A Zest for Birds pelagic trip departed from Simonstown early Saturday morning, guided by Barrie Rose, Alvin Cope, Trevor Hardaker and John Graham. Conditions had been pretty ropey during the latter parts of the week, with wild stormy conditions, but the wind had slackened off overnight and the swell was lessening, allowing us to head out early enough to hopefully pick up on birds displaced shorewards from the oceanic waters by the storm.
The trip southwards through the Bay netted (figuratively) White chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Shy Albatross, Subantarctic Skua and a group of three Humpbacked Whales, and once we'd rounded the Point we quickly added Antarctic Prions, a single distant Giant Petrel (sp) and the first of many Pintado Petrels. As with our previous trip, two weeks earlier, our journey out towards the trawling waters revealed unseasonal Great winged Petrel and Arctic Terns, although not everyone kept their binoc's on these due to the somewhat bumpy conditions.
The skipper picked up a trawler on the radar and we headed in her direction to begin picking through the excellent number of birds foraging in a tight melee in her wake. The numbers were dominated by Pintado Petrels, thousands of which were sat in rafts picking at the fish waste behind the trawler, but quantities or White chinned Petrels and albatrosses were also impressive. Both Giant Petrels were present. both as adults and imm's, and a striking white headed Southern Giant Petrel flew in to settle close to the trawler's stern on many occasions. Our first great albatross was seen in the distance and thought to be a Wanderer due to the clear black band on its tail, but once we'd tracked the bird down sat in a feeding group we were surprised to realise that it was in fact a juv SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS, showing more black on the tail tip than is acknowledged by the books or than had been seen by any of us previously. A single SOUTHERN FULMAR was initially shy, but then provided us with great views over the next hour. Prions were a little more scarce in the wake, but we carefully scrutinised those present (as far as permitted by the unsettled swell) in search for Thin billed or other rarer species, alas to no avail.
After a thorough search we headed north-westwards to pick though the birds sat sated in the vicinity, and quickly picked up our second great albatross, a rather slightly built WANDERING ALBATROSS with what appeared to be artificial colourant on its nape. We are inquiring whether this is possibly the marking of some research team, and if so this might reveal the home island of this bird, the greatest of the oceanic wanderers.
Our trip home was quiet save for a flyby by a striking white morph Southern Giant Petrel and further close views of many Antarctic Prions.
The full list for the day was as follows, with numbers being approximations only:
Southern Royal Albatross - 1 juv
Wandering Albatross - 1 ad
Shy Albatross - c500
Black browed Albatross - c100
Atlantic Yellow nosed Albatross - 2
Indian Yellow nosed Albatross - 3
Northern Giant Petrel - c8
Southern Giant Petrel - 5, incl 1 white headed adult and 1 white morph
Pintado Petrel - c4000
Antarctic Prion - c500
Southern Fulmar - 1
Great winged Petrel - 1
White chinned Petrel - c1500
Sooty Shearwater - c250
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c100
Subantarctic Skua - c25
Arctic Tern - 2
Swift Tern - A few coastal
Kelp Gull - Common coastal
White breasted Cormorant - Coastal
Cape Cormorant - large numbers in Bay and close offshore
Bank Cormorant - 3
Crowned Cormorant - 4
African Penguin - small flotilla off Boulders, am
Cape Gannet - c100 at Trawler
Humpbacked Whale - 3
Many thanks to Harry and Chief for a great day at sea, and to Petra for the great snacks. We have some space still on our upcoming trips, the next of which is on 9/10 July. Please contact Trevor or myself to make reservations or refer to our webpage for detailed pelagic information.