“Then The Lake Froze”
Courtesy of International Bird Rescue & Research
Living in Washington State at sea level, we rarely see snow and ice, if ever. You have to go far into the mountains for that, and even then, we don’t have the best snow in the country for skiing and snowboarding. The temperatures rarely dip below freezing, even in the winter. So, when the lake started to freeze, I didn’t think much of it.
But, it was annoying because the water in front of my dock froze and Prince could not access his feeder. I had to trespass on to someone’s else vacant land and access their dock in order to feed him. But, there was ice there too, and so he couldn’t reach his corn and grain. I had to throw bread 20′ feet out into the water. As I figured out, slices of wheat bread can make pretty good frisbees if you don’t have the plastic kind available.
This went on for about 5 days, but then the temperature dipped into the teens overnight and when I woke up, the lake was frozen solid. I scrambled for the other dock, and there was Prince, swimming in a small puddle of water that was about 3′ feet wide. He was still about 20′ feet away from the shore. The dock was frozen solid and was precarious to even walk on. I kept fearing I’d fall over the edge and wondering what I’d do since I was there all alone.
All I could do was throw bread out to him and most times it wouldn’t even hit his puddle. He’d attempt to stretch his long neck to the slices of bread, and that was hit and miss. He barely got any food because I wasn’t such a good pitcher.
I wrung my hands all day because the temperature was hovering in the twenties and the ice on the lake was getting thicker. I talked to my neighbor JW and we both agreed that Prince wouldn’t last through the night if this kept up. From where her house sat, she could see him swimming in circles in his puddle and she said it was just torturous to watch. We were both so worried and didn’t know what to do.
I contacted some folks on the board of the HOA and they let me know that they had never devised any cold weather plans for the swan, and they reassured me that swans were hearty creatures and could survive such a cold spell. I asked permission to take Prince off the lake with the help of an animal rescue team. The HOA told me that wouldn’t be possible to do. They feared that taking Prince off the lake would frighten him too badly and that he would be injured during a rescue. They told me just to sit tight and keep throwing bread out to him if I could.
Later that afternoon, as the sun was setting, I went to visit Prince again and feed him. His puddle had gotten even smaller. His body was almost completely encased in ice. I stayed there until the sun went down thinking about how to help. When the sun set, I finally went home.
It was about 9:30pm at night, and I had this horrible image pop into my mind. The temperature was dropping again and I feared I would find Prince frozen in the ice in the morning. I burst into tears.
My husband asked me what was wrong and I broke down. I was choking through sobs as I explained how afraid I was for Prince. I had just lost one swan and now the thought of losing another one in such an inhumane way was just awful. I told him I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I was just too upset.
He told me he was going to go break up the ice.
We went downstairs and got one of our battery powered lanterns and we bundled him up. He grabbed a sturdy shovel from the garage and snuck onto the property with the dock located nearest to Prince. He found a row boat there on the bank and launched it into the water.
I opened the windows to look and watch for lantern light. I heard an enormous clanging and banging coming from the ice. The acoustics were such that the racket was reverberating through the entire neighborhood and it sounded like a train wreck.
Pretty soon, I heard some sirens in the distance, and bundled my son and took off to find my husband. I took a back way to access the property and yelled, “I think the Police are coming!!” He got off the lake immediately and we ran home.
We watched from our house as two police cars patrolled the neighborhood and we breathed a sigh of relief when they finally left.
We hoped and prayed that my husband had broken enough ice up around Prince that he wouldn’t be frozen in to the ice during the night.
When I woke up the next morning, I grabbed bread and raced to the dock. I could hardly look.
But, there was Prince, swimming around in his 3′ foot hole again and he was so happy to see me. He raised his wings and made a joyous sound. I threw out bread and he ate very well. My “snow-bird” was safe for the moment.
But, there was still the problem of more plummeting temperatures overnight and no melting for the lake in sight. I was becoming very frustrated and I didn’t know what to do. The lake wouldn’t be melting soon, but the HOA told me that I was not allowed to take the swan off the lake and deliver him to Sue’s rescue center. I was between a rock in a hard place and all I could do was wait it out. I was praying for the weather to break and for the ice to melt, but there was no indication that was going to happen.
Prince’s life was in limbo and each morning I woke up I didn’t know whether or not he’d still be alive.
(Stay tuned for part 8 )
– Sarah Polyakov