Maritime Cork: Counting the seabird decline off the Cork coast

Maritime Cork: Counting the seabird decline off the Cork coast
The Black Guillemot. Pic: Bill Quinn, Birdwatch Ireland.

Can you imagine counting and identifying 2,972 seabirds? Or watching the courtship ritual of the “Tystie” on a remote cliff edge overlooking the sea in West Cork?

This is the name given affectionately to the Black Guillemot which nests on cliffs and is on the ‘Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern’ in Ireland. 

They are just one species of seabirds suffering population decline, though their situation in Ireland is better than elsewhere in Europe. 

Climate change, heavy industry associated with human population growth, warming seas and declining fish stocks are amongst the causes blamed.

Darren Ellis of BirdWatch Ireland described to me his observation of the “Tystie” on the Beara Peninsula during the ‘National Black Guillemot Survey,’ part of the 4th National Seabird Census in Ireland coordinated by BirdWatch. This was an effort to count all of Ireland’s Black Guillemots in their pre-breeding phase, during which time they are most conspicuous and easily observed.

“They are a beautiful bird to watch during the preamble to the breeding season, a most resplendent member of our seabird community," Darren said.

"They have affectionate courtship rituals, whereby amorous pairs perform a dual pirouette to attract the other’s attention and affirm their pairing bond. Their strongest colonies are often on the most ruggedly scenic outcrops of the coastline.” 

Darren said he had “the fantastic pleasure” of venturing to the Beara Peninsula and Dursey Island to count the ‘Tysties’.

“They staged their ballet-like performances around the harbour and cliffs north of Ardgroom, where they had been surveyed 20 years previously. 

Adding to the fantastic splendour of survey days were the heart-warming sights of Sea Otters boisterously playing amid the kelp and later in the day being joined by a Minke Whale and several diving Gannets amongst other seabird species, all observed from the cliff top, as though from a first-class balcony over the incredible nature of the ecosystem.” 

A description of West Cork that should delight tourist organisations!

“We have currently surveyed 2,972 birds in their breeding plumage this year, compared to 3,367 during Seabird 2000, keeping in mind there are approximately 10% of suitable sites remaining to be surveyed."

"This species frequently rears two offspring. Its sedentary nature reduces journey time to-and-from feeding grounds, thus increasing energy-transfer efficiency. The second factor influencing their population stability in Ireland is probably the food source itself, which consists largely of butterfish and other inshore species which are not commercially desirable.” 

The 4th National Seabird Census will indicate the state of seabird populations in Ireland.

Volunteers all around the coast did it in support of BirdWatch and with help from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Black Guillemots are particularly difficult to survey due to the challenges posed by their cliff-nesting habits.

 If you would like to get involved with seabird surveying and contribute to the National Seabird Census go to Volunteer Surveys on the BirdWatch Ireland website.


Following last week’s column about the sinking of the RMS Leinster by a German submarine, Evening Echo reader Billy Murphy, who researches and lectures about Cork people and their historical connections, called me about Josephine Carr, who he thinks, might be the only member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, the WRENS, who was killed by enemy action during World War One. 

She was daughter of Samuel and Kathleen Carr from Blackrock Road in Cork. He told me and was returning to duty when the ship was sunk. Her name is inscribed on a Royal Navy memorial on the famous Hoe in Plymouth, England. “It commemorates Naval personnel whose bodies were never found. She never was. Her story is part of Cork’s maritime history,” he said.

Email: tommacsweeneymarine@gmail

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