Monday 7 June 2021

Tysties 5th June 2021

Tystie is the Shetland name for the Black Guillemot, a rather smart looking small seabird that lives around the coasts of Britain apart from in the south. They are in fact not black but rather a dark sooty brown with a large oval patch of white  on each wing, this being complemented by startling bright red legs and feet. They appear in this plumage only in the Spring and Summer, which they acquire by a complete moult.After breeding they moult again into a somewhat messy combination of white and grey.

Each year we holiday on the Isle of Arran, in a cottage right by the sea on a remote corner at the northwest end of the island. The cottage overlooks Kilbrannan Sound and is literally yards from a stony beach. As  well  as stones there are also scattered large boulders and under these a few pairs of Black Guillemots nest and rear their single chick.

Despite being in a remote area it still requires one to get up very early before the rest of the island awakes. With the very recent relaxing of the pandemic lockdown rules in Scotland, Arran, being but an hour by ferry from the Scottish mainland and two hours from Glasgow is understandably very popular and has been inundated with visitors.

At this time of year it gets light on Arran around 3am but I decided that it would be more prudent to wait until 5am and duly left the cottage then to walk  down onto the beach. When we arrived two days ago I had noted that a pair of Black Guillemots were breeding under a boulder on the beach and liked to sit on a nearby large rock, slightly offshore. As I hoped I found them this morning on their favourite rock of,barnacle encrusted pink granite.

This scene of harmony was soon interrupted by the arrival of another pair that obviously had decided this was just the rock for them and a minor conflict arose as one of the first pair emitted a series of rather feeble and wheezy squeaks of protest, opening its black mandibles wide to reveal a crimson gape as it did so. 

It did this while squatting but when that did not deter the interlopers, stood rather unsteadily on its legs to emphasise the point.

The other  pair soon got the message and departed while the original pair then relaxed, squatting back on their rock for a while before they too departed out to sea to fish.

Black Guillemots are not uncommon along the rocky shores and stony beaches of Arran and are thought to be increasing in number.They can be found nesting in both their traditional and natural haunts under large boulders but also in holes in the concrete walls at the Calmac ferry terminal in Brodick, the main town on Arran.

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