The morning of the 19th September
a Cape Town pelagic trip headed out from Simonstown
harbour guided by Cape Town Pelagics guide Dalton
Gibbs. The weather was windy with a cold front approaching
and some light clouds.
We cast off and found lines of Swift
Tern roosting on the floating harbour buoys,
whilst in the Simonstown harbour we found the usual
Cape and Hartlaub’s Gulls. The
ride across False Bay was bumpy with the wind across
the bay, finding a small feeding group of African
Penguin, Cape Cormorants and
a small flock of Cape Gannets passing
us. We stopped at Cape Point to take a few photos
of the amazing scenery and to check out with the lighthouse
keeper. Almost immediately on leaving we had encountered
White-chinned Petrels and Shy
Albatross that were close inshore as a result
of the onshore winds that had been blowing. A few
Sooty Shearwater soon followed in this
zone as we moved out further into the trawling grounds,
with a brief whale sighting of what seemed to be Hump-backed
The water was cold and only reached 15.5
deg C at the 10 mile mark; the conditions were also
bumpy, with surface chop and swell on the water. We
tracked a vessel to the north west where trawlers
had been the day before and headed in that direction.
After a few miles it became clear that this was a
large ship and not a trawler that we were seeking.
We gave up the chase and headed out west with a hope
of finding trawlers that may be heading home to Cape
Town. We found a solitary Sub-antartic
Skua, whilst a continuous stream of Shy
Albatross were about; we soon spotted a trawler
off to our south west. We found the “Andromeda”, a
stern trawler out of Cape Town, that was stationary
and processing its catch.
Around her we found dozens of Black-browed
Albatross and soon a flock of Wilson’s
Storm Petrels. Pintado Petrels
appeared and a Northern Giant Petrel
made a fly by. For just over the next hour we stayed
with the Andromeda, circling her. The cloud of birds
her consisted mainly of Black-browed
& Shy Albatross, White-chinned
and Pintado Petrels. We searched the
flocks of birds wheeling around the trawler and picked
up a Southern Giant Petrel as
it floated past our boat.
After a while of searching we picked up an
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
that obligingly flew over to us and sat on the water
right next our boat. A few moments later a Rock
Pigeon (Columba livia) flew into view.
This bird looked lost and even tried to land on the
water at one stage. After a few minutes it alighted
on to the back of the trawler and presumably would
travel back to land on this boat.
During our stay at the trawler the weather
had improved, as we lay between two squall lines in
the cold front and we had excellent weather.
We turned for home in the afternoon, just
as the wind was picking up from the north again. Heading
back we came across a large flock of Cape Cormorant
a few miles off Cape Point. Amongst this was the blow
from a whale that Alan spotted. This turned out to
be no less than three Bryde’s Whales
that were feeding on the shoal of pelagic fish. Amongst
this was also a pair of Humpbacked Whales
whose tails rose above the water from time to time.
The boat’s fish finder showed a solid shoal of fish
some few hundred metres across and 15-20m thick. Into
this Cape Gannet made their trade mark
scissor dives and Cape Cormorant and
Cape Fur seal covered the sea’s
surface. A lone Great Shearwater appeared
and made a fly past our boat. Two Antarctic
Terns, showing their breeding colours showing,
circled our boat for a while.
We continued for home, returning to the
calmer waters of False Bay. We travelled across the
bay to Buffels Bay, where in a sheltered cove we had
an excellent lunch. From here we travelled toward
the Bank Cormorant colony, finding a
pair of Ostrich in the Table Mountain National
Park. This probably constitutes one of the stranger
birds one could see on a pelagic birding trip! At
the Bank Cormorant colony we found these birds on
nests, with White-breasted and Cape
Cormorants also in attendance. The swells were
a bit heavy for a close up visit to the Cape Fur seal
colony, but we had plenty views of this species across
the trawling grounds.
We returned to Simonstown harbour, finding
a single African Black Oystercatcher
bird on floating buoys. We searched the vessels at
anchor for Crowned Cormorant, the last
cormorant species, but could not find it on any boat.
It was only after we had disembarked that one settled
on the boat and we had perfect views of it.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift tern coastal
Antarctic tern - 2
Hartlaub’s gull - coastal
Cape gull - coastal
Cape cormorant coastal
Bank cormorant coastal
Crowned Cormorant coastal - 1
White-breasted cormorant coastal
African Penguin coastal
Cape Gannet coastal & pelagic 150
Africa black Oystercatcher coastal - 1
White-chinned Petrel 400
Northern Giant Petrel 4
Southern Giant petrel - 2
Sooty Shearwater 75
Great Shearwater - 1
Shy Albatross 250
Black-browed Albatross 200
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Wilson’s Storm Petrel 200
Sub-antarctic Skua 8
Speckled Pigeon 1 !!
Cape fur seal
Bryde’s Whale 3
Humpbacked Whale - 2
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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