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My tribute to Martin

I am honoured that Sharon has invited me – amongst others – to continue to post to Martin’s Birding Frontiers blog, following his untimely death after a long courageous battle with cancer. Before I do so, however, I wanted to write my tribute to the great man. It has taken me some time because it has been very difficult for me to put into words just how much Martin meant to me.

It may sound over the top but I make no apology; Martin was an inspiration to me as a birder, photographer and a man.  I first met Martin in the late 1990s at Poolsbrook Country Park, Derbyshire when he introduced me to the intricacies of gull identification.  By that stage I’d been birding seriously for about 20 years and was no slouch, but Martin’s knowledge far surpassed mine and he opened my eyes. Not only did he open my eyes and expand my knowledge but he inspired me and positively encouraged me to pursue my digiscoping be it video or stills. He recognised my digiscoping skills and his mantra “Be the best you can be” echoes in my ears. To hear Martin say that I was “pushing the boundaries” with my digiscoping is much-treasured praise.

Martin was a real expert in bird identification – he was at the top of his game.  Queries were invariably referred to him. Martin was definitely the ” man who does”.  It’s no surprise therefore that Birding Frontiers was ground breaking stuff,  being  interesting and informative with many learned contributors and experts from around the world. I was really proud therefore when Martin asked me to contribute on digiscoping.

I also have Martin to thank for my working relationship with Swarovski which has been beneficial to me in pursuing my digiscoping passion.

Martin will be sadly missed by me and many others but his knowledge and his willingness to spread and share that knowledge will live on through his Challenge books and Birding Frontiers.

Justin Carr

2013-07-17 Eurasian Cuckoo2

The Beijing Cuckoo Project

By Terry

We are excited to announce the launch of The Beijing Cuckoo Project, a new initiative that has the potential to make a huge difference to conservation in China whilst, at the same time, making ground breaking scientific discoveries.

Following the hugely successful, and ongoing, citizen science project to track the Beijing Swift, over the last few months we have been working with partners in the UK and China to replicate the BTO’s Cuckoo Tracking Project in China’s capital.

The Cuckoo – famous for laying its eggs in the nests of other, often smaller, birds – is a popular and well-known bird in Beijing.  The life of the Cuckoo, including a wonderful account of the ongoing evolutionary battle between the Cuckoo and its hosts, was covered eloquently by Nick Davies in his award-winning book – Cuckoo: Cheating By Nature.

Cuckoo and Reed Parrotbill

In China, one of the host species of Eurasian Cuckoo is Reed Parrotbill!

The Beijing Cuckoo Project has the potential to deliver two incredibly exciting outcomes. The first is to engage the public in China, on an unprecedented scale, about the wonders of bird migration. The second is to discover the currently unknown wintering grounds, and migration routes, of Eurasian Cuckoos breeding in East Asia – vital if conservationists are to understand how best to protect the Cuckoo and similar migratory species.

As in the UK, we plan to deploy ultra-lightweight satellite tags onto as many as 10 cuckoos in the Beijing area. Drawing on the BTO’s expertise and experience, Chris Hewson, a leading scientist from the UK, will travel to Beijing to train local volunteers and lead the catching and fitting of the tags.

Local schoolchildren will name the cuckoos and follow their progress as part of a specially designed “environmental curriculum”.

13th middle school

Students from Beijing’s 13th Middle School recently received their certificates as the first graduates of the “Environmental Curriculum” and will follow the progress of the Beijing Cuckoos as part of their ongoing studies.

National and local media will cover the project via their print and online publications. A special APP will allow members of the public to follow their progress, too, providing information about cuckoos, maps showing their latest positions and the routes taken, as well as background about the project.

We are delighted that around 75% of the funding has been raised through generous donations from the Zoological Society of London, Oriental Bird Club, the British Birds Charitable Trust and Beijing Forestry University. We are also fortunate to enjoy in kind support from the British Trust for Ornithology, the China Birdwatching Society and the many volunteers who will be involved.

However, given the costs of “satellite services”, the costs associated with accessing the data transmitted by the tags, and the costs of maintaining the dedicated APP, we still need to raise another GBP 10,000 over the next 12 months.

That is why we have set up a new, dedicated JustGiving page to allow anyone wishing to be part of this project to contribute. The page can be found here:

Everyone involved with the Beijing Cuckoo project is excited about the potential and all donors, with their permission, will be recognised on the interpretation material that will be erected at the catching sites in Beijing.

Please join us in being part of an incredible and worthwhile project!

Martin in Shetland

From the Birding Frontiers team

Birding Frontiers was launched in autumn 2010, and has since become one of the most popular birding blogs in Britain and beyond. It was the brainchild of Martin Garner, and its style and character perfectly reflected his continuous quest for new discoveries and for learning. Martin’s irrepressible enthusiasm was the rocket fuel that powered this particular spacecraft. Boooom!

Once the blog had taken off and become properly airborne, Martin enlisted the help of various other people, who were cajoled and persuaded to write for Birding Frontiers. It became more of a team effort after that although Martin remained firmly anchored at the heart of the project: his expertise, his vision and above all his communication skills were critical.

Martin died in late January 2016, after a battle with cancer that lasted more than two years. His death leaves a gaping hole in the birding scene; he was a larger-than-life character who inspired everyone who met him and spent time with him in the field. Now that Sharon has posted her own tribute, we, the team members, wish to pay our respects and record our thanks to Martin; send our deepest condolences to Sharon, Abigail and Emily; and acknowledge that life without Martin will not be the same.

