Two boats left Simon’s Town on Saturday morning for a Cape Town Pelagics trip; this report is from one, but there were only minor differences in the sightings for the day as the boats remained in the same general area. A light cold front had just passed over the Cape and another weak front was due to come through the next day, making for an ideal gap to sneak out to sea onto the pelagic grounds to see what the recent weather had brought in. Soon out of the harbour we saw southern right whale blowing some distance away. A quick trip across the calm waters of False Bay brought us to Cape Point, were we saw the usual Cape gannet, Cape cormorant, Cape gull and swift terns. We stopped to view Cape Point in the soft morning light for some sea level photographs of this iconic landmark and soon afterwards were rewarded with a pair of hump-backed whales breaking the surface close to our boat. As we entered deeper water off Cape Point we came across our first white-chinned petrel and sooty shearwater for the day, followed soon there after by a lone parasitic jaeger (Arctic skua).
A trawler that we approached had a moderate amount of birds (a few hundred) behind it, but this increased dramatically as the nets began to come to the surface, showing just how well these pelagic birds see the movement of other birds and home in on feeding opportunities. By this stage we had picked up subantarctic skua and numerous adult black-browed albatross as well as Indian yellow-nosed albatross. Northern giant petrels mixed in the feeding flocks of shy, black-browed and Indian yellow-nosed albatross, with numerous seals competing for fish scraps. Two other trawlers appeared on the horizon, but we stayed with the main boat as it started to process its catch and reset its nets. We followed on behind, scanning the birds as they alighted to feed in a line behind the boat. We picked up Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, followed soon there after by a single Sabine’s gull which we followed with our boat to get good views.
The awesome spectacle of several thousand birds behind the boat actually made for hard work, as we continually scanned the mixed flocks for anything unusual. We were rewarded with close in views of great shearwaters, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses and southern giant-petrels.
After three hours of solid, amazing birding with the trawlers and their associated birds, and great views of all the pelagic birds, we turned for home. Half way back, a chance view of a possible “white-backed albatross” some distance off brought the boat to a halt. The bird in question was lost, but just before we were about the give up and head back, a magnificent WANDERING ALBATROSS came out across the waves, did a close-in circle around the back of our boat and kept going. We had cracking views of the bird silhouetted with Cape Point in the distance as it made off at high speed. Although we soon lost the bird, this was made up for by the great views and the total of five albatross species seen for the day.
Back in False Bay we saw another southern right whale blowing on our way to the bank cormorant colony near Partridge Point, where bank cormorants, Cape cormorants and white-breasted cormorants posed to show field characteristics and size comparisons. The adjacent rock had its usual carpet of Cape fur seals, with groups lolling about in the water with their fins up. Our arrival back into Simon’s Town harbour had a last moment of excitement, as we rounded the break water and had a pair of southern right whales immediately in our path. Quick action by our skipper took us out of the way and along side with great views as we moved past.