Before the bird hit the ground, I had my tripod legs tucked back in, and was kneeling on the ground to get my camera closer to the bird's level knowing it was soon coming to the ground. Before long, I splayed the tripod legs out so the camera was only a foot off the ground and I was laying on the gravel. That helps with two things: 1) getting on the same level as your subject often produces better images, compositionally. 2) The prone posture removes one's obvious bipedalism, as animals are often instinctively wary of upright humanoids. I have had birds of various species approach me extremely closely when I was shooting in this manner, seemingly utterly ignoring me. In this instance, there were a number of people standing normally nearby, so my posture didn't matter. I half-toyed with asking everyone if they would lie on the cold hard ground so we could better put the wheatear at ease and see what it might do, but figured that was an unreasonable request :-)
Wheatears favor foraging in very barren places, often seemingly lifeless rocky scree, gravelly deposits, rock piles, or in low sparse vegetation. Adjacent to the parking lot was an area dominated by "weedy" but native dropseed grasses in the genus Sporobolus (probably S. neglectus or S. vaginiflorus).
This is interesting, thought I - maybe it is eating the seeds of these plants. But the literature that I have seen states that Northern Wheatear feeds mostly on small insects and arachnids. And this bird was actively running and plucking at the ground, but I could never ascertain what it was grabbing. But the temperature was around 25 F, and that's pretty cold for any invertebrate creature to be out and exposed, or so I would think. Wheatears are known to take berry-type plant fruit, but it is apparently a small component of their diet. But from what I can tell, most diet data comes from breeding sites where insects would be much more readily available, and when rapidly growing chicks would require the protein that animal food would bring to the table.
I wonder if their diet might veer more to vegetarian at certain times outside of the breeding grounds. Whatever the case, it was fun to watch the wheatear bound around on the ground, running and pecking at unknown morsels. Several times I was struck by the juxtaposition of it and southern bird species that a Northern Wheatear would seldom if ever encounter, such as Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Or when an aggressive Northern Mockingbird actually strafed and chased the wheatear for a bit.