It is unbelievably sad to think that Martin is no longer with us. He touched so many people with his enthusiasm, curiosity and positivity. I am one of them. I started following his Birding Frontiers blog soon after its launch in 2010, just a year after moving to Varanger. I had moved to a new place full of expectations and a desire to make difference, all based on my passion for birding. In Martin’s blog I found a voice that inspired my own birding and sense of discovery. It was a voice with that rare combination of the expertly skilled birder but at the same time it was humble and open. Moving to Varanger was a big choice for me, and my family. We wanted to make birding and nature a key part of our lives.

It did not take long before I had an opportunity to contact Martin. Sometimes, I guess, that is how a friendship can start – with a guy in Arctic Norway sending some photos of an odd-looking Bean Goose to a guy in Sheffield. That was the start of a longer correspondence, with eye-opening and inspirational input from Martin. Soon after that, I found an opportunity to invite Martin to Varanger. In 2011 he joined a trip I led, and that was the start of a good friendship based on our shared passion for birding.

Martin was the most generous person I have ever met. We talked birds and birding, and Martin’s sharp thinking was already predicting new birds in Varanger, birds that surely had to be found if we only we looked for them! Glaucous-winged Gull, Stejneger’s Scoter and Pacific Eiders are well documented now, as Martin expected them to be. But our passion for birds also included people. Since our first tour in Varanger we have shared so many great experiences both on tour in the UK and on several events in Varanger.

Thinking of Martin now I am left with so many great memories. For that I am very thankful. Our crazy busy and buzzing ‘Pushing the Boundaries Tour’ around the UK was one of the highlights of my birding life. It was everything we set to do: enjoy great birding, meet inspirational people and to share our passion for birding with others. Martin will be dearly missed as a key influence in my life. Thank you, Martin.

Tormod Amundsen

Martin and Ian Lewington enjoying ´the King Eider vortex´ in Vardø, during Gullfest 2013. An amazing day of birding, in the best company.

Martin and Ian Lewington enjoying ´the King Eider vortex´ in Vardø, during Gullfest 2013. An amazing day of birding, in the best company.

In every profession, in every walk of life, there are those that stand out from the crowd, those that push boundaries, those that set the bar for the rest of us to aim at. Martin was one of those people. With boundless energy, big inquisitive eyes and an ear-to-ear smile Martin pushed our understanding of bird ID, and how we should look at bird ID, further in a decade than had been done in the previous half century.

My involvement with Birding Frontiers started at the Hula Valley Bird Festival – where better. Martins enthusiasm for my and Richard Moores’ interest in mammals was amazing and he soon invited me to contribute to the Birding Frontiers website. Throughout the time I knew him, his enthusiasm never faltered and he was always keen to hear any thoughts I might have had on mammals or birds in a never-ending quest to learn more about the subject we are all most passionate about. His legacy, as well as happy memories and informative pages to turn, will be the way we approach identification, with open minds and without the fear of being wrong. If nothing else Martin taught us that being wrong is absolutely fine, why else do we fall if not to learn?

Dan Brown

I have been aware of Martin’s papers since I was a little lad, a very young birder !  I remember reading all his papers with great admiration as I could get the feeling that I could find in his work my own way of life: CURIOSITY! PASSION! LOVE! And that the main target was to pose questions and to study more… not necessarily to solve problems definitively or to give the (presumed) final word on something. That was how it was for me, that is like it still is. At the time I had several ‘heroes’, including Killian Mullarney, Richard Porter, DIM Wallace, Lars Jonsson, Hans Larsson and MARTIN GARNER! Among the bird artists my heroes were and still are John Gerard Keulemans, K. De Mees, John Smith (for reptiles), Lorenzo Starnini, Ian Lewington,  Brian J Small, Lars Jonsson and Hans Larsson. Over the course of many years, I have met and become a friend of most of these (apart from the artists of the 1800s of course!).

I first met Martin in Linosa island, a paradise for Italian birders. I invited Martin and he came straightaway! Typical of his true enthusiasm for life, for descovering, for SHARING! He then invited me to join BF team. When I, and the rest of my birding team MISC met him, we discovered that he was not only a great birder, that’s too easy; he was a great MAN as well, and that’s really hard !  Martin was like a luminescent person, one of those person you met once and they shine light on you. I AM MISSING HIM! That’s it… no other words !

Andrea Corso

I first met Martin on Shetland, in September 2011. I was birding in Unst, when a minibus came whizzing up the road and pulled up alongside my car. I instantly recognised Martin, and the look of excitement on his face. It was the start of a short but great friendship.

‘Hi guys, I’ve found a really interesting Lesser Whitethroat and I’d like a few others to see it!’ Very soon we were watching that Lesser Whitethroat, at close quarters, feeding in a lines of rose bushes. Martin quickly began to point out the interesting features of this ‘eastern’ bird and his attention to detail was amazing. It soon became clear to me and the rest of the group watching the bird, that it was not a normal Lesser Whitethroat.

This was Martin in his element, ‘frontier birding’ in real life. Martin’s enthusiasm for birding was there for all to see and this has had a massive impact on me, as it has on many other people. I feel so very privileged to have had Martin as a friend, if only for a short period of time.

I was very flattered, in fact amazed, when he asked me to join his BF team. At the time I didn’t really know why. Who am I to be asked to join such a distinguished group? I questioned Martin and in his amicable way he said: ‘Don’t worry Tony: enjoy, become part of the learning, there is so much more out there to be discovered.’ He put those words into my two Challenge Series Books, at the birdfair last year and I’ll treasure them always.

So, many thanks Martin, for your enthusiasm, spirit and belief and for pushing the boundaries of birding in such a unique way. Au revoir.

