Category Archives: Spurn Migration Festival

The Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder of the Year 2017

The future’s bright!!

It’s hard to believe it’s over a month since the 5th migfest!!  

And with that the 3rd Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder of the Year competition!  The range of entrants was strong.   Nick Whitehouse (pictured at the front below), writes that the competition, “is really producing some real stars…All 3 winners so far since we started in 2015 have been excellent albeit their margin of victory has always been the slightest of margins over the other finalists.  Brilliant crop of young birders coming through.”

A massive well done to the five finalists, Corin Woodhead (age 11), Sami Sankey (age 13), James King (age 13), Angus Jennings (age 15) and of course the overall winner, Dante Shepherd (age 16)!

The five finalists receive their awards.

The five finalists receiving their awards. (Photo copyright Dave McAleavy).

Dante shares his experience of the competition…

It all started when Rich Bonser and Jamie Partridge, my two mentors, proposed to me that I entered the competition after seeing an advert. They suggested it would be a good opportunity for me to meet new people, make contacts and maybe even win a pair of new binoculars. In the initial online questionnaire I was asked numerous probing questions about all aspects of my birding. These included how my interest in birds started, my patch and my best birding moments.

A month or so later I was delighted to receive an email announcing I had a place in the final. After a Skype call with Nick Moran and Nick Whitehouse about the logistics of the day and any queries I had it was all set for Saturday the 9th of September. The initial plan was for Rich, Jamie and I to all drive up and down from London in one long day together in Rich’s car. However, an American Redstart ruined the party and a plan B was soon hatched.

I met Jamie on the Euston Road in the hire car around 4am and by 8am we were crossing the Humber Bridge with Spurn in our sights. Shortly before the start of the competition, as we were looking around Kilnsea Wetlands, a birder told us that a Wryneck was on show at nearby Sandy Beaches. A quick dash to see the bird was successful and resulted in long overdue UK tick for me.

We arrived at The Warren, the competition location, with just 2 minutes to spare and promptly started the competition. This constituted of several stages with a different assessor for each – an estuary watch, a seawatch, a vismig, a bush bash and a lab test. At each stage, apart from the lab test, I was asked to identify several bird species visible in the area. I was also asked some tricky questions during these stages about bird migration, breeding and identification such as how to separate a juvenile Sedge Warbler from an Aquatic Warbler. During the lab test I was asked to identify several bird vocalisations and identify different features of a birds topography. After every finalist had completed each stage it was time for the scores to be tallied up and the winner to be announced. I was amazed and very happy to hear I had won!

Buzzing with the result, Jamie and I decided to explore the area around the gas terminal to see if we could find any migrants. We unearthed a trio of juvenile Willow Warblers and an adult male Redstart. Throughout this time we were oblivious to the discovery of a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher on Holderness Field until it was too late. Fortunately we had seen an adult a few weeks before at Oare Marshes, Kent but it was a shame nonetheless.

That evening at the ceremony it was a real honour to receive the award from the amazing Ian Newton. Unfortunately, due to the fact we had to get back to London that same night, we left before his eagerly anticipated lecture on migration.

I would like to thank everybody that has helped me along my path as a birder. Especially Rich and Jamie who regularly take me out of the not-so-birdy urban sprawl of London to places I’d never be able to get to without them. I would also like to thank Spurn Bird Observatory and the BTO for organising the event and giving me such a memorable experience. I am really enjoying using the new binoculars! I will continue to be inspired by Martin Garner’s legacy as a pioneering and feather-by-feather birder.

Dante Shepherd.

Dante Shepherd presented with a pair of Swarovski Binoculars.

Dante Shepherd presented with a pair of Swarovski Binoculars. (Photo copyright Dave McAleavy).

The competition is set to run next year.  So if you or somebody you know is interested, keep your eye out on the BTO website for further information on how to enter!  

