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Swan rescue succeeds on Middle Pine

Pictured (from left to right) are recsuers Mike Allen, Dan Lindee and Mike Barney, along with the trumpeter swan that the trio pulled from the ice.

Mike and Maxine Allen have one of the most beautiful lake views from their home on Middle Pine, north of Star Prairie.

Each morning when they open the blinds facing the lake they have observed loons, bald eagles, osprey, numerous ducks and geese, and maybe a shy deer drinking along the shoreline. But they especially enjoy the trumpeter swans.

However, their morning pleasure of watching the elegant swans took a nose dive in early December.

As the lake began to freeze the Allens watched almost 40 swans head for the middle of the lake and open water. Each day as the ice closed in on the flock, the count went down as the birds migrated to wintering areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri, or open water on the St. Croix and other rivers.

Finally, only one swan, a mature female remained. And although flying swans called to her, and she answered, the scene from the Allens' window did not change.

The Allens began to worry about this lonely swan as she appeared to be struggling to get airborne -- the assumption being the bird was trapped in the ice. Her 7-foot wingspan was not enough thrust to get her into flight.

The couple started calling wildlife specialists for information on how to save the swan. But it seemed hopeless as they were told that it was too risky to venture out onto the "new" ice, and also that after this length of time (about three weeks) a rescue attempt would be futile as well as dangerous.

Now, the Allens dreaded opening their blinds each morning.

"I couldn't stand it anymore. I was hoping the bird would be gone, or dead and free from its suffering," Mike confessed.

At this point, about three days before Christmas, Mike decided to make an attempt to rescue the swan. Other lake property owners Dan Lindee and Mike Barney joined in.

The three amigos concocted a daring rescue plan: using the longest rope available, Lindee would be front man with rope attached and a huge inner tube behind him. Allen would carry an auger and check the thickness of the ice as they slowly made their way to the swan. Barney was the rope man in case, well, just in case something went wrong.

They experienced the weird sounds that new ice makes, seemingly a warning to those who dare to venture upon it. But the men kept moving.

Since none of the three could be considered lightweights, they wisely kept a distance from each other so as not to over-stress the ice.

And then the moment came: Lindee reached the swan, threw a large net over its head and then wrapped the bird in a blanket. Back on shore they headed out to Barney's horse barn near New Richmond and released the swan for safe keeping through the night.

In the spirit of Christmas, Barney's horse gave up its stall for the night.

At first it appeared the swan might be near death, lying prostrate on the stall floor. But when the rescuers returned after warming up in the house, they were amazed to see how much the swan had recovered.

A few more phone calls, and then a volunteer with the Wildlife Rehab Center in Roseville, Minn., Barry Wallace of Hudson, offered to pick up the swan the next morning. The swan will be treated, blood tests taken, and then a decision made on its fate.

Could this be called a Christmas miracle? Or more appropriately dumb luck in saving one swan?

To the Allens it means they can open their blinds each morning and take in the beauty, not the suffering of one of North America's largest waterfowl.

Just 25 years ago it would have been rare to see a trumpeter swan here. Hunting and habitat loss wiped the birds out of the state in the late 1800s.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began its Trumpeter Swan Recovery Program in 1987 and the trumpeter was removed from the state's endangered and threatened species list in 2009.

Thanks to this program the birds have come back from zero in 1987 to between 1,000 and 1,500 in Wisconsin this year.

A threat to swans is lead poisoning. Due to the recent drought years, water levels on many lakes have dropped. Swans have to dive deeper for their diet of underwater vegetation, and sometimes ingest lead from buckshot and fishing gear still present on lake bottoms.