Trip Highlights: Four Albatross species, Spectacled Petrel, Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Sabine's Gull, Pomarine Skua, Cory's Shearwater and Bottle-nosed Dolphins
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
The Simon's Town Pier was bathed in sunshine as the Cape Town Pelagics trip departed at 07h15 on Tuesday, 22 December 2015. On board were seven guests - all South Africans on their first pelagic trip - our skipper, Mike and his assistant, Almusi, and guide, Andrew de Blocq.
There was an onshore wind blowing, which is presumably why Cory's Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel were seen even before reaching Cape Point. The usual Cape Gannet and Cape Cormorant flocks were also seen flying past the boat, with the occasional Swift and Sandwich Terns too. A small foraging party of African Penguins was seen from the boat as we passed the Boulders Beach Colony.
Chasing the Freesia!
Once past Cape Point, a flyby from a single Pomarine Skua caused some excitement onboard. The sea was fairly rough with 4.5 m swells at a 14 second interval. We were very lucky to find a trawler, the Freesia, only 10 miles out to sea. She was heading back to harbour while hauling nets for the last time, which attracted a massive aggregation of birds. The sheer numbers of birds was incredible, forming a magnificent spectacle. The afore-mentioned wind had presumably again played in our favour by bringing the birds closer to shore.
Among the first birds to be seen were White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Black-browed and Shy Albatrosses, and Southern Giant Petrel. The albatross numbers were especially impressive, and we managed to locate both Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses within only a few minutes, the former in greater numbers than the latter. We managed to confirm at least one Northern Giant Petrel by its red nose - a very apt diagnostic considering the time of year. A couple of Subantarctic Skua flew over and around the boat too, showing off their white-ringed underwings. Two Sabine's Gulls and the occasional Cape Gannet flock also visited while we were trailing the Freesia.
Southern Giant Petrel
Possibly the only disappointment was that only two Storm Petrels were seen on the whole trip, both being European. Two Sunfish were also spotted from the boat. The biggest shout from the guide was reserved for a single Spectacled Petrel, that flew quickly past on two occasions, too quick for photographs, but long enough for everyone to get eyes on.
We followed the Freesia as far north as Kommetjie, before the skipper made the call to head back south-east to avoid the wind and chop that was building up along the coastline. After a few miles of open water the queasiness started to set in again for a few passengers onboard. With no trawlers in sight on the AIS screen, and without many more species we could hope to add if we did find a boat, the call was made to head back towards Simon's Town. Once past the point and in calmer waters we slowly cruised our way back. We managed to find the Bank Cormorants at their usual spot, along with some White-breasted Cormorants as well.
The real treat on the return journey was two separate sightings of Bottle-nosed Dolphin pods, one with some youngsters in tow. A third Sunfish was seen motoring through the water at a surprising speed considering their usual languorous manner. The sunbathing Cape Fur Seals also warranted a photographic stop.
Once in the harbour we picked up several Crowned Cormorants, as well as a single African Black Oystercatcher who allowed us to approach for excellent views. We docked amidst the squawks of Kelp Gulls, Hartlaub's Gulls, and excited passengers having completed their first pelagic. The general consensus was that the albatross views stole the show.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Sooty Shearwater - 250
Great Shearwater - 200
Subantarctic Skua - 2
Pomarine Skua - 1
Black-browed Albatross - 400
Shy Albatross - 250
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 100
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 20
Sabine's Gull - 2
White-chinned Petrel - 2000
Southern Giant Petrel - 40
Northern Giant Petrel - 2
Spectacled Petrel - 1
European Storm Petrel - 2
African Penguin - 10
Cape Gannet - 50
African Black Oystercatcher
Cape Fur Seal
Bottle-nosed Dolphin - 12
Sunfish - 3
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 Andrew de Blocq.
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