Thursday, June 28, 2012

Seawatching: The Basics

Seawatching is one of the most challenging types of birding, usually involving sitting on some exposed headland in windy conditions, trying to identify seabirds offshore, many of which are difficult to identify even with good photos! This challenge is part of the attraction of seawatching, and the rewards for the keen seabirder are sightings of pelagic seabirds usually only seen well offshore. Indeed, if pelagic trips aren’t your thing, seawatching is probably the only way to see many deep ocean albatross, petrel and shearwater species.

The challenges of seawatching can also put people off, and judging by the relative lack of records, the WA coast is seriously under-seawatched! So, in the hopes of encouraging a few more WA birders out there to take up seawatching, we present this guide to the basics of seawatching. Experienced seawatchers probably won’t find anything new in here, but we hope that newer and prospective seawatchers will find this guide useful, and get you thinking about heading to your nearest headland after the next storm!

Before heading out

Find a site
Or several sites! Reading trip reports and previous sightings, searching the web, and asking other birders will usually suggest some worthwhile sites. Some sites worth trying include:

Perth (see also our previous blog post)
• Woodman Point
• Point Peron
• Rottnest Island
• North Mole (though note the mole is now fenced off in the best seawatching conditions)
• Cape Naturaliste near Dunsborough
• Bunker Bay (near Cape Naturaliste)
• Cape Leeuwin near Augusta
• Torndirrup NP near Albany (esp. Cave Point Lighthouse, the Blowholes carpark)
Further north
• Red Bluff near Kalbarri
• Red Bluff near Carnarvon
• Point Quobba near Carnarvon
• Steep Point near Denham

If you're feeling more adventurous, you might like to pore over maps and look for your own site! Look for geographical features that stick out to sea, like headlands or points, and if possible find a location that offers at least a little elevation and some sort of shelter from the wind to help you to keep your scope and bins steady.

Cape Naturaliste, a well-known seawatching site near Dunsborough. Note the relatively calm sea that betrays relatively poor seawatching conditions on the day of this photo - the haul from a 2.5hr watch was just 20+ Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and a single Brown Skua.