Saturday, February 16, 2013

Swan Sexting

Mr. Arnold has a pond. E-I-E-I-O.
And on this pond he has some swans. E-I-E-I-O.

My old fishing buddy Arnold lives just up the road. Arnold has made many improvements to his home over the years, the neatest one being the digging of a pond out back. Arnold and I have spent many a pleasant evening sitting on his patio, sipping spookers, while watching a variety of birds come in; Green Herons, Great-white Egrets, song birds, and of course, Canadian Geese.  The geese began making daily appearances. At first, it was kind of cool to sit and watch the big birds come swooping in, honking and carrying on, making dramatic splashdowns in the water. But the novelty faded as the goose population grew. Then they began laying eggs.  Arnold had a problem and we all know what that problem was don’t we? Yep, goose poo.  There was poo around the pond, there was poo on the grass, poo on the sidewalk, and poo on the driveway. Everywhere the goose traveled, he left a stinky trail behind.
All manner of deterrents–short of the lethal ones–were tried in an attempt to discourage the rampant homesteading. Nothing worked for long. That’s when Arnold heard about swans and how territorial they are. A pair of swans would drive off the geese–or so went the theory–and wouldn’t they be pretty; swimming around so elegantly, displaying their beautiful feathers for all to see? Immigration problem solved.  Good photos ops too.
The search began and as luck would have it, a mated pair of mute swans was located within a few hours’ drive. The birds took to their new digs immediately, paddling round and round in quiet contentment. Eagerly, Arnold and I watched the skies for the return of the geese. What would happen? Would there be blood and broken wings? Would something like an avian gang fight break out leaving the lawn covered with feathers lost in battle? Not exactly. It was more on the lines of, “Hey boys, come on down. There’s room for everybody. Want a beer?”
Oh, there were a few brief skirmishes, head down, feathers up kind of charges, but no actual contact. By all appearances, a treaty was drawn up and home turf established. “You guys take the north side and we’ll hang around the end nearest the house and the shade tree.”
Time passes. Mated swans do what mated swans do; they mate. Then there were eggs. Then there were baby swans, cygnets they're called, four of them. Three grew to adulthood. The fourth disappeared in the night, fate unknown. So now, in addition to the throngs of Canadian Geese, the swan population has jumped to five. Arnold insists he does not need or want five swans. Ads in various forms of media went out with a couple of interested parties responding. But there was a catch; the potential buyer’s wanted to be sure of the sex of the birds, a male and female preferable. So, which of the five are boys and which are girls? Arnold had no clue.
The male swan, called a “cob”, has no external genitalia. The female, called a “pen”, hides her privates as well. (Who comes up with these names?” The Internet sites are of little help, most citing the difference being the size of the black knob at the base of the bill with the male’s being slightly larger. The thickness of the neck can also be an indicator, or so they claim. In real time, with five birds bobbing on the water, it’s a tough call. But Arnold has a plan.
“It’ll be a two-man job,” he says.  “I’ll use my shad net to catch ‘em. Then you’ll put a hood over their head and hold them while I part the feathers, do the exam, and tag ‘em.” How did I get involved in this?
I agree to the strategy, but only under the condition that Arnold mixes up a pitcher of margaritas for a little liquid courage before we begin. The plan seems simple enough. What could possibly go wrong?
The details are being finalized as we speak. I see this as the historical reenactment of the Okie’s famous last words. “Here, hold my beer and watch this.”




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