Anne Albatross Pelagic Trip Report

11 September 2010

Storm Petrel

Trip report written by Patrick Cardwell

The strong south easterly wind of the previous day had subsided totally during the night to be replaced by a gentle north easterly by morning that was forecast to hold for the better part of the day. This overnight switch in the wind pattern left a somewhat troubled and confused sea in its wake making for a slow run to Cape Point between the troughs and peaks of the dying swell on board ‘Destiny’ skippered by Allan Blacklaw.

A short pause at Cape Point to radio through our trip intentions for the day, as a marine safety precaution, afforded a photo opportunity and time to take in the scenic detail of our surroundings before setting off for the trawling grounds.

With good light in our favour and a steady breeze from the north east we set course for a line fishing boat reported on radio to be operating some 16kms south west of Cape Point. On the way the usual mix of Swift Terns, Cape Cormorants and Cape Gannets were present in number with the odd White-chinned Petrel careening past as the first true pelagic sighting for the day. This was followed by intermittent sightings of Sooty Shearwater crossing our line of travel along with the usual entourage of Kelp Gulls heading in the same direction for the line fishing boat.

Sightings of ShyAlbatross across the age class spectrum were many on arrival with close up views as Cape Fur Seals and the mix of seabirds competed for possession of scraps and the odd fish drifting in the wake of the fishing vessel. Pelagic seabird numbers in general were impressive and it wasn’t long before Sub-Antarctic Skua and Northern Giant Petrel were added to the expanding list. Moving on to the next vessel operating close by provided much of the same mix and we decided to head on south in search of a working trawler.

This decision paid off with a factory freezer trawler sighted on the distant horizon with a mix of over a thousand seabirds in constant attendance. By now the weather had transformed into a perfect day with enough wind to keep the bird mix aloft as we meticulously sifted through the wheeling selection. This added Black-browed Albatross to the list along with the first Pintado Petrel for the day but no joy with regard to either of the Yellow-nosed Albatross species we were hoping to find.

No sooner had someone on board enquired as to when the trawl would be recovered when we heard the clang of the otter boards striking the stern of the trawler and the scene erupted into life with Cape Gannets plunge diving around the now recovered net and Cape Fur Seals on top of it along with everything else piling in on the feeding opportunity.

It was also great to see the trawler operated by I&J adhering strictly to the recommended procedures to keep the melee of squabbling seabirds clear of the warps as the net was recovered. So well done to the ‘Save the Albatross’ task force and the I&J skipper and his crew for their commitment!

Given the sheer number of seabirds in constant circulation we decided to patrol alongside the trawler in the hopes of picking up on new arrivals joining the main body of birds wheeling around the trawler of which White-chinned Petrel were the dominant species. This decision proved partly successful with Great Shearwater and Wilson’s Storm Petrel being added but nothing else in spite of careful sifting of all on board as we shifted position along the length of the wake.

With nothing else on radar we decided to return to one of the line fishing boats only to find it had packed up for the day and was on its way back to Hout Bay. Our run back to False Bay proved uneventful apart from a Northern Giant Petrel and a pod of Southern Right Whales just inside of Cape Point.

After working our way cautiously through the veritable armada of snoek fishing boats in the vicinity of Buffel’s Bay we stopped briefly at Partridge Point for close up views of Bank and Crowned Cormorant in association with White-breasted and Cape Cormorant on the granite boulders.

All and all a representative pelagic day off Cape Point providing excellent and repetitive sightings of what was on offer in near perfect sea conditions that made for a sea sick free day for all on board.

An excellent lunch out in the ‘deep’ and Allan Blacklaws’ competent skippering and role as the perfect host further complemented the occasion.

Species list with approximate numbers for the day is as follows:
Shy Albatross - 100
Black-browed Albatross - 50
White-chinned Petrel - 800 plus
Sooty Shearwater - 50
Great Shearwater - 10
Pintado Petrel - 25
Northern Giant Petrel - 3
Wilson’s Storm Petrel - 6
Sub-Antarctic Skua - 12
Kelp Gull – 200
Cape Gannet – 150
Cape Cormorant – 100
White-breasted Cormorant - 25
Bank cormorant – 20
Crowned Cormorant - 8
Swift Tern - coastal
African Penguin - coastal
African Black Oystercatcher – coastal
Cape Fur Seal – 50
Southern Right Whale – 3

What was lacking in the way of a rare or unusual sighting was more than offset by the sheer abundance of seabirds in near perfect weather conditions.
Patrick Cardwell
Avian Leisure 12/09/10.

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