Strong south-easterly winds had prevented the trip going on Saturday so we were all relived when we boarded the Destiny in the picturesque Simon's Town Harbour on Sunday 14 January. False Bay was beautifully flat and we raced along at good pace soaking up the early morning sunlight and the spectacular scenery. Just after Cape Point we noticed a tight group of about 15 Dusky Dolphins. They were clearly feeding on bait fish and they kept working a relatively small area. We spent some time enjoying great views of these small dolphins before turning and continuing our run out towards the deep.
As we continued towards the trawling grounds we soon added our first White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters of the day. We also started seeing the occasional Sabine's Gull amongst the Swift and Common Terns. After about 8 miles from the point we also started seeing Cory's Shearwaters. There was clearly a lot of baitfish about as there were loads of birds, mostly sitting on the water. We got news of two long liners at about 18 miles from the point and we headed on their direction. We arrived to find one was already bringing in her line and processing the fish. There were however surprisingly few birds in the vicinity and we decided to go and investigate the second long liner which was about another mile off. This boat was not fishing when we arrived so we decided to put some chum out. Only a handful of birds were tempted by the wonderful concoction of fish oil and pilchards that we put on offer. As such we decided to head to the point of the Canyon, and an area of deeper water. At about 20 miles from the point we noticed a fairly strong blow from a rorqual whale. It appeared to be a sizable animal with a fairly large and erect dorsal fin. Also significant was the fact that the animal showed no evidence of scarring from cookie-cutter sharks. This highly distinctive scaring is a feature of many offshore whales. It is caused when the cookie-cutter sharks take ice-cream-scoop-like bites out of the flesh and blubber of their large prey with their bizarre mouths and teeth. The animal was either a Sei Whale or Bryde's whale from the larger offshore population. The two species are easily told apart by looking at the tops of their heads - unfortunate this is not an easy feature to see in the field! Most offshore Bryde's have lots of cookie-cutter shark scarring which this animal did not have. However the colour was rather uniform dark and lacked any obvious chevron which is not ideal for Sei. Some local cetacean experts have already weighed in but there is no clear consensus. While the guide is fairly confident that the animal was indeed a Sei, we will try and get some additional input but it is possible that this animal may have to remain as unidentified...
We then turned our attention back to the birds and enjoyed a close European Storm Petrel and eventually had our first Albatross of the day, an immature Indian Yellow-nosed. We were considering whether we should head back when one of our skipper's fishing associates, gave him a call to say that he had located a trawler. We immediately headed in her direction. We arrive at the Stevia and were soon working through the good numbers of birds. We quickly added Shy, Black-browed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. We also managed a few Subantarctic Skuas, a Southern Giant Petrel and a Great Shearwater. There were good numbers of European Storm Petrels with much fewer Wilson/s scattered in between.
We enjoyed a great lunch in the deep before deciding that it was time to make the long run home. The run back was punctuated by a good but brief view of a Parasitic Jaeger and a fairly unfriendly Humpbacked Whale.
In False Bay the mandatory stop at Partridge Point produced Bank, Cape and White-breasted Cormorants.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - c.10
Black-browed Albatross - 3
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - c. 15
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
White-chinned Petrel - c. 250
Cory's Shearwater - c. 150
Great Shearwater - 1
Sooty Shearwater - c. 40
European Storm Petrel - c. 30
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 5
Arctic Jaeger - 1
Subantarctic Skua - 5
Sabine's Gull - c. 50
African Black Oystercatcher
Dusky Dolphin - c.20
Humpback Whale - 1
Possible Sei 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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