top of page

Tystie Spotting

When the RSPB contacted us with their enquiry to charter our boat to enable them to conduct a count on the Tystie bird we were both excited and somewhat intrigued.

What is a Tystie bird?

Black Guillemot - Tystie

The Feisty Tystie

With its glossy jet black feathers and bold white wing patches, the Tystie (Cepphus grylle,) better known as the Black Guillemot, resembles a bird wearing a dinner jacket!

The name ‘Tystie’ is the word Shetlanders give to this rather classy looking seabird. Its elegant summer plumage contrasts effortlessly with striking scarlet coloured webbed feet.

Differing from other seabirds, which typically gather on rocky cliffs, Tysties congregate to start breeding on rocky shores and crevices in stone piers, harbour walls and jetties around sunrise before moving out to sea from midmorning.

Early Birds

Hence, to assist Liz and Richard from the RSPB whilst aboard Fyne Explorer, we find ourselves in Lamlash Bay, approaching Holy Island, conical in shape which lies to the east of the Isle of Arran…….very early one late April morning, the sunlight just filtering across the water.

With clipboards and binoculars at the ready, the count begins!

We observe the rocky shores as we pass Pillar Rock Point Lighthouse on our circumnavigation of the island, in perfectly calm weather conditions. Hiding in the crevices, with a weak high pitched whistle, these small and stylish seabirds are not easy to spot.

Pillar Rock Lighthouse, Holy Island Arran
Pillar Rock Lighthouse, Holy Island

Perfect Pladda

From Holy Island we then head in a southwards direction, hugging the eastern shores of Arran to tear shaped Pladda, also known as the Flat Isle, to continue the Tystie count. Again, the rocky shores of this uninhabited island are ideal for nesting sites. Keeping a 100m from the shore we pass Pladda Lighthouse rebuilt in the 1820’s and manned until the 1980’s.

Pladda Lighthouse
Pladda Lighthouse

Keep On Counting

This count is one of many as part of the UK Seabird Monitoring Scheme conducted by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC.) The JNCC is an impartial scientific authority on UK and international conservation. They advise and work in partnership with businesses and societies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB.)

Various counts have been conducted over the years, Operation Seafarer (1969-70), Seabird Colony Register (1985-88) and Seabird 2000 (1998-2002.) The earlier counts produced low numbers of sightings, being conducted along cliffs amongst other nesting birds in June when black guillemots are often inconspicuous. Later counts have been conducted in April prior to breeding season between 6-9am along shores with harbour walls, stone jetties and piers producing significantly higher sightings.

There are currently 36 000 black guillemots in Scotland which is approximately 95% of the UK population which has been the stable trend for several years.

Ornithologist’s Notes

For all you budding ornithologists these small diving birds are typically spotted on larger sea lochs of western Scotland and the northern isles reaching flying speeds up to 20kmh and diving for over 2 minutes. Feeding on fish, crustaceans and marine invertebrates they can reach a weight of half a kilo and a length of 30 cm. They reach sexual maturity at four years and live to an average age of eleven years. They are vulnerable to predation from rats, mink, stoats and otters.

Wildlife Watch

As we head back to Lamlash after observing encouraging numbers on the count, whilst munching on well earned bacon butties we are interrupted by an unusual sight. On our starboard side, approximately 100m away the disturbance on otherwise tranquil and flat water catches our eye. A bottle nosed dolphin is on the hunt for its breakfast and an unsuspecting porpoise is the target. Wildlife in action!

Holy Island off Arran
Heading home, Holy Island astern

An early start to the day and well worth it. This has been Fyne Sea Tours first commercial charter, feeling lucky being part of the monitoring process of our important wildlife, immersing ourselves in the beauty of the west coast of Scotland watching how our amazing wildlife live and survive.


bottom of page