Author Archives: Martin Garner

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit

A Personal Tribute to My Amazing Man by Sharon Garner

207928_18173785448_7469_n Here goes…

Firstly huge thanks to you – the amazing birding community!  Because of you there has been an overwhelming amount of beautiful things written, spoken and posted about Martin since he died in January this year. Here’s my humble offering. But how do you summarize a person’s life in a few short paragraphs? I’m not going to attempt to do that. Instead I just want to share a few thoughts in tribute to the amazing man that was Martin Garner.


18th August 1990



I met Martin back in 1987 when he came to chat to my 6th form. (Yes – our eyes really did meet across a crowded room). Long story short we were engaged after 6 months and later married. We celebrated our 25th last year and I would have happily been married to him another 25!




Perhaps I’d failed to pick up Martin’s love for ornithology early on, or he’d failed to mention it…

Either way I was first introduced to it during a visit to his hometown of Frodsham, where he suggested we have a day trip to Anglesey…sounds fun I thought. What’s at Anglesey? ‘A bridled Tern?’… sorry a what? (The only bridle I’d had contact with was one you put on a horse). This was going to be interesting. So off we went with another birder, to see a Bridled Tern. When we got back apparently other birders were frustrated that they’d ‘dipped’ the bird and that we’d ‘gripped them off’!

We went on many ‘stop-starts’ together…

Yes, these for non-birders are walks. The difference when you go for a walk with a birder lies in the fact that a) it’s imperative to carry binoculars at ALL times and b) you may not get to actually walk that far. You just stop and start. Lots. And sometimes you just stop. Walking really isn’t the focus – but then you all know that.

As time went on it amazed me that not only did Martin have what seemed to be an encyclopedic knowledge of birds, but he could also remember specific dates, times, probably what he’d eaten, when he’d seen something special. There didn’t seem to be a place that we could visit where Martin wouldn’t say ‘I came here in 19… and saw a ……’ He had endless stories of how he’d slept under hedges, hitched lifts just to see a bird and I learnt that this was called ‘twitching’.


I remember very clearly when Martin toyed with the idea of writing the blog…

Sea-watching at the caravan at Spurn – a lot of dreaming happened here.

We’d been spending quite a bit of time at Spurn. It may come as a surprise to some of you but he initially thought a blog would be a crazy idea and didn’t think for a minute that anyone else would want to read it. Having learnt SO much from him it was a no-brainer to me – but somehow Martin just didn’t quite get how good he was. It was with a lot of encouragement that he began. He settled in his mind that he would do it for himself and have fun writing about one of his passions – in his words ‘download what’s in my head’. And if anyone wanted to read it, great – and if they didn’t, great. He never for a moment thought it would become as popular as it did.

We’d had the opportunity to live in many diverse places…


Flamborough Lighthouse.




But we’d dreamed of living by the sea most of our married life. So when our girls had finally both finished school I left my job, we sold our house in Sheffield, and moved to Flamborough.  Birding Frontiers was now more than just a blog. Martin began to travel and guide and I landed the job of personal PA – let the fun begin!

         And then the worst happened…

We hadn’t been in our new home long when we received the revelation of something sinister that would alter our path forever. A path that nobody would choose, but sadly many have to travel. The big C – A terminal diagnosis. What a blow. Not the dream by the sea we’d imagined. Nor the next season of newfound freedom with children flown and adventures ahead – just the two of us. We’d faced many obstacles and battles in life but this was to be by far the most terrifying and challenging.


But Martin did NOT let that stop him!


Book signing of his Autumn book, Birdfair 2015



The guiding had to end but it meant the Challenge Series was born. Most of what you’ve read in these books was written when Martin was in hospital. It became the ‘in joke’ when I used to visit with the latest list of books and journals he’d requested. The nurses would ask ‘had I made an appointment to see Mr Garner in his office today?’ And there he would be, laptop on the bed, chatting to someone on the phone. Inspiration just doesn’t quite say it.


