Oregon birdwatchers get boorish in large crowds

PORTLAND — The annual Swift Watch in northwest Portland used to be a neighborhood affair. Bird fans would gather nightly in September to watch tiny Vaux's swifts swirl and dive before roosting in the chimney at Chapman Elementary School.

Now the event has gotten so big that the government has to police it.

Neighbors say the crowds these days often block driveways, toss their empty pizza boxes and drink. This year, police dispatchers have been told to call an officer assigned to the area and other officers as needed when residents complain.

"I think there's an 'event' mentality," said neighbor Hilda Welch, who has one of the best views of the bird show from her second-floor deck. "Sometimes it seems it's almost out of control. We'd like people to be a little more mindful."

At its peak, the event can feature about 25,000 birds nightly, stopping in Portland on their winter migration journey. And the aerial show can draw as many as 3,000 spectators.

"We didn't know that there were that many people congregating to watch it," said Officer Sue Abrahamson, who's on swift patrol. "This was kind of a shock."

The Audubon Society of Portland has made sure folks know about the avian event and now is trying to help manage it, handing out traffic cones to some residents so they can block off their driveways.

"In a way, we're a victim of our own success," said Steve Robertson, the Audubon Society's education director. "We want it to be an enjoyable experience, including for the neighbors. We don't want them to have a love-hate relationship with Swift Watch."

The operators of Montgomery Park, an office park four blocks away, are offering hundreds of free parking spaces.

Residents have been enjoying the show at Chapman since the swifts began visiting Portland in the mid-1990s. They say they're happy about the crackdown on the rowdies, if a little wistful about the old days.

And some of the visitors are considerate folk. Last year, a birdwatcher knocked on Kevin Tomlinson's door and asked if he could park in his driveway. Sure, Tomlinson said. The man parked his car, then knocked on the door again — to hand Tomlinson a bottle of wine.


Information from: The Oregonian, http:www.oregonlive.com

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