Vaux’s swifts


Every fall, during their annual southern migration, thousands of Vaux’s Swifts roost in an abandoned chimney at a school in Northwest Portland. They perform an intricate aerial dance at dusk, which lasts a little more than a half hour.

First, a small group of swifts–really, a dozen or so–appear and start circling in the sky. Then, magically, and a bit mysteriously, swifts start flying in from all directions, adding to a growing swarm. The swarm expands and contracts in diameter as it moves across the sky, always keeping the chimney in sight and range. After about 15 minutes or so, the swarm closes in on the chimney and a group of swifts peels off and spirals down inside. They then repeat the process a few times, with the group’s size gradually winnowing down.

The swifts’ dance by itself is cool enough to entertain multitudes of Portlanders through many September evenings, but, this being nature and all, you get added drama: hawks. Once the swarm builds to a critical mass, hawks will dive-bomb into it, trying to pull off a swift or two for dinner. Sometimes, a small group of swifts will break off and chase the hawk away, which is hilarious to see, and raises a cheer from the crowd on the ground. Sometimes, a hawk will get a swift, also to a rousing cheer. Then, at almost exactly the time it goes from dusk to dark, the last of the swifts dive into the chimney to a round of applause, and the audience packs up and heads off to their own roosting place.

It’s a lot of fun, and, if you live in Portland, it’s worth going to at least once in your life.

sunset, rocky butte


Rocky Butte [located here] is one of those iconic Portland view spots. Locals — myself included — are always taking visitors from out of town to this little hilltop for the panoramic view of the city, the river, and Mts. Hood and St. Helens. It is a lovely place, but it’s not an easy place to get a good photo of the city, at sunset, sunrise or any other time of day. Too many trees block the view of downtown, the view upriver is bland, and at either end of the day, the shadows are nothing but trouble.

Despite its photographic challenges, I do go up here quite a bit, more to soak up the altitude (or zip up on the motorcycle around a few fun curves) than to shoot. Larch Mountain, Crown Point and a few other places along the Gorge have more photographic resonance for me than this one. That said, last night, with a funky sky full of different cloud types, I hoofed up there quickly and took a bunch of shots, trying to get something that might work. I have a few, including a couple with the tilt-shift lens, but this is the one I ended up picking.

(And, for all my blather, I have a bunch of Flickr shots taken here, and you can see another group of images tagged with Rocky Butte here on this site.)

pendleton overlook


When Liza and I got back into Oregon, after five days on the road, we decided to push on a bit further than we had done on any other day, ending up driving nearly 800 miles.

That last, 80-mile push turned out to be the best decision we made on the whole trip, because we happened upon the most beautiful sunset we had seen over the entire 3,000-mile journey, and a wonderful “welcome home” from Oregon to Liza. It was the only time during the entire trip that I pulled out the tripod and shot with the 5DMkII (although I did take a few pictures “on the go” with it).