There are only a few special, predator-free islands where seabirds can nest. And only scientists and nature conservation staff are allowed onto these islands. But today we have the privilege of visiting Malgas Island in Saldanha Bay to count bird numbers. This small island is one of only three Cape Gannet colonies in South Africa. And there are plenty of other special seabirds too! We have to start our journey on a speed boat, so hold on!

Read along:

I’m really excited that we’re getting a chance to visit the island today. Do you still have those permit papers? Don’t let them blow away into the sea! Hold on! The waves are pretty choppy up ahead. And keep an eye open for pelagics! Land ho! I can see Malgas Island up ahead. We’re almost there.

Okay, I’ll jump onto the jetty and tie the boat up. Then you can climb up the ladder. But watch your footing; those steps are really slippery, and the waves are not making it any easier! Awesome. Let’s check our research gear again. Okay, got everything? Great. Let’s walk closer to the Cape Gannet colony.

Oh wow, this noise is intense! I can barely hear you! Not to mention the smell! But this is just incredible! These gannets are just everywhere! This is their island, not ours. But what a privilege to be here! But let’s find a quieter spot. Come on!

That’s a bit better. Malgas Island is pretty small; we can easily walk all the way around its rocky shore. We’ll count the birds as we go. And hey, there’s a pair of oystercatchers on the rocks. Lots of gulls flying about. Which ones can you see? Yes, those big ones with the black backs are Kelp Gulls. They’re the ones with the deep voices. Can you hear them? And these smaller ones are Hartlaub’s Gulls. They are usually the most common species. And hey, there’s a youngster begging from his parents.

Let’s walk over to the tern colony by those rocks there. Okay, I think this is close enough. Wow, they are just incredible. Let’s count them. I’ll start with the Swift Terns. What’s that? Oh yes, I still call still call them Swift Terns, but their other name is Greater Crested Tern. One, two, three…18….29….44….okay, I make it 112. And Sandwich Terns? Let’s see….okay, I can see 43 Sandwich Terns. There are also some smaller ones at the edge of the roost there. Let met get the scope and we’ll double check what they are. Yes, they’re all Common Terns. It looks like, uhm….67 of them. Have we got everything? Oh, yes, you’re right! I almost forgot about the gigantic Caspian Tern!

Okay, cool, so you’ve got the numbers written down in your notebook? Awesome. What else can we find? Oh look, there’s a pair of White-fronted Plovers, near those Cape Cormorants roosting on the rocks. Aha! I see a little black-and-white head poking out of the waves there. See it? An African Penguin. And listen, I can hear them calling in the distance. It sounds like they’re in that old shack. Let’s go a bit closer. Wow, that’s a weird sound. It sounds like a donkey, doesn’t it? That’s why people called them Jackass Penguins before.

There are some waders roosting over there, on that flat section. Come, have a look through the scope. The big ones with the curvy bills are Whimbrels. You can hear them too. The small one that’s wagging its tail up and down in a Common Sandpiper. Yes, the one with that high-pitched call. And those small, grey guys with the curved bills – those are Curlew Sandpipers. They’re making that trilling, twittery type sound. And hey, there’s a Grey Plover too, with those beautiful mellow whistles.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel a bit hungry. Should we start making our way back to the boat? What an incredible day! 

Birds featured:

Cape Gannet | Witmalgas (p. 27) | 01:33

African (Black) Oystercatcher | Swarttobie (p. 96) | 02:31

Kelp Gull | Swartrugmeeu (p. 34) | 02:54

Hartlaub’s Gull | Hartlaubmeeu (p. 33) | 03:12

Swift (Greater Crested) Tern | Geelbeksterretjie (p. 39) | 03:40

Sandwich Tern | Grootsterretjie (p. 39) | 04:12

Common Tern | Gewone Sterretjie (p. 40) | 04:47

Caspian Tern | Reusesterretjie (p. 38) | 05:00

White-fronted Plover | Vaalstrandkiewiet (p. 101) | 05:20

Cape Cormorant | Trekduiker (p. 51) | 05:23

African Penguin | Brilpikkewyn (p. 46) | 05:31

Common Whimbrel | Kleinwulp (p. 109) | 06:30

Common Sandpiper | Gewone Ruiter (p. 112) | 06:44

Curlew Sandpiper | Krombekstrandloper (p. 110) | 06:55

Grey Plover  | Grysstrandkiewiet (p. 103) | 07:09