If you at all superstitious, you could be forgiven for being thankful 29th February occurs no more frequently than once every four years; to assess the significance of this opening remark, just read on, but suffice to say, to have a plan in place for any particular day is often sufficient of itself to put the mockers on it!
The central plank in the plan was to treat an elderly relative who lives just outside Swindon to lunch out – something which had been promised since before Christmas, but which, for a whole variety of reasons had been put off, re-planned and postponed again. Once again, today was to be the day. A secondary objective was to give one of our cars a bit of a run – it was short of a decent run in some months, so that seemed like a good thing to do. As it turned out, this too was a bad mistake because this car does not routinely carry any swan rescue equipment.
Anyway, to start at the beginning, things seemed to be going reasonably well, with mundane routine stuff being sorted; a cheque to pay into the bank, specs to be adjusted and a hearing test negotiated successfully. There was a little ‘background noise’; a call about a potential bat problem (yes, we also deal with bats), out towards Chepstow, and a report of a poorly duck at Cardiff Bay Yacht Club, which we were able to ask Vik to deal with. So, having deliberately slowed down a bit in order not to arrive in Swindon too early, a leisurely coffee was taken. That done, we headed for the motorway. Before we got there, the phone rang – almost always the harbinger of bad news, and this was no exception. The Police and Network Rail had been on to report a problem at Magor involving two swans on the railway line, and, sadly, a passing train.
Configured as we were at that particular moment was not ideal – not dressed appropriately, and with no equipment, so the first step was to assess the situation as quickly as possible, and so to Magor, now in convoy. It was quickly apparent one of the two swans had been killed instantly, and Network Rail would assume responsibility for removing the remains from the track. It took us a little time to locate the surviving mate, but Len, our local contact helped us out. At Magor, there is a reen which passes from the village, under the railway line before running south parallel to Whitewall; this was where we found the swan. At this stage it was not possible to see if she was hurt, and if so, how badly; there was a certain amount of blood which was coming from damage to her beak. However, what was clear was there was an urgent need to catch her; time now for a rapid reorganisation!
Return to base, change into ‘dirty’ rescue clothes and switch cars; a concern we did have was that while we were away, the injured swan could be lost – worst case scenario would have been for her to escape under the railway line. Against this possibility, Len and a couple of his friends stayed around, and would, if necessary have taken steps to prevent her from going far.
As it turned out, we need not have worried; when we arrived back in Magor, the swan was resting quietly in the reen. The only trouble was the depth and steepness of the bank, but we managed to overcome this by careful use of a swan hook, notwithstanding a dense fresh emergence of stinging nettles on the bank!
Having caught the bird, there were no further decisions to be made; our next stop would automatically be the National Swan Sanctuary at Shepperton. In such dire situations, we always phone ahead; this ensures there is a reception party, and consequently there is no delay in starting treatment.
The assessment of the state of the swan showed, in addition to the beak injury, a broken left ankle and a deep penetrating wound to the lower right side of the abdomen. Pain relief and antibiotics were administered right away as usual, after which she was put in a pen with a couple of other casualties, to await the arrival of the vet, later that evening. In herself, she seemed bright and quite perky – was even able to walk quite well in spite of her broken foot.
The bird was operated on that evening – a lengthy and fairly bloody procedure; the main concern being to attend to damage to air sacs. The operation went well and the report the following morning suggested she was on the way – albeit it would be very slow – to making a good recovery. Sadly, we received a call a day later to say the swan died around 5.00 a.m. that morning. It had become necessary to carry out some further surgical work, because the injury was so severe, and we have to assume it all proved just too much.
Incidentally, on the way home from Shepperton, there was a report telling us a swan had become tangled in fishing tackle at Tredelerch Lake off Lamby Way in Cardiff, so that too had to be attended to before we could bring down the curtain on another traumatic day.
See what we mean by the jinxed nature of 29th. February?