Tony Davison

Martin in Shetland

Martin in Shetland

I’d often heard of Martin Garner and when I asked him to give a lecture at a birders’ meeting on Helgoland, I was very happy when he agreed. When I met him here on my tiny home island, I realized that he was not only an excellent birder, but also a great person! On the meeting as well as later in many discussions by email he was full of new questions, mainly concerning the recognition of difficult-to-identify species. When he invited me to the Birding Frontiers team, I felt honoured, although I could not contribute as much as I would have wanted. I was really shocked when I heard of Martin’s illness, and when finally the news of his death got through to me (I was in a remote part of north-east India), I was very sad. I will miss the many discussions with him and would have liked to meet him more often than just once!

Jochen Dierschke

Martin on Helgoland

Martin on Helgoland

Martin’s work was a great inspiration, not only for British birdwatchers, but also reaching out to the rest of Europe and beyond. More than anything, I think that his greatest contribution to the birding society was getting people to talk to each other and think together; ignoring prestige and instead focusing on the increase of our collective knowledge. And always with a smile.

Magnus Hellström

Unlike others here, it is with great sadness that I have to admit that I never met Martin. Like all others here, however, all I have is positive memories from many excited phone conversations and correspondence over the last few years. Thus, it is with some apprehension that I write this, in the knowledge that many others knew him far better than myself and that I can’t do it the justice I wish I could.

Martin and I began corresponding a few years ago due to some of the work I am involved in, primarily in the tropics, where often even the most basic information on species is completely unknown. I vividly remember our first chat on the phone, his famed enthusiasm oozing through the airwaves as we talked on and on about how very much there is to learn, both at home as much as the remotest mountains in the unbirded regions of the word. It was as clear to me then as much as it is now that Martin was a master of the trade, not only in the field, but also in connecting people, motivating ideas and removing the stigmas that birding and ornithological circles can sometimes generate. Naturally, I was flattered when Martin asked if I’d be interested in getting involved in his new vision for Birding Frontiers. It became apparent to me, however, that it was never about pedestals, it was his way of getting people to look deeper, learn more and get excited, all with the idea that if you’re doing it with a smile on your face, you’re doing it right- what a legacy to be remembered by.

Sam Jones

Martin Garner was a truly admirable person, and one who has inspired countless birders, including me. His deep enthusiasm and willingness to discover, ask questions about everything, and especially share his findings with others, definitely led many of us to becoming better birders – and people. I will always be grateful to him for that. I first had contact with Martin regarding my local Yellow-legged Gulls, a subject he was really passionate about, and ever since then we have had constant email exchange, about all sorts of things. After meeting him for the first time at Gull Fest, and attending one of his lectures (which was truly inspirational) I then had the opportunity to invite him to come  along to Lanzarote, to experience our pelagic trips. We were fortunate in having Martin with us a couple of times, spending a lot of time with him out in the field, and thankfully I got to know him better. He was, above all, a great guy, always trying to help, and none of us will ever forget him and his attitude. Rest in peace my friend.

Dani López-Velasco



Dani and Martin at Gullfest, April 2012

Dani and Martin at Gullfest, April 2012

In November 2013 Martin visited me in Israel. We birded in the Negev and saw this female Siberian Stonechat. In the field it showed no white on the tail bases at all. I was convinced it was a female hemprichii. Martin didn’t believe me. We set a net up and in a few minutes it was in the hand. One blow on the uppertail coverts, and boom! White bases to tail feathers! Martin couldn’t stop laughing for a long time!

Yoav Perlman


I feel very lucky to have known Martin Garner as a friend and as a birder. Martin devoted his life to care, encouragement and inspiration of others. He inspired and guided me in my personal life and also with my birding; encouraging me to believe in myself and to never be afraid to ask questions (even if there were no answers)! I was lucky enough to spend time birding with Martin during trips abroad, where his infectious enthusiasm, wealth of knowledge and willingness to teach (and be taught) made for an incredibly rich experience. The photograph below was taken by Jonathan Meyrav during our trip to the Hula Bird Festival. Martin is stood with me in front of a tree containing a Great Spotted Eagle and an Eastern Imperial Eagle. This is one of many fantastic memories I have of my time spent with Martin.

It is so sad and unfair to have lost such a wonderful and beautiful human being. I feel very privileged to have known him.

Tristan Reid


Martin first came to Shetland in 2009, on the first of many successful tours with Shetland Nature. The photo below sums him up: at the centre of a rare-bird discovery in the most unpromising of circumstances, and an integral part of the team event that unfolded that afternoon. And with a great big smile on his face.

Roger Riddington

From left: Brydon Thomason, RR, Fiona Barclay, Mike Weedon, Martin and Dominic Mitchell, in the Fetlar ‘Taiga Fly garden’.

From left: Brydon Thomason, RR, Fiona Barclay, Mike Weedon, Martin and Dominic Mitchell, in the Fetlar ‘Taiga Fly garden’.

Even though I met Martin only once, I will miss him as if he was a family member. He was, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me as he has been to countless others. This photo is of Martin receiving a book – The Natural History of Selbourne, by Gilbert White – a gift from Beijing birders in recognition of the value of the Challenge Series to east Asian birders. It has been a huge honour to be associated with Martin through the Birding Frontiers website and the Challenge Series and his spirit will live on!

Terry Townshend


I first met Martin during one of the annual Dutch Birding days, where he was the main speaker, I guess around seven years ago. His talks blow me away – and not only me…! We had some email contact before about ID issues but wooow, this man was not just a great birder and nice guy, but a fabulous speaker too! At the end of the day we came to talk about Steppe Buzzard ID and a friendship was born. A few years later we did two days birding around the north of Holland, together with my friends Diederik Kok en Jeroen de Bruyn. It was an extreme cold period and even the Waddensea towards Texel was largely frozen.

Over the last five years we have discussed many ID issues, and even until this day, every time an ID issue comes across, I think, I wonder… what would Martin think about this? The loss is just starting to sink in, but the inspiration he gave me and so many others will live much longer.

