Trip Highlights: TWO Rarities - Grey-backed Storm Petrel - 3rd time EVER recorded off the coast of Southern Africa - AND Spectacled Petrel.
Grey-backed Storm Petrel
Early Saturday morning saw our Cape Town Pelagics boat depart out of Hout Bay harbour, with our guide Vince Ward on board.
The trip out of Hout Bay offered us several locally common species including: White-breasted and Cape Cormorants, Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls, as well as Swift, Common and Sandwich Terns. Just out of the bay, we spotted a pod of 7-10 Dusky Dolphins. They made several close approaches to the boat and surfaced alongside us before moving off to feed.
A few miles further out, we passed the first of the Cape Gannets of the trip. We also encountered large numbers of Sabine's Gulls. The numbers were lower than the several thousand seen the previous week. This species was obliging enough to be photographed as we approached. A little further on, two Pomarine Jaegers cut across in front of our boat.
A phone call from fishermen out at the shelf edge confirmed the presence of several longliners working at the 40 nautical mile mark. On the trip out to the fishing grounds, we added several pelagic species to the day's growing list: White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Cory's Shearwater and Northern Giant Petrel. The first Shy Albatrosses were seen a little further out.
As we approached the fishing grounds Yellowfin Tuna were commonly seen just below or breaking the surface. On arrival at the first fishing vessel, we rapidly added two additional albatross species: Black-browed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. Half a dozen Great-winged Petrels made some close approaches. Several Subantartic (Brown) Skuas were seen harassing other seabirds and feeding on offal.
In amongst the throng of albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, gulls and skua, there were dozens of storm petrels. Wilson's were more abundant than European Storm Petrels.
After drifting behind the vessels for a while, the call of GREY-BACKED STORM PETREL went up from our Australian guests. This species is an extremely rare vagrant for South Africa. This is the THIRD confirmed national sighting of this species. Our collective attention turned to finding this bird again. Our first pass through the birds was unsuccessful. Chum was prepared and a generous slick lain down. A second drift through the birds yielded beautiful close views of the bird and a chance to photograph this rarity. We saw the bird well during several more passes and it was suspected that due to the relative frequency of sightings, that there may have been multiple individuals.
After the excitement of the storm petrel, we turned our attention back to the birds attending the longliner. We manage to add a Parasitic Jaeger, Great Shearwater and an Arctic Tern to the trip list.
Just before we were about to turn back, a Spectacled Petrel made its appearance. It made several very close approaches allowing the diagnostic spectacles and dark bill tip to be seen. During the day we had seen several White-chinned Petrels with white on the face and nape that got pulses racing. It was great to finally get a definite sighting of this rare bird.
We ended this amazing trip with a quick visit to the Cape Fur Seal colony to look for Bank Cormorants. This species was easy to find. Several birds were roosting with a Cape Cormorant that provided a useful point of comparison.
After disembarking we gathered for the customary review of the trip list over drinks.
Shy Albatross - 35-50
Black-browed Albatross - 5-10
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 15-20
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
White-chinned Petrel - 250-300
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 75-100
Great Shearwater - 1
Cory's Shearwater - 20-30
Great-winged Petrel - 5-7
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 75-100
European Storm Petrel - 40-50
Grey-backed Storm Petrel - 1 (possibly more)
Cape Gannet - Common coastal
Bank Cormorant - 15-20
White-breasted Cormorant - common coastal
Cape Cormorant - common coastal
Subantarctic Skua - 7-10
Pomarine Jaeger - 2
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
Kelp Gull - common coastal
Hartlaub's Gull- common coastal
Sabine's Gull - 75-100
Swift Tern - common coastal
Sandwich Tern - common coastal
Common Tern - common coastal
Arctic Tern - 1
Cape Fur Seals - common coastal
Dusky Dolphins - 7-10
Yellowfin Tuna - 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 Vince Ward.
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