Activity picked up in April with Wild Bird Rescues attending 34 sick or injured creatures.
This is a manageable number and down from last year’s monthly average of 44 rescues. Last year was crazy so this year I’ve tried to keep the numbers in check by reducing non-essential rescues (i.e. rescues that can easily be handled by others), allowing me to focus on what I do best, namely catching ‘flight capable birds’. This also provides time to campaign for change in situations where birds are being adversely affected. I want laws changed to prevent problems occurring in the first place, rather than just spend my days cleaning up after irresponsible people.
The two main projects on the go right now are the Fisheries campaign, which I’ve asked you to help with, and also my ongoing correspondence with QLD Parks and Wildlife trying to get supervision for the birds at the lunchtime ‘pelican feeding’ outside Charis Seafood’s in Labrador. I’ll talk more about the pelican feed in coming months.
Urgent protection is needed for the precious migrating birds which break their long journeys to rest and replenish on the sandbars of Curlew Island, right in the heart of the Gold Coast Broadwater. We are so lucky to have these creatures spend time among us before they head off on epic flights to far flung northern summer roosts in places like Siberia. Due to a lack of positive action (in fact any action) by Gov. these amazing birds, many of which are critically endangered, are harassed daily by people and dogs who are allowed to roam freely on the sandbars of the island.
(Above. Whiskers, an endangered beach-stone curlew born on Curlew Is, had fallen foul of fishing line which was about to cut off his feet. The nylon line is too fine to see. Visible is the white cordage of my net gun. I managed to disentangle Whiskers and release him immediately, unharmed)
What a Travesty!
Early April saw Sydney Zoo post a picture of their latest exhibit … the new ibis enclosure (aka Bin Chicken display).
I could barely contain my excitement at seeing our ‘favourite bird’ receive the recognition it so thoroughly deserves; it’s status finally elevated to that of true ‘Aussie Icon’. But delight soon turned to shock and horror when I saw the conditions those poor birds were forced to live in.
Just look at that enclosure. Where is the barbeque with sizzling hot snaggers? There isn’t a picnicker or unguarded plate of prawns anywhere to be seen. No small children running around clutching vegemite sandwiches; such easy prey for a cunning ibis. There isn’t even an open wheelie bin!
What are those poor birds supposed to eat??
I’ll be writing to the zoo voicing these complaints and offering my services as an expert on ibis feeding behaviour, although I am a tad concerned because that picture was posted on April 1st; a dodgy date if ever there was one.
Our Gold Coast swans did it tough in April with 10 needing to be rescued. Some couldn’t be saved. Others survived horrible hookings, but only by the skin of their teeth. I named most rescued birds, as is my way, because it’s fun and it gives each creature an identity. Brace yourself because some of what follows ain’t pretty.
One little lady that I was called to catch had snatched a child’s bait as he pulled it past her. At least the boy wasn’t using bread for bait as many kids do. But it’s still no excuse for casting hooks in amongst swans and other waterbirds. On the plus side, his mum was mortified when she saw the swan get hooked and called WBR immediately for help.
After making a rescue call the next most important thing is to keep the bird in sight. I move immediately all calls concerning hooked birds: part of the reason my catch rate is so high, but I can only catch what I can find, so having the caller know the location of an injured bird is critical for success. By the time I was half way to Robina they’d lost sight of the swan. So began a frantic search around the nooks and crannies of Southlake, involving me, the caller and her sister, all in different cars.
Over the next half hour I managed to check about 10 swans in the immediate area but none matched the injured bird’s description: having several meters of fishing line coming from her mouth. We seemed no closer to finding her, but then I got a break. Scanning the far bank through binoculars I spotted a flash of red, half a k away. It was a swan’s beak. The bird was almost invisible, still in the lake against the bank but hidden away behind the foliage of an overhanging poinsettia tree. It had to be her. Distressed and in pain she’d holed up in that safe place.
I quickly drove a kilometre to the other side of the lake then began banging on doors trying to gain access to the water.
One guy answered his door bell via speaker saying that he could see me on his phone from Brisbane. Gotta love technology! He said I couldn’t go through the yard because they had a big dog, but his teenage son was home. I explained that I’d already rung the loud doorbell several times. In an exasperated voice he said, ‘typical; he’ll be in bed’. It was 11 o’clock in the morning. He asked me to wait while he phoned to get him out of bed and down to the front door. Five minutes later he called back apologising, saying that he couldn’t raise the boy, then unleashed a tirade about ‘lazy, good-for-nothing teenagers’. I couldn’t help laughing but of course that wasn’t getting me any closer to the bird.
Finally, three doors on, I struck gold when a woman who I’d previously helped took one look, saw the net and said ‘hi Rowley’, before ushering me straight through and down to the water.
