The buzzards began swooping into Hinckley Wednesday - right on schedule for their annual Ides of March return to their summer home.

Capt. Roger Lutz of the Cleveland Metroparks Rangers, the official buzzard "spotter," said three of the flying scavengers glided in at 6:32 a.m., shortly before sunrise."It was very quick," Lutz said. "I was very surprised, to tell you the truth."

The buzzards often do not appear until mid- or late afternoon each March 15 and Lutz said Wednesday's arrival was the earliest official sighting in several years.

"It's a symbol of spring for our area when the buzzards are back," he said.

Like the swallows of Capistrano, only uglier, the buzzards have been returning to Hinckley since 1819, legend says. Park officials say every year since 1957 the return has been March 15, with the lone exception of the 1984 leap year. Metroparks officials reason the extra day just confused the birds.

Lutz, who has been the official buzzard spotter for 12 years and has been involved in Hinckley buzzard days for 22 years, dismissed reports that some of the birds might actually have arrived before Wednesday.

"With me being the official buzzard spotter, I spot them on the 15th," Lutz said. "The only thing I can say is when the official spotting is."

Generally, a few "pilot birds" arrive first, followed by the rest of the flock during the next few days. As many as 35,000 people have visited Hinckley on past "Buzzard Days" to view the prompt return but the official Buzzard Day is not until Sunday.

"There were probably six to eight people (early Wednesday morning)," Lutz said. "Buzzard Sunday will bring in all the people. This was just for spotting. Throughout the day, we probably had 150 people."