Nils van Duivendijk

Martin on Texel in February 2012. Martin, who else, had just found a very good candidate adult Russian Common Gull (heinei). Here, I am positioning my scope for Martin to digiscope it.

Martin on Texel in February 2012. Martin, who else, had just found a very good candidate adult Russian Common Gull (heinei). Here, Nils is positioning his scope for Martin to digiscope it.

Some Great Birding on Yorkshires east coast.

posted by Justin Carr.        The past few Weeks have been pretty good for birding on the coast from Hornsea upto Scarborough. With a few Rarities and and a good supporting cast of scarce birds thrown in. with influxes of wild geese and Owls.

Here’s a  few pics from the last few weeks.

One of the 3 Richards pipits

  One of the 3 Richards pipits

3 Richards pipits have been a popular attraction at North Landing Flambrough  mostly frequenting the same weedy field just east of the car park and at the time of writing still present. Richards pipits  in recent years seem to be overwintering in increasing numbers especially on the coast.



supporting cast came in the shape of this one of my favorite birds a Peregrine. i was really happy to capture this shot as it sailed by.



Also manged to capture this Kestrel hanging in the updraft of the cliffs it was a rather breezy day ( we seem to have had a lot of them lately ).

Short eared owl

Short eared owl

Apparently vole numbers have crashed this winter this would account for the influx of owls into the UK most notably Short eared owls. if you live near any landscaped pit tips you have good chance of picking one of these  stunners up. this bird took up residence on the grassy slopes along North bay Scarbrough and was remarkably confiding, after many dog walkers came and went the owl got up for a fly around then astonishingly came to land about 5 meters away

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

I have made a few trips to Hornsea mere but as is often the case there the good birds where rather distant and imposible to photograph, a shame as there has been regular sightings of Red necked and Slavonian Grebes as well as Long tailed Duck and a brief Kumlins Gull. i have included the Mute Swan well because i rather like it in the fading evening light.

And last but not least a immature Drake Surf scoter has took a liking to filey bay, on both occasions it to was to distant for anything other than a record shot.



so instead i thought i would post this surfer just to show you you can Digiscope more than just wildlife.

all images Digiscoped on a Swarovski ATX 85.                                                                                        GOOD Digiscoping!!


I Got Stuff To Do

The Next Chapter.

For my friends and followers to Birding Frontiers, I wanted folk to know our ‘new’ situation and some of my hopes.

This was posted on Saturday. It now being Monday for those who follow here and not the other social media spaces; here’s me bit of news. It’s on another blog called BigDDT.

Big DDT is HERE with a bit more of an explanation and video.










White-tailed Tropicbird—a potential hurricane prize!

Birding Tropical Storm/Depression Joaquin in Europe

The landfall of tropical low pressure systems–whether hurricanes or their weaker cousins tropical storms and tropical depressions–is more often a North American phenomenon than a European one. Birders in the USA and Canada are increasingly well-prepared for the seabird bounty that these storms can bring. While these storms can be devastating from human and societal perspectives, they can be positively thrilling for the birder that finds a safe and dry place to observe the action during and after the passage of the storm. As we write, Tropical Storm Joaquin is churning across the Atlantic and is currently forecast to make landfall (or to affect land as its circulation gets very close to shore) in western Europe as either a Tropical Depression (winds up to 64 kph) or a Tropical Storm (winds of 64-117 kph). Although Joaquin is weakening as it approaches Europe, European birders should take note because of the very fact of a storm crossing the Atlantic as a Tropical Storm is a rare event and should begin planning now to observe the avian effects of the storm.

Europe has previously received effects of dissociated tropical systems, but it is rare that a tropical system maintains its intensity sufficiently to retain the title of a Hurricane or Tropical Storm. Although the exact area of landfall remains uncertain, portions of the Iberian Peninsula at present have the highest likelihood for the storm’s arrival in Europe. This would be similar, in terms of landfall, to the arrival of perhaps the only previous tropical system to arrive in Europe as a tropical system — Hurricane Vince in October 2005. Joaquin’s circulation will remain intact even as it deteriorates into a Tropical Depression and there is a high probability that it will entrain some spectacular rarities from the Nearctic. Below is a guide to birding in the storm and some predictions about what to expect. This guide may be particularly relevant to those of you in the vicinity of the Azores and in Iberian Peninsula. There has already been a rare bird in the Canary Islands, probably not due to Joaquin, but a result of strong low pressure systems’ passages across the Atlantic Spain’s second Bobolink!

Birding in a hurricane or Tropical Storm–when done safely–can provide some of the most exciting birding a birder will ever experience. Rarities can become the expected and some birds or spectacles may be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. It also is a great time for those interested in coming up with their own plan and finding their own birds. Since many birds disperse quickly after a storm, hurricane birding does not favor the twitcher, who rarely can arrive in time to catch a given rarity. Making a plan, and having it pan out, only adds to the reward.

There are a couple plans to consider: 1) coastal or coastal bay seawatching; 2) inland lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. If winds remain strong, birding inland sites may be just as exciting as coastal ones. Read on below for more information.

Our advice is to make your plan now and adjust up until the arrival of the storm. Once you have picked your spot, commit to it and have faith that your plan will produce with patience. In North America, it has often taken a lot of patience to be rewarded with rare birds–this list and this list for example were the rewards of a full-day watch that began at 9am (with hourly lists documenting the arrival and passage of the storm.) However, as the storm passes and the winds shift, you may well want to relocate to a site more well-situated to winds from a different direction. For example, if you are on the south side of a peninsula as the storm approaches with southerly winds in your face, you may want to switch to the north side as the storm passes, to keep the winds in your face (and ensure that seabirds are pinned along the shoreline).

