Trip Highlights: Shy and Black-browed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Subantarctic Skua, Humpback, Southern Right and Killer (Orca) Whales.
Sunday 10 July saw a mix of Scottish, Belgian and South African birders board a Cape Town Pelagics trip for a mid-winter Cape Town excursion. We left the harbour and were half way out of the bay before the sun started to show itself over the Hottentot's Holland Mountains to the East. Highlights in the bay were the spectacular scenery, a single White-chinned Petrel and a very friendly Southern Right Whale. The whale was frolicking with a piece of kelp on the surface but it soon started coming straight towards us, passing directly under the boat – a truly great start to the day!
The sea was a bit choppier and the south-easter a tad stronger than predicted. As such, we proceeded slowly towards the trawling grounds to the south west. We were soon enjoying great views of Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels and after 6 miles we started seeing Antarctic Prions. After 10 Miles we encountered our first Albatross of the day, an adult Shy Albatross. We communicated with several ski boats out in the deep but unfortunately none had seen any trawlers operating in their vicinity. We headed slightly to the north of the Canyon in the hope of finding a trawler or long-liner in this area. By 20 miles we still couldn't see any sign of fishing vessels so we continued slowly outwards adding Wilson's Storm Petrel, Subantarctic Skua and Pintado Petrel. At about 22 miles we could see a concentration of bird activity and we headed in that direction. As we got closer we saw a massive dorsal fin of a male Orca! The hundreds of birds and a few Killer Whales (Orca) were working a bait ball! We had great views of all the birds mentioned above and although the Killer Whales were rather shy, we eventually had good views of a female close to the boat. We also had some close flybys from an adult Black-browed Albatross one of only two seen during the day. We drifted with the bait ball until it dissipated and the birds moved off. We then put some fish oil over the side to see if we could attract anything new for the day. Eventually we succeeded in attracting two Giant Petrels. Both were young birds and were called Southern. However, when interrogating the photos of the one bird after the trip, it was clear that one was in fact a Northern.
After enjoying our lunch out in the deep, we unfortunately had to turn and make our way back towards home. About 4 miles from Cape Point, we encountered at least 6 Humpback Whales and a very large pod of about 500 Common Dolphins. Just inside Cape Point, we again had a Southern Right Whale, probably the same individual we encountered on the way out.
The mandatory stop at the Bank Cormorant breeding colony at Partridge Point produced good views of Bank, Cape, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorant.
Species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - c.10
Black-browed Albatross - 2
Pintado Petrel - c.30
White-chinned Petrel - c.250
Sooty Shearwater - c.100
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
Northern Giant Petrel - 1
Antarctic Prion - c. 500
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c.50
Subantarctic Skua - 5
Southern Right Whale - 1
Humback Whale - 6
Killer Whale (Orca) - 3
Common Dolphin - c.500
Cape Fur Seal - Common
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 Cliff Dorse.
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