Just before first light on Sunday,
15 May 2011, a small group of excited South African
birders met at the quay side in Simonís Town for a
Cape Town Pelagics trip, guided by Cliff Dorse of
Cape Town Pelagics. Our skipper had been out on a
fishing charter on the previous day and had enjoyed
extremely calm conditions. The forecast predicted
that this would continue for the following few days.
It was therefore with some surprise when a rather
choppy False Bay greeted us as we left the calm of
There was plenty of low cloud and a few banks of fog
around so most of the spectacular Cape Peninsula was
hidden from view as we passed by. We had our first
White-chinned Petrels and Sooty
Shearwaters surprisingly close to Simonís
Town. At Cape Point we were lucky enough to have a
small gap in the fog and the early morning light on
this iconic landmark presented a great photographic
Soon after the Point we could see large numbers of
Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants
and Sooty Shearwaters feeding on
bait fish. As we approached, we saw a few blows from
some whales which unfortunately did not show themselves.
These blows probably belonged to Bryde’s
Whales which were feeding on the same bait
fish. In amongst the masses of birds we encountered
our first Great Shearwaters of the
day and a handful of Cory’s Shearwaters
which had not yet departed for their breeding grounds
in the North Atlantic. We also had our first good
views of Subantartic Skua. As we
headed out towards the deep we added our first albatross
to the day list, a juvenile Shy Albatross.
This was followed by Wilson’s Storm
Petrel and the first Antarctic Prions
for the season.
Eventually we managed to spot two trawlers on the
horizon and we headed in their direction. The sea
was calmer out in the deep than it was in False Bay
with almost no wind. As we neared the trawler we encountered
our first Black-browed Albatross
and one of only two European Storm Petrels
for the day. It appeared that the trawlers were not
processing fish as while there were thousands of birds
in the vicinity most of them were sitting on the water.
The windless conditions were clearly not conducive
to the energy efficient flight usually employed by
these specialised birds. At the trawlers we added
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Southern
Giant Petrel. We had a good few hours to
enjoy the spectacle.
After an enjoyable lunch the bird of the day, a Wandering
Albatross, flew by. Despite the lack of wind
this magnificent bird effortlessly left us behind
as it disappeared amongst the numerous smaller albatross.
After another visit to one of the trawlers we had
to head back towards land.
The highlight on the way home was a pod of Dusky
Dolphins a few miles from the point. They
put on a great performance for us as they porpoised
along side the boat for some time and a few conducted
spectacular 360 degree flips. The mandatory stop at
the Bank Cormorant breeding colony
at Partridge Point provided good views as always.
The following is a list of the species seen during
the course of the day. The numbers reflected can be
considered as rough estimations only.
Wandering Albatross 1
Shy Albatross c. 250
Black-browed Albatross c. 1000
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 20
White-chinned Petrel c. 200
Southern Giant Petrel 3
Great Shearwater c. 50
Coryís Shearwater 5
Sooty Shearwater c. 150
Antartic Prion 5
Wilsonís Storm Petrel c. 50
European Storm Petrel 2
Subantarctic Skua c. 20
The following species were common close to the coast:
Cape Fur Seal
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 Cliff Dorse.
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