Martin was…

…my husband, best friend, soul mate and an awesome Dad to our two girls. Life with Martin could only be lived in high definition with dolby stereo. One of his favourite phrases was ‘Carpe Diem’ – every day was a gift to be seized and lived! He didn’t just have a zest for life, he WAS the zest in life. I recall with a smile his frequent bursts through the door, excited by the latest find, whether found by him or somebody else made no real difference – it was all about the discovery.


August 2015 – Beckie Egan Photography

But cancer has shaken us like an earthquake…

The landscape for my girls and I has changed forever and it’s as though the very ground beneath our feet now lies in ruins. We find ourselves in the rubble, searching round and wondering how to piece it all back together again. But it won’t go back the way it was – that option isn’t open to us. For as much as the birding world has lost a bright star, we have lost our champion. And life can never be the same. But Martin repeatedly said that there was a much bigger picture to all of this and to this we hold. One day we hope to see it in all it’s beauty.


So is this the final Birding Frontiers BOOM!?


That’s been the big question for us here – what should happen to Birding Frontiers?   Well there is the potential of the next book in the challenge series, which we hope to publish. Martin was still working on this in the days and weeks before he died. And my main aim at this stage is for the blog to continue its identity as a place of sharing, encouragement and discovery. This in itself would be such a fitting tribute.


But I know if Martin were writing this, he would want to tag on the end to get out there, get discovering and be the best you, that you can be!

And in the end he’s demonstrated in the way he lived and died that there really are no boundaries, only frontiers!

So have that adventure, follow that passion and find theGold’ in every day. For it is there to be found, you just may need to sift through the rubble first. This is my promise to myself – especially on the tougher days.  As this I think, could be the truest and most fitting tribute to him of all.

Devon feb 09 534

Martin Garner 9th Jan. 1964 to 29th Jan. 2016

…and if you’ve got a few minutes – here’s the video montage his girls put together and played at his funeral – actually a lot of fun (just so he has the final word!)

Breaking/ Exciting/ Chuffed-to-bits News!!!

Spurn Migration Festival


Takes Great Step Forward into the Future.

We could not be more delighted to announce the birth of a new partnership. Following three consecutive Spurn Migration Festivals we knew we were ready for the next step. Over careful and very enjoyable consultation meetings with the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), we have created that new partnership.,,,,


The Spurn Bird Observatory Trust (SBOT) will work in full collaboration with the BTO to continue to make the #migfest  the UK’s premier bird migration experience. Other partners will also help take the whole event forward.

The dates for 2016 are Friday 9th, Saturday 10th, Sunday 11th September.

With requests for bookings for 2016 already coming in and the rave reports from 2015 we’re anticipating another great year.


Don’t forget to dream…

Andy Roadhouse and Martin Garner2 numptie dreamers- Martin G. and Andy R.

Juvenile Thayer’s Gull in Aberdeen. NOW!


Thayer’s Gull, Donmouth, Aberdeenshire. 20th Jan 2016.

It’s an open secret. Chris Gibbins and I are working on a GULLS BOOK.

So the obvious thing- go out and find an uber rare gull of course. DOH!

Chris Gibbins writes:

“Isn’t birding just brilliant.

hywel 1

Exciting. Challenging. Sometimes stressful. Often mind-blowing. And sometimes simply bonkers.

Thayer’s Gull, Donmouth, Aberdeenshire. All photos: Chris Gibbins & Hywel Maggs.

I had made a conscious effort to escape from work more over lunch. Rather than work and have lunch at my computer, I’d promised myself that for 2016 I would go to Donmouth to check the gulls over lunch. A kind-of New Year resolution. I’d been doing this since going back to work after the Christmas break, but in the last few days I was particularly spurred on by Dave Foster. Dave had been finding lots of Caspian Gulls back home in NE England over the last 10 days or so, and Dave’s text messages and gripping Caspian photos reminded me to plug away with Donmouth.

