Birding from Cruise Ships
- Hi Monte, all
I decided to post this to the list since I think others may find the
information useful. I have been on 4 commercial cruises specifically
to observe pelagic birds, 3 from Southern Cal to Mexico and 1 from
Port Canaveral Florida to the Bahamas. The birding can be very
rewarding and sometimes frustrating, but mostly rewarding. You can
see lots of birds, but the views are often distant and the ship is
moving at a good clip and does not stop for better views. The birds
zip by quickly so you have to be prepared and alert. You'll
occasionally get lucky and that life bird will fly in the direction
of the ship for longer, outstanding views, but that's not the norm.
As far as the best viewing on board, I recommend the lowest level on
deck on the lee side out of the wind. Standing on the bow can offer a
nice vantage point, but the wind, sun and cold will take its toll.
And, in general access to the bow is up on the higher decks where
spotting the smaller Storm-Petrels is difficult. Since the cruise
ship is so high up off the water, a good Spotting Scope is an
absolute must. On today's Cruise ships engine vibration is minimal,
especially towards the bow. So don't leave the spotting scope behind!
Some of the best viewing I have had is from the balcony in our state
room. If you get a room with a balcony, get one on the lowest deck
available and closest to the bow. The Balconies are normally out of
the wind and you will be quite comfortable. More comfortable means
you will persist longer. Being out of the sun and wind can make a big
difference by the end of a long trip. Another advantage to a balcony
is you have easy access to bathrooms, food and beverages. On deck if
you get thirsty, hungry or have to use the facilities, you'll likely
have to lug all of your stuff with you some distance, unless you have
a birding companion to keep an eye on your stuff while you're gone.
If you're on the balcony and things really get popping, get out on
deck so you can check starboard, port, the stern and bow.
When pelagic birding from a cruise ship, do not depend on your naked
eye to visually pick up on birds, scan constantly with the scope and
binoculars, mostly the scope. I use the binocs only to spot groups of
birds in the distance or scanning the horizon. Because you are much
higher up off the water on a cruise ship then on a 40ft fishing boat,
the angle of view makes it more difficult to spot birds with the
I have had some fantastic day's pelagic birding off the coast of Baja
from cruise ships. The article by Nick Lethaby in Birding 31:338-344
August 1999 mentioned previously by Joel Weintraub, chronicles one of
my earliest trips. In season I have seen hundreds of Cook's Petrel,
huge numbers of Storm-Petrels, the occasional Skua, Long-tailed
Jaeger, Xantus and Craveri's Murrelet, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and
Buller's Shearwater, the list goes on.
Fountain Hills, AZ