October 14th 2011 was an unbelievable day. No really, I've been living in fantasy land for this 24 hours. Someone said that being 30 was alright, I thought they were effluent spouters. Turns out 30 is the ideal age to fulfil your adolescent birding dreams. So I carried out my plans to hit the hills hard and was in place before dawn. And it was good, finding a Yellow-brow and a flyover Richard's Pipit, and Woodlark, and Treecreeper and a Blackbird carpet under the sycamores. But that's not even on the same scale or even same measurement system as what happened next. I'd trudged back from hills with a couple of fine gents who'd left J. MacCallum wandering the belt in search of my Yellow-brow. They'd parked at the end of the track in a big fancy 4x4, I walked up alone.
After about 300m a quick movement caught my attention down to the right (west) side of the track. It was Robin ish, but in that instant something just hinted to me that it was slightly odd. Well, no rush. It's 15:25. I'll hang around and see what appears. Nothing. The 4x4 sidles up, "Got something?" "maybe, erm, could just be a Robin though. Just going to check it though". They drifted off. Ten minutes pass. A movement. A third of a bird, mostly branch, but WHAT the CRAP are those CIRCULAR marks on the lower breast?! Clear as meths, neat little brownish grey circles, not streaks but actual circular marks on a pale background. My pulse raced. I couldn't think of anything except that photo that sometimes appears on the top banner of Birdguides, that Fair Isle marvel. It went. Then a bastard Chaffinch flew in to where it went and made it fly up into some impenetrable ivy-covered oak. I was shaking. It was a mega, but I hadn't even seen it yet. I probably sounded completely insane when an innocent birder wandered up the track. "There's something there, it's great, but I can't say what it is, yet." No wonder he looked at me a bit strange and backed away. Fortunately MacC appeared and at least he might listen to me. Actually, he could tell that when I mentioned Rufous-tailed Robin, but could be, erm, Thrush Nightingale?, erm, really bizarre late juv Robin?, I meant this was mega. It felt so long. We walked the track a bit, I eventually drifted away from the first point. Then, on returning to first contact, another flick. It was here. A half-snatched glimpse, another quick flight, all against the glaring low sun. At one moment it looked spotted, almost Ovenbird, then a bit Catharus, but always wrong and weird. Finally it gave itself up, right in front of James Mac. Even he was shaking. "It's is. It is a Rufous-tailed Robin. *&*^". I blasted a couple of shots that were almost recognisable. We got a few more views, discussed the large malar stripe and reasoned that this must be present on juvs and 1st winter individuals though no-one had ever knowingly seen a juvenile previously. We could not think of anything else with a shortish rufous tail, that mad scaling on the underparts, the big eye and eye ring, the upturned lower mandible and the strinking pink legs. It was a Rufous-tailed Robin.
Then the phones came out. This was going to be huge. Of course my phone had run out of battery from too much hills blasting for Radde's. I sent an indecipherable text that was unfortunately deciphered to mean the bird was on East Hills, but then my juice ran out. James got the big players on the scene within seconds. A somewhat anxious waiting spell was finally broken when I clocked it flicking between perches and R. G. Millington nailed it, motionless in a spindly hawthorn that you couldn't believe was capable of hiding a bird. The nucleus of the twitch was here and the stationary bird was scope fodder for the fortunate few. It is such difficult bird because it was using all levels of the vegetation and would happily remain completely, and I mean absolutely still once perched. For up to 15 minutes. Just because you can't see it in a tree or small bush does NOT mean it is not still there. After this it was handed over to the masses. Those fortunate to be nearby charged down Garden Drove, though many would only have managed brief flight views before dark. It's a challenge. But then, that's why I feel so brilliant right now!