In March 2016 RPBO has embarked on a seawatch program. This long term and year-round program aims to monitor waterbird moving and staging in Juan de Fuca Strait off southern Vancouver Island to fill a significant gap in regional bird monitoring programs. After an initial trial period Beechey Head in East Sooke Park was selected as the most optimal seawatching site. The site can be reached from the Aylard Farm parking lot via a 30 minute hike in. Data from this project will be very useful for assessing such things as regional population trends in under-monitored species; direction, magnitude and routes of migratory movements through the region; important feeding areas, and so on. This region is currently facing an upswing in marine traffic, and the strait is already a very heavily-used marine transportation corridor, with spills and pollution an ever-present risk. In this context, the more information that we have available on what birds are using these areas, the better.


RPBO will train those willing to volunteer for this project. Those wanting to participate should be available for at least 1 seawatch per month. The training will include:

  • training on protocols and methods for counting flocks, using clickers, etc.
  • practice alongside an experienced observer, for confirmation of ID's while watching the same individual birds pass by.
  • watching video clips of waterbirds in flight
  • looking at photos of in-flight waterbirds (not as useful as video).

Check it out!  A time-lapsed video of 90 minutes of Seawatch


Participants, approximately from right to left: Aiva N., Hannah H., Skylar, Sonja F., Emma R., Carolyn P., Andrew J. and Daniel D.

(January 20, 2024.   Video by Aiva Noringseth)


RPBO has established the following protocol for our SeaWatch program:

  • SeaWatch is conducted once a week (usually Saturdays, weather permitting) and somewhat less frequent in July and August due to fog.
  • Observations begin ½ hour after sunrise using binoculars and spotting scope from a fixed site slightly west of Beechey Head proper.
  • SeaWatch shifts are 1 hour in length.
  • An effort is made to count every bird.
  • Birds are categorized as stationary (on the water), eastbound (flying toward Race Rocks) or westbound (flying toward the open sea).
  • A scribe records all observations and periodically surveys the water close to shore and the sky.
  • During periods of strong movement or when no scribe is available a voice recorder is used.
  • The coordinator of the seawatch is responsible for entering all data in e-bird on the day of the SeaWatch and share it with

Weather Considerations

Fog: most frequent at Rocky Point and points west in summer and fall. Requires cancellation of surveys if visibility reduced to <~1.5 km from shore. Fog is very difficult to predict and often patchy and SeaWatch might still be possible with thick fog to the west or east but clear visibility off Beechey Head.

Rain: can reduce visibility and lead to fogged up scopes and binoculars, but doesn't necessarily cause abandoning a SeaWatch. In fact, movements of birds often coincide with rain squalls or showers. Observers need to have a cloth to dry their optics in the field.

Snow: although unlikely, snow or freezing rain can occur during winter and seriously impair visibility. It also poses a serious hazard on the slippery rocks near and at Beechey Head necessitating rescheduling of the SeaWatch.

Wind: can lead to difficulty surveying in exposed sites due to shaky scopes, but can also be associated with unique or significant waterbird movements, so it's better to survey than not to survey, even in very high winds. Observer safety is paramount though and if high winds are in the forecast the date of the seawatch should be changed. If winds come up unexpectedly (especially from the west) a more sheltered site is a small open structure approximately 400 m west of Beechey Head along the Coastal Trail.

Observer Safety

Observer safety takes precedence above all. The coastline of East Sooke Park is exposed and the trails can be slippery and sections of it are steep. The shore and woodland trails should be avoided during periods of high wind. Ice can be a very serious slipping hazards and snow, although unlikely, can occur making trails less obvious. Wear appropriate clothing and foot wear. Let someone know where you are going and when you are expected back. Cell phone reception is very spotty in East Sooke Park.

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