This past Saturday evening, I went with my favorite Portlander to see a very-cool-only-happens-in-September-each-year event- the Swifts roosting at Chapman school. My daughter told me about it, and after hearing how amazing it was, I knew that I didn't want to miss this.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with this very cool act of nature, what happens is that these little birds, about the size of sparrows but with more elongated and pointy wings, migrate to South America for the winter, and they stop to roost each night in old chimneys and such (and the Audubon Society lady said they don't know if these little birds stay for one night, or several, before heading off on their way to warmer weather.)...and, Chapman School is a very old elementary school with a very tall chimney. (Now, my favorite Portlander tried to tell me that the chimney was so old, it was built by the Aztecs with the help of aliens long, long ago, but I think he was pulling leg...)
Right before dusk, the birds begin to fly in a swirling fashion, and literally funnel themselves into the chimney for the night. There can be upwards of 35,000 of these little birds doing this, all at one time. According to the local TV news, the night we witnessed this cool phenomenon, there were around 8,500 birds, as best as they could count. (Do not ask me how or who counts these little guys.) It's truly an incredible sight, and it's impossible to capture it all that well on video, let alone in photographs, but we all tried anyway. Here is one short video.
I hurried home from the bank Saturday afternoon and packed us a picnic supper, and headed over to meet up with my sweet friend. When we arrived at the school around 5:15, there were already a few people gathered, picnicking, and enjoying the fabulous nearly 80 degree sunshine. (Trust me here, people, there could not have been more perfect weather for this!) See how tall the chimney is, in the photo from when we first arrived, here.... By the time the birds began to gather in the sky above us, around 7:00, there was not so much as an inch of visible grass to be found on the schoolyard...People were everywhere. On a side note, and having nothing to do with the Vaux Swifts, pizza seemed to be the number one choice for the masses of picnickers at this event. That kind of surprised me, as I don't necessarily think pizza when I think picnic, but that's just me.
Back to the Swifts.
Writing about them doesn't seem to do any justice to what we actually witnessed with our eyes. The only thing that could have made it any better would have been really loud, dramatic music playing while the birds descended into the chimney. (think Chariots of Fire, or something kind of like that...) Aaaaaaah-mazing. Seriously.
*sigh* Just one more thing to love about living here.