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The Lucky Cygnet

July 21, 2006

The swans have been at large on the pond for nearly a month now. The three cygnets are almost as big as geese. It’s a gray day and light rain falls intermittently. We’ve returned from an errand mid-afternoon and I’m gazing out at the back yard and the pond beyond.

I notice the swans have come clear up into the mowed area, near the barn. This is unusual. They have ranged all around the pond and chosen a few favorite spots to hang out this past month, but they generally have tried to keep the cygnets away from us when on land.

So I’m mulling their presence, so close, when I suddenly realize I only see two of the three cygnets with Ziggy and Odette. Where is the third? Janice and I go out into the yard to get a closer look. Sure enough, one of the cygnets is missing.

We hop in the golf cart we use for gardening chores and speed out to coyote corner, where the swans were all hanging out this morning. Lots of poop and feathers indicate this is a place they frequent. We look for #3 but see no evidence of a struggle. I half expected to find a carcass, or a portion of one, or a bloody trail into the woods along the creek. Nothing.

The rest of the swan family has gone back into the water. Ziggy leads them near and puffs up with his usual defensive vigor. We drive to the pen and look all around in it. Then we check under the low dock at the beach, and under the center tunnel of our small pedal boat. No cygnet.

We’re starting to resign ourselves to the evident loss of one cygnet, but we decide to take one more ride around the pond. Up on the north berm Janice wonders aloud if the missing swan may have gotten into the creek. You may recall we ran down Spaulding in that creek when we had to recapture him this spring. But that was before the heavy growth of grasses and weeds that almost hide the gently flowing water in mid-summer.

We go a little way, then stop and listen for the telltale peeping that would give us a direction. Still nothing. A little farther along the berm we stop again, yet no clues are evident. We proceed, stop and go, clear to coyote corner, where I notice the multi-trunked willow that Ziggy and Odette briefly considered nesting under has been partially felled.

As I go down the bank of the creek to get a closer look I discover a beaver dam has been built across the stream and a small pool has begun to form. The beaver has taken down part of the willow. Beavers! What is next? We haven’t yet gotten over the presence of muskrats, and now this.

Janice is still listening for the cygnet and shushes me as I scramble up the bank to tell her of the dam. She thinks she heard it, back a little bit in the direction we came from. I glance over that way and see more young willows felled. Now I’m furious with these rodent interlopers. They’re removing the volunteer trees I welcomed.

I go down the bank, again for a closer look, and I see the cygnet in the creek, partially hidden under the grasses that bend over the water. The creek is only about two feet wide here and eighteen inches deep at most. I roll up my pant legs and go in after the little swan.

It panics and tries to flee downstream, but the grasses are just too dense and after wading about five feet I easily catch up to it and grab it around the body with both hands.

As I come out of the water, Janice grabs my arm and helps me up the steep bank. As we step to the top of the berm we see the whole swan family right offshore, watching curiously. I toss the cygnet into the pond and it paddles over to its siblings. The swans all seem delighted at its return, as they snort and bob their heads.

The poor little bugger must have slipped down the bank into the creek and was unable to climb back out. Ziggy and Odette couldn’t do anything to help, apparently. Perhaps they intentionally came close to the house so we would notice the missing cygnet. Who knows what goes on in a bird’s brain?

Ross Thompson

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