Often the meeting of nature and human development puts nature at a disadvantage; such as the case of car meets squirrel. But every so often we are treated to a nice meeting of the two. The annual visit from the Vaux’s Swifts to Portland’s Chapman School is one of these rare, win win meetings. The Chapman School roost is thought to be the largest known Vaux’s Swift roost in the world.
Vaux’s Swifts, small migratory birds, visit Oregon in the warm months; from May to late September or early October. They winter in Mexico. In years past, Swifts roosted in hollow trunks of old growth trees. Over time, we have less old growth and more chimneys. Many folks end up with small nests of them in their chimneys and such. But in the 1980′s, the Swifts started nesting in the large chimney at Chapman School. At that time the chimney serviced the boiler system at the school, and often, heating of the school was delayed until the Swifts had started on their way south. About 15 years ago, through a joint project between Portland Public Schools, The Audubon Society, the Collins Foundation and the Metro Central Enhancement Grant Committee installed a new heating system for Chapman School and reinforced the aging chimney. The $60,000 project provided a safe roosting spot for the swifts and heat (even in September) for the school.
Most evenings, the Swifts, when returning to their roost, perform an elaborate “dance”, circling the chimney as a large group, flying into the chimney at some seemingly agreed upon moment. Many evenings the folks from Audubon conduct a count. Last time I was there, they estimated 18,000 swifts entered the chimney that night. To see the Swifts and the show they put on most evenings in September, head to Chapman School in Northwest Portland. The grassy hill above the school is best. Aim for Northwest 26th and Pettygrove. Most evenings over 1000 people gather to watch the show so parking is scarce. Consider public transportation or bike. Montgomery Park also offers parking. Otherwise, go early and please park courteously.
Bring a picnic, blankets, beach or stadium chairs and binoculars. Good friends are an asset too. Remember no alcohol is allowed on school grounds. It is best to arrive about an hour before sunset and expect to stay about a half an hour after sunset. Click here for sunset times. . This is a great family event and aside from the $60,000 community investment some years ago, is cost free. Some make an adult evening of it and walk down to NW 23rd to stop in at a pub
For more information, check out the Audubon Society about the Vaux’s Swifts and their Chapman School layover.