Trip Highlights: 4 species Albatross, Southern & Northern Giant Petrel, Pomarine Skua, Spectacled Petrel, Caspian Tern, Sabine's Gull, Arctic Terns and an Arctic Skua.
A group of American birdwatchers from around Washington, D.C., left Simon's Town Harbour on board a Cape Town Pelagics trip with guide Andrew de Blocq on board. The forecast was excellent, and there with much anticipation as it was a first southern hemisphere pelagic for all the guests on board.
The trip to Cape Point was very quiet, but for an occasional group of African Penguins bobbing in the water. The conditions were flat and calm, and they stayed that way for the day. Once at the point the birding heated up with a fairly unusual pelagic sighting of a Caspian Tern among the more ubiquitous Swift and Common Terns. The first pelagic species were the White-chinned Petrels and Cory's Shearwaters off the point, and then a few rafts of Sooty Shearwaters too. The first albatross left it quite late, the single Shy Albatross showing only after 12 miles of travel offshore. The highlight of the outbound trip was definitely a group of possibly 800 Cape Gannets that decided to follow the boat and put on a great show for their foreign admirers.
Northern Giant Petrel
Once out in the trawling grounds the birding quietened down again. No boats were showing on the radar, and no sport fishermen in the area had seen any. One last call was made, and contact was made with the 'Freesia' just 7 miles away. The group rushed off and found the usual spectacle of thousands of seabirds trailing the trawler, which was minutes away from hauling nets. All four regular albatross species were present - Shy, Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. We stayed with the Freesia for quite a while, picking up Wilson's and European Storm Petrel, Southern and then Northern Giant Petrel, and ample Great Shearwaters.
The feeding frenzy once the nets breached the surface was something to behold, with both seabirds and Cape Fur Seals having a feast. Subantarctic Skua were hanging on the fringes, waiting for a chance to rob another bird. A single Pomarine Skua also flew by, but didn't partake in the action unfolding beneath it. Small numbers of Sabine's Gulls eventually showed as well. The birding highlights at this vessel were at least two Spectacled Petrels, one of which sat nicely on the water for photographs.
The Freesia began to steam south and away, however another trawler was spotted coming towards us. Lunch was taken between waiting for the birds behind the Freesia to subside and then connecting with the newer lot behind the new trawler, the Fuchsia, who was heading towards shore. It was hoped that the boat coming from deeper water would have brought some exciting southern ocean rarities along with it, but this was not to be. However, there was yet another Spectacled Petrel found in this group, as well as a flock of around 120 Sabine's Gulls. The only 'new' bird found behind this trailer was a small group of Arctic Terns.
We headed back to shore very happy with this exceptional experience. The list was formidable for this time of year, and the conditions were absolutely perfect. To add the cherry on top, a single Arctic Skua did a flyby on the return leg, and we successfully found all of the marine cormorant species - Cape, Bank, White-breasted and Crowned Cormorant - between Partridge Point and the harbour. The only other species we could really have hoped to see on this trip were non-avian, as we had pretty much cleaned up on every regular seabird out there!
Species and approximate numbers:
White-chinned Petrel - 3500
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 150
European Storm Petrel - 75
Northern Giant Petrel - 5
Southern Giant Petrel - 10
Spectacled Petrel - 3
Great Shearwater - 300
Sooty Shearwater - 80
Cory's Shearwater - 200
Shy Albatross - 750
Black-browed Albatross - 500
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 50
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 15
Subantarctic Skua - 20
Pomarine Skua - 1
Arctic Skua - 1
Cape Gannet - 1000
Sabine's Gull - 150
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 Andrew de Blocq.
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