Trip Highlights: Five species of Albatrosses, including Salvin's Albatross, Black-bellied Storm-petrel, Oceanic Sunfish, Mako Shark, Humpback Whale.
We began adding to our trip list before we even got on the boat, with Grey-headed, Hartlaub's and Kelp Gulls roosting on the pier, and a few Cape and Crowned Cormorants feeding in the harbour, and White-breasted Cormorants roosting on the edge of the yacht basin.
Once out of the harbour and after having made a turn to the south, we spotted a few groups of African Penguins offshore of the nearby Boulders Beach penguin colony. The rest of the trip towards Cape Point was fairly quiet, apart from the occasional Cape Gannet and Great Crested Tern.
The seas around the Point itself were busy with good numbers of White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters. After checking out with the safety station, we turned for the open ocean. The first few miles gave us more sightings of the above species, as well as several Great Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm-petrels, and our first Shy Albatrosses. A few minutes later, a small group of seabirds was sighted scavenging for scraps from a feeding Cape Fur Seal. Amongst the albatrosses was a recently fledged Black-browed Albatross. This bird looked potentially like a juvenile Grey-headed, but a later review of our photos ruled this out.
Our skipper got a fix on a domestic long-liner 20 nautical miles from shore and we headed out to its position. As we got closer, the numbers and diversity of birds quickly increased. In rapid succession, we added Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Cape/Pintado Petrels, Cory's Shearwater and Brown Skua to the list. There were also frustratingly brief and distant glimpses of a single Spectacled Petrel. However, spotting an Antarctic Prion, a European Storm-petrel, and trio of Black-bellied Storm-Petrels added three more species to our growing list. We also enjoyed a good sized Oceanic Sunfish, swimming amongst the birds.
We systematically worked our way up the long trail of birds towards the fishing vessel. A very large, dark headed albatross stood out amongst the abundant lighter plumaged Shy Albatrosses. As we got close it was revealed to be an adult SALVIN'S ALBATROSS. This "mega" species is an exceptionally rare vagrant to Southern Africa. We were not disappointed as it stayed relatively close to our boat, allowing excellent views and the chance for good photos. We excitedly glimpsed the bird a few more times as it made it way along the trail of birds.
With an unbeatable seabird on the list, and having had a fantastic morning of sea-birding, we had to reluctantly return to the coast. The trip back was fairly quiet apart from a breaching Mako Shark, appearing a brief but characteristic splash on an otherwise calm ocean.
Once safely back in False Bay, we headed to the Bank Cormorant colony, and Cape Fur Seal haul-out at Partridge Point. The area offered the unique opportunity to see four species of cormorant (Cape, White-breasted, Crowned and Bank Cormorant) in close proximity.
Closer to Simon's Town we spotted two Humpback Whales, a juvenile off of Miller's Point, and an adult outside of the harbour. The species is currently on their migration, and made a fitting addition to an outstanding trip.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 75-100
Black-browed Albatross - 50-75
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 7-10
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
SALVIN'S ALBATROSS - 1
Northern Giant Petrel - 2
Southern Giant Petrel - 3
Sooty Shearwater - 200-250
Great Shearwater - 100-150
Cory's Shearwater - 3
White-chinned Petrel - 750-1000
Spectacled Petrel - 1 (guide only)
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 5-7
Antarctic Prion - 1
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 75-100
European Storm Petrel - 1
Black-bellied Storm Petrel - 3
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 7-10
African Penguin - 50-60 (at sea)
Cape Gannet - 200-250
White-breasted Cormorant - 12 breeding pairs
Cape Cormorant - abundant (coastal)
Crowned Cormorant - 6
Bank Cormorant - 8 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common (coastal)
Hartlaub's Gull - 5
Grey-headed Gull - 1
Great Crested Tern - 10-15
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal and pelagic)
Humpback Whale - 2
Oceanic Sunfish - 1
Mako Shark - 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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