Trip Highlights: 4 Albatross species, Southern Giant Petrel, Spectacled Petrel, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Sabine's Gull, Grey (Red) Phalarope, ±100 Bottle-nosed Dolphins
Black-browed Albatross (immature)
A mixed bag of two Irishmen, three safari guides from Phinda in Zululand, and one post-doctoral ornithologist from the FitzPatrick Institute at UCT set off with guide Andrew de Blocq from Simon's Town harbour in good weather.
While passing Boulders Beach we had multiple African Penguin foraging parties pass us in the water, numbering more than 50 penguins all told, which was a great sight! The regular Swift and Sandwich Terns flew over between the harbour and Cape Point, along with Cape Cormorants. Once at Cape Point we entered a very thick mist belt, with visibility at >50 m.
Passing misty and cloudy Cape Point on our way out to the trawling grounds.
Our skipper assured us that as we headed into deeper, warmer water the mist would recede, so we held out hope. In the mist we managed to make out our first White-chinned Petrels, Cory's Shearwater, Sooty Shearwaters and Cape Gannets. The mist did recede as promised, revealing our first two albatross for the day sitting side by side on the water - Shy and Black-browed Albatross. The Shy took off, flying low over the boat with its impressive mass and wingspan. Once the euphoria and awe had subsided slightly, high-5s were exchanged between the 3 Phinda guides as they had never been on a pelagic before, and a first albatross sighting is something you will remember for the rest of your life.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross was found soon after. Both Wilson's and European Storm Petrels - present at this time of year - put in a show on the open water. A handful of Arctic and Common Terns also flew by.
Trawler traffic in the previous week had been very low, with most boats preferring to fish off the west coast or further east towards Hermanus - out of our range. The situation in the morning had looked fairly similar, with 3 trawlers departing Hout Bay and heading in the wrong direction, no boats evident on the AIS display onboard, and no reports from any of the skipper's colleagues on sport fishing boats. However, one of the Phinda guides, no doubt with eyes trained well in the tropical bushveld, managed to pick out a speck in the distance. We changed our course, hoping we'd found the almost literal drop in the ocean.
Black-browed Albatross (mature)
It turned out those keen eyes had indeed found a trawler, 'The Realeka', and our timing could not have been better as it was hauling nets for processing, and had pulled in huge aggregations of tube-noses, White-chinned Petrels in particular. Albatrosses were particularly abundant too, including all of Shy, Black-browed, Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross.
A number of Great Shearwater were seen in the fishy slipstream, and one Southern Giant Petrel was picked out from the avian chaos unfolding in front of us. Also notable was the number of Storm Petrels of both aforementioned species, certainly above average in their abundance at this trawler. We watched the boat pull in its nets, with Cape Fur Seals and Cape Gannets attacking the catch from above, while the other birds picked off the scraps behind.
Southern Giant Petrel with a White-chinned Petrel in the background.
After an hour or so following the trawler we decided to sit in it's wake and watch the birds come past, while we settled down for some well-earned snacks. As we enjoyed our lunch, a single Spectacled Petrel was picked out from the thousands of White-chinned Petrels flying by. Unfortunately the bird was only seen briefly and didn't offer an opportunity for photographs, but it was still a good find. Other birds found while waiting in the slip included Sabine's Gull and Subantarctic Skua. A highlight for the trip was the visit of a pod of perhaps 100 Indian Bottle-nosed Dolphins, split into family groups of 10-20, some with young. They swam right by the boat, giving phenomenal views of these rather large cetaceans. Our last half an hour was spent watching Yellowfin Tuna fishermen pulling out some impressive individuals.
After a few very enjoyable hours with the trawler, we turned around and headed home. On the way back we spotted first a Pomarine and then multiple Parasitic Jaegers. An Atlantic Blue Shark and an unknown species of Flying Fish also provided some distractions along the way back. Perhaps the bird of the day was a single Grey (Red) Phalarope, however only the skipper and one passenger managed to glimpse this bird as it flew speedily past the bow.
The customary stop at Partridge Point provided White-breasted, Cape and Bank Cormorants while the last of the four species, Crowned Cormorant, was found in the harbour alongside the ubiquitous Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - 200
Black-browed Albatross - 300
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 50
White-chinned Petrel - 3500
Spectacled Petrel - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
European Storm Petrel - 100
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 70
Cory's Shearwater - 200
Great Shearwater - 40
Sooty Shearwater - 10
Subantarctic Skua - 5
Pomarine Jaeger - 2
Parasitic Jaeger - 5
Grey Phalarope - 1
Sabine's Gull - 6
Arctic Tern - 5
Common Tern - 5
Cape Fur Seals
Atlantic Blue Shark
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 Andrew de Blocq.
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