Spring has arrived at RSPB Hodbarrow and the breeding season has begun, even if the current weather is suggesting different!

The first 300 Sandwich Terns have made it back from their wintering grounds, some travelling distances of up to 10,000km from Namibia and South Africa, to Hodbarrow’s coastal lagoon island, measuring less than 0.02km². Thousands of seabirds, waders and ducks will breed on this tiny island including Black-headed Gull, Sandwich, Common and Little Tern; the latter being the UK’s second rarest breeding seabird after Roseate Tern.

Sandwich Terns, the first Tern species to arrive back to Hodbarrow

Whilst summer migrants such as Sandwich Tern are arriving there is still some remanence of the winter assemblage with the odd Teal and Wigeon and a few Goldeneye that have yet to set off for their Northern European breeding grounds. Additionally, passage waders are adding to the bird mix; birds travelling from further south that are stopping off to feed and rest on their way North. One such species is the Black-tailed Godwit subspecies Islandica that, as the name suggests, will be one their way to Iceland, many having over-wintered further south of the UK and Ireland. At this time of year they are moulting, transforming from their dull grey winter plumage into their dazzling red russet breeding plumage. Fantastic to witness! Also passing through are Golden Plover and Red Knot (not yet red!) and the occasional Greenshank.

Male Goldeneye

Black-tailed Godwits at varying moult stages


Eider numbers are building around the lagoon at this time of year, with up to 500 birds (always more males than females) that fly in from the Duddon Estuary and Morecambe Bay at high tide to bath in the fresh water of the lagoon and take a rest on the island. If the weather is favourable, and they are feeling energetic they may also have time for some courtship. Listen out for the distinctive and endearing ‘OoooOOh’ of the courting males. It is impossible not to imitate! Many will breed on Walney Island across the estuary, but over the last few years some have stayed to breed at Hodbarrow, where they are undisturbed and safe from ground predators such as foxes thanks to fencing installed by the RSPB. Last year 51 pairs bred on the Lagoon Island, this number has increased year on year with 18 pairs in 2018, 23 in 2019 and 31 pairs in 2020. 

Male Eider - colour ring Red AIL tells us he was ringed as an adult on Foulney Island the other side of the Duddon Estuary in July 2021 (thanks to Ian Hartley for the info)

We are currently anticipating the arrival of Common and Little Tern to complete the Hodbarrow line up - watch this space!