THE MISTRAL STORY…
As told by Patroller Eileen Tyrer
THE PLIGHT OF WONDER (One of Mistral's young)
October 2003 - We
have been extremely busy with swan rescuing and fighting the development
of Bathside Bay at Harwich into a gigantic container port. So just
a few problems to keep us out of mischief! Mistral has had a few problems
this year. We are pretty sure she has mated with the Mute and the
cygnets are his, we have named him Braveheart because of his determination
to stick with her, even though he is being constantly hassled by Freedom.
Braveheart never gives in and will keep going however ill he feels
definitely a very determined character.
Mistral built her nest on the dyke this time, on the opposite bank to where I feed them, and in front of a large bramble bush, which gave her some protection. I had been keeping a regular eye on them, on this particular morning I noticed Freedom staring over her head at the Bramble bush. I decided that after walking the dogs I would investigate what was wrong. To get to the back of the Bramble and her nest, you have to go through some iron gates in West End Lane on to the inner Hammerton land where Mistral used to nest. Her nesting place in this pond we think has been taken over by one of her previous young, it is obvious that it is her first brood she just had three cygnets but one was quite poorly and died very quickly her remaining cygnets are doing very well.
I fed them on this particular morning, and then two young fishermen I knew came and told me that two young boys who were camping over the other side of the pond were hassling the swans. I decided I would check out Mistral first on arriving at the nest, which I could just see. I found a fishing ‘keepers’ net rammed into the Bramble and on leaning over I was also able to see a red and yellow dinghy right next to the nest. There was no way I could reach this so I returned to the young fishermen asked them about the dinghy. They had already said, they had seen the two boys going up to the swan’s nest on the Hammerton pond and then finding the dinghy near the nest on the dyke did not look good.
I made my way towards the boy’s camp, one of the boys was outside the tent, the other boy would not come out until I threaten to dismantle the tent on him. He finally gave in, as soon as I saw him I recognised him. I had trouble with both of them last year throwing rocks and rubbish into the pond. I warned them to stay away from the swans as they are protected and it is a five thousand-pound fine and six months in prison hoping this would deter them. The following day a young chap called Gary who had moved from London to live here had previously helped me in rescuing a swan off the yacht pond. He offered to try and hook the dinghy out of the way of the nest, and would go early the next morning. The following day I was at the yacht pond feeding the previous years young when Gary passed by to try and get the dinghy. It was not long before he returned holding something in his hand and no dinghy in sight it was unfortunately a dead baby cygnet.
Gary informed me the dinghy and the keepers net had gone and there was a large piece of fencing, which looked like an over sized ladder thrown over the bramble, which had landed on the nest. Mistral had had eight cygnets Gary found only one dead but one was also missing, as there was only six cygnets left. I informed the police wildlife officer and put a piece in the paper making sure we made a point of mentioning the red and yellow dinghy but there was not much else we could do. To a certain extent this has worked as it has kept these two boys away from the area and they know I am on the look out for them. Immediately after the ladder going on the nest and eventually when Mistral started bringing her remaining cygnets to our feeding place we noticed she was caught up with fishing line. It took us two whole days with three kayaks and six people on the bank to separate her from her young and finally catch her. I removed the hook and line, which was just below her wing then injected her with antibiotics and then released her. From then on she was monitored but would not put her leg down or stand on it which seemed rather odd as when we released her we thought it would only be two days before the leg would go back down. This went on for another few weeks; we hoped it would eventually improve but no such luck. We then spotted another fishing line attached to her other leg, it was decided we would have to catch her again, unfortunately the lads with the kayaks were not available. My friend Janet and myself decided to try and catch Mistral, as she seemed to be going down hill fast. We tried the first time in the area where she is fed but she is always aware of what we are about to do, I am sure she can read our minds.