Stejneger’s Stonechat in Falsterbo

By Yoav Perlman

This stunning (putative) Stejneger’s Stonechat was ringed at the migration hotspot of Falsterbo Bird Observatory in southern Sweden on September 20th. The bird was caught in the reedbed area north of Falsterbo lighthouse. Björn Malmhagen from Falsterbo participated in the recent and hugely successful Spurn Migfest and had a great time it seems. Björn was also involved in the identification of a stonechat at Spurn a few days ago, first thought to be stejneger’s but later identified as European Stonechat. It’s great to see the partnership formed between Spurn Bird Observatory, Falsterbo BO and Cape May BO.

Björn sent me these educational images, comparing the Falsterbo bird, 1cy female, with an almost identical bird he had ringed in China exactly a year earlier. Incredible. Feathers of the Falsterbo bird were sent for DNA analysis by Martin Stervander at Lund University, Sweden. So hopefully ID will be confirmed soon.

Of the maurus group, stejnegeri is the eastermost form, and not the easiest to identify, especially from European Stonechat. But in recent years more focus has been given to this taxon after several western European records (see previous posts on Birding Frontiers here and here).

Distribution map of stonechats, from Hellström and Wærn (2011). British Birds 104: 236-254

Distribution map of stonechats, from Hellström and Wærn (2011). British Birds 104: 236-254

In these excellent composite images by Björn, the key features can be seen. This is what Björn wrote to me about his impression of the bird in the field: “The bird gave an overall dark impression with a deep rusty rump and uppertail-coverts lacking any dark markings. The underpart was light orange – in colours closest to a western bird – in contrast to a whitish throat.”

The strong bill is also evident here. Width of bill of the Falsterbo bird at the proximal edge of the nostrils was measured to 5.2 mm which, according to Svensson (1992), places this bird outside the range of maurus (4.7–5.7 mm in stejnegeri, compared to 4.0–4.9 mm in maurus). Compared to other Siberian Stonechats, primary projection is not that long – wing measurement was 69 mm.

Composite of Stejneger's Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

Composite of Stejneger’s Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

The pattern of rump and uppertail coverts is crucial for ID. Note the richly toned rump, unlike that buff-whitish rump of other maurus. Also, note the dark centers to longest uppertail coverts – typical for stejnegeri (more than half of individuals were found to have such a pattern – see another excellent article by Magnus Hellström and Gabriel Norevik in BB (2014)):

Composite of Stejneger's Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

Composite of Stejneger’s Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

Many thanks to Björn and his brilliant team from Falsterbo BO for sharing this with us.

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.

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…




Celebrating Young Birders

Launched… Moving… and ALIVE!


This was one of the most uplifting moments of the 3rd Spurn Migration Festival.

The winners presentation of the Young Birder of the Year competition. Very importantly it was the process and event that was behind which was most important. The NGB team were involved. The SBOT carried the idea and the vision. The migfest became the vehicle.

Let’s fan the flames!

I met with key players (organisers) last week. We think this is easily a very inspiring new  National Event. The touch-paper has been lit! Having hugely benefited from the coaching and mentoring of others as an early teenager folk like Don Weedon and Dougie Percival in my native N. Cheshire, this event is fantastic oxygen for our birding community

So heres’ the pic but it’s like a ‘Narnia window’ into the launch of an awesome gig. I give you:


Young Birder poster (1 of 1)


Thanks to Birdwatching Magazine for covering this





Goldcrests from further east… coatsi and beyond?

Intro to post by Martin G.

This little Goldcrest with ‘extra grey’  began a journey of questioning. The joy of others birders and learning from one another kicked in to play. Getting the privilege of being out with octogenarian Peter Colston, famed as the skin man at the Natural History Museum for many years- TRING! He flagged up ‘Eastern Goldcrest as we birded together watching this bird:

extrs grey Goldcrest, Geosetter Burn, Shetland. October 2015. Peter Colston

extra grey Goldcrest, Geosetter Burn, Shetland. October 2015. Peter Colston

Peter spoke. I had NEVER heard of eastern taxa. Just not come onto my plate. Two subspecies are flagged up here, now.  The taxa coatsi and japonensis

Given the distance that Yellow- browed Warblers and Hume’s Warblers come from… reaching my garden at Flamborough- well :

How far do some late autumn the Goldcrests come from?

