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A Report from

South Africa Pelagic trip,

Trevor Hardaker

After 3 days of howling south-easterly winds, the ZEST for BIRDS pelagic trip eventually managed to go out on Monday, 16 April. But maybe it was all for the best, anyway....

17 people led by Ian Sinclair, Barrie Rose, Alvin Cope, John Graham and Trevor Hardaker left Simonstown harbour at 7am yesterday morning. False Bay was calm with number of Cape Gannets and the first White-chinned Petrels appearing quite early. A small pod of about 30 Common Dolphins also joined us early on.

Once around Cape Point, we soon encountered Sooty Shearwaters and a Arctic Skua harrasing terns. About 2 miles offshore, we came across a large feeding frenzy comprising mostly gannets. Careful searching through the birds also produced Wilson's and European Storm Petrel, Shy Albatross and Great, Cory's and Manx Shearwater. But one of the absolute highlights of the day was not a bird!! We were joined here by a pod of Common Dolphins that numbered easily in excess of 500 individuals. They swam with the boat for 15-20 minutes before we eventually left them!! It was quite amazing to see that wherever one looked, there were just dolphins jumping out of the water. One that will remain in our memories for a long time...

Heading out deeper, we started picking up new birds. Black-browed Albatrosses, Subantarctic Skuas (with at least 2 different birds settling on our boat allowing real eyeball views!!), 2 more Manx Shearwaters and a Flesh-footed Shearwater, now almost a regular feature of our pelagic trips.

Unfortunately, we were unable to locate either a trawler or longliner during the course of the day. We wallowed around in deep water for a little while adding birds like Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, a distant unidentifiable Giant Petrel and Sabine's Gull. Reluctantly, we turned for home all slightly disappointed that we had not found a trawler.

As is tradition with this group of exceptional guides, a pelagic trip without finding a trawler means that one has clients that are not totally satisfied (hard to believe when most people on board had never been to sea in the Southern Oceans before and saw 3 new species of albatross in one day!!) and therefore, the guides have to work a little harder to pull that something special out of the bag.....

It wasn't much longer before the big Irish voice of Ian Sinclair bellowed out from the stern "SOUTH POLAR SKUA!!" And there it was, the day's saving grace - a stunning South Polar Skua hanging literally a few metres above the boat and if some of the passengers were taller, they could have probably reached up and touched it!!!

This is an extremely rare bird in Southern African waters and was much appreciated by everyone on board. A dolphinless trip home got us back to Simonstown just after 3pm as the south-easterly wind started to pick up again, so all in all, a very well timed trip.

List of birds seen with approximate numbers:

Jackass Penguin - coastal
Shy Albatross - c200
Black-browed Albatross - c40
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross - 1
Yellow-nosed Albatross (juveniles) - 1
Giant Petrel sp. - 1
White-chinned Petrel - c700
Sooty Shearwater - c700
Cory's Shearwater - c50
Great Shearwater - c300
Flesh-footed Shearwater - 1
Manx Shearwater - 3
Wilson's Storm Petrel - c250
European Storm Petrel - c150
Arctic Skua - 1
Sub-antarctic Skua - c10
South Polar Skua - 1
Arctic Tern - 1
Swift Tern - coastal
Cape Gannet - c1000
White-breasted Cormorant - coastal
Cape Cormorant - coastal
Crowned Cormorant - coastal
Bank Cormorant - coastal
Kelp Gull - coastal
Hartlaub's Gull - coastal
Sabine's Gull - 1

Other sightings:

Cape Fur Seal - c200
Common Dolphin - c550


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