April was quieter at WBR with only 30 rescues attended and 3 releases.
It was a very good month for the ibis; a species that bears the brunt of fishing line entanglements. They were largely spared during April, only two birds needing to be caught and treated, both in Nerang. But don’t think that means I’m going to spare you from pictures of manky ibis feet. Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy.
So, here’s the first pic (below right). You can see a distinct difference between the bird’s healthy left foot and it’s maimed right foot with toes strangled by fishing line. Fortunately the injury is not as bad as it looks. The bird will lose it’s central toe but that’s the only one seriously affected.
There was nothing more I could do to help the creature; the fishing line having already cut right through the bone. I left the remaining line on to allow that middle toe to come off naturally over the next week. It meant a few more days of suffering for the bird but would ensure a clean and safe amputation with little chance of infection. Ibis are tough … real tough, and they hate captivity, so I only take them to hospital when the need is dire. They also hate to be called ‘Sweety’. Just thought I’d add that.
The second ibis was a much trickier catch. Caller Shirley had seen the bird limping. On closer inspection she noticed fishing line around its foot. Doesn’t matter what the species, three out of four birds that are limping will have an entanglement of some kind causing pain when they walk. Mostly the offending material is fishing line but smaller birds (pigeons, pee wees) often become tangled in cotton thread or human hair.
Shirley feeds the other birds that come into her yard but chases away the ibis. However, because this bird was injured she encouraged it to hang around and called Wildcare who passed the call on to me; WBR being a specialist ‘flight capable’ capture service. It took two trips to Nerang to secure the creature. The first attempt was unsuccessful but allowed me to get the measure of the bird. Next time I had him sussed and set up a crafty snare with the line running from Betty’s garden in through her back door right into the lounge room. I always marvel at elderly folk who let you do nearly anything as long as it helps the bird. And help it we did … had our hands on the little snapper within minutes.
There was a lot of line but fortunately the entanglement was in its early stages. This is the ideal time to catch a bird, before that line tightens and begins to cut off toes or feet. It was quickly removed and the creature released, none the worse for wear.
Another little fellow called in from Casacade Gardens by Alex and Adele had broken the tip off his beak and couldn’t be saved. The option of shortening the bottom beak to match the length of the broken-off top beak was discussed with CWH Head Vet Dr. Mic Pyne, but his concern was that it might sentence the bird to a life of agony. Ibis use their beak to dig underground for bugs (other than when they’re stealing snaggers from picnickers). Mic explained that the tip has a bundle of very sensitive nerve endings which allow them to locate those bugs. Shortening the tip could expose those nerve endings resulting in a miserable life.
The 3 new Tackle Bins at The Spit are performing well. Their job is to collect discarded fishing line; the very stuff that entangled the two ibis above. Kellie Lindsay’s figures show that since installation 9 weeks ago those 3 bins have collected 4500 meters of fishing line which would otherwise be laying on the ground. For now I remain the major contributor of discarded tackle due to my regular clean-ups in the area, but hopefully an increasing number of fishers will use the bins as they become more familiar. I know that members of the public, fed up with finding fishing line laying everywhere, appreciate the bins and are using them.
Unfortunately Tackle Bins can’t adress the problem of hooks and line that breaks off underwater and are lost (pic below). That tackle is irretrievable, except by divers or dredging.
The spiders web of fishing line wrapped around rocks on the ocean floor in popular fishing areas like The Spit would, if it could be miraculously lifted up and displayed in a public park for all to see, result in an immediate outcry and demands for action. Luckily for fishers that lost tackle is conveniently ‘out of sight and out of mind’, visible only to those who don a mask. That doesn’t make it any less of a threat to creatures living in the ocean. This problem can only be addressed by drastic changes in fishing practices, or by not fishing at all.
Tackle Bins address a different problem, namely line which is carelessly dropped on land, usually while a fisher is re-rigging. There’s far less of this than tackle lost underwater, however discarded line is a huge threat to native wildlife, especially to foraging birds. Dropping fishing line, hooks, filthy bait bags and other paraphernalia is littering, pure and simple. What most fishers don’t know is that dropping line, especially line with hooks attached, is guaranteed to entangle birds that come into the area searching for fish bait and other scraps, just like our two ibis above. In fact Wild Bird Rescues came into being 12 years ago solely for the purpose of catching hooked and entangled birds, most of which are still ‘flight capable’ despite their injuries. To date the number I’ve rescued approaches 2000.
How bad is littering with unwanted tackle? That figure of 4500 meters collected from one area in just 9 weeks says it all. It’s quite common for me to pick up single lengths of discarded line that exceed 50 meters. Pretty scary when you think it only takes half a meter of light-weight fishing line to entangle a small bird. One meter is enough to entangle a swan or a pelican.
There isn’t much that fishers can do to stem the loss of tackle underwater or the effect it has on sea creatures, but they have complete control over what they do with unwanted tackle on land. When dropped on the ground it goes on killing. Put simply they need to ‘man up’ and drop it in a bin. The signage on Tackle Bins is one way to get across the message about the danger of discarded line. The presence of bins is also a reminder to fishers of their responsibilities, while providing handy receptacles for them to use.
