As forecast, October has been a crazy month for us, so far, and I haven't been anywhere near Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery since we ended our fall walks there on October 3. However, some folks who do get out there every once in a while drop me an occasional email that keeps me in the loop about what is going on out there. The last couple of days, however, the news coming from the hatchery, via Carol Beurkens-Borden, was sad. She walks there almost daily with her dogs, and she wrote yesterday to tell me that the Trumpeter cygnet was sitting on the trail near one of the ponds, and didn't look well at all. She notified the visitor center staff, and, apparently, they were attempting to get help for the sick swan. By the time a wild bird shows signs of illness, however, its condition is usually extremely critical. This certainly applied to the young swan, as Carol found today when she walked that it had died.
We don't often get the chance to see more than the most fleeting moments of a wild animal's life. Getting to see the same individual repeatedly, to watch it almost from hatching, observe how the parents cared for it, and how its behavior changed as it grew almost to full size, is a special, rare opportunity. And to know, not only how the journey began, but how it ended, is even rarer. Most wild things live their lives unknown and unobserved. The Trumpeter cygnet's life was followed eagerly by folks from all over southwest Michigan, and it and its parents probably deserve some kind of recognition as the most photographed individual Trumpeter Swans in Michigan, if not the Midwest. It is easy to slip into our human value system, and say that it wasn't fair that the baby bird we watched grow up didn't survive into independent adulthood. It is easy to say that the parents deserved a better outcome for all their hard work and devotion. But nature has no concept of fairness or fairy tale endings. The vast majority of young things do not survive to their first birthday. It is so sad that the little gray cygnet we all enjoyed so much was a member of that majority. But I feel so fortunate and privileged that I was able to witness the family's story unfold. And I wish the cygnet peace, and better luck the next time around.