Cliff watch
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Annual Seabird Watch, Cape Point 2017

Antarctic Prion seen on Club annual seabird watch outing at Cape Point.


Unfortunately the bird(s) were only seen by a handful of the 28 or so members that turned up for the outing on Sunday 18 June.

Well wrapped up against a stiff cold south easterly breeze, we met at 8.30 and proceeded directly to Cape of Good Hope beach.

View from the cliffs to Cape of Good Hope Beach
View from the cliffs to Cape of Good Hope Beach, nice swells! Photo Gillian Barnes


The cliffs above the beach are one of the best places on the peninsula to watch for pelagic birds, from land.

The previous week’s storms held promise that pelagic (open sea) birds may now be pushed closer in shore.

The group ascended to a ledge about 10 metres above the sea, some scopes were set, but the breeze made it difficult for use, particularly with the spray that was blowing in from the incoming tide and quite a large swell.

So it was down to binocular views, which did make it easier to get members onto the birds.


Cliff Watch 2
Struggling with scopes in the conditions. Photo Dennis Laidler


Whilst several different species were seen feeding and flying around Bellows Rocks, they were just too far for ID with bins. Patiently waiting for birds to come closer, we were rewarded with good views first of a Black-browed Albatross, then with many Shy Albatross. Careful observation of the different key features of each in flight  embedded from the briefing were now apparent to all. Several members delighted to have positively identified an albatross from land.

The usually more common species of Sooty Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel were surprisingly few, but enough to get members onto the birds.

Waiting for pelagic species to fly close, we got to grips with Cape and White-breasted Cormorants, in their many hundreds, which were continually flying, low over the waves, to and from their roosting and nesting places on the cliffs further round. Cape Gannets too were seen in good numbers, diving and feeding. Swift Terns were in constant attendance too. An otter (Cape Clawless?) was spotted briefly on rocks at the edge of the sea, but many failed to get onto it.

Mel Tripp braced and tracking the Prion. Photo Andrew Hodgson
Mel Tripp braced and tracking the Prion. Photo Andrew Hodgson


A few more adventurous members, including myself, ventured to the spot we often go to further around the cliffs and higher up, but this can be tricky access, even dangerous to negotiate, so the more cautious ones stayed put.

The wind was stronger here, so was the spray, but clefts in the rocks afforded some protection and stability to hold binoculars.

I thought I saw Pintado Petrels, some way off… small birds with white underparts greyish mottled backs, but I lost them behind the swells. Patrick Madden then spotted two birds a bit closer in, but still hard to see. Searching where he now pointed, Andrew Hodgson picked them up and lifted his camera. Click, click, click, click, click “I think I got something” Andrew ventured. Indeed he had, not brilliant images, given the spray and the distance but enough to positively ID an Antarctic Prion Pachyptila desolata!

A great record for the land based outing as these birds are not often seen close inshore. Possibly the storms and the strong on-shore winds had brought us luck?

Antarctic Prion
Antarctic Prion Pachyptila desolata! A great sighting and record for the outing. Photo Andrew Hodgson


Vernon Head who should have assisted me on the outing was unfortunately down with tick bite fever. Simon Fogarty kindly stepped in – thank you Simon.

As I had to leave early for a Father’s Day lunch, Simon carried the rest of the day with members birding and visiting other parts of the reserve.

Mel Tripp

Gillian Barnes picks up…

Those of us who decided not to tempt fate on the cliff ledge managed to spot several Shy Albatross and White Chinned Petrels that were soaring just beyond the breakers, as well as the more common sea birds so all was not lost. Whilst sitting in the sun we watched a pair of Familiar Chats and a Rock Kestrel.

Familiar Chat
Familiar Chat, company at the cliffs. Photo Gillian Barnes


After a short stop at the information centre the group made their way to Black Rocks on the False Bay coast for lunch where the weather conditions were much more pleasant. Two Jackal Buzzards flew past whilst out to sea a Southern Right whale was seen. Sea birds were few and far between.

Lunch over, those who wanted to continue birding made their way to the Circular Drive to look at a stand of Witsenia maura, also known as Bokmakieriestert owing to the colour of the flowers, before proceeding to Olifantsbos for a spot of shore and fynbos birding.

Witsenia Maura
The range restricted and rare Witsenia maura, Bokmakieriestert (Bokmakierie’s tail). Photo Linda Hibbin


Bobajaans sheltering from the wind, Olifantsbos. Photo Gillian Barnes


The wind had dropped to almost nothing by this time and it was most pleasant walking along the beach. Just over 20 different species were seen.

All in all it was a very enjoyable day and thanks to Mel and Simon as well as the rest of the folk for making this happen.

Gillian Barnes


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