Trip Highlights: Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Antarctic Tern and Antarctic Prion, and two pairs of Humpback Whale on a calm and quiet day at sea.
Ten birders plus tour leader Seth Musker departed Hout Bay harbour on a beautiful winter's day, with calm conditions expected out at sea. On the way out of the bay, passers-by included Cape Cormorant and Swift Tern, and it wasn't long before we had our first true pelagic bird in the form of a White-chinned Petrel. Pretty soon we added the first of many Shy Albatross, and also saw Sooty Shearwater and Cape Gannet . The greatest excitement came when two successive pairs of Humpback Whale were seen close to the boat. One whale breached after we had passed by, though most only saw the enormous splash that resulted.
Before long we were onto a trawler, the Flame Thorn, and we worked through the loose congregation of birds milling about in its wake, awaiting the next haul. New species here included Black-browed Albatross, Pintado Petrel, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and Subantarctic Skua. A pair of Antarctic Tern was also seen briefly, as was Antarctic Prion on a few occasions.
Soon the trawler began hauling in its nets, and right on cue the number of birds in the vicinity began miraculously to increase. We were now able to get satisfying views of all of the species already seen, but adding new species proved more of a challenge. Suddenly a huge brown bird passed quickly by - a Northern Giant Petrel. During the course of the day we were to see this species fleetingly on few occasions. However, our persistence in continuing in the wake of the trawler rewarded us with better looks at its more widespread cousin, the Southern Giant Petrel, with a bird sitting on the water right next to the boat, bullying some smaller petrels off a scrap of food.
It soon dawned on us that the Flame Thorn was having trouble. Apparently a mechanical fault meant that they were unable to haul in their catch, and so we were forced to come to terms with the disappointment of not witnessing the usual feeding frenzy that comes with this event. No doubt the birds were experiencing similar emotions, though we were not as fortunate as them in being able to quit the scene - no other trawlers were within range. However, there still remained a reasonable number of birds in the area, and though we weren't able to add any new birds we continued to enjoy great views of all of the more common species.
The ride back to Hout Bay was marked by an excellent Antarctic Prion sighting, as well as better views of another pair of Antarctic Tern. In the harbour we found White-breasted, Cape, and a couple of Crowned Cormorants.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
White-chinned Petrel c. 2000
Sooty Shearwater c. 30
Shy Albatross c. 200
Black-browed Albatross c. 80
Pintado Petrel c. 30
Wilson's Storm-Petrel c. 50
Subantarctic Skua c. 5
Antarctic Tern 4
Antarctic Prion c. 5
Northern Giant Petrel 2
Southern Giant Petrel 1
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 Seth Musker.
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