Trip Highlights: FOUR species of albatross, THREE Spectacled Petrels, Pintado Petrel, Great-winged Petrel, Great Shearwater, Wilson's Storm-petrel, four species of cormorants, Bryde's Whale, Humpback Whale, flying fish spp.
Our day of seabirding started in the False Bay Yacht Club basin. The various moored boats and marker buoys played host to some of the Cape's more common coastal species like Cape Cormorants, Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls, and Great Crested Terns.
Our route ran down the western side of False Bay with spectacular views of the majestic Cape Peninsula mountains. The birding within the bay was dominated again by coastal species. The highlight was great views of African Penguins heading out from their breeding colony at Boulders Beach. Other sightings included Cape, Bank and White-breasted Cormorants, Cape Gannets, Great Crested (Swift) and Sandwich Terns, as well as Kelp Gulls. Cape Fur Seals were ever present, with many resting on surface, with their flippers held in the air. Near the southern limit of False Bay, a pair of Parasitic Jaegers made a rapid flyby before disappearing in the swell.
We made our customary photographic stop at Cape Point, with its twin lighthouses, as a few White-chinned Petrels circled the boat. With photos in hand, we traversed an area known as the "Washing Machine", being accompanied by a few flying fish.
Once way from the coast, we slowly made our way out into the open ocean. The trip out to the trawling grounds were dominated by sightings of Cory's and Sooty Shearwaters, and ubiquitous White-chinned Petrels. We also passed streams of Cape Gannets travelling north, back to their breeding colony in Saldanha Bay. The trip also included several more sightings of Parasitic Jaegers, as well as at least two Pomarine Jaegers, following the large numbers of Arctic Terns feeding over deeper water.
As we continued out, large number of Kelp Gulls passed our boat travelling on a bee-line course towards the horizon, which was confirmation that we were on the correct bearing.
We spotted the Freesia, a hake trawler, making this the third weekend in a row that we had found the same vessel. As on the previous trips, it was followed by a long stream of seabirds dominated by White-chinned Petrels. Interspersed amongst them were four species of albatrosses, mainly Shy/White-capped Albatross, with smaller numbers of Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed, and Black-browed Albatross. In keeping with the past few trips, Northern Giant Petrels, were unusually common, with a single confirmed Southern. Similar numbers of European Storm-petrels, and a single Wilson's also followed the trawler. Of interest was a single Brown (Subantarctic) Skua, a species usually seen at trawlers, but not recorded on the previous three trips.
The trawler also attracted a number of seabirds, uncommon at trawlers like Parasitic Jaeger, Arctic Tern, and Sabine's Gull. Our surprises included Cape (Pintado) Petrel (usually only a winter visitor), and a single Great Shearwater, and Great-winged Petrel, respectively.
The undoubted highlight of the trip was THREE different Spectacled Petrels, each with a unique head pattern. Our first sighting was of a bird with typical markings, the second had unusually thin "spectacles", and our final bird, had very extensive white on chin and up the face. These sightings marked the fourth weekend in a row that we had found this very sought-after species.
Having recorded an impressive species list, we sadly had to head back to the coast, but the return trip was by no means boring. Close to the coast, we spotted a young Humpback Whale, covered in large patches of white barnacles. The whale approached our spotted boat before diving away. The other highlight were several "bait balls" of small fish. These in turn attracted large numbers of Cory's and Sooty Shearwaters, Cape Gannets, Arctic Terns, as well as a Bryde's Whale, and numerous Cape Fur Seals.
Once back in the shelter of False Bay we had a much-deserved lunch below the sea-cliffs at Rooikrans.
Our final stop was at Partridge Point, with its breeding colonies of Bank and White-breasted Cormorants. The rocks in the area also had several Crowned, and Cape Cormorants, rounding out the four species of marine cormorants found off of the Cape. The nearby Cape Fur Seal haul-out, was a hive of activity, with several large bulls sitting in prominent positions on the rock.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 75-100
Black-browed Albatross - 5
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 15-20
Northern Giant Petrel - 10-15
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 10-15
Great Shearwater - 1
Cory's Shearwater - 250-300
White-chinned Petrel - 750-1000
Spectacled Petrel - 3
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 1
Great-winged Petrel - 1
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 1
European Storm Petrel - 15-20
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 1
Parasitic Jaeger - 10-15
Pomarine Jaeger - 2
Sabine's Gull - 3
Arctic Tern - 75-100
African Penguin - 15-20
Cape Gannet - common (coastal); 15-20 (pelagic)
White-breasted Cormorant - 34 breeding pairs
Cape Cormorant - abundant (coastal)
Crowned Cormorant - 1
Bank Cormorant - 31 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common (coastal and pelagic);
Hartlaub's Gull - 2
Great Crested Tern - common
Sandwich Tern - common
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal); 15-20 (pelagic)
Humpback Whale - 1
Bryde's Whale - 1
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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