Whenever I watch Sara Beth and Diablo glide so effortlessly along the surface of the water, barely making a ripple, feathers, so pure white, glistening in the sun or glowing under moonlight, I can’t imagine a more beautiful or serene sight. Then, as they see me and swim to me, reality sets in. For Diablo is anything but serene!
My first encounters with Diablo were a little on the scary side. We keep our boat alongside the dock in our back yard. I was filled with dread every time I had to climb on board. Diablo refused to let me on or off the boat. My husband finally had to get involved luring Diablo away from the boat so I could hurry on or off.
Diablo treated Sara Beth just as shabbily! He was forever biting her and chasing her. Sara Beth was as terrified of him as I was. She and I certainly had a lot in common in those early days!
One day, Sara Beth just disappeared. Each day I would look for her. I just couldn’t believe she was gone. The first few days Diablo didn’t seem to miss her at all. But, as the days turned into weeks, he became very melancholy. He refused to eat. He even seemed to come to me for sympathy! Each day, I sat on the dock gently talking to him, trying to coax him to eat. Nothing worked.
Ever the romantic, I was certain that Diablo was going to die of a broken heart! I called my girlfriend, Bridget, a veterinarian, for some advice. She told me that it’s not unusual for an “abused” female swan to leave her mate for a while to teach him a lesson. One week turned into two and two into three and still no sign of Sara Beth. I was still consoling Diablo. It broke my heart to see this big, aggressive swan so sad.
Then, out of the blue, Sara Beth returned. At first, she seemed a little hesitant around Diablo, a little wary, almost waiting for Diablo to bite her. But, he didn’t; he seemed to have missed Sara Beth immensely. Once again, it gave me great pleasure to watch them eat at my duck ramp, upending, completely at ease with each other. Unbelievably, and to Sara Beth’s credit, she had transformed Diablo into “her kind of swan” - attentive, caring and non-violent! I guess Sara Beth, in her ladylike way, taught him a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. In fact, it’s been about eight years and I’ve yet to see him behave in any other than a gentlemanly manner with Sara Beth - and even with me!
It’s another story, however, with the Canadian geese in our creek. Each spring as Sara Beth begins to search for her nesting site, Diablo refuses to allow the geese in the water. He spends literally hours patrolling the creek - his beautiful wings raised in attack mode. The geese have also nested alongside the creek for years, so they know exactly how to stay out of his way. Still, Diablo swimming at top speed and in full armament is a sight to behold!
Both Sara Beth and Diablo have come to trust me more each season. Last year, for the very first time, I was privileged to witness their courtship ritual. I cannot adequately describe the beauty and delicacy of their movements, their long graceful necks dipping into the water, splashing water, first one, then the other, then both, until they ultimately tenderly placed their faces together, arching their necks, forming an actual heart. Truly a sight I shall never forget.
Sara Beth and Diablo have also been bringing me their babies at a younger age each year. Last year, I noticed Sara Beth’s wings upraised and rounded in what looked like an awkward position. Closer inspection revealed five little gray heads sticking out from between her wings. I watched her as she gently lowered her body so they could scramble down into the water. And, yes, even she had a baby who didn’t want to leave the safety of his mommy!
A few summers back, one of their cygnets had fishing line wrapped all around him. He was so scared. He was frantically swimming all over the creek, with Sara Beth following him. Of course, the more he swam, the tighter the fishing line became. I was horrified. I called to the swans to come to my duck ramp (“Swans, bring your baby, I‘ll help him“) - hoping all the time that none of my neighbors or my husband heard. I was sure they would have me committed! I could not believe my eyes when Sara Beth and Diablo began pushing the baby to me and up the duck ramp. I had my trusty fishing net and very slowly caught the cygnet and pulled him up the duck ramp. Sara Beth and Diablo were on either side of the ramp intently watching me. I kept waiting for them to hiss at me or get upset, but, they seemed relatively calm (much calmer than I was!). I got the baby on the dock and lifted off a portion of the fish net. Fortunately, I was able to unravel the fishing line and get it all off. I then gave him back to his mommy and daddy. He stayed in the water watching me warily as Sara Beth and Diablo and the rest of their children calmly walked up the ramp to eat their dinner from my corn can. The baby took a few days to come back up to me. Ever since, whenever one of their babies is caught in fishing line, Sara Beth and Diablo bring him to the duck ramp and allow me to help.
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