The drive from Mount Vernon to the Bladensburg Community Center was a pleasant one on Saturday evening. The sunshine was deepening to golden tones over the farm fields; the few clouds in the sky were shades of pink and on arrival, the temperature was perfect for standing around and searching the sky. The attraction? The annual Chimney Swift migration.
The Conservancy’s own Kim Davidson and her husband, Richard Barker, run the Community Center, which is housed in the decommissioned elementary school. Like most older schools, this building is blessed with a couple chimneys and for several years now, Swifts have made the chimneys their evening resting place as they begin their migration south. The building isn’t tall, and the top of the chimney is only about 25 feet off the ground, which makes viewing the show comfortable, even without binoculars.
A crowd of nearly 30 people had gathered by the time the first scouts arrived to check out the chimney. They were greeted enthusiastically by those of us on the ground, which deterred them not at all – Swifts are not human-averse. The scouts quickly flew off to their audience’s dismay but returned a short while later, and ever so gradually, the group began to swell until there were a couple hundred twittering Swifts in the air over the Community Center.
Kim had given the crowd a short tutorial on Chimney swifts and had instructed us on what to be watching for: oddly, they have no ability to perch and when seeking shelter for the night they need upright hollow trees or masonry chimneys with rough interiors to which they can cling. Because of this unique inability to perch, they drop right in to their shelter, and they do so backward – tail first. Once the first bird drops in, she warned us, the others will follow suit so quickly it will look like they’re being vacuumed in.
A cheer went up when the first brave Swift abruptly dropped into the chimney - wings out, tail down -and just as Kim had said, they very quickly, one after the other, sank out of sight into their evening resting place. A few short minutes later (shorter than one would think, given the number of birds), the sky was empty and quiet again.
Thanks to all who attended the event. If you’d like to witness this phenomena first-hand, plan on joining us next year. It’s an event of natural history worth seeing.
The Conservancy is grateful to Kim and Richard for making this impressive experience available to us all.
For more information on the Bladensburg Community Center, visit www.facebook.com/OldBladensburgSchool.