Trip Highlights: Southern Fulmar, Spectacled Petrel, Manx Shearwater, Southern Giant Petrel
Mass of Black-browed Albatross
After gathering at the False Bay Yacht Club, we met up with our skipper, boarded our boat and slowly headed out of Simon's Town harbour. The wake control barriers, known locally as "the sausages" held a large flock of resting Cape Cormorants; peppered with a few White-breasted Cormorants, Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls, and the occasional Great Crested (Swift) Tern. The beautifully flat conditions in False Bay made it easy to spot groups of African Penguins heading out from their colony at Boulder Beach.
Sunrise over False Bay
The flat seas allowed us to make a fast run down to Cape Point. En-route we enjoyed a spectacular winter sun rising over the Eastern False Bay Mountains. The quiet run was punctuated by a distant Humpback Whale sleeping some distance away, but it sounded before it could be re-sighted. Instead we had to settle for rafts of resting Cape Fur Seals dotting the surface of the bay. Close to Cape Point we picked up our first Cape Gannets, followed shortly by both Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels.
The seas around Cape Point delivered more "white-chins" and "sooties" and a distant Giant Petrel. The low morning light made the silvery underwing coverts of passing Sooty Shearwaters stand out very well. Just past the Point we picked up two probable Common Terns.
Several sports fishing boats radioed to say they had found a trawler 18 nautical miles offshore and we headed out to its position. Once in deeper waters, the first Shy Albatross of the day made a close pass to the boat. We then encountered a succession of additional "Shys" until reaching the trawler. With the trawler in sight, we quickly added a few Black-browed Albatrosses, plus our first Antarctic Prions and Pintado Petrels.
Initially there were very few of birds following the trawler, but never the less we picked up a good variety of new species for the day. This included Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Great and Cory's Shearwaters, and good numbers of Brown (Subantarctic) Skuas.
Indian yellow-nosed Albatross
At mid-morning, the trawler slowed down and started to raise its nets. Consequently there was a sudden rush of seabirds hoping for an easy meal and once the net finally broke the surface there was a frenzy of diving Cape Gannets, and seals and albatrosses going after fish poking out of the net.
It was within this chaos that we had the best sea-birding of the day. The first big find was the first of two handsome Spectacled Petrels feeding alongside several White-chinned Petrels. Although this endangered seabird is becoming a regular in small numbers off the Cape, but it had been a while since our previous sighting.
One of two Spectacled Petrel seen on the trip.
The next call to go out was "Southern Fulmar!" - we quickly realised that the simultaneous calls were for two different birds! Sometime later we added a third sighting. This winter is shaping up to be a good year for this species. They tend to be sporadic winter visitors, with several seasons passing without any records.
A recent rash of interesting storm petrel sightings meant that we paid very close attention to these tiny seabirds, but sadly the large flocks present the previous weekend were absent. We did however pick up a trio of Wilson's Storm Petrels feeding over a slick of fish oil, along with masses of Antarctic Prions.
At midday we returned to the coast, stopping to investigate the flocks of terns and shearwaters following the schools of Yellowtail near Bellows Reef. This decision paid off well as we had views of several Manx Shearwaters and a young Humpback Whale.
After a fantastic light lunch under the cliffs at Cape Point, we headed back to port via the cormorant colonies at Partridge Point. There the large granite stacks held good numbers of Bank, Crowned, White-breasted and Cape Cormorants. The nearby seal haul-out was not as full as previous trips but still held a few dozen resting Cape Fur Seals.
Cape Fur Seals
Just before the port, we spotted a few groups of African Penguins returning to Boulders. Our final "tick" for the trip was a pair of African Oystercatchers feeding along the "Sausages" in the yacht basin.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy/White-capped Albatross- 40
Black-browed Albatross - 300
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
Southern Giant Petrel - 2
Giant-petrel spp - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 15
Manx Shearwater - 3
White-chinned Petrel - 400
Southern Fulmar - 2-3
Spectacled Petrel - 2
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 300
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 3
African Penguin - 60
Cape Gannet - Common
White-breasted Cormorant - common
Cape Cormorant - abundant
Crowned Cormorant - 6
Bank Cormorant - 30
Kelp Gull - common
Hartlaub's Gull - common
Great Crested Tern - common
Common Tern - 3
African (Black) Oystercatcher - 3
Cape Fur Seal - abundant
Humpback Whale - 2
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.