September 22, 2011

The Swifts

Oh wow. I saw the swifts last night for the first time. My friend Colin was extremely disappointed to learn I had lived in Portland for several years now and hadn't seen them.

For those of you who don't know, Vaux's swifts are migrating south right now. At sunset they find a large, hollow place for their entire traveling party to nest. Fortunately for us, the Chapman School up in NW has this giant chimney that has been designated one of their spots. There was festival atmosphere up at the school. Children were sliding down the hill of dried brown grass on cardboard boxes, people were enjoying picnics with goat cheese salad and white wine, and slowly but surely the swifts began to gather in a cloud over the school. I arrived about half an hour before the sun began to set. There were a few flocks of birds circling high overhead but as Colin and I chatted, the flock grew and expanded and you could see groups wheeling in the sky, converging from various directions, and growing in mass. They're tiny birds and at times they almost disappeared in the sky, depending on the angle of their wings against the last bit of light. As the sun began to set, they zeroed in on the chimney and the flock became tighter and more intense. Finally, a single bird picked up the courage and they were all diving in, spiraling down in a gigantic tornado of birda. It kind of looked like this, but far more magical:

The swarm continued for ages at a dizzying consistency. At one point a hawk swooped by and the crowd booed, but who could blame it? It was like the best kind of swift buffet. As it got darker, there were only a few lonely stragglers attempting to find a place inside the chimney which I can only imagine was stuffed to the gills. 

If you haven't see the swifts, you have to. Go now, before it's too late.

No comments: