Author Archives: Martin Garner

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit

Them Woodcock are Back

At Flamborough

by Martin G. reblogged from 2013

A rare sight! In case your interested… at least 2 Woodcock can be seen again day roosting and sometimes feeding in South Landing ravine, Flamborough. Just view about half way down road to Lifeboat station and South Landing beach.

woodcock s landing a2 11.03.2013

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough, March 2013

Capturing a moment… and the details. I guess that’s ultimately why I love taking photos. I have lots of stories of mediocre photography and failed efforts! ‘Digiscoping’ is undoubtedly the realm of bird and wildlife photography I have struggled with the most.

Fundamentally the art is to take photos with an ordinary ‘family’ camera by placing the camera lens up to a high powered birding telescope so that the ‘scope effectively becomes a super lens for the camera. I did ‘OK’ about 10 years ago by hand holding a Nikon Coolpix up to my scope. However with new cameras, heralded as the route to new heights of photo quality- I only seemed to get worse despite careful coaching by friends.

Honestly, I was ready to give up. It seemed too complicated, the results often poor and seemingly interfering with ‘birding’. More recently however, spurred on by the quality of images and especially video which James Lees (Slimbridge WWT warden) was achieving and with regular encouragements from Paul Hackett and others, I opted to have one more go. Over the last couple of years I feel like I have broken through- a little. For a lot of photography I use DSLR camera – a Canon 7D with 400 f5,6 lens It does an amazing job.

However sometimes the birds are simply too far away. Then the digiscoping kicks in. Furthermore, with digiscoping, I love that you can do video!


Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough (above and top). A lovely looker with American Woodcock-like grey strips.

January 2014

Up to 2 birds are again roosting on the far side of the ravine. When they first appeared in 2013 it was a good test of my digiscoping abilities, being very windy, with variable light from grey cloud and snow showers to odd bursts of sunshine. And the birds were in open or under poorly light canopy. It was too far to get a really nice DSLR shot (see below). I used a Canon S95 Camera taking photos through a Swarovski ATX95 ‘scope. There camera is held securely in place by a gizmo called the DCB ll swing adaptor.

On Video: Woodcock and Worms


woodcock s landing bird b 11.03.2013Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough. A more typical looking browner bird which kept to the deeper shaded zones.

Amazes me what can be achieved. No the bird above wasn’t a ‘half-bill’. In fact the bill tip is covered in mud.


watching woodcock

Watching and digiscoping Woodcock Illustrating the view and distance The Woodcock were and again are mid-way up the far slope.

In Comparison:

To compare digiscoping with normal photography I include 2 shots of the first bird above, but this time taken with the Canon DSLR and 400mm lens. Acceptable, but heavily cropped due to the distance and I don’t think the results are as good. Also don’t think I cold get anything like the same quality of video!

woodcock 7d

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough.  Using ‘normal’ technique with Canon 7D and 400mm lens.

in association with Swarovski Optik



Martin G.

OK I am shouting in internet speak. Birding Frontiers began in August 2010 because I enjoy exploring subjects and sharing them. I kept having too many  curious things to publish in the popular magazines. And for very understandable reason there were subjects I wanted to explore which were quite pioneering and unexplored, yet there wasn’t enough data to say anything concrete, but still worthy of exploring.

Other joined in the Team and made the party bigger and even more fun.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 17.20.03

If you read Birding Frontier and learn from it- chances are I and other contributors learn more. The process of thinking through subjects and crystallizing thoughts is an excellent discipline. Sometime I have been too hasty, sometime posts could have been researched a little more. Still, no regrets.

Our readership has grown constantly. Viewing figures above with more details for last year- 2014.

December 2014 (last month) saw over 30,000 unique visitors in one month. Never bloomin’ well imaged that!

So thanks for tuning in. Here’s to a grand 2015.


One of the very memorable birds from 2014: Crag Martin at Flamborough.

Crag Martin 12.4. Thornwick6



Common Snipe

Low light digiscoping

Hey Martin,

Thought you might be interested in this short video clip. Why am I sending you a video of a Common Snipe? Well yes it is a stunning bird, but it is the circumstance of videoing the bird that is astonishing. It was around 4pm, very nearly dark, as it is, in the UK at this time of the year.

