Monopoly should include the Black-Backed Oriole in game pieces

Taylor Swift and the black-backed oriole have both made Berks County famous, so it was only appropriate to wake up to “Blank Space” on the morning of my journey to see the bird.

My treacherous journey consisted of walking a whole 250 Fitbit-tracked steps on my well-maintained, suburban hometown street, Indiana Avenue (yes, just like Monopoly – maybe Hasbro will now consider this bird while constructing new game pieces!)

On that rainy Tuesday morning, I was the sole visitor, something more rare than the bird itself, so I hung out with my neighbor. When the news first broke in early February, there were literal mobs of bird watchers on our quiet neighborhood street.

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Mobs of people stood in and out of the Binders’ garage at all hours of the day. This was on one of the first few days after the news broke. Photo: Jon “Dad” Clemente

I read this story from ABA, and, initially, I didn’t quite grasp how awesome and rare this situation was. At first, I thought it was just something from Baltimore – that oriole, right? But then I read the Reading Eagle’s story, too, and knew it was huge. My knowledge is limited to mostly feeder birds, give or take some shore and game birds, but this was the push into more serious birding.

Since this happened when I was at school, I started to casually mention it to my birding buddies, and I instantly became cool, a first for me. Since I had difficulties handling this type of fame, I talked to a birding professor at West Virginia University, Dr. Chris Lituma. He had his fair share of rare bird fame back in 2015 after spotting the pirated flycatcher in Kansas while doing research as a postdoc for the Center for Native Grasslands Management at The University of Tennessee. When I dropped his name and that bird in the middle of a group of birders Monday afternoon, heads turned to nod in recognition. He was a little jealous the oriole was on my street, but he ended up seeing it before I did anyway.

The bird wasn’t out that Monday afternoon, so my neighbor suggested I come the next morning between 6:45 and 8 a.m. I managed to leave my house by 7:25 a.m., warmed physically and emotionally by my Island Creamery sweatshirt. It comes from an ice cream shop on Chincoteague Island, Va., the place of my senior trip where I fell in love with birding. I also toted my Alpen Optics Pink Series 10×42 binocs, which come with a story, too. I won them from a Bowhunter magazine youth essay contest in high school, and I felt gypped because my brother and sister had both previously won brand new compound bows. I know, I’m annoying myself with how bratty and whiny I sound, too, but c’mon – I was a published writer for four years in Voices. How did I not win?

However, as fate would have it, it was necessary for me to purchase good binocs within the year – 10×42, to be exact. I instantly stopped complaining. They’ve been with me for three years now, and it’s been only a loving and committed relationship; I’ll never give this pair up for anything.

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In the best sweatshirt ever and looking through the best binocs ever, I spotted the black-backed oriole in the patch of white cedar between the two houses. I was looking that way and saw it before I snapped the selfie. Photo: Jillian Clemente

I used that seemingly-cursed pair of binocs to lens my first tufted titmouse, wood duck, Carolina and black-capped chickadees, and, as of 7:47 a.m. on March 7, 2017, a black-backed oriole.

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The sign-in book was filled with people from all over. I was so surprised I was the first one there that day. Photo: Jillian Clemente

It wasn’t at its typical feeder spot; it was in the tree line of white cedars blocking the house from Green Valley Road. Maybe it purchased a white cedar tree on Indiana Avenue and was charging rent to red-winged black birds that flew by it – I hope they earned their money back when collecting past GO!

Its most striking feature was the giant white streak across its wing. It was so large that it was visible from across the street. Of course the binocs helped to see it more clearly, but just look at it.

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The black-backed oriole in all his glory. Courtesy of Franklin Haas via The Reading Eagle.

My neighbor chatted with me shortly after I saw it, and I walked across the grueling concrete jungle of Indiana Avenue a whole 250 steps home. With the combination of tough of terrain and a heavy drizzle, I’m amazed I even made it home. Thank God my mommy reminded me that umbrellas exist!

When I crawled back into bed at 8:08 a.m., my toes were so happy: my sheets were still warm under the covers due to the sheer number of blankets piled on my bed. Like any college student on spring break, I slept til noon, did some homework, and went on a Pokémon hunt.

Maybe the oriole was right – not everyone needs to go to Mexico for spring break. Even traveling to and staying in Berks County (of all places) can be more adventurous than one’s wildest dreams.

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