The morning of 15th July, we gathered in the light rain at Simonstown harbour, looking at the weather and realising how wrong the weather man had got it! Although there had been some cold fronts that had reached the Cape, the weather was meant to be clearing up and here we were in rain. Undeterred however, we set off on board the Cape Town Pelagics trip with Dalton Gibbs our guide. We soon motored past the usual Swift Terns, Cape and Hartlaub’s Gulls, as well as long lines of Cape Cormorants on the buoy lines. Out of the harbour, False Bay was relatively flat as we headed for Cape Point with Cape Gannets following us.
Half way to Cape Point we picked up a number of White-chinned Petrels in the bay, which were an indication that a cold front had passed over and an onshore wind was still blowing. Reaching Cape Point we travelled through a small rain squall and bumped through some of the swells making their way in from the Southern Atlantic. Sooty Shearwaters pitched up in small numbers to accompany us as we headed further out to sea and into misty conditions with low visibility. Shy Albatross turned up out of the mist to trail our boat or wander off effortlessly on their long wings. We were looking for fishing boats at the edge of the continental shelf and soon found the “Freesia”, a stern trawler. She was unfortunately heading back to Cape Town and had no birds behind her.
We sallied forth further out to sea and spotted two vessels on the horizon and headed in their direction, on the way picking up Sub-Antarctic Skua that followed us, expecting some food. At the 15 N Mile mark we picked up Black-browed Albatross in small numbers, soon followed by the beautifully marked Pintado Petrels. A single Soft-plumaged Petrel made a fly past and was followed by small groups of Antarctic Prions that we were to see on and off for the rest of the day out at sea. This mixture of birds persisted as we approached the vessels, only to discover that they were oil tankers over the horizon. With this disappointing news we changed to a westward tack and fired up the radar, and soon had a small vessel a few miles further out.
We thus came upon the “Aquila”, a small long lining vessel out of Cape Town that had fortuitously just started to lift the set lines and process her catch. This quickly pulled in a few hundred birds consisting of Shy and Black-browed Albatross, Pintado and White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm Petrels. It didn’t take long to pick up Southern Giant Petrel, and with a bit of work, Northern Giant Petrel. At this stage the birds were working well; flying past us as they approached the long liner to pick up discarded material from the processed fish catch. This allowed some birds to come within in a few metes of the boat; we had the delicately marked Pintado Petrels floating past us in lines as they ignored us and focused on what was on offer on the water.
We were all enjoying the spectacle when the call went out from someone “Hey there’s a white back!”; and rising above the crowd of Shy and Black-browed Albatross was a Northern Royal Albatross with its huge wings. We chased the bird and found where it had put down amongst a squabbling group of Shy Albatross. It was skittish and soon took off, only to do a fly past for us. We lost the bird amongst the outlying groups of albatross, but soon picked it up again where we could approach it in a group of feeding birds. We were viewing it when someone remarked “Hey, there’s another one!”, and so we had two Northern Royal Albatross about.
With these birds around we soon picked up an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, which put in a good display in front of us as we had lunch besides the long liner and all the accompanying birds. We looked further for the matching Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, but to no avail. With the time moving on we headed back toward cape Point, the ride back being a lot smoother as we travelled with the swell.
Our trip back was relatively uneventful and once back in False Bay we headed over to the Castle Rock cormorant colony where we found White-breasted, Cape and Bank Cormorants and nearby, a single Crowned Cormorant. Back in the bay it started to rain and we picked up a long distance view of a Parasitic Jaeger chasing terns; due to the rain we couldn’t pick up much else of the bird. Off Boulders we could pick up African Penguins on the beach. And on the buoy line to greet us as we arrived back in Simonstown, a pair of African Black Oystercatchers.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift tern – coastal
Hartlaub’s Gull – coastal
Cape Gull – coastal
Cape Cormorant – coastal
Bank Cormorant – coastal
White-breasted cormorant – coastal
Crowned Cormorant – coastal – 1
African Penguin – coastal
Cape Gannet – coastal & pelagic – 200
Sub-Antarctic Skua – 25
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
White-chinned Petrel – 150
Northern Giant Petrel – 2
Southern Giant Petrel – 6
Soft-plumaged Petrel – 1
Antarctic Prion - 100
Sooty Shearwater – 20
Shy Albatross – 100
Black-browed Albatross – 75
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross – 2
Northern Royal Albatross - 2
Wilson’s Storm Petrel – 50
Cape fur seal
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
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