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17 September 2014
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Islands |Isle of Man

Island oasis

Isle of Man in winter (Image c/o  Isle of Man Department of Tourism)

The Isle of Man is a great location for wildlife with everything from birds of prey to cliff dwelling birds and creepy crawlies.

So get off your sofa and take a trip across the water to witness some sensational winter wildlife.

 

A great wildlife adventure.
Photo - Isle of Man Department of Tourism.


The Isle of Man became an island when it was cut off from the British mainland as sea levels rose when the last Ice Age ended around 10,000 years ago.

According to legend the island was formed when the Irish giant Finn McCool lobbed a huge piece of earth from what is now Northern Ireland at another giant in Scotland.

Finn's aim was poor and he missed - and the rock landed in the sea, becoming the Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man has a surprisingly diverse range of landscapes and habitat given its relatively small size - the island is just 33 miles long and 13 miles wide.

Its scenery ranges from mountains and valleys to sandy beaches and woodland glens.

This is a great island for wildlife spotting including some special animals that you'll struggle to see in such densities elsewhere in the UK.

Celtic Crow

ChoughThe island's location in the heart of the Irish Sea means that it's a great location for bird watching.

One of its rarer species is the Chough, a member of the crow family - this is a great bird to see in the winter months, especially on the coast when most other cliff dwelling birds have disappeared out to sea.

The best place to find this bird, which is also known as the Celtic Crow, is the south and western coast of the island.

Chough are cliff dwelling birds and the Isle of Man is perfect for them because it has lots of rocky coastline with fields coming down to the coast where they can forage.

The mild climate, a result of the Gulf Stream, means that there is plenty of insect life to feed on.

In winter the Chough gather in large flocks so it's relatively easy to spot them, and you can also hear their noisy calls that sounds like a che-oww.

A good place to find these birds is around the cliffs on the south of the island perched on high or feeding on seaweed on the beach.

The Chough is slightly smaller than a Rook with a red, slightly curved beak and red feet.

They live almost exclusively on coasts, often nesting in sea caves - the west coast of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man are some of the few locations where these glossy black birds can be found.

These birds are very rare in England and are only found in significant numbers in Cornwall.

There are more than 300 Choughs on the Isle of Man, which make it one of the best places to see them.

As well as Choughs, look out for Rock Pipits, Rooks, Hooded Crows, and Shelduck.

Birds of prey

isle of Man c/o isle of Man Tourist BoardThe Isle of Man is also a good place to see owls and birds of prey.

The Isle of Man has a healthy population of Barn Owls - watch out for their hunting behaviour as they fly about ten feet off the ground looking and listening for prey.

In fact this is the number one spot in the whole of Western Europe to find one raptor that's a must-see for any birder.

At the Close Sartfield Nature Reserve visitors can see one of the island's great natural spectacles.

The reserve runs a Hen Harrier Watch where dozens of these wonderful birds of prey fly right over bird watchers' heads!

These birds roost together in the same place and in this part of the world more than 80 birds have been known to come back to spend the night.

In fact the Isle of Man has the biggest Hen Harrier roost in Western Europe - its heather uplands are ideal hunting territory for the birds.

The difference between a Hen Harrier and other birds of prey is that they are very large winged, with a 'v' shape, and long tails.

These birds fly out onto the moors hunting other birds and small mammals - once they've spotted their prey, they swoop down for the kill.

This is a bird that's in serious decline elsewhere in the UK but is doing really well in the Isle of Man because of the habitat.

The Hen Harriers like the island's expanses of moor, the plentiful supply of food and the large number of safe places to roost such as conifer plantations.

Creepy crawlies

British Cave SpiderOne of the creatures that lives on the Isle of Man is unusual in that it spends its whole life in total darkness.

The British Cave Spider is found across the UK but only in sites where there's no daylight such as cellars caves and tunnels.

These giants of the spider world are amongst the biggest British spiders, but because they live in total darkness, they often go unnoticed.

The sit around in caves catching the occasional fly, gnat or woodlouse.

One of the distinctive features of this habitat are the balls of silk hanging down from the cave ceiling - these large teardrop shaped cotton wool objects are the spiders' egg sacs.

These cotton wool-like sacs can contain up to 1,000 spiderlings - when they first come out they're attracted to light, unlike the adults, as they need to find new areas to colonise.

Credits

Main picture and upland photograph courtesy of Isle of Man Tourist Board.

 

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