Trip Highlights: 6 albatross species including Northern AND Southern Royal Albatross, Spectacled Petrel, both Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, all 4 species coastal cormorant, Humpback and Bryde's Whales.
After a sudden unexpected prediction of strong winds on Saturday was forecast late in the week, we were delighted to be at the Yacht Club in Simon's Town on Saturday morning. The predicted wind speeds in the deep had been rationalised down to single figures and the trip was on! As such birders from South Africa, Spain, Germany, England, France and French Guiana boarded the Destiny and were soon racing through False Bay. There was no wind to speak of in the picturesque False Bay and we were soon enjoying the iconic Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope landmarks.
We then started for the trawling grounds and were getting ever increasingly better views of Sooty Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel. At about 6 miles, we encountered our first Shy Albatross. These three species dominated the run out but at about 17 miles we hit a significant fog bank. We continued out but were not able to see more than half a mile in any direction. Near the tip of the Canyon, a submarine landmark that denotes the beginning of the steep drop-off between the continental shelf and the oceanic waters, we stopped and decided to chum. We put out some fish oil at regular intervals and worked five kilograms of pilchards into a delightful paste. We slowly cast this out. The result was an impressive chum slick. The birds however, were slow to take advantage of our generosity. After a while our first few White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters came to investigate. We then had an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross which hung around for some time. A small party of Pintado (Cape) Petrels was a welcome addition.
We stretched the chumming out for over an hour and were rewarded with several Wilson's Storm Petrel, an adult Northern Giant Petrel and a Brown (Subantarctic) Skua. We then drifted in the slick enjoying repeat views of all of the species listed above. The mist had started to lift and the birds were bathed in lovely warm light. Suddenly a large albatross was noticed coming towards us from the west. It was a Northern Royal Albatross! It made two passes down the chum slick giving good views before disappearing. This was only the second time we had managed to chum in a royal albatross! We also had a juvenile Southern Giant Petrel and a few Black-browed Albatross. We decided to eat our great lunch out in the deep. We had just finished eating and were packing up and considering making the run back to False Bay when the distinctive outline of a trawler was picked up about 8 miles to our south west. Although late in the day, we decided to make the run up to the trawler, the Umlobi. On route we briefly encountered the only Antarctic Prion of the day.
As we approached the Umlobi we were delighted to see that the she had just commence with the retrieving of her nets. What perfect timing - the area was packed with birds awaiting the arrival of the bounty at the surface. We started working through the mass of birds and soon encountered at least two different Northern Royal Albatross! After the net had been retrieved we followed in the wake of the Umlobi as she repositioned in order to commence another trawl. We managed to find a spectacular juvenile Southern Royal Albatross sitting fairly close to another Northern Royal Albatross! We enjoyed prolonged views of both of these birds at close quarters. We had many more views of royal albatross, at one point having three Northerns together on the water. As such, there was a minimum of three Northern and one Southern Royal Albatross behind the trawler. We also managed to pick out a single Spectacled Petrel both in flight and then sitting on the water alongside the Destiny. Finally, we added our sixth albatross for the day, an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albattoss.
We were now quite far from Cape Point (about 30 nautical miles) and it was rather late in the day. As such we had to begin with the long run back. The Destiny sped along at 25 knots making the journey feel much shorter that it was. Additional distractions of a few Humpback Whales also broke the return journey.
The mandatory stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point produced good views of Bank, Crowned Cape and White-breasted Cormorant. We also briefly encountered a Bryde's Whale in the bay.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Northern Royal Albatross - 3 (probably 4)
Southern Royal Albatross - 1
Shy Albatross - c.500
Black-browed Albatross - c.300
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - c. 5
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - c.50
White-chinned Petrel - c.1500
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 5
Northern Giant Petrel - 5
Antarctic Prion - 1
Sooty Shearwater - c.100
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c.30
Brown (Subantarctic) Skua - c.25
Arctic Tern - 1
Humback Whale - 5
Bryde's Whale - 1
Cape Fur Seal - Common
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.
To book, simply email
or phone us, or submit a
booking enquiry online.