It's the start of a new season at Hodbarrow as we welcomed backed the first Sandwich terns this week with 3 briefly and tentatively circling over the lagoon island on the morning of the 22nd March, before heading back out to sea. On the 24th, 16 touched down on the island briefly and by the 25th they had grown in numbers and confidence with 52 individuals on the island for most of the day, spending their time preening, courting, bathing and snoozing - just like they had never left! Along with Black-headed gulls, which have been loafing around the island in small numbers since the beginning of March, swelling to 770 individuals on the 25th, it's really starting to sound and look like a seabird colony!

Sandwich terns are back!

Black-headed gulls getting down to business

As the summer breeding birds arrive, they are joined by passage waders utilising the island as a hide tide roost with up to 21 Black-tailed godwit and 381 Golden plover joining the dwindling flocks of over-wintering Redshank, Dunlin and Red knot. The Godwits in particular are looking stunning as they moult their grey plumage that has provided them with camouflage since Autumn, to their rufous-orange summer finery before migrating north to Iceland and their breeding grounds.

Black-tailed godwits in flight (photo credit: Marc McLoughlin)

Black-tailed godwits and Red knot

Golden plover

Adding to the raucous calls of the Black-headed gulls up to 771 Eiders have been using the lagoon as a courting arena, jostling and calling; a cacophony of Oooohs from the vocal displaying males and gog-gog-gogs from the responding females. After these exhausting displays, they take a well-earned rest on the island before collectively flying back over the Duddon estuary to feed on mussel beds around Walney island. In Cumbria, these sea ducks predominately breed on South Walney and Chapel Island but breeding numbers have been increasing at Hodbarrow over the last few years, noticeably since the installation of the anti-predator fence, with at least 31 females nesting on lagoon island last year.


At least 4 pairs each of Lapwing and Oystercatcher and 3 pairs of Ringed plover have also been displaying and scraping on the island, as well as a pair of Great crested grebe that have been slowly constructing a nest in the south east corner of the island, in between elegant courtship dances. Displaying Red-breasted merganser have also been present in fluctuating numbers; up to 18 females and 30 males. Their expertly hidden ground nests are difficult to spot but 3 different broods were seen on and around the island at the end of last summer.

Red-breasted merganser (photo credit: Marc McLoughlin)


Other interesting visitors to Hodbarrow lagoon over the last month include a Black-throated diver present from 11th - 18th March, a Slavonian grebe present from 12th - 18th and 27 Whooper swans on the 23rd.

Slavonian grebe

Whooper swans (photo credit Marc McLoughlin)

The first Chiffchaffs, an early herald of spring, were heard on the 18th March on the reserve, soon to be joined by other migrating warblers. Let’s hope they bring some warmer weather with them!