I was having a last look out of the Living Room window, before settling down for the evening, when I noticed this Snipe.

I quickly fitted my Canon 70D camera to my Swarovoski 95mm ATX Scope via a Swarovski TLS adapter, and raced outside, to try to capture some film. I am simply amazed at the “light gathering properties” of the Swarovoski Scope, I ‘maxed out the zoom, to 70x and captured the attached video. It would be an under statement to say I blown away by the video quality………How can a scope produce a brighter image than the ambient natural light?

Dave Tucker

That Redstart at Spurn

19th – 23rd November 2014

An unusually late Redstart attached attention on the Humber shoreline at Riverside, Kilnsea. See HERE.


On hearing about the bird, I was intrigued to see if it might be an Ehrenburg’s Redstart ‘samamisicus or even the tricky ID challenge which is a female Eastern Black Redstart- phoenicuroides- not yet recorded in such plumage in Britain. On first views it did seem surprisingly  dark smoky-brown above – was this just my lack of recent experience of female Common Redstart recently, in particularly dull light? The underparts were intriguing, being rather dappled looking brownish with an orangey wash. There was a little too much orange below for a female-type Eastern Black, and the wing formula, checked on the back of the camera looked like Common Redstart. The apparent whitish fringes to the secondaries were in life, not white but buff fringes.

I couldn’t personally say it was anything better than a female Common Redstart. I found the underparts still interesting but not enough features to claim a samamisicus- a vagrant of which would be surprisingly late for a taxon which is usually an early migrant. The poo sample might reveal more information.

There is more to be said on samamisicus:  females I have seen in early spring can be quite distinctive and the tristis-like call would definitely stand out in Britain.

For now here’s more pics of the Spurn bird (it had a slightly deformed bill):

red13 red4 red 1

red10red11 red9

See Garry T’s video:

Water Pipits: 3 species rather than 1?

Splits ahoy – Three Water Pipits and the Two Buff-bellied Pipits too!

Martin Garner, Yoav Perlman, Yosef Kiat and Martin Collinson.

This paper just been published in British Birds magazine (January 2015):

Water Pipits: three species rather than one?

Based on a distinctive call, differences in plumage and a preliminary genetic analysis, the ‘Caucasian Water Pipit’ Anthus spinoletta coutellii may represent a separate species within the Rock/Water Pipit complex. The differences between the three taxa currently treated as three races of a single species, the Water Pipit, are described. by Martin Garner, Yoav Perlman, Yosef Kiat and Martin Collinson.

Follow your Birding Nose

It’s been a privilege to work on this little project over the last three years. Jonathan Merav and Dan Alon especially made much of it possible. Following me nose- I  (MG) was intrigued by the unfamiliar and rather distinct calls of the Water Pipits, first in Turkey several years back then especially in Israel. Brian Small also inspired me from his own field observations. When Martin Collinson reported back on the first results of DNA analysis- it was in wonderfully excited tones!

Twas a dream working with such experienced field workers as Yoav Perlman and Yosef Kiat to obtain photos, sound recordings and study trapped birds. And Martin Collinson is, of course, the sequencing King.  :) Thanks to all!


Caucasian Water Pipit 'coutellii', Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner. Genetic material from this individual contributed to some surprising results

Caucasian Water Pipit ‘coutellii’, Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner. Genetic material from this individual contributed to some surprising results

Caucasian Water Pipit 'coutellii' may better classified as a full species, March 2012, Eilat, Israel

Caucasian Water Pipit ‘coutellii’ may better classified as a full species, March 2012, Eilat, Israel

and have a listen to a coutellii calling:


Buff-bellied Pipits: American and Siberian

First revelation was the surprising genetic distance between the three Water Pipits. As part of the process Martin also looked at the two Buff-bellied Pipit taxa. His ‘tweet’ says it all:

“Water Pipit paper in January BB also shows big genetic split between Asian and American Buff-bellied Pipits.

