Things were hopping again in April, and I don’t just mean the ibis … although there was plenty of that too. In total WBR attended 45 rescues; up considerably on the previous two months but consistent with the annual monthly average.
Everyone’s attention during April was on the Commonwealth Games. It was an exciting time for all Gold Coasters and the many visitors who attended. The rescue service continued to operate throughout the ten day period of the Games with calls coming in at a steady rate. I was lucky enough to enjoy the marathon as it came through Main Beach on the final stretch. We cheered for all competitors but especially for Michael Shelley (at left), the eventual winner, who maintained an excellent pace despite the very warm day.
The Big Race
Of course nothing compares to the excitement of the 100 meter sprint. In the men’s final Gold Coaster’s hopes were resting firmly on the shoulders of local boy Snorkel (pictured at right). Spurred on trackside by adoring fans Snorkel came out of the blocks like a bird possessed. Fellow competitors were left to battle through a cloud of feathers as Snork blitzed the field in 3.6 seconds; a full 6 seconds under world record pace.
It was an epic result, however all hopes of glory were quickly dashed when the video ref spotted someone throwing a hot snagger at the finish line, just as the start gun went off. The use of performance enhancing substances being strictly forbidden meant that Snorkle would never wear gold. In the debarkle that followed track officials were unable to wrestle the snagger away from him. Many felt this was fair compensation for his loss. Everyone knows an ibis would give up gold any day for a tasty sausage.
Seasoned readers are probably thinking … ‘Oh my God, it’s only the first story and he’s started already.’ Yep, stay tuned ’cause there’s plenty more good stuff to come!
That picture of Snorkel wasn’t really taken at the Commonwealth Games. You probably guessed that. In fact it was taken outside Maccas, Southport. Ibis congregate at Maccas for the same reason humans do.
A week earlier Snorkel was seen limping heavily with a typical fishing line entanglement threatening to cut off his toes. Despite several visits I was yet to see him. Then he was spotted one afternoon by Caroline (at left) and her friend Angel. I was returning from a rescue and close by. The girls kept an eye on him until I arrived, ecouraging him to stay around by feeding the occasional chip to several accompanying birds.
Two factors are critical to success when trying to catch a ‘flight capable’ bird.
Firstly, the catcher must know where the bird is. That sounds obvious, but a flighted bird can take to the air at any time and be a kilometre away in seconds. Secondly, the caller will often be asked to feed the bird to keep it around. The important thing is the amount of food. Because a rescuer will use food to manipulate an injured bird into position for a catch, it must still be hungry when the rescuer arrives or it might be uncatchable. Doesn’t matter whether it’s an ibis, a swan, a peli or a pee wee … keeping the amount of food down to a minimum is vital for success.
Our Best Efforts
Speaking of pee wees. The little fellow at right had been a regular visitor behind Stocklands Shopping Centre in Burleigh. At some point he’d walked across a length of braid (non-stretch fishing line) that some genius had dropped on the ground and both feet became entangled. Sadly this is a common fate for pee wees because they spend so much time foraging.
With small species the entanglement is most often cotton or human hair; both equally destructive. With larger species, maggie size and up, the entanglement can sometimes be string or cord but mostly it’s fishing line.
Locating an injured pee wee can be tricky. They flit here and there, sometimes only turning up at a known location once or twice a day and usually at irregular times. Even then they might only stay for a few minutes.
By the time I heard about this little guy the damage to his entangled feet was well advanced. To make matters worse he was hobbled. I headed straight to Stocklands and got lucky, finding him immediately.
Any little bird that has material deeply embedded and signs of infection will often be put to sleep. The infection can quickly run up the legs and invade internal organs making the situation hopeless. However, if there’s any chance we’ll do all we can. I rushed this pee wee to the Gold Coast Vet Surgery where Dr. Kevin (at left) was only too happy to help. Kev painstakingly extracted all the braid from his tiny toes (lower right) then administered a long acting antibiotic and strong pain relief. After that it was back to the shopping center for immediate release.