If you bird globally–and keep your records in eBird–please be sure to enter them promptly so that the best information on the storm and its birds can reach others. If you don’t use eBird, now would be a great time to start by entering your records from this historic Tropical Storm Joaquin.


A few good sites to watch for the latest predictions and news are:

Weather Online: Tropical Storm Joaquin.

Weather Underground – Predicted storm track

Earth Wind Map


What to expect from a storm that crosses the Atlantic with its circulation intact is a challenge to predict. There is not much precedent, so some fascinating questions will be answered by the intrepid (and careful!) birders that go birding in this storm. Among them:

  • How will the avian load of a trans-Atlantic storm compare? What birds are seen after hurricanes depend on the storm’s track, strength, path, and speed. The behavior of the birds are also a factor, with more aerial species more apt to become entrained. Some birds may become entrained but simply cannot survive aloft in the wind field for a very long time. Joaquin formed in late September (around 29 September) in the Bahamas and did not move substantially northwards until 3 October. It hit Bermuda 5 October and is forecast to make European landfall 4 or 5 days later. Can tropical seabirds remain with the storm that long? Those that do make it may well be quite hungry and weakened, so may be easier for birders to find and might hang around longer. Will its passage over relatively depauperate waters allow storm-blown birds to “drop out” or will they remain with the storm?
  • Sooty Terns – Will this quintessential hurricane bird get deposited in the Europe for an historic landfall?
Sooty Tern—the classic hurricane bird, this one displaced by Tropical Storm Hanna

Sooty Tern—the classic hurricane bird, this one displaced by Tropical Storm Hanna

  • What of Bridled Tern? – In the United States, Sooty Tern tends predominate in hurricanes, and unfailingly is the one more likely to get deposited inland. When Bridled occurs it tends to be able to better resist transport inland, and instead turns up coastally in bays, seawatches, or as weakened or moribund birds on beaches. If Bridleds occur, will the pattern hold? Or, since Bridled Tern occurs farther north (regularly to Massachusetts in late summer), will it be proportionally more prevalent than the more southerly Sooty Tern?
  • Capped Petrel (or Black-capped Petrel), Band-rumped (Madeiran) Petrel (or Band-rumped Storm-Petrel), Red-billed Tropicbird, and Magnificent Frigatebird – Will these birds, also well-known for their occurrence in North American hurricanes make European appearances? Leach’s Petrels are sure to be common in this storm as well.
  • What real European rarities might occur? Two candidates to be ready for include White-tailed Tropicbird and Audubon’s Shearwater. For the tropicbird, the recent haul from Hurricane Irene should have European birders hopeful. Joaquin passed right over Bermuda, a stronghold for White-tailed Tropicbirds. While they are less frequent in October, there are still plenty around–all it takes it one for a country first! For the shearwater, confirmation of the species identification may be the biggest challenge, but the storm has been crossing prime waters for the species that have been historically warm. For example, off coastal Massachusetts state record counts for the shearwater (and tropicbird!) were set this year in record high water temperatures. Here is one well-illustrated list.

Below is a hurricane birding primer that we have posted in the past on eBird so that birders can prepare for storms and plan their birding to get the most out of the storm. While Joaquin is unlikely to be as dangerous as many United States hurricanes have been, we still include the “Safety First” section in full. The allure of rare birds can be great, but we encourage everyone to be extremely cautious, heed local warnings, be especially careful about coastal flooding, and give this storm the respect it deserves.



To reiterate, remember that hurricanes and tropical storms are devastating and dangerous events. Driving in rain is bad enough, but driving in rain and hurricane force winds can be deadly. Avoid crossing bridges in high winds. Downed trees and powerlines, blowing debris, and other drivers only add to the peril.

Storm surge flooding is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of such storms. Since a surge of 15 ft or more can occur, many otherwise “safe” areas might be deadly in a hurricane. Do not take any chances with driving through flooded areas and do not do anything that might trap you in a low-lying area that is being flooded.

If you are considering looking for birds before or after the storm, make sure you are being safe during the storm’s passage. Don’t even consider intentionally putting yourself in the center of the strongest part of the storm.


Whether birding in the advancing storm or after the passage of the storm, you will need shelter from both wind and rain. If you plan any birding in the storm, think hard about what sites (overhangs on buildings, hotels with rooms facing a lake, river, or ocean, etc.) will provide shelter for you and your optics and not be facing directly into the expected wind direction. Birding from your car can sometimes be effective and safe, since an open car window facing away from the wind can be quite effective. Think in advance about how to use your telescope, either on a tripod or a window mount, from inside your car. Bring paper towels to dry off wet optics!


Understanding hurricanes is important. Hurricanes are cyclonic, so the winds are rotating counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere. This means that northeast quadrant of an advancing storm will have winds from the southeast, and that those winds will shift to become southwesterly as the storm center passes to the west. This is important to understand since seabirds that do not like to fly over land may be ‘pinned’ against shorelines in the high winds of a hurricane. As the storm passes, you may want to shift your strategy, and be sure to consider shifting winds as you do so. Also remember that the northeastern quadrant of the storm has the strongest and most dangerous winds as well as the most rain. After the storm passes, conditions can quickly clear up and visibility can be excellent.


One important general pattern is that the eastern sides of hurricanes tend to have higher loads of displaced birds than the western side. This could be because the tighter isobars here keep birds more effectively entrained within the storm. But note that in Hurricane Bob most rarities in New England were along the path of the eye.

Numerous reports also refer to birds being ‘trapped’ within the eye of storms, and many observers have seen large numbers of rarities in the calm eye of storms, although we would NEVER recommend intentionally putting yourself in the path of a hurricane with a well-defined eye (these tend to be stronger storms).

