Trip Highlights: Wandering Albatross, Flesh-footed Shearwater and Black-breasted Storm Petrel
Saturday morning saw a group of birders gathered at Hout Bay harbour ready to board a Cape Town Pelagics trip, led by Cape TOwn Pelagics guide Dalton Gibbs. There was a very light southerly wind and calm sea conditions. In the harbour we saw the usual Cape and Hartlaub’s Gulls, with White-breasted and Cape Cormorants amongst the moored boats. Out in Hout Bay itself we saw Swift Terns and small terns that had the characteristic face mask of Antarctic Terns; still around before they move to their summer breeding grounds.
Our trip out to the deep was fairly uneventful, with Cape Gannets and then our first White-chinned Petrels and a few Sooty Shearwaters at the five N mile mark. It took a while before our first Shy Albatross appeared and we saw a few more of these as we travelled out. We were in contact with a boat further out who gave us the location of two long liner vessels at the 25 Nautical Mile mark. We headed out in that direction, finding a few Great Shearwaters en route, and then arriving at the “Rooiberg” a long liner who was pulling her lines in and processing fish.
Black-browed Albatross appeared amongst the Shy Albatrosses and we were then told by another ski boat of a “white-backed albatross” near the long liner. We raced ahead to look for it and saw a young Wandering Albatross, with its characteristic wings markings flying ahead of us. We had a couple more views of this bird before it disappeared into the mass of birds behind the long liner. Sub-Antarctic Skuas hung around, dropping in to steal scraps amongst the other birds.
Other new birds were in the feeding flocks and it wasn’t long before we found a few Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, followed by Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross who were showing beautifully grey heads in the morning light. Numerous Wilson’s Storm Petrels were about and soon we found Black-breasted Storm Petrel showing its characteristic flight action. Small flocks of handsomely marked Pintado Petrels flew around our boat, coming close in to get nearby food scraps.
We found a Northern Giant Petrel amongst flocks of Great Shearwater that rafted on the water or wheeled around the long liner. A lone Flesh-footed Shearwater circled our boat a number of times, showing off its characteristic head and bill pattern. By this stage we had some lunch and then decided to go check out another long liner to our north. When we arrived at this boat we had a huge white albatross pass by our boat. Initially it appeared to be a Southern Royal, but closer views revealed this to be an old Wandering Albatross – snowy white with black tips to its tail. This bird sat on the water and allowed a close inspection as it dwarfed the other birds around it. This sighting was topped off by a Southern Giant Petrel before we started our trip back home.
The trip home was with the swell and wind that had started to pick up from the south east, but was more comfortable than going out earlier in the morning. After a relatively uneventful run, we spotted some whale blows, possibly that of Humpback Whales, but these disappeared before we could see them properly.
Just before Hout Bay we went across to Duiker Island to see the masses of Cape Fur Seals, as well as some Bank Cormorants on the adjacent rocks. At this point we spotted a distress flare of a nearby vessel, and were subsequently involved in the rescue of twenty passengers that were in the water. For more details on this please see the Birding Africa blog.
Despite this really different ending to the day, we never the less had an excellent run of pelagic species.
On board the trip for the day were:
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift tern – coastal
Hartlaub’s Gull – coastal
Cape Gull – coastal
Cape Cormorant – coastal
White-breasted cormorant – coastal
Bank Cormorant - 3
Cape Gannet – coastal & pelagic – 100
Sub-Antarctic Skua – 4
White-chinned Petrel – 500
Pintado Petrel - 150
Northern Giant Petrel – 4
Southern Giant Petrel – 1
Sooty Shearwater – 3
Great Shearwater – 500
Flesh-footed Shearwater - 1
Wandering Albatross – 2
Shy Albatross – 150
Black-browed Albatross – 100
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross – 8
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 4
Wilson’s Storm Petrel – 30
Black-bellied Storm Petrel -
Antarctic Tern – 10
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 Dalton Gibbs.
To book, simply email
or phone us, or submit a
booking enquiry online.