walking on to the RNLI Station, we had a lift back to Westmere Farm with Ray. Lunch was homemade tomato and lentil soup, rolls and cake.

There were lots of other activities on offer during the day, when bird activity was quiet.

Plant and insect walks

Beachcombing for fossilsPebble Prominent Spurn

Digi-scoping and photography workshops

Guided history walks

Bird ringing demonstrations

Lunch time talks.


It was a bright sunny day and there were lots of migrants but the birds were travelling very high in the sky so could not be seen. Cloud cover and a shower were needed to bring everything to a lower level.

At 4pm we joined the migrant walk to Sammy’s Point, led by Terry, supported by Graham. One Pintail and a flock of Wigeon flew down the estuary. Shelduck, Turnstone, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher were feeding on the mudflats. As we cut through the fields, a kestrel flew out of a large bush. Graham walked through the middle of the fields hoping to flush out the Corncrake that had been seen earlier but no luck here. On our return journey we picked up a Mediterranean Gull, Wheatear, Reed and Sedge Warblers, and Reed Bunting.

juv Sedge W 7 and 8 august 09 017

At 6.30pm as we queued for the hog roast, we looked at the sightings board. It included these other sightings, 3 Black Tern, Corncrake, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Water Rail and Little Stint.


The evening talk was given by Martin Garner, who has been birding since he was 11. He recently started Birding Frontiers as a place to share what he was learning and hoping to inspire others to do the same.

Martin wanted us to think of the moment we were inspired by a wildlife experience, which led to a love of the wild. Then he spoke about some of his recent inspiring journeys; March migration in Israel in the Great Rift Valley; Arctic Norway where he saw 10,000 King Eider and Lanzarote for pelagic trips. The photographs were amazing. Martin concluded by asking us to be creative and use divergent thinking when bird watching. As an example, a recently a new species was discovered, Pincoya Storm Petrel, because a birder noticed something different about this bird.

Then we produced a Top Ten list of birds of the day. Spurn has recorded 382 species in total.

As the evening finished a Common Pipistrelle Bat flew around the barn. Unfortunately we were too tired to join the bat walk.


Up early on Sunday morning and we were in position at the Narrows by 7am. Andy Roadhouse and Dale Middleton were our guides for the morning. Although the weather was too good to see lots of migrating birds, you could still get a feel for migration. Whimbrel, Redshank, Turnstone and 3 Oystercatchers, flying fast and low, were soon noted. Andy was counting Meadow Pipits as part of the research being undertaken by Dr Clive McKay. Black Tern, Sanderling and Grey Plover were added to the list. Then a Peregrine flushed 2000+ knot from the beach. They twisted and turned in a tight formation before settling down again.


Andy told us about Trektellen, originally set up in the Netherlands, which records migration/sea watching and ringing counts in Europe. We also learnt about the pilots who guide the large tankers into the Humber Estuary and the RNLI station at Spurn Point (one of the few sites where the crew are employed).

Also we regularly saw police in 4×4’s monitoring the Spurn and surrounding areas. This was part of the surveillance of energy installations to prevent terrorist attacks.

Bird Species started to mount, Reed Bunting, 2 Cormorant, 7 Little Egret, 2 Wheatear, Common Tern, 40 Tree Sparrows, Whitethroat and 7 Bar-tailed Godwits. This was followed by 2 migrating rooks, 1 Little Plover flying in a flock of Ringed Plover, Redshank, 2 Teal and a Gadwall flying together and 30 Grey Plover. Four seals bobbed around in the sea.

Bacon Rolls arrived at 10am, courtesy of Westmere Farm. We sat looking out to sea, enjoying the sun shimmering over the water, watching and listening to migrating birds flying past, noting the tankers moored offshore, eating bacon rolls. It was quite magical!

We were soon adding to our list, White Wagtail, Common Buzzard, Sandwich Tern, 2 Yellow Wagtail and 2 Arctic Skua. Then suddenly 4000 Knot were up and flying in the estuary, before landing on the mudflats.



At 11am we moved on to Spurn Point with Andy and Dale, and were joined by 5 other people. The scrub area was very quiet, only spotting 2 Yellow Wagtail, a young Linnet and a Whinchat. 2 Whitethroat were in its ringing enclosure. We also heard a Willow Warbler.


