Lifers indicated in bold
Like much of the North American birding community, I was intrigued by a picture of an oriole from a feeder in Pennsylvania in the middle of winter. Having almost no experience with Mexican birds, I was shocked to learn it was a Black-backed Oriole, a species endemic to the interior of Mexico. I wanted to chase it, but after not hearing back from anyone in my birding club about my request for someone to go with, and learning of a previous record from California that was considered an escapee, I dismissed this one as an escapee until Ryan Zucker showed me his photos and encouraged me to chase it as well. I would make my next move over spring break...
Barely 24 hours after I returned from ESF for spring break, my parents and I set out for Sinking Springs, the town the oriole was seen in. I was headed out for two reasons: the first to make up for a cancelled field trip due to the bad weather, and the other was to make up for skipping a field trip that saw two Great Gray Owls (nothing fixes a bad day like payback). We got there after three hours of driving around 2:30. I saw and heard most of the common backyard birds in eastern North America, but no oriole. After an hour and a half, we went back to the hotel to regroup.
Ryan suggested that I get there as early as possible, so we left for the Binder's house at 7:15 in the morning. When we got there, two other birders were already waiting for the oriole to appear, one of which told us about a birding festival on Mount Desert Island in the first weekend of June, an offer I couldn't refuse. The other was Tom Binder, who has been allowing visitors to use his driveway as an observation platform of the neighbor's feeders. After a half hour, the Black-backed Oriole made an appearance at the top of a bare tree in between two conifers before heading back into the undergrowth.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, a group of young birders appeared and set up at the stakeout. My parents wanted to go, but I felt obligated to help them get the oriole since I had already seen it, thus, we continued to wait... Several other birds visited the feeders while we waited, including three Eastern Bluebirds, eight American Goldfinches, four Northern Cardinals (one of which attacked its reflection in a car mirror), etc. After another hour of waiting, the Black-backed Oriole came back to the delight of all birders present. Finally satisfied with my first potential code 5 (and the bragging rights), we headed home...
A year and three months after this adventure ends in success as the Black-backed Oriole has been accepted in a 6-1 vote by the Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee! To quote committee member Holly Merker: "To briefly sum up our decision: after careful evaluation, and extensive discussions, the PORC felt that there was far more evidence to support this being a wild bird of natural origins, versus an escaped captive bird". Two months later, the Black-backed Oriole was accepted to the ABA Checklist by a 7-1 vote in the Checklist committee, citing similar reasons to the PORC Other similarly unlikely, and ultimately accepted, records of birds whose origin is similar to Black-backed Oriole include Amethyst-throated Hummingbird in Quebec, Streak-backed Oriole in Wisconsin, and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush in South Dakota and committee members considered these records when thinking about this individual.
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