Scott's oriole

A Scott's oriole, native to the western United States, perches above a feeder on a farm in Colerain Twp. in southern Lancaster County. Birders have been flocking to the area in recent weeks to catch sight of an oriole species rarely seen outside of its native range.

Swooping down from an overcast sky Wednesday, a tiny bird beat its wings in the air above Colerain Township, instantly catching the attention of about a half dozen people standing nearby in a patch of grass.

“Here it is,” they shouted repeatedly as the bird settled in on a backyard feeder.

Looking through binoculars and camera lenses, they admired its bright yellow body and white-striped wings.

It’s a sight many of them had been patiently waiting to see for about an hour — and one that has attracted hundreds of similar enthusiasts to the rural area since the bird was first identified last week.

It was a Scott’s oriole, a species native to the dry southwestern United States. But this particular bird somehow ended up in Lancaster County, presenting a rare spectacle for birders who flocked to see it — some driving hours, including from other states.

In fact, modern records indicate that this was the first time a Scott’s oriole has been officially spotted in Lancaster County, and it’s only the second time one was seen in Pennsylvania, according to Ted Nichols II, first vice president of the Lancaster County Bird Club.

And that makes it all the more attractive to birdwatchers, who often obsessively keep lists of birds they’ve seen, always delighted to add a new species, he said.

“Just mixing it up and seeing something different keeps the hobby interesting,” Nichols said.

Arrived in January

In this case, the bird-loving hobbyists could have been admiring the Kirkwood-area Scott’s oriole since January, but no one knew it was there.

That’s true except for members of the Plain family who lives on the land off of Morrison Mill Road. On Wednesday, they said the bird has been visiting almost daily since the first full week of 2021, when it was first spotted at their home, specifically at feeders regularly baited with oranges and fruit-flavored jams.

The family asked that their names not be published.

“You couldn’t help but notice it,” the family matriarch said, referring to the bird’s bright colors.

Those colors set it apart from other types of orioles — Baltimore and orchard orioles — that are common in the area, Nichols said.

“It’s vividly light yellow like a lemon,” Nichols said, describing the Scott’s oriole — named after Winfield Scott, a U.S. Army general during the Mexican-American war.

That bright yellow made an impression on the Plain family, according to its patriarch.

“We knew we had a rare bird, but we didn’t know how rare it was,” he said.

Local birding community

That wouldn’t be clear until a nature-loving family friend saw the oriole during a recent visit and then brought it to the attention of Lancaster County’s birding community last week.

That community includes Zach Millen, a local bird club member, who also serves a role with the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology. Millen admits he was initially skeptical.

“They were very sure it was a Scott’s, but till I see it with my own eyes, it’s always a question,” he said, revealing he got that firsthand confirmation late last week.

“I saw it come flying into the lilac bush in their yard. My heart jumped into my throat,” he said. “It was immediately obvious that it was a Scott’s.”

With the family’s permission, Millen said he then announced the bird and its location to his peers within the birding community — and they turned out in droves starting last weekend.

Visitors travel far

The property owners set out a visitors’ log, and as of about noon Wednesday, about 300 names had been written inside of it. At least one had driven from as far away as Pittsburgh. Others came from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.

Their photos have since been widely shared on online birding forums.

“People have been very respectful,” the family matriarch said.

Birders have been asked not to visit on Sundays.

Shortly before noon Wednesday, about a half dozen vehicles lined the long driveway leading to the family’s home and their backyard feeder.

Nearby, Lancaster-area birder Randy Kochel anxiously waited, explaining he’d been there about an hour. Still, he was hopeful for a sighting.

“It would be nice. It is pretty rare,” he said.

Others, like Mike Lyman, traveled to the area from out of town — in his case, Montgomery County.

“When something like this comes up, it’s like a moment in history,” he said just minutes before the bird swooped in.

No one there could say exactly what led the bird to the area, so far from its native range. That was also true for the bird club members who guessed maybe it was blown off course by a storm or simply got confused. Similar circumstances have led other rare birds to the area previously, they said

But one thing is certain, according to Nichols.

“It’s events like this that really just keep birding interesting, especially on a local level,” he said.

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