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Tuesday 19 January. I arrived at Donmouth. The tide was just beginning to drop and birds were gathering on the gravel bar. As I wandered along to my usual viewing point, I noticed a gull just below me, very close to the base of the cliffs and just 30 m or so from me. It looked odd. I put my bins up and looked at it – ‘ooooohhh…. here we go’. I put my scope up and started to have a close look.

I look at gulls a lot. One consequence of this is that I see lots of wacky birds (e.g. crazy-looking Herring Gulls), birds that fall rather clearly into the presumed hybrid bracket, and others that don’t quite fit anything. Thus, when confronted with something initially puzzling, my default position is always ‘why isn’t this simply a weird Herring Gull, or a hybrid etc’. But as the features of this Donmouth bird were registering themselves in my mind, this slightly negative default did not kick in – it looked just like a proper gull, and that gull was Thayer’s. That said, I had to be careful not to let first impressions run away with me (‘‘stop, concentrate on the details; be objective’’ I told myself) but boy was this an interesting bird.

The bummer was that, having just nipped out over lunch, I did not have any camera kit. This was critical as a bird like this really needs to be captured in flight. I spent 5 or 10 mins looking at it and running through the options; it was no Herring x Glaucous hybrid, nor did the features add up to a small Glaucous-winged. Over the Christmas period I’d been in Korea looking at gulls, and had seen many puzzling birds that I took to represent various hybrid combinations involving Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Slaty-backed and Vega. But this bird was not like any of these. For sure it had that Pacific look (largely dark tail and well-marked rump and upper-tail coverts) but it was not like anything I’d seen in Korea. It was either a Thayer’s or a crazy dark Kumlien’s. This is the real nightmare zone, but several things had me leaning towards Thayer’s to me – those amazing fresh, scaley scapulars (like a juv Baird’s Sand), the tertial pattern was good, and the primaries had a narrow fringe confined to the tip (not bleeding along all the feather edge). The primary tone changed a lot in relation to angle and the light conditions (cloudy but sun sometimes breaking through and creating glare) but overall I judged them to be more or less the same as the tertials, but perhaps slightly colder/greyer in tone. Some Thayer’s in my photo collection show primaries the same as tertials, others slightly darker. So this bird seemed okay in this department. Any paler and I would get the jitters. Stills don’t do it justice to its jizz, but walking around and interacting with Herring’s it was obvious it had its own character. It was just fractionally smaller than a Herring with a pinched-in bill base. Slightly snouty. It was rather aggressive and long calling too – how many time have you seen this on an Iceland/Kumliens type? All this was good but I needed flight images. I’d managed some video footage and stills of it on the deck using my phone. Fine, but I really needed to see the details of the open wings and tail/rump frozen in a flight photo, rather than relying on perceptions of them in the field. Dam. No camera. I needed help – some second opinions from friends who were not quite so adrenalin-fuelled or stressed as me, and so could look objectively, and pictures were needed

Thankfully Hywel Maggs lives not far away and he was there with his camera within 15 mins. I left Hywel to try and secure some pics and bombed off to pick up Paul Baxter to get his views on it – he was stuck at work with no car. By the time Paul and myself got back, Hywel had it all under control. Myself, Paul, Hywel and Phil Crockett (who I had also rang for a second opinion and managed a brief look between work duties) discussed the bird; to cut a long story short, were in agreement. It was great for me see and hear their instinctive reactions to seeing it.

hywel 3

I had to get back to work but this provided me with the chance to put the news out on the email systems etc. Most importantly I emailed a couple of my phone pics to folks whose views I trust more than my own – Peter Adriaens and Martin Garner.

Accepting that they had just my phone-scoped standing shots to go on, both quickly came back with positive, ‘thumbs-up’ type comments. We have lift-off. I waited to receive some copies from Hywel of his flight pics, but at least for the time being there were no big warning lights. The news was out and no doubt the usual Thayer’s-Kumliens’ debate (ID, taxonomy…) would ensue over the internet. These birds are always going to be the subject of discussion and everyone will have their views. All part of birding, and how it should be.

(all pics Mr. Gibbins and Mr Maggs, Donmouth, Aberdeen, NE Scotland – YESTERDAY)

COMMENT from Martin G.

