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Watching the Swifts

Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Tonight I went and watched the Swifts.

No, it's not an 80's punk band, they're a type of bird (called Vaux's Swifts) that, every mid-September, migrates through Portland and stays in the chimney of Chapman Elementary School.

It was impressive to watch. As the sun starts to set, suddenly these small birds start appearing over the school. At first there were a dozen circling in the air above us. Then there were dozens, all swooping around, darting through the air. Then, there were hundreds, if not thousands. So small the eye has trouble tracking them, they darkened the sky over the school as they swarmed, waiting for some appointed time known only to the birds.

Then, as if by great mutual agreement, the birds created a funnel, spiraling into the chimney. But they weren't the only creatures in the air. Some local hawks know where the food is as well. The crowd gasped as the lone hawk dove in, flying low above the spectators before crossing through the mass of Swifts, leaving with a meal in its claws. But even as one was taken, hundreds more continued pouring into the chimney.

All those little black dots are birds!

It took maybe 10 minutes for them to fit in, but each moment was exciting. Even the crowd reactions - cheering for the hawk, providing anthropomorphic voiceover for the actions of the birds - was entertaining.

In all, it was an amazing thing to watch. It amazes me even more that I'm from Portland and I've never seen it - but the adventure here never stops.

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