Trip Highlights: Leach's Storm Petrel, Spectacled Petrel, four species of albatrosses, four species of cormorants. Three (?) species of whales, Oceanic Sunfish, brief views of Atlantic Blue Shark.
We cast off from the False Bay Yacht Club in beautiful conditions. The birds seen in the harbour basin included common coastal species like African Oystercatcher; Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls, Great Crested Terns and Cape Cormorants. Once clear of the harbour, we set a course for Cape Point, passing several large flotillas of African Penguins resting on the surface, just off of their Boulders beach breeding colony.
As we passed Miller's Point, we encountered Great Crested Terns feeding on small bait fish. They were in turn mobbed by several Parasitic Jaegers, and a single Pomarine Jaeger. The seabirding was quickly forgotten as a nearby whale blow draw our attention to what turned out to be several Bryde's Whales, also feeding on the same shoal of fish. The whales sadly did not spend much time on the surface and we continued south to the Point.
Our arrival at the point was heralded by our first Cape Gannets, as well as our first few pelagic species, including Sooty and Cory's Shearwaters, and the ubiquitous White-chinned Petrels.
News came over the radio of a trawler working near the Cape Canyon, and we set our course accordingly. Our route took us past a small group of Southern Right Whales. This species was traditionally absent from the Cape Coast in summer, but in recent years a few hundred whales have been found to over-summer. This occurrence was last recorded during the period of intense whaling at the start of the 20th century.
With two whale species in hand, we continued out to the trawler. With the vessel in sight, we spotted several Shy/White-capped Albatrosses, the first of four species we would eventually record behind the boat. The long trail of birds included the three other expected albatrosses: Black-browed, Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. In attendance where hundreds more White-chinned Petrels; Great, Cory's and Sooty Shearwaters, and Wilson's and European Storm-Petrels. The standout species was a single Spectacled Petrel, a species that was exceptionally rare in that past, but has become fairly common on recent trips.
While working the stream of birds, we spotted a water-logged storm-petrel struggling on the surface. It was being harassed by several larger species, and it was clearly in great distress. With the aid of a hand-net, I scooped it up and it became readily apparent that it was oiled and would need professional treatment. After drying the shivering bird with a towel, I put it under my water jacket for some much-needed warmth, during its trip back to shore.
The return trip delivered several interesting marine species, beginning with a large Oceanic Sunfish, warming up on the surface. Another species briefly seen on the surface were two Atlantic Blue Sharks. The highlight however was a possible Sei Whale. The identity of the species was never firmly established as the whale dove as we approached but it was significantly larger than a Bryde's Whale.
Once safely back in the calm of False Bay, we enjoyed a light lunch below the cliffs of Cape Point, before stopping at the Bank Cormorant colony at Partridge Point. The nearby rocks also held breeding White-breasted Cormorants, as well as large roosts of Cape Cormorants, and a single Crowned Cormorant. After a quick stop at the Cape Fur Seal haul-out, we made our way back to port.
Leach's Storm Petrel
After our customary chat and completion of the checklist over coffee, I greeted our guests goodbye and took the storm-petrel to the local SANCCOB seabird rescue centre. By this time, the bird had dried out sufficiently, that it became apparent that we had rescued a Leach's Storm Petrel. Less than a dozen pairs breed locally, giving the species a local IUCN conservation status of Critically Endangered. The local population is reportedly joined by non-breeders from the North Hemisphere. The bird was still under treatment at the time of writing, owing to it needing to be made well enough to undergo de-oiling and further rehabilitation to allow it to be released back into the wild.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 75-100
Black-browed Albatross - 50-75
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3-5
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 15-20
Sooty Shearwater - 50-75
Great Shearwater - 15-20
Cory's Shearwater - 250-300
White-chinned Petrel - 500-750
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 15-20
European Storm Petrel - 100-150
Leach's Storm Petrel - 1
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 7-10
Parasitic Jaeger - 5-7
Pomarine Jaeger - 2
Jaeger spp - 15-20
Arctic Tern - 150-200
African Penguin - 75-100 (at sea)
Cape Gannet - abundant (coastal); 15-20 (pelagic)
White-breasted Cormorant - 15 breeding pairs
Cape Cormorant - abundant (coastal)
Crowned Cormorant - 1
Bank Cormorant - 16 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - abundant (coastal); 5-10 (pelagic)
Hartlaub's Gull - 2 (coastal)
Great Crested Tern - abundant (coastal)
Sandwich Tern - 3-5
African (Black) Oystercatcher - 1
Marine mammals / fish species
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal and pelagic)
Southern Right Whale - 5
Bryde's Whale - 3
Sei Whale ? - 1
Oceanic Sunfish - 1
Atlantic Blue Sharks - 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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