Trip Highlights: 4 species of Shearwater, 4 species of Albatross and two large pods of Common and Dusky Dolphins. 'One of my best pelagic trips ever!" Dalton Gibbs, Cape Town Pelagics guide.
The morning of the 26th February was beautifully calm as we boarded a Cape Town Pelagics trip from Simonstown, guided by Dalton Gibbs. We headed out of the harbour in perfectly calm conditions, picking up the usual Cape Gulls, Hartlaub’s Gulls and Cape Cormorants on the harbour buoy lines, as well as Swift Terns and Sandwich Terns. We soon found early morning groups of African Penguins off the Boulders Beach and a large pod of Dusky Dolphins rose out of the water on the side of our boat. We travelled with these inquisitive creatures for some way as they stayed with our boat, rising out of the water to breathe and to satisfy their curiosity.
The rest of the trip out of False Bay was flat; with the only sighting of interest, a Parasitic Jaeger chasing Swift terns near Buffelsbaai. At Cape Point we stopped to take in the magnificent views of the sea cliffs in the morning light and flat seas. Thousands of birds amassed in the waters below the Point; Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, and Swift Terns chasing fish in a feeding frenzy. We pulled next to such a feeding group and soon found Sooty Shearwater in amongst; as Cape Gannets rained from the heavens into the sea around us.
We slowly headed out to sea with this pattern of activity around us, finding flocks of Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants and Sooty Shearwaters. These were soon mixed with White-chinned Petrels, Cory’s Shearwaters and a lone Manx Shearwater, whilst Yellow-fin Tuna patrolled the water underneath.
Heading out to sea the water was a warm 22 deg C and soon turned a magnificent deep blue colour. We came across a pod of Common Dolphins who were herding a group of fish and soon had dozens of dolphins rising around our boat; their beautiful cream markings showing up in the soft morning light. We headed further out, picking up some storm-petrels at a distance, but unable to get close enough to identify them. At the 15 N mile mark we came across our first Shy Albatross and continued out to spot our first trawler for the day. We headed for her and caught up with her at the 20 N mile. She was the “Freesia” out of Cape Town, but was not trawling at the time and had no birds behind her. Spotting another trawler we headed for her; finding Great Shearwater and Sub-Antarctic Skua that flew past us in the process.
The trawler was the “Stevia” and she was dragging her nets at a slow pace. The conditions were so calm that many of the birds preferred to raft on the water rather than fly, which provided excellent viewing opportunities. We soon found Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and then spectacular Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, getting close views of these birds near our boat. We slowly cruised past these rafting groups of White-chinned Petrel and Great Shearwater, finding many Black-browed Albatross and an old mottled Southern Giant Petrel.
A lone European Storm Petrel made its appearance, whilst there were numerous Wilson’s Storm Petrels about. A single Sabine’s Gull performed a fly by, but did not stick around the back of the trawler. At midday the trawler lifted her nets, pulling in all the attendant birds and seals, as well as some Atlantic Blue Shark. There was much jostling by all the birds present, Shy Albatross dominating the feeding as Cape Gannets again rained in amongst the birds to get to scraps of fish underwater, somehow managing to miss all the other birds doing the same thing!
The Stevia turned and headed westwards out to sea as we continued to work through the mass of birds present. With the calm conditions we decided to have lunch out at sea. A bit of fish oil alongside the boat brought in Northern Giant Petrel as well as some of the Albatross for photo opportunities.
After lunch we headed back toward land and after a smooth ride back entered False Bay and headed across to the Castle Rock cormorant colony. Here we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, and Bank Cormorants. The adjacent rocks held Cape Fur Seals in different age classes. We returned to Simonstown harbour and managed to pick up a Crowned Cormorant to complete this group for the day.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers :
Swift Tern – coastal
Sandwich Tern – coastal
Hartlaub’s Gull – coastal
Cape Gull – coastal
Cape Cormorant – coastal
Bank Cormorant – coastal
White-breasted Cormorant – coastal
Crowned Cormorant – coastal
African Penguin – coastal
Cape Gannet – coastal & pelagic – 200
Sabine’s Gull – 1
Sub-Antarctic Skua – 12
Parasitic Jaeger – 1
White-chinned Petrel – 500
Southern Giant Petrel – 1
Northern Giant Petrel – 1
Cory’s Shearwater - 200
Great Shearwater – 150
Sooty Shearwater – 100
Manx Shearwater – 1
Shy Albatross – 75
Black-browed Albatross – 50
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross – 10
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross – 10
Wilson’s Storm- petrel – 70
European Storm-petrel – 1
Cape fur seal
Atlantic Blue Shark
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 Dalton Gibbs.
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