Birdwatching on the Isle of Wight
Majestic sea cliffs and sweeping beaches; the quiet solitude of ancient woodlands; an ever changing patchwork of worked fields; the timeless and enduring presence of the downs: intricate inlets of tranquil creeks; long distance views from the coastal heath and downland; winding paths; shutes and hollow ways in the countryside; Chines and steps down cliffs to miles of beaches; all make the landscape a perfect place for birdwatching.
The Isle of Wight has a wide variety of habitats, all having their influence on the type of birds seen. There are chalk, sand and clay cliffs; shores of sand, shingle mud and rock; fresh and saltwater marshes; tidal rivers and creeks; mixed farmland; deciduous and coniferous woods, copse and large areas of chalk downland. The main kind of habitat inadequately represented is fresh water, of which there are only several ponds.
Species to Spot
The dominant feature of the Island is the ridge of chalk downs running west to east, from the Needles to Culver Cliff, with another group in the south around Ventnor. There are numerous copses and thickets, plus mixed plantations above Brook and Brighstone. Some of the regular species are Nightjar, Woodcocks, Long-eared Owl, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker & Firecrest.
The two ends of this ridge of chalk form high cliffs which are populated, especially on and near the Needles, by various seabirds. Some of their nesting ledges can be seen from the cliff-top, but care is needed. In the case of several interesting species - Fulmar, Cormorant, Shag, Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls, Guillemot and Razorbill- these cliffs mark the eastern limit of breeding (or at least of regular breeding) along the south coast of Britain.
Freshwater Bay, a short break in the chalk near the western end, is sometimes resorted to for shelter from severe weather. Cormorants, Shags & Gulls all can be seen.
The Island's three main rivers all drain to the north - the Medina in the centre, and the two others, both confusingly named the Yar, at either end (Newtown really only a creek). The estuaries of the two Yars can offer a wide variety of visiting species (mainly ducks and waders) and a few nesters, but much of Brading Marsh (a reclaimed part of the former estuary of the eastern Yar) is private. At the Medina estuary you will find many species of waders & oystercatchers, swans & ducks.
The area most likely to be worth a visit at any season of the year is that around Newtown River and Marsh, on the Island's Northwest coast. The nesting species include Shelduck, Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gull and occasionally Sandwich and Common Terns. Also often present during the summer are numbers of non-breeding waders, including Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot and Black-tailed Godwit. At other times there is a wider variety of species, mainly ducks in winter and waders in the migration seasons.
St Catherines Point, at the southern extremity of the Island, attracts considerable notice, largely on account of the birds which can be found resting there, usually after migrating during an overcast night.