No doubt as already intimated by Chris G. there will be internet/ social media debate. What did I think/ It looks like like a Thayer’s Gull. (This really not necessary- already cracked by Chris!!)

“20 years  after my first Thayer’s. A crazy amout of juvenile only upperparts (lack 2cy feathers). Same fillled in JUVENILE scapulars. Same pinched base bill. Same velvety underparts, same  tertial pattern, morphing colour to primaries (but LOTS look just like this, spot on secondaries and tail). There- it’s what CHRIS SAID!

THAYER’S GULL…    see ya later”


Below- 2 fresh juvenile Thayer’s Gulls on breeding grounds…

Postscript from Chris Gibbins:
‘‘I’ve just come from Donmouth where the gull is still present. I saw it briefly but light conditions now very neutral so ideal for judging its overall colour tones.

I have to say that I have concerns having seen it in these conditions – it looks rather too milky to my liking. John Nadine’s fantastic image from the other day of it standing on the groyne make it look good, but today I have come away with rather different perception of it. In neutral light the primaries do not look dark enough and the secondaries and outer primaries in flight not quite contrasting enough for me – or at least to put it beyond doubt. I thought I should voice my new concerns about it.

Whatever, it is a great bird. Best thing is to see it and make your own mind up. ‘’


Dr Chris Gibbins
Senior Lecturer
Northern Rivers Institute
School of Geoscience
University of Aberdeen
Old Aberdeen
AB24 3UF
Telephone: 01224 272338
Web page:

Humble Pie from MG- yes it is right at the pallid end. Yes I probably jumped the gun- though I still some can look like this (see photo below). Some cases will never know for sure.

juv Thayer's 2

BTO joins Spurn Migration Festival

Hot news of the Best Kind

“It’s always great to approach Christmas with good news. One of the highlights of my year has been the 3rd Spurn Migration Festival. The event has gone to a new level of enjoyment and engagement to all those who’ve come. It seemed obvious to take it to the next level and establish new footings. Therefore we are all chuffed to bits in the #migfest Spurn Migration fetival (1 of 1)team that the highly esteemed British Trust for Ornithology has become a new partner. They will raise the profile of the festival to a much wider audience and will create new opportunities to continually improve the design and content of the event. The BTO Need little or no introduction depending on your knowledge or experience of them.If you follow the #migfest then do read more here. I think you can see why we are big BTO fans.

More on the British Trust of Ornithology,,,,, CliCK here.

There will be proper details in the New Year of the new arrangement but for now we have every reason to approach Christmas 2015 in celebration and the Spurn Migration Festival 2016 with great optimism as Britain’s premier outdoor birding event.”


They are the seriously best researchers and know how to have fun too.  Arriving at this years’ #migfest

The British Trust for Ornithology

Spurn Migfests’ Hero

Adam Stoyle

It’s easy to overlook that is. Without doubt one of the unsung heroes of the Spurn Migration Festival, not just this year but every year, has been local lad Adam Stoyle.

So, A very small attempt on my part to say thank you. Adam was integral to the team, to some of our best plans and to making sure above all they got quietly implemented.

Thanks Adam ‘stoggle’ Stoyle…




Extraordinary Grey Shrike

Make a Fuss!

Shrike Eemshaven 18 oktober 2015


Sometimes you have to 🙂

This bird, trapped in the Netherlands on 18th October (that woul be last month) I think is extra- ordinary for this far west. Fits gallaie/homeyeri  profile. Least all I can say is I have never come across one.

Of course it may still be around. Somewhere in the region of the land bordering the English Channel

Why fuss?

So much white! The extra white running along the edges of the secondaries. That’s the main feature for me. You would need to see/ read the text and illustrations in the Challenge : WINTER to see what I am on about.

No further gen. Thanks to Mark Grantham who first flagged up a similar bird in Suffolk last month. And to Martin Brandsma who gained permission to share this one. In haste…

Shrike Eemshaven 18 oktober 2015