Sunday, June 10, 2007

They got the wrong Rupert

WELL-LOVED character on waterfront(below), and mean, tough old bird from Australia (above).

DON'T want you to think this blog has gone all soft, but I was quite pleased this weekend to get a comment from California about my piece on black swans. I was using my pix of a black swan hanging out on the Grand Union canal to discuss the idea of "a black swan" as an unexpected, even unpredictable, occurrence. Or, perhaps some of my friends might suspect, using the discussion of a book on this theme of "black swans" as my excuse to publish my pix of the Black Swan of Alperton.
(see "Birds of a different feather")

Anyway, our West Coast reader writes:- "realize this is a philosophy site as opposed to a bird site, but I couldn't resist -- here in California, not only did we have a black swan suddenly appear, but the freshwater bird appeared in & adapted to saltwater! After 15 years of roaming about, he was adored like a community pet. When he was run over by a boat, there was a large funeral for the bird, reported in the LA Times..."

I'd heard that black swans had made it to New Zealand, but across the Pacific to Califormia? Seems the black bird who became the most famous resident of Newport Beach had an assisted passage before getting loose, as this item from the Orange County Recorder tells:

Friday, September 15, 2006
Newport loses an icon,
The black swan had been the unofficial mascot for Newport Harbor about 15 years.

NEWPORT BEACH – Reports of his demise were common over the years, but this time it's for real – Rupert the black swan, icon of Newport Harbor, has died.
Among many mishaps, Rupert famously survived a drenching with diesel fuel, being snared in the neck by a fishing hook, a dog mauling, and a disappearance during El Niño storms that had locals placing frantic phone calls to police and the press.
Wednesday afternoon, Rupert's luck finally ran out when he was run down by a Harbor Patrol boat responding to reports of a woman's body floating in the water.
Perhaps because of his many ordeals, Rupert was notoriously cantankerous, with a particular disdain for the color red.
"Red he hated, and that's what (color) those Harbor Patrol boats are," said resident Gay Wassall-Kelly, Rupert's unofficial owner, surmising why the swan may have ventured in the boat's path.
His bull-like instincts reportedly led him to harass Junior Lifeguards in red swimming trunks and even charge burning boats.
Despite his temperament, the irascible Rupert endeared himself to locals by responding to his name and sipping fresh water out of open palms.
"He was so feisty but so lovable," Wassall-Kelly said.
Rare in this area for his dark color and for his presence in salt water, which swans do not favor, Rupert is thought to have arrived in Newport Harbor in 1991, possibly after escaping from an owner's cage.
Over the years, his travails made headlines. Local reporters spilled significant ink when the bird was coated with diesel fuel in 1995 and when his black swan "girlfriend," Pearl, died in 2002.
His popularity reached such heights that his image adorned Newport Beach's Rose Parade float this year.
"He was certainly the mascot of the harbor," said Jim Mahoney, owner of Gondola Romance, where Rupert often nibbled fruit and cheese from the hands of patrons.
Harbor Patrol workers always left bread crusts and fresh water for Rupert on the docks.
"It's tragic for us," said Sgt. David Ginther of Orange County Harbor Patrol. "We've cared for this animal for years and years, and here it looks like we were responsible for the animal's death."
Rupert's body was taken to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, where he was a regular patient over the years.
The bird's body was picked up for cremation, and his ashes are to be returned Tuesday. A local Hawaiian outrigger canoe group has offered to lead a ceremony in which the swan's remains will be spread in the harbor or ocean, workers said.
"It's really sad. He was just irreplaceable," said Jamie Pavlat, a center supervisor. "There's no way to get another Rupert."
Contact the writer: 714-445-6683 or

Here's another report:

... rupert the swan... O.C. Patrol Boat Kills Harbor's Black Swan Craft hitting Rupert, a Newport fixture for more than two decades, was on its way to the site where a body was found. By David Haldane, Times Staff Writer September 14, 2006

A Harbor Patrol boat speeding to where a woman's body had been found Wednesday inadvertently ran over and killed Rupert, the black swan of Newport Harbor whose misadventures with fishing lines and burning boats made him a local legend for more than two decades.

The body of the unidentified woman was found wrapped in a blanket and floating off the dock of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club about 4:15 p.m., said Sgt. Bill Hartford, a spokesman for the Newport Beach Police Department. "Right now it's being investigated as a probable homicide," Hartford said. The body was first reported by a dock worker at the club. As police and coroner's examiners began their investigation, harbor denizens — unaware of the woman's death — were mourning the loss of the bird they considered an icon.

"Everybody in Newport Harbor knows him," Elizabeth Barnes, 42, said of the big Australian swan reputed to have once been a pet. Over the years, Rupert's antics attracted notoriety. Velvety-rich black with a bright red beak, the 15-pound bird was known for chasing lifeguards, honking at boaters and causing at least one terrified pair of canoeists to capsize. He was impaled by fishhooks, routinely swam toward burning boats, was nearly strangled by fishing line and once was found near death after coming upon a diesel fuel spill.

Several years ago, Rupert's longtime mate, Pearl, died under mysterious circumstances, prompting locals to initiate a fund drive to buy him a new wife. "He'd been really depressed," Barnes said.

While the papers were reporting on how well-loved Rupert had been, some big bronzed California swimmers and surfers were saying how "mean" the bird was, chasing them out of the water. What wooses!

One thing I noticed. Though Rupert had a name, and a celebrity send off, none of the news reports told us anything about the woman whose body had been floating in the water and whom the patrol boat was going to see what the bird was hit. Not even a name.

The other thing - that Rupert apparently met his unfortunate end because he hated the colour red. Just the sight of it sent him mad, so that he may even have tried to attack the red hull of the police patrol boat, and thus met his demise.

Now I'd been wondering about that name, Rupert. Could they have given it to this swan because by any chance his arrival and settlement in Californian waters put them in mind of another Australian-born immigrant who has come to nest in the United States? He too can be a mean old bird, feeding off the public then snapping at people, and - except when making some more of his fortune in China - is bitterly anti-Red.

Dammit, captain! You squashed the wrong Rupert!

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