Trip Highlights: Southern Fulmar, Northern Royal Albatross, four additional species of albatrosses, Humpback Whale and Sunfish.
Our sea-birding started in the basin of the False Bay Yacht Club in Simon's Town. The area held the usual good variety of coastal seabirds like African Oystercatchers, Cape, White-breasted and Crowned Cormorants as well as the ubiquitous Kelp Gull. The trip down the picturesque western coastline of False Bay gave us more good views of the above seabirds, as well as of African Penguins, Cape Gannets and Great Crested Terns. After a brief stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point, we made the short trip down to Cape Point.
At the point, we released five recently rehabilitated Cape Gannets and a juvenile Southern Giant Petrel. With these birds back in the wild, we continued onwards into the open ocean and out to the fishing grounds. The outward journey was initially dominated by large numbers of White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters. Once further away from the coast, the first Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses were sighted. The previous day's storm had brought in large numbers of our two typical winter species: Antarctic Prions and Cape/Pintado Petrels.
At the 22 nautical mile mark, we sighted two hake trawlers trailed by thousands of birds. Within this melee, we had excellent views of four species of albatrosses - Shy, Black-browed and both Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, White-chinned and Cape/Pintado Petrels, Sooty and Great Shearwaters, Antarctic Prions, Wilson's Storm-petrel as well as Cape Gannets, Kelp Gulls, Brown Skuas and Arctic Terns.
Hidden within this constantly moving mass of seabirds, we found two highly prized species. The first was a Southern Fulmar. This species' occurrence off of the Cape coast can be very sporadic. It ranged from being an uncommon annual winter visitor, to being absent for several years. Our second big 'tick' was a handsome Northern Royal Albatross, and our fifth albatross species for the day. The more common of the two Royal species, it is still considered a rarity off the Cape.
Our last good sighting at the trawler was a large Oceanic Sunfish basking on the sea surface.
After a morning of outstanding sea-birding, we reluctantly headed back to the coast. The return trip was punctuated by a young Humpback Whale very close to Cape Point. After watching this whale swim off, we continued into False Bay. After enjoying a much-needed lunch below the towering cliffs at Cape Point, we headed back into port.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Northern Royal Albatross - 1
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 300-400
Black-browed Albatross - 200-300
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3
Northern Giant Petrel - 4-5
Southern Giant Petrel - 3-4
Southern Fulmar - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 750-1000
Great Shearwater - 2
White-chinned Petrel - 1500-2000
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 300-400
Antarctic Prion - 400-500
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 1
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 10-15
Arctic Tern - 2-3
African Penguin - 30-40
Cape Gannet - 400-500
White-breasted Cormorant - 5-7
Cape Cormorant - abundant (coastal)
Crowned Cormorant - 2
Bank Cormorant - 11 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common (coastal)
Great Crested Tern - 20-30
African (Black) Oystercatcher - 2
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal and pelagic)
Humpback Whale - 1
Oceanic Sunfish - 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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