Sunday, 29 June 2014


A Guillemot stands between three Razorbills
Following on from the previous post on seabirds, I thought I should add a page on the guillemots and razorbills, two species of auk, often overshadowed by their more famous related species, the puffin. Yet, these two species have a special appeal of their own, if one just spends time watching them.

These shots were all taken on a recent visit to the Scottish coast where seabirds nest in the thousands during May/June/July.

Guillemots stand in a crowd on a slab below the breeding cliff
I avoid disturbing these birds on their nest or rather egg ledges (they do not build a nest, but simply lay their single eggs on bare rock ledges), I prefer to capture shots of them on points of rock or slabs where they congregate away from the dense breeding ledges. The guillemots gather on slabs below the cliffs, where when seen from above they look like a busy human street scene, all coming and going, and interacting in individual ways.

The sleek head and bill of a Guillemot, perfect for swimming quickly underwater
By lying quietly on a viewpoint, I could easily catch images of the birds which show their basic black and white plumage is not as featureless as at first perceived. The guillemots have wonderfully sleek feathering on their heads and necks, they are as smooth as skin, probably smoother. It has to be for the birds to dive deep and chase fish underwater.

Beads of water cling to the belly feathers of a Guillemot fresh out of the water
Those feathers are also well oiled (from the oil gland at the base of their tail and spread all over by the bird with its bill) and as they fly up from the water, most the water is rapidly shaken off. When they land, hundreds of tiny water droplets cling to the birds, giving them a luxurious sheen, but they too are quickly shed.

Adult Razorbills have grooved and striped bills, and subtle chocolate colouring on the throat
 - not black like that on the upperparts of their body
Razorbills mostly lay their eggs in niches large enough for only one pair, and they tend to be dotted over the cliffs rather than clumped in large ledges like the guillemots. When seen close up, they too have gorgeous feathering. The white eye-stripe is a stunning feature as are the stripe and grooves on their bill. They have very dark eyes and their dark brown throat feathers can only be seen in their true colour under favourable light.  It pays to take time to take a good long look at these characterful birds.

A pair of Razorbills in full copulation - his tail is tucked under hers, both birds are relaxed with wings and bills closed. Birds are often shown in photographs of them copulating with wings and bills flapping and gaping. Those are incomplete mating attempts, or pre-copulation positions
I especially like to watch seabirds, such as the auks for their behaviour. As there are so many birds in view at any time, there is usually something going on somewhere in the colony; display, calling, mating or aggression in tight spaces. There really is never a dull moment, nor a finer way to spend a few hours of a summer day.

A Razorbill sky-points, a formal display posture often adopted high on a cliff edge

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, I'm always learning from you Stuart! Loved the close up of the birds' heads.