One consideration is how birds will behave in relation to obstructions. Most displaced birds will want to stay over water if possible, but tubenoses may be more closely tied to water than terns, for example. At a given reservoir a shearwater, storm-petrel, or even Pterodroma petrel is likely to stay for the day, maybe departing overnight. But terns, gulls, and shorebirds may depart if the weather allows; your exciting Sooty Tern may pick up and fly over the treeline and away. Note also that certain seabirds, especially boobies and gannets, shearwaters, and Pterodroma petrels, seem to avoid crossing bridges. There are several indications that birds like this may feel ‘trapped’ on a given side of a bridge. This could be a factor as you plan where to check for birds.

Leach's Petrel—a classic hurricane bird!

Leach’s Petrel—a classic hurricane bird!

Hurricane strength obviously has a bearing on how many birds are displaced, and roughly speaking, stronger storms carry more birds than weaker ones. However, strong hurricanes that dissipate to Tropical Storms can still carry birds long distances, ESPECIALLY if that dissipation occurs after the storm makes landfall. Storms that weaken to Tropical Storms while still at sea typically carry surprisingly few displaced seabirds.


Before the storm

An advancing hurricane will have a large front of winds blowing from the southeast in its northeast quadrant. If birding before the storm, pick a site where southeasterly winds will pin birds against the shoreline, or better yet, concentrate them in a bay or river mouth. Watch for storm birds flying from south to north with the winds at their backs. Often the local birds may be flying any which way, but the interesting storm birds will be heading up from the south fleeing the path of the encroaching storm. Sometimes rarities like Sooty Terns can fall out at inland lakes with the storm center still many hundreds of miles to the south. For example, Sooty Terns turned up at an inland lake in Maryland at 2pm on Friday, 6 September 1996, while the storm center of Hurricane Fran was still south of Cape Hatteras. It pays to get out and try, but do so safely and beware the storm surge and encroaching storm.

During the storm

Birds can be anywhere. Check any spot with water, especially rivers, large lakes, or inland bays. Even small lakes, ponds, or wet fields can generate exciting birds, especially shorebirds. If you can’t get to water, just look up. Some lucky birders have picked up Sooty Terns and other surprises right over city rooftops with no water in sight! Try to get a look at any grounded bird that a friend or relative reports to you and make contact with rehab centers that might receive and rehabilitate rare birds.

After the storm

It can often be difficult to connect with displaced seabirds after the passage of the storm. Check lakes for rare seabirds that may feel “trapped” on the lake until nightfall. Check rivers and coastal bays for birds reorienting back to saltwater, especially the eastern sides if westerly winds are ‘pinning’ birds to a given shoreline. Theoretically, there could be several days worth of commuting rare birds along major rivers.

Be alert for any sick, dead, or dying birds, since these could represent rarities. Check known shorebird spots, tern concentration spots, gull roosts, etc. to see if any rarities have stopped for a rest. Bays behind barrier islands can often trap seabirds just after a storm, and often the seabirds will also feel trapped by bridges. If there is a route back to the ocean, they may eventually find it, but many tubenoses (e.g., shearwaters and storm-petrels) might feel ‘stuck’ in a barrier island bay even if the ocean is just 200m away if they simply flew over the narrow strip of land.

Usually most rarities occur within a few hours or at most a day of the storm’s passage. Only on very rare occasion do species like Sooty Terns or tubenoses occur longer than 24 hours after a storms passage, and many seem to leave overnight. Very large lakes, especially the Great Lakes, can sometimes hold rarities for up to a week though, so be sure to get out birding as much as you can after a storm and see what is about. Frigatebirds in particular are famous for occurring well before and well after storm passage.


Most of these species can be found at any season, although southern seabirds in general peak off the East Coast in late summer and early fall (when juveniles have dispersed and when waters are warmer). The few species with more significant seasonality are mentioned. In addition to the birds listed below. It certainly pays to check every bird carefully in storms. Some passerines, or highly aerial birds like swifts, could be displaced by storms as well. Check anything you see with care!

The below birds are ones with a history of showing up in odd places in clear association with Hurricanes and Tropical Storms.


The following species are regularly transported up from the south by hurricanes:

Capped Petrel (or Black-capped Petrel) — One of the most often displaced tubenoses inland, in North America Black-capped Petrels have turned up on inland lakes and reservoirs many times. Interestingly, in true hurricanes they are probably more likely inland than species like Great or Cory’s Shearwater, which vastly outnumber Capped Petrel in nearshore waters off the U.S..

Capped Petrel (Black-capped Petrel)

Capped Petrel (Black-capped Petrel)

Trindade Petrel — A long shot, but in North America, it has as turned up inland about 4 times and has turned up coastally at least a couple times in Virginia. To be watched for, especially since warm water in 2015 north to waters off Massachusetts could be good for the species.

Fea’s Petrel — Has turned up inland at least once in a storm, in Virginia in the epic Hurricane Fran of September 1996. Probably much more likely in Europe, especially if the storm takes a more southerly track. Bermuda Petrel has yet to be found in a storm, but is to be watched for.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel — Along with Leach’s Petrel, Band-rumped Petrel has turned up inland numerous times in conjunction with hurricanes. The longer wings and more aerial behavior of the Oceanodroma storm-petrels may be part of the reason they outnumber Wilson’s inland, despite the fact that Wilson’s are much more common nearshore. Presumably, European Storm-Petrel would be scarce inland, relative to the two Oceanodroma.

Check any inland (storm-) petrel carefully for Band-rumped!

Check any inland (storm-) petrel carefully for Band-rumped!

Brown Booby — This species has been exploding along the East Coast, with annual records now in areas where the species was known from only a handful of records prior to 2005. (See its eBird map here). Several records well up the East Coast in relation to storms. Masked Booby has almost never occurred well to the north in storms, but should be watched for. No confirmed inland records of either booby in relation to storms.

