(The slightly empty spot on the hill is only bare because it’s tradition for kids to slide down the hill on flattened cardboard boxes.)
Portlanders gather on the lawn of the school for an evening picnic and to watch thousands of Vaux’s Swifts (named for a 19th century mineralogist, and until this week, I gave it a French pronunciation, but “Vaux” is pronounced like “fox”) fly into the school’s unused chimney to roost.
Starting in late August, the swifts begin their migration to Central America. During their migration, the swifts often return to the same roost each year. In recent years, 8,000 to 15,000 swifts have used the Chapman chimney as a roost, one of the largest roosts for migrating Vaux’s swifts in the world.
When the swifts pass through Portland, they are here for only a few weeks before continuing their migration. After spending most of their day in the air, about an hour before sunset, the swifts begin to gather near the school, circling the chimney in a great acrobatic show before entering the chimney to roost.
Birds circling, adults picnicking, kids sledding.
Then a call will go up, “He’s coming!”
Next the crowd picks up the call, somewhere between a gasp and an “ooh” and a cheer.
Follow the Doppler of the crowd and if you are fast enough, you’ll spot him – the hawk.
Usually from Forest Park, the hawk will fly into the circling swifts for his dinner.
Normally, the swifts will scatter to the four winds, but I’d swear this weekend the swifts took after the hawk. The crowd tends to cheer for the hawk, but this time they seemed to be cheering the swifts on. In the past, I found myself rooting for the swifts, so perhaps their bravado was imagined on my part.
Between the birds and the people, it’s one of Portland’s fascinating events to watch. What migrations have you been able to witness from your town?