Author Archives: Martin Garner

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit

Eastern Crowned Warbler

30th October 2014, Brotton

Ian Kendal lives just fives minutes away from the copse of trees at the Hunley Golf Course entrance. He doesn’t normally check it much. This was just a morning walk with his collie.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day: phones calls with Ian (who I went to Hatfield Poly with in 1982/3!) and Dave Aitken, ‘the twitch’ with Messrs Baines, Leadley and Deighton and the assembled Yorkshire and beyond birding contingent.

I think Ian might go there a little more often after finding this. Awesome once-in-a-lifetime find.

A few photos showing some features. Sure loads better to come. Hopefully will get seen again today.

stunning head with dark lateral crown stripes big white supercilium and wholly orange lower mandible

stunning head with dark lateral crown stripes big white supercilium and wholly orange lower mandible

two wing bars and pale central crown strip limited to rear of crown

two wing bars and pale central crown strip limited to rear of crown

yellow undertail coverts just discernible contrasting with otherwise essentially white underparts

yellow undertail coverts just discernible contrasting with otherwise essentially white underparts


colours captured better on Rich Baines camera

colours captured better on Rich Baines camera

lovely close up of head and bill by Martyn Sidwell. Thanks!

lovely close up of head and bill by Martyn Sidwell. Thanks!



Chinese Pond Heron in breeding plumage

in October

Dave Gandy

… has written in following his excellent contributions to the discussion on the Chinese Pond Heron in Kent earlier this year. On his local patch at Bangkok earlier this month he came across a Chinese Pond Heron. Interesting thing is that it’s in (almost) full breeding plumage and it’s in October. His bird immediately brought to Dave’s mind an adult breeding Chinese Pond Heron seen in Britain in October and November 2004.

The bird was not accepted as being wild, a chief component being its ‘out-of-season’ plumage. While we are not saying that the 2004 bird was wild, it is intriguing that such ‘summery’ Chinese Pond Heron’s can indeed occur, in the wild, in October.

You can read the comment in the BBRC report HERE

The comments from the 34th report of the BOURC on the record are:

“Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus

Adult in full breeding plumage, Norfolk, 31 October 2004. Identification was accepted, but the bird was considered to have been of captive origin and the species was assigned to Category E. This individual was also reported from East Dean, Hampshire, 13 November 2004.”

Chinese Pond Heron, Bangkok, Thailand, 18th October 2014. Dave Gandy

Chinese Pond Heron, Bangkok, Thailand, 18th October 2014. Dave Gandy

Chinese Pond Heron in breeding plumage, Bangkok, Thailand 15th October 2014. Dave Gandy

Chinese Pond Heron in breeding plumage, Bangkok, Thailand 15th October 2014. Dave Gandy




The Arctic comes to my Garden

Snow Bunting and Little Auk

A Thursday evening (23rd Oct.) walk out with Ebony, our collie cross bought me lovely views of these two birds. I wasn’t expecting to see much and came back a very happy chappy. It got me reflecting on my love of the arctic. I can’t go there all the time so sometimes the bird from there come to me. I know- not quite in my garden- but close enough.

Snow Bunting

This is an  individual of the nominate form nivalis quickly recognized by the obvious paler greyish mantle area contrasting with darker browner scapulars. Appears to be a first winter male. We get two taxa each winter in Britain. The nominate form as here is considered to be the less common of the two according to information from ringing and birds assigned to subspecies in the hand. They could come from Scandinavia, Svalbard or Greenland.

Then there is the darker taxon insulae from Iceland. Identifying Snow Bunting to their correct age, sex and race can be both challenging and rewarding. Behind each birds lies a fascinating narrative from a species that can survive and thrive in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Taxonomy of Snow Buntings and MacKay’s Bunting of Beringia is a fascinating subject with the Siberian vlasowae of disputed range and validity. I don’t really mind. Birds with that Siberian characters look amazing whatever! I did an old post HERE and there is a paper HERE  (though he used the darkest possible Snow Buntings  specimens to make his point.) Hmm..

For ageing and sexing on this one amount of white in wing, pattern of underwings, white in primary coverts, shape and pattern of tail feathers.


Snow Bunting 6 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 7 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 1 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 4 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 5 25 Oct 14 1


Siberian Snow Buntings

And I hope one day in Britain to find one that looks like this. The Siberian form vlasowae.

There’s material for another book there…


above- male Siberian Snow Bunting- ssp vlasowae, Vardo, Varanger, March 2012.

Little Auk

Then directly below the cliff top on which the Snow Bunting was feeding, on a becalmed sea, sat this little chap. All the way from the High Arctic.

A very pleasant encounter indeed :)

little auk 3 little auk 4



Wilson’s Snipe or not?

Corvo,  Azores

Polish birder Radak Gwóźdź has been in touch. He and his mate Martin Solowiej were on Corvo, Azores in the 2nd week of October. Classic migration/arrival time for Wilson’s Snipe- and they photographed a snipe sp.- only views from underneath. Both Wilson’s and Common Snipe have been found on the Azores, so which was this one?

I’ve already expressed an opinion to Radak and solicited a response from snipe King Ash Fisher. What do you think?

Gallinago5_Corvo_Caldera_03102014_MRS_4882.JPi Gallinago5_Corvo_Caldera_03102014_MRS_4885.JPGi Gallinago5_Corvo_Caldera_03102014_MRS_4871.JmPG

Lots more on ID of Wilson’s, Common and Faeroe Snipe in the Challenge Series: AUTUMN

Eastern Black Redstart

Andrea Corso has been in touch. Though he’s not on this special island,  but Ottavio Janni is. A couple of days ago was Ottavio’s first day on the island. Result: 1 Little Bunting, 4 Yellow-browed warblers and THIS Redstart.