He was a bit groggy when I arrived at Stocklands but largely free of pain, probably for the first time in a month. He wolfed down a big meal of liver then I found a very secluded posy in direct sun, yet out of sight of the many marauding crows, where he could rest and recover. To my great relief I was told that next morning he looked lively and was back begging food from employees enjoying smoko behind the shopping centre.
Despite our good efforts his problems were far from over. The entanglement had drawn a rear toe forward, locking it into position, meaning that he trod on that bent-under toe with every step … a very uncomfortable situation. It had to come off, but not before he’d recovered sufficiently from the deep cuts and swelling caused by the entanglement. If all went well my plan was to catch him again in about 10 days’ time, then Dr K would remove that pesky toe.
Things looked good for the first few days after release. I’d educated the ‘smoko crew’ about the need to only give him quality food instead of pie crusts and bread. One young lady was buying him meal worms, while a young butcher would bring him a little offal (liver, kidneys etc) … all excellent recovery foods for an insectivore.
Sadly, four days later he’d vanished and hasn’t been seen since. Who knows what happened. He may have moved on, or he may have been taken by a predator, or succumbed to infection. We’ll never know. What I can say is that we did our very best to undo the damage and suffering caused by one thoughtless act … dropping unwanted fishing line on the ground instead of putting in a bin.
Where Do they Come from?
Out of curiosity I did a tally to see where calls to Wild Bird Rescues come from. The results are interesting. I believe they reflect the quality of the service and also my Facebook posts and a great web presence thanks to Paul Luxford, our Donations Committee secretary and principal of Gold Coast Business Websites.
Turns out that most calls during April came directly to WBR from people who already knew about this service, or found it on the net. Direct contact accounted for 25 of the 45 rescue calls during the month. The biggest referrer was RSPCA with 11 calls sent to WBR during April. RSPCA phone operators know to pass all calls involving sick/injured/or orphaned swans or pelis to WBR immediately. They also refer any species of bird that is hooked or fishing line entangled, or entangled in some other material. Currumbin Wildlife Hospital does the same. CWH forwarded 6 calls during April. SeaWorld forwarded 2 and Wildcare passed on 1 call. Every now and then I get a call from a smaller rescue outfit, or the GC Council, or the police.
Please remember, If you need a website, or you plan to upgrade your current site, or if you want training in web design I hope you’ll support our secretary Paul. He designed the WBR website and has provided free hosting and upgrades for years. Paul does a great job. His prices are very reasonable and his work is first class. Couldn’t recommend him more highly. www.goldcoastbusinesswebsites.com.au
The Pointy End of the Problem
Who’d want a serrated beak? Not me, that’s for sure. The poor old darter, with those hundreds of tiny serrations lining the inside end of their beak, are seriously handicapped in my view. Serrations help the birds to secure fish but also readily catch on any and every bit of junk in the water.
Here’s a list of the ‘horrible 8’ that I’ve cut from darter’s beaks over the years. Stocking, kids socks, pantihose, rag, rope, plastic mesh bags, fishing line (especially braid) and industrial fluff (whatever that is) of all types. Once the beak becomes entangled the bird can’t open it’s mouth and can’t eat. My best guess is that they last about 10 days before starving. It’s why I give maximum priority to beak entangled darter (… and because I really like them).
On average I catch half a dozen darter every year. They are bloody hard to catch and it’s something that can only be achieved by an experienced rescuer with time, determination, skill and the right equipment. Thus far my catch rate is 100%; a fact about which I am enormously proud simply because it means all of those beautiful birds, otherwise doomed to starve, got another chance.
The darter above was called in at the end of April. It had been sighted by girls walking at Emerald Lakes. They thought it was a duck. There was thick fishing line wrapped around the top of its beak, near the face. That’s unusual because an entanglement is nearly always caught in the serrations half way along and extending to the pointy end of the beak. Unfortunately the girls went too close, trying to get a better look, which caused the bird to fly away. When I sent them back with food (to attract the ducks) they sent me thorough a picture featuring one of the local cormorants, saying it looked like that. I knew immediately it was a darter.
