Trip Highlights: Sub-Antarctic Skua, Great Shearwater, Atlantic & Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, Atlantic Blue Shark, Humpback & Bryde's Whales
It was very calm on the jetty at Simon's Town harbour as a group of keen birders boarded the Cape Town Pelagics trip with Dalton Gibbs the tour leader. The weather was exceptionally calm as we headed out of the harbour, finding the usual Kelp Gulls, Hartlaub's Gulls and Cape Cormorant. A group of African Penguin heads showed in the ocean near the Boulders Beach colony as a small hunting group headed out in the early morning light. False Bay was flat and we made good time to Cape Point with a few Cape Gannet and Cape Cormorants accompanying us. At Cape Point we stopped to check out over the radio and admire the breathtaking scenery.
We set out for the deep in very calm conditions and had only proceeded a few miles when a call went up for a whale. The animal in question disappeared after a brief blow and was probably a Bryde's Whale. We continued out to sea with a few Swift Terns, Cape Cormorants and Cape Gannets keeping us company. White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters made their appearance as we headed further out on gentle Atlantic swells. We found no trawlers and despite a radar search nothing turned up on the horizon despite good visual conditions. At the 20 N mile mark we picked up our first Shy Albatross, an unusually far distance. We continued out and at the 23 N Mile mark met up with the White Pointer 2 that was conducting an open water shark dive in 500m of water. We remained with her for the next 4 hours as there was sufficient chum in the water to attract birds in the perfectly flat conditions.
The next four hours saw us drift on ideal seas whilst the chum drew in a small but steady stream of birds. With Shy Albatross already around us we soon found Black-Browed Albatross, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Southern Giant Petrel. Sub-Antarctic Skua, Wilson's Storm-petrel and Great Shearwater made appearances throughout the day. Patience paid off with Pintado Petrel, Antarctic Tern and Common Tern turning up a few times. We settled down to a leisurely lunch in calm conditions and had a few Northern Giant Petrel turn up. Our last "missing" bird for the day was an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross which made an appearance and did several turns around our boat. During our time near the White Pointer 2 we had spectacular views of Atlantic Blue Sharks as they cruised in the clear water around our boat. They had been attracted to the chum and made a beautiful sight with the sun filtering through the water and reflecting electric blue off their bodies.
We left the deep after 13h10; having had four hours on station in the deep and all the birds we saw having showed themselves well throughout the course of the day. With calm seas we headed for home, stopping briefly off Cape Point before entering False Bay. A Chacma Baboon up on the rocks at Cape Point made for an interesting mammal addition on the trip list for a pelagic trip! Whilst heading across False Bay we met up with two groups of Humpback Whales that showed well as they rose out the sea in pairs. They blew to take in huge lungfuls of air, sounding like deep sighs. So calm were the conditions that these breaths were audible to us even though we were drifting some distance away. We travelled further across False Bay, reaching the Castle Rock Cormorant colony. Here we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, Crowned Cormorants and Bank Cormorants. The adjacent rocks held numerous Cape Fur Seals which we had been seeing on and off during the course of the day. From here a calm sea and the Destiny’s powerful engines took us swiftly back to Simon's Town Harbour.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift Tern - coastal
Hartlaub's Gull - coastal
Kelp Gull - coastal
Cape Cormorant - coastal
Bank Cormorant - coastal
Crowned Cormorant - coastal - 2
White-breasted Cormorant - coastal
African Penguin - 70 - coastal
African Black Oystercatcher - coastal - 3
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 50
White-chinned Petrel - 70
Pintado Petrel - 4
Southern Giant Petrel - 4
Northern Giant Petrel - 2
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 20
Sooty Shearwater - 45
Great Shearwater - 10
Shy Albatross - 15
Black-browed Albatross - 6
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 4
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 5
Other pelagic species:
Atlantic Blue Sharks
Chacma Baboon - 2
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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