Nice one Ottavio (all his photos). Looks a very good candidate for the eastern phoenicuroides. The buff fringes to wing coverts and the emergent black bib make it a first winter male.

I was a bit wary about the whiter looking fringes to secondaries but a scroll through photos and chat with Andrea seem to make it ok.

Remember this guy? These are stunning birds. Maybe more in NW Europe this autumn?

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Brünnich’s Guillemot off Flamborough

and Fly-by Records

Martin Garner

One week ago today, the weather was a bit more lively. Weather charts indicated strong to near gale winds (force 6-7) coming from the north. Seawatching!

A few shearwaters, a Blue Fulmar, ‘flocks’ of Great Skuas moving south and Pomarine Skuas in good numbers. Northward moving auks, mostly Razorbills with smaller numbers of Guillemots were the most visible feature. It wasn’t long before Lee J. called the first hoped-for Little Auk. Then I picked up another trailing a flock of the larger relatives. Around 9:15 I was now routinely checking the auk flocks when, in a closer range group (few hundred meters out) I picked out what looked like a ‘stick-on’ Brünnich’s Guillemot, hard to put into words but the whole look of the bird appeared spot-on for the species. The head pattern was the most eye-catching feature. I then immediately called for other observers to ‘get on this auk’. Then zooming the ‘scope up to see the head and bill better  I clocked a fat head, much more extensively dark then other auks with white throat patch surrounded by dark, but most importantly the head shape was long flat 45 degree angle into… no bill. At least the bill end came to point with slightly down wards tilt, so that the bill almost disappeared into this long slope on a fat head. All in a few seconds, so very quickly after the ‘get on the auk’ call- I yelled (something like) Brünnich’s , it looks like a Brünnich’s , it’s a Brünnich’s – with some considerable enthusiasm.

With 8 plus observers present, very windy conditions and auks spread out individually and in flocks over the sea it wasn’t going to be easy. The Brünnich’s was initially trailing a closer group of auks straight out- in full profile. As folk asked what to look for I shouted to look for the group of auks it was trailing and the distinctive head pattern. Unfortunately the bird then peeled off and I was now tracking it as a lone auk. Lee J and Dave T managed to get on to it though from their accounts after it was ‘going away’ with bill not fully visible but head pattern just discernible as well as the birds colour and shape “definitely  black and white and tubby looking with isolated white throat patch surrounded by dark“. It all happened rather quickly. No-one else got in it.

Vagrancy of Brünnich’s Guillemot in Europe

Read the paper by finders of Dutch fly-by HERE.

Read this paper on ringed Brünnich’s and their movements (with maps).

Data includes the SW migration of from breeding grounds in the North and North-eastern part of the WP.  Primarily young birds moving SW toward the NW Atlantic (off e.g. Newfoundland) in area north of Britain in October. Self-evidently northerly winds with the kind of reach to bring Little Auks into the North Sea (we had 7 on the 13th October and c 15 on 14th October) can also bring Brünnich’s  from the same vector.

Fly-by records in Europe

As of 2008 there were 7 accepted fly-by records in Sweden 1 in Denmark and subsequently  1 (photographed) in the Netherlands but none so far in Britain (what do they know that we don’t?)

This account of a fly-by in the Netherlands is a great read and they did mange a photograph. The same bird is written up in greater details in Dutch Birding 35:2 after it was accepted.


Below some of my shots of Brünnich’s Guillemots in the mouth of Varanger Fjord in March 2013. I have really studied them closely over 3 early spring seasons in succession. I actually think they look pretty darn distinctive with practice.

One of my question is I wonder if Razorbills can ever really show a very similar plumage to the typical winter pattern of in mid-October? Maybe though I am not aware of it.

Anyway enjoy the photos. Most shots chosen to convey the classic winter appearance of Brünnich’s . The odd Common Guillemot (arctic ssp. hyperborea) is alongside. Check out the fat heads, long sloping forehead, small pointed bill tip and white throat patches surrounded by black. The white throat patch can be variously larger and crisp white or smaller and sullied with some dark. First winter birds (most likely to reach the north sea in October) have small/ shorter bills than adults.

Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 11 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 15 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 4Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 14 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 13 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 12 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 4 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 1 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 5

Brünnich's  and Common Guillemot side-by-side

Brünnich’s and Common Guillemot side-by-side

Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 6

some have a head pattern resembling winter plumaged Common Guillemot

some have a head pattern resembling winter plumaged Common Guillemot

some have a more yellow tomium stripe

some have a more yellow tomium stripe

and then they come back into summer plumage...

and then they come back into summer plumage…

The DVD – Premier Night – Saturday 25th October

Spurn Migfest


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When: Saturday 25th October 2014

What time: 6.30pm for pie and peas, then around 7:15 for special premier showing

Where: The Barn at Westmere Farm, Kilnsea (base camp for the migration festival)

How Much: £6.00 per person unless e.g. couple sharing one video

 No need to book. Just turn up. Bring a drink. See you there!



To launch the DVD we are having a special Premier Night on Saturday 25th October at Westmere Farm

Sue and Andrew Wells will host us once again with pies and peas at 6:30 pm (bring your own drinks) followed by the grand Premier starting around 7:15!

£6.00 gets you the whole evening that’s pies and please and your own very smart-looking copy of the DVD. For a couple sharing a DVD- it’s just £7.00 (that’s two pie and peas and one DVD)