15 October 2011 – birds and cetaceans…
Predictions were a little “iffy” earlier in the week so it was a hesitant group of birders that gathered on the quayside this morning to head off on another Zest for Birds pelagic trip (Trevor co-guiding with John Graham and Barrie Rose). Fortunately, the wind seemed to have dropped off quite a bit, so the ride out was a lot more pleasant than expected. Heading down False Bay towards Cape Point, we came across the most incredible feeding frenzy. From a distance, we could see a number of birds circling about in a particular area (mostly gulls) and, as we got closer, we could see activity in the water as well. As soon as we got close enough to get a decent look, we realized that there was a shoal of pilchards that were being fed on by some cetaceans. Closer inspection revealed a large group of Long-beaked Common Dolphins with a handful of Dusky Dolphins mixed in as well and also a couple of Bryde’s Whales. For the next 20 minutes or so, we forgot that we were actually on a birding trip and sat in awe as we watched this spectacle unfold in front of us. On several occasions, we had large groups of the small silvery fish literally break the water’s surface and go flying through the air as they were trying to escape the jaws of the hungry whales and dolphins. Unfortunately, there was never any warning of when this might happen and the photo opportunities to try and catch this were depressingly missed! But what a phenomenal experience! Eventually dragging ourselves away from this, we continued heading down to Cape Point picking up a Southern Right Whale as well, our fourth cetacean species and we hadn’t even been on the water for an hour yet!
Rounding Cape Point and heading out into the deeper waters, we started picking up our first pelagic species. An Arctic Skua was spotted chasing some terns and Cape Gannets, White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters started making their appearances. A little further out, we encountered our first albatross of the day, an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and other new species included Southern Giant Petrel, Great Shearwater and Subantarctic and Pomarine Skuas.
Eventually, we picked up our first trawler in the distance and headed off in that direction. Arriving in the wake of the trawler, we were immediately entertained with new species – Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses, Pintado and Northern Giant Petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrel and Sabine’s Gull were all enjoyed by those on board. Careful scanning also picked out Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and the main target at this time of the year, Black-bellied Storm Petrel.
We then headed across to a second trawler to see what she held in her wake. By now, the weather had closed in a bit and we got hit with some rain. Not to be put off, one of the first birds to be picked up was a Northern Royal Albatross, our 5th species of albatross for the day. Unfortunately, this individual was not particularly friendly and headed off into the distance straight away, but not too much later, a second individual was located which gave much better views, even although it also remained a little distant. A few more Black-bellied Storm Petrels put in an appearance and a handful of Arctic Terns were picked out of the many Common Terns present. With a third trawler approaching from the south, it made sense to head over to it to have a look and, not long after arriving, a cracking Southern Fulmar was picked up in amongst the other birds there. Large flocks of Storm Petrels were present behind the trawler and careful working through them eventually rewarded us with European Storm Petrel as well.
Eventually, it was time to turn for home and, for the most part, the journey was pretty uneventful. Getting closer to Cape Point, we once again noticed a large flock of bird activity over in the distance and decided to head over there to investigate. We struck gold and had found another feeding frenzy except this time, it contained Dusky Dolphins and at least 5 Humpback Whales, our 5th species of cetacean for the day! Once again, we spent some time enjoying the spectacle, even having the dolphins jumping clear of the water a number of times. This proved to be a fantastic ending to a great day out at sea and had everyone talking about it all the way back up False Bay up until we docked back in Simon’s Town. It was certainly one of the more exciting pelagic trips in recent months!