Pelagic birding trips
Did you know?
Leach’s storm petrel, a very rare summer visitor, was found breeding on Dyer Island near Cape Town.
If you’re a birder, a pelagic birding trip off South Africa could boost your lifer list dramatically.
South Africa has no less than 3 000 km of coastline, varying from warm tropical waters off KwaZulu-Natal to the icy, nutrient-rich currents washing against the Western Cape.
The country boasts over 100 pelagic species, so your seabirding will almost certainly be productive, depending on weather and season. Perversely, the rougher the weather, the better the seabirding, so don’t forget seasick tablets.
Some birders say that seabirding off the Western Cape, specifically Cape Town, is some of the best in the world.
But let’s start at Durban, a popular departure point for tropical birding trips, with a chance to see frigatebirds, tropicbirds and boobies. Generally, though, depending on the season, you’re likely to see albatrosses (shy, black-browed and Indian yellow-nosed), petrels (white-chinned and pintado), flesh-footed shearwater and Antarctic terns.
If you’re here in mid-winter (June or July), you may encounter the annual 'Sardine Run', a massive migration of these fish northwards. If you're lucky, you’ll see hundreds of Cape gannets plummeting into the seas to catch them.
Midway points like East London also have their attractions, especially in May and June, with birds frequently flying so close that you’ll hardly need your binoculars.
Take a pelagic birding trip out of Cape Town, and you’ll hardly know where to look first, especially if there’s a fresh wind blowing. You’ll see a bewildering array of terns, cormorants and gulls.
Further out, you’ll start encountering southern ocean seabirds. First prize is finding a fishing trawler and watching to see the bird extravaganza this brings. Winter is the best season – there are 4 species of albatrosses on offer, plus terns, treats like giant petrels, storm-bellied petrels, Antaractic prions and Antarctic fulmars.
Summer brings phalaropes, shearwaters, skuas and more.
You could also keep an eye out for whales, strange sunfish, Cape fur seals on the hunt, sharks and leaping dolphins.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Birdlife South Africa
Tel: +27 (0) 11 789 1122