Already lone migrants of several species are dripping through the south of the country – exceptional reports that presage the shape of things to come. For most folk the first visible sign of spring will be the first wheatears returning from their African winter home.
Of the Oenanthe genus they are close relatives of our local Saxicola stonechats – both in the IOC’s Muscicapidae family. In Europe this starts with our familiar and loved resident the robin, which thus loses its traditional association with thrushes. The Turdidae family does though immediately precede Muscicapidae so the association merely weakens.
Locally this year just Blake’s Pools and Severn Beach have witnessed wheatears. These birds may be on passage through to Greenland and even Canada – one of the longest distance migrations in the world. They will cross 1,500 miles of ocean in one hop, staying on the wing as long as 30 hours. For a bird not much bigger than a robin this is a gargantuan feat.
My own personal earliest wheatear was on the 21st in 1998 at the Elan Valley so there’s a way to go yet for me. None was at Portbury Wharf this morning, nor much of anything else outside the usual ducks. A few skylarks sang and a great spotted woodpecker drummed – a female. I didn’t know both sexes did that.