HIGHLIGHTS: Pomerine Jaeger
and Sabine’s Gull
A Cape Town Pelagic trip left Hout Bay
at 07h30 on Saturday September 18 guided by Cape Town
Pelagics guide Patrick Cardwell.
To say that weather conditions were confused
on the day would have been something of an understatement.
This state of atmospheric confusion was brought about
by the pending arrival of a cut-off low pressure system
ahead of which we had the effects of a residual south-easterly
blow coupled to a conflicting north-easterly off shore
wind of varying intensity. Add it all up and we certainly
had a very ‘confused’ sea on our hands as we limped
out in seriously troubled waters past the Sentinel
and on into the ‘deep’ on a course of 250 degrees.
On the way out White-chinned Petrels
careened past at regular intervals while Sooty
Shearwaters in fair numbers crossed the bow with
silvery under wings ‘ flashing’ conspicuously in the
bright morning light. Wavering flight lines of Cape
Cormorant were evident in all directions as were
Cape Gannet trailing one another low over the
wave crests towards Cape Point.
A mixed assortment of feeding terns,
comprising of Swift, Common and the occasional
Sandwich Tern, were encountered in the vicinity
of the snoek fishing boats working off Slangkop above
what appeared to be a mega sized shoal of bait fish.
Such activity produced a superb sighting of
Pomerine Skua as it flew past in close proximity
before veering off into the distance.
By now the lumpy nature of the swell
was taking its toll on all but the more experienced
seafarers on board and the proverbial bailing bucket
was doing the rounds at regular intervals. Fortunately,
the troughs and peaks within the swell pattern started
to even out as the water depth increased and it wasn’t
long before an encouraging ‘blip’ of a distant vessel
appeared on the radar screen.
A change in course direction confirmed
the presence of a factory freezer trawler heading
in our direction. This was indeed good news and soon
enough we were in amongst varying age classes of Shy
and Black-browed Albatross in steadily
increasing numbers as they orbited about the trawler
in seemingly effortless flight.
usual White-chinned Petrel dominated the scene
but no sign of a Spectacled Petrel within the
mix of hundreds in spite of careful sifting by all
on board. Add to this a sprinkling of Pintado Petrels
wheeling about, and one Northern Giant Petrel
passing by in close proximity, with Wilson’s
Storm Petrels in numbers pattering past in the
trawlers wake, and you have some idea of the spectacle
around us. This scene was further complemented by
plunge diving Cape Gannets and the ubiquitous
presence of two Sub-Antarctic Skuas relentlessly
pursuing the Kelp Gulls and Cape Gannets
flying off with scraps in their bills.
At some stage a lone Artic Tern kept
pace with the action before flying off to be replaced
by a single Sabine’s Gull as the first summer
sighting for the boat this season.
No Great Shearwaters were sighted
in spite of the sheer number of birds around us
and only one of the two Yellow-nosed Albatross
species made a surprise pass at an awkward sun
angle making identification as to Atlantic or Indian
From here we headed further west to check
on a side-trawler engaged in winching in the first
drag of the day. This proved to be quite a laborious
affair for the deck hands with a plethora of seabirds
and Cape Fur Seals taking full advantage of
the delay in getting the bulging net over the side.
Again lots of frenetic action within the pelagic mix
around us but still nothing new to science or at least
something out of the ordinary...
With several within our crew complement
now seriously afflicted by the debilitating effects
of the dreaded mal de mer we turned for home
picking up on great sightings of Dusky Dolphin
at regular intervals on the way in and a single
Bryde’s Whale breaching briefly nearby. Closer
to shore we came across three Heavyside’s
Dolphin that afforded great views in clear
water as they followed along for some time in our
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross 250
B lack-browed Albatross - 150 Y
ellow-nosed Albatross - 1 identity unknown
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
White-chinned Petrel - 500 plus P
intado Petrel - 30
Sooty Shearwater - 150
Wilson’s Storm Petrel - 50
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 10
Pomerine Jaeger - 1
Sabine’s Gull - 1
Artic Tern - 1
Swift Tern (coastal) - 50
Sandwich Tern (coastal) - 10
Common Tern (coastal) - 30
Kelp Gull - 150
Hartlaub’s Gull - 20
Cape Cormorant (coastal) - 300 plus
Cape Gannet 100
Cape Fur Seal 50
Dusky Dolphin 30
Heavyside’s Dolphin 3
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 Patrick Cardwell.
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