Pelagic Birding south of Cape Point

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.

Kagga Kamma

A three night visit to Kagga Kamma, with Roy and Avril as our companions, proved to be most enjoyable.  The small privately owned reserve is situated in the Koue Bokkeveld, and was an ideal place to find some solitude amongst the wondrous rock formations that characterise the area.  It was so quiet that we often wondered whether we were the only living souls in the area.  Obviously everyone else there was enjoying the same and did not want to disturb the peace.

We went for a couple of hikes, one of 7 km and one at 10 km.  They provided a good opportunity to get close to nature and even see some of the antelope that roam the reserve.  Birds were pretty scarce and we struggled to see more than around 15 species in the reserve.  These did, however, include some of the Karoo birds which we do not see around Hermanus.

Our return journey took us down the long gravel highway that stretches between Calvinia and Ceres, and we passed a large number of intrepid hikers, who were walking the 270 km long Tankwa Camino.  We did not envy them at all!  They walk around 27 km per day with absolutely no shade along the entire route, and nothing but glaring, bright, semi desert plains all around.

De Hoop with The Hermanus Bird Club

Our two night outing to De Hoop commenced on Monday.  Recording bird species for the trip list started when we left the tar road outside Bredasdorp and ended there today on our return.  It was a great trip, arranged by Craig, as his swansong from the committee.

Accommodation and food were of a very high standard, with everybody making their contribution.  The small group size (only 18 members took part) meant that we all got to know each other and this made for a very happy outing!

On the birding front, we managed to assemble a list of 126 species, which is probably just about as good as any previous trip to De Hoop.  Perhaps the best bird of the trip was the African Snipe, three of which frequented a small water seep close to the camp, making for great viewing.  Despite the somewhat windy weather, we also managed two boat trips on the lagoon and these contributed to the list, with especially great sightings of Black-crowned Night Herons.

Our list comprised:  Bar-throated Apalis;  Pied Avocet;  Southern Red Bishop;  Yellow Bishop;  Bokmakerie;  Cape Bulbul;  Cape Bunting;  Denham’s Bustard;  Common Buzzard;  Jackal Buzzard;  Brimstone Canary;  Yellow Canary;  White-throated Canary;  Grey-backed Cisticola;  Levallant’s Cisticola;  Red-knobbed Coot;  Reed Cormorant; White-breasted Cormorant;  Blue Crane;  Long-billed Crombec;  Cape Crow;  Pied Crow;  African Darter;  Cape Turtle Dove;  Laughing Dove;  Namaqua Dove;  Red-eyed Dove;  Fork-tailed Drongo;  Yellow-billed Duck;  African Fish Eagle;  Booted Eagle;  Great Egret;  Little Egret; Western Cattle Egret;  Yellow-billed Egret;  Common Fiscal;  Greater Flamingo;  Lesser Flamingo;  Fiscal Flycatcher;  Grey-winged Francolin;  Egyptian Goose;  Spur-winged Goose;  Pale Chanting Goshawk;  Cape Grassbird;  Black-necked Grebe;  Great Crested Grebe;  Little Grebe;  Sombre Greenbul;  Common Greenshank;  Helmeted Guineafowl; Hartlaub’s Gull;  Kelp Gull;  Hamerkop;  Black-crowned Night Heron;  Grey Heron;  African Sacred Ibis;  Glossy Ibis;  Hadeda Ibis;  Rock Kestrel;  Black-shouldered Kite;  Yellow-billed Kite;  Blacksmith Lapwing;  Crowned Lapwing;  Aghulhas Long-billed Lark;  Large-billed Lark;  Cape Longclaw;  Mallard;  Speckled Mousebird;  Common Moorhen; Fiery-necked Nightjar;  Commen Ostrich;  African Black Oystercatcher;  Speckled Pigeon; African Pipit;  Common Ringed Plover;  Kittlitz’s Plover;  Three-banded Plover;  White-fronted Plover;  Karoo Prinia;  White-necked Raven;  Cape Robin-Chat;  Namaqua Sandgrouse;  Common Sandpiper;  Curlew Sandpiper;  Wood Sandpiper;  Black Saw-wing;  Secretarybird;  Streaky-headed Seedeater;  Cape Shoveler;  African Snipe;  Cape Sparrow;  Southern Grey-headed Sparrow;  African Spoonbill;  Cape Spurfowl;  Common Starling;  Pied Starling;  Red-winged Starling;  Black-winged Stilt; Little Stint;  African Stonechat;  Cape Sugarbird;  Malachite Sunbird;  Southern Double-collared Sunbird;  Barn Swallow;  Greater Striped Swallow;  White-throated Swallow;  African Black Swift;  Alpine Swift;  Southern Tchagra;  Cape Teal;  Red-billed Teal;  Caspian Tern;  Common Tern;  Sandwich Tern;  Whiskered Tern;  Olive Thrush;  Ruddy Turnstone;  Cape Vulture;  Cape Wagtail;  Common Waxbill;  Cape Weaver;  Capped Wheatear;  Cardinal Woodpecker.

Birding at Gifberg

A three night stay at the Gifberg Holiday Farm in the mountains south of Vanrhynsdorp, with the Hermanus Bird Club, allowed for some interesting birding and an enjoyable stay in this remote, but beautiful part of the Western Cape.  The accommodation is basic, but comfortable and the company was good.  Communal evening meals were delicious and a tribute to all the contributors.  We enjoyed some entertaining outings and saw a good number of birds – 107 species to be exact!