Trip Highlights: Black-bellied Storm Petrels, 4 Albatross species including a white-back, both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Common Dolphins and a Southern Right Whale.
We set out from Simon's Town aboard a Cape Town Pelagics trip on a relatively clear day with the north-wester at our backs, making for a smooth run out of False Bay. The usual coastal birds were seen, including Cape Cormorant, Swift Tern and Kelp Gull. As we rounded Cape Point we picked up our first true pelagic bird in the form of a White-chinned Petrel, and were joined by a pod of Common Dolphin which bow-rode for a while, thrilling us with close views.
We added more birds in a steady trickle, including Cape Gannet, a number of Shy Albatross, Sooty Shearwater and a young Yellow-nosed Albatross which came in very close but sadly could not be identified to species, and which proved to be our only yellow-nose of the day.
We spotted a trawler, the Stevia, on the horizon, and it soon became apparent that it was hauling in its catch and was surrounded by thousands of birds. Before long we too were surrounded by birds and struggling to decide which way to look. The crowd was dominated by Shy Albatross and White-chinned Petrel, but we managed to pick out some new species amongst them, including Great Shearwater, Pintado Petrel, Black-browed Albatross, Wilson's Storm Petrel and Subantarctic Skua. Approaching the stern of the trawler, where the density of birds was highest, we found a number of Southern Giant Petrel squabbling for scraps. Suddenly, a white-backed albatross appeared in the middle distance, causing some degree of chaos as we tried to get sufficient views of the bird. Unfortunately it wasn't keen to hang around, and the angle of the sun precluded photographs, and so it remained as either a Southern Royal or a Wandering. Time was not on our side as the wind began to pick up, making for a bumpy ride as we continued to follow the Stevia. We unearthed a Northern Giant Petrel among the many southerns, while a small number of Black-bellied Storm Petrel - on their northward migration - were a highlight.
Southern Giant Petrel
The return journey was uneventful, apart from a pair of small cetaceans that briefly surfaced near the boat but could not be identified. As we rounded the point we watched a Southern Right Whale lounging in the kelp just below the lighthouse.
After lunch we stopped at the nearby Bank Cormorant breeding colony, where a number of birds were observed at close hand, one or two of them giving their strange display. A number of Cape Fur Seal were going about their business on the neighbouring islet. We added our final species as we entered the harbour, a single immature Crowned Cormorant sitting on the 'pointy bit' at the front of one of the abandoned yachts anchored near the jetty.
Species list and approximate numbers:
Southern Royal or Wandering Albatross - 1
Shy Albatross - 1000+
Black-browed Albatross - 20-30
Yellow-nosed Albatross sp. (imm.) - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 5
Northern Giant Petrel - 1
Pintado Petrel - 200-300
White-chinned Petrel - 1000+
Sooty Shearwater - 5-10
Great Shearwater - 5-10
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 75-100
Black-bellied Storm Petrel - 3
Cape Gannet - common coastal
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 10-15
Cape Cormorant - common coastal
Crowned Cormorant - 1
Bank Cormorant - 15 breeding pairs
Kelp Gull - common coastal
Hartlaub's Gull - common coastal
Swift Tern - common coastal
Cape Fur Seal - common coastal
Long-beaked Common Dolphin - 30-50+
Small cetacean sp. - 2
Southern Right Whale - 1
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 Seth Musker.
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