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Razorbill or Common Murre/Guillemot? Cliffs east of Whitby, UK, 1st June 2024 (1 Viewer)

D Halas

Well-known member
I walked the Cleveland Way along the clifftops from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire on the 1st of June. Near Whitestone Point and Whitby Lighthouse, I spent some time watching the kittiwake colony. Low down, near the base of the cliffs, I saw, at intervals, two or three alcids flying rapidly out to sea, and then returning to the cliffs just as rapidly. From my viewing angle atop the cliffs, I was never able to see any of them land, so all of my observations were of the birds in flight, at quite a distance. I wasn't able to get a clear look at the birds' bills at any point. I managed a couple of photos which at least show that they must have been either Razorbills or Guillemots, but since I have no experience with this particular ID problem, I have no idea if it's possible to determine the species from these pictures with any high degree of probability. I'm happy to leave these birds unidentified to species if there's no way to tell them apart, but the Collins bird guide does suggest that such an ID is at least doable, so I thought I'd ask. Note that the two photos were taken several minutes apart and may well show two different individuals.

IMG_8650 crop.JPGIMG_8657 crop.JPG
 
Hello,

the second is a Razorbill imo. Just by good impression/looks real to me of the long white edge to the secondaries, the large white tighs and the wedge-shaped tail.
Your first bird is harder for me (but hopefully not for those with recent seawatching experience).

But I just realized, that I havent seen those two for many years now. So better wait for others. Thanks from me too!
 
I think pic 1 is not identifiable to species.
I fear that pic 2 is strongly affected by motion-blur, so - in my opinion - nothing worthwhile in it can be trusted (no offence): the width of the white trailing edge to the wing is certainly affected in that way, such that it's not as wide in reality as it is in the photo.
 
My first impression was razorbill for both.

On checking, both images have some brown mixed in (although the true colour is clearly black, at least for the second). What appear to be feet in the first are actually the tail imo. I think we're seeing some of the undertail white there too. The pattern in both is quite like the Collins image for this angle, especially the first where (if I'm right) the dark trail similarly splays out to the sides making an arrow or spear head pattern.

So think they're both razorbills
 
They both looked black to me too - the photos seem clear enough that the colours should be true.

The behaviour - were they landing at the base of cliffs (not on the water)? If so, this could favour Razorbill too perhaps - they can nest in crevices or behind boulders at the base of cliffs, whereas Guillemot nest on ledges, generally not as low down. But this may be surmisation in this case (not knowing the cliffs or if the species is known to breed there).
 
They both looked black to me too - the photos seem clear enough that the colours should be true.

The behaviour - were they landing at the base of cliffs (not on the water)? If so, this could favour Razorbill too perhaps - they can nest in crevices or behind boulders at the base of cliffs, whereas Guillemot nest on ledges, generally not as low down. But this may be surmisation in this case (not knowing the cliffs or if the species is known to breed there).

These photos show as much of the cliff face as I could see. I never saw an auk land anywhere, and they only rarely flew as high as the sheer cliff face before arcing back down; usually they'd disappear somewhere below in the dark, sloping area. From what you're saying, I think this is consistent with Razorbill?
 

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They both looked black to me too - the photos seem clear enough that the colours should be true.

The behaviour - were they landing at the base of cliffs (not on the water)? If so, this could favour Razorbill too perhaps - they can nest in crevices or behind boulders at the base of cliffs, whereas Guillemot nest on ledges, generally not as low down. But this may be surmisation in this case (not knowing the cliffs or if the species is known to breed there).
This seems opposite of my experience. Black Guillemot usually breeds under rocks at the base of cliffs or in Denmark in hollows in clay cliffs. I have not seen them on ledges, contra Razorbill which I did see on ledges in the Faeroe Islands.
Niels
 

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