Back at the farm we enjoyed homemade vegetable broth. We caught the end of the talk by Dr Danae Sheehan. She leads the RSPB Africa Eurasia Migratory Landbird Recovery Programme. The RSPB are training Africans to count and ring species, encouraging them to help protect endangered birds, such as the Turtle Dove. I mentioned that Ebws has been active in raising money for Turtle Dove conservation, in order to create suitable habitat in Essex.

The next talk was given by Dr Clive McKay about ‘Spurn’s mipits and wagtails’. He is researching Icelandic mipits that pass over Spurn.

As we were leaving the barn, a Hummingbird Hawk Moth flew into the foyer area.


At 3pm we were off again, for a migrant walk of an area known as the Triangle. Nathan led this walk, supported by John.  As we sat in the Canal Scrape Hide, a Water Rail walked between the reeds. Swallows were still flying into the hide to feed their young. A Swan family emerged from the scrubs in the Canal Zone and we watched a Kestrel being harassed by Swallows. As we walked on Nathan pointed out the best places to see birds, the sheltered spots where they rest on their travels. We noted Whitethroat, Golden Plover, Dunlin, and Snipe on Borrow Pond at the back of the Bluebell Café and Visitors Centre.


After this walk we looked in at the Sea Watching Hide, where a Red-throated Diver and 7 Teal had been listed. We had dinner at the Crown and Anchor Pub, more excellent homemade food. As the festival had closed soon after 4pm we had a quiet evening reflecting on what we had seen and learnt over the weekend.


On Monday we had an early morning walk before breakfast. Sea watching was very quiet as the sea was flat and calm. Swallows were busy at the Canal Scrape Hide, a family of Mute Swans and 6 Little Egrets were feeding on the scrape. As we walked back along the Canal Zone a Peregrine swooped down and took a Swallow chick. A Sedge Warbler perched on top of a bush.

After breakfast we walked an area called Kilnsea Wetlands. From the hide we saw Cormorants, Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Greylag Geese, Curlew and Redshank. A new species for the weekend a Ruff was feeding among the Dunlin and Golden Plovers. A Common Gull rested in the grass. Down by Beacon Ponds a Kestrel was seen hunting and 2 Grey Heron flew into the field.


At midday we began the drive home, having had a wonderful weekend. The festival had been very well organised and an army of volunteers were always willing to help and advise. We have provisionally booked our accommodation for next year.


Louise and John Sykes

 BOOK Your TICKETS for the Migration Festival this September:

Please call 01904 659570 or email Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

The Spurn Migration Festival runs from the 5th – 7th September 2014 and the prices are as follows: £14 for a day ticket, £21 for the weekend ticket and £8 for the evening lecture with delicious hog roast.


Challenge Series pre-publication offer has gone live

Lots more with sample pages and chance to buy now

Don’t hang about . A special pre-publication offer is now live. To read more about the book and to buy it go here.

The book will be launched officially on 15th August at the Birdfair, Rutland at the price of £14.99. More info on that coming soon.

In advance of this is a special, one-off pre-publication offer to readers of Birding Frontiers. The first 100 books can be purchased at the reduced price of £12.00 plus postage and packaging. This is on a first come, first served basis. The books will be posted out after the official launch.

To buy the book: Click HERE

or go to the Birding Frontiers HOMEPAGE and click on NEW BOOK in the top menu line

juvenile female Northern Harrier. Ireland by Paul Kelly

juvenile female Northern Harrier. Ireland by Paul Kelly

Kumlien’s Gulls can appear early

23rd September 2013 on the Isle of Man

Recent correspondence sent from John (dad) and Adam (son ) Peet on the Isle of Man about a tricky gull early in the autumn last year.

Apparently birders were still trying to get a definitive verdict on whether it was a Kumlien’s Gull or not.

