17 December 2011 – a last look at tubenoses for 2011
The weather predictions were looking fantastic for our pelagic trip today as Trevor was once again a guide on a Zest for Birds pelagic trip (co-guiding with Alvin Cope and John Graham). Our trip south through False Bay was pretty uneventful apart from a few Cape Gannets and a White-chinned Petrel or two, but once we rounded Cape Point, we soon found a few Arctic Skuas and Sooty Shearwaters to add to the mix.
The first stretch of the trip south-west from Cape Point was extremely quiet and we actually saw very little apart from a very interesting Bryde’s Whale that was unusually pale and also was rather interested in the boat circling it several times. When we first saw the animal, there was some excitement that it may be something a little rarer, but after getting good enough views of all the salient features, the ID was eventually confirmed. We scanned every group of birds that we found sitting on the water on the way out (there was hardly any wind, so the birds were just sitting on the water rather than flying around) and, besides the normal White-chinned Petrels and good numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters, we were also able to find a couple of Manx Shearwaters, a summer visitor to our waters and also a rather uncommon species.
Eventually, at 17 nautical miles offshore, we encountered our first albatross, a Shy Albatross, and, very shortly afterwards, quickly had views of Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses as well. Our skipper, Harry, had located a couple of trawlers on the radar and we made our way over to them, but the numbers of birds in their wakes was very disappointing. In fact, overall the numbers of birds on the day was extremely low.
Nevertheless, we worked through all the birds in the wake and picked up things like Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Wilson’s and European Storm Petrels, , several Great-winged Petrels, Great Shearwater and Sabine’s Gulls and, finally, a bit of luck on our side, when a Spectacled Petrel, a rarity in our area, came into view. Unfortunately, it remained distant at all times, so the photographic opportunities were not great, but it was still a great one to get and everyone on board was very happy with their new tick.
The trip back to land was again pretty quiet with a couple of Pomarine Skuas making their way on to the list and, eventually, at only a couple of miles offshore, our first Subantarctic Skua of the day, normally a very common species, was found. A Humpback Whale inside False Bay was a fitting way to end off the day.