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Odette Lays an Egg... or 7!

April, 2006

On April first, Janice goes out to feed the swans early and they’re not on the pond anywhere. Our neighbor Bill is out on his deck and he calls over to us that they went “over the ridge.” He means the north berm of the pond, behind which runs Mosquito Creek. I join her and we soon find them down in the creek, by a willow tree. Not a good place to nest. They realize it, too.

We keep an eye on them for the next several days, to learn where they do decide to build their nest. Wherever it is, we will have to do something to protect it from predators. Once Odette lays her eggs she will spend almost all of her time on the nest. At night, when the coyotes prowl, she’ll be the most vulnerable.

By April fifth we have found evidence of nest building at the far northwest corner of the pond, about twenty feet from the water. Not the best location they could have chosen — we call this “coyote corner” since just a bit further west a long, wooded area follows Mosquito Creek toward its origin and the coyotes love this terrain. But it is fenceable, so I make note of it and begin to plan a time to get this done. I show it to Bill, and he doesn’t like it at all, but what can we do? Neither of us has the time to continually shoo the swans away from this spot.

A few days later it’s Saturday. I find some steel fenceposts and a post driver in the lower barn and head out to coyote corner to start the fence building. After I have most of the posts driven I see Bill on his tractor bringing over a roll of chain link. He and a friend of his help me unroll it and wrap it around the area I have defined with the posts. It’s not enough, so he goes back for more. He has several roll-ends from previous projects. After a couple of trips we have enough to complete the fence. It extends into the water about five feet on each side, leaving a ten-foot wide opening accessible only from the water. The fence wraps tightly around the back of the nest, since the swans have begun their project at the back edge of the pond berm. Beyond the fence the ground drops away steeply.

The next day I’m happy to see the swans in the pen, Odette shaping the nest and Ziggy standing guard. My happiness is short-lived, however. Before the next week is over the swans have decided instead to nest on “the point,” a short, blunt peninsula (sort of) along the middle of the southern edge of the pond. This is really a better spot, but I’m a little pissed that I spent time building that pen.

We had actually thought about carving out the dirt behind the point to turn it into an island. This would be an ideal and safe place for the swans to nest. I haven’t yet thought about the inconvenience to us of getting feed to it. When I consider that we’d also need a bridge to reach the island, and that the bridge would need to be coyote-proof, I begin to think this plan is too complicated.

Before I abandon the idea I invite a local excavator to come out and give me an estimate. He’ll come the next day, Saturday, but this Friday evening at dusk I’m concerned when I see that Odette has returned to the point after feeding at the beach and she appears to be settling in to spend the night on land.

The next day the excavator, Dewey, shows up and we walk around the point, discussing how wide and deep the cut would need to be. All the while, Odette is lying flat as a pancake on her new nest, within a couple feet of the pond edge. Ziggy patrols offshore. When I realize we’re talking about moving more than 6,000 cubic feet of dirt I know we need a simpler plan.

When Dewey leaves, Odette gets in the water with Ziggy for a while. I walk up to the nest and see two eggs in it already. Time for action. I dash out and buy two fifty-foot rolls of chain link. Come home and start driving fenceposts into the ground again. By the end of the day we have constructed our second pen. Later I will dismantle the first one. I didn’t want to waste time with that and risk having Odette vulnerable for another night.

The new pen is much larger than the first one. It has a very wide opening to the water, because of the way the land bulges out there. The fence extends about five feet into the water on each side. I feel confident that Odette is now safe. Everything is fine for a couple of weeks.

Then, one Saturday at the end of April, I’m near the lower barn when I notice some sort of commotion in the pen. I get a closer look and see that both swans are in the water, anxiously paddling back and forth, and one of my neighbor’s dogs is inside the pen, barking at them and running from side to side. I can see a loose egg that Odette must have kicked out of the nest in her haste to avoid Mickey.

After a bit of yelling at Mickey, he leaves the way he apparently came, running through the shallow water right around the five-foot fence extension. I chase him home and discover he’s all bluster. As I back him up to his dogloo, he sits and drops his ears back. I easily slip his chained collar onto him and now he’s my buddy. I’ll forgive him later.

When I return to the pen, Odette is still in the water with Ziggy. I unfasten the fence where the two separate rolls meet in the middle, and go in to place the loose egg back in the nest, with the other SIX. Hmmm... What will happen if they all hatch? I guess we’ll have seven swans swimming (plus two).

Ross Thompson

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