Trip Highlights: Giant Petrels, Subantarctic Skua, Great Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, 3 albatross species and Humpback Whales
Although there had been strong winds off Cape Point during the past week, and the wind was s expected to return to gale force by Monday 10th, only light winds were forecast for Saturday 08 November. Our boat departed from Simon's Town to take advantage of this brief weather window for a Cape Town Pelagics trip guided by Rob Leslie.
False Bay was flat and calm allowing us to make good speed to Cape Point. We rounded the Point and made the usual photo stop of the spectacular tip of the peninsular in the clear early morning light before heading off towards the trawl grounds at the head of the Cape Canyon. Sea conditions were lumpy and a fog bank was lying about 6 nautical miles (nm) off the Point.
There were very few birds around, just Cape Gannets, White-chinned Petrels and the occasional Sooty Shearwater as we entered the fog. Fortunately the fog was not thick enough to pose a safety concern - at its thickest we still had almost 1 nm visibility - but it did make it difficult to locate any trawlers that may be in the area.
After a long, rather bumpy ride over a choppy sea we arrived at the Cape Canyon a few miles south of the top of the valley. Unusually we found a juvenile Black-browed Albatross before encountering our first Shy Albatross. Bird density was low but we nevertheless added a number of species to the trip list, including both species of Giant Petrels and late season Pintado Petrels. After searching fruitlessly for a trawler or longliner in the area, we received a report from a recreational tuna fisherman that there was a hake longliner on the far side of the Canyon. We pushed on and finally located the longline vessel about 33 nm from the Point and close to the maximum safe range for our boat.
It seems as though this was the only commercial fishing vessel in the area as she was surrounded by a small flotilla of recreational tuna boats hoping to make use of the chum slick generated by her crew as they cleaned the catch. We joined the mob and enjoyed the spectacle of birds and seals feeding on the offal from the longliner. At last we had a reasonable density of seabirds.
While enjoying an excellent packed lunch some of the passengers got a brief view of an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. After lunch we again drove right up to the longliner and were fortunately able to relocate theAtlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross enabling all aboard to get good views of this handsome bird. Then it was time to start on the homeward trip back to Simon's Town across a lumpy sea.
We saw the blows of a couple of Humpback Whales near Cape Point and were rewarded with excellent close views of these whales as they lazed on the surface replenishing their oxygen supplies before lifting their tails high and once again diving deep. A little further on we encountered two more Humpbacks directly in our path and scattered blows from eight more just offshore of our route.
After rounding the Point and entering False Bay, we stopped at the Bank Cormorant colony at Partridge Point and the nearby seal colony.
Summary of birds seen during the trip. (Numbers are rough estimates only):
Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) c. 100
Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) c. 50
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri) 1
Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus) c. 2
Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) c. 4
Pintado Petrel (Daption capense) c. 30
White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aequinoctials) c. 100
Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) c. 50
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) c. 50
Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis) c. 4
Cape Gannet (Morus capensis) c. 50
Sub-Antarctic Skua (Stercorarius antarctica) c. 1
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus) c. 30
Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini) c. 20
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) c. 10
The following species were encountered close to the coast:
Jackass Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)
Cape Gannet (Morus capensis)
Cape Cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis)
Bank Cormorant (Phalacrocorax neglectus)
White-breasted Cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus)
Crowned Cormorant (Microcarbo coronatus)
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus)
Hartlaub's Gull (Chroicocephalus hartlaubii)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)
Swift Tern (Thalasseus bergii)
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) 12
Cape Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pucillus pucillus) lots
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 Rob Leslie.
To book, simply email
or phone us, or submit a
booking enquiry online.