Trip Highlights: Manx Shearwater, 4 species of albatross, over a thousand Great Shearwater, and Northern Giant Petrel in beautiful pelagic birding conditions.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
We departed Hout Bay harbour aboard a Cape Town Pelagics trip with Seth Musker, our trip leader and Jurgen, the skipper. Conditions were wonderfully calm, though chilly and rather misty. A few birds emerged as ghostly figures from the mist, materialising as Swift Terns cruising overhead or platoons of Cape Cormorants powering purposefully low over the swell.
Slowly the mist began to clear and we added Cape Gannet and our first true pelagic species: Sooty Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel. A small bird with a similar flight action to Sooty Shearwater revealed white underparts and blackish upperparts as it drew closer, cruising alongside us - a Manx Shearwater. This was followed in quick succession by Cory's and Great Shearwaters, the former allowing excellent views. As is typical, our first albatross species came in the form of a few inquisitive Shy Albatross.
Trawler with 100's of pelagic birds in her wake.
Soon word came in from the one of the numerous tuna fishing boats that a trawler was at work within our range, and so we headed straight for it. Upon our arrival one of the crew of the Lucerne greeted us warmly, and soon indicated that they were about to haul in their net - fantastic timing and good fortune! A few birds were milling about the boat, but as soon as the net started to come up more and more birds seemed to appear out of thin air. This process culminated in a frenzy of feeding, with much squawking and squabbling over scraps among thousands of birds. By now the mist had cleared nicely, and our skipper ensured we always had the sun at our backs for clear views and great photographic opportunities.
By far the most numerous birds were the Great Shearwaters, with at least a thousand birds present in an unusual abundance. We added new birds steadily, including Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross bullying the smaller birds but being outmuscled by the larger and more numerous Shy; with dainty Wilson's Storm-petrels avoiding the melee and instead flitting about further behind the boat in good numbers;
a few Subantarctic Skua flying above the crowd and occasionally dive-bombing unsuspecting targets; and two Arctic Terns flitting overhead. A number of Cape Gannets speared into the water through the dense mass of birds closest to the net, apparently skilfully managing to avoid spearing the other birds!
As activity began to die down we decided to have lunch while keeping the trawler in our sights. We soon returned to the trawler in the hopes of picking up something new. There were occasional bouts of excitement, as when an unexpected Cory’s Shearwater zoomed straight over the boat from out of nowhere, or the odd White-chinned Petrel cruised by with that little bit of extra white plumage on the head. But there was nothing truly out of the ordinary. There was more than enough to keep us entertained, however, with the trawler processing its haul and occasionally discarding batches of by-catch. This would spark mini-frenzies, with the smaller shearwaters having the advantage of being able to manoeuvre closest to the boat, but then having to fend off much unwanted attention from the larger petrels and albatross.
The afternoon drew on in this fashion and we eventually had to call it a day. Then as we began to turn away from the trawler a fantastic Northern Giant Petrel zoomed right past us at close range, as if to prove that the story is never quite finished when one is at sea. However, the ride back to Hout Bay was uneventful, though we had brief views of African Penguin and enjoyed a ride past the spectacular cliffs and gullies of the slopes of Chapman's Peak and some people-watching as we cruised alongside Noordhoek Beach, before reaching the harbour after a highly enjoyable day at sea.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross c. 150
Black-browed Albatross c. 30
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross c. 15
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross 3
Northern Giant Petrel - 1
White-chinned Petrel c. 500
Cory's Shearwater c. 10
Great Shearwater c. 1000
Sooty Shearwater c. 50
Manx Shearwater - 1
Wilson's Storm-Petrel c. 300
Subantarctic Skua c. 4
Arctic Tern - 2
Cape Fur Seal
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and Great Shearwater.
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.
Thanks go to Martin Oosthuizen who kindly supplied the photographs taken during this trip.
To book, simply email
or phone us, or submit a
booking enquiry online.