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Is there an expression along the lines of

Red cars, for the man, were like the birdwatcher's spatuletail

... assuming the spatuletail is a rare find for birdwatchers. I'm pretty sure I heard something like this not too long ago, but I can't remember what. It was definitely in that format - the profession and then something someone in the profession looks for, is unexpected to come across.

edit: I think I'm starting to recall that the expression was more along the lines of

the archaeologist's El Dorado

..or something similar, where it means a unique breakthrough or meaningful discovery of a field rather than an uncommon but still ordinary find.

Still though, I would like to know if there's an expression similar to the one in the first example.

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4 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I guess you mean 'difficult to locate/find', rather than 'rare'. The commonest idiom for objects difficult to locate is needle in a haystack.

Red cars, for the man, were like needles in a haystack.

This means the man found red cars very difficult to spot.

There are several related idioms for things that are hard to chance upon. A couple of them (also mentioned here):

  • scarce as hen's teeth
  • black cat in a coal cellar
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When I hear "needle in a haystack," I think of something difficult to locate, not necessarily rare. (After all, the problem isn't the rarity of needles – the issue is the surrounding hay). –  J.R. May 12 '12 at 10:35
    
@J.R. That's true, but I reckon in the OP's sentence red cars are difficult to find, rather than rare. Also am editing my answer slightly... –  Bravo May 12 '12 at 10:41
    
The O.P. could perhaps improve the question – red cars aren't particularly rare or hard to find. Maybe something like a red Lamborghini would be more like "the birdwatcher's spatuletail." As for needle in a haystack, that often implies a frustrating search, like when you can't remember where you parked your car at the mall, and the 30-minute search was like "looking for a needle in a haystack." –  J.R. May 12 '12 at 10:58
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Seeking El Dorado can mean looking for something that may be just a legend or an illusion or for something that may never be found. According to the Wikepedia article on El Dorado, the legendary "Lost City of Gold":

El Dorado is also sometimes used as a metaphor to represent an ultimate prize or "Holy Grail" that one might spend one's life seeking. It could represent true love, heaven, happiness, or success. It is used sometimes as a figure of speech to represent something much sought after that may not even exist, or, at least, may not ever be found. Such use is evident in Poe's poem "El Dorado". In this context, El Dorado bears similarity to other myths such as the Fountain of Youth and Shangri-la.

This dictionary entry under the word rarity has a list of comparative quotes that might have something you could use, such as:

Rare as a man without self-pity —Stephen Vincent Benét

Rare as a politician who lives up to his campaign promises.

[Money … was as] scarce as frogs’ teeth, crabs’ tails or eunuchs’ whiskers —Pat Barr

(Barr’s colorful multiple simile refers to the scarcity of money in Korea during the late nineteenth century when the heroine of her book, Curious Life For a Lady, was there.)

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You could consider using Rare to come by, which has an idiomatic feel to it, but is certainly far from being a metaphor, like the one with El Dorado.

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Quantum leap boost, development, discovery, find, finding, gain, hike, improvement, increase, invention, leap, progress, quantum leap, rise, step forward

avant-garde, breakthrough , cutting-edge, excellent, exceptional, extreme, first, foremost, forward, higher, late, leading, leading-edge, liberal, precocious, progressive, radical, state-of-the-art*, unconventional

:-)

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Not an answer to the question at hand, and frankly I have trouble coming up with any question to which it is. –  RegDwigнt May 12 '12 at 7:37
    
@RegDwightΒВBẞ8: A few of these terms are indeed related to "a unique breakthrough or meaningful discovery in a field," which was part of the O.P.'s request. That said, I agree that this answer should be pruned a bit, and elaborated upon. –  J.R. May 12 '12 at 10:39
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