Posted on the 14th April 2016

Dawid and myself were privileged to be invited by Wilfred Chivell of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust to join them to be part of a reconnaissance cruise to evaluate the viability of Pelagic Birding outings from Kleinbaai, Gansbaai.
The trip started with early morning coffee at the Great White House in Kleinbaai. The venue was abuzz as tourists going on shark diving excursions were having coffee and chatting excitedly about their trip. Our group consisted of nine birders, including the very capable skipper, Hennie Otto, who also turned out to be an excellent birder.
We took the short walk down to the Kleinbaai harbour where we conveniently boarded the boat on dry land before it got launched into the water by a huge tractor. This was very comfortable, safe and reassuring. The “Whale Whisperer” offers ample space for one's legs and for photographic equipment. By 06h20 we headed off in a south/ south-westerly direction with not a breath of wind.
We soon sighted our first Albatross, unfortunately too distant to identify. It did however stage a fly past with the beautiful morning sky making for beautiful photographs. We could not have asked for a more magnificent sunrise. Hennie started searching for possible fish trawler activity with the on-board Garmin equipment, initially without any luck, but after 43 km we did start picking up on activity. We went past two huge liners on our way to the three different possible trawlers. At times the water was a little bit choppy, but nothing worse than a Kalahari corrugated dirt road. Hennie navigated us through nearly flat plains (continental shelf) where the sea bottom slopes gently towards the shelf break and the sea bottom steepens.

Trawler through the fog









At 45 nautical miles, the on-board equipment picked up that we were within 80 meters of a trawler and we could hear the equipment and the people on the boat. There was some bird and seal activity, but thick fog had come up and we could not even see the boat. This was quite scary as one could hear all the activity without seeing the boat. Eventually at 40 meters we were able to recognise the trawler – the “Laverne” from Cape Town. They had unfortunately just finished trawling, but there were still lots of birds and seals attracted by the offal floating on the water. The fog made it quite difficult to identify the birds, but we were able to identify two Albatross species, lots of White-Chinned Petrels, Sub-Antarctic Skuas and Wilson's Storm Petrels. The fog lifted for a while and we were able to have our well-deserved breakfast, some 90 km from land.

Magnificent flypast














Hennie then headed off to the next trawler, this time cruising in a north /north westerly direction. The nets of this trawler were still in the water, creating huge excitement. What an incredible sight as the trawler slowly started pulling the nets in – there were birds everywhere and we had really good views of Black-browed Albatross, European Storm-Petrel, Cory’s, Great and Sooty Shearwaters and Cape Gannet. We also spotted one unidentified bird, which after consultation with Trevor Hardaker turned out to be a Long-tailed Skua, an immature bird that is busy moulting into adult plumage, so is probably around two years old. They are medium-sized seabirds and our smallest skua. Long-tailed Skuas breed in the tundra of the Arctic Circle and good numbers of birds spend the winter off the west coast of Africa.

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross









There were lots of other interesting observations, including very funny looking fishes that I had never seen before and hundreds of little snoek, which the Cape Fur Seals absolutely loved. Wilfred scooped up some of these fishes to evaluate later. It seems as if many fish get wasted by posssibly slipping through the net.
We found a further trawler on our way back, that had also just finished trawling. There were good numbers of both Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and we spent a considerable amount of time with them as the photographic opportunities were now excellent. 

On our way back, we twice had to turn around to collect five helium balloons tied together drifting on the water. We also collected another balloon later that was released in celebration of a “30th birthday party”. While hanging overboard trying to help to collect the balloons I again realised why the Dyer Island Conservation Trust was awarded two major Responsible Tourism awards in the last six months.
PLEASE DO NOT USE BALOONS, it is bad in every way !!!!!!

Great Shearwater
In flight









The fog slowly started lifting and we headed back to land in perfect autumn weather, but not before we stopped for a strange, but beautiful looking Sunfish basking in the sun. The boat is practically maneuverable, thus making it easy to give everyone on board a vantage point to study the animal and take photographs.
As we approached the shore we saw many African Penguins, with good numbers of Bank and Crowned Cormorants, Hartlaub's and Kelp Gulls and Sandwich and Swift Terns flying about. Along the shore itself we were able to identify Little Egret, African Sacred Ibis, Pied Kingfisher, African Black Oystercatcher and Ruddy Turnstone.
I am no expert at Pelagic birds, but from what I have seen and the amount of birds present, I have no doubt that this could be a wonderful experience for anyone interested in birds and twitchers wanting to grow their life lists. Taking the often dense fog into account, our list of sixteen pelagic species seen was exceptional. Wilfred, Hennie and their team have wonderful ideas to build this into a sustainable product for pelagic birding, thus adding yet another excellent alternative to birding along the Cape Whale Coast.

There are many more excellent photographs of this cruise available at the following link:

Contact the Dyer Island Conservation Trust here:

(Text and images by Carin Malan of BirdLife Overberg)

More pelagic species










Long-tailed Skua















On DICT's Whale Whisperer


FEBE VAN TONDER (posted: 2016-04-14 20:35:40)
Looked like an amazing trip, well written
DI PARKER (posted: 2016-04-14 13:09:03)
What a great trip - would love to known if and when this becomes a regular outing. Super photos!
MIKE GRAHAM (posted: 2016-04-14 12:29:57)
Great photos.