This one has interested me for years. Every September, the migrating Vaux’s Swifts spend the month of September in Portland. The bug-eating birds do their thing until shortly before sunset, when thousands flock to the Chapman School and its chimney every night. It’s been a Portland tradition for nearly 30 years. (Read more about the tradition.)
I’ve wanted to go since I first heard about it years ago, but I just never made it. And that’s sad, because I’ve had the whole month of September to do it each year.
Anyway, I’d meant to go earlier this month, but one thing or another kept me from going each time. Not so tonight. I got off work, grabbed a quick dinner and headed over. I didn’t have anyone to join me, but if I let that stop me every time I wanted to do something cool, I would lead a pretty boring life. So “The Great Gatsby” entertained me for the better part of an hour tonight.
It was a letdown at first. I knew going into tonight that a good chunk of the birds had migrated and that the display wouldn’t be as impressive as it might have been a week or two ago. The recent spat of cold weather sent many of them south last weekend.
The birds are supposed to start congregating about 40-60 minutes before sunset, which tonight was 6:56 p.m. But as recently as 6:40 p.m., there were only a hundred or so birds. Impressive, but not as impressive as the thousands I had been led to expect.
But by 6:45 p.m., the sky was full of Swifts.
It was truly a sight to see. To see about 3,000 birds circling the skies and congregating in such a mass was really impressive, and you should most definitely go if you get the chance in the next few nights. Everything you need to know is in the link above.
Shortly after 7 p.m., the first birds dove into the chimney, drawing “ahhhs” from the crowd. Most of the flock continued circling the chimney while a steady stream dove in and out of sight. About 10 minutes after the first Swift flew into the chimney, only a few stragglers remained.
I was definitely taken aback, even if the people behind me were talkative blowhards — “Oh, that looks like more than the 3,500 mentioned on their website.” (Really? You can tell what 3,500 birds look like?)
ANYWAY, I was glad I’d finally made it. The crowd was spirited, the birds were everywhere and the weather was perfect.