Sea Birding Pelagic Trips South Africa, Cape Town Pelagics


  Destination - SubAntarctic Islands: Prince Edward and the Pack Ice


This pelagic birding trip, departing from and returning to Cape Town, was organised by Birding Africa in conjunction with Cape Town Pelagics, and was designed to see as many Southern Ocean seabirds as possible in the area south of Africa.

The South African Antarctic research and supply vessel the SA Agulhas departed on the afternoon of 1 November, and returned on the evening of 17 November. A total of 66 species of seabirds and 17 mammals (seals, whales and dolphins) was seen during the trip of just over 3200 nautical miles.

Tristan Archipelago and Gough
Tristan Archipelago and Gough
Tristan Archipelago and Gough

We shall steam close in past the coast of Prince Edward, and anchor off the South African research station on Marion Island. Although we are formally requesting landing permission, it is unlikely that we will be able to land on Marion Island, but we shall lie very close in off the island (ca 250 m offshore), and if weather permits, take the more adventurous passengers even closer inshore aboard the ship's boats. Crozet Shag and Kerguelen Tern, as well as the four breeding penguins, will be seen feeding close to the ship. Lesser Sheathbill is likely to remain ashore, although we may be lucky to have one come out to investigate the ship.

We'll then steam south, past Kildalky, a vast colony of King and Macaroni Penguins (with more than a million breeding birds), and head south-west for the pack ice. Exactly how long this will take depends on the extent of the sea-ice, and the weather conditions we encounter. However, we plan to have at least one full day (ideally two) steaming through the pack-ice. This is an unforgettable experience, with calm seas and plenty to look at (seals, icebergs as well as birds).

Finally it'll be time to head back north to Cape Town. This will be a long six days, with few new species to be seen, so those less than gung-ho birders who aren't fussed about honing their seabird ID skills might want to spend some time reading, listening to lectures or watching videos. We plan to dock early on 17 November, but given the vagaries of the weather, we might be earlier or later than this.

  About the Guides

A team of enthusiastic seabirders will be aboard to help you get to grips with the often tricky business of identifying pelagic seabirds. All the guides have lots of experience of the ship, the Prince Edward Islands and the birds and mammals we will encounter. Guides will be scattered around the ship, and will endeavour to ensure that everyone sees the most important birds. They will wear diagnostic gear to make them readily identifiable aboard ship. The list of guides is not finalised yet, but the team will be led by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan.

Ian Sinclair
Peter Ryan

Ian Sinclair is Africa's top birder and a renowned bird-tour guide (now retired!). Ian spent six months on Marion Island in the 1970s and has been back for shorter trips many times. He is also a veteran of numerous trips to Antarctica.



Peter Ryan - a lecturer at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology who has spent seven months at sea, most of it on the SA Agulhas. He has visited the Prince Edward Islands five times, spending several months on Marion Island, and one summer in Antarctica. Peter was responsible for arranging the first 2 pelagic trips on the
SA Agulhas in 2001 and 2002.

  Birding Expectations

Seabirding is a matter of perseverance, and by spending 17 days at sea, we stand an excellent chance of seeing a very large proportion of the species known to occur in the waters south of Africa. This ignores the 'inshore' species which are essentially coastal birds that are much better observed from shore (e.g. the endemic cormorants around Cape Town). The list also includes some of the marine mammals we may encounter - these are often much harder to see than birds, and sightings are strongly linked to sea conditions (it's much easier to spot whales and dolphins on calm days). Each evening we'll have a feedback session and post an 'official' bird list for the day.

  What to bring

Full details on this will be made available once people have signed up for the trip. But briefly, all bedding and linen is provided, and there's a well-stocked (and very reasonably-priced) bar on board. A checklist of other things to remember includes:

  -  Adequate warm birding gear - it's always cold and windy at sea, especially if you sit/stand on deck for hours on end.
  -  Smart clothes - we're expected to be semi-presentable at dinner · Anti-nausea medication (to avoid sea-sickness)
  -  Sun screen
  -  Nibbles and soft-drinks
  -  Books and games (there is a library, but it's best to bring at least some entertainment)
  -  Adequate medication to last you the trip

You also need to take out comprehensive travel and cancellation insurance.

  Pre and Post Birding Tours And Cape Town Logistics

We can make guest house/hotel/B&B bookings for people arriving from outside Cape Town, and can book shuttles to and from the harbour if needed.

With many passengers coming from outside South Africa, there will doubtless be lots of land-based birding going on in the days immediately before and after the trip. October-November is perhaps the peak time for birding in western South Africa. We can assist people wanting self-guided tours, but suggest they first visit the Cape Birding Route, which includes invaluable information from Callan and Claire's Essential Birding in Western South Africa, as well as advice on accommodation, etc.

If people are interested, we shall arrange pre- and post- trip birding tours. These can range from single-day trips around Cape Town, to longer trips targeting all the region's endemics.

  Cruise Track
Map created by Peter Ryan