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Injured cygnet gets new life thanks to the Marines

Bob Schauer and Dick Arones walk gingerly on thin ice to herd an injured trumpeter swan to a cage. (Submitted photo)

There's a military adage that when the going gets rough, you send in the Marines to do the heavy lifting.

An injured trumpeter swan unable to make the winter migration from Lake Hattie, northwest of Pine River, owes his new life to those brave men. For purposes of this story, we've dubbed him Jarhead.

The male cynget was shot by a hunter last fall and began to deteriorate. He was unable to leave the lake.

"We noticed his wing was just hanging so I did bring corn down there and he did eat the corn," said animal lover and former Humane Society worker Jeanette Schauer.

Jarhead's flock, when it was time to fly south, put up a ruckus trying to get him into formation.

"You could hear all the squawking out there like maybe they were trying to get it to go with them," Schauer said.

He stayed put.

Worried lake residents began discussing Jarhead's plight, but the lake was freezing over more quickly than the bird could recover. It headed to deep waters to guard against predators, but also out of reach of food.

"The lake people were gingerly walking out on the lake to get him," Schauer said.

But it got to the point where a rescue on the semi-frozen lake seemed too dangerous.

"Nobody wanted to brave that thin ice," Schauer said. "I don't blame them. I wondered if that was a good idea myself."

Husband Bob Schauer, a retired Marine, and Marine buddy Dick Arones went out into a boat after a neighbor offered a very large cage and the men rounded up some snow fencing.

"They followed the swan very, very slowly," Jeanette Schauer said of the mission. "You could tell he was pretty weak. He wobbled along."

The Marines ensnared the cygnet eventually and got Jarhead back to shore. They'd already planned where to take him, the only place in Minnesota that accepts injured wildlife.

That was to Dr. Deb Eskedahl, owner of the Garrison Animal Hospital and Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

There, Dr. Deb, as she's known throughout the state, discovered Jarhead's broken wing had calcified and needed amputation. It couldn't be set or healed.

Eskedahl also had other swans at the center, so when Jarhead was able to travel, the swans were transported to Clear Lake, Iowa, to participate in the Iowa DNR's swan restoration project.

"He's doing all right, doing well," said restoration coordinator Ron Andrews this week.

"We started this project in 1995 so we've been at it a decade and a half," Andrews said. "Our initial goal was 15 free-flying wild pairs and we're up to 40 now so we feel good about that. We have such a minimal amount of habitat compared to Minnesota.

"Our wetlands, we lost over 95 percent of that due to drainage and agricultural use," Andrews said.

But the program has resulted in 1,000 swans being released into the wild.

"Because he was young and healthy he got to go to this breeding program," Jeanette Schauer said of the Iowa program. "Otherwise there wouldn't be too much for him since he can't fly. I was pleased to know there was something like that out there."

"This thing took on a life of its own," Andrews said of his program. "People wanted to jump on the swan bandwagon and help us out and some wanted to have their own pair of swans and were willing to fence off a pond so they wouldn't wander off.

"They were willing to feed the birds, provide an aeration system to keep the water open so we developed about 55 partnerships over the years," he said.

Jarhead can currently be seen swimming on the Interstate 35 rest area pond 3 miles north of Clear Lake. He remains with the other Garrison swans.

"They will go to our Prairie Pond site by the first of June or earlier which is located along Highway 20 about 7½ miles west of Webster City, Iowa," Andrews said.

"At that site they will be with several other permanently flightless swans to establish pair bonds for future partnership production pair sites."

"He was just one of the lucky ones," Jeanette Schauer said.

But her happiness is tempered by the circumstances that led to Jarhead's trip south.

"It's not hard to tell a swan from a goose from a duck," she said. "Whoever is hunting needs to know it's against the law to shoot them."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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