12 May 2012 – a whale of a day
Trevor was, once again, fortunate to be a guide on a Zest for Birds pelagic trip today (co-guiding with John Graham, Barrie Rose, Alvin Cope and Patrick Cardwell). As we headed out into False Bay, we encountered a rather large mist bank which was extremely thick and made birding quite difficult. Occasionally, through the mist, we would pick up a few species as they came close enough to the boat and our first birds included Cape Gannet, White-chinned Petrel, Cory’s Shearwater and Pomarine Skua. Unfortunately, we remained in the mist for a rather lengthy period passing Cape Point without anyone actually getting to see it and travelling for a further 15 or so nautical miles out to sea before we eventually got out of it.
Even once we were out of the mist, the birding was quiet with the odd Sooty and Great Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm Petrels putting in an appearance and an inordinate amount of time passing before we eventually encountered our first albatross of the day, a Shy. The fishing fleet also seemed to be incredibly far today and, eventually, we picked up a longliner in the distance and headed over towards it, all the time picking up the odd additional species for our list like Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, European Storm Petrel and Pintado Petrel.
Getting a little closer to the longliner, we picked up some activity in the water and realized that there was a large pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales heading towards us. We quickly changed direction and headed over to them and, before long, were right in the middle of the school easily numbering over 100 individuals. What an incredible experience and pretty much everyone on board forgot that they were actually on a birding trip! Careful scanning through the pod revealed that there were also a handful of Atlantic Ocean Bottlenose Dolphins in amongst them which eventually gave us reasonable views, even although the photographic opportunities weren’t great. Nevertheless, it was fantastic as both of these species were new for our challenge list, so were very welcome additions!
Moving on to the longliner, the numbers of birds in her wake were not as impressive as one often encounters, but we spend a bit of time working through them adding Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Subantarctic Skua and, much to the pleasure of the guests on board, several Black-bellied Storm Petrels, a rather sought after species in our area.
The trip back to Cape Point was punctuated with sightings of a number of species that we had already encountered and the only new bird that we encountered was Manx Shearwater which showed well to everyone on board.
However, the highlights were, once again, mammals with an enormous pod of some 1000 or more Dusky Dolphins that surrounded our boat and performed for us, some even somersaulting through the air many times, for around 20 minutes. Eventually, we had to drag ourselves away from them, but once back in False Bay, we encountered a school of at least 500 Long-beaked Common Dolphins which also gave us quite a show and was a fitting end to what turned out to be a pretty incredible day! Dolphins are always popular and I don’t think there was one person who got off the boat at the end of the day who was not grinning from ear to ear over their experiences!