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Select Specials: Seabirding

Wandering Albatross

Few sights epitomize the freedom of the open oceans as elegantly as a soaring Wandering Albatross. With the longest wingspan of any bird (in excess of 3.5 metres in some cases), these majestic ocean travellers are able to spend many months on the open sea, effortlessly exploiting updrafts from the waves to stay aloft.

They are perhaps most famous for their life-long pair bonding display, during which the two birds face each other with wings outstretched and bills pointing skywards. However, this long-lived star of many nature documentaries is under threat, and it is believed that up to 10 per cent of the world population may be lost to longlining each year (p.39). As pairs can only raise, at most, one chick every two years, and because it will take 11 years before the offspring is ready to breed, urgent steps must be taken to avert the imminent extinction of this graceful seafarer.

Spectacled Petrel

The ‘Ringeye’, as it is more affectionately known, was only recently recognized as a full species, split from White-chinned Petrel. This taxonomic decision, based largely on the breeding calls, bestows upon it the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most threatened seabirds. Only about 10 000 individuals exist, breeding only on Inaccessible Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Alarmingly, it is believed that as much as 5 per cent of the population is killed annually by longline fishing off Brazil (p.39). The diagnostic white facial crescent separates it from White-chinned Petrel only at close range, and care must thus be taken not to confuse it with occasional White-chinned Petrels that show white patches on the head.

Leach’s Storm Petrel

Because it is regularly seen only far offshore in Cape waters, Leach’s Storm Petrel was assumed to be an exclusively non-breeding migrant from the northern hemisphere during our summer months. However, this species was discovered as recently as 1997 by Phil Whittington to be breeding on Dyer Island (near Hermanus; see map, p.58), making it the African continent’s only breeding pelagic seabird. Up to twenty pairs of birds breed on the island annually, and can be heard calling at night from their nesting burrows deep in the old stone walls that surround the island’s few buildings. The lateness of this discovery can be attributed to the birds’ strictly nocturnal activity.

Southern Giant Petrel

Because it is difficult to distinguish from its sister species, the Northern Giant Petrel, many giant petrels seen in Cape waters remain indeterminate. The most useful feature in separating the two species is the bill tip: in the Southern Giant Petrel it is a greenish colour, while in the Northern Giant Petrel it is horn-coloured. Unique to the Southern Giant Petrel is the rare white phase, in which the whole bird is an ivory colour. The giant petrels are the vultures of the sea, often scavenging on dead seals, especially on their breeding grounds. A century ago, giant petrels used to gather in great numbers to scavenge at the Cape’s whaling stations.

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4 Crassula Way, Pinelands, 7405, Cape Town, South Africa

27/09/09: Dalton Gibbs reports back from Gough Island! Read the blog!

26/09/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip report from trips of 12 and 19 September 2009.

30/08/09: British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water proved very successful, with sunny weather and over 20,000 visitors. Callan's "Birding Namibia and the Okavango" was the most highly-attended lecture on the Saturday, with over 240 people. Congratulations to the winners of the Birding Africa competition and the African Bird Club raffle that we helped sponsor!

12/08/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip reports from August and July 2009. Highlights: Little Shearwater and more!

07/08/09: The sub-adult Black Sarrowhawk visits our garden again! Read on about Raptor Research in the Western Cape.

27/07/09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has grown! And its sibling never had a chance to hatch. See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

27/07/09: To follow modern nomenclature and systematics, we've adopted the IOC World Bird List, Version 2.1.

13/07/09: The 8th African Bird ID Challenge has launched! Win a 50% discount on a Cape Town Pelagics trip, a copy of Southern African Birdfinder, or African Bird Club membership for 1 year.

6 July 09: Cape White-eye research in our garden.

2 July 09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has hatched! See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

2 July 09: Campbell Fleming, a Cape Town scholar, avid birder and photographer, joined Birding Africa last month as an intern. Click here, to see what he got up to.

2 July 09: New pelagic trip reports from the Cape Town Pelagics trips in June 2009. Highlights: Slenderbilled Prion and Leach's Storm Petrel

30 july 09: Our latest Cape Fynbos and Karoo trip reports feature Hottentot Buttonquail, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and other fynbos and Karoo endemics...

26 June 09: Tungsten mining threatens RAMSAR site, South Africa's Verlorenvlei. Read the Media Release.

22 June 09: Claire Spottiswoode, one of the Cape Birding Route founders, was part of the exploratory team at Mount Mabu. The mountain is part of the newly discovered largest rainforest in Southern Africa.

11 June 09: A colour-ringed Black Sparrowhawk visits the Birding Africa office garden. Read why it's a 10 months old male!

14 June 09:
Wildlife at the office of The Cape Birding Route, Birding Africa and Cape Town Pelagics.

31 May 09:
Michel Watelet wins the 7th African Bird Club & Birding Africa ID Challenge. Test your African birding skills and WIN a Birding Africa Cape town day trip or a copy of the Birdfinder!

30 May 09: A tragedy unfolds at Kommetjie south of Cape town as 44 beached False Killer Whales were shot. Click here for more details and pictures.

14 March 09: Raptor Watch in Cape Town on 14 March 09