Hodbarrow lagoon island is getting busy with up to 1,800 Black-headed gulls and 400 Sandwich terns filling the air with their shrieks and chatter as they rekindle pair bonds and stake claim to their breeding territories; which, in the case of a Sandwich tern, is only about one square metre!

Sandwich terns on the lagoon island

Joining the rabble, the first Little tern was sighted on the 9th of April, just a day later than the earliest on record. One became two on the 14th of April as a second bird joined, adding their bubbly call to the mix. More arrived over the next few days with a peak of 11 recorded on the 19th of April. As their name suggests, Little terns are the smallest breeding tern in the UK, weighing no more than a tennis ball! They over winter in West Africa and make the long journey back to us in spring to breed on our coasts.

Little tern in flight (photo Marc McLoughlin)

Little terns on Hodbarrow lagoon island

Little terns prefer to nest on sand or shingle beaches, making a shallow scrape in which to lay their camouflaged eggs. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, this means they often come into conflict which beach goers who unknowingly may disturb or even walk straight over their nests! Increased recreation on our beaches is just one of the factors contributing to a decline in Little terns over the past 50 years; there are now less than 2,000 breeding pairs in the UK, assigning them the title of our second rarest breeding seabird.

Welcome to Hodbarrow sign

This is where Hodbarrow comes in! Being a lagoon island detached from the mainland means that all three species of tern that nest here (Sandwich tern, Common tern and Little tern), have a relatively safe place to lay their eggs and raise their chicks, away from direct contact with people, dogs and ground predators. They are still, however, extremely vulnerable to disturbance and humans or dogs getting too close the island will cause them to ‘dread’, meaning to collectively fly up from the ground and scatter; a defence mechanism to deter or confuse potential predators. This uses up valuable energy reserves and exposes their eggs and chicks making them susceptible to predation and chilling, especially with our north west coast winds! Too much disturbance may result in loss of eggs or chicks, cause stress to the adult birds and the whole colony may even abandon completely.

No access sign at Hodbarrow

These beautiful, endangered seabirds are living on the edge of an increasingly urbanised world and need our help to give them the best possible chance of survival. Please look out for no entry signs around the lagoon, asking you to keep out of these areas and keep your four-legged friends under control (terns see dogs as predators!). If you wish to use the lagoon for water sports such as swimming or kayaking, please stay well away from the island. By following this advice and looking out for signs you can really help to protect these rare and special seabirds. Wardens will be on site daily keeping an eye on the colony and if you have any questions, they will be happy to answer. Of course you can view the colony safely from the sea wall or hide and enjoy the terns in all their splendour, as well as soak in a spectacular view of the Lake District! 

View from the hide