Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder competition flies high at Spurn

Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder competition flies high at Spurn

10 Oct 2022

Finalists and assessors. Tim Jones

The Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder event is an annual celebration of young birders, aged 16 or under, from across the UK. The competition is now in its seventh year, and the knowledge and skills of the entrants were as impressive as ever.

The event is named after the late Martin Garner, an ornithologist who encouraged curiosity and ongoing learning and who aimed to inspire the next generation to enter the fascinating world of birding. It was launched in 2015, and after Martin’s death in 2016 it was renamed the Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder (MGSYB) in his honour.

The event celebrates young birders, their bird identification skills and their dedication to the hobby. Many previous finalists have followed a birding and conservation path, inspired, in part, by this celebration and the resulting subscriptions and awards they received.

By engaging with young birders, we give them an opportunity to develop their skills and interest, link up with other like-minded people and ultimately grow their passion for birds. Sarah Harris, MGSYB Organiser and Assessor and BTO's Seabird Monitoring Programme Organiser 

Junior Finalists (aged 9 - 13):

  • Josiah Evans
  • Felix Urwin
  • Alfie Seastron

Senior Finalists (aged 14 - 16):

  • Sam Glennie
  • Ben Rumsby
  • Tomasz Rafinski

Young birders from across the UK entered the competition by answering a series of questions relating to their birdwatching hobby - from where they like to birdwatch and how they store fieldnotes, to the ways they share their passion for birds and a little about their identification skills, the latter being revisited at the finals.

Six of these entrants go on to the final, which takes place during the Migration Festival (or ‘Migfest’, as many birders call it) at Spurn Bird Observatory. This Festival is hosted jointly by the Spurn Bird Observatory Trust (SBOT) BTO, and, in addition to the MGSYB competition, includes guided walks, migration watches, bird ringing demonstrations, art classes and photography workshops. 

Wood Sandpiper. Ben Rumsby
Ben Rumsby, a senior MGSYB finalist, photographed this Wood Sandpiper during the estuary watch.  

The finals of the MGSYB event take place ‘in the field’, where competitors are tested on their identification skills, as well as a ‘theory’ section to show off their knowledge of feather tracks, bird distribution and population changes, and bird calls and songs.

Over the course of the morning, these brilliant birders went seawatching, with one finalist spotting a Long-tailed Skua passing along the coast. A Wood Sandpiper was found on the estuary watch, and during the ‘bushes’ round, another finalist was thrilled to see a stunning Wheatear. All of the finalists also took part in some ‘vis migging’ (watching migrating birds passing Spurn on active migration). The buffet lunch and birding that followed the event was a great chance for the finalists and their parents to compare notes and get to know one another. 

The finalists' breadth of knowledge was awe-inspiring; the future of birdwatching is in safe hands. It was a joy to be part of the judging panel. Scott Mayson, MGSYB Assessor and BTO BirdTrack Organiser 

As ever, the assessors were blown away by the competitors. All the finalists demonstrated an astounding knowledge of birds and their identification; the youngest finalist this year was nine years old, and correctly answered questions some of the older birding generations at Migfest would shy away from!

Several membership packs, gifts, and trophies were awarded to all. The overall winners were chosen by a strict scoring system from the morning’s activities and received a pair of binoculars each. 

We take our hats off to all entrants, from those who sent in their applications - all of which were impressive - through to those who were invited to the finals and of course, to Josiah and Ben.

The MGSYB event, with its focus on identification skills and ecological knowledge, is just one of an increasingly diverse array of engagement strategies. With the breadth of that engagement, the future of bird conservation looks bright. Sarah Harris, MGSYB Organiser and Assessor and BTO's Seabird Monitoring Programme Organiser  

The diverse panel of assessors provided the opportunity for the young birders to find out about a variety of bird-related career paths: 

  • George Dunbar - previous Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder winner and Ecological Field Surveyor
  • Kate Fox - Spurn Bird Observatory long-term autumn volunteer and BTO Youth Representative
  • Sarah Harris - Spurn Bird Observatory Committee member, BTO Seabird Monitoring Programme Organiser and MGSYB Organiser
  • Jonathan Holliday - avid Spurn birder and TCV Senior Projects Officer
  • Scott Mayson - BTO BirdTrack Organiser and Bird Observatory contact
  • Stephen Menzie - British Birds Editor, British Birds Rarities Committee member and Falsterbo Bird Observatory Manager

The event is run by BTO and Spurn Bird Observatory Trust and this year was sponsored by Swarovski Optik, Opticron, British Birds, Oriental Bird Club and Rare Bird Alert. Opticron and Swarovski Optik kindly donated the binocular prizes for the Junior and Senior winners respectively and all other organisations provided membership subscriptions for their organisations. In addition, Javier Caletrío gave each finalist a copy of his book, Low-Carbon Birding and Migfest headline speaker, Dr. Alex Lees, presented the awards.

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