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A Rufous Bush Chat near Coverack

Dougy Wright

Rufous Bush Chat – Treleaver, near Coverack - 22nd Aug 2021.

So, I had been to down to my local patch, Windmill Farm National Nature Reserve on The Lizard, Cornwall, in the morning and then went home (to Helston) to pick up my wife; we had planned a walk and picnic at around Black Head, near Coverack. We love this walk and do it often.

We left home at 1130, picnic packed, and headed for Treleaver (Black Head), arriving a little before 12. We parked up, put on our walking shoes and off we went - as always I had my bins around my neck and camera over my shoulder (I carry a Sony RX10 Mk4 - love it!).

We walked south, on the footpath, toward Beagles Point and just as we rounded the first corner on the the track/footpath I saw a bird flick up in the hedgerow to my right. I asked my wife to stop a second and then again saw the bird and got a glimpse of a red tail and thought Redstart. The bird sat in cover for about ten seconds and then popped out...I then saw white on the end of its tail feathers and said to my wife "this could be something really good!". I immediately fired off a few shots and then carried on observing the bird picking out the large bill and strongly marked face - it then started flicking its tail for me! I could hardly believe it...self doubt was creeping in so I sent some pics to a few of my local birding friends...I cannot repeat their responses!

The bird then flew across the path into a tree surrounded by some willow scrub. It is now about 1245 and a few of the locals had turned up and the bird had not reappeared. We gave it about 45 minutes (the extent of my understanding wife's patience) and I left the guys to it - there were now about 6 there and more on the way. When I got to my car one of the guys messaged me and said it was showing again where i had originally found it. I apologised to my wife and went back and was rewarded with some crippling views! So glad the guys got to see it. Once we knew the bird was still there we put the news out.

What a day!! The only slightly disappointed person was my wife as we did not do the walk - I tried to explain the provenance of this find – I said "I doubt I will find a better bird". In fact one of my birding pals said “you may as well chuck your bins away as you will never find a better bird”

This bird turned out to be the 10th record for Britain and a first for Cornwall – however there have only been 2 records in the last 40 years; fortunately the previous was in Norfolk last year which meant that the numbers of birders scrambling South West were less than they could have been – as the bird was in a fairly sensitive site – right next to a bungalow where one of the occupants was convalescing. That said there were a few hundred birders over the 2 days that it was there and I must say I was impressed with how well behaved they all were! I think had there been any incidents then it may have soured the experience for me.

I think this record has reinforced a few of my well held beliefs – firstly that “you do not become world snooker champion without practicing snooker (i.e. put the time in in the field!)” and that “anything can turn up anywhere”.

This area has been good for me - last year I had a Vagrant Emperor (my 18th on the Lizard!!) and in 2019 (October 6th) my wife and I were dive bombed by a Monarch whilst eating lunch out on the coast near Black Head.

Rufous Bush Chat - eastern subspecies syriaca/familiaris. Dougy Wright

Editors note: By a unanimous decision, this earned Dougy the 2021 'Booby Prize' - an annual award given to Lizard Birders for the best find. The controversy with this one was whether the votes were for Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin or Rufous Bush Chat. I've gone with the former.

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