Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Black Guillemots are back in Bangor, Co. Down

Once again our Black Guillemots have returned to breed in our Bangor pier.  Locally they are known as "Bangor Penguins" and perhaps you might see why when you watch the video.  If you wish to know and see more about them, please look under labels in the right hand column under Black Guillemots.


Black guillemots have nested in Bangor since 1911 and 32 breeding pairs were recorded in 2004.  Julian Greenwood has been studying and ringing Black Guillemots for 30 years and I hope to accompany him this summer to watch him doing this.  He tells me that in 2013 he saw a record number of 38 pairs of Black Guillemots attempting to breed in Bangor harbour: 14 pairs on the North Pier, 15 on the Central Pier, 2 pairs on both the South Pier and the navigational dolphins and 5 in the Long Hole.
 

The Black Guillemots have been found around our rocky coastlines nesting in crevices, under boulders, holes in harbour walls and even in one of the cannons of Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim.



These lively, sooty black seabirds have oval white wing patches, bright scarlet legs and gapes and you will see some flying on the video.



They fly close to the water with rapidly whirring wing beats, travelling as far as the shallow water off Whitehead which is on the other side of Belfast Lough.


The Black Guillemots occupy Bangor Marina for much of the year, except during August and September when they are moulting into winter plumage on the waters of Belfast Lough. From October onwards they return in the early mornings only, wearing their 'ghostly' winter plumage.   CLICK HERE  to see what they look like in winter plumage.  Visits in mid winter are
brief, but by January most of the birds are moulting back to their brilliant
summer plumage.  The duration of early morning visits becomes longer which, together with the pre-breeding displays of the birds on and off the water, provide an un-paralleled and sometimes amusing spectacle. 


Most Black Guillemots lay two eggs. In 2013 the average date of laying for the first egg was 27th May – the latest date ever (shared with 1989, 1992 & 1993). This was due to the late spring following on from the severe winter: the consequence of cold water which reduced food availability.  For just over a month, the male and female birds are occupied incubating the eggs.  



This is followed by a frenzy of activity as parent birds fly in and out of the Marina carrying Butterfish for their every-growing and demanding young. Both parents bring the fish one at a time carried crosswise on their bills like moustaches and last summner the young birds fared well. The result was the fledging of 31 youngsters – only slightly less than the good years of 1998 – 2001 and 2008.


The young stay in the nest holes for five to six weeks, after which they too,
leave to join the adults in Belfast Lough.  Chicks often weigh more than their parents when they finally leave the nest.


The process of 'ringing' the birds has revealed that they return to breed from about four years of age, and may continue to breed for another ten years or more.


An exciting development in 2013 was a trial with Oxford University’s Navigation Group (Prof Tim Guilford and DPhil student, Akiko Shoji):
see http://oxnav.zoo.ox.ac.uk/home. GPS trackers and activity recorders were attached to two birds nesting in the Long Hole (Bangor) and one of the activity shows the bird over a 24 hour period – it shows four bursts of activity during which the bird dived for food to a depth of around 13 or 14 metres. The period of inactivity corresponds to night-time when lack of light prevented fishing.

Akiko had a little more success with the GPS on a Copeland Black Guillemot. It shows that the bird sat on the sea surface for most of the day and drifted with the tide. 

When taking the video, it was very windy and I was very precariously standing right on the edge of the pier with a 30’ drop so it is a bit shaky particularly in the end clip where I nearly fell into the drink!!!

You can access the video at

http://youtu.be/6NiPMUFo8Fw

If the video does not appear, click the black space below.



Thank you for visiting.

Many thanks for all of you who left comments on any of my posts.

25 comments:

  1. They are enchanting birds - but much more graceful on land than penguins - and less graceful in the water.

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  2. Beautiful pictures of a very handsome bird, Margaret :-)

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  3. They are beautiful Margaret, so well photoographed.

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  4. These are both comical and entertaining birds.

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  5. Margaret, awesome series on the Guillemot.. What a great sighting.

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  6. they're very special to see Margaret; lovely photos

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  7. These are such a lovely yet comical bird, and I'd forgotten how different their winter plumage was...

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  8. Wonderful little birds. I wish I could see them more often.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  9. Beautiful birds! I enjoyed the video too. I'm glad you didn't fall into the water.

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  10. Thank you for all the interesting information about this fascinating bird. They do resemble penguins as they walk along the pier. All of your photos are marvelous.

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  11. such wonderful birds! handsome and unique! i do like their sooty and striking colorations.

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  12. Wonderful learning about these birds, so striking in their coloring. Enjoyed the video very much too. Super photos and interesting information. Thanks Margaret :)

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  13. Beautiful shots of a beautiful bird..................

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  14. I see the tracking band on the ankle in the first photo! They are beautiful birds and look so different in their winter plumage. Great shots, Margaret!

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  15. "Bangor Penguins"? Well I never heard that one Margaret but it's a good colloquial name. Wonderful selection of pictures you took.

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  16. Wow - fabulous shots Margaret. I love a black bird nearly as much as a black dog!

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  17. What a striking bird, Margaret!! Your photos of them are really sharp and beautiful.

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  18. You got wonderful pictures, and I love their big orange feet!

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  19. Great series, I have not seen this bird before, he's beautiful.

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  20. Wow, great photos of this bird. They do look similar to a penguin with colors like that.

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  21. These birds look silky soft and sleek.

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  22. Terrific video Margaret! On water they look like ducks and on land they waddle like penguins. Cool bird!

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  23. These are quite unusual birds Love their markings, very distinctive.

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  24. what a beautiful bird. truly enjoyed your post about them. hope all is well.

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  25. Such cute birds - I've always had a fascination with Guillemots and Puffins. I assumed they would be very hard birds to see, but these don't appear shy.

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