Author Archives: Martin Garner

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juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls

michahellis- NOW!

It’s that time of year. Can I reminisce momentarily? Just 20 years ago juvenile and first winter Yellow-legged Gulls were rarely identified with any confidence. There seemed just too tricky and confusing! I remember trying to unravel the riddles.

Slowly but surely a picture began to emerge. Lots of practice with close-up juveniles of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls helped a lot.

Are you there yet? There are always a very satisfying local find.

Right now juvenile/ 1cy Yellow-legged GUlls are flung far and wide. Almost daily off Flamborough they are about and waiting to be found :)

So it was nice to ogle over these close-up photos by Brett Spencer of two young michs taken 2 days ago in Dorset.

_MG_7533 _MG_7660

2 photos above, 1cy Yellow-legged Gulls (michahellis) Dorset , 26th July 2015, Brett Spencer.

 

Chris Gibbins has just returned from Spain, so to add to the visual preparation, here are more young michahellis showing the striking upperparts in flight, especially the tail pattern. Also some more variation in plumage. Good luck!

4D2A80054D2A76164D2A94813 photos above, 1cy Yellow-legged Gulls (michahellis) Spain, July 2015, Chris Gibbins.

 

Swallows and Enigmas

Where Migration is Defined

I am always drawn back to my first birding love. The Swallow. I have written about this before, but the (Barn) Swallow is, above all others, THE species which hooked me as a 10/11 year old into the magic world of birds.

So as we approach the 3rd Migration Festival at Spurn, the Swallow will once again take centre stage. The Festival is on 3rd-5th September and early September is THE peak time for swallow migration there. I hope we get a big one! I have been there for a 20,000 bird morning and the spectacle is simply breath-taking. I would personally love you to be there to encounter such wonders. Info on booking HERE.

Swallows will also get a mention in the talks. I am especially looking forward to Yoav Perlman’s talk on the Saturday evening at the Migration festival on ‘Where Migration is Defined‘. Featuring the Arava Valley, Israel and the Middle East which is a place of spectacular migration.

There are enigmas too.

I think of the four commoner hirundines, each one has its own intriguing, sometimes shadowy plumage type/ subspecies which passes through the Middle East and especially Israel. They are mysteries! I bet we can draw Yoav out to talk more about them. :)

Ice-white Swallows with no breast bands.

I saw a few of these in the Nizzana region. There lots of comparison. Tons of nominate Swallows, tons of orange-bodied semi-resident ‘transitiva’ Barn Swallows. Then there are these things with icy-white plumage below and strangely weak breast band- like one of the SE Asian taxa of Swallow. ?$%£?

Yoav has seen similar birds in east Africa. What are they?

Barn Swallow Nitzana, Israel 11th Nov 2013Barn Swallow 2 Nitzana, Israel 11th Nov 2013Above. First winter Ice-white Swallows with reduced blue breast bands. November 2013. Nizzana, Israel. Martin Garner.

To follow:

Sand Martins. Normal ones and the ‘Little’ Sand Martin that can almost look like a brown-throated Martin.

House Martins. Normal ones and the dusky Asian House Martin scares.

Red-rumped Swallows. Do super streaky ones pass through as well as the regular type?

 

Book for migfest while your planning your start to autumn :)

Be great to see you there. More info/ booking etc. HERE.

 

 

 

Back to the Future #migfest

What will 2015 Bring?

Looking back to the Spurn Migration Festival last year gets my juices flowing. What will the 2015 Festival bring? I don’t want to miss out!

In some households…

Spurn Migration Festival oneor at least inside the heads of some birders, autumn has already begun. It really is the best season of the year. Why? Migration! Waders (aka shorebirds) have already begun their journeys and can be seen passing through NW Europe right now. That’s why some of us think autumn begins in mid-July. As we approach September this is the month when migration really enters full swing. Every year it’s hard to keep a lid on my excitement. Right now though somewhere around the corner, in the back of our minds- is the Spurn Migration Festival.

So to make sure I enter the spirit of it again and get myself ready I thought I would go back to the future. Here’s a quick reminder (from a ‘Birding Frontiers’ mindset) of last years’ #migfest.

Arriving

Arriving at Westmere Farm on the Friday last year I can remember the buzz. Yes, of all the human activity of preparation but it’s also a spot where live migration is immediately visible. Swallows and Meadow Pipits moving south right past the farm, Willow Warblers in the hedges and the radio crackling with news of both Wryneck and Barred Warbler. Plus the gripping sighting of a Bittern ( a good one for Spurn) found by those NGB birders. Flippin young bloods!

