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Rushy Common and Tar Lakes 27 January 2022

John Cobb writes:

After spending last Thursday morning on all fours removing plastic tree guards (terrible things, very prickly job!) at Tar Lakes with the LWVP volunteers, I walked around Tar lakes and the fishing lakes towards Hardwick to see what birds were about.

Tree guards to be removed.

Grey and damp at first, it had turned into a lovely afternoon. There was not much on the fishing lakes except Coots, Tufties and a Great White Egret in a tree by the largest lake. There were, however, a large number of Red-crested Pochard on one of the publicly accessible Tar lakes. I estimated over fifty and I later saw that someone had posted 72 on the Oxon Birding blog. They are always on the same lake and rarely seen on the reserve proper. Curiously the same is true at Standlake: I have never seen one on Pit 60 (the reserve) but they used to be frequent on the adjacent lakes. I have no idea why that should be; there must be something about the water depth or perhaps they don’t like sharing with other species.

Red-crested Pochard at Tar lakes, Jan 2022.

After a circuit of the lakes I spent an hour or so in the hide overlooking the Rushy Common reserve. It’s a large lake and most of the birds were (as usual) on the far side. They were mainly ‘the usual suspects’ of Tufties, Pochard and Wigeon, with a few Coots and Great-crested Grebes.

Although there didn’t seem to be any exotic ducks there were 100 to 150 Lapwings on one of the islands, and perhaps another 100 flew in whilst I was there. From time to time they would all fly up, a spectacular sight in the afternoon light.

The highlight of the afternoon, however, came at about four o’clock when a Marsh Harrier, which I’m fairly certain was an adult female, flew in. She cruised along the reedbeds on the far side a couple of times, but the reeds are not extensive and she came out over the lake and seemed to be trying to take one of the ducks. She would hover in an ungainly fashion, talons dangling, over a group of ducks but never caught one. The ducks themselves seemed quite unconcerned – I had expected them all to take flight – but simply dived and she never got near striking. Only a few gulls were bothered, dive-bombing her from time to time. Even the Lapwings, which looked like easy pickings – sitting ducks as it were – didn’t take fright and the harrier didn’t seem interested in them. Unfortunately this was all too far away for me to get any photographs but the light was very good and I enjoyed the spectacle through binoculars for about fifteen minutes, after which she flew off to the north.

I had never before seen a Marsh Harrier at Rushy Common; there were no recent records in the book in the hide and none were recorded there in the three years 2015 to 2017, so this might have been a ‘first’. They might be becoming more common, however. There were ten records of Marsh Harriers at Pit 60 (Standlake) between 2015 and 2018 but in the last year or two it’s not so uncommon to see one there.

One further thing is worth mentioning: the worked-out pit opposite the car park has been partly flooded for the past few weeks. A couple of weeks ago it had a large number of Teal on it. Although most seemed to have gone last Thursday, it looks like a good place to watch.

John Cobb, 28 Jan 2022