Yesterday morning, a Northern Wheatear was reported to be hanging out behind a Day’s Inn right off the highway in Lickdale, Lebanon County, PA. Northern Wheatear across Alaska and some northern parts of Canada, but they are extremely rare in the lower 48 states. However, almost every year at least one individual winds up here and birders flock to go see them. Last year, I went to go see one in Delaware, but had always hoped that I could chase one in PA. Drew Weber, Nate Fronk, Josh Lefever, and Tim Schreckengost and I all decided to head down to Lebanon to see this bird, once we had gotten confirmation that it was still around this morning. We arrived behind the Day’s Inn at 12:50pm and after about 10 minutes of searching, we flushed the bird from a pile of rusty scrap metal. The bird then remained in view for another hour as we watched it and took photos. The bird was still very active when we left.
From what I have read, the only sure-fire way for ageing Northern Wheatear during fall is by looking at the color of the inside of the upper mandible, which is yellow in juveniles or grayish in adults. In some of my photos, I can clearly see the inside color of the lower mandible, which appears yellow, but I can’t see the color of the upper mandible in any of my shots very well.
Compared to the individual I saw in Delaware last year, this bird preferred to stand perfectly up-right almost constantly; unless it was chasing after a grasshopper or caterpillar to eat. The Delaware bird, from what I remember stood hunched over much more and did the classic tail-wag much more often. Although, from what other observers of the Lebanon bird have said, this bird did do quite a bit of tail-wagging earlier this morning.
Northern Wheatear (named for their white rumps) have one of the longest migrations of the smaller bird species. Every year they migrate from Eurasia and Alaska/northern Canada to Sub-Saharran Africa and back. This has a lot to do with the fact that they regularly turn up in odd locations. Below is a video of the Lebanon bird that Drew Weber took through his spotting scope.