Sunday, October 14, 2007

If you go out in the woods tonight……

I was walking in the bog during a pelting rain, long after sunset, and came upon what I could only interpret as a bag of laundry floating about a foot above the trail. I asked, a bit nervously, "What are you?"

A white neck shot up several feet, and it hissed. Then the laundry bag lurched sideways and bustled into the undergrowth. I was alone again in the rain, pondering another strange bog moment. A trumpeter swan, not a species one would expect to encounter in a thick forest, had been sleeping in the middle of the trail with its head tucked into its wing, probably standing on a single black leg.

Early in the previous century trumpeter swans were very rare, approaching extinction, but a ban on hunting and other measures allowed their populations to rebound. They still face challenges, however. Many die from collisions with high tension wires. Others succumb to lead poisoning after ingesting lead pellets remaining in the mud of shallow ponds, the residue of decades of hunting.

This one must have landed in a ditch at the bog and for whatever reason entered the trail, to become lost in the forest. Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America and among the heaviest birds capable of flight. A bald eagle with a 7-foot wingspan weighs all of 8 to 10 lbs. A trumpeter swan with the same wingspan can weigh 30 lbs or more. Like an airliner, such massive birds must run across a span of ground or water to generate sufficient lift to become airborne. It found no straight runway to take flight, so wandered, then fell asleep.

Several mornings later it was found dead beneath a hemlock tree, killed by something, perhaps a coyote or great-horned owl. Having evaded the man-made dangers of high tension wires, lead pellets, hunters unable to distinguish swan from goose and who knows what else, this individual had made a fatal mistake. It went for a walk in the woods.

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