Trip Highlights: Manx Shearwater, Northern Giant Petrel and Long-tailed Jaeger
Wind and weather patterns during the run-up to the weekend oscillated through ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, with the net effect that the planned pelagic trip for the Saturday was run on Sunday, the back-up day.
Even this looked suspect as there was little consensus between weather stations by the time the weekend arrived. Then at noon on the Saturday the latest reports indicated that the strong south easterly wind would drop sharply in the early hours of Sunday morning opening up the opportunity for a successful pelagic trip off Cape Point.
And so it was, a Cape Town Pelagics trip, skippered by our ever so affable and competent skipper, limped its way from Simon’s Town, through a rough and lumpy False Bay, towards open water and evenly spaced swells en route to the trawling grounds well to the south west of the Cape of Good Hope.
Inshore birds along the way included scattered flight lines of Cape Cormorant and Cape Gannet, as well as Swift and Sandwich Tern, all making their way south to the inshore waters along the outer reefs of the south peninsula.
Pelagic birding proved to be slow at first with only one Cory's Shearwater sighted, followed by a single Manx Shearwater, as an early surprise of notable worth, and sporadic appearances of highly energised Sooty Shearwaters cutting across the bow in near windless conditions.
Shortly afterwards, we came across the first of several rafts of Cory's Shearwaters and Sooty Shearwaters loafing on the surface waiting for the wind to pick up before energetically careening about between the swells.
At this stage we had yet to see a White-chinned Petrel, usually the first pelagic sighting of the day, when we chanced upon a single Northern Giant Petrel loafing on the surface. Clearly the bird had no intention of taking flight, due to the lack of wind, and good views were obtained of the diagnostic brown bill tip as we circled around it.
After crossing the fairly busy tanker lane two long-line boats were spotted on the horizon and shortly afterwards we picked up on a White-chinned Petrel skimming by in long slow glides and a mix of Wilson’s and European Storm Petrels pattering about along the wake of the long-line boat we were following as it retrieved the set line.
Birds appeared to be coming and going constantly between the two boats, with Cory's Shearwaters and Sooty Shearwaters very much in evidence, complemented still further by the presence of a single Manx Shearwater that showed well as it weaved about in close proximity.
Up to now we had yet to sight an albatross and despair was starting to set in when quite suddenly an immature Shy Albatross appeared from behind before arcing about in effortless flight on the now stiffening breeze.
A further Northern Giant Petrel joined the pelagic throng, along with a Sub-Antarctic Skua as a prelude to the first of several Pomarine Jaeger sightings, before a distant Long-tailed Jaeger was spotted passing us by in the distance.
Pelagic numbers by now were picking up appreciably, as we worked between the two long-line boats, with several Shy Albatross sightings across the age-class spectrum along with an immature Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, with a completely black bill, being added to the list for the day.
This sighting was followed soon thereafter by great views of an adult Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross showing the characteristic yellow line along the comb of the bill.
Other birds present in the pelagic mix included two Sabine’s Gulls and a single Arctic Tern as well as a Great Shearwater which provided repetitive views as it wheeled about in close proximity.
At this stage we cut the motors and allowed our boat to drift back along the chum line our skipper had created, by way of his own special sardine blend, while an excellent picnic lunch of sandwiches and cold meats along with a selection of refreshments was served on deck.
Both species of storm petrels sighted earlier fluttered and pattered about us in the company of a growing number of Kelp Gulls, while a lone Blue Shark put in an appearance alongside the boat. Water conditions were crystal clear and we all had good views of the inquisitive visitor as it responded positively to cocktail sausage hand-outs!
With the wind speed now picking up it was almost time to head back for Cape Point, when the last of the three albatross species we were still hoping to see, in the form of an immature Black-browed Albatross came soaring in with an occasional wing flap to further attract our attention…
By now we were some 20 nautical miles south west of the point and our return run added additional sightings of Pomarine Jaeger and Cory's Shearwater to the day count as well as Common Tern in loose flocks fluttering above shoals of bait fish along the outer reefs.
After stopping briefly at Partridge Point for Bank Cormorant, a species endemic to South Africa, and the regular crowd of Cape Cormorant and White-breasted Cormorant, roosting on the outer granite boulders in False Bay, we made our way past the nearby Cape Fur Seal and African Penguin rookery at Boulders and on into Simon’s Town harbour.
All in all a great day dominated by Cory's Shearwaters, with the three Manx Shearwater sightings the highlight for most, and the Long-tailed Jaeger the bonus sighting for those lucky enough to see it pass by.
Species list with approximate numbers for the day :
Shy Albatross - 8
Black-browed Albatross - 2
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 4
Northern Giant Petrel - 2
White-chinned Petrel - 20
Sooty Shearwater - 20
Cory's Shearwater - 60
Manx Shearwater - 3
Great Shearwater - 2
Wilson’s Storm Petrel - 50
European Storm Petrel - 30
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 4
Pomarine Jaeger - 4
Long-tailed Jaeger -1
Sabine’s Gull - 2
Arctic Tern - 1
Swift Tern - 50
Sandwich Tern - 10
Kelp Gull - 100
Cape fur seal
Atlantic Blue Shark
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 Patrick Cardwell.
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