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‘A Swift Night Out’: PVAS hosts national event at Shepherd University tower

By Staff | Aug 16, 2019

Pictured (l. to r.) are Jim Schmitt, Schmitt Construction Company; Katelyn Walters, PVAS conservation and land manager; and Suzanne Offutt, PVAS president. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — On Saturday night, 35 community members gathered at the 30-foot chimney swift tower on the edge of Shepherd University’s campus, to celebrate “A Swift Night Out” with the Panhandle Valley Audubon Society.

The celebration “is a continent-wide effort to raise awareness about and encourage interest in Chimney Swifts and Vaux’s Swifts,” according to PVAS.

“This is our first year finally hosting the event at our tower,” said PVAS Land and Conservation Manager K.C. Walters. “We scouted out where the current group of chimney swifts were last night.”

Walters’ intern from West Virginia University, Liz Janelle, was part of that scouting process, and said the current group of 280 chimney swifts migrating to South America had settled in Panhandle Pedal and Paddle’s chimney. Because of this discovery, the majority of the event was held in town.

“People met here at the beginning, to get their ice cream sundaes, and then went to Panhandle Pedal and Paddle to count the chimney swifts,” Walters said. “For years, we’ve had birders in town count the swifts ever year. In one night, 1,500 to 1,700 swifts used to rest at Sara Cree Hall.”

Despite the birds’ current location, Walters said she anticipates future groups will find Shepherd’s tower, as the migrating season continues through September. While Saturday’s event counted the birds at the beginning of the season, a second chimney swift count will be held during the season’s peak, on the second weekend in September.

According to Shepherd University biology professor Sher Hendrickson, this was her first time counting chimney swifts. Now that the tower is built, she intends to use it in her ornithology and biology classes.

“We’re going to bring the biology class out this fall to help us join the count,” Hendrickson said, mentioning this won’t be the first time her students have benefited from PVAS. “We’ve been working together for a few years,” Hendrickson said. “We first met, because when I started the ornithology class, there hadn’t been an ornithology class at Shepherd in 20 years. PVAS supported us, and encouraged us to use some of their properties for the class. PVAS members also taught some of the ornithology labs, which was an opportunity for my students to meet people in the fields where they want to get employed.”

For Janelle, who is a senior animal and nutritional sciences major, working with PVAS has opened her mind to working in a number of areas in ecology.

“I’ve learned a lot this summer. It’s definitely given me a better perspective on what this field has to offer after I graduate,” Janelle said.