Having been the commonest of the Catharus thrushes in the 80s and very early 90s, Grey-cheeked Thrushes suddenly dried up. There have been plenty of records again in recent years, but Scilly went 10 years without one, and elsewhere they just didn’t turn up or weren’t twitchable. My tale of woe from Orkney the previous year I’ve already included in this recent run of Birding Tales, so when at last there was another one found on St Agnes, Scilly, on 28 October 2002, Rich Bonser, Chris Batty, Jimbo, and I were all among the hopefuls flying on the next day.
The weather wasn’t great, and neither was the news – the bird hadn’t been seen since mid afternoon the day before. We’d been there a while and there was still no sign in the bulb fields near the base of the Gugh bar, so we gathered on the coast path, pondering our next move. Suddenly, Rich pointed downwards and started shouting ‘F*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck!’ The thrush had just hopped out on to the path right next to him! (Jonathan Williams has since reminded me that he was pretty sure he had seen it briefly just before that, and told us so at the time, but I’m afraid all I remember is Rich’s machine-gun swearing.)
It disappeared before anyone else saw it, but not long afterwards it showed again, bedraggled and hopping around in the tidewrack at the top of the beach. Now it settled down, or maybe was just desperate, and seemed to ignore us as it searched for food in amongst the seaweed and shingle, showing very well.
If you’d asked me 10 years previously, as I started my twitching career, in which order I was likely to see the four Catharus thrushes, Grey-cheeked would have been first on the list. Ten years on, and having clawed back Veery on North Ron early that same October, it became the last. And all the more satisfying for it.