Trip Highlights: Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, Sabine's Gull, European Storm Petrel, Subantarctic Skua, Great Shearwater, Southern Giant Petrel and two Bryde's Whales
A pair of Subantarctic Skua
6 members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society set off from Simon's Town harbour aboard a Cape Town Pelagics trip with guide Andrew de Blocq. The group was made up of some very experienced birders, including a few who had visited Antarctica, so finding new species for them was going to be tough!
Simon's Town harbour in the early morning light.
A beautiful adult Bryde's Whale was the first highlight of the trip, only 10 minutes out of harbour. The birding was slow to begin, with only Kelp Gulls and Swift Terns flying by before the point. Two groups of African Penguins watched cautiously as we passed. Once getting to Cape Point the birding picked up, with several Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, Sooty Shearwaters and a single Southern Giant Petrel. Past Cape Point the White-chinned Petrels and Cory's Shearwaters took over.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
Unfortunately no trawlers were showing on the AIS, and no calls from our skipper to his connections around the peninsula was successful in reporting any activity, so we resigned ourselves to roaming the open ocean and working hard for our species. Our first albatross was a distant Shy Albatross, followed soon after by two Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross sitting obligingly on the water. This was the first birding lifer for everybody on board. The second lifer followed quickly, with a European Storm Petrel doing a flyby alongside a Wilson's - convenient for the guide pointing out the differences!
Once out at the shelf we did some chumming to attract further birds. This worked magnificently, with both European and Wilson's Storm Petrels moving in first, followed by several White-chinned Petrels, a single Great Shearwater, then two Sabine's Gulls, and a Subantarctic Skua. The American guests really enjoyed the more intimate pelagic experience on the smaller boat, having done most of their pelagic birding from much bigger boats meaning greater distance between the birds and their observers. Even a single Bronze Whaler Shark was brought in by the chum. Another distraction was a school of Yellowfin Tuna jumping fully out the water in a feeding frenzy amongst a large flock of Cory's Shearwaters.
The trip back in was filled mostly with an above average number of Cory's Shearwaters, interspersed with some Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels. The number of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross was well above average too, which was a source of great pleasure for the guests. Conspicuous in their absence were the Black-browed Albatrosses, which are usually a guaranteed sighting. This is just more evidence that nothing is for sure on a pelagic birding trip!
Once back in the calmer waters past Cape Point the group stopped for lunch at Buffels Bay, and then cruised back along the dramatic coastline, visiting the cormorant colonies at Partridge Point. The usual haul of 4 cormorants was made - Cape, Crowned, White-breasted and Bank Cormorants. The Cape Fur Seals also provided some entertainment on the rocks. All in all, it was a successful trip, despite not finding a trawler.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
White-chinned Petrel - 150
Southern Giant Petrel - 2
Sooty Shearwater - 40
Cory's Shearwater - 500
Great Shearwater - 2
Sabine's Gull - 4
Subantarctic Skua - 5
Shy Albatross - 5
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 30
European Storm Petrel - 10
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 5
Bryde's Whale - 2
Cape Fur Seal
Bronze Whaler Shark - 1
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 Andrew de Blocq.
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