Fond memories below:

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit - rubescens, Quendale, Shetland October 2011. Phil Woollen

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit – rubescens, Quendale, Shetland October 2011. Phil Woollen

Siberian (Buff-bellied) Pipit- japonicus, Israel, November 2013. The research also showed species level genetic differences between this and the American Buff-bellied Pipit- rubescens.

Siberian (Buff-bellied) Pipit- japonicus, Israel, November 2013. The research also showed species level genetic differences between this and the American Buff-bellied Pipit- rubescens.

and here’s a Siberian Pipit calling:

Japanese Cormorant genes in Europe?


Eh what? A third taxon has been mooted, suggested, put forward for NW Europe. It is genetically separate from carbo and sinensis and appears more closely related to the Japanese or Temminck’s Cormorant Phalocrocorax capillatus. It’s not ‘news’ though it managed to stay off my radar. Good ol’ Brett R. stirred the pot as we sat seawatching at Flamborough. Richard Millington as ever has been very helpfully added more detail. The Sound Approach crew mention it in this book. ( I wonder what norvegicus might sound like?).

The seminal paper is:

Marion & Le Gentil (2006): Ecological segregation and population structuring of the Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo in Europe, in relation to the recent introgression of continental and marine subspecies.
Cormorant at Gullfest- Vardo, Varanger, April 2012. It seems probable that the majority of Cormorants here will be 'norvegicus' more closely related to Japanese Cormorants than the other European taxa- carbo and sinensis.

Cormorant at Gullfest- Vardo, Varanger, April 2012. It seems probable that the majority of Cormorants here will be ‘norvegicus’ more closely related to Japanese Cormorants than the other European taxa- carbo and sinensis.

In a rather fascinating nutshell, whilst exploring the genetic makeup of Cormorants, Marion and Le Gentil discovered that a proportion of the population, especially in Arctic Norway appeared more closely  related to the Japanese or Temminck’s Cormorant.

They have named these birds, subspecies nova: norvegicus, explaining:

“…usual P. c. carbo formed two coastal populations, the real P. c. carbo ‘‘C’’ mainly in the western part of the range (United Kingdom, coastal France), and also in Norway and Sardinia, and ‘‘N’’, branched to the Japanese Cormorant P. capillatus and probably isolated by glaciations, mainly present in the Nordic range (Norway, but also on the coasts from Sweden to Brittany), we named P. c. norvegicus.”

 “We show the existence of a third group, N, an unexpected new subspecies (we propose to name P. c. norvegicus), mainly present in Norway and Brittany but also in Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands, all regions near the sea (Fig.4). It is genetically separated from the Western population Cand appears more related to population S … and…to P. capillatus [Japanese Cormorant] ….”

Varanger is near the north-eastern end of the range of old ‘carbo’. It is by extrapolation from the Marion & Le Gentil paper likely to consist of 90% plus norvegicus. Is also represents the Cormorants nearest to the Northeast Passage and the Asian Pacific Rim where Japanese Cormorants could have colonised from.

I wondered if the genes of Japanese Cormorant in norvegicus translate to phenotypic characters. Japanese Cormorants have a carbo-shaped gular pouch angles and in a brief survey seem to have a higher proportion of white filoplumed birds than ‘western’ carbo in breeding dress  and more extensive white area behind the bare facial skin. The white filoplumes have a curious look in many Japanese Cormorants, tending to look longer and yet sparser in number, ‘wispy’.

So I dug out my few photos of cormorants in Varanger. Hmmm… interestingly they all had some white filoplumes and some seemed to have more white in the facial pattern than I expect for typical carbo.

It’s very preliminary, but rather fascinating :)

Varanger Cormorants (perhaps norvegicus) in March 2012 at Gullfest. 

Especially check out the amount of white in the head pattern. Not all had this much white. It would be interesting to see other photos of Cormorants from Varanger. Tormod Amundsen and Anders Mæland are already on the case.

cormy 5 vadso april 2012 cormy 4 vadso april 2012 cormy 3 vadso april 2012

and while exploring the subject, on my local patch:

Cormorants at Flamborough in early January 2015


Above two photos. An interesting ‘carbo-jawed’ individual with some white filoplumes in early January. A norvegicus candidate?


