Trip Highlights: Wandering Albatross, Subantarctic Skua, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Black-bellied Storm Petrel, Arctic Tern, Humpback Whales.
Sunday 9 October saw a bunch of excited birders gathered on the Wharf Street quay in Simon's Town. A very strong south westerly wind had prevented the pelagic running on the Saturday, but it had dropped to below 10 knots overnight. As such, we were soon running through the scenic False Bay while being entertained by the usual array of coastal species and the spectacular scenery. We encountered two fairly distant Humpback Whales which were unfortunately not very friendly!
Shortly after passing Cape Point we saw our first White-chinned Petrels. There were very few Sooty Shearwaters and the first few were rather far off. While the wind had dropped off nicely, there was still a bit of uncomfortable chop from the south westerly and we were running directly into it. As such, the going was rather slow. Bird diversity was low at first, but we soon started to see Great Shearwaters and the occasional Shy Albatross. We puttered out slowly and got word from one of our skipper's fishing friends that there was indeed a trawler out in the deep. As we got closer we could indeed make out the distinctive outline of the stern trawler. In fact we could soon make out a total of five trawlers in the vicinity. As we neared the general area, bird numbers started to increase dramatically. We soon added Black-browed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Pintado Petrel and Wilson's Storm-petrel.
The first two trawlers we encountered were not processing any fish and had few birds in attendance. However, we could clearly see that a trawler to the south, the Ferox, had lots of birds following in her wake. We headed in her direction and spent some time working through the mass of birds, eventually adding both Southern and Northern Giant Petrels as well as Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Finding a Subantarctic Skua proved rather challenging and it was with some effort that we eventually managed to find three individuals during the day. At this stage one of the other trawlers had retrieved her nets and was running to the south to start her next trawl. We intercepted her and while working through the birds in the wake we came across a very large piece of net. As it was a hazard to wildlife and vessels we decided to pull it on board and put it in the fish box. It was a tight squeeze but we managed to get it in eventually. We then returned to the Ferox. This proved to be a great move as we found two brown mottled Wandering Albatross in her wake! They provided great views and allowed close approach down to a few meters. What was interesting is that both birds were in almost the exact same plumage. There is chance that these birds were in fact Tristan Albatross which breed only on Gough Island. However the various plumages are currently insufficiently known and one cannot categorically conclude that they are indeed Tristans.
As we had not encountered any Black-bellied Storm Petrels yet, we decided to drift and put some fish oil out. This proved to be very successful and we managed to bring in a few Wilson's Storm Petrels as well as four individuals of the sought-after Black-bellies! It was now lunch time and we decided to eat in the deep - awaiting yet another trawler which was approaching from the south. Here we did not add anything new to our day list and soon started to head for home.
At about 6 miles from the point, one of the pax, Jeff Divers said that he had just seen a sea snake on the surface! From the description, this was clearly a Yellow-bellied Sea Snake! This is also the only sea snake to be found in South Africa. Sightings are however extremely rare, especially off the Cape! We worked the area for a little while but were unfortunate unable to relocate this very special animal. Well done Jeff!
The mandatory stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point produced good views of Bank, Crowned, White-breasted and Cape Cormorant.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Wandering Albatross - 2
Shy Albatross - c.500
Black-browed Albatross - c.400
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - c. 30
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3
White-chinned Petrel - c.1200
Southern Giant Petrel - 4
Northern Giant Petrel - 5
Pintado Petrel - c. 400
Sooty Shearwater - c.20
Great Shearwater - c. 50
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c.10
Black-bellied Storm Petrel - 4
Subantarctic Skua - 3
Arctic Tern - 1
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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