Swift Watch

Last night we joined Brenda and Thomas and Brenda’s ‘rents from WI, Bev and Bill and about 500 of our closest friends and neighbors for a grand Portland tradition…Swift Watch.

Mark, Bev & Crash (Brenda) - having more fun than they're  showing

Mark, Bev & Crash (Brenda) - having more fun than they're showing

Yep…there we were sitting on our blanket eating Bev’s tasty party snacks, Sungold tomatoes, cheese and crackers and washing it all down with a local brew while 10,000+ Vaux’s Swifts swirled above our heads, creating quite the vortex, before diving into the school’s old boiler chimney for the night. This was the first time I’ve witnessed this phenomenon and I’m kicking myself for not having done it sooner. What an amazing experience!

The chimney at Chapman Elementary School

The chimney at Chapman Elementary School

Swiftly soaring Swifts

This has been going on for many, many years, long before I ever visited this state. Evidently, the Vaux’s Swifts began using the chimney due to lack of habitat (read logging) and the school was forced to not use the boiler the entire month of September to avoid baking those little beauties. September being a cool month in Oregon, although you wouldn’t know it this year, the children and staff had to bundle up in order to stay warm.  Thanks to many nature-minded residents and the Audubon Society of Portland, money was raised for a new, more efficient furnace and the old boiler chimney preserved for the swifts.  We owe them much gratitude!

Now, every year, literally thousands of people from around the city and State and country (Bev & Bill) come every September night to observe this fascinating event that peaks mid-month.

A few friends

A few friends

The Audubon Society of Portland staffs a booth each night as well to answer questions and educate the masses on Swift behavior and the history behind this event. I really can’t think of enough adjectives to describe what a thrill this was…and we were treated to a very special guest about midway through the roost. A Peregrine Falcon came flying into the swirling flock and tried to nab an hor’s d’ouvres and the crowd went wild! It was exhilarating to watch as the enormous, swirling vortex above the chimney turned into an undulating black cloud surrounding the falcon, forcing him out of the area and then, within seconds, back in motion above the entrance to their avian hotel.

Turning in for the night

Turning in for the night

The birds begin gathering about an hour before sunset and finish their descent into the brick tube just about dark so it’s a nice evening out and you can make it home long before your bedtime. If you haven’t taken the time to see this, you’ve gotta’ check it out. Go tonight! You won’t regret it.

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7 responses to “Swift Watch

  1. This reminds me of the gatherings to watch the bats in Austin, TX. I haven’t seen them, in person, either!

  2. OMG, we almost went to swift night last night. That would have been so funny to run into you guys there. We were busy eating Indian food over on 23rd St.

  3. That must be a really amazing sight! I cannot imagine. And how cool that the school shut down the heat to accommodate the little guys.

  4. Fantastic way to spend an evening out. I wish I had known about this when we were still living in the northwest.

  5. That is amazing, I have never heard of it…and I am from the PNW.

  6. I should clarify…I was from the PNW

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