Trip Highlights: Wandering Albatross, Soft-plumaged Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Northern & Southern Giant Petrels
There was little wind on the morning of Saturday 24th August as we boarded a Cape Town Pelagics trip out of Simon's Town harbour with Dalton Gibbs our bird guide. After a week of cold frontal systems that had lashed the Cape we were lucky to have a gap in the weather.
Cape Cormorants accompanied by a few Kelp Gulls, Hartlaub's Gulls and a pair of African Black Oystercatchers were gathered around the harbour, as if to see us off. Out of the harbour the trip across False Bay was uneventful and it was only interrupted by a Southern Right Whale that crossed our path. The skies were still quiet until we approached Cape Point when only a few Cape Gannets and a lone Sub-Antarctic Skua made an appearance. However, once we rounded Cape Point and headed into the open ocean this soon changed and we had numbers of White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters working the bait fish. Flocks of Swift Terns and Cape Gannets betrayed the presence of these shoals, which also attracted Cape Fur Seals. We headed further out to sea, passing through flocks of White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters.
A few miles out we came across our first Shy Albatross and a few Wilson's Storm Petrels that passed near the boat. At the 20 N mile mark we picked up a ship on the horizon and headed toward her, finding a few young Black-browed Albatross in her presence. The boat was a long liner, slowly lifting her lines with a fair number of birds behind her. We slotted in behind her wake and had a Sub-Antarctic Skua practically land on the boat, only veering off at the last moment. Amongst the flock of birds we quickly found the delicately marked Pintado Petrel and a few Antarctic Prion that flew passed us with their quick flight action. We stayed with this long liner vessel for a few hours and worked through the birds, adding Northern and then Southern Giant Petrels that flew in close after a fish head that we had floating near the side of our boat.
We decide to eat our lunch whilst enjoying the good views of the large numbers of the eight pelagic bird species in the area of the long liner. At the end of lunch our scanning of the birds was rewarded with the cry of “White Backed” being called out and a large albatross approaching us. This turned out to be an adult Wandering Albatross that gave us two good flybys before disappearing amongst the general mass of birds. After enjoying the views of this magnificent bird we turned and headed back for home. We had not gone far when a Soft-plumaged Petrel crossed our path, quickly followed by another view of an adult Wandering Albatross. This may have been the same bird we had seen earlier, but it sure was good to see it again!
Our trip back was less eventful, with the occasional Shy or Black-browed Albatross keeping us company. Once back in False Bay we crossed the Bay to see the Castle Rock cormorant colony. Here we found the usual White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, and Bank Cormorants. On a nearby rock Cape Fur Seals clustered at the top due to the high tide levels. Heading back to Simon's Town harbour we picked up a lone African Penguin and a lone Crowned Cormorant for the final species of 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 - 1
African Penguin - coastal
African Black Oystercatchers - 2
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 150
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 20
White-chinned Petrel - 200
Pintado Petrel - 100
Southern Giant Petrel - 2
Northern Giant Petrel - 4
Sooty Shearwater - 300
Shy Albatross - 70
Black-browed Albatross - 50
Wandering Albatross - 1
Wilson's Storm- petrel - 30
Antarctic Prion - 15
Soft-plumaged Petrel - 3
Cape Fur Seal
Southern Right Whale
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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