Archive for Alcids

Black Guillemot 11/27/17


You don’t see these little seabirds very often but they do breed as far south as midcoast Maine, and being short distance migrants you’ll occasionally find them coming a little farther south in winter. They are one of the Alcids (Auks) and are closely related to puffins, murres, razorbills and dovekies. In summer breeding plumage they are velvety black all over except for large white wing patches and brilliant red legs and feet. This one is molting into the gray-above and white-below winter colors. In the UK they are called Tysties. Every year I seem to find one at some point at Rye Harbor, where I came across this one over the weekend.

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Black Guillemot 4/2/17

Black Guillemots are alcids, related to puffins and razorbills but not grebes or loons, and definitely not ducks. In summer they’re a silky black all over except for a big white patch in the wing. They breed on rocky cliffs, and if you happen to see them flying, you can’t miss their bright red feet, and if you happen to see them open their mouths you’ll can’t miss their bright red throats. In winter they’re more white than black. I found this one at Rye Harbor, a nice surprise—the last few years they’ve been scarce on account of the resident Snowy Owl.

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Thick-billed Murre 4/16/14

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Thick-billed Murres belong to the Alcid or Auk family, all of which are great swimmers but many are quite clumsy on land. They are fairly common marine birds, but unless you spend time at sea you won’t often see them. Occasionally one happens to show up and hang close to shore like this one I came across at Seapoint, but it’s not a common occurrence.

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Thick-billed Murre 3/14/13

thickbilledmurre

Murre’s are Alcids, which is another way of saying they belong to the Puffin family. Alcids typically spend most of their time at sea, many of them pretty far out to sea at that, but occasionally Thick-billed Murre’s (and other Alcids) can be seen close to shore. While I took this pic at Seapoint last year, in just the last couple of days a Thick-billed Murre has been spotted close to shore at both Nubble Light at York Beach Maine and at Rye Harbor in NH, so I thought it was appropriate.

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Black Guillemot aerobics 12/19/12

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Guillemots belong to the Alcid (or Auk) family of seabirds which also includes Puffins and Murres. While not at all related, Alcids fill much the same ecological niches in the Northern Hemisphere that penguins take up in the Southern. Black Guillemots get their name from their breeding plumage which is a velvety black except for a large white patch in their wings and bright red legs, and if you see one open its mouth, that too is bright red. Winter plumage is more white than black. I came across this one near the Salisbury Beach State Reservation boat ramp and seemed to be doing some kind of repetitive leg stretches.

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Black Guillemot 12/22/11

Black Guillemots belong to the Alcid or Auk family, which also includes Puffins, Murres, Dovekies and Razorbills, all diving seabirds completely unrelated to ducks. This one, probably an immature going by the mottled greys on the head, is in winter plumage. Adults in breeding plumage are a soft coal black with striking white wing patches, and bright scarlet feet. I’ve heard oldtime fishermen call them Sea Pigeons, and in Europe they are called Tysties. Fetched in Rye Harbor, NH.

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Black Guillemot 6/8/11

In the southern part of their range, like here on the Gulf shore of Cape Breton Island, breeding colonies of Black Guillemots are quite small and are typically made up of just a handful of pairs nesting on small ledges and crevices among the rocky cliffs. Farther north in the high arctic, colonies are made up of thousands. Maritime fishermen call them sea pigeons, but they are actually members of the Puffin family. In winter their plumage is much whiter and they tend to be more pelagic, but here’s a photo of an immature Black Guillemot that spent last winter in the shelter of Rye Harbor, NH.

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