Swift Watch Canceled Again Due to Pandemic

by Emily Pinkowitz, Director of Education

In August of 2019, I visited Portland Audubon to meet staff and observe programs in preparation for my future role as Director of Education. As part of this visit, I accompanied staff and volunteers for an evening at Swift Watch. What I experienced that night was our work at its absolute best. For nearly three decades, Swift Watch has welcomed thousands to learn, to wonder, to celebrate and play together. Made possible through a delicately choreographed collaboration between the school district, the parks department, the city, and the local community, it demonstrates the power of collective action to activate public space. And, it engages our volunteer base in vital conservation and education work. I left energized and awed by the mantle I was taking up for this organization.

A photo of hundreds of people sitting in a field looking at a school chimney.
Swift Watch, photo by Karen Munday

Enter the pandemic. While this mantle has looked quite different during my time in this role, I have never been more acutely aware of the value of our organization bringing people together in nature. As the exponential increase in birding nationally demonstrates, the outdoors have become a vital respite for many of us, both seasoned and new. Over the last two years, I have been so grateful to work with an incredible team creating new, outside-the-box opportunities for people of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and comfort levels to experience the natural world in community.

At the same time, the specter of COVID-19 has always loomed large. We have followed the changing health advisories closely, and tacked and tacked again in order to ensure that every program we offer operates at safety standards that are above and beyond recommendations.
With this in mind, in consultation with our partners, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Swift Watch for the second year in a row.

Chapman School has requested that people do not congregate at the site. There will not be resources in place to deal with parking, crowd management, garbage cleanup, and other logistics necessary to make Swift Watch a success, and the crowds that Swift Watch attracts are far too large to allow for safe COVID-19 distancing, especially considering the arrival of the Delta variant.

We urge the community to respect this request—large crowds at Chapman will put the community at risk and undermine local support for the birds. For the sake of the birds and our community, please do not go to Chapman in the evenings this September.

Vaux's Swifts, photo by Tara Lemezis

Our community scientists will continue to track the Chapman Vaux’s Swift populations with our annual Swift Count throughout their migration. We will also welcome a limited number of volunteers in the early mornings on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to assist with trash pickup. Please join us to ensure the space remains clean, help us maintain ties with this wonderful community, and observe the swifts awaken and emerge from the chimney into the morning sun.

For more information about morning swift volunteering, please contact Volunteer Manager Vicky Medley at vmedley@audubonportland.org.