Trip Highlights: Two Spectacled Petrels, Pintado Petrels, large numbers of Northern (and Southern) Giant-Petrels, four species of albatrosses, four species of cormorant, Sabine's Gull.
We departed the False Bay Yacht Club in beautifully flat conditions that continued all the way down to Cape Point (and beyond). The harbour itself held common coastal seabirds, including Kelp, and Hartlaub's Gulls; Cape, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorants, and a small roost of Great Crested (Swift) Terns. The trip down to the Point was very quiet, apart from a few rafts of African Penguins, and flocks of feeding Sandwich, and Great Crested (Swift) Terns, and long skeins of Cape Cormorants heading out to sea.
After our customary stop below the majestic cliffs of Cape Point, we continued out into the open ocean. Our skipper received reports of several stern trawlers operating off the coast and we set course towards the closest one. The birding on the trip out was unusually quiet with sightings of White-chinned Petrels, Cory's and Sooty Shearwaters, Arctic Terns and a few Cape Gannets. A single juvenile Parasitic Jaeger served to add some excitement on the way out.
On arrival at the trawler, we very quickly made up for the slow sea-birding with a very large volume of birds, and a stunning array of species. Within minutes of starting to work the nearly kilometre-long trail of birds, we spotted the bird of the trip: Spectacled Petrel. The very low winds meant we could approach and get unparalleled views of this sought after visitor to Cape waters, without it flying off. After this excellent start, we continued to bird along the stream of seabirds, adding some fantastic species to the trip list. These included: Shy (White-capped), Black-browed; Indian, and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Cape Gannet; Kelp, and Sabine’s Gulls, Arctic Tern; European, and Wilson’s Storm Petrels. A few Cape Fur Seals were also spotted following the trawler.
We also encountered yet more surprises in the form of a pair of Swift Terns (normally a strictly coastal species), and a few late Pintado Petrels (an abundant winter visitor). Of particular excitement was the large (c.50) numbers of giant-petrels behind the trawler, as we usually record less than five on an average trip. Although the vast majority were Northern Giant-Petrels, we got very close views of a few Southern Giant-Petrels.
To top an already top-class pelagic, we located a second Spectacled Petrel, which obligingly swam up to within a metre on the boat. This ensured excellent views of the diagnostic black bill tip, absent in the very small numbers of White-chinned Petrels that have potentially confusing white head markings.
After a great day out at the trawler, we turned back to the coast, for a celebratory lunch below the sea-cliffs of False Bay. After eating, we visited the White-breasted and Bank Cormorant colonies at Partridge Point, with a quick stop at the Cape Fur Seal haulout, before docking back in Simon's Town.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 150-200
Black-browed Albatross - 25-30
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2-3
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 7-10
Northern Giant Petrel - 45-50
Southern Giant Petrel - 2-5
Sooty Shearwater - 350-400
Cory's Shearwater - 75-100
White-chinned Petrel - 800-900
Spectacled Petrel - 2
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 5-10
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 20-30
European Storm Petrel - 75-100
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
African Penguin - 40-50 (at sea)
Cape Gannet - common (coastal and pelagic)
White-breasted Cormorant - 30 breeding pairs; common (coastal)
Cape Cormorant - abundant (coastal)
Crowned Cormorant - 4
Bank Cormorant - 13 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - abundant (coastal); 150-200 (pelagic)
Hartlaub's Gull - 10-15 (coastal)
Great Crested Tern - abundant (coastal); 2 (pelagic)
Arctic Tern - 50-60
Sandwich Tern - 20-25
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal); 10-15 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.
To book, simply email
or phone us, or submit a
booking enquiry online.