Trip Highlights: Four species of albatross, Spectacled Petrel, Antarctic Prions, Pintado Petrels and Whales.
We departed Simon's Town as dawn was breaking over False Bay. Our travel south along the western edge of the bay gave plenty of excellent sightings of typical coastal species. These included Cape and White-breasted (Great) Cormorants, Cape Gannets, Kelp Gulls and Great Crested (Swift) Terns. A few Cape (Brown) Fur Seals were seen resting on the surface, raising their flippers in the air to warm up. Close to Cape Point, we got our first sightings of the more common pelagic seabird species like White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skuas.
After a stop at Cape Point to check out with the local safety station, we headed south-west into deeper waters. Within a few miles of the coast, we had gotten views of three species of albatross: Shy, Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. They would along with shearwaters and petrels be constant companions out to the two trawlers, 17 nautical miles off of "The Point". The closest trawler had the usual trailing frenzy of seabirds, included a fourth species of albatross: Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, and small numbers of beautifully marked Pintado (Cape) Petrels. This, all in addition to large numbers of White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Cape Gannets, Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skuas and the occasional Cape Fur Seal.
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
Within a few minutes of our arrival, we spotted within the masses on "White-chins", a single Spectacled Petrel. This highly sought-after seabird was within a few metres of our vessel. Close enough to see the eponymous spectacles and the diagnostic dark bill tip. Another highlight hiding amongst the mass of seabirds were several Antarctic Prions, a winter visitor to Southern African waters. As the first trawler slowly steamed towards the south, we headed towards the second trawler. It trailed the same species, with the addition of several Northern Giant Petrels, with a possible Southern Giant Petrel making a quick flyby. At midday we headed back to the coast in advance of the forecast afternoon gales.
Northern Giant Petrel
On our trip back, we added Cory's Shearwater and Arctic Tern to the trip list. Closer inshore there were a pair of distant whale blows but we unable to relocate them. Once back in False Bay, it was time for a quick bite of lunch. A single adult African Penguin approached the boat before swimming off.
Our customary stop at the Partridge Point, delivered three species of cormorant - Cape, White-breasted (breeding) and Bank Cormorant (breeding). The Cape Fur Seals were on their regular rock but we could not get too close due the presence of a strong surge in the area. The final two additions to the trip list were African Oystercatchers and Hartlaub's Gulls roosting on the floats in the yacht basin.
The endangered Bank Cormorant is one of four species of marine cormorant resident along the Western Coast.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Brown Skua - 5-10
Shy (White-capped) Albatross - 150-200
Black-browed Albatross - 200-250
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 10-15
Southern Giant Petrel - 1(?)
Northern Giant Petrel - 4-6
Pintado Petrel - 100-150
Antarctic Prion - 4-6
White-chinned Petrel - 1500-2000
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Cory's Shearwater - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 1000-1500
African Oystercatcher - 2
Kelp Gull - common (coastal)
Hartlaub's Gull - 2
Great Crested Tern - 5-10
Arctic Tern - 1
Cape Gannet - 50-60
White-breasted Cormorant - 15-20
Bank Cormorant - 15-20
Cape Cormorant - abundant (coastal)
African Penguin - 1 (at sea); abundant (onshore at Boulders)
Cape Fur Seal - abundant
Whale (species unknown) - 2
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 Vincent Ward.
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