Well, at long long last the wait is over. Almost anticlimactic, but today two Northern Wheatears graced our humble patch. The Wheatear anticipation chart, were it to be represented as a graph, would see the excitement curve building from about mid-February, hitting the top of the chart by about the first week in March. It would hover near the top for about ten days, ten days of very early morning starts, and then as the Wheatearless days continue, gradually begin to decline. I have to admit that personally I was well on the downward slope. I've been smashing the Flats almost every day since the 7th of March, and every day I have come home disappointed.
Not so today. I was actually on the way home, about to turn onto the main track through the Skylark area, when I espied some birds in a distant Hawthorn. They looked to be Mipits, but on the point of lowering my bins one made a brief sally, and a pulse-quickening flash of white seared itself on my retina. Could it be? I didn't really believe that it could, my brain has been well and truly Wheatear-addled for some time now, but on getting closer there was no doubt. I phoned Tim, and as I did so a second bird popped up before dropping down again. Two Wheatears! I phoned Nick, on the other side of the Flats, and then went to talk to the two Wheatears in the manner of a worried but cross parent.
"Where have you been? The other birders and I have been worried sick. You were told to be here no later than March 15th, and it's the 30th now. We've been waiting and waiting, not knowing if anything had happened. We tried phoning you but you're not evolutionarily sophisticated enough. Terrible thoughts go through your head, so you know what sunshine? You're grounded 'til further notice!"
The Wheatears took off and promptly disappeared, the equivalent of a truculent teenager barging their way out past you and slamming the front door. Tim then arrived to no Wheatears, but luckily Nick picked them up a few minutes later near West Copse (which had an entirely predictable male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in it by the way). We made our way over to see Nick pointing at them flying off, but we couldn't see them and half an hour of searching produced nothing more than Meadow Pipits. At least someone else saw them though, as I didn't have my camera - a deliberate (and successful) strategy designed to tease out Wheatears into performing right in front of me.
Nonetheless, after this long wait it would seem churlish not to have a photo of a Wheatear, so here is one from last year. It doesn't really matter. Wheatears, now, are like, y' know, so last year. Innit.
Back home, writing this, tapping feverishly at the keyboard in the excitement* of being able to share this with you, my phone rang. Oh, had Nick refound the Wheatears?
"Gah!" I replied, or something equally eloquent, and hurried to put my shoes back on. Apparently I then ran out the door shouting something about Ouzels and no I didn't want a tea. As you probably gathered, I'm back now, and pleased to say that I got it - a typically smart male, and in the exact area that they always get in. Whether or not it is one of the same birds returning to a favoured stop-off location we will never know, though it is tempting to speculate. Though you would not be able to tell, I took my camera this time, so am able to bring you this masterpiece. This is almost an exact replica of a photo from a previous year. Same football pitch, might even be the same bird.
Patch birding - there is nothing more exciting.
* you had to be here