It was with some relief that the Cape Town Pelagic was given the green light to run on Saturday the 19th of January. While the predictions were for some rather large swell and uncomfortable chop, the wind was predicted to be minimal. As such, we boarded the Destiny in Simon's Town and were soon running through the picturesque False Bay. In the bay we enjoyed the usual coast birds as well and a single White-chinned Petrel before we got to Cape Point.
After taking in the wonderful scenery of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, we started out towards the trawling grounds. The sea condition predictions were on point and we travelled slowly through the rather uncomfortable sea. We were kept entertained by the numerous White-chinned Petrels, Sooty and Cory's Shearwaters. We detoured a few times to inspect some rafts of birds but these all comprised the three species mentioned above. We also enjoyed a flyby from a Northern Giant Petrel at about five miles from the point. Bird diversity was however rather low and we only encountered our first Albatross, an Indian Yellow-nose, at about 14 miles. Soon afterwards we picked out our first Great Shearwater of the day.
By 18 miles there was still no sign of any fishing vessels in the area. We however continued out towards the area known as the Canyon, ever hopeful. We started to see something on the horizon but it was very hard to make out what type of vessel it was due to the large swell. Eventually we could see enough to confirm that it was indeed a stern-trawler! She was trawling away from us to the south west and it seemed to take forever for us to haul her in as we could not go above 10 knots in the conditions. As we neared the vessel the number and diversity of birds began to increase drastically. We soon added Shy Albatross, European and Wilson's Storm Petrels to the ever growing day list.
The trawler, the Freesia, was not processing any fish and was still busy with her first trawl of the day. There were however many birds scattered around the area awaiting the arrival of the net. We started to work through the area and encountered many Atlantic Yellow-nosed and a few Black-browed Albatross. We also managed to pick out Sabine's Gull, Brown (Subantarctic) Skua and a single Great-winged Petrel which gave all on board very good views. When running back up to the Freesia, we located a single Spectacled Petrel on the water but it soon took to the wing and not everyone got to see it. The Freesia started to retrieve her net and we were treated to the spectacle of the numerous birds and seals vying for some of the catch. We also managed to get on to the Spectacled Petrel again as it flew up the wake and past us, giving all on board a great view. Finally, a single Southern Giant Petrel was located just before we had to start with the long run home.
We were now 27 nautical miles from Cape Point but the trip back was in the same direction as the swell so it was a much more comfortable ride. Just inside False Bay we enjoyed our well-deserved lunch before our mandatory stop at Partridge Point. Here we saw all four South African marine cormorant species, namely; Bank, Crowned, Cape and White-breasted.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - c. 40
Black-browed Albatross - 4
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - c. 20
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5
Great-winged Petrel - 1
White-chinned Petrel - c. 500
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Cory's Shearwater - c. 200
Great Shearwater - 5
Sooty Shearwater - c. 20
European Storm Petrel - c. 100
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c. 10
Brown (Subantarctic) Skua - 3
Sabine's Gull - c. 10
Cape Fur Seal
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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