Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Chimney Swifts and Nature
Gardening has made me a better observer of nature. Walking in the dusk, I observe the birds settling down and the bats revving up for a night of hunting. A neighbor once asked me what I was looking at. She has lived in the area for 30 years and didn't know we even had bats. She was delighted to see them when I pointed them out. In the spring dawn, the deer and fawns are out, dining on our collective "deer salad bars," also known as suburban gardens. From my bedroom window, I can look down on the porch roof and sometimes see the green tree frog that likes to inhabit the area near the downspout. Tadpoles swim in the overflow buckets from my rain barrel.
The first autumn we were in this house, when my son was 4 and a half, near to Halloween, I went outside on the back deck. I looked up at the house and my eye was caught by motion about the chimney. There was this great wheeling mass of...bats?...birds? 20 feet or so above the top of the chimney. They formed a huge, moving circle with the chimney at the center and, every minute or so, one of the birds, I realized (later learning they were chimney swifts) would peel off and dive right into the chimney. My son came out and I held him in my arms, and we both watched the birds, smiling, amazed at their acrobatics and precision. My husband joined us, and we stood together, our son in my arms, my husband's arms around my shoulder in the deepening dusk, until the last bird went into the chimney.
That fall we had the chimney cleaned out, a cap put on and the swifts never visited us again. They find hollow trees or chimneys to roost in as they migrate in the fall and will revisit sites if they are still available. One recent evening, at dinner, we looked out the window and saw another flock of swifts wheeling above a house or tree (not sure) behind us, near a street parallel to ours and I was reminded of that first visit of the chimney swifts 11 years ago. My son is now a teenager, a tall, muscle-bound and charming young man, but I felt that little boy in my arms again as the birds searched for shelter for the night.