The swan was swimming away, but I coaxed her over, noting several meters of light fishing line coming from her mouth. She was a fairly easy catch and I bundled her straight into the car for the quick trip to hospital, however not before she caught my arm with her flailing claws leaving me covered in blood. I swear that if a doctor ever looked at my forearms on any week where I handle a lot of swans they’d believe I was an injecting drug addict.
The swan was a funny little thing. Tiny and with underdeveloped feathers she didn’t look great. Probably the runt of the litter. To compensate I gave her a pretty name … Princess. Happy to say that after two weeks in hospital and with that nasty hook removed from her throat, I was able to release Princess back onto the lake.
The picture at right features a salivating swan hooked by another boy in Clear Island Waters. This lad was using bread for bait. Typically a bird will salivate if it’s throat is irritated like after swallowing a hook.
There is no excuse for fishing amongst waterbirds, never mind using bread for bait which is guaranteed to catch them. I can’t really blame the child because he was young and didn’t even have his line in the water. The swan had rushed out of the water and grabbed the bread-baited hook off the sand.
Even more surprising was that his father had managed to approach the bird and cut the line without pulling on it. That’s a BIG plus. When a fisher pulls on line it sets the hook deeply, which translates to BIG problems for the bird.
The dad immediately called Currumbin Wildlife Hospital and was directed to Wild Bird Rescues. It gets even weirder. I rushed the swan straight to hospital where Dr. Fumi’s x-ray revealed a hook lodged in the creature’s lower abdomen. That hook was in two pieces, as if broken in half; one piece lying next to the other
There was no sign of a hook in the bird’s neck or throat. What the …?
(At left, Dr. Fumi. At right, pieces of hook circled).
It’s virtually impossible to break a fish hook. That just doesn’t happen, so the only explanation I can think of was that the broken hook visible in the x-ray had been swallowed at an earlier time and was splitting apart as it dissolved in the swan’s gut. As for the hook from today’s incident; it’s possible the swan managed to disgorge it before capture. The caller had seen the bird coughing and spluttering before I rescued it.
Rather than attempting deep (and risky) surgery the vets decided to wait and observe and then x-ray her again in a few days. I named her Alice. Hopefully Alice is OK.
Another swan was named Ray by the callers.
Ray (at left) had a long term partner and a one month old cygnet. Out of the blue Ray developed lameness. I never like to remove the family’s ‘protector’ because that exposes any cygnets to grave risk from invading adults which may try to kill them, but there wasn’t much choice.
Unfortunately it was nearly three weeks before Ray came good in hospital. All the while the callers monitored his partner and cygnet, both still living in the isolated canal near central Surfers. The location seemed safe but a week after Ray’s hospitalisation a very large and robust male flew in and made advances towards the female. Ray was gone. What’s a single mum to do? The pair hooked up. Even more surprising was that the new male accepted (adopted) her cygnet. This was a win win for all … kinda.
I say ‘kinda’ because these new developments did not bode well for Ray. He’s a big boy too so I warned the callers to expect fireworks when I brought him home. That’s exactly what happened, but it wasn’t the intruder on the receiving end, instead it was poor Ray. The intruder got stuck right in and drove Ray from the canal.
I felt very sorry for him, but two weeks later received a positive update. The intruder, along with Ray’s ex, plus their cygnet, had left the canal. Ray was back. He’d found a new ‘cutie’ and seemed happy to be home, sans that brazen hussy who’d dumped him during his hour of greatest need. Go Ray!
Almost too Horrible
There was a couple of real bad injuries during April.
The poor bird at right, much loved and named Mr. Cheeper by the family who’d called him in, had somehow damaged his left foot. I don’t know what happened but it was an awful injury and no doubt very painful. Short of amputating the entire foot, which is not an option for a heavy bird like a swan or peli, there was no way to save him.
An even more distressing incident involved this big fella (lower left) from Acanthus Av. in Burleigh.
Caller Margaret said the bird’s partner and two kids were up at her house snacking on lettuce, but that he’d stayed down on the bank of the lake and didn’t want to join them. This was out of character. In fact he’d been sitting in the same place for several hours.
When I caught him I could see blood covering his right thigh; almost certainly caused by a dog attack. I suspect that an off-leash dog, which shouldn’t have been off-leash, had rushed the family causing the male to step to it, trying to defend his partner and kids.
Another family has lost its male and protector, most likely to an unsupervised dog, while the loser who owns the animal didn’t have the decency to seek help for the bird.
How to Catch Your Pelican
The easiest way to catch a pelican is with a ‘beak grab’. Mind you a beak grab is not for the faint hearted because it isn’t actually a ‘grab’, rather it’s more about you ‘getting grabbed’. Let me explain.
First, one lures the target bird in by presenting it with a succulent fish frame (see pic at left). As the creature rushes forward in anticipation of a free meal one lays said fish frame on the back of one’s hand and offers it to the peli, all the while muttering a short prayer. The pelican then opens its large beak and chomps down (hard) on the frame … hand and all.
