Trip Highlights: 4 albatross species, a Soft-plumaged Petrel, Sooty Shearwaters, Southern & Northern Giant Petrels in amongst a feeding frenzy of 1000's of Pintado Petrels.
1000's of birds around our boat in the vicinity of a trawler.
Fortunately, with two days of relatively calm weather after a cold front had swept through the Cape during the week, we were able to gather on the quayside at Hout Bay and board a Cape Town Pelagics trip with Dalton Gibbs our tour leader. In the harbour we found the usual Cape Cormorants, Cape and Hartlaub's Gulls, whilst Cape Fur Seals lounged on the jetties. At approximately 07h00 we left the harbour in calm seas and were soon off the coast and heading south west toward the trawler grounds beyond Cape Point.
We soon found Cape Gannet and Swift Terns in shore, and then off Kommetjie the first White-chinned Petrel and Sooty Shearwaters started to appear. In calm conditions with long swell intervals we headed further out to sea, coming across the odd Wilson's Storm-petrels and at the 15 N Mile mark, our first Shy Albatross, soon followed by a quick fly past of a lone Soft-plumaged Petrel, the only one for the day.
Pintado Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Cape Gannet, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Kelp Gull spotted in amongst the mayhem.
We found the "Lindiwe Harvest", a stern trawler, some 20 N Miles off Cape Point, which was accompanied by birds scattered about the general area. Numbers of Shy Albatross and Black-browed Albatross mixed with thousands of Pintado Petrels, whilst Southern Giant Petrels were soon found. Northern Giant Petrels quickly made an appearance along with the first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Sub-Antarctic Skua's patrolled overhead; waiting with the other birds for the trawler's net to be hauled in.
The net was hauled in, just a short while after we arrived and in no time we had masses of birds descend upon it as it was drawn toward the trawler. Cape Gannets rained down from the heavens and thousands of Pintado Petrels turned the sea white as the trawler started to process her catch. Albatross formed feeding groups on the ocean around fish scraps and Giant Petrels entered the fray with their wings outstretched like maritime vultures. We stayed with the trawler until she reset her net and headed north to trawl further away.
Pintado Petrel with a Black-browed Albatross in the background.
The next two hours were spent soaking in the spectacle of thousands of sea birds coming past us in long lines as they fed upon the fish scraps. We had a leisurely lunch in these conditions before deciding to head across to another trawler near by; this was the "Echalar" and she too was smothered in birds. Here we soon found Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross amidst the masses of other species. Again, we had good and close views of all the species seen earlier during the day before heading back home in the afternoon.
A mass of pelagic birds feeding on fish scraps behind the Echalar.
Our trip back to land was uneventful, and riding with the swell we were soon back in Hout Bay Harbour, where we found White-breasted Cormorants amongst the moored boats.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Swift Tern - coastal
Hartlaub's Gull - coastal
Kelp Gull - coastal
Cape Cormorant - coastal
White-breasted Cormorant - coastal
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 200
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 15
White-chinned Petrel - 400
Pintado Petrel - 10 000
Soft-plumaged Petrel - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 12
Northern Giant Petrel - 6
Great Shearwater - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 300
Shy Albatross - 200
Black-browed Albatross - 200
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 15
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 6
Wilson's Storm-petrel - 200
Cape Fur Seal
Pelagic birds in a feeding frenzy behind a trawler busy processing it's catch.
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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