We really didn’t expect today’s (5th January) rescue to be quite so difficult. The call came in late afternoon the day before, and related to two still very brown cygnets in a reene (spelling as per Avon and Somerset!), which runs parallel to a busy road linking Weston St. Lawrence (western outskirts of Bristol) and a major industrial estate in Avonmouth, and separated from it by a narrow strip of rough grass. Nearby is a gypsy encampment …. It seems several times motorists had been seen to stop and move the cygnets off the road but all too frequently, they just drove around them.
When we arrived the birds were on the grass, but much closer to the water than to the road – already, we feared the worst, unless of course, they recognised bread as food. We were right to be fearful; these were two very wild cygnets, and they clearly realised something was ‘up’ even as we got out of the car. Worse still, the content of the reene was quite disgusting – the quality of the water was highly questionable, and with litter comprising squashed drinks containers, tin cans, dirty rags etc. etc. and by probing it was obvious there was a very thick layer of very soft sediment on the bottom; our rescue options were becoming increasingly limited by the minute. Finally, the combination of the steepness of the bank and the width of the reene meant we were just not able to reach either of the birds, even with a fully extended crook. We should also point out the other incentive not to do anything foolish was that, while it had actually stopped raining, it was very cold with a strong wind from the north west.
We decided we needed to ‘persuade’ these two small birds back along this disgusting ditch to the end where there was a very large clump of reeds and brambles which would impede their movement, and where their view of us would be somewhat limited. By waving our nets behind them we managed to get them into just the position we wanted them and with the crook pushed stealthily through the reeds we managed to catch the smaller of the two and get him wrapped and bagged and into the car very quickly. By this time the second baby had come out of the undergrowth and was paddling back towards the other end of the reene so the struggle to make another capture began all over again.
It was at this point we remembered the original report contained a reference to a small steel bridge over the ditch, and there it was in front of us with the second swan heading for it – one of us managed to reach the middle of it before the swan which was then further encouraged to advance by shaking a net behind it. A few seconds later, and with the aid of the crook, we had succeeded in making our second capture. Somewhat out of breath we returned to the car, and reunited no.2 with his very subdued sibling
We decided these two young swans were not yet old enough to face the big wide world out there and the problems they might face even although from the marks on the backs of their necks, their Dad had obviously thought otherwise. So what should we do? We had three choices; we could take them home to roam our large dishevelled garden and spend their nights in the pond enclosure, we could take them to the National Swan Sanctuary in London or they could go to West Hatch Wildlife hospital near Taunton; it was the last which made the greatest sense. As luck would have it, this worked out very well; West Hatch were holding a lot of swans, two of which were deemed ready for release; this we were able to do by using an alternative route home – via Chew Valley Lake. A satisfactory end to a hard day’s work.