They’re solitary birds. They’ll occupy a small lake or body of water and defend it to the death from any intruding darter that tries to fish there. Curiously their aggressive behaviour changes when they nest. That belligerent attitude is put aside as they huddle together like best buddies; as many as a dozen nests in one tree (at right). Truly remarkable. Darter chicks are beautiful and look like snow white fluff balls.
Nesting complete they all go back to murdering each other.
It was already late when I arrived at Emerald Lakes and began the search. On dusk I found him, climbing up a tree and preparing to perch for the night. He allowed me to approach very close … probably 5 meters or less, then peered down from his perch. A bird in a tree is impossible to catch. Maybe he knew that. You can’t net them, or blow a net over them from a gun. Simply too many branches and too easy for the bird to move higher or fly away. After eyeing me for 30 seconds that’s exactly what he did … he flew away, the moment I turned my back.
Next morning I resumed the search, this time with new spotter Lyle (at left). He has birding experience and is relentless in his efforts to track down any injured bird. Some hours later Lyle found the darter and called me. I was there within 20 minutes. The creature had hauled out of the water to dry its wings. Our patience produced dividends when it climbed up onto a large rock, presenting a clear net shot. Using a tree trunk for cover I got within 9 meters before stepping out at the last second and firing just as the bird began a dive into the water. The net flew true and seconds later I had the little rascal by the scruff of the neck. That’s a very good place to hold a darter because their other name is snake bird, referring to that long, prehensile neck which allows them to spear fish using their that razor sharp, pointy beak. Several species have a beak like that including herons.
Great care must be taken to fully restrain the neck of such a bird or you can get stabbed in the eye. It’s happened, with fatal consequences. Of course, this isn’t a malicious or aggressive act by the bird. The poor thing is just terrified and doing all it can to free itself and escape.
We quickly cut the entanglement from the darter’s beak. I gave Lyle the honour of release (above). Half an hour later our bird had come ashore again to dry his wings (at right). He looked good and none the worse for wear. The next day Lyle returned to resume the search and ensure that we’d caught the only beak entangled darter in the area (I had some concerns there might be another).
Lyle spotted our creature and texted saying ‘his guts were dragging on the ground’. At first I panicked thinking the poor thing’s entrails must be hanging out. Then I realised he was telling me the creature had been fishing successfully and was looking fat and bloated … the way I look after half an hour in a cake shop!
Slim Pickings Indeed
Don’t you hate taking your car in for service. Sitting around … waiting, waiting. The big problem is that while mechanics are working on my car I can’t respond to any emergency calls that come in. There is one small consolation however. Free biscuits. I know this is a far cry from my usual pictures of delicious cakes which accompanies most reports (OK, all reports). And no, I’m not lowering my high standards. The important point is that these biscuits are FREE … and you can have as many as you want (BIG trap, that one). I suppose when you balance it all out against the high cost of the service … well, maybe they’re not so free after all.
What a Difference a Year Makes
Around mid-April rescue work took me back to beautiful Oxenford Weir, a place where I’ve caught countless hooked and fishing line entangled birds over the years. When I describe it as ‘beautiful’ I’m referring to the weir itself. That’s because the surrounds are an absolute pig sty … or more accurately … they ‘were’ a pig sty. Discarded fishing line lay everywhere along with beer cans, half-full stinking bait bags, cigarette packs, plastic bags and other detritus of all kinds. It was awful to see and an absolute disgrace.
But twelve months ago we installed two Tackle Bins at the weir. Volunteer Steven, tasked with emptying those bins, has done his best to clean up the rubbish. Around the same time a Tradie who regularly visits the Weir took it upon himself to do a clean-up up each week. He’d go forth with his empty sack and pick up all the filth dropped by the grubs. Not only that but he’d get right up anyone he found littering.
When I arrived at the weir this time I was shocked. The transformation of the area, due to the efforts of a few, has been nothing short of amazing. Now it really does look beautiful and stands as a testament to their excellent work. Full marks to everyone involved.
Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap
Dad and the three groms below had taken to slothing around on the lawn alongside a well-used public path at Emerald Lakes. Spotter Lorraine had found and buried the mother swan some weeks earlier after she’d died from unknown causes. So far dad had done a good job raising the kids alone (single swans often end up with this responsibility). However Lorraine noticed that one of the cygnets had only one wing. She called to alert me.
I visited the lake and quickly located the family. Stepping in I grabbed the most likely candidate. Sure enough he had a developing wing on his right side but barely even a stump on the left. The question was … ‘what to do now’.
There really is only two options … put him to sleep, or let things be. The downside of letting him be was that he would never fly. That’s not life-threatening, but it’s seriously life-limiting. In 12 weeks’ time, when they’re near fully grown, dad will transform from ‘loving father’ into the ‘father from hell’, then he’ll attack and drive the three sub-adults out of the territory, reclaiming it for himself and any prospective new partner. Problem is the little bloke with one wing won’t be able to take to the air and escape his father’s relentless attacks. No matter where he goes he’ll be bullied. That’s because most birds are fair dinkum bastards to each other. It’s all part of the pecking order which means young, sick, injured or disabled birds often suffer constant harassment.
If you’re panicking and believe I’m about to implement option one (euthanasia), hold your horses. Don’t run for the phone to demand that I spare his life. Nor should you offer to put him up, all expenses paid, for the rest of his life in the Hilton swimming pool (I know some of you will be considering that!) Fortunately Dr. Mic Pyne from the hospital and myself are both complete wooses, meaning things have to be pretty grim before a young bird is put to sleep … even those with only one arm.
Option two was to let things run its course until he fledged at 20 weeks, at which time the ‘you know what’ will hit the fan as dad attempts to drive the kids away. Just prior to that happening I’d planned to do some serious grovelling and try to secure one of the very rare placings which sometimes come up for disabled birds. That way he could live out his days (15+ years) in a safe environment and in relative peace … maybe.
Turns out that none of this will be necessary because things have gone pear-shaped. A dastardly development has changed everything.
All but one of the family is missing, feared kidnapped.
Emerald Lakes is an enclosed waterway. In other words birds can’t swim out of the place. While it’s not unusual for adult swans with cygnets to walk long distances overland to find a new waterway it’s very unlikely this father did that. Lorraine first raised concerns that the family might have been taken. After 10 days with no sign of dad and the two missing cygs, one of which is the little bloke with only one wing, the possibility of theft is looking increasingly likely.
You might ask … ‘why would someone(s) do that?’ Well, I guess you can’t rule out ‘the dinner table’. However, it’s more likely that a thief has a nice dam somewhere and fancied swans for it. We might never know, but wherever they are lets hope they’re safe. Of course they might still turn up at Emerald Lakes area, however with dozens of people out looking and no sign so far I’m not holding my breath.
For now little Whiskers, the remaining cygnet, is safely ensconced in the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital waterbird’s pool where he’s enjoying the company of young Frodo, a 20 week old sub-adult and Lucy, a much older mother of 5 who I took from her family when she was found emaciated and with damaged feet. My plan is for the hospital to hold Whiskers in the company of those other birds until he’s a little older. Company is very important for cygnets. Later he can go out into care for the remaining 8 weeks until release. That way he’ll enter the wild as a well-adjusted bird.
One look at the creature at right and you’d swear he was dead. But he isn’t. He’s napping and sunbathing just a meter from a busy walking path inside the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. I tell ya, these birds have it far too good!
As I write this report I’ve already completed 22 rescues in the first 11 days of May. With another two thirds of the month still to come it looks like being a busy one.
A BIG thank you to all donors. You guys keep this show on the road. Your generous support helps meet running costs and equipment. I’m happy to put in my time and effort to rescue all birds for free, but I couldn’t keep going if I had to cover all the expenses too. WBR has completed some 5000 rescues to date. That’s a lot of birds which would have otherwise been in serious trouble, if not dead. Together we’re doing good work.
Special thanks to our patron Jim Downs and to Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee.
Until next time I’ll leave you with this sage advice. ‘Nunca dejes que una gaviota proteja tu almuerzo’. (Never let a seagull guard your lunch)
Pres. WBR Gold Coast