Trip Highlights: 4 Albatross species including an immature Wanderer, a Flesh-footed Shearwater and Humpback Whales
Wandering Albatross (immature).
On Saturday, 20 September, a group of foreign birders departed from Simon's Town on board a Cape Town Pelagic trip guided by Rob Leslie.
A strong frontal system passed through during the week and for a while it seemed as though the weekend might be blown out completely. However the forecast indicated a small window of opportunity on Saturday and with a some trepidation we decided to go. It proved to be a wise decision as Saturday dawned clear with a light breeze and we enjoyed a fantastic day at sea with excellent weather.
The trip across False Bay produced White-chinned Petrel and Cape Gannet with good views of two Humpback Whales that surfaced right next to the boat. We rounded Cape Point and made the usual photo stop at the spectacular tip of the peninsular in the clear early morning light before heading off towards the trawl grounds at the head of the Cape Canyon.
After a few more White-chinned Petrels and the first Sooty Shearwaters amongst the coastal cormorants, gulls and terns, and a further two Humpbacked Whales, bird numbers dropped off and we encountered a fairly dead patch. In the stronger light on our return trip the extensive patches of red-tide were visible, which explained the lack of bird life in that area.
With the calm conditions we were able to make good time and we soon started encountering Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses along with Pintado Petrels as we approached a large stern trawler, the 'Miriam Makeba'. She was hauling her gear and the net surfaced just as we approached, treating us to the spectacle of hundreds of hungry sea birds feeding in her wake. We were searching through the mob of birds for additional species when I saw the distinctive dark-tipped pinkish bill of a FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER amongst a large raft of White-chinned Petrels. No sooner had I spotted the bird when it ran through the raft clearly showing its flesh-coloured legs and feet while striving to get air-born. Unfortunately few of the passengers managed to get on to the bird and I was unable to relocate it.
After spending some time with the 'Miriam Makeba' we decided to move further offshore to another trawler, the 'Realeka' working in deeper water. This second vessel had many more albatrosses in her wake than the first vessel and we resumed the search for Yellow-nosed Albatross. As we were crossing the Realeka's wake I caught a glimpse of a large albatross with a white back and some white patches in the upper wing and I called "Wanderer". While trying to relocate the bird we found two NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS both with clean black upper wings and broad black carpal marks. We also found an immature WANDERING ALBATROSS showing a broad brownish breast band, brownish upper wings and a mottled back.
Another view of the same immature Wandering Albatross.
As usual there were some White-chinned Petrels with white patches in the wing and one with a round white patch on the nape. However we saw one bird with a large white mark on the forehead, extensive white chin and no white around the eye. The main characters that distinguish between aberrant White-chinned and Spectacled Petrels are the white forehead and black bill-tip of the later. Unfortunately I was unable to see whether this bird had the diagnostic black tip to the bill, and it is unclear whether the white forehead is diagnostic, so this bird will have to be recorded as a possible Spectacled Petrel for now.
A lovely lunch was enjoyed by all while we drifted in the wake of the Realeka before we started on our return trip. We stopped briefly at a third trawler, however she was not processing fish and she had very few birds in attendance. We saw the blows of a couple of Humpback Whales near Cape Point, probably the same two seen on the outward journey. After rounding the Point and entering False Bay, we stopped at the Bank Cormorant colony at Partridge Point.
Summary of birds seen during the trip. (Numbers are rough estimates only:
Wandering Albatross (Diomedia exulans) 1
Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedia sanfordi) 2
Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) c. 600
Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) c. 300
Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus) c. 5
Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) c. 5
White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aequinoctials) c. 1000
Spectacled Petrel (Procellaria conspiculata) 1 possible
Pintado Petrel (Daption capense) c. 200
Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) c. 150
European Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) c. 10
Flesh-footed Shearwater (Puffinus carneipes) 1
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) c. 50
Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis) c. 3
Cape Gannet (Morus capensis) c. 100
Sub-Antarctic Skua (Stercorarius antarctica) c. 4
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus) c. 10
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) c. 20
The following species were encountered close to the coast:
Jackass Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)
Cape Gannet (Morus capensis)
Cape Cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis)
Bank Cormorant (Phalacrocorax neglectus)
White-breasted Cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus)
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus)
Hartlaub's Gull (Chroicocephalus hartlaubii)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)
Swift Tern (Thalasseus bergii)
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) 4
Cape Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pucillus pucillus)
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 Rob Leslie.
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