A Cape Town Pelagics trip left Simon’s Town in warm and clear weather on Saturday 13 October. As we passed the Naval base we had an excellent view of a Southern Right Whale and its calf. A third whale was seen on the way to Cape Point. The trip out of False Bay was in choppy seas, with Cape Gannets conspicuously absent until well beyond Cape Point. The first few miles past Cape Point delivered very few pelagic birds, besides a few White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Great Shearwaters and a pair of Cory’s Shearwaters – the first for the summer season!
Our skipper found a stern trawler about 15 miles off Cape Point. The large flock of birds behind the boat turned out to be almost all White-chinned Petrels. A few Shy Albatrosses, fair numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and Great Shearwaters broke the monotony of black rafts of “White chins”. Surprisingly only twenty Pintado Petrels were found around the trawler. A group of one hundred plus Kelp Gulls and a pair of Arctic Terns added further diversity. Two Giant Petrels were seen in the flock, but only one, a Northern Giant Petrel, came close enough to the boat to be identified to species level.
The excitement came in the form of around 50 BLACK-BELLIED STORM PETRELS with about 10 Wilson’s Storm Petrels feeding in close proximity. The trawler pulled its net 30 minutes after our arrival, only to have one of the trailing ski boats get its outboard engines caught in the net. The net was dramatically ripped open, spilling tons of hake into the ocean. The ensuing feeding frenzy attracted masses of White-chinned Petrels and Great Shearwaters. Amongst the new arrivals included a few Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed albatrosses and Black-browed Albatrosses. A noisy flock of 20 Arctic Terns busily plucked scraps left by the frenzied feeding of Cape Fur Seals.
Amongst the masses of White-chinned Petrels lay the third highlight of the trip, two SPECTACLED PETRELS. The first bird had really thick “spectacles” making it visible from a great distance. The second individual had finer markings but was seen very close to the boat. The trip back to Cape Point delivered two Parasitic Jaegers (Arctic Skuas) harassing a flock of 8 Arctic Terns. We visited the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Smitswinkel Rocks before returning to Simon’s Town.