Trip Highlights: Five species of albatross including Northern Royal Albatross, large numbers of both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Cape (Pintado) Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Brown Skua
We met at the False Bay Yacht Club just before dawn and after the welcome and briefing, we set out to sea. Despite the very thick fog, we were able to pick up a good selection of typical coastal species en-route to Cape Point. These included African Penguin, Cape and White-breasted Cormorant, Kelp and Hartlaub's Gull, Cape Gannet and Great Crested (Swift) Tern.
The trip down to the Point was very quick and once out of the bay, the first of the day's Giant Petrels, White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters made close approaches to our vessel. A few miles further out, the first Shy Albatross made a brief appearance before blending back into the thick fog. We were treated to very brief sightings of a pair of young Humpback Whales as well as a species of small roqual whale, which was probably a Bryde's Whale. The fog bank persisted for at least 25 nautical miles from the coast, before we caught the first patches of blue sky.
At 35 nautical miles, we intercepted with Umlobi, a domestic hake trawler. It appeared to have recently hauled its net, as it was busily processing its most recent catch. The abundance of fish discards however attracted large volumes of seabirds. The slick of seabirds following the trawler was several kilometres long, comprising ten species of "tubenose". As we worked our way through these accumulation of birds, we recorded four species of albatross - Shy, Black-browed, Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross; very good numbers of Northern and Southern Giant Petrels; White-chinned and Cape (Pintado) Petrels, Antarctic Prion and Wilson's Storm Petrel. One of the "Wilson's" showed bold and distinctive white underwing flashes, and extensive white flanks which almost met on the belly, recalling a Fuegian/chilensis subspecies bird.
Cape Gannets, Kelp Gulls and Brown Skuas were also common behind the trawler, as were Cape (Brown) Fur Seals. At midday we enjoyed a delicious light lunch, while still enjoying the very good pelagic seabirding behind the trawler.
A very white-faced Procelleria petrel caught our attention and we turned around to investigate it further. It turned out to be a White-chinned Petrel with partial spectacles, and not a bona fide Spectacled Petrel. Our collective disappoint was very quickly forgotten as the call of "White-backed Albatross" went out!! The "white-back" in question was a stunning Northern Royal Albatross, a highly sought-after local rarity. It was very confiding and we were able to get close enough to allow everyone onboard the chance to get close views. After a few minutes it took off and disappeared into the distance.
The run back to the coast, delivered another brief sighting of a Humpback Whale. The lingering fog meant that we could not clearly see Cape Point, but the instead we were treated to a rather ethereal view of the outline of towering cliffs through the gloom.
A brief stop at Partridge Point allowed us the add Bank and Crowned Cormorants to the trip list. The nearby Cape Fur Seal haul-out offered some final marine mammal viewing before we returned to port.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Southern Royal Albatross - 1
Shy/White-capped Albatross - 200
Black-browed Albatross - 300
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
Southern Giant Petrel - 12 (including 1 white morph)
Giant-petrel spp - 2
Sooty Shearwater - 200
White-chinned Petrel - 500
Cape (Pintado) Petrel - 10
Antarctic Prion - 5
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 5
Brown (Sub-Antarctic) Skua - 20
African Penguin - onshore
Cape Gannet - Common (coastal and pelagic)
White-breasted Cormorant - common
Cape Cormorant - abundant
Crowned Cormorant - 2
Bank Cormorant - 18 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common
Hartlaub's Gull - 2
Great Crested Tern - 20
African (Black) Oystercatcher - 2
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal and pelagic)
Long-beaked Common Dolphin - 800-1000
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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