Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Black Guillemots, Holyhead Old Harbour

On Saturday during a visit to Anglesey, we stopped off at Holyhead Old Harbour and saw a few black guillemots on the sea. One bird flew right into the harbour mouth and appeared to disappear into the wall, presumably into a nest hole. We noticed that there were a few nest boxes high up on the wall, but couldn't be sure if the bird had flown into one of them or had flown into a "natural" hole in the wall. Today I was back on Anglesey and working quite close to Holyhead, so with work completed I decided to have my lunch at the Old Harbour and spend a bit of time watching the black guillemots.

The first thing I noticed was how much higher the tide was today. On Saturday the nest boxes had seemed ridiculously high above the water, but now they seemed perilously close to being submerged. There were a couple of black guillemots sitting on the water in the harbour and a couple of others out at sea. After a while one of the birds on the sea flew into the harbour with a fish and landed close to another bird which was swimming around under a nest box. After about 5 minutes the bird with the fish flew up to the wall, ignoring the nest box and straight into a hole. A few seconds later it flew out and landed on the water just in front of me and started to dive again. Eventually it came up with a fish which it kept dipping in the water whilst at the same time flapping its wings very fast and splashing in the water. At first I thought it migh be cleaning the fish, but why would a fish need cleaning and why was it flapping its wings so fast? Perhaps it was some kind of pair bonding with the second bird which was still swimimg nearby. After a few minutes it flew back to the nest hole where it presumably fed the fish to a chick before sitting at the entrance of the hole for several minutes.

During these observations I became aware of another bird which also kept flying into the harbour with a fish, but this bird disappeared right down to the bottom end and I couldn't be sure where it was going, but it was always in the same direction. Based on these observations I would say that there are two pairs nesting within the harbour itself, and a third pair just outside because I could see a bird in the distance keep returning to the same spot with fish.

As far as I'm aware, Anglesey is the only place in Wales where black guillemots breed.

I like photographing black guillemots in harbours, because the background always adds a bit of interest to the photo even when the bird itself is far too distant to be a good photo as in this instance.

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