On Saturday, October 22, I drove past the Lagoon and caught a glimpse of the TRUMPETER SWAN family. I turned around and parked at Benny Benson Park to get a closer look.
The north wind was brutal; the sun shone brightly but provided no warmth without a windbreak. A thin layer of ice covered most of the Lagoon, restricting the COMMON GOLDENEYES, COMMON MERGANSERS, MALLARDS, and SWANS to the north end where Scheffler Creek kept it open.
I only saw four swans: two adults, two cygnets. FOUR! I anxiously scanned the grassy uplands for the two missing cygnets. Were they tucked in, napping in the sunshine? No. My heart sank.
These phenomenal parents do not abandon their precious babies. Period. At six months, the cygnets are adult-size, but not savvy enough to be independent. I started blowing down the boardwalk, searching once again for bodies under the power lines. Nothing. I walked back into the wind, eyes watering both from the cold sting and this new loss. Nothing.
I got back to the car and drove to Nash Road, parked near the Mile 1 nest site, and walked both sides of the road. Nothing. The ponds on both sides were mostly frozen, and perhaps no longer available to the swans. On my way home, I checked the airport ponds, mostly frozen, but did not see any cygnets. Their absence was ominous.
I called the Alaska Sealife Center Wildlife Rescue to see if any cygnets had been reported or picked up. As I feared, two cygnets had hit the power lines at the Lagoon by the parking lot, on Friday evening. Not again! One died, but miraculously, one survived.
When the ASLC responded, the cygnet, walking down the boardwalk, was easily captured and taken to the ASLC. It had minor scrapes on its wings and head, and bruises. It was given pain medicine and held overnight for observation and further recovery.
On Sunday morning, staff reported, “It was appropriately perky and hissed off at us. X-rays showed no obvious fractures and recheck showed the scrapes already starting to scab over.” Further detainment was no longer necessary.
It was expected that the cygnet would not want to fly for the next several days as it recovered and so the cygnet was released at the airport pond, a familiar place where there was food and NO power lines. The swan family was nearby but in an area closer to the bay. I’m not sure if they reunited at that time or not. The cygnet swam and preened upon release, all good signs.
At 1 pm, I checked the Lagoon and found the swan family with only two cygnets, preening and feeding close together. I wonder if they missed the two siblings, or were puzzled where they went. Or the other three that died from recent power line collisions.
If they were distraught, they didn’t show it. It was calm and pleasant there. Even though ice was closing in, there was room enough to find submerged plants to eat. Except for the glaring absence of the other cygnets, it was a beautiful, peaceful scene.
I headed to the airport and encountered a completely different scene. The cold north wind was howling, and there, in the middle of a diminishing lead of open water, facing the wind, was the rescued cygnet. It looked so alone and abandoned, stoically dealing with its situation. I did not see it preen or feed.
I imagine the swan family, if they were reunited, had flown back to the Lagoon. This one could not fly yet, and had to stay behind. The ASLC assured me that the cygnet was very healthy and had excellent body weight. That was reassuring, but so much could happen! The ravens circled, an eagle flew overhead. So alone, this youngster!
I worried all night, picturing the ice creeping ever closer and tighter, wondering if the cygnet had enough energy to keep it open to prevent freezing in. I was ready to launch my kayak and break ice if needed.
Monday morning, I headed back to the airport, full of apprehension. It was still cold and windy. Was the cygnet iced in? Was it alive?
BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE OUTCOMES! The whole swan family was there, feeding together as if nothing had happened. What a relief! The open lead was even wider than yesterday, giving them more options to feed.
I checked again on Tuesday at 5 pm and the whole swan family was there feeding. The cygnet I call “Daddy’s Girl” fed right next to her daddy (maybe.) Yea!
On Thursday, I did a quick check and found the family hunkered down close together in a feathered pile against the brisk north wind. One parent kept guard, eyes open with its beak tucked under a warm wing.
I sure appreciate the Alaska Sealife Center’s response and help. If you would like to help the ASLC Wildlife Response Program with donations of clean towels, plastic dog/cat kennels, large fish totes, or money, please visit their website at <http://www.alaskasealife.org/how_you_can_help> In the comments section, specify that you want your donation to go to the Wildlife Response Program.
It is obvious that more diverters are needed along the Lagoon power lines. I can’t wait for this dangerous killer to be buried next year.
Meanwhile, I celebrate every day graced by the swan family.