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 pink,barnacle encrusted granite.The calm was soon interrupted by the arrival of another pair that obviously had decided this was just the rock for them and a minor conflct 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.