If you have rescued swans for any length of time, quite quickly you accumulate a list comprising a number of places you have to visit more frequently than others; we tend to call them ‘black spots’. One such place is Bute East Dock in Cardiff, which we usually refer to as Atlantic Wharf. The point about this place is that there is only one point in its whole perimeter, and indeed in the adjacent canal system where catching a distressed swan is fairly easy; and that is the slip way in the car-park to the nearby Wharf public house. In fact it is very rare to have a choice where a rescue is to be carried out, but on this occasion, we tried, and succeeded in ‘engineering’ it this way. In the event, it was actually very easy, because, the family, being ‘urban’ swans knew all about bread as a food item.
This particular rescue began with a call from an employee at County Hall indicating one of the three cygnets was seriously distressed with fishing line trailing from his beak – line which from a distance appeared then to be wrapped around a wing, and he was struggling desperately to free himself. It took at least an hour before we could get there starting with the approach to the dock just to the rear of County Hall. As you would expect, Sod’s Law saw to it that the swans were on the far side of the dock, but were coming our way – but not to our preferred ‘beaching’ area! So, we drove back to the Wharf pub, by which time, again, according to the precepts of Sod’s Law, the swans were all close in around County Hall, that is, where we had been five minutes earlier!
The day was one of those when it really felt like winter had arrived with a cold lazy wind from the east, and so getting really wet – really really wet – was not an option. Hence the absolute necessity of trying to get the tackled cygnet to the slipway. Our bread supply was low having, between us, just over half a loaf already broken up into small pieces. Equipped with just over half of this, I set off, already having lost contact with one of my fingers due to the cold, to walk back towards County Hall. As it turned out, I had to pass this building and continue across the southern end of the dock. Two cygnets were quite close in, and with the aid of binoculars, they seemed to be free of tackle; the third one was much further out, and definitely a bit listless. For a few moments, it looked as if this plan was going to fail. I decided to go back to the car, hoping to entice the whole family to follow me with some precious crumbs of bread. Once I had re-passed County Hall, the swans – all five of them – came in really close to take the very few morsels I offered them. By now they were near enough for me to see which cygnet was carrying the line. I accelerated up the dock side, throwing just the odd bit of bread over the edge every few yards – just enough to keep them interested. This continued all the way to the start of the canal system, and the small basin in which the slip way is located.
After that, it was very straightforward – well the capture was – but removing the line which totalled just under 8 metres altogether, was a different story. With both of us kneeling beside him on the very hard and cold concrete it took about 10 minutes in total to disentangle him. He was an amazing cygnet. Having been caught he stayed quietly between us and didn’t struggle at all; it was as if he knew we were trying to help him. Now and again he made little calling noises to his family waiting patiently on the slipway only a few yards away and neither adult appeared at all concerned at what we might have been doing to one of their babies. As with the cygnet we believe they knew we were there to help him. Eventually, we managed to unravel him by following the line coming from inside his beak, carefully unwinding it several times from around one leg and, worst of all trying to remove the majority of it from his left wing without damaging his feathering. We were concerned there could have been a hook on the end of the line he had swallowed as it was impossible to pull it free and to force it could have caused damage to the oesophagus. As we released our hold on him he got up, shook himself and waddled down the slipway to be greeted by the rest of the family. To make sure there were no ‘hard feelings’ we fed them our last remaining bits of bread which they gobbled up as if nothing had happened.