Trip Highlights: 4 Albatross species, Manx Shearwater, Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaegers (Skua), and Dusky Dolphins!
There had been a few days of strong southerly winds earlier in the week, but on the Sunday all was quiet as we boarded the Cape Town Pelagics trip out of Hout Bay harbour with Dalton Gibbs the tour leader. We pulled out of the harbour, passing the usual Cape Cormorants, Cape and Hartlaub's Gulls, whilst Cape Fur Seals lounged on the floating jetties. Out in the bay, conditions were calm and we set off at a fair pace in a south-westerly direction toward the fishing grounds.
Birds were slowly passing us; Cape Gannet and Swift Terns in shore, and then a few miles out we found White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwaters and some Common Terns. In unusually calm conditions we crossed the current line where oceanic currents tear northwards along the coast, mixing with the coastal waters. Here we found a group of Cory's Shearwaters feeding on groups of bait fish in the company of Swift terns and Cape Fur Seals. We headed further out , following up on information from other boats and headed off to a trawler, spying our first Shy Albatross en route.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
The trawler was hard to find, but we eventually found not one, but four stern trawlers working the 500-800m depth waters some 35 km off Cape Point. Behind the first boat we soon found Great Shearwater, a small flock of Sabine's Gulls and probable Arctic Terns. Indian and then Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross soon followed. It took a while to find our first Black-browed Albatross which were inexplicably in very low numbers. Flocks of Wilson's Storm-petrels turned up feeding on the oily slick behind the trawler.
We stayed with the trawler until she hauled in her net, attracting the birds in the immediate vicinity to congregate around the bulging net. We did not find any new species, but had good views of the four species of albatross that were around. We moved on to another trawler which was also trailing a line of birds. Here we found the same mix of species but soon turned up European Storm-petrel and a Long-tailed Jaeger that followed on behind us for a while. It took some time before Sub-Antarctic Skua turned up, with eventually half a dozen of these birds around.
By mid day we relaxed to have a leisurely lunch whilst following another trawler which had the same mix of species behind it. With the afternoon approaching and calm conditions we headed back toward land. Outside Hout Bay we came across two Pomarine Jaegers which put up from the sea for us, soon followed by a surprise Manx Shearwater. These birds were followed by a pod of Dusky Dolphins that were chasing fish on the surface and circled our boat several times; leaping out of the water in front of us.
Underneath the Sentinel Mountain we visited the Seal Island, with its hundreds of Cape Fur Seals on the rocks. Here we also picked up Bank Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant and African Black Oystercatcher. We headed around the corner to Hout Bay harbour and found a lone Crowned Cormorant on the breakwater before disembarking.
Cape Fur Seal Colony
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift Tern - coastal
Common Tern - coastal
Arctic tern - 10
Hartlaub's Gull - coastal
Kelp Gull - coastal
Cape Cormorant - coastal
White-breasted Cormorant - coastal
Crowned Cormorant - 1
Bank Cormorant - 7
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 40
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 6
Pomarine Jaeger - 2
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1
Sabine's Gull - 50
White-chinned Petrel - 200
Sooty Shearwater - 200
Cory's Shearwater - 50
Manx Shearwater - 1
Shy Albatross - 20
Black-browed Albatross - 10
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 10
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 8
Wilson's Storm- petrel - 200
European Storm-petrel - 150
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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