01 October 2011 – a 5 albatross day
With some nasty weather having passed through the area earlier in the week, it was a bit of a relief to have a window in the weather to get out on another Zest for Birds pelagic trip today (Trevor co-guiding with Barrie Rose and Alvin Cope) especially since the weather predictions indicated gale force winds again from tomorrow onwards. There was still a bit of wind, but nothing too much to really worry us. Unfortunately, we were also faced with totally overcast conditions for most of the day which didn’t help with the photography, but as always, it was just great to get out there! The trip from Simon’s Town through False Bay to Cape Point was rather uneventful apart from a single Humpback Whale and the odd Cape Gannets and White-chinned Petrels. Once around Cape Point, the numbers of birds were still pretty low, but as we headed further out, we slowly began to add more species to the list – Southern Giant Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and Shy Albatross.
We located a shark longliner at about 16 nautical miles offshore and were quickly in amongst large groups of birds. Black-browed Albatrosses, Northern Giant and Pintado Petrels, Subantarctic Skua and a sprinkling of Common Terns were the most obvious while there were also good numbers of Cape Fur Seals around. The biggest highlight was a single Flesh-footed Shearwater, a rather uncommon species in our waters. It was only the second time we had encountered this species during the challenge and the first time we had had the opportunity to photograph it for the challenge (although the photos were good and solidly cocked up and only just pass as a record shot!). We spent quite a bit of time wallowing around in the wake of this boat, but apart from the species already mentioned, we did not add too much else.
Our skipper, Harry Dilley, then picked up another vessel on the radar about 5 nautical miles from us and we headed off towards her. It was another longliner and not long after arriving at the vessel, we were once again enjoying the numbers of birds in her wake. Careful scanning through the flock picked out our first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross of the day as well as a single Great Shearwater and small numbers of Wilson’s Storm Petrels. Whilst working through the birds, Barrie also picked up our first Black-bellied Storm Petrel of the season – what a cracking bird! This is a highly sought after species for most local listers – it is a passage migrant through our waters and is only available for short periods of roughly a fortnight each in May and October. So, we really hope that we will connect with the numbers of them on our trips in the next couple of weeks.
A third longliner was spotted on the horizon and we decided to move over to it to see if it held anything different. Initially, it didn’t have huge numbers of birds around it, but this soon changed. Another Great Shearwater and another Black-bellied Storm Petrel were added to the list as well as our first Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross of the day. We puttered around in her wake for a while and were about to call it a day and start heading for home when a enormous brownish bird suddenly came into view. “WANDERER!” was bellowed out and, before long, all the passengers were onto the ultimate doyen of the open ocean, Wandering Albatross. This juvenile bird performed well showing off its incredible 3,5m wingspan, the largest wingspan of any bird in the world. It wasn’t long before a second individual, a slightly older bird, was picked up as well, but it wasn’t as friendly as the first bird, choosing to fly off and away from our boat. Our fifth species of albatross for the day and what a awesome bird at that! The trip home was quiet not adding any additional species apart from some of the coastal cormorants in False Bay, but everybody was more than satisfied with their day at sea and a wonderful bag of birds.