We went down again later on in the afternoon Mistral and Freedom were on the other side of the bank; Freedom was standing guard, while Braveheart was with the cygnets further up the dyke. We made the long trek round to get behind her on the other bank Janet and I both had Swan hooks. We stopped half way there to plan what we would do, as we were not able to talk as we neared them, as Freedom would warn her we were coming. We decided to split up and advance in an arrow movement Janet going in on one side a split second before me to attract Freedom to her while I crept in behind to grab Mistral. We operated by silent hand signals and on the count of three we moved in, I managed to get the hook round her neck but she is so clever she twists her neck a certain way and gets out of the hook. Thankfully not before I had grabbed her round the neck with my other hand.
I quickly lifted her away from the area with Janet to join her husband Terry who we had left waiting with all of the medical equipment we might need. Janet held Mistral on the ground while I pulled the leg out which had the line on it. Looking at the hook we were unable to tell if it was barbed and we were unable to push the hook through, as it was right near the bone. I looked at the other leg, which had also been bothering her and both Janet and I compared the sizes of the legs and both thought it was definitely swollen. We had no option but to remove her, we cut the piece of line off the hook. Then protecting the leg with the hook in it we tied them together with a stocking cut the corner off a pillowcase and pulled the pillowcase over her head securing the wings so she was unable to hurt herself. Mistral was then, carried by Janet out through the iron gates avoiding Freedom, Braveheart and the Cygnets so as not to upset her and them. I went the other way to get to my car taking some of the gear with me; we all met back at my car where Mistral was put in the back. I drove home where she was transferred immediately still in the pillowcase to a large cage, which I then covered with a cloth to darken the area to calm her down.
I had rung Sue Morgan to expect me, and so the Journey begun to Salcott passing the Tiptree museum and tearoom where they make lovely Tiptree jam its yummy. Not long afterwards we arrived at Sue’s, Mistral was taken from the cage and the legs un-tied for Sue to look at. Having looked at the hook it was decided it was not barbed and with a bit of struggle and a pair of pliers the hook was removed. Sue looked at the other leg and could see it was swollen but decided to check to see if there was fluid in the leg inserting a needle to see if she was able to draw fluid out, none appeared. After much deliberation between us it was decided it could be an old injury, which we now believe was caused by the boys throwing the fencing on to the nest this would account for why her leg was held up continuously. Sue injected her with antibiotics and pain relief hoping this would encourage her to put her leg down.
Had Mistral not had young cygnets Sue would have kept her there but to take her away from her young is not good. Mistral was put back in the cage this time with her legs un-tied for the journey home. I stopped on the way just before I joined the A12 to ring Janet to see if she would like to see her released I left a message on the answer phone saying I would ring when I got home. On reaching home I rang Janet and we arranged to meet down at the dyke, it was not long after I arrived that Janet turned up. We looked down the dyke to the other end, from the path up above and could see the Whooper Freedom, Braveheart the Mute and all the Cygnets with necks raised high searching for Mistral with intermittent calls for her, hoping she would answer. We started down the path towards the bank, I warned Janet to get the scissors ready to cut the pillowcase off. Mistral started to look around recognising the area; she started to struggle by this time we were nearly near the bank when suddenly she gave a call. All of a sudden Braveheart gave an answering call and practically flew on top of the water, closely followed by Freedom and the cygnets all chattering together. Janet was quickly there with the scissors to split the pillowcase so we could free her. Mistral went straight into the water chattering to her cygnets, Braveheart and Freedom it was a wonderful sight to see, and with the night drawing in a mist on the water it was really quite magical. Since then we have monitored her and her young regularly. Mistral eventually got her foot down and now walks out of the pond but she is very wary of people as she has been caught so many times.
Since then two of the cygnets at different times got caught in fishing line but I was able to free them both. One only just recently unfortunately had a breathing problem, which is caused by mouldy bread, or dead bate which sinks to the bottom, the swans then ingest this and it causes something called Aspergillis if it is caught in time they can be saved. We tried for several days to catch the cygnet but by the time we caught it although it was treated at Sue’s it rallied but then died. We are now down to five cygnets.