2cy Kumlien's Gull, Isle of Man, 23rd September 2013, Adam Peet

2cy Kumlien’s Gull, Isle of Man, 23rd September 2013, Adam Peet


John also sent  a link to very instructive photos taken by Chris W. HERE

2cy Kumlien’s Gull, Isle of Man, 23rd September 2013, Adam Peet


Well I think its one of those (fortunately) straight forward Kumlien’s Gulls and it’s moulting from 1st summer to 2nd winter plumage- or if you prefer it’s a 2cy bird in September in full wing, tail and body moult. I checked with BF team member and gull guru, Chris Gibbins who also thought I was a straightforward Kumlien’s’. WHY? Structurally looks great for Kumlien’s/ Iceland.  7 full-grown new primaries, p8 part grown and still to grow in p9 and p10. The outer 3 visible (p6, 7 and 8) all have dark smudge at feather tips with a kind of pale mirror- a spot-on pattern 2nd winter Kumlien’s’ character. Furthermore p7 and 8 have outer web obviously darker than inner web. Fab broad and very obvious dark, plain tail band completes the ID as Kumlien’s Gull.

Why September?

When I lived in N. Ireland it wasn’t unusual to see the odd Glaucous or Iceland which arrived the previous winter and stayed on over summer. That for me would be the most likely explanation for the birds’ appearance at this time of year, though there could be others of course.



What’s in the Book?

and How do I buy the book?

Details of how to buy the book will be posted on here  very soon (next couple of days). Just setting up the page. There will be options for UK, Europe and Worldwide purchasers.

Around at Phil and Sue’s house this evening. I asked Phil what tricky Identification challenge from the new book Challenge Series : AUTUMN he wanted me to post.

These he said IMG_1454something about these being a great and new ID challenge in the autumn:

So the new book covers 8 different types (taxa) of Stonechats which occur either as  residents, migrants or vagrant in Europe.

Here then (for Phil) is another taster. Part of the stonechats chapter covering Siberian Stonechats look like this. There are also sections on Stejneger’s, North and South Caspian and the 2 two European Stonechat taxa.


Siberian Stonechat pages


Plenty more information to come in the next few days- just putting it together.

Cheers Martin

Baltic Gull off Flamborough – the easy plumage.

In its first summer (2nd calendar year).

Martin Garner (and Chris Gibbins)

2cy fuscus- Why is it such a cool subject? :)

- no accepted British records of unringed Baltic Gull in Britain

- gull watching community convinced  that many 2cy fuscus in May-July are very/easily/eminently identifiable and should be acceptable to national committees.

- just need a well seen and I guess really well photographed individual

- summer 2013 was a very good breeding year for fuscus, which logically explains the

Juvenile Gull showing characters of Baltic Gull, Flamborugh, 21st Sept. 2013. Martin Garner.

Juvenile Gull showing characters of Baltic Gull, Flamborugh, 21st Sept. 2013. Martin Garner.

appearance of apparent juvenile Baltic Gulls in Norfolk and East Yorkshire (and probably elsewhere?).

- following on from last point, this summer numbers of 2cy fuscus in Finland are described as ‘exceptionally high’- so there are probably a few roaming around …nearby… close to you… etc. etc.

- observers like Richard Millington, Mark Golley, Pete Wilson and Brian Small (and others?) have recorded them in the past and tried to get others enthused

26th July 2014

An early seawatch on 26th July from belowBaltic Gull at Flamborough 26th July 2014 the Fog Station at Flamborough soon saw me  joined by Yorkshire’s finest in the form of Craig Thomas. About 6:30 am I was scanning gulls coming into one of 2 fishing boats off the head when a picked up what appeared to be a rather smart and blackish plumaged, if immature ‘Lesser Black-backed Gull’. I called it to Craig who had already picked up the same bird. It landed briefly on the water where I could see an immature bill base, not absolutely certain of the colour, somewhere around bright olive, with obvious ‘dipped-in-ink’ black tip. The whole upperparts plumage (mantle/scaps/wing coverts) was a mix of  blackish- too dark for any graellsii, and plain brown immature feathering and set off a mostly clean-looking white head.  It only remained on the water for a few seconds and as I was clocking the features it took off. I quickly noted what looked like a perfect and full set of wings and tail with seemingly at first, no apparent moult.  I immediately said to Craig something  like- “this is a Baltic Gull candidate”, pointing out the smartness and apparently complete wings and tail. We then watched the bird as it flew slowly around and eventually headed SW into Bridlington Bay. We both looked very closely at the wings and tail. The wings appeared really smart, all primaries of same looking type (no moult contrast) and lacking the brown worn pointed tips of old outer primaries, which were present on virtually all the other 2cy large gulls around. As Craig kept saying ‘it looks really smart! The tail was essentially a solid broad black band, no white ‘piano keys’ , just impression of small black stippling at proximal edge and bright white rump (and of course bases to tail feathers).  As I watched it circle I detected a ‘nick’ at the juncture of the primaries and secondaries in one if not both wings, the tell-tale sign of a missing P1 feather. This was a little disconcerting  and I was a little deflated because in my recollection, I wanted something with all new primaries… not gaps!