Above. A classic adult sinensis.

carbo boom leucistic cormorant s landing 5th jan 15Above: A rather stunning carbo-type Cormorant with either ‘leucism’ or ‘progressive greying’ (thanks Brett!)


Challenge Series extra bits

QR codes and Multi-sensory Learning

Martin Garner

It’s just under 5 Months since we launched the first of the Challenge Series entitled AUTUMN. one of my own ambitions was to accommodate different learning styles.

Sandwich and Cabot’s Tern ID

This video is from QR code material which accompanies the Terns chapter in the book.


I have been delighted by the overall response. I realise not everyone has entered into the material in the QR codes, and a few have struggled to access them (due to technologies we don’t necessarily have control over).

I am pretty passionate about, for example, the video material, as a means of learning and taking on the material for those less inclined to read.

Sample Videos

Here are the QR codes pages for Snipe and Lesser Whitethroats. The plan has always been to provide a means to adding new material which can also be done here.



We have had lots of lovely encouragements on the book itself. I can’t reproduce all the comments- here’s couple of recent ones especially re the QR code material:

A Letter on multi-sensory learning:

Roger wrote recently and gave permission to reproduce his comments:

“Hi Martin,

I bought your book a couple of months back and only got around to checking out the QR codes to the video links etc over the Christmas holidays. I just wanted to say a huge thank you!

I’m very much a visual (spatial) learner and the book/photographs are great but I think I’ve absorbed more information through the videos than anything. You may or may not be aware but studies have shown that 10% people retain information through reading, 20% through what they hear and 30% through what they see. When formats are used in combination that increases by a huge leap to 50% who retain the information, so in my opinion you and your team have nailed it by using this combination of formats to showcase your studies.

I thought it might be of interest to provide a little more info on the subject to help qualify my previous points (I’m no expert by the way but being married to a teacher who specialises in Specific Learning Difficulties, I’ve picked up an understanding of how these things work and how it explains my own visual stress issues). For me personally reading is exhaustive. I have to read a page over and over just to take it in (quite a common problem for many people), after one or two pages I’m tired enough to sleep – even if I was wide awake just a few minutes before. This is a visual stress issue and relates to tracking difficulties from line to line on a page of text. Likewise if you’re weaker in the audio sensory learning skills it may actually be impossible for you to hear subtle differences between similar bird calls, for example you could be an excellent birder who just can’t differentiate between goldcrest and firecrest calls or even to retain bird calls to memory. There’s a huge overlap between learning skills and nobody relies on just one learning style but many people tend to be stronger in one area or another and that’s where using a multi-sensory learning approach comes into its own. Add a sonogram with a bird call and then even those who can’t hear any difference between two calls can see the difference and that can be enough to help them ‘hear’ the difference. The videos reinforce the information through visual and auditory learning. And that’s where I found your book so incredibly useful, you’ve covered all those learning styles – in fact I probably didn’t need to waffle on as you clearly have an understanding of this already. By covering the subject strategically in a multi-format way you are reaching out to far more people and making the subject accessible to them – job done!

Thanks again though, it’s a breakthrough birding book on so many levels. Can’t wait for the next one and I sincerely hope you retain the videos, they are a fantastic learning tool and resource, especially for us visual learners.


Roger Harris, Chard, Somerset

How to get a copy

If you’ve bought a copy of the book, I hope you’re enjoying it. If you haven’t got a copy yet- all the info to get one is here. Click on Challenge Series: AUTUMN.


Message from Austria

Thanks to from Christian Schano Austria who recent wrote in:

“Purchasing the “Challenge Series: Autumn” is definitely a choice I will not regret. I am highly satisfied with the amount of information packed into such an assessable book. Reading not only makes you want to immediately grab your binoculars and practise the newly acquired information but also teaches the modality of extending your personal skill-set. The book does not leave you in despair with meticulous information you cannot even use outside, but provides details that really are helpful in the field. Some (at least to me) really complex taxa are unravelled absolutely straightforward and led me to several “oooooooohhhhhhhh”-reactions.
Thank you for sharing decades of field-experience of many experienced birders with a more general public, Martin. I am absolutely sure your Challenge Series do affect birders of all skill-levels not only in the United Kingdom, but all around Europe.”