Trip Highlights: Four Albatross species - Shy, Black-browed, Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed, both Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Sub-Antarctic Skua, Great Shearwater, Sabine's Gull and all four marine Cormorant species.
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
The 18th January was a calm morning after a week of mild southerly winds. Ten keen birders gathered extra early on the Simon's Town jetty to board a Cape Town Pelagics trip with Dalton Gibbs the tour leader for the day. A small frontal system was forecast for the afternoon and our early start was to get ahead of this.
Within the confines of the harbour were the usual Kelp Gulls, Hartlaub's Gulls, Cape Cormorant and a lone Grey Heron. Out in False Bay we saw a few African Penguins feeding in the waters, whilst groups stood upon the Boulders Beach ready to take to the sea. The trip across False Bay was quiet, with only a few Cape Gannet about. At Cape Point we took some scenery photos, checked out over the radio and headed out to the deep.
Just past Cape Point were numerous Cape Cormorants and it was a while before our first Sooty Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel showed up, along with Cape Gannets and Swift Terns. We came across a few dozen Cory's Shearwaters; photographs of a few under wing patterns revealed both Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters, which are species recently split from one another. At the five nautical mile mark our first Shy Albatross appeared where the water started to turn transparent blue, indicating oceanic water. We continued away from land and by the time we reached the 20 N mile mark had come across a few European and Wilson's Storm-petrels, Black-browed Albatross and a lone Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross.
Young Black-browed Albatross
Adult Black-browed Albatross
At this point we spotted a trawler in the far distance and headed for her. Approaching the trawler we came across Great Shearwaters, Sabine's Gulls, a Sub-Antarctic Skua and a Northern Giant Petrel, all of whom were heading in the trawler's general direction. The trawler was the African Hope, a stern trawler out of Saldanha Bay with her nets down. Around her were groups of albatross, petrels and shearwaters waiting for the nets to be lifted. Our timing worked well and soon the trawler started to lift her nets, bringing in a few hundred birds. In quick succession we picked up Southern Giant Petrel and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, while almost all the other species we had seen came past us in numbers.
We stayed with the African Hope for well over an hour, having fine views of hundreds of birds as they passed our boat, fighting and squabbling over scraps being discharged from the trawler who by now had reset her nets. The viewing conditions were great; with the light behind us we had a continuous stream of birds pass us, allowing excellent repeat views of almost all species. One of the keen birders aboard was Arne Torkler, who took thousands of photos of the procession of birds we saw. He contacted me excitedly the day after the trip to explain that a bird we had missed was a Spectacled Petrel! He duly sent me a photo of a group of birds which included a definite Spectacled Petrel! Despite scanning hard for this species, this red-faced guide missed the bird - oops!
The only defence I have is that the group of birds we had behind the trawler were spectacular and there were hundreds to go through! We had a leisurely lunch behind the trawler and after mid day started heading back toward land as the predicted frontal weather system started to make its present felt. The ride back was gentle and uneventful apart from some Arctic-looking Terns as well as Shy Albatross (Arne counted over 100 on the way back). Once back in False Bay we followed the towering cliff line, finding an Ostrich which always makes for an interesting addition to a pelagic trip list! In the Cape Point section of the national park was also saw Eland, which being the world's largest antelope made a good addition to having the world's largest bird on a trip report!
With these interesting anecdotes behind us we travelled across False Bay, coming to the Castle Rock cormorant colony. Here we found White-breasted, Cape Cormorants, and Bank Cormorants, whilst the adjacent rocks held two African Black Oyster-catchers and Cape Fur Seals. A lone Crowned Cormorant dived in the strong swell alongside the seals which had a very peculiar odour, something which will probably never be bottled as a perfume. We made our way back to Simon's Town Harbour, reaching there comfortably before the wind picked up.
Bird species seen and approximate numbers:
Shy Albatross - 300
Black-browed Albatross - 300
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - 8
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 4
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 5
White-chinned Petrel - 250
Southern Giant Petrel - 5
Northern Giant Petrel - 5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 40
European Storm-Petrel - 10
Sooty Shearwater - 100
Great Shearwater - 250
Cory's Shearwater - 50 (assuming a 50/50 split between Cory/Scopoli)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 50
Sabine's Gull - 50
Crowned Cormorant _ 1
White-breasted Cormorant - 4
African Penguin - 20
African Black Oystercatcher - 2
Cape Gannet - coastal & pelagic - 20
Grey Heron - 1
Cape Fur Seal
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 Dalton Gibbs.
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