THE Wryneck that stole the best show-off award at hr 2014 festival. Performing admirably among the rock along  Humber shore- many birders, including me had never had such easy views. Another 2-3 Wryneck in the Spurn area over the #migfest  just showed how bloomin' marvellous the place is. Photo thanks to Richard Willison.

THE Wryneck that stole the best show-off award at hr 2014 festival. Performing admirably among the rock along Humber shore- many birders, including me had never had such easy views. Another 2-3 Wryneck in the Spurn area over the #migfest just showed how bloomin’ marvellous the place is. Photo thanks to Richard Willison.

Hundreds of Meadow Pipits and  a handful of Tree Pipits (pictured) provided the backcloth of migration action which never seems to stop at Spurn.

Hundreds of Meadow Pipits and a handful of Tree Pipits (pictured) provided the backcloth of migration action which never seems to stop at Spurn.

 

The Warren the buzz of people… and rare birds!

Sunday morning brought the rarest bird of the  the weekend when a calling Pacific Golden Plover flew south over the Warren and appeared to drop onto the Humber foreshore. Seen in flight and more especially  heard calling by many birders, most especially Dutch migration doyen PIm Wolf. PIm , who knows the subject well was unequivocal. It was a fulva (said with thick Dutch accent. I rushed down the join those searching but unfortunately the bird had evaporated over the vast mudflats. Soon after however a juvenile/ first winter Caspian Gull leisurely flapped its way along the Humber. Adam Hutt and I did a find/ ID double act quickly enough for everyone to get great views. A plumage or life tick for many present. The place is flippin’ awesome! Looking forward to the buzz of the people and the birds again.

Pacific Golden Plover flight call- have a listen to the call and be ready… click >>>HERE<<<

This 2nd calender year (moulting into 2nd winter) Caspian Gull was found a week later after a juvenile flew over big crowds at the Warren on #migfest Sunday (bird on the right. Photo thanks to Martin Standley.

This 2nd calender year (moulting into 2nd winter) Caspian Gull was found a week later after a juvenile flew over big crowds at the Warren on #migfest Sunday (bird on the right. Photo thanks to Martin Standley.

Learning Together

Several observers including one of our guest speakers, Pim Wolf had mentioned to me a rather brown looking Lesser Whitethroat in the Crown and Anchor car park (the bushes here are warbler heaven). I finally got time to take a look. Having just published the first in the Challenge Series with a whole chapter devoted to the different Lesser Whitethroats, I was, as they say, ‘in the zone’. Excellent views and scrutinised photos revealed a rather straightforward looking Siberian Lesser Whitethroat- a blythi.- but on 7th September?  That seems an outrageously early claim! The Migration Festival is a place where even the most experienced can learn. Two days later I found another candidate blythi back at Flamborugh.

What was going on?

Then the news came through of two Lesser Whitethroats trapped in late August, early September on the near continent. Both were suspected of being blythi. Both came back as confimed Siberian Lesser Whitethroats- part of the same ‘arrival’ as the bird at the Migration Festival. No-one ever thought they arrived this early. More learning for everyone! 

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat - this one was waiting for me back at Flamborough on return from the 2014 Spurn Migration Festival. The Spurn bird gave me confidence- we could really be getting these- later confirmed by DNA. We can now expect blythi from mid August- WOW!

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat – this one was waiting for me back at Flamborough on return from the 2014 Spurn Migration Festival. The Spurn bird gave me confidence- we could really be getting these- later confirmed by DNA. We can now expect blythi from mid August- WOW!

Great Crowd Pleasers

You can’t beat a show-off. Wrynecks and Barred Warbers kind of stole the show with several of each to see and for some lucky dudes even to find one. The BTO’s Nick Moran had his tent pitched at Westmere Farm and scored by finding a Barred Warbler in the hedge by his sleeping quarters- nice start to his day!

Find your Own. At least that's what Nick Moran (Birdtrack/BTO) did when he picked up a Barred Warbler in the hedge near his tent at the Spurn Migration Festival last year.

Find your Own. At least that’s what Nick Moran (Birdtrack/BTO) did when he picked up a Barred Warbler in the hedge near his tent at the Spurn Migration Festival last year.

 Lively discussion

A juvenile Baltic Gull candidate on Kilnsea Wetlands, The identification features of the juvenile Long-tailed Skua which flew north, enjoyed by many and the phenomenal variety of waders, wildfowl, seabirds and small birds all provided moments of lively discussion and learning. Live action in the field- you can’t beat it!

Juvenile Baltic Gull (at least it flipping looks like one!). A week after the 2014 Spurn Migration this was over my back fence. Discussion at #migfest while watching a bird  on Kilnsea Wetlands had spurred me on the look harder and work out some characters. Thank you Spurn Migration Festival.

