Trip Highlights: Indian & Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, both species of Giant Petrels, a late Pintado, Great-winged & Spectacled Petrels
A young Yellow-nosed Albatross and White-chinned Petrel squabble over fish scraps.
The sunrise on the 30th November was calm and almost idyllic, after a light cold front that had moved through the Cape a few days before. We set off across a flat False Bay on board one of two Cape Town Pelagic boats departing Simon's Town that morning, with pelagic guides Dalton Gibbs and Alvin Cope. In the Simon's Town harbour were the usual Kelp Gulls, Hartlaub's Gulls, Cape Cormorant and White-breasted Cormorant; whilst out on False Bay we saw groups of African Penguins. The trip across False Bay was quiet, with only Cape Gannet and Swift Terns accompanying us until we approached Cape Point where we encountered a lone White-chinned Petrel. It is assumed this is a bird that blew in on the storm during the week and for some reason had not yet left the bay. At Cape Point we stopped for some photos and to check out over the radio.
Shy Albatross photographed by Jan Goossen on board the second boat
We headed out to sea, the water a cool 14 deg C and green in colour. At the 10 N Mile mark not much had changed and we had only see Swift Terns, Cape Cormorant and Cape Gannets fishing the inshore waters. We pressed on and soon found numbers of Cory's Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrel as the water temperature rapidly rose to 18 deg C. We travelled further out, heading towards the trawler grounds and found our first Shy Albatross and a few Sooty Shearwaters at the 15 N Mile mark. The water turned to a transparent blue colour and at 25 N miles we found the trawler we were searching for and joined up with her. Behind her we found a few Great Shearwaters, Cory Shearwaters, Black-browed Albatross and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. There were not large numbers of birds behind this trawler as she was not processing any catch, so we headed toward another trawler further out on the horizon, finding Wilson's Storm-petrel en route.
This second trawler had just hauled in her nets and this attracted reasonable numbers of birds. Apart from those we had already seen, we soon found Northern and then Southern Giant Petrels which had come in to dominate the feeding scene. Sabine's Gull mixed with the larger Kelp Gulls which had flown in from the continent, whilst Cape Fur Seals appeared from beneath the water to snatch fish that had fallen out of the net. The trawler set off north and we decide to search the birds behind a near-by long liner. No sooner had we arrived at this boat, when Alvin Cope aboard the other boat radioed to tell us he had just spotted a Spectacled Petrel!
A twitch is always difficult at sea; the chances of finding a specific bird can be challenging but we never the less raced back to the trawler that had turned in our direction. We positioned ourselves just behind her as she processed her catch and waited. Again we saw most of the species we had seen previously once more as waves of birds moved past us to get to the fish offal from the ship. Soon the word came from Alvin that the bird had left their position further behind us. We scanned the horizon and lo and behold a Spectacled Petrel gave us a perfect fly past and then alighted on the water close to our boat, giving great views of a lifer bird for most people on board.
We were considering having lunch when two or three motley brown birds flew past us at high speed. Frantic camera work and a revision showed these were moulting Great-winged Petrels moving through the area. After this excitement lunch was a calm affair, with only Albatross and Petrels to admire as they came past us. When time came to return to land we headed past a long liner, finding a mix of albatross which included an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross behind her.
The run back to land was smooth in calm conditions, with a sighting of a Blue Marlin cutting through the water and a group of fishing African Penguins to lighten things up. Once we rounded Cape Point we crossed False Bay on a calm sea to the Castle Rock cormorant colony, where we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants and Bank Cormorants, whilst the adjacent rocks held Cape Fur Seals in different age classes. On the way back to Simon's Town we had a distant view of African Black Oyster-catchers and African Penguins groups feeding the water.
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
African Penguin - 50 - coastal
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 40
White-chinned Petrel - 300
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Great-winged Petrel - 5
Northern Giant Petrel - 8
Southern Giant Petrel - 5
Sooty Shearwater - 50
Great Shearwater - 10
Shy Albatross - 40
Black-browed Albatross - 20
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 12
Wilson's Storm-petrel - 20
Sabine's Gull - 30
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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