Trip Highlights: Southern & Northern Giant Petrels, Sabine's Gulls, three albatross species and 1000 Pintado Petrels
Early Sunday morning saw us board at Hout Bay harbour with Dalton Gibbs our guide. Fortunately Cape Town Pelagics offered this back-up day, as the tail end of a cold front passing through Cape Town had made it impossible to do the trip on the Saturday. In the harbour we found the usual Cape and Hartlaub's Gulls, whilst Cape Fur Seals lounged on the floating jetties. There was little wind and a small swell as we headed out to sea, passing underneath the hanging mountains that surround the bay. We had Cape Cormorant, Cape Gannet and Swift Terns pass us as we picked up our first pelagic species, White-chinned Petrel, a few miles off the Kommetjie light house. These were soon joined by Sooty Shearwaters, showing off their silvery colours in the early morning light.
We rode the Atlantic swells out and headed for radar contacts, picking up a few Shy Albatross as a vessel appeared on the horizon. We approached the small trawler, the Lincoln, who soon began to pull in her nets. Here we found Black-browed Albatross, Pintado Petrel and Sub-Antarctic Skua, which mixed with loads of Cape Gannets and Kelp Gulls which had flown out for the main land in the light wind conditions. Two Northern Giant Petrels made an appearance, whilst dozens of Wilson's Storm Petrels hovered over the water behind the trawler. The Lincoln lifted her nets and headed off home, so we decided to head southwards in an attempt to intercept another trawler.
We had just left when a large white-backed albatross flew low over the water some distance off. We gave chase and skipped over waves as we scanned through Shy and Black-browed Albatross for our quarry. We had tantalising views of our bird as it rose up above the water in the distance, showing that it was either a Southern Royal or Wandering Albatross. Unfortunately even in the very light winds we had the bird evaded us, disappearing into the distant blue.
We turned south and were soon consoled as we found another larger trawler. She was the Harvest Georgia and had large numbers of birds following her waiting for the nets to be lifted. For the next 2.5 hours we slowly followed her, working through the several hundred birds behind her. Many were Cape Gannet, with Shy and Black-browed Albatross in fair numbers. We picked up Great Shearwater and soon Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross on a few occasions. Southern Giant Petrel made an appearance, with a surprise appearance of two Sabine's Gulls.
We stayed with the Harvest Georgia, having lunch as we slowly followed her. She pulled up her nets at 14h00 and we stayed to watch the hundreds of birds in the area swoop down onto the net as it reached the surface. Cape Fur Seals appeared to climb onto the net as it was hauled aboard the trawler. With this spectacle over we headed for home, and rode the swell back to the coast.
Back in Hout Bay we sought Bank Cormorant, but these evaded us so we were soon back in harbour.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift Tern - coastal
Hartlaub's Gull - coastal
Cape Gull - coastal
Cape Cormorant - coastal
White-breasted Cormorant - coastal
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 400
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 10
Sabine's Gull - 2
White-chinned Petrel - 400
Pintado Petrel - 1000
Southern Giant Petrel - 2
Northern Giant Petrel - 6
Sooty Shearwater - 300
Great Shearwater - 3
Shy Albatross - 200
Black-browed Albatross - 200
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 200
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.
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