Two years ago Punkin and I ran down to Portland to catch the Saturday Evening Bird Show. "Bird show". That was her term, but funny how apt it was, and what an event it turned out to be.
I had only heard about it only a few days earlier at the Kitsap Audubon monthly meeting. It was at the beginning of the meeting, that part where folks could share their latest birding events or sightings. One of the officers had just come back from a weekend in Portland with his wife. His wife handled the shopping part, he handled all the birding events. But that whole vortex thing the Vaux Swifts went through really spurred on my interest. I had to see this flock going down the chimney drain thing for myself.
Well, not by myself. I had to take Punkin. She was, at that time, all in love with her Papa and anything, as far as outings were concerned, was good with her. We fit in a stop at Goodwill for a bag full of books, a quick stop at Krispy Kreme for a bag full of fresh glazed donuts and then played innumerable games of sugar induced I-Spy as we sped down the road towards Portland.
We got there with plenty of time to spare. The Chapman elementary school site is right up against a city park, so playground time was in order. The school is set the middle of a somewhat toney neighborhood, nicely nestled up against a hillside, providing a somewhat expansive theater type viewing arrangement, so all city view seats in the field were good ones. What struck me most was the grand cross section of Portland's citizenry that turned out for the gig. Sure, for them it's an every night extravanza in September, but for those of us new to the deal it was a pretty far out way to blow a Saturday night.
The hillside was covered with picnic blankets, families out with friends, wild packs of punks with their hair all spiked up, hillside sliders with cardboard sheets, wagons and snow sleds. It was full carnival effect, a wild city fair with Mother Nature the star of the show. Meanwhile, the sun headed towards the west and I had to wonder what the hubbub was all about. The occasion siting of a Vaux Swift would send the crowd into rapturous applause, but as we got closer to that down-the=drain moment the birds began to gather in mass. First close in to the school, then winging their way out over the river, to return and depart over and over again, gaining in numbers, bringing in hawks, upping the cheers and commotion in the crowd to near pandemonium.
But it was that moment when the swifts started to go down the chimney where the crowd went completely and totally wild. You would think that those bird were practiced performers out to please a crowd the way they gathered and joined together in sky, Busby Berkley style, for their final dance of the evening. They gathered together and swirled and within moments nearly all had disappeared down the old brick chimney, a genie bottle in reverse. A few hawks darted about trying for snacks, and more than a handful of swifts had to flit off and find lodging elsewhere, but it was a performance and a half and the crowd roared as the swifts finished up and retired for the night.
Punkin still refers to that night as one of her "most special" moments and asks fairly regularly to go back to watch it all over again. I recently read about a couple of sites here in Washington that favor largely in the Swift's annual migration story, but what was even more exciting was to read about a school in Monroe that has a big "bird show" happening, only because Monroe is much closer to me than Portland. I don't mind the two and a half hour run to Portland only because I like to drop into Powell's Books to pick up some some quality used titles and I like to grab some pizza at Rocco's for that long drive home. But when time and money and gas prices are working in the favor of a shorter trip, who am I to argue?
This go 'round I will be taking The Boy, who I think, after hearing about his sister's adventures forever now, is game to go along and experience the event for himself. It's a happening that everyone, not just birders, should witness at least once in their lives. So, see you in Monroe. Maybe we can even do a stop at Krispy Kreme, too, just for old time's sake.
Chapman School, Portland: Home of the real deal "bird show":
Washington Vaux Swift page:
The Seattle Times article that rekindled my interest:
David Carmack Lewis' page: What incredible paintings, including the one posted above:
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