On Malgas Island, Saldanha Bay
Article and photographs by Johan Visagie and Leshia Upfold
The Oceans and Coasts branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs, with the help of volunteers, annually bands 150 adult and 600 juvenile Cape Gannets, Marus capensis, at all three South African breeding locations at Bird Island (Lambert’s Bay), Malgas Island (Saldanha Bay) and Bird Island (Nelson Mandela Bay).
For the January 2011 ringing trip on Malgas Island the team was Leshia Upfold (Oceans and Coasts), Johan Visagie (CapeNature), Sandra Durand and Otto Whitehead (volunteers). We departed for Malgas from the military base in Saldanha on 26 January without the foggiest idea what special sightings this trip has in store for us.
Shortly after we got dropped off and carried all supplies for the 2 days up to the house we started working . First up was catching some banded adult Gannets to read the bands (retrapping). This got everybody familiar with the equipment and techniques necessary for the job. As we were searching the colony for banded adults we observed an albino Gannet chick. Amongst the hordes of black chicks this one stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. This got everybody quite excited and several photos were taken.
Albinism in Cape Gannets is not completely unheard of though, as albino chicks have been previously recorded at several colonies. We let the poor fellow be and went back to the house for a quick lunch before starting with the banding of the 150 adults. Shortly after we started Leshia observed a bird landing on the coastline that just didn’t make sense as it flew like a Cormorant but the colour was all wrong . Upon investigation it turned out to be an albino Cape Cormorant, Phalacrocorax capensis. It landed amongst several other Cape Cormorants on the coast , but from behind it looked more like a miniature Pelican. The bird was very skittish and landed behind several Cape Cormorant nests so getting close enough for a nice sharp image proved near impossible. A few photos were taken before the bird moved off further along the coastline behind some big boulders . Now everybody was really excited as this appears to be the first record of albinism among Cape Cormorants. We finished the banding of the adults and ended the day in high spirits.
The next morning Leshia, Sandra and Otto started banding the juvenile Gannets while Johan went around the coast to count the breeding cormorants. While making his way around the island he spotted a strange bird amongst a group of fledgling Gannets.
It was dark, like the Gannet fledglings, but with a white breast, and its head was not visible as it was preening its tail. When it eventually lifted its head Johan was ready with a little “mik en druk” to snap what turned out to be an adult Brown Booby, Sula leucogaster. The bird flew off, but landed again amongst another group of Gannet fledglings. Johan finished his count, then rejoined the rest of the team, excitedly blabbering about the sighting.
After the team gathered their cameras, they returned to find the Booby back at its original site, but very skittish, not allowing us to approach closer than 30 metres. After flushing it several times, we decided to let it be. This is the first sighting of a Brown Booby in the Western Cape, with the only other records from southern Africa being two from Namibia (Swakopmund and Mercury Island), and four from KwaZulu Natal (between Sodwana Bay and Port Shepstone).
The albino Cape Cormorant has subsequently been seen on the open coast of the West Coast National Park, but the Booby was not seen on subsequent trips to Malgas Island.