Trip Highlights: 3 Albatross species, Southern Giant Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Subantarctic Skua and Humpback Whale.
On Saturday 25 June, a group of birders from England, Sweden and South Africa boarded the Destiny in Simon's Town for yet another Cape Town Pelagic. The Cape Peninsula Mountains were topped with thick cloud but we were in luck as the last few rain drops had fallen about an hour before our departure. There were also big clouds to the east over the Hottentot's Holland Mountains which made for a spectacular sunrise. Along with the Swift Terns and Cape Gannets, we had a few distant Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels before we reached Cape Point. As always, this spectacular landmark demanded a few photographs.
We then pushed out towards the trawling grounds. The sea was rather choppy despite the wind being almost negligible. We enjoyed ever increasingly closer views of the White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters as we proceeded. At about 5 miles we saw our first albatross of the day, a juvenile Shy Albatross. At about 10 miles we started to encounter Antarctic Prions and our first Black-browed Albatross. We could now make out the distinctive shape of a Stern Trawler in the distance and we headed in her direction. On route we encountered Wilson’s Storm Petrel and Subantarctic Skua. We arrived at the Freesia, who was clearly still busy with her first trawl of the day as they were no birds feeding in the wake. They confirmed that they would be brining there net up in about 45 minutes so we decided to drift down the wake and visit a few rafts of birds also awaiting the net to surface. We had great views of all the species mentioned above and also started to pick up Pintado Petrels. We put some fish oil over the side and enjoyed closer views of the Antarctic Prions.
We then ran back up to the Freesia who had been trawling to the north just as she was bringing in her net. Suddenly all the birds in the vicinity that had been patiently waiting were in the attendance and competing for part of the catch. We had good views of Southern Giant Petrel as they dominated the smaller birds for scraps. The Freesia then turned and ran out towards the west with us and the birds in tow. We had a few brief views of Indian Yellow-nose Albatross but not everyone was able to get onto the bird amongst the masses of other birds. We could also make out another trawler further out and decide to go and see if there were any good birds in attendance. We arrived to find that they were not processing any fish. We decided to wait in the vicinity and have lunch while we awaited a third trawler which we could see in the distance heading towards us. We put a bit more oil out and we enjoyed our lunch out in the deep – the sea having become somewhat flatter throughout the morning.
Following our satisfying lunch, we then ran to the third trawler which was only a few miles away by this stage. This trawler was heading to the south so we got in her wake and followed her for a few miles. We worked through the masses of birds in the wake and were eventually rewarded with good views of an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. We were very happy to get good views of this species as it was Stephen Mawby's 70th birthday and this was a lifer for him! Happy Birthday Stephen!
The run back was very smooth as we headed in the same direction of the swell. The highlight was a brief but good view of a single Humpback Whale. The mandatory stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point produced good views of all four southern African marine cormorants. Namely Bank, Crowned, White-breasted and Cape Cormorants.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - c .300
Black-browed Albatross - c. 500
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 5
Pintado Petrel - c.250
White-chinned Petrel - c.1500
Sooty Shearwater - c. 400
Antarctic Prion - c. 100
Wilson’s Storm Petrel - c. 50
Subantarctic Skua - 5
Humpback Whale - 1
Cape Fur Seal - Common
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 Cliff Dorse.
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