Pelagic Birding south of Cape Point

Pelagic
Our route from Hermanus to the fishing grounds

On Sunday morning we set out with a group of friends to do some pelagic birding in the area south of Cape Point.  This is where upwelling of bottom waters occurs and it is, therefore, a favourite fishing ground for the trawlers that operate out of Cape Town.  We sailed on the well-equipped and staffed Majestic, a tuna boat based in Hermanus.  Powered by twin 300 HP Suzuki outboards, this vessel fairly flew over the, at times,  choppy water.

Our trip took us to an area 60 km south of Cape Point.  This meant that we had to travel around 85 km from Hermanus, a journey that took us about three hours there and over four hours back.  We saw little on the way out.  The sea was rough (by my standards) with swells of around 2 to 2.5 metres, so we found it very difficult to stand steady, as is required for using binoculars or a long lens.  At one time we passed a school of dolphins, and there were odd Albatrosses and Gannets around.  We passed through the busy shipping route that circumnavigates the Cape and saw plenty of activity, even a lone yacht with no sails up.

Then, to our delight, we spotted a couple of trawlers and the birds were suddenly everywhere.  Whilst there was a good number, there were not as many species as we had hoped for.  Our list of 21 species included:

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross;  Black-browed Albatross;  Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross;  Shy Albatross;  Sooty Albatross;  Cape Cormorant;  White-breasted Cormorant;  Cape Gannet;  Hartlaub’s Gull;  Kelp Gull;  African Penguin;  Northern Giant Petrel;  Southern Giant Petrel;  Pintado Petrel;  Spectacled Petrel;  White-chinned Petrel;  Antarctic Prion;  Sooty Shearwater;  Brown Skua;  Wilson’s Storm Petrel;  Arctic Tern.

There was a light breeze in the morning and the sea was, as described, difficult to cope with when trying to use a long lens, but the birds were very active and we had some wonderful sightings.  Chumming from the boat added to the drama as the various species competed with one another for the scraps thrown overboard.  The most aggressive feeders were the Brown Skuas.  Perhaps the most beautiful sight was the flocks up to 20 or 30 Pintado Petrels with their wonderful pied plumage.

One exceptional bird seen by the Turners, and photographed by Cynthia, was the White morph of the Southern Giant Petrel and her beautiful image is appended below.

By the time we were half way back to Hermanus, the wind had completely dropped and the sea flattened out beautifully.  If only this had happened earlier, but we were well pleased with our day and sorry to leave the boat when we returned at sunset.  Walter Mapham arranged the trip and proved to be a great host, with his knowledge of the sea and boats, and our skippers, Boet and Glynn, accompanied by Manny, looked after us very well.

3 thoughts on “Pelagic Birding south of Cape Point

    1. Sally Meyer & Ed

      Some great pelagic bird photos, despite the choppy sea and swells.
      Well done Ronnie! It was a memorable day, so well described in your Blog!
      Ed.

    2. I am very pleased that you enjoyed the trip and your photographs are top dollar. I can’t wait to go on the next rip to sea these awesome species of birds. Unfortunately this time round I had bronchitis so not a good idea to be on the sea.

      Till next time

      Regards
      Kim Sharklady

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