By then the light will be birdable by about 5.20am. That’s not the best time for passerines, they tend to rise later, but it gives me a chance to get out and have a poke around before needing to be back for the school run. You cannot possibly conceive of how tragically excited I already am. In terms of excitement levels, it’s a toss up between January 1st and Wheatear arrival. Or perhaps I’m just a tosser? No matter. Non-birders, non patch-workers, may sneer at the pathetic dribble that is my life, but there is practically nothing that I look forward to more in March, not even my birthday. Which as it happens is also in March, so there is the possibility that the first Wheatear will arrive on THE day, and that I will find it. Hasn’t happened yet, but you would hear the whoops from anywhere within the M25 I reckon.
So, just what is it about Wheatears? There are very few other regular birds that provoke these feelings. Firecrests, for example, are pretty damn smart, and I never tire of seeing them, but they’re not in the same league as Wheatears, or at least not for me. Perhaps it’s that Wheatears are the first trans-Saharan migrants to make it back each year. For us, having just gone though a miserable and dark four or five months, they probably herald the start of warmth and daylight. It’s true that I don’t look forward to the first returning autumn birds in the same way, but then again, a 1W Wheatear isn’t quite the same as a spring male. Spring male Wheatears are the birds that words like “cracking” and “stonking” were designed for. You can say that about Red-flanked Bluetails and Red-breasted Flycatchers, but deep down you know you should be reserving the accolade for talking about Wheatears. The sparkling silvery-grey mantle and head, the white forehead contrasting beautifully with the broad black eye-stripe, the warm throat and slightly buffy flanks. And the rump! The flash of white that catches your eye, that draws you in. That’s what you have drilled into your subconscious in March – visions of bounding white.