Trip Highlights: 4 Albatross species, Pomarine Jaeger, Great Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, Humpback Whales and Dusky Dolphins.
Heading out into False Bay, we passed large numbers of Cape Cormorants, Hartlaub's and Kelp Gulls roosting on structures and vessels in the harbour. The marker buoy at the harbour entrance held four Bank Cormorants. Passing the penguin colony at Boulders Beach, we encountered several large groups of African Penguins heading out to forage in the bay. As we waited for the prevailing winds to drop, we stopped at Partridge Point. The large granite rocks held dozens of pairs of breeding Bank and White-breasted Cormorants. The lower mussel covered rocks had several feeding African Black Oystercatchers. The small Cape Fur Seal haul-out was relatively unoccupied as most animals were out foraging.
We did our standard photo stop at Cape Point as several Giant Petrels flew past. Unfortunately they were not close enough to allow us to confirm their identities. The abundant volumes of small bait fish had attracted large mixed flocks of Swift, Sandwich and Common Terns. All the commotion caught the attention of a single Pomarine Jaeger. The spectacle was rounded out by Cape Gannets, Cape and White-breasted Cormorants feeding among the terns.
Once we transitioned from coast to the open ocean, we glimpsed our first Shy Albatrosses. The number of pelagic seabirds quickly increased with numerous sightings of White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters. The most abundant pelagic species were the recently arrived flocks of Cory's Shearwaters.
We received news of active fishing vessels and we headed to meet the closer of the two. The vessel turned out to be a long-lining fishing vessel that began to pull in its line just as we arrived. The offal being thrown over the side attracted a good number and variety of species. The highlight was four species of albatrosses: Shy, Black-browed, Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed. The melee also included a single Great Shearwater, as well as a few Sooty and Cory's Shearwaters. There was a good number of European Storm Petrels, and a single Wilson's Storm Petrel, lacking in the past few trips. The distinctively patterned Sabine's Gulls were seen hovering above the large rafts of White-chinned Petrels. Kelp Gulls and Cape Fur Seals, both seen at the coast, were also present and scavenging for scraps.
Our return trip was mostly uneventful, but as we approached Cape Point, a large number of whale spouts got our attention. As we altered course, a small pod of Humpback Whales broke the surface before sounding and diving deep.
Once back in calm of False Bay, we had a lunch break, before continuing on to port. As we were rounding the breakwater, a small pod of Dusky Dolphins joined our boat for a few minutes before turning back and swimming off into deeper water.
We rounded out the four marine cormorant species with a trio of Crowned Cormorants in harbour.
Pelagic species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - 5-10
Black-browed Albatross - 3-5
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 3-5
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 2-3
Giant Petrel spp - 3-5
White-chinned Petrel - 200-300
Sooty Shearwater - 5-10
Cory's Shearwater - 75-100
Great Shearwater – 1
European Storm Petrel - 20-30
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 1
Pomarine Skua - 1
Sabine's Gull - 20-30
African Penguins - 60-80
Kelp Gull - abundant (coastal), 40-50 (pelagic)
Hartlaub's Gull - abundant
Cape Cormorant - abundant
White-breasted Cormorant - 40-50
Crowned Cormorant - 3
Bank Cormorant - ±30 breeding pairs
African Black Oystercatcher - 4-5
Cape Fur Seal - abundant (coastal and pelagic)
Humpback Whale - 4-6
Dusky Dolphin - 8-10
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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