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Tysties at the Tunnel

14 July 2014

Over the last few weeks I have visited the Tunnel several times to watch a colony of common guillemots.  I do this every year to monitor what the chicks are being fed but between watches I am always entertained by seals swimming in the channel, pipits foraging for insects on the rocky slabs, the occasional puffin flying by, female eider ducks tending to their chicks and an occasional razorbill preening itself.  Pipit foraging at the TunnelFemale eider ducks trying to protect their chicks from hungry seals 

This season, on each visit to the Tunnel, a pair of Tysties (black guillemots) have stopped by.  While they sit at the very edge of the rocky slope, presumably so they can take off quickly if they feel threatened, they don’t seem particularly bothered by me as they regularly preen each other and rearrange their plumage.  Pair of black guillemots at the Tunnel


Unlike common guillemots, of which there are over 10,000 breeding pairs at St Kilda, black guillemots are uncommon  with only a dozen or so pairs on record.   With so few around how do you know which species you have seen?  Easy…. Common guillemots are white and black.  Black guillemots are black and white!  But seriously, black guillemots have a striking appearance with an almost entirely black plumage, bright white patches on the wings and spectacular red feet!


Black guillemot stretching after preening its feathers. Note the red feet!Black guillemot sitting on the slope leading down to the TunnelPair of black guillemots just after they preened one another



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