Trip Highlights: Northern Royal Albatross, Southern and Northern Giant Petrel
On the morning of 18th August we gathered in beautiful dawn conditions at Simonstown harbour with a calm sea and a pink sunrise. After the three cold fronts earlier this week, it was a welcome gap in the weather. At 07h30 we set off on board a Cape Town Pelagics trip guided by Dalton Gibbs. In the harbour we saw a Grey Heron and the usual Swift Terns, Cape and Hartlaub’s Gulls, as well as long lines of Cape Cormorants on the buoy lines. Out of the harbour, False Bay was flat, with a small group of hunting African Penguins in the water as we headed for Cape Point.
Cape Gannets were heading out of False Bay as we arrived at Cape Point, soon connecting with White-chinned Petrels and then Sooty Shearwaters. Shy Albatross turned up a short while later as we spotted a trawler at the 15 mile mark, a close distance for a trawler. It was the “Harvest Lindwe”, a stern trawler. She was unfortunately coming out of Cape Town and as yet had not picked up any catch.
We headed further out to sea, where we had beautiful calm conditions. On the way out we picked up Black-browed Albatross, Sub-Antarctic Skua and Pintado Petrel before finding a stern trawler who was trawling nets but had not processed any catch. It would be two hours before she lifted her nets, so we decided to put down some fish oil in the water while we waited. Wilson’s Storm-petrel arrived in small numbers, along with Southern Giant Petrel and a few dozen albatross and other assorted birds. We were busy working through the birds nearby our boat when suddenly a large white-backed albatross flew past. It was a Northern Royal Albatross that stayed with us for a few minutes, conducted a close fly-by and showed off its impressive features and wing span.
As the trawler raised her nets, another bird watching boat joined us. A few hundred pelagic birds that were in the surrounding area were drawn in. We picked up Northern Giant Petrel mixed with all the other species. We again had brief views of the Northern Royal Albatross, but this time it moved off to the west. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch out on the ocean surrounded by all the birds before heading back toward land.
Our trip back was uneventful and once we arrived in False Bay, we headed over to the Castle Rock cormorant colony, finding a few Sub-Antarctic Skuas amongst the snoek fishing boats. At Castle Rock we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, and Bank Cormorants; and a small group of Cape Fur Seal on the nearby rocks. Back in Simonstown Harbour a short search turned up African Black Oystercatcher and two Crowned Cormorants on a moored yacht, completing the list of cormorants for the day.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift tern – coastal
Hartlaub’s Gull – coastal
Cape Gull – coastal
Cape Cormorant – coastal
Bank Cormorant – coastal
White-breasted cormorant – coastal
Crowned Cormorant – coastal – 2
African Penguin – coastal
Cape Gannet – coastal & pelagic – 200
Sub-Antarctic Skua – 20
White-chinned Petrel – 250
Pintado Petrel – 200
Northern Giant Petrel – 2
Southern Giant Petrel – 4
Sooty Shearwater – 20
Shy Albatross – 150
Black-browed Albatross – 150
Northern Royal Albatross – 1
Wilson’s Storm Petrel – 50
Cape fur seal
A message from Cape Town Pelagics:
A huge thank you to our experienced skippers who are
able to safely lead us to the best birding areas and
skillfully manoeuvre the boat into just the best position
while all on board are busy concentrating on the birds!
Coordinating a pelagic trip over a year in advance
with guests from all across South Africa and different
countries around the world requires an organised office
team. We thank them for their special eye for detail
- and for the sometimes last-minute rearrangements
and frustration if the weather delays the trip to
another day! Our biggest thank-you is to our Cape
Town Pelagics guides who take time out of their work,
often involving seabirds and conservation, and time
away from their families, to provide our guests with
a world-class birding experience. Cape Town Pelagics
donates all it profits to seabirds, and so all the
participants who join the trip make a contribution
towards bird research and conservation - a big thank
you from all of us.
Trip Report by Cape Town Pelagics
guide Dalton Gibbs.
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