Cover Photo: White-chinned Petrel from the Surfbirds galleries © Rob Morris



Birding Ecotours

Birding Ecotours Cape Town Pelagic trip

Pelagic trips off Cape Town are among the most amazing in the world, with at least four species of albatross virtually guaranteed, the splendid Cape Petrel (winter), many other petrels, storm petrels and shearwaters, African Penguin, Cape Gannet, gulls, terns, skuas, jaegers, and others (plus marine mammals).

Cape Town Pelagics

For all bookings or general enquiries contact Ross Wanless:, Ph +27 21 531 9148 or visit the Cape Town Pelagics website for a calendar of set departures, trip reports, a seasonality table to see which species are most likely to be seen in a given month, photo galleries, or to book online.

Cape Town Pelagics arrange pelagic seabirding day-tours around South Africa - not only from Simon's Town (in Cape Town). These spectacular boat trips go to the open ocean to see several species of albatrosses and other fantastic seabirds. Cape Town is one of the best locations in the world for a pelagic tour. Combining iconic seabirds such as the Wandering Albatross, a huge diversity of endemic coastal and migratory oceanic species and stupendous numbers of albatrosses and petrels, a Cape pelagic seabird tour is not to be forgotten. We regularly encounter cetaceans (whales and dolphins), seals and other marine life on our birding trips. Whether you are a serious birder or new to birding, into seabird photography or just want to experience an incredible wildlife spectacle, our tours and expert local guides will impress! Our pelagic trips rank as a highlight for birders and ecotourism travellers visiting South Africa.

We also arrange private charters for other tour operators or small groups. Our maximum group size is 12 passengers per boat (excludes guides). We use fast, modern charter boats that make the long commute to the deep water a relatively rapid affair, maximising our time in the fishing grounds on the edge of the continental shelf where the huge aggregations of albatrosses and other seabirds are likely to be found around fishing boats.

The aim of is to promote sustainable eco-tourism, not only by providing a wealth of seabird information on our website and a facility to book a place on any pelagic trip off South Africa, but to put all the proceeds back into conservation. All earnings from pelagic tours are donated to seabird research and conservation, and since 2006 we have been raising funds for the Save the Albatross Campaign. So book a pelagic trip with us and you will contribute directly to albatross conservation.



For bookings or any further information, please contact Trevor Hardaker


Zest for Birds Website

The south-western Cape offers, by far, the best seabirding in South Africa and, in fact, is considered to be some of the best anywhere in the world. The cold Benguela Current brings highly nutrient-rich waters up from the south, and the strong winds (predominately from the south-east) create an upwelling that brings all the nutrients to the surface. This, in turn, sustains the phyloplankton that form the basis of the marine food chain. Pelagic fisheries thrive in the area, and discards from the trawlers provide a constant food source for pelagic birds.

"ZEST for BIRDS" runs pelagic trips out of Simon's Town and Hout Bay. These trips are run on a regular basis throughout the year to see the complete cross-section of birds available in these waters. The cost of joining one of the regular trips is US$80 per person, but ad hoc trips can be arranged as well. The price of these ad hoc trips would be determined on application, based on numbers of participants and the vessel used.

All trips are accompanied by at least 2 seabird experts.

Regular guides will include Ian Sinclair, Barrie Rose, Rob Leslie, Alvin Cope, John Graham and Trevor Hardaker. Their knowledge also extends into other fields and they will do their utmost to point out any marine wildlife seen on these trips, including the many cetaceans available around our shores.

As one leaves the harbour, the first coastal species that one might encounter on these trips would include Cape, White-breasted, Crowned and Bank Cormorants, Kelp, Hartlaub's and possibly Grey-headed Gulls, Common, Swift and Sandwich Terns as well as the endemic Jackass Penguin.

The boat will then head out into deeper water and try to locate a trawler. This is a spectacle in itself as it offers one the opportunity to have literally thousands of seabirds at arm's length as they all mull around behind the trawlers.

Throughout the year, one has a very good chance of seeing pelagic species like White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Cape Gannet, Subantarctic Skua, Wilson's Storm Petrel and 4 species of albatross (Shy, Black-browed and Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses).

During winter, when numbers of birds are at their highest, other species that are normally present are Southern and Northern Giant Petrel, Pintado Petrel, Antarctic Prion and Antarctic Tern. Other birds possible in winter, although not regular, are Wandering, Southern and Northern Royal and Grey-headed Albatross and Antarctic Fulmar.

During passage periods (April-May and September-October), other birds which visit our waters reasonably regularly include Great Shearwater, Soft-plumaged Petrel and Black-bellied Storm Petrel.

The summer species lists are augmented with the likes of Cory's and Manx Shearwater, Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua, Great-winged Petrel, European Storm Petrel, Sabine's Gull, Arctic Tern and Grey Phalarope.

The added adrenaline rush is that there is always the chance of something odd turning up and in the last 2 years, trips off Cape Town have produced Spectacled and Grey Petrel, Flesh-footed and Little Shearwater, Leach's and White-bellied Storm Petrel and South Polar Skua to mention a few.

Added to this, one is almost guaranteed of seeing Cape Fur Seal with Subantarctic Fur Seal also occurring, albeit rarely. The commoner whales include Southern Right, Humpback and Bryde's Whale, while occasionally other species such as Minke, Long-finned Pilot, Sperm and Killer Whales are seen. Dolphins include Common, Dusky, Bottle-nosed and Risso's. And if one starts getting bored with mammals, you could always turn your attention to the possible Thresher, Blue and Mako Sharks that occur.


For bookings or further info, contact Trevor Hardaker at or visit ZEST for BIRDS operates regular pelagic trips out of East London in the Eastern Cape throughout the year. All trips are accompanied by an experienced guide to point out the various species encountered.

The pelagic birding in the Eastern Cape starts to improve in late May and early June with the arrival of the sardine shoals off the coast. The regular pelagic birds follow these shoals, while others move north from their breeding grounds on islands well south of the coast to escape the severe Antarctic winters.

Typical species to be seen at this time of the year include Indian Yellow-nosed, Black-browed and Shy Albatross at no more than a few metres from the boat. In fact, most of the time binoculars become redundant because the birds are so close. White-chinned Petrel and Sooty Shearwater can be seen in good numbers as can Cape Gannet and Wilson's Storm Petrels. The ever present Subantarctic Skuas will even take fish from your hand. Antarctic and Swift Tern can also be seen. Other possibilities include the stunning Pintado Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Soft-plumaged Petrel and maybe even European Storm Petrel. Pelagic trips always seem to provide the unexpected, so anything is possible.