Trip Highlights: Black-bellied Storm Petrel, Sabine's Gull, Cape (Pintado) Petrel, Great Shearwater, Long-beaked Common Dolphins, Humpback Whales.
Our first moment of birding excitement happened during the welcome and briefing session, as a Peregrine Falcon, took a Rock Dove in the air and preceded to fly off with its prey. The falcon then perched on a nearby cell-phone tower and preceded to pluck its breakfast.
After this heart-pounding start, we turned our attention to the seabirds roosting in the harbour. The exposed rocks and unused boats held three species of cormorants: Crowned, Cape and White-breasted, and the two coastal gull species: Kelp, and Hartlaub's GullsOnce underway and en-route to Cape Point, we passed a small group of African Penguins near the Boulders Beach penguin colony. The next stop was the Bank, and White-breasted Cormorant colonies at Partridge Point. We briefly stopped at the Cape Fur Seal haulout.
The coastal waters around Cape Point were a hive of activity with masses of seabirds feeding on the abundant small fish near the surface. The flocks of wheeling and diving seabirds included both Great Crested (Swift) and Common Terns, hundreds of Cape Cormorants and Cape Gannets. Included in the melee were a nice variety of pelagic species - both Great and Sooty Shearwaters, White-chinned Petrels and a lone Northern Giant Petrel.
The most common species in the open ocean were the thousands of Great Shearwaters that had recently arrived off the Cape coast. White-chinned Petrels, usually the most common pelagic species took a distant second place, with only a few hundred seen all day. The highlight of this part of the trip was undoubtedly the Shy Albatrosses that approached the boat.
We intercepted a hake trawler heading out to fish near Cape Agulhas but it was not trailing any birds so we continued on towards a working long-liner. The bird activity at the boat was initially very quiet so we put down a slick of fish oil. This fragrant concoction drew in a small number, but good variety of birds including: Kelp Gulls, Shy Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Northern and Southern Giant-Petrels, Great Shearwaters and a lone Cape Gannet. The two standout species were the last of the winter's Cape Petrels and a few Black-bellied Storm-petrels on their passage migration past the Cape.
Once the long-liner started to pick up its lines, the number of seabirds grew. Amongst this larger swarm of birds, we were able to add both Black-browed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, a pair of Brown Skuas and a single Sabine's Gull. The latter was the first of thousands that will migrate to the area in the austral summer.
The trip back to port deliver even more excitement. The first big find was the "mega-pod" of Long-beaked Common Dolphins that has been sighted off the coast since last summer. This pod consisted of an estimated 1000-1500 animals, possibly more. At one point we were surrounded by feeding dolphins with the pod stretching far off into the distance in all directions.
The amazing marine mammal sightings continued back in in False Bay as we had three different breaching and fin slapping Humpback Whales. This included a massive adult that performed three breaches with bouts of fin slapping between each jump. With an excellent pelagic in the pocket we headed back into SImon's Town harbour.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 15-20
Black-browed Albatross - 5-7
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2
Northern Giant Petrel - 8
Southern Giant Petrel - 2
Sooty Shearwater - 20-30
Great Shearwater - 1500-2000
White-chinned Petrel - 200-300
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 2
Black-bellied Storm Petrel - 3-5
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 2
African Penguin - 5
Cape Gannet - Common
White-breasted Cormorant - 13 breeding pairs
Cape Cormorant - abundant
Crowned Cormorant - 13-15
Bank Cormorant - 20 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common
Hartlaub-s Gull - 7
Great Crested Tern - common
Common Tern - common
Arctic Tern - 10-15
Cape Fur Seal - abundant
Humpback Whale - 4
Long-beaked Common Dolphin - 1000-1500
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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