Trip Highlights: Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Northern and Southern Giant Petrels.
The sunrise on Saturday 10 August was a bright pink across the eastern sky and snow was visible on the mountains east of Cape Town after the recent cold front. The sea was calm as we boarded the Cape Town Pelagics trip out of Simon's Town harbour with Dalton Gibbs our pelagic guide. In the harbour were lines of Cape Cormorant, accompanied by Kelp Gulls and Hartlaub's Gulls on the harbour buoy lines. A single Grey Heron made an appearance. Once out of the harbour we were able to travel at speed and soon saw African Penguins along the shoreline preparing to go hunting. A few Swift Terns and some Cape Gannet followed us out to Cape Point where we stopped to take in the early morning view and check in via radio where the trawlers might be located.
At Cape Point we soon picked up White-chinned Petrels amongst a flock of Swift Tern that were feeding and following Yellowfin tuna hunting bait fish. Sooty Shearwaters soon arrived to join this group and we had several minutes of these birds around the boat. We headed further out to sea, finding Shy Albatross and a several Wilson's Storm Petrels. We passed some large tankers and then at the 18 N mile mark we picked up a promising radar contact on the monitor and headed in that direction. It turned out to be the Compass Challenger; a stern trawler that we decided was named as such due to its ability to either travel all over the ocean or to regularly get lost.
This trawler was not processing any catch, but she was, never-the-less, being followed by plenty of birds and ever hopeful Cape Fur Seals. We found a number of Black-browed Albatross and then Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Sub-Antarctic Skua and Pintado Petrels were about in promising numbers as well as a few hundred Cape Gannet and Kelp Gulls which had flown out from the mainland. We picked up a Southern Giant Petrel amongst the mix of birds.
We stayed behind the trawler until she lifted her nets, which drew in a mass of birds which descended on the net as it reached the surface. Seals climbed onto the net bag as Cape Gannets rained from the skies around them and Shy and Black-browed Albatross grabbed bits of fish off the surface. Sub-Antarctic Skuas chased Kelp Gulls for food and amongst all of this an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross entered the fray. With its catch in, the trawler turned to the south and started processing fish, dropping fish heads and entrails overboard. We followed this food trail, which allowed us to closely follow the birds. We picked up a Northern Giant Petrel and closer views of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross.
After a while the trawler had dropped her nets and the number of birds decreased, we settled down for an excellent lunch at sea. During this time we 'launched' a 5kg chum block to see what it would draw to our boat. Unfortunately this quickly got taken by a hungry seal so we had to contend with views of White-chinned Petrels.
With lunch over we headed back to land and entering False Bay we crossed the Bay to see the Castle Rock cormorant colony. Here we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, and Bank Cormorants and the adjacent rocks held Cape Fur Seals in different age classes.
Back in Simon's Town harbour we picked several Crowned Cormorants on a moored boat to complete this group for the day.
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
African Penguin - coastal
African Black Oystercatchers - 1
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 200
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 15
White-chinned Petrel - 100
Pintado Petrel - 75
Southern Giant Petrel - 2
Northern Giant Petrel - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 200
Shy Albatross - 75
Black-browed Albatross - 50
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 20
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
guide Dalton Gibbs.
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