Trip Highlights: Light-mantled Albatross, Spectacled Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Black-bellied Storm Petrel, Sabine's Gull and Cape (Pintado) Petrel.
The trip started with the customary welcome and briefing for the day's trip. As we cruised out of Simon's Town harbour, we passed roosts of Cape and White-breasted Cormorants, as well as several Hartlaub's and Kelp Gulls.
As we made the wide turn south, we passed the world-famous Boulder Beach African Penguin colony. There were good numbers of penguins on the beach, and we passed several groups heading out to feed.
The trip down along the western shore of False Bay was fairly quiet, but this changed once we passed Cape Point. A large group of small shoaling fish had attracted masses of hungry seabirds. The most numerous were the resident Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants and Great Crested Terns. Not far behind in quantity were large numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and moving within this melee were several Common Terns, White-chinned Petrels, Great Shearwaters and a single Manx Shearwater.
Once away from the coast, we encountered the first eagerly anticipated Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses.
At the 17 nautical mile mark, we located two working hake trawlers. As they were not yet bringing in their nets, the number of seabirds was relatively small. The area around the trawlers were busy with local weekend fishermen trying to catch tuna. The oil slicks they had put down, had however attracted a wide variety of new species. These included Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm Petrels, both Southern and Northern Giant Petrels and a pair of Cape (Pintado) Petrels. The area also held several large flocks of Great Shearwaters waiting on the water for the trawlers to start processing their catch. While we were waiting we added Brown (Subantarctic) Skua, Arctic Tern and Sabine's Gull to the trip list.
The trawlers began hauling their nets around mid-morning and the number of birds increased exponentially. We quickly found both Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses amidst the masses of Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses. As the number of birds swelled, we were able to witness the incredible spectacle of thousands of seabirds in a feeding frenzy behind an active trawler - a scene that makes Cape pelagics world famous.
Having found all the expected species, we scanned the masses of White-chinned Petrels finding a Flesh-footed Shearwater which had come down the east coast with the warm Agulhas Current.
Further intense searches yielded the very sought-after Spectacled Petrel. As it flew off we chased after this rarity. As we tried to relocate the bird, we found an even bigger prize: a juvenile LIGHT-MANTLED ALBATROSS sitting on the water. Both this and closely related Sooty Albatross are very rare vagrant to South Africa, and this bird represented the 22nd record for southern Africa. The bird slowly swam away and took off when we tried to get closer. We were fortunately able to relocate it as we started the return trip, but it again flew off. A few minutes after leaving this mega, we were treated to further excitement with a breaching Humpback Whale.
Once back in False Bay, we enjoyed a light lunch below the spectacular cliffs of Cape Point. As we sat eating, we were entertained by a Humpback Whale mother and calf swimming past our boat.
The final stop of the trip was the cormorant colonies at Partridge Point. The large granite outcrops held nearly two dozen active Bank Cormorant nests, along with nearly equal numbers of active White-breasted Cormorant nests. We moved over to the nearby Cape Fur Seal haul-out, finding a pair of roosting Crowned Cormorants as well.
With an excellent trip list in hand, we returned to Simon's Town harbour.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Light-mantled Albatross - 1
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 15-20
Black-browed Albatross - 10-15
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 5-7
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3-5
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
Southern Giant Petrel - 3
Sooty Shearwater - 20-30
Great Shearwater - 500-1000
Flesh-footed Shearwater - 1
Manx Shearwater - 1
White-chinned Petrel - 500-600
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 2
Black-bellied Storm Petrel - 2-3
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 5-10
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua
African Penguin - 40-50
Cape Gannet - Common (coastal), 5 (pelagic)
White-breasted Cormorant - 13 breeding pairs
Cape Cormorant - abundant (coastal)
Crowned Cormorant - 2
Bank Cormorant - 18 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common (coastal and pelagic)
Hartlaub's Gull - 15-20
Great Crested Tern - common (coastal)
Common Tern - common (coastal)
Arctic Tern - 1-2
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal and pelagic)
Humpback Whale - 3
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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