Trip Highlights: Four species of albatrosses, including Northern Royal Albatross, Manx Shearwater, Soft-plumaged Petrel.
Our two boats headed out of Simon's Town harbour, and travelled south towards Cape Point. The calm waters of False Bay were busy with a variety of coastal seabirds, including African Penguins, Cape Gannets, Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls, and Great Crested (Swift) Terns. As we approached the southern edge of the bay, the first pelagic species Sooty Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel and Brown Skua were seen.
After getting a few photos of the twin lighthouses at Cape Point, we set course for the Cape Canyon, an area popular with commercial hake trawlers. The first few nautical miles of ocean were dominated by White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters, with the occasional Shy Albatross. The leading boat got a very brief glimpse of a Manx Shearwater.
On arrival at the fishing grounds, we initially found no active fishing vessels. While waiting for a target to appear on the radar, we put down some fish oil to draw in any nearby birds. The slick ended up drawing in several albatross species - Shy, Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed as well as both Southern and Northern Giant-petrels, White-chinned and Cape (Pintado) Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, good numbers of Wilson’s Storm-petrels as well as a single Arctic Tern.
A trawler finally made an appearance and we headed over to enjoy the thousands of amassed seabirds that make Cape Pelagics so unique. The trawler attracted, in addition to the species listed above: Brown Skuas, Cape Gannets, Kelp Gulls and a single Soft-plumaged Petrel. The undisputed highlight was a single Northern Royal Albatross which closely approached both of our boats before disappearing into the masses of swirling seabirds.
With the trawler quickly moving further offshore, we turned back to the coast, and a tasty lunch on the boat in the shelter of False Bay. After being suitably refuelled, we proceeded north, making a quick stop at the Bank Cormorant colony and Cape Fur Seal haul-out at Partridge Point.
Just before entering port, we spotted several more groups of African Penguins swimming offshore of their colony at Boulders Beach.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
African Penguin - 30-40
Northern Royal Albatross - 1
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 150-200
Black-browed Albatross - 100-150
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 4
Northern Giant Petrel - 2
Southern Giant Petrel - 5
Sooty Shearwater - 600-700
Manx Shearwater - 1
White-chinned Petrel - 1000-1500
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 40-50
Soft-plumaged Petrel - 1
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 40-50
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 25-30
Arctic Tern - 1
African Penguin - 30-40
Cape Gannet - Common (coastal and pelagic)
White-breasted Cormorant - 25-30
Cape Cormorant - abundant
Crowned Cormorant - 5
Bank Cormorant - 30 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common (coastal and pelagic)
Hartlaub's Gull - 1
Great Crested Tern - 10
African (Black) Oystercatcher - 1
Cape Fur Seal – abundant (coastal and pelagic)
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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