Happily, during the past 9 weeks, I haven’t had to catch a single entangled bird at The Spit. Not one. Diligent collecting of discarded line has meant the ibis, scrub turkeys, gulls, maggies, pigeons and other species have all been spared the horror and pain of slow amputation.
The pic above left shows my haul from yesterday morning … about 120 meters of mixed nylon line and braid picked up from the ground along the kilometre of Seawall at The Spit. But compliance is still lacking as evidenced by the pic at right with an arrow pointing at 8 meters of fishing line dropped right in front of a Tackle Bin (the word ‘Tosser’ comes to mind). That discarded fishing line was a land mine in waiting for any bird unlucky enough to walk across it.
Please pick up all fishing line and hooks wherever you find them. Remember to wrap the line into a tight ball and tie it off before binning, or incinerate it with a lighter, that way it can’t go on catching birds and other wildlife when it gets to the rubbish tip.
The cormorants got hammered during April. Don’t know why. I attended 4 sick cormis but sadly most died. I’m wondering whether the recent major weather event stirred up something toxic in the water.
We can’t afford to lose those birds in such numbers because there simply aren’t that many of them. Being underwater hunters only adds to the cormorant’s plight because they’re prone to grabbing ‘soft plastic’ fishing lures while being retrieved by fishers. One cormorant I caught a while ago (at left) threw up 3 soft plastics in my car on the way to hospital. Another poor thing that was x-rayed in hospital had 6 hooks in its gut. The whole business is very distressing.
Occasionally I’m asked to release birds after treatment in Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. This time it was a shearwater. At the beginning of each winter these amazing little fellows embark on a 30,000 kilometre round trip which will take many of them from our southern shores up along the eastern Pacific Ocean, then across the top past the Aleution Islands and back down the west coast of the USA, before crossing the Pacific mid-point on their return to the Antipodes (that’s us). Believe it or not some cover that entire distance in just 6 weeks (I feel exhausted thinking about it). Needless to say many come to grief. Weaker birds quickly succumb to weather events or an absence of food, or both. In some years more than a thousand shearwaters have stranded on our beaches … and that’s just here on the Goldie. The hospital feeds up and releases all robust birds, but unfortunately this represents only a very small percentage of shearwaters that founder. Weaker birds are not released because they have no hope.
Sadly one of the biggest preventable threats to shearwaters and other seabirds is plastic. Autopsied shearwaters are regularly found with a gut full of plastic pieces. It might be one of the most useful materials ever invented but now it’s choking our oceans and killing birdlife. Plastic is everywhere in oceans and waterways and often mistaken for food by birds, fish, turtles and whales. It doesn’t biodegrade; instead plastic, in its many forms, persists in the environment for decades. By the time our grandchildren become adults they’ll be lucky if any seabirds are left … the problem is that serious.
My method for shearwater release is simple. Take ’em up to the highest cliff and chuck ’em off. I prefer this to an on-water release. It’s important to give the birds 10-15 minutes to acclimatise to the release site … then they’re good to go. The little bloke (above right) is peering over the edge of the 30 meter cliff at North Burleigh Headland and probably thinking, ‘you sure about this? Looks a bit high to me.’ I assured him that weather conditions were right and he’d been cleared for take-off. Next thing he found himself jettisoned into the air (at left) and heading for Vladivostok. Let’s hope he makes it.
Tony Demorier, a long-time supporter of Wild Bird Rescues, called to say the female swan from the pair that recently nested in Pizzy Park, Mermaid Waters, was lame. I asked him to keep the bird around with a little food and said I’d be there in a jiffy.
She was indeed limping badly. We couldn’t see any obvious cause and so it was off to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. It’s always distressing taking a swan from its mate, but what can you do? Without treatment the creature might remain in pain and could deteriorate and die. We had to hope the male would hang around and wait for her. Usually they do, but as yet we had no idea how long that wait would be. Issues like this can take months to resolve and you can’t expect a bloke to wait forever.
Luckily x-rays showed no serious problems with her foot or leg. The bird, now known as Speckles due to white flecking on her head, was placed on medication. The treatment was very successful and 10 days later she was walking well. I called Tony and asked him to locate the male. He found the bird on the lake at Pizzy Park but by the time I got there with Speckles he was nowhere to be seen (welcome to wildlife rescue). We released Speckles anyway, confident they’d find each other, which they did the next day.
We were very happy that Speckle’s had a good outcome because the pair experienced tragedy two weeks earlier in the big floods when they lost their nest and eggs just a week shy of hatching. Tony sent me the picture at right showing the pair already engaged in building a new nest.
Thank you to everyone who supports Wild Bird Rescues, especially regular donors and our patron Jim Downs, plus Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee. Your generosity means there’s always help available for sick or injured birds on the Gold Coast, most especially the ‘flight capables’. If not for this rescue service many of those birds wouldn’t get caught. We can’t save them all of course but we save most and get them back into the air where they belong.
Poultry Slave and President