Do I know we get coatsi for sure? No idea. Can you identify them really? I don’t know. This might be hugely revealing or a flght of fancy. It doesn’t matter. It’s how we discover and I love exploring. 

Spurn and Falsterbo (and Cape May)

and meanwhile… I get to champion the wonderful new partnerships. Falsterbo Bird Observatory and Cape May Bird Observatory are forming dynamic partnerships with Spurn Bird Observatory.  So I am chuffed to have Stephen bring data from Falsterbo… and thinking of all those Goldcrest and the awesome ringing programme going on work at Spurn Bird Obs. These are wonderful heady days.


Goldcrests from further east?

Stephen Menzie


Map of Goldcrest range from Wikipedia

Map of Goldcrest range from Wikipedia

Autumn 2014 saw exceptional number of Goldcrests ringed at Falsterbo Bird Observatory, Sweden – 11,581 to be precise, a record total and well above the 1980–2013 average of around 2,500 per autumn. The two biggest days came on 11th October (1,853) and 21st October (2,027). Most of the birds we caught were a bit greyer around the head than birds I’m used to seeing in Britain, although some – like the one below – probably wouldn’t be detected amongst British birds.



Above: regulus type ?

Most, however, looked like the bird below:
Above: ‘Continental type’?
It was difficult to know exactly where these birds were coming from. Recoveries gave us a clue as to where they had passed through: (elsewhere in) Sweden, Poland, Kaliningrad (Russia), and a few from Norway. The bird above, in fact, is a control from Kaliningrad. There was perhaps a tendency for eastern-ringed birds to arrive on average a tad later than Swedish/Norwegian ringed birds but I’m quite sure the whole movement was part of one single mass emigration. It’s my gut feeling that many of the Swedish-ringed birds were simply caught on their way through as they headed west in a broad front across northern Europe before filtering down through Falsterbo.
As the season went on, from about mid October, there was an increasing proportion of birds on which the head got greyer, the underparts got less saturated, and the mantle got greener. Some, like the bird below, were striking.
Above: coatsi type?
Side-by-side with a typical (“Continental-type”) bird, the differences are even more apparent. The grey of the head is purer and more extensive – though we didn’t catch any birds with the grey extending down as far onto the mantle as the bird in this previous post (go HERE! )
–  and the mantle is a purer green with a well-defined limit between the two. The buff tones on the underparts were greatly reduced. We also got the feeling that these birds looked consistently more “bull necked”, at least in the hand.
Above: coatsi type?
Some of the more extreme birds we were catching were almost approaching japonensis in appearance (see e.g. HERE) 
I would be surprised if we were catching japonensis but I started to wonder how extreme coatsi could get. Spp japonensis is genetically quite distinct from the western group (nominate and the Macaronesian forms), though I’m not aware of any studies that have included coatsi. Nevertheless, we managed to catch a dislodged feather from one bird (not one of the extreme grey-headed birds, but noticeably grey-headed nonetheless – phenotypically somewhere between the two birds in the above photo) and we are awaiting analysis. My worry is that coatsi and regulus are just one big cline and a genetic sample isn’t going to tell us a great deal. Still, it’s worth a try.
These grey-headed green-mantled birds are probably regular visitors, perhaps occurring under irruptions conditions rather than as true migrants.
Indeed, I have photos of one from Falsterbo from mid-October 2012 (an autumn when 4,600 Goldcrests were ringed) but I didn’t note any during autumn 2013 (when just 1,100 Goldcrests were ringed). Sadly I haven’t spent any length of time at Falsterbo this autumn so I can’t comment on the situation there, other than the fact that – contra might what be expected given the arrival of birds on the east coast of Britain – the Goldcrest total stands at a distinctly average 1,850.
There’s still plenty to discover about these autumn-ariving birds and it feels like my brief look into the species has barely scratched the surface. Certainly, if the genetics do show the Falsterbo bird to be coatsi, there’s absolutely no reason to think the taxa isn’t reaching the UK too.