36th annual Lakeland swan roundup underway

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I have caught a cold before, but never a swan. That changed today.

For some reason, Steve Platt, the Lakeland Parks and Recreation guy in charge of the 2016 Swan Roundup, agreed to let me on a boat to go after the target of the morning.

This is the 36th annual swan roundup.  It takes place on picturesque Lake Morton.

On the day one, Tuesday, city employees catch the swans. The following day, local veterinarian Dr. Patricia Mattson and her staff give the swans physicals. They weigh, vaccinate and microchip the birds.

"The Lake Morton swans are a community icon and families have been interacting with the birds for decades," explained Bob Donahay, director of parks & recreation.  "It is very important to us to make sure our Lakeland flock is doing well so we schedule the swan roundup each year with the primary purpose to check on the health of our birds." 

Dr. Mattson, and the folks who preceded her, Dr. Geoffrey Gardner and his dad, Dr. Wade Gardner, provide their services for free.

This year, the goal was to catch close to 70 swans to get them ready for their physicals on Wednesday.

"The swans are consuming too much white bread and the heavy gluten diet, with very little nutritional value, is taking a toll on Lakeland's swan population,"  Dr. Mattson offered.  "Many of the swans have a calcium deficiency because they feast on bleached white bread and this is just one of the items that will be reviewed during the swans' annual health checkup."

I got onto the boat, laid on my stomach, and held a big fishing net in my right hand. In an instant, I was zipping across the water. There ahead, floating peacefully was the target -- a beautiful white mute swan.

As we got closer, the swan realized something was up and began to swim faster and faster away from the rumble of the rumble of the motor. As we closed in, thinking I would never pull this off, I try to net the swan, and to my amazement, I did. It was quite an adrenaline rush.

With instruction, I grabbed the massive bird, carefully keeping its wings and big floppy feet from breaking loose of my grip. When we got back to shore, I put it into a holding pen where it will stay until tomorrow.

That's when the real fun will begin. An assembly line of workers will take each swan one by one to the vet who will weigh it, take a blood sample, and record the findings.

After that, Lakeland's most loved residents are good for another year.