Tropicbirds — Both White-tailed and Red-billed Tropicbirds have been found in conjunction with hurricanes and Tropical Storms, although most often they have been found grounded inland and turned in to rehabilitators or found dead. Notable recent records of live, flying birds have come from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (White-tailed) and Cape Cod (twice; White-tailed). Summer 2011 was one of the best tropicbird years ever, and Hurricane Irene carried a significant tropicbird load. A pelagic trip off Massachusetts found four in August 2015, adding to just seven or so previous state records, so 2015 was perhaps the best year ever for the species offshore.

Magnificent Frigatebird — Probably significantly more likely in June-August than later in the fall, although records of storm-displaced frigatebirds in North America extend to October and even November. Frigatebirds are famous for occurring well before a storm’s arrival and well afterwards, presumably because they’re so good in the air that they can easily soar on winds at the periphery to give the storm a wide berth. Watch for frigatebirds up to a day before the storm’s arrival and for up to a week after it has passed. Be alert for other species of frigatebird as well (i.e., always identify frigatebirds with great care)!

Sooty Tern — Probably the quintessential hurricane bird, Sooty Terns are highly aerial at sea and very likely to be displaced. Most storms that affect the East Coast of North America between August and October carry a good number of Sooty Terns. Look (and listen– “wide-awake”) for them at any body of water during or after the storm’s passage, or along coastlines where northeasterly winds may pin them to the coast. Watching a river or bay where seabirds may return to the sea may be the best strategy, and be alert for exhausted birds at any location or birds that join terns roosts. Many will be dark juveniles, which can be easily mistaken for noddies.

Bridled Tern — Generally speaking it is rarer than Sooty Tern in conjunction with storms, perhaps because it is overall less aerial than Sooty Tern and less apt to fly at great heights (where long-range displacement may occur). Much more likely to occur coastally than inland–inland records are especially rare and should be very carefully documented with respect to Sooty Tern. Previous storms have displaced large numbers to coastal locations (e.g., 130 at Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Virginia, in Hurricane Isabel 2003) and scattered birds coastally as far north as Maine and Atlantic Canada.

Although not as regular as Sooty Tern—there is still a chance to find a Bridled!

Although not as regular as Sooty Tern—there is still a chance to find a Bridled!

Brown Noddy — Just a couple records, all coastal, and many others of suspected noddies that either did not consider or did not eliminate juvenile Sooty Tern. While Brown Noddy is a species to be watched for, it is likely to be very very rare and incautious observers must take great care to eliminate juvenile Sooty Tern which is also all dark.

South Polar Skua — This is one to watch for. Although most have departed, this storm is not too late to bring one or a few to Europe.


The below species are more typically coastal as compared to the more pelagic species listed above. Since Hurricane Joaquin hit coasts in the Bahamas, but not since, these species may be more scarce in this storm. Still, they are to be watched for!

Royal and Cabot’s Terns — Regularly pushed up from the south in storms. Much rarer inland, but to be watched for, especially in stronger storms. Obviously, Royal Terns in the storm could well pertain to American Royal Tern (Thalasseus maxima maxima) and Sandwich Terns should be checked carefully for features of Cabot’s Tern (Thalasseus [sandvicensis] acuflavida).

Black Skimmer — Rare north of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, hurricanes can often transport large numbers of skimmers north. Significant landfalls have occurred in Canada, so why not Europe? Unlike Sooty Terns and tubenoses, skimmers and certain other terns like Royal and Sandwich can often linger for many days or even weeks after hurricanes. For Joaquin though, the passage may not have been closoe enough to land to pick up highly coastal species like this. Still, be ready, just in case!

Least Tern — Almost never occurs inland except in hurricanes, but numbers can be swept inland in storms that occur before mid-September. Hurricane Joaquin may be a tad too late. If they can get swept inland, why not across the Atlantic? Separate from Little Tern with great caution (calls are helpful).

Forster’s Tern — Although this species is not very pelagic, it is migrating now in large numbers and might easily occur in this storm. Watch for it!

Check terns carefully—a Forster's could be hiding behind their black mask.

Check terns carefully—a Forster’s could be hiding behind their black mask.

Laughing Gull — Along the East Coast of the USA, displacement of gulls is relatively rare, but most species are regular inland. The one that is not regular inland–Laughing Gull–rarely seems to get moved inland by storms. But it is also fairly pelagic and might get swept up in this storm. Other gulls should be watched for too, including especially Bonaparte’s and American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus).

Wish list birds — White-faced Storm-Petrel is still prevalent in the waters traversed by this storm and might get blown close to shore. A few North American records do show that species getting moved around by storms. Bermuda Petrel, Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, Bulwer’s Petrel (has occurred once in a storm in North America, at Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel), and albatrosses (at least one Yellow-nosed occurred on the Hudson River, New York in a storm) are all to be watched for as well!


Past hurricanes have brought large numbers of Chimney Swifts across the Atlantic. This and other landbirds are to be watched for. Although migration was not good during the passage of the storm, the Eastern USA saw good migrations on 5 and 6 October, and those movements could have resulted in over-Atlantic migrants like Blackpoll Warbler, Bobolink, cuckoos, and others getting swept up in Joaquin‘s wind field. If so, the list of potentially interesting birds is even longer!


If the storm is strong enough, watch for typical coastal seabirds (including Cory’s, Manx, and Sooty Shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, and Leach’s Petrel among others) could get swept inland. Watch for these and other birds inland during or after the storm. A few notes on select species are below.

Cory’s Shearwater — In North America this is perhaps the most regular shearwater inland.

Northern Fulmar — As a northern species, it is not usually a feature in North American hurricanes. But they are susceptible to weather, and might be more common in Europe during this storm.

