Trip Highlights: 4 albatross species including Northern Royal Albatross, a single Southern Fulmar, Great Shearwater, both Northern & Southern Giant Petrels, Manx Shearwater, Antarctic Prion, Humpback & Southern Right Whales, Common Dolphins
A Northern Royal Albatross in amongst the Shy Albatross and white-chinned Petrels.
As luck would have it, there was a small window on Sunday morning for the trip to run as the wind shifted from a fairly strong south-easter to a north-wester. After some deliberation, our skipper made the call for the trip to go ahead on Sunday 31 July. As such, it was much relief and anticipation that we boarded our boat in the still dark Simon's Town harbour. Following the strong south-easterly winds which had only subsided overnight, the bay was rather choppy as we headed out towards Cape Point. There were more Sooty Shearwaters in the bay than usual, also a product of the recent strong winds.
Following a quick photoshoot of the iconic Cape Point, we headed slowly out toward the trawling grounds. We soon noticed a very large but well dispersed pod of Common Dolphins heading to the south, we ran with them for a while, enjoying great views as they cleared the water in close proximity to the boat. We also enjoyed close views of White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters. We had to pull ourselves away and continue out towards the deep. We soon started seeing our first Antarctic Prions and Shy Albatross.
All were very excited when our skipper announced that he could see a trawler on the horizon! As we headed towards it, we could see that there were actually three vessels, all trawling to the north. We added Southern Giant Petrel and Wilson's Storm Petrel to the ever growing day list. We arrived at the first trawler to see that she was clearly still busy with her first trawl and not processing any fish. There were however hundreds of birds in the vicinity also waiting for the net to be retrieved. We worked through the rafts of birds enjoining great views of adult and juvenile Black-browed and Shy Albatross. We also managed to pick out an unseasonal Great Shearwater, a very rare bird on mid-winter trips off the cape. We could see that the one trawler had a far greater number of birds in tow, so we decided to investigate. This proved to be a good decision as the vessel was busy processing fish and we began to work through the clouds of birds in attendance. A highlight came in the form of at least two Northern Royal Albatross which gave great views as they flew slowly past the boat and dominated the smaller albatross for scraps.
Northern Royal Albatross
Northern Royal Albatross
However, the bird of the day for many was a Southern Fulmar which flew close, but quickly past us. After searching for some time, we managed to relocate the bird feeding on the water allowing everyone great views. We also found a few Northern Giant Petrels and a single Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, our only yellow-nose of the day.
The north-wester had begun to strengthen and we had to start heading back. The run back was highlighted by a single Humpback Whale, another pod of Common Dolphins and a single Manx Shearwater.
The mandatory stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point produced good views of Bank, Cape and White-breasted Cormorant. Several Crowned Cormorants were easily located amongst the yachts moored in Simon's Town Harbour.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Northern Royal Albatross - 2
Shy Albatross - c.800
Black-browed Albatross - c.600
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Pintado Petrel - c.500
White-chinned Petrel - c.1500
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
Southern Fulmar - 1
Antarctic Prion - c. 100
Sooty Shearwater - c.800
Great Shearwater - 1
Manx Shearwater - 1
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c.40
Subantarctic Skua - c.20
Common Dolphin - c. 200
Humback Whale - 3
Southern Right Whale - 1
Cape Fur Seal - Common
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 Cliff Dorse.
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