No Cape Town birdwatching, bird photographic or wildlife trip to would be complete without an offshore pelagic experience.
Cape Town is arguably the seabird capital of the world. Procellarid seabirds including up to ten species of albatross, numerous petrels, shearwaters and storm petrels visit the highly productive waters of the Benguela Current to feed.
These seabirds are attracted to trawlers and long-liners fishing for hake along the continental shelf edge. Trips offshore stand a better than average chance of witnessing mixed flocks of seabirds numbering in the thousands as they squabble over scraps discarded by the fishing fleet. Photographic opportunities are phenomenal with most species presenting themselves at close to arms length.
Trips generally leave the old naval port of Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula, head down False Bay for 12 miles before swinging around Cape Point and heading to the shelf edge 18 to 23 miles offshore.
Coastal seabirds are seen on the near shore leg of the trip down and back through False Bay and one may expect to see Hartlaub’s and Kelp gulls; Cape, White-breasted and Bank cormorants; Common, Swift and Sandwich terns; African Penguins and Cape Gannets.
Once outside of Cape Point, the true pelagics make an appearance and there is a basic suite of species, which may be seen in varying numbers all year round. This list includes four species of albatross (Shy, Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed); Southern and Northern Giant Petrels; White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Arctic Tern and Subantarctic Skua.
Winter trips promise sightings of visitors from the Southern Oceans such as Pintado Petrels (flocks may number in the thousands), Antarctic Prions and Soft-plumaged Petrels.
To spot a ‘Whiteback’ (Wandering, Southern Royal or Northern Royal albatross) is the ultimate prize! One of these iconic birds is seen on at least 60% of all winter trips. It is not unusual for a winter pelagic trip to return with six species of albatross under the belt.
Summer trips are spiced by the addition of North Atlantic birds wintering off our coast, including Cory’s and Manx shearwaters, European Storm Petrels; Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers and Sabine’s Gull.
The southern ocean’s winter breeding Great-winged Petrel is also a good possibility. Great Shearwaters and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels are passage migrants, which are seen for short periods during spring and autumn. Specialists have the added possibility of picking up any one of at least 20 rare species, which are seen from time to time.
Pelagic trips provide the ideal platform for cetacean sightings and at least 20 species have been sighted on Cape Peninsula pelagics. Routinely seen (but not guaranteed) are Southern right whales (in winter), Humpbacked whales, Bryde’s whales, Sperm whales; Common, bottlenose and Dusky dolphins. Cape fur seals are common and Subantarctic fur seals occasional. Other wildlife seen on these trips include turtles (3 species), sharks, sunfish and tunas.
Pelagic trips are run by various service providers throughout the year and an itinerary of the trips scheduled are available on request. However, should these dates not suit your programme then private trips can be arranged to suit your specific needs.
All trips will be accompanied by a guide or guides who are selected from among the foremost birders in the province with a wealth of birding experience plus a knowledge that extends to the marine wildlife that may be seen on the trip. Due to unpredictable weather, many of the scheduled trips take place over the weekend thus allowing a two-day window for the trip to go out. Should your trip be a charter, it can be organised to suit your specific needs.
We do recommend, if at all possible, that one should allow a window period to reduce the chances of cancellation due to weather. Day safaris can be arranged around your pelagic trip.