Trip Highlights: Black-bellied Storm-petrel, Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, both species of Giant Petrels, Subantarctic Skua amongst others..
The sunrise on the 18th October was almost idyllic, after strong winds off Cape Point the night before. There was a calm sea and almost no wind as we set off across False Bay on board a Cape Town Pelagics trip with Dalton Gibbs the guide on board. In the harbour were the usual Kelp Gulls and Hartlaub's Gulls, with Cape Cormorant and White-breasted Cormorant on the harbour buoy lines. Amongst the Swift Terns we found a lone Sandwich Tern, a sure sign that summer was upon us. Out on False Bay we saw groups of African Penguins lined along the Boulders Beach getting ready to go to sea. The trip across False Bay was very quiet, with only the occasional Swift Terns to break up the trip to Cape Point. Here we took in the early morning view, took some landscape photos and checked out over the radio.
At Cape Point a single Northern Giant Petrel passed behind us; a straggler from the strong winds that had blown the night before. Heading out into the deep we found a light swell, soon picking up White-chinned Petrels a mile or two off shore. The sea water was a brown-green colour and bird life was very quiet as we travelled further out. Only at the 10 N Mile mark did we find our first Sooty Shearwaters, with the occasional Shy Albatross at the 15 N Mile mark. At 20 N miles we started finding a few dozen Great Shearwaters and the odd Wilson's Storm-petrel, but hadn't found a trawler yet. Following up on radio information we headed further out, finding the "Freesia" some 30 N Miles off Cape Point. The water here was 650m deep and the transparent blue of open ocean water.
Cape Fur Seal arrive for the easy feeding when a trawler pulls up its nets.
The Freesia was trawling with her nets down, but she never-the-less trailed numbers of birds. We soon found Black-browed Albatross, Indian and then Yellow-nosed Albatross, with numbers of White-chinned petrels around then. Small numbers of Pintado Petrel, a wintertime bird, mixed with the large numbers of Kelp Gulls that had travelled out. Northern Giant Petrels appeared occasionally, and it was some time before we found Southern Giant Petrel. Black-bellied Storm-petrel made an appearance, with their characteristic up-down fight action. A few Sub-Antarctic Skua flew above the milling birds, revealing their white wing blazes.
After an hour or so, the Freesia raised her nets, which brought in the attendant birds (and seals) from the surrounding area. The numbers increased considerably and we had good close up views of most of the species as they jostled to get to the raising net. The trawler sorted her catch and steamed for a while, processing fish as she went. We followed the trail of birds, having a stream of birds pass in front of us. After a while the trawler stopped and we decided to have lunch whilst surrounded by a variety of all the birds we had seen. Groups of Shy Albatross and Giant Petrels clustered around discarded fish, the Giant Petrels usually getting the upper hand as they spread their wings 'vulture style' over their fish and giving the Shy Albatross the "just you dare" stare!
A Giant Petrel spreads its wings defensively over some discarded fish, keeping Shy Albatross at bay.
With lunch over we headed back toward land, which was a smooth run in the calm conditions. Once we rounded Cape Point we crossed False Bay on a calm sea to the Castle Rock cormorant colony, where we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, and Bank Cormorants, whilst the adjacent rocks held Cape Fur Seals in different age classes. On the way back to Simon's Town we found African Black Oyster-catchers and African Penguins groups feeding the water. In Simon's Town harbour we found a Crowned Cormorant on a moored boat to complete this group for the day.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift Tern - coastal
Sandwich Tern - 1
Grey heron - 1
Hartlaub's Gull - coastal
Cape Gull - coastal
Cape Cormorant - coastal
Bank Cormorant - coastal
White-breasted Cormorant - coastal
Crowned Cormorant - 2 - coastal
African Penguin - 40 - coastal
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 50
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 4
White-chinned Petrel - 300
Pintado Petrel - 6
Northern Giant Petrel - 6
Southern Giant Petrel - 3
Sooty Shearwater - 50
Great Shearwater - 200
Shy Albatross - 80
Black-browed Albatross - 20
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 15
Wilson's Storm-petrel - 20
Black-bellied Storm-petrel - 5
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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