PE specials: Breeding plumage Roseate Tern
Specials for PE: Pintado Petrel, Antarctic Prion and three albatross sp
This was the first Cape Town Pelagics trip to leave from Port Elizabeth, guided by Phil Whittington and Tony Tree. Strong westerly winds and rough seas were experienced in the area four days previously, but three days of calm weather preceded the trip. Delegates from the Society for Conservation Biology Conference boarded the “Orca II” at Port Elizabeth Yacht Club and we sailed at 7.30 in fine conditions with a moderate swell.
Heading southwards along the coast and out beyond Cape Recife, we soon picked up some of the regular near shore species, such as Cape Gannet, Cape Cormorant, Swift Tern and Subantarctic Skua. We continued heading south-southwest towards the deeper water, heralded by the appearance of several White-chinned Petrels and the odd Sooty Shearwater. Several miles offshore, we were bemused to see a small bird flying several metres above the wave tops . The initial thought of a storm petrel was quickly dispelled when we realized that the bird was a passerine with a noticeably long tail. Unfortunately, it continued west, away from us, and could not be conclusively identified. The skipper picked up the blow from a whale forward of the bow but this was the first and last sighting of the animal, leading us to suspect a Bryde’s Whale.
When at 26 nautical miles south of Cape Recife at a depth of c. 110 m, we began to see our first true pelagic species, starting with a handful of Shy Albatrosses and then a few Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses. More White-chinned Petrels began to appear and an Antarctic Prion and a couple of Wilson’s Storm Petrels put in a brief appearance. We decided to use one of our barrels of chum at this point, something of an experiment in these waters. Fortunately, the potent brew had the desired effect, bringing a raft of White-chinned Petrels, two immature Black-browed Albatrosses and three Pintado Petrels within close proximity of the boat. This induced an outbreak of large lenses and the camera shutters began to click. A few Indian Ocean Yellow-nosed Albatrosses appeared giving close “fly-bys” for the photographers.
ventually, we moved on a few miles to the west attempting to locate an operating fishing vessel. Only one trawler was known to be operating in the area but did not answer its call sign and no other vessels could be located. The bird numbers seemed to thin out and as a result of this and a forecast for strong westerlies associated with an approaching front, we headed for home at about midday. Another attempt at chumming met with little success this time with only odd White-chinned Petrels and a Subantarctic Skua coming to the boat. We stopped just off Cape Recife for close views of White-breasted and Cape Cormorants that were gathered on the rocks and were also treated to views of Roseate Terns in full breeding plumage.