1) Non-patch birders are not allowed to find Wheatears before patch birders, and especially not before me.
2) Non-patch birders are not allowed to twitch Wheatears found by other non-patch birders before patch-birders have seen then, and especially not before I have seen them.
3) In the event that rules 1 and/or 2 are contravened, the perpetrators must not under any circumstances blog about the Wheatears, tweet about the Wheatears, and especially not text me about the Wheatears.
Rule #3 was well and truly broken this morning, but luckily I didn't look at my phone much beyond 9am and so didn't find out about it until about five minutes before I saw the Wheatears myself. I could link to the offending blog post, but it is entirely undeserving of any publicity as I am sure you will agree.
This morning was a sorry tale. I had an inkling that today was Wheatear day, and so once again I was out very early. I wandered round all the likely spots for half an hour, checked some of the copses, and by about 7ish decided that I was wasting my time and so headed off to work, thinking that with such an early start I could be sat back at home enjoying a large gin by about four-thirty. So, sat at my desk staring at a mind-numbing spreadsheet at about a quarter past eight, I was most displeased when a text message informed me that some visiting birders had just found a Wheatear. And then found three more. They're obviously banned from ever visiting again, but the rest of the day at work was one of mild depression. I countered this by sacking off at THREE-thirty and immediately finding a Canary Wharf patch tick right outside my office as I walked towards the tube. A pair of Greylag Geese were using "habitat" - good thing I had my rare radar switched on as on the way into the office there had been two Canadas in exactly the same spot, and a lesser mortal could have walked straight past them. But even from 50 metres away something made my head turn, and so I stopped (and you must never stop in Canary Wharf) and whipped out the trusty bins to confirm these crippling megas. Wow! I rushed to take a photograph, and luckily they didn't fly away.
I have to admit to not spending as much time with them as I should have. I mean, a full blown Canary Wharf patch tick and everything, but as I am sure you have guessed, something else was on my mind. Rather than go home the normal way I went to Forest Gate - the nearest station (from CW) to Wanstead Flats, and the same station that I had prematurely departed from this morning. Five minutes later I was on the Flats, and decided to check my phone, which I then threw into Angel Pond in disgust. No matter though, as a couple minutes later I was looking at my first Wheatear. The model aircraft field was always the most likely spot, and so it proved to be. Here's what I saw. Lap it up.
Perhaps not the greatest photo of a Wheatear I've ever taken, but an accurate representation of that wonderous moment that occurs every March without fail. There is just something unfathomably wonderful about looking at your first patch Wheatear of the year. It signals a positive change, the goodness that is to come, and they're just so smart. It's like they never left. A long journey awaits them still, but for me, they're already home. And they're early too - only a day later than my earliest Wanstead ones ever, and they beat the counter by almost four days. All four of the birds found this morning were on the model aircraft field, consorting with Mipits and Skylarks. I'd seen the Skylarks first from some distance away, and then seen the smaller, darker and more upright bird a little behind. I didn't need to raise my bins, I knew what it was, and was already smiling.