Monroe school brood is back

  • By Alejandro Dominguez Herald Writer
  • Saturday, September 10, 2011 12:01am
  • Local NewsMonroe

MONROE — They might be late and in fewer numbers than in the past, but the Vaux’s swifts again are covering the sky above Frank Wagner Elementary School.

To celebrate it, the Monroe Swifts Night Out Committee is organizing an event tonight so people can see the birds making a stop at the sch

ool’s chimney during their southward migration.

“They are part of the scenery in Monroe,” volunteer Susie Schaefer said.

“Many people don’t see a bird migration in action.”

At this time of year, thousands of Vaux’s swifts flock at dusk to the 60-foot high chimney that’s no longer in use at the school. The birds are migrating from northern Canada to Mexico and possibly even Central America. There are so many birds that people come from all over Western Washington to watch the spectacle, bringing lawn chairs and blankets.

Volunteers host a Monroe Swift Night Out, which starts at 4 p.m. today, at the school located in 639 W. Main St. It’s free to attend and there will be food, information about the swifts and children’s activities.

About 1,500 people attended last year, but they only counted 389 birds that night, the second-lowest recorded number in September 2010. Organizers later discovered there was a Cooper’s hawk, a swift’s predator, in the area that may have scared the birds away.

It is unknown how many swifts could show up tonight. So far this year, as of Wednesday, the committee has recorded 24,956 swifts. That’s much fewer than last year at this time.

Still Judy Alles, chairwoman of the group organizing the Night Out, is hopeful that there will be a large sighting tonight.

“We are really due for some big numbers. That could be (tonight),” Alles said.

Alles and members of the committee have been at the school every night since mid-August to count the birds roosting at the chimney. They started the counts in 2008.

The group counting the swifts, along with the Seattle and Pilchuck Audubon societies among others, collected enough funds to retrofit and reinforce the chimney, which they did in 2010. This kept the chimney from being demolished for safety reasons.

Alles believes they’ve counted fewer swifts this year because the weather has been too wet. Another reason could be that the birds have found another roosting spot.

There are four major roosting places in Washington state. Frank Wagner is the only one in Snohomish County, according to Larry Schwitters, project coordinator of the Audubon Vaux’s Happening, a community project based in Issaquah that locates the chimneys the birds use as roosts in North America. Schwitters is also scheduled to give a lecture about the Vaux’s swifts in tonight’s event.

The other three spots are in Sedro-Woolley, Selleck and at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

There are major roosting spots because they have hundreds of swifts every night, Schwitters said.

He has seen more numbers of swifts in Sedro-Woolley this year than in previous ones, so he believes more birds are staying there than in Monroe. It is still unclear if this trend would continue, he said.

“Having 2,000 swifts, it’s still exciting,” he said.

The swifts can still be seen for the rest of the month. The fall migration to Central America is scheduled to continue until early October.

The northbound migration is between April and June.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.

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