Trip Highlights: Five species albatross including a Southern Royal Albatross, Black-bellied Storm Petrels, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Sub-antarctic Skua and Humpback Whale.
On the 9th October were greeted by a brief downpour of rain before the group of keen birders boarded our Cape Town Pelagics boat headed out to sea from Simon's Town harbour. The rain was the tail end of a small cold front which had passed over the Cape and now clear weather lay ahead.
We were soon under way, finding Crowned and Cape Cormorant in the harbour before heading across False Bay which was quiet. African Penguins clustered on Boulders Beach as they prepared to head out to sea to feed. We soon reached Cape Point and paused to take in the magnificent view in the soft morning light. We headed out to the deep, soon finding a few Cape Gannet, White-chinned Petrel, Kelp Gulls and Swift Terns. A whale blew nearby but soon sounded and we got no further views. Large flocks of Arctic Terns were feeding on pelagic fish, interspersed with the occasional Antarctic Tern showing some breeding plumage. Heading away from land we saw a Hump-backed Whale breach in the distance while we had a bit of a bumpy ride as the swell from the recent cold front made going rather tricky.
We came across Shy Albatross and Sooty Shearwater as well as brief views of Wilson's Storm Petrel before finding a trawler on the horizon. She was the "Boronia" and was trawling for hake in some 300m of water 20N miles from Cape Point. Here we soon found both Southern and Northern Giant Petrel, Great Shearwater, Pintado Petrel and Sooty Shearwater. We had large flocks of a hundred-or-so Wilson's Storm Petrels dancing on the water in front of us as they fed on fish oil emerging the net below. Amongst these we found Black-bellied Storm Petrels which gave good views.
A few Black-browed Albatross made an appearance as well as Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. Only one Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross made the rounds, but this was made up by fly-bys of dainty Sabine's Gulls. These gulls were interspersed with the delicately marked Pintado Petrels which drifted past us. At 12 o'clock the "Boronia" lifted her nets and Sub-Antarctic Skua made an appearance to swoop in and snatch fish amongst the squabbling birds. We enjoyed the spectacle of all these various species passing in front of us while Cape Fur Seals followed the net and tried to grab pieces of fish off it.
The "Boronia" turned away from us to head southwards and as we were about to turn for home the call went up for a large white-backed albatross which appeared near us. We gave chase and got reasonable views of the bird which turned out to be a young Southern Royal Albatross. As is the habit of larger albatrosses it did not stick around and was soon out of sight.
We headed for home, passing flocks of small terns off the Cape Point coast before settling into the sheltered waters of False Bay to have lunch under the Cape Point cliffs. After lunch we travelled across False Bay, coming to the Castle Rock cormorant colony. Here we found White-breasted, Cape and Bank Cormorants, whilst the adjacent rocks held a single Crowned Cormorant which gave us a good comparison between these species. The rocks also held a colony of Cape Fur Seals which loafed about in the sun and dived into the surf. We made our way back to Simon's Town Harbour, finding a pair of African Black Oystercatchers on the buoy lines before docking.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 20
White-chinned Petrel - 100
Northern Giant Petrel - 6
Southern Giant Petrel - 2
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 100
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel - 10
Sooty Shearwater - 100
Great Shearwater - 250
Shy Albatross - 20
Black-browed Albatross - 10
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Southern Royal Albatross - 1
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 3
Crowned Cormorant - 2
African Penguin - 100
African Black Oystercatcher - 4
Cape Fur Seal
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 Dalton Gibbs.
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