Home to over 200 species of birds, the Isle of Wight offers a wide choice of habitats so there is always plenty to see at any time of the year. There are three large rivers and several creeks and of course you are never far from the sea so the Island is particularly good for wading birds, ducks and waterfowl. 

 

Tabs

Amongst the mudflats and reed beds you can find Kingfisher, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Goldfinch. The Common Mallard abounds and rarer duck species like Pintail can be seen at Newtown. Majestic Grey Heron and Little Egret can also be seen in these environments. Down on the seashore, Gulls and Cormorants settle on the rocky crags before or just after bad weather. Heading inland, Yellow Hammer, Corn Bunting, Goldcrest and Dartford Warbler can be seen in the fields and forests. Other species you are likely to see are Robins, Wrens, Blue Tit, Canada, and Grelag Geese, Mute Swans, Coots, Moorhens and Dunlins. Some of the rarities include Golden Plover, the Common Golden Eye, Great Crested Grebe, Water Rail, Black Tern, Little Gull, Spoonbill, Nightingale, Shore Lark and the Cuckoo. Look out too for Harriers, Owls, Buzzards and even the Osprey and Red Kite around the downs and cliffs. 

 

Top 5 Bird Watching Locations

 

1) Bembridge to Brading

Bembridge Harbour is a busy natural harbour at the mouth of the Eastern River Yar, offering good protection in bad weather. Brading was once a busy port in Roman times with marshes sitting neatly between the two places. The wetland, ancient woodland, farmland and downland provides a unique habitat for wildlife.

In the spring, Buzzards soar overhead, Lapwings swoop over the marshes and the distinctive song of the Cetti's Warbler and Sedge Warblers can be heard. In the summer, Marsh Harrier, Reed Warbler, Yellow Wagtail and Green Woodpecker can be seen in the grasslands. Autumn is a good time to see Little Egret, Redshank, Swallows and House Martins feed along the river on their journey south. In winter, flocks of winter waders and Pintail, Wigeon, Fieldfare and Yellowhammer can all be seen.

Other species include Hen Harrier, Short-Eared Owl, the Spoonbill, Shag and Greylag Goose. The more wooded areas and wet fields surrounding the marsh offer good habitat for Chiff Chaff, Wheater and the Cuckoo in the spring.  Other species include Kingfisher, Canada Goose, Water Rail and Grey Heron. 

2) Newtown Estuary

The Newtown estuary, owned by the National Trust is a unique and protected National Nature Reserve.  It supports an abundance of rare wildlife due in part to the historical management of the intricate mix of woodland, hedgerow, salt marsh, mudflat and meadow.

In spring, the season for bird song, Nightingale, Lesser Whitethroat, Cuckoo, Blackcap, Chiff Chaff, Black Headed Gull, Willow Warbler and Whimbrel are regular visitors whilst in summer, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Little Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Osprey, Buzzard, Yellowhammer, Green Woodpecker and Barn Owl can be seen at Newtown.

In the autumn as the leaves start to fall, visitors should look out for Grey Plover, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Knot, Lapwing, Redshank, Merlin and Bar-tailed Godwit. During winter, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Wigeon, Teal, Brent Goose, Little Egret, Kingfisher. Merganser and Peregrine Falcon are regular estuary visitors.

Other species include Heron, Goldeneye, Mediterranean Gull and Great Crested Grebe.

3) The West Yar Estuary

Heading inland from Yarmouth under the old stone bridge, the Western Yar opens out into a picturesque estuary, providing a great place to see Kingfisher, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Common Redshank, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Brent Goose and Wigeon.

The nearby woods and fields provide habitat for many small birds and raptors like Buzzard, Kestrel and the majestic Barn Owl.  

4) The Needles to Niton

The Needles, the iconic Isle of Wight landmark, offers excellent views of the sea and cliffs as well as the rolling hills of Tennyson Down. The habitat is ideal for several raptor species such as Peregrine Falcon and the Little Owl. Seabirds shelter in the coves and rocks after storms so you may see Cormorants, Fulmars and several types of gull.

The foliage covered chines in the cliffs are good places to see Redstart and the Stonechat. Other key species are Dartford warbler, Whinchat, Rock Pipit and Raven. 

5) The Medina Estuary

With its source south of Newport, the River Medina divides the towns of East and West Cowes at the point where it meets the Solent. The Medina Valley is a mix of unspoilt countryside and heritage industrial buildings associated with the shipbuilding or aircraft industry.

