Trip Highlights: Four Albatross species, Southern & Northern Giant Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Sabine's Gull, whales and dolphins!
It was calm on the jetty at Simon's Town harbour as six keen birders and pelagic guide Dalton Gibbs gathered to board the Cape Town Pelagics boat on Saturday morning. As we set out in the early morning light we had the usual Kelp Gulls, Hartlaub's Gulls, Cape Cormorant and a lone African Black Oystercatcher in the harbour. Off Boulders Beach a small group of African Penguins were out hunting in the ocean as we headed out into False Bay. A few Cape Gannet and Cape Cormorants accompanied us as we headed for Cape Point in calm conditions. We had a brief encounter with two Bryde's Whales, who showed us their back profile and dorsal fins before sounding. At Cape Point we stopped to check out over the radio and take some scenery photos in the stunning early morning light.
Heading out into the ocean from Cape Point we quickly found White-chinned Petrels, some Swift Terns and a few Sooty Shearwaters. It was neap low tide and Bellow's Rock was awash with foam. We continued out, finding a few long distance Shy Albatross and then a large pod of Common Dolphins. These animals leapt from the ocean, travelling along side our boat for a distance as they hunted fish. At 23 nautical miles we stopped and after scanning and checking the radar could not find any trawlers. We had found a Great Shearwater and shortly thereafter a young Black-browed Albatross. We broke open the bottle of fish oil and a liberal dose with cut up fish was applied downwind, soon bringing in a Northern Giant Petrel, Wilson's Storm-petrel and Sub-Antarctic Skua. These birds, along with a dozen or so White-chinned Petrel milled around the boat for a while. We waited a bit longer and our patience was rewarded with an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Pintado Petrel that put in an appearance.
The conditions were calm out in the deep and we floated around until we saw what appeared to be a trawler in the distance. We headed in her direction only to discover she was a tanker and so decided to put out some more chum. A 5l block of frozen fish oil and fish guts was (carefully) put overboard and drifted near the boat. This rewarded us with a few more Giant Petrels and then an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. A surprise Sabine's Gull, showing recent breeding colours, made an appearance. For the next hour or so we had examples of most the birds we had seen thus far come past us and added a few examples of Antarctic Tern. With us settling down to a regular rhythm of birds coming past us in small numbers we spotted a trawler in the distance and made off in her direction.
When we reached the trawler she was the 'Flame Thorn' a stern trawler that was heading back toward Cape Town. She was trailing a fair number of birds of a variety of species and we soon picked up a Southern Giant Petrel which had eluded us thus far. We followed the trawler for a while, with stream of birds either side of us. After a while we had to call it quits and settled on the calm ocean for lunch.
Our trip back to land was uneventful except for a pair of Humpback Whales and a single Bryde's Whale near Cape Point. Once back in False Bay we travelled to the Castle Rock cormorant colony. Here we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, and Bank Cormorants, whilst the adjacent rocks held three Crowned Cormorants. From here calm sea and the boat's powerful engines took us back to Simon's Town Harbour.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift Tern - coastal
Antarctic Tern - 5
Hartlaub's Gull - coastal
Kelp Gull - coastal
Cape Cormorant - coastal
Bank Cormorant - coastal
Crowned Cormorant - coastal - 2
White-breasted Cormorant - coastal
African Penguin - 100 - coastal
African Black Oystercatcher - coastal - 2
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 50
White-chinned Petrel - 300
Pintado Petrel - 15
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
Northern Giant Petrel - 2
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 50
Sooty Shearwater - 45
Shy Albatross - 25
Black-browed Albatross - 15
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 4
Sabine's Gull - 1
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.
To book, simply email
or phone us, or submit a
booking enquiry online.