Friday, March 20, 2009

Road Trip!!!

I took a trip off-island last Saturday with a very unique passenger....

Yep, Miss Thang and I took a ride up North. She has been with us for almost 4 months now and we have done everything for her that we possibly can at this point. That left us with very few options, so we decided to release her in a body of water where she can get the weight off of her legs, build up her flight muscles, and hopefully integrate herself into another swan flock.

The day started out with Shona and I getting up VERY early, in the rain, cold, and dark, to wrangle her, put wing bumpers on her, and get her crated up for the long drive. Thanks Shona!

The trip up to the Wildlife Area where she was to be released was uneventful. I was worried that she was going to be a back-seat driver, but once we got moving, she stayed pretty calm. And the release site, well, I was told the lake was big, but had no idea that it was...

....THIS BIG!!

I want to stop for a moment and state that I couldn't have done this without the help of Brad Otto and his son Brady. Brad is a wildlife biologist with the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and he graciously came out on his day off, in the cold and rain, to band, collar and sex her (Yep, it's a GIRL!). THANKS BRAD AND BRADY!

And Brad started out by saying something that was music to my ears, that being "Let's take her over to the barn and get her ready in a covered area." Did I mention it was COLD....and RAINY?! So we did just that.

Getting her out of the carrier was something I left up to Brad, since he deals with Trumpeter swans on a regular basis. At one point, during this mysterious process, I kept hearing banging noises followed by "Ow!", then more banging noises and "OUCH!" I asked if he was okay, to which he replied "Yeah. It's just a big guy, trying to get a big bird, out of a crate!" But get her out he did, all the while promising me that once we got her on her back she would calm down, and you know what? She DID!

He then got all the gear he needed laid out....

and began by placing the plastic collar on her.

Yes, it looks big and bulky, but it wasn't heavy and was very loose on her, so she won't outgrow it. It has to be big enough that they can read it from a distance and to be honest, while I know some folks might object to the collar, I did want them to be able to monitor her to see how she was doing, so I was glad they had an easy way to do that.

After he got done with that, she decided she wasn't happy looking at the world upside down, so she looped her neck over and placed her head right-side-up on the table.

It was very contortionistic move that looked weird and a bit freaky! Okay, maybe you had to be there, but still...yeesh!

Then came the leg banding. Brad likes to band the left legs of birds and this gave me a good opportunity to take a look at the callous that had formed on the bottom of that foot due to all the weight resting on it for so long.

This is one thing that should right itself, what with her swimming a lot more, thereby taking the weight off of both legs for extended periods of time.

Once that was completed, he sexed her, which was a very invasive process (one which all women can relate to), so the swan and I commiserated with each other until it was over. Then it was time to release her!

The lake was a bit of a ways from the barn, so I asked Brad what the best way to get her down there was, to which he said we could either put her back in the crate or walk her down. I laughed and said "Well, maybe YOU can walk her down, but I sure can't!" "But...don't you want to be the one to release her?" he wondered, to which I said no, that I would be throttled if I didn't get the release on camera, so I would just stand back and document the process.

So began the trek to the lake.

Brady hung back while Brad and I made a bee-line for the lake. The swan was funny, as the whole way down there she just kind of layed limply in his arms, whereas I thought for sure she would be struggling and thrashing about.

Then, we were there, and then, there she went.....

She took off like a shot and never looked back. She immediately started running hell-bent-for-leather to the middle of the pond.

Boy, was she ever running fast! All the while I am taking pictures, not really seeing too clearly what I am shooting, as she was moving very quickly and getting further and further away, when all of the sudden I hear Brad yell "She's flying! She's actually FLYING!!" "WHAT?!" I exclaimed and prayed that I got it on film. Know what?

I DID!!!! No, she didn't soar above the trees, but Brad was amazed that, after being on the ground for 4 months, that she could even do this!

It's a testament to how well the staff and volunteers took care of her, that she was still in such great shape upon release. Congrats everyone!!

On the way back out I stopped and took a picture of some of the swan's new lake mates, as upon my arrival, there were hundreds of birds swimming around.

By the time I left, it was pretty much just these guys hanging out in the rain.

I emailed Brad after I got home to thank him again and he assured me that he keeps an eye on the lake 5 days a week and was going to actually be boating the lake once a week for the next few weeks, so he would keep an eye out for her. He predicted that she might be flight worthy, and by that I mean keeping up with other swans, within a week seeing as how she had so much strength upon release.

He called on Thursday to say he didn't spot her on the lake when he went out. I hope she has a long and happy life! And who knows.....Brad just might spot her next fall, on her way back through!

Til next time...