The river is often busy with pleasure traffic and shore based activities so the bolder species like Oystercatcher, Curlew, Little Egret, Heron, Cormorant, Coots and Gulls are more prevalant. You could also see Mute Swan, Blue Tit, Chaffinch or even a Barn Owl or Little Owl. 

 

Perched on the headland at Rocken End, at St Catherine’s Point, is possibly one of the best places in Britain to see migrating birds heading back to their summer breeding grounds. But this promontory above Watershoot Bay is very exposed.

Sometimes you may only be able to see the birds far out to sea as they fly past, but when the wind is from the East or south the birds often come in, and stop to feed before resuming their flight.

“You ideally need a south easterly wind for sea bird migration,” said Ian Ridett, one of the National Trust wardens responsible for St Catherine’s Point. “And you may see birds like the Bar Tailed Godwit on their way to Arctic Russia in May, Arctic Skua and the Great Skua or Bonxie.

“Sea watching to the West of the lighthouse, by the rock you can see Sandwich and Common Terns, Arctic Terns, Common Scoter, Shelduck, Red and Black Throated Divers, Long Tailed Ducks and Manx Shearwaters.

“Wheatears drop by from mid march to mid May. Later in May Greenland Wheatears come up from sub Saharan Africa, through the UK and Ireland on their way to Greenland. Whinchats also pass by on their way to northerly breeding sites.

“We have Yellow Wagtails, that you’ll find around the feet of the cattle. They’re bright yellow and may be feeding amongst Wildebeest and Zebra in Africa during the winter.
“Occasionally we get grey Wagtails but that would generally be in the autumn. We also get the odd Hoopoe here – these are usually continental birds that have flown off course.”

The area also attracts migrant birds of prey. “We had three red kites together here last spring and I’ve seen two in Niton already this spring,” said Ian. “Osprey and Marsh Harrier pass through here and the Common Buzzard nests nearby

“We also have nesting Peregrines and Ravens. In recent years Fulmars have arrived – their population has increased due to the increase in fishing discards possibly due to changing fishing quotas. They used to only nest on St Kilda in the UK.”

St Catherine’s Lighthouse sits at the most southerly point of the Island, standing sentinel over the treacherous rocks that lurk under the water here. But the land behind the lighthouse beneath the imposing sandstone and greensand cliffs can be just as dangerous, with regular landslides altering the landscape.

“The Undercliff has many sheltered pockets between the tumbling rocks and mudslides which provide many niches for a variety of wildlife,” explained Ian.

Clearing the bramble and bracken from the tumbling pastureland has improved the habitat for nesting birds. “Stonechats bred here last year, and they haven’t bred here for a long time,” said Ian.

The National Trust owns Knowles Farm, next to the lighthouse, and there is a holiday cottage available to rent. This site is famous for being one of the first places that Marconi managed to send a message across the Atlantic by telegraph. The base of the mast that sent the messages can be seen in the seaward field next to the farmhouse.
At the top of the road, take a turn right over a stile, just before the road falls away down to the lighthouse, and you can explore the higher chalk upland, but beware of adders sunning themselves.

Walk further to the west and you will come across the end of what was once the Blackgang Road, now a dead end known as Windy Corner. In the trees bordering the road and the fields behind you will hear all of the usual woodland birds such as Great Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Wrens, Hedge Sparrows/Dunnocks and Green Woodpeckers.
Make your way down the pathway through the undergrowth of trees and you will find still more – but make sure you have plenty of hours of daylight or a guide as these pathways can be confusing. You will find lush undergrowth, gorse brush and grassy knolls. You may also end up on the naturist beach at the bottom.

Brading Marshes
Owned by the RSPB, the 373 hectare reserve has four viewing points and miles of quiet footpaths with walks of two to three hours, display boards are sited along the way. Guided walks are often available. The old station at Brading acts as the gateway to the reserve with information and trail guides. Brading Marshes

Newtown Harbour
Owned by the National Trust, the reserve has a visitor centre with interpretation panels and exhibits. There are two hides and two nature trails (1.5km and 2.5km) with wardens often on hand to give helpful advice. Newtown Estuary

Bird Watching boat trips
Departing from Shalfleet Pier, the owner of Shalfleet Manor operates regular Estuary Safaris specifically for bird and nature lovers. The cruise lasts one hour and can take up to 6 people at a time. For information and booking please call 01983 531235.

From Yarmouth, Bob Gawn operates bird watching charters for groups and individuals aboard Wight Sapphire to places like The Needles and Alum Bay. For details please call Bob on 01983 740554 or email.