We’ve been loving Kaikoura’s spectacular seabirds and other marine life so much, we’ve recently started a new weekly event to celebrate it – Saturday Seawatch!
Kaikoura is a star attraction on the NZ birding map because of its exceptional range of pelagic species and their unusual proximity to land. Most famously, Albatross Encounter operates daily boat trips out to the nearby ocean canyon for a fantastic up-close seabird experience, and that is exactly what most birdwatchers come here for. However, that is not the only way to view seabirds in Kaikoura. With a spotting scope, or even just binoculars, pretty much all the same species can be viewed from the land – a relief for those of us who may be slightly out of our comfort zone on a boat.
Our regular seabird viewing spot is from the top of the hill at the Point Kean seal colony.
The best days are usually the windiest ones, when more seabirds are on the wing and getting blown in close to land.
Compared with being out there on the boat, there are actually a few advantages to viewing from the land:
1) The elevation means you can watch over a vast area of ocean, see things that are a long way away, and follow travelling birds for quite a long time.
2) You can spot species that are not particularly attracted to boats and are therefore less frequently recorded on the pelagic trips. This includes various shearwaters and petrels.
3) You can watch on the windiest and stormiest days, which have the most exciting seabird action but are usually days when the tour boats won’t go out, and you really wouldn’t want to be out there if they did.
The big disadvantage to land-based viewing, of course, is that most of the birds are a long way away.
In fact, at Point Kean, they are usually passing by well beyond the far end of the rock platform, which is more than 700m away! But that’s why we have a spotting scope.
It’s very good seabird ID practice when the birds are at this distance, and the majority can be confidently identified with experience. So far we’ve seen seven species of albatross, five petrels, five shearwaters and an assortment of other birds, as well as Dusky Dolphins and the occasional Sperm Whale. When the wind’s up, the sheer number of Hutton’s Shearwaters you can see zipping past is exhilarating. Check out the eBird Point Kean hotspot page for more detail on what’s been seen.
Despite these viewing opportunities, we’ve been amazed at how rarely we see anyone else scanning the seas from the headland. To share the possibilities with more people, we’ve just started up a weekly Saturday Seawatch event, where we invite others watch with us at Point Kean from 6.30pm. We can offer use of our scope and binoculars and some assistance finding and identifying whatever we can see out there. So if you’re in Kaikoura and want to see and learn about seabirds and any other local wildlife we might happen to spot (there are loads of seals, we regularly see dolphins, whales are possible) come along and join us for an evening of seawatching. Everyone is very welcome and it’s all for free – hope to see you down there!