09 October 2011 – sunshine and sunfish…
All through the week, the predictions had shown today as being an absolute peach of a day and they did not get it wrong – sunshine, no wind and calm seas – absolutely fantastic! Trevor was once again out on a Zest for Birds pelagic trip (co-guiding with Athol Marchant and Bruce Dyer) and the trip down False Bay was fantastic in the most calm of conditions even although there were very few birds. Once around Cape Point, we finally started encountering some birds with Cape Gannets, White-chinned Petrels and a single Arctic Skua being the first to make appearances. As we headed further out, the species list remained extremely slim and it took a very long time before we eventually encountered our first albatross, an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. This was equally strange as we normally encounter other albatross species long before this one on most trips.
Eventually, we picked up a couple of trawlers on the radar and headed off in their direction. As we got closer, we could see that there were at least 4 boats operating in the area (as well as a few more slightly further away). This meant that the birds were really spread out, but we were soon adding species like Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses, Pintado Petrel, Southern and Northern Giant Petrel and Sooty Shearwater to the list as well as a sprinkling of Common Terns.
We spent the next few hours moving between the various trawlers to see if we could eke out any further species. Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Great Shearwaters and Subantarctic Skuas put in appearances and, eventually, we were rewarded with our fourth species of albatross for the day, Atlantic Yellow-nosed. Because there was so much food available in the immediate area, and the birds had obviously fed well in the preceding days, they were just not coming into the trawlers in numbers so, despite intensive scanning, we just could not find anything more exciting.
Eventually, it was time to turn for home. The return leg was largely uneventful birdwise, but an Oceanic Sunfish about 5 nautical miles from Cape Point was a definite highlight and a couple of Southern Right Whales and a single Bryde’s Whale in False Bay itself were a welcome way to end the day off. Although the veteran pelagic birders would probably consider it to be a quiet day, we still saw some great birds which mostly gave awesome views, so for the newcomers, it was still a fantastic experience and something that I am sure they will cherish for a very long time.