We left the False Bay yacht Club in Simon's Town at the break of dawn and made the run south to Cape Point on beautifully calm seas. The conditions allowed us to easily spot large numbers of Humpback Whales. In addition to the whales, we had good sightings of both Dusky and Long-beaked Common Dolphins. As the sun rose, thousands of Cape Cormorants left to feed for the day. Numerous Cape Gannets and a few Sub-Antarctic (Brown) Skuas were seen towards the southern edge of False Bay.
Once around Cape Point, we had first sightings of Shy Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters. We were treated to sightings of three unseasonal Manx Shearwaters. As we travelled south-west into deeper water, we got our first Black-browed Albatross and the first of hundreds of Antarctic Prions.
After 28 nautical miles, we reached our day's destination, the Cape Canyon, but unfortunately there were no working fishing vessels. We slowly worked our away over the canyon, which delivered a number of additional species for the day's list: Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, Pintado Petrel, Soft-plumaged Petrel, Great-winged Petrel (uncommon to rare in winter), Wilson's Storm-Petrel and a lone Kelp Gull.
The undisputed (and unexpected!!) stars of the show were a pod of ORCAS. This species is uncommon in False Bay, but rare in the open ocean. "Our" Orcas seemed to be actively hunting large gamefish, as they rarely surfaced for more than a few seconds and were seen travelling underwater at incredible speeds and making tight turns. The pod drew the attention of pelagic seabirds, and allowed us to pin point the position of the hunting orcas. Unfortunately the pod was slowly moving away from the coast and we were forced to turn back after a spectacular show. They definitely made up for the absence of a trawler!!
The trip back to shore afforded more of the same species, in particular many more Antarctic Prions. Just before rounding Cape Point a school of eight or more Humpback Whales was sighted. We were treated to a spectacular show of multi-ton whales breaching. Two animals made a very close approach to the boat before diving.
Once around Cape Point and before stopping for lunch, we were treated to yet another close sighting of Humpbacked Whale. The very clear water at our lunch stop allowed us to see down eight metres. On view were numerous fish including the endemic Hottentot, some small needle-fishes and several comb-jellies (Ctenophoras). As we started to run north, we had several more Humpback Whale sightings including more breaching individuals.
We stopped at Partridge Point to see the breeding Bank and White-breasted Cormorants, in addition to numerous roosting Cape and a few Crowned Cormorants. African Black Oystercatchers feeding on the exposed rocks. Swift (Great Crested) Terns were seen feeding in the bay. The regular rock used by Cape Fur Seals to rest were teeming with extra animals seeking to get away from the Great White Sharks feeding on them at the nearby Seal Island.
Flat conditions allowed to see endangered African Penguins returning to the colony at Boulders Beach. One more Humpback Whale before ending the trip back at the False Bay Yacht Club.
Species seen at sea and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - 40-50
Black-browed Albatross - 5-10
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Southern Giant Petrel - 1
Northern Giant Petrel - 1
White-chinned Petrel - 200-300
Pintado Petrel - 2
Soft-plumaged Petrel - 1
Great-winged Petrel - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 100-200
Manx Shearwater - 3
Antarctic Prion - 100-200
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 2
Sub-Antarctic (Brown) Skua - 6+
Cape Gannet - abundant
Cape Cormorant - very abundant
Crowned Cormorant - 6
Bank Cormorant - 20-30
White-breasted Cormorant - 40-50
Hartlaub's Gull - abundant
Kelp Gull - abundant
Swift tern - abundant
African Black Oystercatcher - 6
ORCA - 3+
Humpbacked Whale - 12-15
Dusky Dolphin - 10-15
Long-beaked Common Dolphin - 5-10
Cape Fur Seal - abundant
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 Vincent Ward.
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