Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Perth Seawatching Sites

If our previous post has got anyone fired up about seawatching (how could it not have?), this follow-up outlines the major seawatching locations around in the greater Perth area. Seawatching anywhere requires patience and many long hours of watching to reap the rewards of potential rarities, but this is particularly so on the Perth coast, where a good deal of effort is often required just to see commoner species! However, if you are prepared to put in the time, you may be rewarded with interesting sightings of seabirds usually only seen well offshore.

The best seawatching conditions usually occur from late May through to August with the passage of strong cold fronts. Ideally, a strong wind (25knts or more) with a reasonable westerly component is needed to bring seabirds close to the coast, particularly if the wind remains strong for 2-3 days or more. However, you may be lucky and pick up one or two seabirds in lighter winds. Morning is generally the best time of day for seabird activity, particularly the first few hours after sunrise, with activity often dropping away somewhat in the afternoon.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel, photographed from North Mole in Fremantle

North Mole
North Mole in Fremantle is the ‘traditional’ seawatching location in Perth, and has produced some outstanding records in the past, including Black-browed Albatross, Kerguelen Petrel, Blue Petrel, White-headed Petrel, and Fairy Prion. In recent years though, the number of unusual reports has fallen, although Black-bellied Storm-Petrel and Arctic Tern have been recorded. More common species include Australasian Gannet, Brown Skua, giant petrels (Southern is more common, but individuals are often unidentifiable to species), and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. In summer, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and jaegers can be seen.

North Mole in Fremantle, photographed from the nearby South Mole.

Directions: Travelling south on Stirling Hwy, turn right into Queen Victoria St and then right into Tydeman Rd. Follow Tydeman Rd until you reach a T-junction and turn left (into Port Beach Rd). Follow this road to North Mole Dr on the right and follow this road to the end of the mole.

Arctic Tern photographed at North Mole in 2010.

Unfortunately, in the last few years, authorities have taken to closing off access to the Mole in stormy weather (i.e. good seawatching weather!). When this is the case, an alternative point for seawatching can be found near the ferry terminal at Rous Head. Instead of following North Mole Dr onto the mole, turn left off North Mole Dr into Rous Head Rd and follow this to the ferry terminal – note though that the carpark at the ferry terminal is pay parking. South Mole is another alternative option, although this can also be closed in severe weather.

Point Peron
Point Peron (near Rockingham) has gained more popularity as a seawatching site in the last few years, partly because of the new policy of closing North Mole in rough weather. Giant-petrels are regular in windy conditions in winter, although they are mostly young birds and often can’t be identified to species. Australasian Gannets are also common, and Great-winged Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Arctic Jaeger, and a prion (probably Slender-billed) have been seen in recent years. In summer, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters are a reasonable chance, and Flesh-footed Shearwater and Arctic Jaeger should also be seen from time to time.

Point Peron near Rockingham.

Directions: Travelling north along Safety Bay Rd, turn left at Point Peron Rd and follow this until you reach a T-junction. Turn left at this junction and follow this road to the final carpark overlooking the ocean. You can watch from the carpark, the top of the small cliff on the right, or the observation platform on the left.

The carpark at Point Peron. The parked cars are in prime seawatching position!

Woodman Point
Possibly more well-known for its waders in summer, Woodman Point can also produce a few interesting seabirds throughout the year. In ‘summer’ (Oct-early May), it can be good for jaegers, predominantly Arctic, but Pomarine is also regular (especially in early April), and Long-tailed has been seen on a few occasions. Wedge-tailed Shearwater can also be seen, and a young Wandering Albatross was photographed in February 2006. In April, there is often significant passage of jaegers (a topic for another blog), with large numbers of Arctic, a few Pomarine, and occasionally Long-tailed seen. A few Arctic Jaegers often remain in winter, along with Australasian Gannet and Brown Skua, and Soft-plumaged Petrel and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel have been seen in recent years.

Soft-plumaged Petrel off Woodman Point. This species typically occurs in deep waters at the edge of the continental shelf and along the Rottnest Trench, and is usually only seen inshore like this in very rough weather.

Directions: Travelling south on Cockburn Rd, turn right at O’Kane Court, then take the first left (Jervoise Bay Rd), then the first right (Woodman Pt Rd) and follow this all the way to the last carpark (near the groyne). You can watch from the carpark, or walk to the rocky point along the beach to the north and watch from there.

Halls Head
Further south, Halls Head in Mandurah is potentially a worthwhile seawatching site. In summer, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters can usually be seen, along with the occasional Flesh-footed Shearwater, and a variety of tern species can be seen on the point if there are few people around. Little Penguin is also a chance floating offshore in calm conditions. However, Halls Head is a relative unknown in terms of winter seawatching, but should be a chance for seabirds in the right conditions.

Wedge-tailed Sharwaters off Halls Head. Halls Head is one of the best places to see this species in summer.

Directions: Travelling west along Pinjarra Rd, cross the old Mandurah traffic bridge and turn right at the roundabout into Mary St. Follow Mary St until it becomes Halls Head Pde and park in the third carpark along the road (the one closest to the point).

Rottnest Island
Rottnest is ideally placed to be an excellent seawatching venue, as it is much closer to the shelf edge and Rottnest Trench than the mainland coast. However, there are few records available. From the west end in good conditions in winter, Yellow-nosed (and the odd Shy and Black-browed) Albatross should be a good chance, along with giant-petrels, Wilson’s & White-faced Storm-Petrels, Brown Skua and possibly Great-winged and Soft-plumaged Petrels. Other points on the island, including Cape Vlamingh and Parker Point, should also be worthwhile vantage points. In summer, Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters are a good chance, and jaeger species should be possible.

Further afield
Further afield in the south-west, the more well-known seawatching sites include Bunker Bay and Cape Naturaliste near Dunsborough, Cape Leeuwin near Augusta, and Torndirrup National Park near Albany. However, south of Cape Naturaliste, any reasonable promontory is a potentially good site for seawatching, and seawatching in this area is generally much more fruitful than around Perth. We aim to produce an article similar to this one covering these areas, but this needs further research first!

Further Reading
Simon Nevill’s Guide to Wildlife of the Perth Region contains a short article on seawatching off North Mole (pp. 106-107) written by John Darnell, one of WA’s leading seabird experts.

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