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It was just another damp foggy morning here at Storyteller Central. I was sitting here at my neat but not overly ostentatious desk - O.K. it's really a disaster area and now that I think about it my desk is a tad too ostentatious around the edges for some - anyway, I was sitting here sipping my Maxwell House regular drip when I came across a newspaper article about something called "The 2004 Nationwide Chimney Swift Roost Monitoring Project."
Right now I assume you're probably a little shocked and thinking the same thoughts I had after reading that subversive-sounding title - does Tom Ridge and the homeland security gang know about this project? And if not, why not?
Chimney Swift Roost Monitoring Project - indeed!
According to the article, which carried a Bethel dateline, several hundred chimney swifts were spotted entering a large chimney to roost recently at Gould Academy's Bingham Hall.
A likely story.
About 25 volunteers claimed they joined Bethel naturalist Jackie Cressy and her husband, Allen, to count the birds for the 2004 nationwide Chimney Swift Roost Monitoring Project.
I can hear some of the more naive among you saying, "It all sounds pretty innocent to me, John, what's wrong with monitoring the roosting activity of chimney swifts?"
That's the genius of it. The whole thing sounds so wholesome - like everything else the folks up in Bethel do - but we can't be too careful in these troubled times, can we?
"We counted roughly 500 birds entering the chimney, so it looks like they are massing for migration," Jackie Cressy stated. "We plan to go regularly to watch the numbers and pattern of entering, and their last day here."
Allen Cressy said that other Bethel residents believe the birds, which have doubled in numbers in the last few days, are to begin migrating en masse by the last week in August.
"We will be tracking it over the next several days," he said.
I wanted to think that the whole thing was as innocent as it sounded but why is it part of a 'nationwide network?' What's this business about crossing borders? They're un-patrolled borders, most likely.
Who was responsible for putting this nationwide network together, supposedly for monitoring the roosting activities of migrating chimney swifts? And another thing: why aren't our security officials asking these questions?
If you're like me you have no idea what they're talking about with the mention of chimney swifts, so I did a little research for both of us.
As a group, chimney swifts are highly specialized for high-speed aerial life. Uh huh.
They have long, saberlike wings that are either extended in flight or folded back when they kick-back to relax or 'roost.' They have been described as a "cigar with wings."
Those who spend their lives studying, or 'monitoring' these birds say some species are thought to sleep while flying in "aerial roosts," and it is also believed that chimney swifts can copulate in flight.
Innocent, you say?
It's plain these birds are aren't innocent at all.
These same experts say large flocks of chimney swifts gather in the fall and roost in chimneys, sometimes by the hundreds or even thousands - even in places like Bethel.
They depart their breeding grounds in late August or September - like our summer complaints - to begin the long migration south.
Flying by day, they cross the Gulf of Mexico and travel through Central America to winter along river edges and the edges of tropical lowland forest in Amazonian Peru.
All very standard bird-like stuff, you say. But, again, why a nationwide network here in the U.S. just to monitor their roosting?
Jackie Cressy said the birds spend nearly all of their time flying, except when they are at their nest or roosting for the night. That sounds pretty logical.
You could say you spend all your time driving your car except when you're at home - 'roosting for the night.'
These 'flying cigars' migrate 6,000 miles to the upper Amazon River basin in South America, where they spend the winter.
"It's quite interesting to think that they'll all be gone from here in a few days," Jackie Cressy said.
Contact John McDonald at: storytellers@maine.com.
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