Lakeland, Florida -- City Parks and Recreation workers boarded boats Tuesday morning and sped across Lake Morton, zipping and swirling in pursuit of swans.
One worker drove while the other stretched across the bow of the boat, leaning out and angling toward each big bird with an equally big net.
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When people wrangle a big group, they say "it's like herding cats." After watching this hourlong man-vs.-nature race across the lake, for me, that phrase will forever be replaced by "it's like rounding up swans."
We rode on one of two city motorboats. Steve Platt was in charge of swooping and scooping skillfully with a net. Platt insists this is the best day of the year.
"It's rough, it's very rough out there, but it's fun," he said.
Rough for them, but not the swans; Platt and his teammate -- also named Steve -- are ultra-careful with the birds.
"There is a little trick to it. My driver's been involved with me -- we've been together the last seven years -- and it makes it a lot easier when he knows what you're thinking and I know what he's thinking," Platt said.
So what are they thinking -- scooping up all of Lakeland's symbolic swans like this, each year since 1980?
The swans are symbols of the city, so the city government wants to make sure they're healthy.
The 60 or so captured swans were rounded up into holding pens along the edge of Lake Morton.
Then, Wednesday morning, a veterinarian will make a lakeside house call.
"We have a vet come in... who will weigh the birds, will check their health," city spokesman Kevin Cook said.
"Some of the birds that we've rounded up before will have a chip. We'll check their microchip to see what their health records are. They get their annual health checkup."
Dr. Patricia Mattson will also vaccinate the birds against illnesses that may come from a large population of birds living in the relatively small lake.
Once they're declared healthy, the swans will be sent back out to gracefully drift across the lake.
Keeping these beauties healthy is important. The first swans showed up on the city's lakes in the 1920's. They were people's pets.
But they were doomed.
After a few decades, all of them had died off because of attacks by disease, dogs, and alligators.
In the 1950's, a woman from Lakeland who missed the swans decided the city needed new ones.
So she asked for a pair of swans from -- who else? -- Queen Elizabeth II. Why turn to Her Majesty The Queen?
Apparently under some ancient British law, the queen owns all of the swans that live along the Thames River in England.
A member of the royal family arranged for a pair of swans to be sent to Lakeland.
Their descendants and others still swim here happily today.
Grayson Kamm, 10 News