Trip Highlights: four species of albatrosses, four species of cormorants, Parasitic Jaeger, Long-tailed Jaeger, Great Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, Oceanic Sunfish, Blue-finned Tuna, Bryde's and Humpback Whales.
We started our sea-birding in Simon's Town Harbour. The moored boats and buoys provided roosts for a host of coastal species, such as Crowned, Cape and White-breasted Cormorant, Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls, Sandwich and Great Crested Terns, and African Oystercatchers. The trip down the western edge of False Bay was very quiet as we encountered a thick fog bank, a consequence of the very hot days preceding this trip.
Once out of the bay, and into the open ocean, the conditions thankfully cleared. The trip out to the fishing grounds were marked by good sightings of our more common pelagic species, such as White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and several Shy Albatrosses. The relative cold conditions gave an opportunity to enjoy a large Oceanic Sunfish, warming itself on the surface.
Close to the tip of the submarine Cape Canyon, we encountered a massive feeding frenzy. An abundance of "bait fish" attracted large numbers of Cape Gannets, Common and Arctic Terns, Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers, Kelp Gulls, Sooty and Great Shearwaters, Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatrosses, both European and Wilson's Storm-petrels. These seabirds, were joined by numerous hungry Blue-finned Tuna and Cape Fur Seals, and a single Bryde's Whale.
After this very welcome distraction, we finally arrived at a trawler fishing 23 nautical miles offshore. The vessels had attracted several hundred seabirds. The kilometre long stream of birds included four species of albatrosses: Shy, Black-browed, Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Northern Giant Petrels, Wilson and European Storm-petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, White-chinned Petrels, Cape Gannets and Kelp Gulls, along with several Cape Fur Seals. An unexpected visitor was a nearby single juvenile Humpback Whale, resting on the surface. After a few flipper slaps and tail raises, it moved off and disappeared in the swell.
As the expected afternoon winds picked up, we turned back to the coast. The trip back delivered a large flock of Sabine's Gulls newly returned from their high Arctic breeding grounds. We were easily able to spot them from a distance by their diagnostic tricolour upperwing markings.
Once back in False Bay, we stopped to have a quick lunch. This was happily accompanied by views of a flock of White Storks, circling over the cliffs of Cape Point before flying off over the bay.
After being well fed, we headed north, visiting the Bank and White-breasted Cormorant colonies at Partridge Point. Their breeding rocks were also used by roosting Cape and Crowned Cormorants, allowing us to see four cormorant species at once. We also made a quick swing past the nearby Cape Fur Seal haul-out, before heading back to Simon's Town. The final leg of the trip was punctuated by several feeding groups of African Penguins swimming on the surface.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 50-75
Black-browed Albatross - 10-15
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5-7
Northern Giant Petrel - 2
Giant Petrel spp - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 400-500
Great Shearwater - 1
White-chinned Petrel - 500-600
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 20-30
European Storm Petrel - 40-50
Parasitic Jaeger - 2
Long-tailed Jaeger - 2
Sabine's Gull - 60-70
African Penguin - 100-150 (at sea)
Cape Gannet - common (coastal); 150-200 (pelagic)
White-breasted Cormorant - 20 breeding pairs
Cape Cormorant - abundant
Crowned Cormorant - 3
Bank Cormorant - 30 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common
Hartlaub's Gull - common
Great Crested Tern - common
Common Tern - 150-200
Arctic Tern - 50-60
Sandwich Tern - 2
African (Black) Oystercatcher - 3
Cape Fur Seal - abundant
Humpback Whale - 1
Bryde's Whale - 1
Oceanic Sunfish - 1
Bluefin Tuna - abundant
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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