By guest blogger Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx BirdLife.

The Isle of Man is blessed with an enviable diversity of wild birds that can be easily seen in their spectacular Island surroundings.

The Isle of Man boasts more species per square mile than Britain or Ireland, and has an equally diverse range of habitats. In just one day, it is possible to visit soaring granite cliffs, sandy beaches, sheltered bays, rugged heather moorlands, montane grasslands and more. The views of the landscape are simply breath-taking. All of which make the Isle of Man an absorbing holiday and birdwatching destination.

While rarities can never be guaranteed, the Island’s iconic birds are easily found. And you won’t have too much driving to do because they’re all packed into an area one third the size of London!


Images: Arctic Tern / Manx Shearwater
 
  1. Shearwaters

The eponymous Manx Shearwater is a master navigator. Having spent the winter off the south Atlantic coasts of Uruguay and Argentina, by March the birds have found their way back across the ocean to their northern European nesting burrows.

As a breeding species in the Isle of Man, Shearwaters are restricted to the Calf of Man. What better excuse for a visit to this tiny islet off the southern end of the island? The Calf’s square mile of cliffs and grass provides an ideal setting in which to see resident birds such as Raven, Hooded Crow, Peregrine and Chough as well as summer specialities such as Wheatear.

The Calf makes a fascinating venue for a day’s visit. In spring and autumn, you can observe migrating birds and see the famous bird observatory and its ringing station in full swing. Even better, an overnight visit will enable you to hear the midnight caterwauling of busy nocturnal Shearwaters around their burrows.

If you don’t have time to visit the Calf, the Point of Ayre at the northern-most tip of the Island is your best bet for daytime Shearwaters. In favourable conditions, they pass within yards of the beach. In the course of an afternoon, after a day’s fishing out at sea, hundreds will glide by on stiff wings – flashing black and white like mini Albatrosses – as they make their way back to feed their young on the Calf.

  1. Sea Swallows

A summer visit to the Point of Ayre and the beautifully remote Ayres National Nature Reserve will reveal long unbroken stretches of mixed shingle and sandy strandlines. From here, the Mull of Galloway looms into view across the water to the north.

In summer, these wild beaches are home to diminutive Little Terns. Just bigger than a Swift, these mainly white birds have black heads with a white forehead. Their size and black-tipped yellow bills distinguish them from the larger Arctic Terns which sport blood red bills.

It’s for good reason that terns are called ‘sea swallows’ with their forked tails, long wings and graceful buoyant flight. The Arctic Tern is perhaps the greatest of all travellers in the bird world. Adults can reach thirty years of age, in which lifetime they will travel some 1.5 million miles to and from their Antarctic wintering and northern hemisphere nesting grounds.

Images: Razorbill / Peregrine
 
  1. Seabird Colonies

As well as offering glorious views across to the Calf, the south of the island provides a spectacle of seabirds.

Throngs of noisy Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes are joined on the cliffs by tube-nosed Fulmars, red-billed Choughs and imperial Peregrines. Lower down in bolder screes are nesting Shags. The sound and the smell (!) of the seabird colonies at the Chasms in the height of the breeding season are unforgettable.

There are also acrobatic cronking Ravens, mouse-like Rock Pipits, bandit-masked Wheatears and scratchily-singing Whitethroats to be seen on the short walk down to the Chasms from Cregneash or along the spectacular coastal walk from Port St. Mary to the Calf Sound.

  1. Hen Harriers

A visit to the Isle of Man is not complete without a visit inland to the uplands. The heather, gorse and grass-carpeted hills form a hi-rise backbone running through the island from South Barrule to North Barrule.

Snaefell, the island’s only mountain, stands above them all at 621 metres (2,036 feet). From the summit, the whole of the island can be seen. Below and all around you is the wild domain of the Hen Harrier. If you haven’t spied one on the way up to Snaefell, then try driving back down on the minor roads to either Sulby or Kirk Michael.

Ghostly grey male and mottled brown female harriers can be seen quartering the hillsides. They rarely fly too high in the sky, keeping low to the ground where they pounce upon their unsuspecting prey of small birds and mammals hiding in the vegetation. Hen Harriers are specially protected from disturbance by law, so please enjoy watching these vulnerable birds of prey from a safe distance. Thank you.

Images: Hen Harrier / Choughs
 
  1. Find Out More

This article has merely scratched the surface of the birding opportunities offered by the Isle of Man.

For more information, visit Manx BirdLife, the Island’s only wild bird conservation charity. As well as details of what you can see, when and where, you’ll find an up-to-date list of recent sightings and bird club events to which visitors are most welcome.

Bird Photography © Neil Morris

Related

Calf of Man
Landmark
Boat returning from the Calf of Man

Located amidst spectacular scenery half a mile off the southern tip of the Isle of Man, the Calf of Man is a small island extending to approximately 600 acres. An ideal destination for birdwatchers to visit, with it being home to a number of species of birds, including a number of seabird colonies and thousands of migrating birds on route.

Ayres Visitor Centre & Nature Trail
Heritage / Visitor Centre
Ayres Visitor Centre & Nature Trail

The Ayres is an important stretch of low-lying sand dune coastline at the northern tip of the island, great for walking and bird watching.

Shona Boat Trips
Boat Trip
Shona Boat Trips

Shona Boat Trips offer the ability to see the Calf Island, Mine workings and lighthouses as well as birds, seals and possibly basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises.

Snaefell Mountain
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Snaefell Mountain

Snaefell is the highest mountain and the only summitt higher than 2,000 feet on the Isle of Man at 2,034 feet above sea level. Plan your trip to the top of Snaefell with the Snaefell Mountain Railway. Opening times, map, prices and what's nearby.

Cregneash
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Harry Kelly's Cottage at Cregneash

Settled on an upland plateau overlooking the Calf of Man, Cregneash village was one of the last strongholds of the Manx language and customs which characterised the crofting way of life. Step inside the Manx cottages to see how crofters lived through stories, skills and craft demonstrations.

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