Trip Highlights: Northern Royal Albatross, Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Pintado Petrel, Arctic Tern, Great Shearwater, Common and Dusky Dolphins.
Northern Royal Albatross
On Sunday 14 May, a group of excited birders gathered on the quayside in Simon's Town for another Cape Town Pelagic trip. We made our way out of the harbour just as the sun was starting to rise over the Hottentot's Holland Mountains in the east. After a few miles we noticed some dolphin activity towards the middle of the bay and we detoured to go and investigate. It was well worth the effort as we were soon in the middle of over a 1000 actively feeding Common Dolphins. They gave great close views in spectacular early morning golden light. There were also Cape Gannets, Swift Terns, Kelp Gulls, White-chinned Petrels and a solitary Subantarctic Skua feeding with the dolphins. We then continued on to Cape Point and after the obligatory photos of this iconic landmark we started to head out to the deep.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
Shortly after the point we started to see plenty more White-chinned Petrels and some Sooty Shearwaters. At about 6 miles, a very curious group of Dusky Dolphins came and inspected us. As we progressed further, out we soon encountered our first Great Shearwater, Shy Albatross and Wilson's Storm Petrel of the day. We could see a trawler in the distance and we headed in her direction. As we neared the vessel we could see that she had just retrieved her nets and was running at pace to the south. There were masses of birds in attendance including Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross as well as a few early arrival Pintado Petrels. We followed in her wake for a while, but decided to rather continue out towards a second trawler we could see operating to the west.
As we arrived at the stern trawler she changed course and steamed off to reset her nets. There were literally thousands of birds in attendance and we followed in the wake trying to pick out additional species. We were rewarded with a few Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and a solitary Arctic Tern in very nice breeding plumage. While working through the masses of bird we suddenly spotted the large frame of one of the great albatrosses sitting on the water and squabbling for fish. It allowed close approach and all on board were treated to great views of a beautiful Northern Royal Albatross.
Northern Royal Albatross
We decided to run to the south towards a third trawler as there appeared to be good numbers of birds in her wake. However it was fairly slow going due to the somewhat large swell and strong wind which was completely unpredicted and very surprising. On arrival we spent some time in her wake. A second Northern Royal flew past, but we lost sight of it and were unable to relocate the albatross in amongst the masses of birds in the vicinity. We drifted for some time down the wake and started going through the hundreds of storm petrels that were moving through. The vast majority were Wilson's, but we were eventually rewarded with views of three European Storm Petrels. Here we had yet another flyby from a Northern Royal, however this bird may have been the same individual as the one we first encountered.
We were now about 28 miles from the point and it was still rather rough so we decided to eat lunch in the comfort of False Bay. At about 20 miles from the point the swell and wind suddenly subsided and the conditions were wonderful. Our run back to Cape Point was highlighted by another encounter with a pod of Dusky Dolphins, very possibly the same animals we enjoyed on the way out.
The mandatory stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point produced good views of Bank, Cape and White-breasted Cormorant. We managed to find the last of South Africa's marine cormorants, Crowned Cormorant, resting on a yacht in Simon's Town.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Northern Royal Albatross - 2
Shy Albatross - c. 300
Black-browed Albatross - c. 600
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - c. 200
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5
Pintado Petrel - c.10
White-chinned Petrel - c.600
Sooty Shearwater - c.200
Great Shearwater - c. 50
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c.500
European Storm Petrel - 3
Subantarctic Skua - c.30
Arctic Tern - 1
Common Dolphin c. 1000+
Dusky Dolphin c. 20
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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