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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

September 13, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Don’t miss Monroe’s Swift Night Out, this Saturday evening

Celebrate the graceful flight of the swifts in Monroe, where they can be enjoyed at a community gathering this Saturday evening at the elementary school where they swoop dramatically into their chosen home, an old chimney where their flight has delighted people for years.

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Thousands of Vaux swifts prepare to swoop into their home: a four foot square brick chimney at the old Frank Wagner Elementary School.

Photo by Dean Rutz, Seattle Times staff photographer

After swishing through twilight skies for hours, the birds will all at once funnel into the chimney for their night, a dramatic and beautiful sight not to be missed.

Begun as a couple of lawn chairs on the grace, the annual Monroe Swift Night Out put on by community volunteers has grown to a destination event that this year features a spaghetti feed, a lecture and docents to explain the birds’ behavior.

The spaghetti feed is at 5 p.m.;the lecture at 6:30 p.m. at the Frank Wagner Auditorium, and docents will be on hand from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to answer your questions.

The location is the old Frank Wagner Elementary School at 639 W. Main St., Monroe, in old town Monroe, between Kelsey Street and Dickinson Road.

The colony at of Vaux’s swifts at Monroe is estimated to be one of the largest in the country, with some some 20,000 birds. They spend most of their day feeding on flying bugs — and each bird may devour tens of thousands of insects a day — quite a feat for a five inch long bird.

The swifts’ preference for the chimney for a roost is due to their lack of a back claw: they need a rough surface they can cling to for the night, and bricks suit them just fine.

I visited the chimney in 2008 and was enthralled by the sight of the birds in such profusion organizing themselves into their final swoop in to the chimney. Just as lovely was their flight catching bugs in the twilight. Here the story I wrote in The Seattle Times. I recommend taking a blanket, lawn chair and binoculars and planning to spend the evening. The weather is supposed to be perfect.

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