Birder's up and down the country are celebrating the arrival of March and with it the imminent arrival of their favourite species - Wheatear (Oenanthe whitearseii). This emblem of all things Spring should be landing along our coastal watchpoints within hours - if some haven't sneaked through already.
Essex banker and Wheatear apologist Jono Lethbridge (27) said "These are my favourite birds by far. Even better than shrikes, and I bloody love shrikes, me". The 35-year old continued, "I can't wait to train my big lens onto one. I even lived in North Africa this winter to get my Wheatear fix. In all of the 44 years I've been birding I don't think I've ever been so excited!"
Down in Kent, two Dungeness regulars are preparing themselves for civil war of a Wheatear kind. Paul Trodd (63) and 17-year old Martin Casemore (The Plodding Birder) have cornered the market in Wheatear photography. Last year Martin's blog showcased 578 photographs of the bird, with Paul's blog only managing 456. This year however, Paul has a plan in place to become the shingle's 'Top Wheatear Dog'. "I've noticed that Plod has become obsessed with gulls over the winter - he's on the beach even more than Dave Walker! So between now and the end of May I'm going to keep on mentioning a funny gull that I've seen, suggesting that it might just be a Thayer's. That'll keep him away from the white-arsed beauties and I can fill my boots!"
Last years winner of the North Downs and beyond Wheatear trophy, Gavin Haig, has since retired from competitive Wheatearing, but sent this message to all aspiring stalkers. "Don't let it take over your life. I was a sensible birder up until March 12th 2013 when my first Wheatear of the year popped up in front of me on the beach at Seaton. Then I couldn't stop - I had to keep clicking away, posting images with a feverish, obsessional need to do so. March 28th was the worst - 345 photographs on my blog, plus a folder of the other 402 on Flickr. By the autumn I was all spent. This year I will be looking the other way".