We have just acquired three canoes by Janet going on the BBC Radio Essex help-line one canoe has gone straight to Sue. We have just picked up the other two but have got to sort out people to go in them. I think Janet and I are getting a bit to old although I am pretty sure we will have a sneaky go sometime. I have just had a call from the police as another cygnet on the dyke has line coming from the mouth; so will have to dash now. I had the canoe out with Gary in the morning but you really need two, if you chase them too much it can cause a virus, which would kill them so we have left them to settle down again. I am going back again at 4.30 p.m. the young man who was fishing on the dyke who had called the police, is called Danielle he has offered to help me, it turns out he trained people in canoes. Janet is coming as well with her sons Ian and Robin who are going to use the other canoe. Its getting near 4.30 p.m. so must get myself ready to go, I will hopefully get back to this later.
23rd August 2003 - We had tried on Saturday the 9th August, but no luck. We tried again the following day with two canoes occupied by Danny with Janet’s sons Ian and Robin taking it in turns. Each time the cygnets would make for the Hammerton pond to be with Freedom the Whooper, who had gone into hiding, because he was in moult and was worried we were after him. Finally, we caught one of the cygnets, which had a hook in its neck. I could barely see the hook but was informed by the lads in the canoes that they did not think it was the one we wanted. Janet and myself rushed the cygnet back to my car got Sue on the mobile standing by to help us. I eased the hook out of the cygnets neck and to my horror the line didn’t. After much consultation with Sue, Janet and I then felt the cygnet’s neck to see if there were any lumps. It was decided to cut the line close to the neck and hope that it would then work its way down to the stomach and dissolve naturally. We administered an antibiotic and vitamin injection, and then made our way down to the dyke to release the cygnet still not a hundred percent sure whether it was the one we needed to get but all the other cygnets were in hiding now with Freedom. There was nothing more we could do but to monitor the situation. It was 2.30 p.m. and getting so hot we decided to pack it in for the day. One of the canoes was put on the top of my car and Janet’s son Ian took the other one. So all of us being rather tired left for home.
I received a phone call that evening from Sandy who also feeds and monitors the swans. She had just returned from the dyke and informed me that she had seen the cygnet and its neck was double in size. It was my worst fear as it meant we would have to catch it again, as it would definitely need an operation. Early next morning I went with trepidation to the dyke wondering if the cygnet had died already but to my amazement he was with Mistral, Braveheart and the other cygnets but would not come anywhere near and refused all food, the lump in his throat was enormous. I fed the others and walked away with my head down wondering how on earth we were going to catch him. Janet, Ian, Robin and Danny were not going to be available all day. As I reached the top of the slope I bumped into Steve who had helped us before, he had just finished his shift of night duty with Trinity and was walking his dog before he went to bed. When I told him the situation with Mistral and Braveheart’s cygnet he immediately said he could help in the afternoon, I breathed a sigh of relief and we parted arranging to meet at 2.30 p.m.
I rang Sandy to see if she was available and was quite relived when she said she was as well her husband Gary. At long last 2.30 p.m. arrived I rang Steve to check that everything was still ok, thankfully it was. We all arrived at the dyke, the canoe was duly taken from the top of my car and we advance down towards the dyke discussing how we would capture him. Steve got in the canoe and I decided we needed someone over on the channel that goes through to the Hammerton pond. Gary offered to go and we waited while he got round there, which is a bit of a trek. I watched him arrive at the channel and position himself. Steve had gone to find the Cygnets and split them from their parents. I was worrying so much as I knew we must not fail. I asked Sandy to look after Steve’s daughter Lauren. It was no good it was just instinct I had to go round to the channel, as Gary to my knowledge had never caught a swan before. I yelled for Steve to give me time and ran as fast as I could, through the narrow pathway catching my leg on brambles as I went. I arrived out of breath got to the opposite side of the channel, I threw the swan hook to Gary as he was up high on the bank and may need it. He armed himself, with the hook while I crouched down low near the entrance from the channel to the Hammerton pond. The water in the channel was low and there came a point where the cygnets would for a brief moment have to get out of the water and walk a couple of feet before reaching the deeper water of the Hammerton pond where they would be able to swim.
