Bangor Black Guillemots

Black guillemots at the end of the Long Hole’s pier

My latest Country Diary on the much-loved colony of black guillemots in Bangor was a joy to write. Well, it’s true to say that all my Country Diaries are a joy to write, even when they mean getting up at some godawful hour – because the godawful hour always turns into a secret exhilaration. But, of the writing part of it, a lot of the pleasure is following what emerges from the gamut of experiences and research around the topic and working it into a piece of such brevity. It’s always a snapshot, and I’ve always reams of material left that I swear to myself I will write up a proper essay. As yet, that has not happened because I’m constantly working on other things. And there’s life in general. However, I live in hope that one day I will get back to this enchanting species. 

Another wonderful thing about being a Country Diarist is that it’s a ticket to conversations and meetings with the most lovely and generous people. So, here we go for the acknowledgements: this piece was inspired by a talk by Daniel Johnston at the BTONI’s Wild Weekend. On that day, Stephen Hewitt of BTONI was, once again, crucial in putting me in touch with the right people. Both Stephen and Kevin Mawhinney of the BTO pointed me towards  Katherine Booth-Jones, and ultimately Shane Wolsey. I know Shane of old, but we hadn’t met in a few years so it was great to catch up with him. It’s thanks to Shane that I got to see the nesting, or post-nesting, black guillemots at close quarters via his small “tender” (I love when I meet a new word – or a word whose meaning has another meaning in a different context). Aka, the inflatable from his boat, “Lazaway”. Shane, thanks a million for that brilliant morning, your time, your enthusiasm, your knowledge, and your kindness. I really appreciate everything. And sorry, I didn’t get to use your word ‘confiding’ about the guillemots after all! – maybe another time. 

BTW, check out Shane’s blog – it’s a treat, and I particularly recommend the dolphins from June 16, 2022. Breathtaking! 

Thanks too to Paul and Gillian who showed me their balcony decking with their built-in black guillemot nestboxes beneath. Sorry I didn’t have space to get to that either! 

I can’t leave unacknowledged my debt to the work of the late, and sadly missed, Julian Greenwood, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few times. It was Julian’s practical support of and dedication to the colony, and his research on it from the mid 1980s, that made a massive contribution to its success. This must be a factor in high regard, indeed the pride, with which the people of Bangor hold their “penguins”. I experienced this on several occasions when I went to watch the birds in prep for writing. I would particularly like to thank the early morning walkers and dog-walkers at the Long Hole, who saw me sitting with the guillemots, and gave us, or rather the guillemots, a wide berth and thus our privacy. 

Over the years, there are many people who have been devoted to both caring for and researching the Bangor black guillemot colony. However, I would like acknowledge the late Barry Lightbody, and Ann Lightbody. I never knew Barry, but I did get to know Ann through my work as a Queen’s Open Learning tutor. In that role, I delivered some birding courses in Bangor, and Ann was the person who cued me into the Bangor Penguins in what were my relatively early days as a permanent resident of Belfast. So for both Ann and Barry, many thanks for the introduction and all the dedication. 

As always, I am grateful to the The Guardian’s editor of the Country Diary, Paul Fleckney. 

The Hall of Guillemots – under Commercial pier – NB wooden nest box on the left
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