I quickly scribbled down notes on the birds appearance and we discussed the issues involved as they could be recalled. Less than 15 minutes later we were distracted again as  a full juvenile Caspian Gull flew into the closer of the two fishing boats…

Only when I got home and spoke to Chris Gibbins did I discover the ‘nick’ was the best news possible- Staffelmauser!

Why moult makes the ID easy.

The moult of fuscus over their first winter is extremely variable, but a dominant pattern is for birds to replace all of their wing and tail feathers before returning north in the spring.  This makes these typical birds very identifiable during the summer of their second calendar year. These typical ones are the ones to look for. The ones that don’t follow this typical pattern are very tricky, so best left aside. The following discussion focuses on the typical fuscus.

Bill colour and leg colour can be good start point for ageing – often pinkish or olive based bill with black tip in 2cy (some more yellow, some almost all black) normally bright yellow and more adult like in 3cy with varying amounts of red and black.  Legs similar, most often dull pinkish/ olive and not so often bright yellow. 3cy fuscus look pretty much like full adult birds (unlike  3cy graellsii/ intermedius that have more obvious immaturity)


Then focus on wings. All graellsii/ intermedius are in obvious wing moult- usually mid wing moult in July with mix of old worn brown juvenile outer flight feathers and new inner ones, with moult gaps and regrowing feathers. Baltic Gulls (65-70%) of 2cy have moulted most/ all of their flight feathers in wintering grounds so have full set of nearly new primaries. The closest intermedius that get to that is for the most advanced birds to still have 2 plus old primaries; this is also matched by less advanced fuscus (which are harder to identify ).

 The Silver Bullet - Staffelmauser moult pattern

So anything with full set new primaries and correctly aged as 2cy (bill and leg colour, as well as tail pattern) is fuscus. Period. Furthermore some 2cy fuscus in July have started a second primary moult, a one that brings in 3rd generation feathers (dropped inner primaries eg p1).  Some even start this second this moult before completing the first; this  is NEVER found in graellsii / intermedius and is refereed to by the German name:  Staffelmauser  where moulting outer primaries (or complete) to second gen and at same time inner primaries to 3rd gen.

graellsii and intermedius won’t start 3rd gen moult in primaries for nearly a whole year!

Tail: fully new tail is also pro fuscus but not so unusual in 2cy graellsii/ intermedius. Less good if in mid tail moult for fuscus

Have a look at photos below: look at upperparts, head colour, bare parts and especially new set of primaries, tail pattern and in some start of 3rd gen moult (inner most primary dropped)






2cy Larus fuscus red "C68A" at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus red “C68A” at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen


2cy Larus fuscus red "C68A" at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus red “C68A” at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

Check out this one above photographed in July with new primaries and tail and starting its 3rd generation moult. P1 has been dropped. Staffelmauser!

A different individual below

2cy Larus fuscus "HT000110" at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus “HT000110″ at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen


2cy Larus fuscus "HT000110" at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus “HT000110″ at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

 ‘ave it!

Above: Look at those beautiful new wings and tail, no moult contrast between old and new flight feathers. It’s a very identifiable Baltic Gull in this type of plumage in May, June and July. This one has even dropped p1- its a totally acceptable Baltic Gull- wherever you see it.


Very grateful thanks to Craig T, Chris Gibbins, Mark Golley and Hannu Koskinen for much helpful input and clarification.