Tuesday, September 8, 2009

a swift heart

so we made it through labor day weekend and the summer is drawing to a close. it's amazing how once the long holiday weekend is over the air feels different. i was at the court block party last night and everyone was commenting on how fast the summer has gone by and that they can tell fall is in the air. even the trees are starting to change color. i had to drive to salem early this morning and it was very cool and foggy. yes, it is the end of portland's short summer.

as you know, though, i look forward to fall. it really is my favorite season. here fall is nice because it still isn't raining everyday, we still have a little sunshine and our beautiful greens turn reds, golds and oranges. besides, we have something very special in portland during the fall--our very own version of hitchcock's "the birds" going on over at chapman elementary school.

fortunately, though, our version of "the birds" is much safer as our birds are not ruthless killers but tiny vaux swifts.

over the years, vaux swift would stop off in and around portland on their migration down south to south america. however, with logging and urban growth, they were losing places to stay and somehow found and adopted the chimney at the chapman school as their place of refuge here before continuing their journey south.

since 1994, approximately 30,000 swifts spend the night in the schools chimney where they can feast on small bugs to store up to continue on their trip. when they first started staying at the school, teachers and students would dress warmly in the fall so the school would not start the furnace until the last swift flew out of the chimney for the day. now the school is heated by gas so the swifts don't have to worry about furnaces anymore. basically, the chimney is still there just for the birds.

so evenings throughout the month of september, people gather at the school to watch the swift's performance at sundown. you will see birdwatchers with their binoculars, families with their children and picnic diners with their champagne.

you will see a few swifts at first begin to circle around the chimney. each rotation gathers more and then more swifts and almost magically, the moment the sun sets they all dip into the chimney like bees to a hive.

it is truly a memorable scene so if you haven't ever made it over to see this performance, you have the month of september to check it out. for more information, go to the audubon society's swift watch.
the chapman school is at 1445 nw 26th and guess what their mascot is now? you got it, the swift!

(photo by mike houck)

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