Creative plans to help Vaux’s swifts

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Thursday, July 17, 2014 12:04pm
  • Life

What’s up with the Vaux’s Happening Project? Coordinator Larry Schwitters is juggling swifts, volunteers and three projects.

Vaux’s swift is the smallest and most numerous of the swift species in Washington. Thousands of them roost in a Monroe chimney on their spring and fall migrations.

Schwitters has been trying for months to create a roost site for the swifts in Ellensburg. Their former chimney was part of a recently demolished old hospital.

“Last April, the swifts showed up and circled where the chimney had been; they went into a neighbor’s chimney instead. That went on for most of the northbound migration,” Schwitters said. During the southbound migration, the swifts did not return.

Through the VHP, Schwitters set out to have a chimney built with a grant from the Vancouver Audubon Society. To make a trying story short, after Schwitters worked with the Ellensburg parks board, Kittitas County, and contractors who weren’t really interested in the small project, it stalled and the grant was lost.

“I expected people to want to make it work,” said a disappointed Schwitters.

Undeterred, he paid for a set of engineered plans for a chimney. He’ll probably get the grant renewed, but the delays meant the project won’t be built after the fall migration.

If the swifts don’t find the chimney on that trip, they may not return next spring and the new chimney won’t have occupants. But Schwitters has a plan.

In the past, Vaux’s swifts have returned to Ellensburg about Aug. 20. He wants to turn on a professional recording of the sounds the swifts make while circling a chimney at sunset.

“I’m convinced that we’ll get all the swifts within 10 miles of the sound. Calling them in works in Europe and with the chimney swifts in Eastern North America. If we can call the birds in, they won’t be seeing (a chimney) but we’ll know it works,” he said.

A company in Pennsylvania, FoxPro, is donating the recording. For weeks, volunteers will “crank it up to rock concert volume and see if anybody shows up.”

If they appear, and the money and Kittitas County’s cooperation is there, VHP will build the chimney in time for spring and again crank up the volume. If this works, other chimneys could be built along the migratory route.

“None of this has been tried before (with Vaux’s swifts). It’s exciting,” Schwitters said.

There are more projects in sight. In late August or early September in Yakima, VHP volunteers will attempt to capture several swifts that roost in the chimney at Johnson Auto Glass.

Radio transmitters will be placed on them; radio receivers will be used at major roof sites to pick up the signals.

“If that happens, it will be the first time we’ll know for sure how far they go in three, four days and their route,” Schwitters said.

There is another VHP project in early September. A 2000 Vaux’s swift study was done in the Willamette Valley by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.

“We’re going to try and duplicate it by going to the same or equivalent roost sites and make the same observations and see how many swifts are counted at each site in a single night. That will give us some clue as to what the population has been doing,” he said.

If you are interested in the projects or want more information on Vaux’s swifts, go to www.vauxhappening.org.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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