Leach’s Petrel — The most likely petrel (storm-petrel) inland, although storms coming up from the south could likely have Band-rumped Petrels too. As the season gets later, Leach’s becomes the more likely storm-petrel, since Wilson’s becomes quite rare by October. Some of the larger fallouts of Leach’s have been in October and November.

Wilson’s Petrel — Shockingly rare inland, with literally only a handful of confirmed records in North America (as compared to many hundreds of Leach’s and about 5-10 Band-rumped), including Cayuga Lake, near Cornell University, Lake Erie, and inland lakes in North Carolina. Records should be carefully documented, since either Leach’s or Band-rumped is much more likely, and both can be very similar, especially in the high winds and poor viewing conditions of hurricanes. Please use storm-petrel sp. if you are unsure of the species.

White-faced Storm-Petrel — One of the holy grail birds of a hurricane. It has occurred inland on Jordan Lake, NC, and the James River, VA (both Hurricane Fran 1996), as well as in Connecticut.

If you're lucky, hurricane birding could yield something as fantastic as a White-faced Storm-Petrel.

If you’re lucky, hurricane birding could yield something as fantastic as a White-faced Storm-Petrel.

American Oystercatcher — A long shot to watch for.

Shorebirds — Almost any species of shorebird can turn up inland in storms, including Red Knots, Whimbrels, and other species that aren’t often seen inland.

Parasitic, Pomarine, and Long-tailed Skuas (Jaegers) — Some may represent overland migrant birds ‘grounded’ by the storm. As always, take great care with jaeger identification.

Arctic Tern — Most Arctic Terns have already migrated south by late August, and most migrate well east of the tracks of hurricanes, so they tend not to occur often in storms. Still, it is to be watched for, especially in August and September.

Alcids — Given their rarity in southern waters during the summer, alcids do not generally occur inland or coastal in hurricanes, although easterly winds can push them to shore. Hurricane force winds in winter can cause large wrecks of alcids inland though, including Dovekie and Thick-billed Murre in particular.



One of the better recent storms for rare-bird fallout in New England was Hurricane Bob. You can see its track here: It was a fast moving storm (30 mph when off the mid-Atlantic and New England) and made landfall in Rhode Island at 2pm on 19 August 1991. It cross Massachusetts east of Boston and west of Cape Cod, and was in Cumberland County, Maine, by 8pm on 19 August. Birders were mobilized as the storm passed and had the following results:

North American Birds summarizes the storm in its articles available here. A few highlights:

  • Black-capped Petrel at Wakefield, RI, 19 Aug
  • White-tailed Tropicbird found dead in Eastham, MA, 22 Aug
  • Bridled Terns in Maine (1; first for state) and Connecticut (2); Sooty Terns in Connecticut (1) and Rhode Island (2); about two dozen Sandwich and 65 Royal Terns in all three states (Rhode Island had 16 Sandwich and 38 Royal, the one Sandwich in Connecticut was a state first); and 300+ Black Skimmers in Rhode Island


Hurricane Fran made landfall near the North/South Carolina border on the evening of 5 September 1996 with 10 mph winds. It dissipated from there as it headed inland, but it became known as one of the best hurricanes on record for rare birds. Ned Brinkley, Todd Hass, and Brian Patterson summarized the storm (as well as Hurricane Bertha) and what was learned of birds.

  • The most productive birding was at Kerr Reservoir in southeastern Virginia, see the list here which includes Fea’s and Herald Petrels, Sabine’s Gull, and much much more!
  • Dozens of Black-capped Petrels inland in Maryland (first confirmed record), Pennsylvania, and even on Lake Ontario!
  • Pennsylvania’s first Cory’s Shearwater at Williamsport.
  • Inland White-faced Storm-Petrels at Jordan Lake, NC, and the James River, VA!
  • American Oystercatcher north to Lake Ontario, for a fourth provincial record!
  • Many seabirds at Falls Lake and Jordan Lake, NC, including Sooty Shearwater, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, and Audubon’s Shearwater
  • Wilson’s Storm-Petrels one Jordan Lake, NC, and up on Lake Erie!
  • 50-100 Sooty Terns scattered from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania to Ft. Erie, Ontario. Some remained as late at 10 September on Lake Ontario. Others were seen coastally after the storm’s passage at Cape May, NJ, and other coastal sites.


Hurricane Irene summary


Partial summary from BirdCast


When seawatching, or providing data for any long stationary count, it can often be helpful to break those counts into hourly units. Since there is still much to be learned about how and where birds occur in such storms, having hourly total information would be quite helpful. Including notes on behavior and age (when known) of birds seen, especially if they seem to be species displaced by the storm. Do not ignore commoner species like gulls and terns since some of those species may have been displaced by the storm too. And, as always, please be conservative with your identifications (i.e., use tern sp., storm-petrel sp., shearwater sp., or tropicbird sp. (!) if needed) and document rarities to the best of your ability.

While displaced seabirds and other rarities are of course exciting, it is worth remembering that these storms are major disruptions to fall migration and can cause devastating mortality to birds. Even observations of typical landbirds before and after a hurricane have value, so please do get out birding even if you aren’t in a spot likely to get rare storm birds.

As a nice note of hope, note that this satellite-tagged Whimbrel survived a migration right through the storm!

Be safe, and good luck!


Check out these hurricane submissions from eBirders!

This is one of the seminal articles on hurricanes, discussing the active and exciting season of 1996.

BRINKLEY, E. S., T. HASS, AND J. LOCKYER. 1997. The storms of 96, Part 1: the storms and their associated birds. Audubon Society Field Notes 51: 819–829.

See also:

Hurricane Bob — seasonal report from American Birds available here.