Tysties show off their fine grey winter plumage

THE BLACK guillemot, or tystie, one of our most widespread and best known seabirds, appeared for the first time on the Shetland list in 1769. It is the most sedentary of the Atlantic auks, remaining close to its breeding sites in winter, not usually moving more than 15 km away.

The most familiar image, as in the logo of the Shetland Bird Club, is of a tystie in its satiny-black summer plumage, set off by white wing patch and red feet and legs.

In winter, the plumage is pale grey with white underparts and variable barring on the upperparts. Adults retain the pure white oval wing patch, but in first winter juveniles the wing patch has dark spots.

There are around 16,000 tysties in Shetland waters with the main concentration in the so-called Bluemull triangle, an area of sea bounded by Bluemull, Colgrave and Hascosay Sounds. Tysties are virtually circum-polar breeders, being found along the coasts of the northern North Atlantic, the Arctic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, with five distinct sub-species. Scotland holds 99 per cent of the British breeding population, mainly on the northern and western coasts, with Shetland supporting approximately 44 per cent of the British population. Tysties feed on various species of fish, but their preferred food is the butterfish. In the last week of 2008 there are still some notable bird records. There were up to nine Iceland and three glaucous gulls around Lerwick, with scattered records of these species in other locations. Sullom Voe held 26 Slavonian grebes and a common scoter, with another common scoter at Grutness. Sixty wigeon were recorded at Melby along with 40 purple sand­pipers. At Virkie there were six bar-tailed godwits and a very early shelduck. At Baltasound there was a flock of 78 snow buntings, along with a pink-footed goose and five white-fronted geese. Elsewhere, there were reports of robins, a couple of lingering waxwings, fieldfares and a black redstart at Toab.

The crew of the Bressay ferry had three interesting visitors while moored at the Lerwick ferry terminal on Saturday night. One of the crew members, looking out of the wheelhouse, noticed three animals boldly moving up the ramp towards the deck of the ferry. The young otter cubs then disembarked from the ferry and play-fought their way along the pier, ignoring the night life of Lerwick. It is probable that these were half-grown young­sters and that the mother was close by, as a female and three young have been seen on the Bressay side recently.

Joyce Garden


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