Trip Highlights: 5 Albatross species including a Southern Royal, Sooty Shearwater, Subantarctic Skua, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Humpback Whale.
Southern Royal Albatross
A very strong south-easter had blown all day Saturday and it was with some relief that it abated in the early hours of Sunday morning. This allowed two Cape Town Pelagic trips to run out of Simon's Town shortly after sunrise on Sunday 4 September with a large group of excited birders on board the two boats.
False Bay and the picturesque Peninsula Mountain Chain were as spectacular as ever in the early morning light. The sea however was still fairly choppy, residue from the recent strong south-easterly. After taking in the outstanding views of the iconic Cape Point we headed out in a south westerly direction to the trawling grounds.
Shortly after the point we started seeing our first Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels. We also made a slight detour to investigate some whale activity. They turned out to be two Humpback Whales. A Subantarctic Skua came to investigate us only to leave in apparent disgust after finding that we were not fisherman and could provide no titbits. It was only at about 10 miles when we encountered our first Shy Albatross of the day. The south-easterly wind was still rather strong out in the deep but we were lucky to make out a stern trawler in the distance.
As we got closer to the fishing vessel we added Black-backed Albatross and Pintado Petrel. It was apparent that the vessel, the Freesia, was still busy with her first trawl of the day and not processing any fish. However, there were very good numbers of birds in the vicinity all waiting for the net to be retrieved. We worked through the birds, enjoying especially great views of the adult and immature Shy and Black-browed Albatross. When the Freesia began to retrieve her net the birds started to concentration in anticipation of what was to come. As the net arrived on the surface pandemonium erupted!
Cape Fur Seals help themselves to fish off the trawling nets.
There were many Cape Fur Seals in the vicinity with one particularly brazen individual sitting on top of the net and pulling fish after fish out through the netting. Once the net was on board, the vessel then turned to the south and ran for a short distance before resetting her net. We followed in the wake working through the masses of birds and managed to pick out Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels. Much excitement ensued when a juvenile Southern Royal Albatross flew through the mass of birds. In the end it made several fly-bys and all on board were able to get good views. Always a thrill to see one of the "great" albatross!
Northern Giant Petrel and a White-chinned Petrel
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
The wind had still not abated and we had to start heading for home. It was at this very last moment when we managed to locate our only Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross of the day. The most notable feature of the day however was the complete lack of any Wilson's Storm Petrels. This is highly unusual and none of the three pelagic trips on the day saw any at all!
The run back was uneventful except for another brief encounter with two Humpback Whales just before Cape Point. The mandatory stop at the Partridge Point cormorant colony produced good views of all four South African marine cormorant species, namely; Bank, Cape, White-breasted and Crowned.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Southern Royal Albatross - 1
Shy Albatross - c. 250
Black-browed Albatross - c. 80
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Northern Giant Petrel - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 3
Pintado Petrel - c. 40
White-chinned Petrel - c.1500
Sooty Shearwater - c.200
Subantarctic Skua - c.15
Humback Whale - 4
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 Cliff Dorse.
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