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Brief Encounters

Swift Water, Swift Nest

article spread
by Benjamin M. Clock
Photograph by Benjamin M. Clock

In southwest Colorado, outside Ouray, lies Box Canyon, a small, dramatic canyon that is one of the best places to see Black Swifts in North America. This mysterious species-a large swift that feeds on flying insects and whose nest was not discovered until 1901-travels each year from Central and South America to its clandestine nesting grounds in canyons and waterfalls of the West. In Box Canyon, a small collection clings to mossy crevices beside and behind the flowing waterfall.

I came here to document the breeding biology of this rarely filmed species for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library video archive. For four days I perched on a winding catwalk that leads sightseers across the sheer rock face and up to the waterfall. Black Swifts begin nesting in late summer, and upon my arrival in early July I found a clear view of one female sitting on her cliff-face nest, brooding a single recently laid egg. Visitors peered into the depths of the canyon hoping to glimpse the swifts—and I was happy to offer them a close-up view with my camera's 80-power lens.

For those four days I filmed the female as she incubated her egg and tended to her nest. At one point, I filmed her as she flew farther up the canyon to gather fresh moss from the edge of the waterfall and add it to the rim of her nest. You can see a sample clip from my visit.

-Benjamin M. Clock