Tysties getting feisty

June 26, 2016  •  3 Comments

Black Guillemots, or Tysties as they are known in Scotland, are part and parcel of Ireland's coastline, with the exception of the south east corner. They breed in sea caves generally, but have also taken to nesting in pier walls, quay walls and even road support walls. They like to nest in crevices and holes in these walls, above the high tide mark. For those living in or near Dublin, Dublin port, and its surrounding harbours, are a great place to see Tysties in all their breeding finery. They even breed far up the River Liffey in the city's quay walls near the Four Courts! One of the better places to watch them is at Poolbeg, along the Great South Wall. It is a best on a rising tide and from late morning to early afternoon. The birds fly close by, land on the wall and will ignore you if you sit quietly and be patient. They are a great subject to practice exposing dark and bright colours on a single object. 

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The distinctive black and white alcid is easily recognizable in the waters that traverse the nation's capital and the coastline of Ireland. In breeding plumage, they take on the jet black plumage, with white wing patches and white underwings. Their legs and mouth are bright red. The younger individuals, and those wearing their winter garb, are more white than black, and have a mottled appearance.   

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With the majority of the adult Tysties paired up in late April/early May, the youngsters born the previous year try to squeeze in on the territories of these pairs, which can cause some ructions amongst the loved-up pairs. They youngsters are generally chased away by one or both of the pair, which can end up with their chosen nesting hole being taken by a pair lurking around and watching it all unfold. It's quite entertaining.  

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The pairs often fly up from the sea surface and alight on the quay side (or wall). Here, they would call, sit, preen, reinforce their bond and chase off any other interested male who may be trying to push in on the pairing. This generally results in a face off and some quite aggressive posturing, with the pair chasing off the would-be suitor. The reaction is often never hinted at, so it is a great way to practice one's reaction to action happening in a split second. I usually find a spot where the birds rest up and sit on the opposite side of the wall to them. The later morning/afternoon is the best time for this on the Great Wall in Dublin Bay as the sun will be behind you. Not ideal in terms of disturbance, as it tends to be busy with folk walking along the Wall, but the birds won't fly away if those walkers give them some space. 

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The display flights are always great to witness, watching the pair match their flight pattern and chasing each other on short flights. Sometimes when they come in to land, they can misjudge a wave and literally belly flop into the sea and skim across the surface like a skipping stone. They also like to snorkel when they are looking for food by simply putting their head underwater and paddling along the surface.  

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The Tystie is unusual when compared to its auk cousins that also inhabit our shores (Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin) in that they change their appearance completely from breeding to non-breeding plumages, and are unrecognisable as being the same species to those unfamiliar with them. The once dark and white plumage becomes overall white/grey with some black on the wings and around the neck. They are equally beautiful in winter as they are in summer. 


Margaret o'Leary(non-registered)
Brilliant article!
Brian Carruthers(non-registered)
Excellent shots and very well written.
Mary C(non-registered)
Very interesting, nature never ceases to amaze
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