Trip Highlights: 5 Albatross species including a Southern Royal, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Subantarctic Skua, Humpback Whale.
Despite a week of windy weather, a group of eager pelagic first timers joined Cape Town Pelagics guide Nick Fordyce on board a trip departing from Simon's Town for a day at sea in search of sea birds and mammals.
With a couple of trawlers known to be operating south west of Cape Point the group made quick initial progress. A quick stop at Cape Point provided the passengers with an opportunity to take some iconic pictures in the beautiful morning light. As usual good numbers of Cape and White-breasted Cormorants were seen in the area. Not far beyond the point there was quite a lot of bird activity with Cape Gannets, Kelp Gulls and Swift Terns present. The first pelagic birds were also spotted with really good numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels on display. The former provided particularly good viewing on the starboard side of the boat as the light repeatedly caught their characteristic silvery flashes on their underwings.
Around half an hour later we got sight of a trawling vessel and it was with little surprise that the first albatrosses of the day were seen. First a single Shy Albatross appeared. Shortly thereafter an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross flew close by. All the while the White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters became more numerous.
Following in the wake of a processing trawler is always a rewarding and amazing experience and this was once again the case. We reached the trawler shortly before it pulled up its nets and when it did it was quite a spectacle. Cape Fur Seals, easily in excess of forty individuals, were seen pursuing the net and pulling fish out of it. Huge numbers of birds were also present with a great range of different aged Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses on view. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross were also present although, admittedly, they were less numerous and probably only 6 or so individuals were in the area. Nonetheless a couple of them were seen on the water, close to the boat. One of the passengers favourite birds of the day were the robust Subantarctic Skuas which were relentlessly stealing bits of fish from, in particular, the hardworking Shearwaters. Pintado Petrels also made an appearance, although they were somewhat late to the party. Even larger to the party were both species of Giant Petrel. A Northern Giant Petrel was first to be spotted and then later a couple of Southern Giant Petrels. The group got good views of both species and were able to see how one distinguishes between the two.
The highlight of the day though, amongst all of the beautiful birds, big and small, was a Southern Royal Albatross which made a couple of fly-bys past the boat. It may be that there were actually two individuals present although this has subsequently proven difficult to confirm, nonetheless at least one individual was in the area and was seen by all on board and by the other Cape Town Pelagics boat. Seeing one of the 'white backs' is always a humbling experience - especially when one sees them dwarf the other albatrosses which, up until that moment, seemed absolutely massive.
Eventually the group had to head back towards the harbour at Simon's Town. On the way back in a number of additional coastal species were seen including Bank and Crowned Cormorants, African Oystercatcher and around 50 African Penguins not far from the Boulders Beach colony. Sitting out on the water, enjoying the scenery, the group was treated to another assortment of (now famous?) delicious sandwiches made by Alan's wife. In the end, it was another great, albeit somewhat bumpy, day out at sea!
Species seen at sea and approximate numbers:
1. Shy Albatross - 150
2. Black Browed Albatross - 60
3. Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2
4. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 4
5. Southern Royal Albatross - 1
6. Southern Giant Petrel - 3
7. Northern Giant Petrel - 2
8. White Chinned Petrel - 1500
9. Pintado Petrel - 30
10. Sooty Shearwater - 300
11. Subantarctic Skua - 10
12. Kelp Gull - 45
Species seen near the coast:
1. Cape Cormorant - 200
2. White Breasted Cormorant - 40
3. Bank Cormorant - 20
4. African Penguin - 40
5. African Black Oystercatcher - 4
6. Swift Tern - 10
7. Kelp Gull - 25
8. Hartlaub's Gull - 5
9. Cape Gannet - 35
10. Sooty Shearwater - 2
11. White Chinned Petrel - 4
1. Cape Fur Seal
2. Humpback Whale
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 Nick Fordyce.
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