25 January 2013

Master Naturalists Working to Conserve Chimney Used by Swifts

Efforts by the Hi Lonesome Chapter, Master Naturalist group in Cole Camp, Missouri are underway to protect chimney habitat for swifts.

Chimney at city hall. Photograph courtesy of Marge Lumpe.

A small group of active members realized that an autumn gathering of Chimney Swifts was "beautiful and wonderful," said Marge Lumpe, active in the group. A count by a group member indicated more than one thousand Chimney Swifts came to roost during an evening of the Cole Camp Fair, on September 7, 2012, at the city hall.

Members of the Master Naturalist chapter in the Cole Camp community (population 1121) were staging to walk in the town parade and noted the congregation of swifts at the south side of the city building on west Main street.

Soon afterwards, these nature enthusiasts learned that city officials wanted to tear down the chimney at city hall, according to Lumpe. She conveyed her views in some posts on the MoBirds online forum. The top of the chimney was removed, but the effort was changed to simply capping the chimney—both devastating for the swifts.

The reason for the closure was due to the “degradation” of the chimney as a result of water coming into the chimney, Lumpe said.

"We were just beginning to enjoy wonders which would soon be stopped," by a closure of a significant roost for Chimney Swifts, she said. Swifts had been coming to the local roost for over fifty years, according to recollections of longtime residents. However, this information was unknown to the mayor or anyone else at city hall, and the mayor said that he had never seen a bird come into or leave the chimney.

The effort by the group was initially focused upon building an alternative structure. Bricks and mortar would provide a new chimney, and be a suitable and enduring place for swifts to gather.

As plans were being made for obtaining plans and materials to construct the new tower, word came that there was a possibility being entertained by council of re-working the capped chimney to permit the swifts to roost once again.

In January, the City Council members approved a measure appropriate and suitable for continuing the swifts presence at city hall. Particular measures, according to Lumpe, would include: 1) installing an umbrella-type cover to prevent water from getting into the chimney; 2) installing a door for ventilation and clean-out at the exterior base of the chimney; and 3) cleaning out the chimney.

The intended result would be a chimney space for swifts as they arrive this spring to a place of their historic occurrence.

“What seemed initially to be a tragedy for the swifts was turned into a victory for Cole Camp as a whole, the City Council and the Chimney Swifts.

This update on the situation has just been received from Marge Lumpe:

"There has been a reversal of fortune in this matter. A councilman contacted me yesterday to say that they had run into a snag. The chimney has deteriorated to the point that they feel it is dangerous to work on, and they will not allow any of their workers to work further on the chimney. If we want to restore the roost, we (the Master Naturalist chapter) will need to take the old chimney down and construct a new one. Right now everyone is on board to do the work, but it will be a huge amount of work. Stay tuned." - January 25th