Trip Highlights: 4 Albatross species, Giant Petrels, Subantarctic Skua, Arctic Tern, Grey-headed Gull.
We departed Simon's Town at ±8am on Friday morning in warm and calm conditions. The vessels, floats and markers in the harbour held roosting Cape Cormorants, Kelp, Hartlaub's and Grey-headed Gulls. Once out of the harbour, we found Bank Cormorants on the entrance marker buoy. Large numbers of Cape and a few White-breasted Cormorants were roosting on Arch Rock. Large groups of African Penguins were heading out to sea offshore of Boulders beach. The abundant bait fish in the bay attracted large flocks of Greater Crested (Swift), Sandwich and Common Terns.
We glimpsed our first pelagic species, a European Storm Petrel, still in False Bay. It was followed up quickly by a Black-browed Albatrosses and Northern Giant Petrels at Cape Point. They were seen flying amongst Cape Gannets and large numbers of Cape Cormorants. As we progressed deeper in oceanic waters, we got our second albatross: Shy Albatrosses, as well as White-chinned Petrels, Sooty and Cory's Shearwaters.
The past week's gale force winds and their predicted return, meant that no fishing vessels were operating in the area of the Cape Canyon. Consequently we started to chumming with anchovy oil and pilchards. The strong smelling oil and free fish attracted more Black-browed and Shy Albatrosses, and two new albatross species: juvenile Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses. Large numbers of European and Wilson's Storm Petrels were seen hovering over the oil slick. Other species added to the trip list were Sub-Antarctic (Brown) Skua, Sabine's Gulls and Arctic Terns. Other visitors included a small flock of White-chinned Petrels, a single Cape Gannet and a few Cape Fur Seals. As our weather window closed, we started our return trip. It was very foggy near the coast, with very limited visibility which made for poor birding.
Once back in False Bay, we stopped for a quick lunch. As we started our run to the Partridge Point cormorant colonies, we spotted a series of red emergency flares. Our skipper quickly diverted to come alongside the stricken rubber duck. The skipper explained that their electrical system had failed. We slowly towed them to the slipway at Buffels Bay, increasingly windy conditions. We got them close enough to shore for the crew to haul it on land. Our good deed was rewarded with a chance to see a very playful troop of Chacma Baboons cavorting on the sandy beach.
After all this excitement, we finally arrived at Partridge Point. The Bank and White-breasted Cormorants were still nesting, and the increasingly rough sea meant that the seal haul-out was densely packed.
Our final inclusion on the trip list were a pair of Crowned Cormorants back in Simon's Town harbour.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - 4-5
Black-browed Albatross - 3
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Giant Petrel spp. - 4-5
Northern Giant Petrel - 1
White-chinned Petrel - 40-50
Sooty Shearwater - 3-5
Cory's Shearwater - 40-50
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 5-10
European Storm Petrel - 30-40
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 1
Arctic Tern - 30-40
African Penguin - 30-40 at sea
Cape Gannet - abundant, 1 (pelagic)
Cape Cormorant - abundant
Crowned Cormorant - 2
Bank Cormorant - ±30 breeding pairs
White-breasted Cormorant - 40-50
Kelp Gull - abundant, 30-40 (pelagic)
Hartlaub's Gull - abundant
Grey-headed Gull - 2-3
Sandwich Tern - abundant
Swift Tern - abundant
Common Tern - abundant
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal and pelagic)
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 Vincent Ward.
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