Suddenly Gary whispered he could see them coming. They were on their way to be with Freedom just as I thought they would. As the first one came into sight Gary slightly moved his hook I mouthed quietly to him not to move. The first cygnet looked at him and was deciding whether to turn round but then decided Gary was not a threat and continued on not seeing me slightly ahead. We counted quietly to ourselves as the first one stood up out of the water and walked towards the deeper water of the Hammerton pond. Then came number two followed by number three and four finally our injured cygnet was in sight. Numbers one and two had already started to go through the reeds into the pond followed by three and four. I motioned to Gary to wait and suddenly our injured cygnet stood up. He started to walk slowly towards the deeper water. I moved with one quick movement with only one thought in my head that I could not afford to miss capturing him if he was to have any chance of survival. Suddenly he was in my hands and lifted out of the channel. Gary moved at the same time to help me up the bank. We stopped at the top, not believing how lucky we had been; to catch him with out stressing him in anyway was just to brilliant for words. We started back to join the others, Gary helping me over a deep ditch and keeping the brambles away from the cygnet. As we came in sight of the dyke Sandy and Steve’s daughter Lauren spotted us and started running towards us overjoyed we had caught him. I couldn’t see Steve, but my first thought was to get the cygnet to my car. Once we got there Sandy helped to get a pillowcase with the corner cut off over his head to secure his wings. While I held him Gary prepared the injection of antibiotics and vitamins, once I had administered this his legs were then tied back with a stocking to prevent him standing up and hurting himself. While this was all going on Steve turned up with the canoe and I thanked him profusely. He had done a fantastic job of quickly separating them from their parents and driving them towards the Channel then blocking the entrance to stop them coming back. I could have kissed them all for doing such a wonderful job without to much stress to the cygnets; I rang Sue immediately to tell her we had got the cygnet. Once the canoe was on the car, I drove home to transfer him to a large cage. Sue phoned to say she had informed the vet Ben Bennett we were on the way, and to tell him what the cygnet had been given in the way of medication and to inform him of the best anaesthetic to use on the cygnet.
Then it was off to pick up Sandy on our way to Ben’s Practise at Colchester keeping plenty of air flowing through the cage so he was not stressed too much, stopping on the journey to check he was alright. We arrived at the Colne Valley practise and after checking to see if they wanted us to bring the cygnet into the waiting room, which they did. We finally got into see Ben and the cygnet was removed from the cage for Ben to look at. The news was not good. We finally with much reluctance parted from the cygnet leaving him in the very capable hands of Ben and just prayed everything would go well. All we had to do now was wait. We journeyed home with our conversation full of the poor injured cygnet.
The following morning down at the dyke I apologised to Mistral, Braveheart and the cygnets for removing one of their family. I always feel so dreadful taking a swan or cygnet away from their families so I gave them an extra feed. When I reached home Sue rang to say that Ben was operating on the cygnet this morning, I rang Sandy to let her know and promised I would call when I had more news. It was in the afternoon when Sue rang again saying before you ask the cygnet has come through the operation and is round from the anaesthetic and has stood up. The vet will not release him to Sue until Wednesday, as it was an extremely bad injury. An abscess had developed where the oesophagus had been torn by the hook, which then grew and pushed the hook to the outside of the cygnet’s neck. The neck was also impacted with food, which was rotting as it was unable to pass down to be digested, he was a very lucky cygnet another day and he would not have made it. I phoned Sandy, Danny, Steve and Janet with the good news.
The following Tuesday afternoon Sandy and I took a trip to Sue’s place at Salcott, near Tiptree to see our brave cygnet, which we have named “Wonder”. The reason he has been named this is because it’s a wonder he is alive. Wonder has had one stitch removed to act as a drain just in case the abscess still needs to drain; it should have the others removed in a few days time. He is a really lovely cygnet but is a little bit down at the moment. I am sure he is missing his family but he will not be able to return to them as it’s to long now and they would reject him.
I am working out some posters to try and make people and youngsters aware of the dangers to swans and all wildlife when they leave their fishing-line, hooks, plastic-bags and rubbish lying around.
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