Juvenile Baltic Gull (at least it flipping looks like one!). A week after the 2014 Spurn Migration this was over my back fence. Discussion at #migfest while watching a bird on Kilnsea Wetlands had spurred me on the look harder and work out some characters. Thank you Spurn Migration Festival.

juvenile Long-tailed Skua- This individual flew north giving chance for number of folk to study the characteristics of this ID challenge. Photo thanks to  David Constantine.

juvenile Long-tailed Skua- This individual flew north giving chance for number of folk to study the characteristics of this ID challenge. Photo thanks to David Constantine.

 

 

Inspiration!

Mike Dilger’s talk last year was inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable. It made you want to get out and have even more adventures with birds and wildlife. Meanwhile so many other talks meant a constant stream of opportunities to be inspired by others- both at the formal bits and just casually over a cuppa or out on a guided walk.

Mike Dilger speaking to a packed house on Saturday night at the Migration Festival in sept. 2014. On a personal note I am grateful to Mike for being so encouraging. He's coming back in 2015- not to speak but just because he loves the gig. Very cool!

Mike Dilger speaking to a packed house on Saturday night at the Migration Festival in sept. 2014. On a personal note I am grateful to Mike for being so encouraging. He’s coming back in 2015- not to speak but just because he loves the gig. Very cool!

Larking about

Yes there was a bit of that :) . A ‘paint-off’ between Mike Dilger and meself organised by art extraordinaire  Darren Woodhead between two hopeless cases with a paint brush- proved one of plenty of moments of hilarity and lightness- and not taking oursleves too seriously- sheesh!

OK now I’m a little more pumped.

Bring on the Autumn-

Bring on the Spurn Migration festival 2015!

are you coming?

 

 

 

 

Spurn, Swallows and Spectacles beyond imagining

Come on, Enter in.

Martin Garner

I am musing about Swallows. And Spurn. And the 2015 Migration Festival. I am going to blog about Swallows at Spurn. About amazing days with huge numbers flying south past the Warren at Spurn. About entering in to the story of the Swallow and how it can be utterly captivating.

About Red-rumped Swallows I have also seen, at Spurn in early September. And about strange Barn Swallows in the Middle East which is also the home our one of our special guests this year.

For now- a little of what is going on. Come on- Enter in. To a world of wonder and discovery.

 

140707 Spurn Mig_ eventsposter_A4

 

Cameras- Revelations

What the human eye doesn’t see…

Martin Garner and John Beaumont

In the next book in the Challenge Series: WINTER, I have included a section as part of the introduction about cameras. It’s really about the fact there is no substitute for watching a bird in the field. The camera can lie. I receive photos weekly, often daily, usually with the question,”What is this”, or “Is this one?”. Nearly always my reply includes a caveat, something along the lines: I can’t see all the information, and the photos may be an inaccurate representation.

Here’s the flip side.

Modern cameras can capture information which the eye cannot see, or which we miss in the field. Also in most chapters in the new Challenge Series book I will reference the usefulness of photos. They can capture nostril position on a bill, wing formula, patterns of white in the tail… and so on.

John Beaumont has noticed in a few of his recent photos details which he didn’t see in the field. I think they are very cool and informative! I especially like the owl- take a look:

P.S. This is John Beaumont’s post and pictures- just with little waffle from me (MG).

Swift J Beaumont (1 of 1)

Common Swift. Look closely. The wings are in an almost vertical pose. Yet the head remains in the horizontal plane. Didn’t know they did that! 

Long-eared Owl J Beaumont (1 of 1)

Long-eared Owl. Low evening sunlight is lighting one side of the bird. This has produced a camera artefact of  yellow iris in the right eye but also revealed a real feature of a less dilated pupil (in reaction to the light). Compare with the left eye which is normal orange with more dilated pupil. Didn’t know they did that!   

Common Tern  J Beaumont (1 of 1)

Common Tern. Not noticed in the field, this apparent adult has dark marks in the leading secondary and primary coverts. This suggest it may well be a second summer bird (3cy). And it’s breeding.

So cameras aren’t all bad!  Any similar revelations with your photos?

Happy Days! It’s coming soon!

The Spurn Migration Festival.This unique event enters its third year. Now is the time to book in and launch your autumn birding season in the best possible style. At #migfest 2015.
 

Spurn Migration Festival 2015


Tickets have now gone on sale for this bespoke festival celebrating the great bird migration spectacle that passes through Spurn in East Yorkshire every year.

The Spurn Migration Festival is a weekend-long celebration of the autumn migration of birds and includes an extensive programme of walks, talks and demonstrations that will be delivered by the Migration Festival Team.

