Sea Birding Pelagic Trips South Africa, Cape Town Pelagics


  Trip Report - 15 September 2007

By Dalton Gibbs
Wandering albatross
Soft-plumaged petrel
Carpets of pintado petrels!



A Cape Town Pelagics trip left Simon’s Town on 15 September in calm conditions, but a light cold front lay off the Cape to the south west as we left on a smooth sea. On our trip across False Bay we saw the usuals, with Cape gannet, Cape cormorant, Cape gull and swift terns, with a southern right whale just beyond Cape Point. As we left Cape Point and entered deeper water, we encountered a cloud layer that was to persist throughout the day. First up were white-chinned petrel and sooty shearwater that appeared in ones and twos behind the boat. Further out and came across our first shy albatross some miles beyond Bellow’s Rock. By this stage we had two trawlers on the horizon and we made toward them, soon picking up Wilson’s storm-petrel, pintado petrel and then black-browed albatross nearer the trawlers.

Southern giant petrels were one of the new birds species seen in the melee of birds at the first trawler, with sub-antarctic skua flying above the feeding birds. Pintado petrels were present in their thousands as they have been during this month, outnumbering other species. Flocks of these birds sat on the water, giving the sea an unusual white and black splinter pattern appearance. A wave of these birds would part and rise as the boat moved through them, circling us and landing behind us to give the impression of drifting through an avian ice pack!

We followed the wake of the first trawler that had processed its catch, being joined by the second birding party; our route was rewarded with a few Indian yellow-nosed albatross and northern giant petrel. Wilson’s storm petrels were present in small numbers, constantly on the move between the larger feeding birds. A few Cape fur seal were present this far out, and moved smartly out of the way when we had two hump-backed whales surface near by. We continued to scan the albatross, seeing several Indian yellow-nosed albatross until a Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross passed in front of the boat.

By this stage a third trawler had appeared and we made our way to another trawler that had hauled in its nets and was processing. On the way there we had one of two great shearwaters for the trip pass us, followed by a SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL. Just after snacking on our lunch, a cry went out from within the cabin of a “white-backed albatross!!” Half eaten sandwiches got dropped and salt encrusted binos were lifted to get a glimpse of a great albatross. Within moments a beautiful adult WANDERING ALBATROSS appeared from behind us and quickly passed us on the way to the trawler ahead. The skipper opened the throttles and we managed to keep up with the bird, which landed to feed on the water. We got crippling views and followed the bird once move when it moved off to harass a now small looking shy albatross for some fish.

very happy group of birders turned for home, oblivious to the light rain that had fallen from the small cold front that had moved over us. Our trip back toward Cape Point delivered another great shearwater and SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL, as well as an unidentified cetacean nearer the Point. In False Bay we stopped to view the bank cormorant colony near Partridge Point, with bank cormorants on their nests and Cape cormorants obliging with neat size comparisons near by. The adjacent rock had its usual carpet of Cape fur seals, with groups lolling about in the water, a sight signalling the end of a great trip!



  Pelagic birds



Swift tern – coastal
Hartlaub’s gull - coastal
Cape/Kelp gull – coastal & pelagic
Cape cormorant – coastal
Bank cormorant – coastal
White-breasted cormorant – coastal
African penguin – coastal
Cape gannet – coastal & pelagic – 150
Southern giant petrel – 10
Northern giant petrel - 2
Sub-Antarctica skua – 15
White-chinned petrel – 400
Pintado petrel – 5000
Soft-plumaged petrel - 2
Sooty shearwater – 150
Great shearwater – 2
Shy albatross – 600
Black-browed albatross – 200
Indian yellow-nosed albatross – 8
Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross - 1
Wilson ’s storm-petrel – 200

 Marine mammals



Cape fur seal - coastal & pelagic
Southern right whale - 1
Hump-backed whale - 2


Thanks to everyone on board for helping make such an enjoyable trip!