For the month of September, there is a hillside in NE Portland that fills with picnickers every evening at sunset. The blankets are laid out with little space in between, and people share treats with strangers. The reason for this gathering is up in the air, where the blue sky is full of Veux swifts.
I had gotten their first, and saved a space of til the pub crowd, the hashers, and the Aussies who had organized this outting had arrived from their separate busy days. My bike had held the chunk of grass in reserve, but got tossed into a car before the auto went blocks away to find a parking spot – both picnic land and parking becomes a premium as the evening wears on. We all nibbled on our respective meals – Scott had brought me a salad – and watched the sky, and the school below us.
The chimney of the school somehow became the rest stop for a large flock of migratory swifts years ago, maybe decades. It's such an institution that the Audebon association – with fundraising from the students and neighborhood – helped create and alternative heating system and shore up the now defunct chimney for the elementary school. The only purpose for this brick structure is a night time shelter tens of thousands of birds for a month in the fall.
It's not that they don't need the retreat. As the crowd watches, a peregrine swoops through the flock. It looks like he did not score a meal, and as he veers off, a couple thousand little swifts harass him. The picnickers applaud – and I'm not sure who they are rooting for, the falcon or the prey.
As sunset falls, the flock circles into tighter spirals and begin to descend Into the chimney. It's a bird tornado. We watch them disappear into their roost and packed up for our separate journeys home, to our own roosts. Tomorrow at dawn, the birds will emerge with less fanfare and hunt for insects all over town while children learn history & science next to the chimney, and at night the adults and families will gather again to watch the flock.
The fact that this is just a regular Portland outting warms the heart.