The festival runs from the 4th – 6th September 2015 and takes place across Spurn, Kilnsea and Easington. Lectures, exhibitions and food are hosted by Sue and Andrew Wells at Westmere Farm in Kilnsea together with the now famous Saturday evening Hog Roast and lecture. This years talk is being given by Yoav Perlman and titled ‘Israel – Where migration is defined.’

 Across last years festival 124 species of bird were recorded together with other wildlife and the highlight for many was the stunningly close up views of that enigmatic bird called a Wryneck. Up to 3 of these birds were on full view throughout the weekend before continuing their migration to Africa, south of the Sahara.

wryneck-spurn-12-8-11-c

 

Tickets!

Tickets can now be purchased from the Spurn Migration Festival dedicated website www.spurnmigfest.com or by telephoning 01904 659570

Hope to see ya there!

 

Spurn Migration Festival one

Mandt’s Guillemot in the Netherlands

Monster!

Martin Garner

A first summer Mandt’s Guillemot was found in the Netherlands two days ago. The subject of one of the chapters in the next Challenge Series, due out in a couple of months, the timing of its appearance couldn’t be better!

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

A Great Find

Tom van der Have emailed over the weekend to point out a summer plumaged Black Guillemot which had been found by Roger Pynaerts at Kamperland – Jacobahaven on the southern Dutch coast (east of Essex and Kent). The bird seems only to have ben present on Saturday 27th June and not yet seen since. Tom was quick to note it showed characters of mandtii

Corstiaan Beeke and Pim Wolf got lovely photos, demonstrating beyond doubt this was indeed no ordinary Black Guillemot. In fact it’s a first summer Mandt’s Guillemot from the High Arctic.

It’s already in the next Challenge Series: WINTER

We have looked into this subject on Birding Frontiers with this excellent piece from Dan Brown. In preparing the next Challenge series book on ‘Winter’, it seemed an obvious chapter to include. Having gone into the subject in-depth it’s fantastic to have a Mandt’s appear in the southern North Sea up just  couple of months before publication. We guessed they should occur- then one shows up with immaculate timing:). This bird widely touted as mandtii on Talkin Tarn, Cumbria in December 2013, unfortunately appears from the photos to be a paler than average southern bird. In the pictures it lacks critical features of mandtii. I have seen similarly pale birds in Shetland. So Britain awaits its first…

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

Full Species?

It seems worth commenting that originally Mandt’s Guillemot was consider a full species including by the normally conservative American Ornithologists Union. Its morphology stands in contrast to the southern taxa which vary little, all being very similar. Indeed despite some purported differences among southern taxa, I found none which were robust. One could almost simply have two ‘Black Guillemot’ taxa- the souther ‘grylle’ type and High Arctic mandtii.

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

Key Features – a section from the new book

To explain why this is a Mandt’s Guillemot- here’s a sneak preview, just for you, from the new book in the Challenge Series: You’ll have to wait though for Ray Scally’s excellent illustrations and some lovely photos :)

Key features all plumages

       Underwing

  1.  In southern taxa, primaries largely dark contrasting with white underwing coverts. Some have short white ’bleed’ visible at the base of the primaries. On mandtii white covers about half of the underside of the primaries, slightly less so on birds from Alaska. Secondaries similarly white-based (black in southern taxa) with white visible beyond underwing coverts.Outer upperwing
  2. White patterning in primary coverts is diagnostic for mandtii with greatest extent found in 1cy-2cy. White, to varying degrees on the median and greater primary coverts produces bars across these coverts. In adults the outer primary coverts are typically black but inner primary coverts are white, frequently on inner webs or outer webs or both. In some (adults) white is restricted to innermost median primary coverts and forms just small ‘bud’ of white pushing across into the median primary coverts. In others (and especially first-winters) there are one or two broad conspicuous white bars across the primary coverts almost to leading edge of wing.
  3.  White tipped secondaries (diagnostic formandtii) obvious in1cy-2cy birds and present to varying degree in adultsInner upperwing
  4. Pattern of white patch over secondary coverts (the big white oval) similar in mandtii to southern taxa except that feathers more often wholly white (or almost so) in mandtii, versus being black- based in southern taxa. Black bases are sometimes visible as a dark ‘wingbar’ across white oval patch in adults. Thought to be a feature of islandicus, it is found in other southern taxa also.
  5.  In 1cy-2cy mandtii the black spotting on white upperwing patch is generally smaller than in southern taxa
2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

In the UK anytime now?

With a fly-by Black Guillemot off Portland last week and a bird which I saw off South Landing, Flamborough also last week (frustratingly distant) – we really need to be on full alert in the UK for this this taxon :)

Hope you enjoyed the read… Now to get back to polishing off this flippin book!

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Pim Wolf.