Trip Highlights: Southern Royal Albatross, Spectacled Petrel and thousands of Pintado Petrels. Also four Humpback Whales and hundreds of Common Dolphins!
Spectacled Petrel photographed by by guide Cliff Dorse with Cape Town Pelagics.
Southern Royal Albatross photographed by guide Cliff Dorse with Cape Town Pelagics.
Eight excited birders gathered at the Hout Bay Harbour on Saturday the 29th of June for a Cape Town Pelagic Trip, guided by Cape Town Pelagics trip leader Cliff Dorse. We were soon on board and heading in a south westerly direction to the heart of the trawling grounds. While the weather and sea conditions were forecast to be very fine, there was still a bit of a chop on the water and we all clustered in the warmth of the cabin as we sped towards our destination. We did not stop for the first White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwater, Shy Albatross or Subantarctic Skuas of the day, knowing full well that we would have ample opportunity to enjoy these species out in the deep. We did detour and stop for a group of about 200 Common Dolphin which were moving in a tight group and with great determination towards the south.
Our Skipper managed to locate a trawler on the horizon and we headed in that direction. As we approached we could see five fishing vessels in the vicinity. There were birds everywhere, and we soon added Antarctic Prion, Wilson’s Storm Petrel and Pintado Petrel to the tally. We also had a group of three Humpback Whales which gave reasonable views. The first trawler we inspected had very few birds in attendance as it had clearly not lifted its nets yet that morning and was not processing any fish. The second vessel had vast clouds of Pintado Petrels working in her wake. It was a spectacular experience to be surrounded by thousands of these charming birds as they chattered and fed in the wake of the trawler. We also added both Northern and Southern Giant Petrel and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross to the day list before heading off to yet another trawler. The birds were spoilt for choice and there were now 10 trawlers visible in the immediate area. Most of the birds, especially the albatross, seemed to have been gorged and they lazed around in loose rafts as far as the eye could see. Even the surfacing of a net did little to increase the excitement of the birds!
We systematically worked between the trawlers making an effort to visit any of the large rafts of albatross which were in striking distance. We were eventually rewarded when a shout of Royal Albatross rang through the air and our skipper changed course and headed after the bird. It landed on the water but did not allow close approach and was soon on the wing again. Now, with better views, it was clear that we were looking at a juvenile Southern Royal Albatross. As we followed the bird we suddenly became aware that there were two large white backed albatross ahead of us. Unfortunately, the second bird disappeared into the distance and while definitely a Royal, we could not be sure of which species.
Conditions were spectacular and the sea had flattened off and there was almost no wind. We drifted, enjoying the large numbers of Antarctic Prions which were feeding in the area, the photographers making the most of the ideal conditions. We added a single Antarctic Tern as we headed to a trawler which had 1000’s of Pintado Petrels feeding in her wake. Our persistence was again rewarded when a Spectacled Petrel was seen sitting on the water a few meters from the boat. The bird was very obliging and all on board had great views of this special bird.
It was now 15h00 and we had to head for home. The trip back was relatively uneventful but allowed us views of Swift Tern, African Penguin and feeding Cape Cormorants just off Hout Bay.
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.
Southern Royal Albatross 1 (possibly 2)
Shy Albatross c.750
Black-browed Albatross c.1000
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 3
Pintado Petrel c.10000
White-chinned Petrel c.500
Spectacled Petrel 1
Sooty Shearwater c.200
Antarctic Prion c. 2000
Wilson’s Storm Petrel c.100
Subantarctic Skua c.100
Antarctic Tern 1
The following species were common close to the coast:
Common Dolphin c. 200
Humpback Whale 4
Cape Fur Seal Common
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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