Positively terrifying for the uninitiated, but quick and effective.
In this case the target bird had fishing line hanging from the end of its bill. I presented it with the aforementioned ‘succulent fish frame’ and nothing happened. She just stood there looking at me. At this point a rescuer is justified in launching a string of unsavoury comments as the realisation dawns that what might have been a quick and easy ‘beak grab’ has now morphed into a potentially time consuming rescue. Standoffish pelis can be very hard to catch.
(At right, a swivel is attached to fishing line knotted around the end of the bird’s beak)
Fortunately I have other tricks up my sleeve, none of which require a sacrificial limb.
Ten minutes later I had her (ha!). Turns out the fishing line wasn’t actually coming from a hook in her pouch, or from down her throat, as I’d suspected. It was knotted around the bone at the end of her beak. A hook must have pierced the flesh then the line wrapped around and somehow knotted itself. Either way that line was better off than on, so I quickly removed it and set her free.
Jacobs Well Bait, Tackle and Marine
That pelican rescue took place at Jacobs Well (30k’s north of the Goldie).
A week earlier I’d been at Jacobs chasing another hooked pelican. It’s a 40 minute drive from Main Beach and therefore ‘luck of the draw’ as to whether the bird will even be there when you arrive. In this case it wasn’t. The caller, who’d been watching, said the pelican swam off 15 minutes earlier but thought he could still see it, nearly a kilometre away to the north.
This situation called for a boat. An outboard powered one at that. I knew who to ask.
Brett runs Jacobs Well Bait, Tackle and Marine. He’s been incredibly helpful and supportive over the years often supplying me with cheap or even free fish when I’ve needed to catch a pelican. This time I rushed into his shop … , ‘Brett can I take one of your hire boats to chase down a hooked bird’. His response was, ‘no problem Rowley, go for it’.
Now I ask you, how many business owners let you drive off in one of their costly hire dinghies, for free, to help an injured bird? I suspect not many.
Thanks Brett, you are a legend!
How Good is Livin’ on the Goldie?
I stepped off my yacht the other morning and who should swim by but this little one. I could have reached out and touched her.
Dolphins come through all the time. Sometimes I see them daily. They swim around the boats feeding on plentiful bream and other species of fish. Southport Yacht Club, like all marinas, is ‘fish friendly’, meaning there is no fishing. As a result the fish life here is simply extraordinary.
It isn’t just dolphins that I see. Big trevally (3-4kg) often feed around my boat. There are osprey, oyster catchers, pelis, heron and many other species of birds; all this within a few k’s of the heart of the Glitter Strip. What a great place the Gold Coast is to live.
And the people … well, recently I dropped into the Men’s Shed in Labrador. I was looking for space to do a small project and hoped they could help. Never been to a men’s shed before so had no idea what I’d find or how well equipped the place might be.
What a surprise! It was chocka with all the woodworking and other equipment a bloke could need … all available to members.
I was told the ‘sheds’ were set up primarily to provide interest and companionship for older Aussies who were struggling with ‘life’, be it mental health issues or something as simple as loneliness. Clearly they’re popular because Labrador has a membership of 120. In fact they need a BIGGER SHED.
When I looked up and read the sign I could see why the place was so successful. With priorities like that you just cannot go wrong!
Crested pigeons are such dear little fellows and so it was distressing to come across two injured birds at The Spit during the course of one week. Each bird was entangled … badly, and each was a bird that I’d caught before. Both had lost toes to braid (nasty non-stretch fishing line), short (and long) lengths of which litter fishing areas like The Spit. They were in big trouble.
I managed to catch the two. Their feet were already maimed. Nothing could be done about that. but relieving them of these new entanglements would reduce pain and prevent further loss of toes. They’ll also enjoy better mobility.
(At right. The consequences of entanglement in braid are just awful. This poor little chap had lost an entire foot and was down to the stump. His other foot was in wretched condition)
Hopefully they’ll be OK, although bird’s with maimed feet are magnets for further entanglement. I’ll keep my eyes peeled in case they get into trouble again.
For the past two reports I’ve asked you to write to the Director-General of Fisheries asking her to change the law to reduce the number of lines that fishers can use. An eye-watering 6 fishing lines is allowed per person when fishing in fresh water. This is just ridiculous because that many fishing lines, spread out along a dock or along the bank of a river, is simply impossible to control. It gets worse. Fishers in fresh water can set all six lines, then walk away leaving them unattended and out of sight. Little wonder I catch so many hooked swans in the many fresh water lakes of the Gold Coast, especially Southlake and Westlake, Robina and Clear Island Waters.
Last year I rescued 104 swans, more than half were suffering from fishing related injuries and I suspect plenty of those had swum though unattended fishing lines.
If there ever was a case which highlights the need to reduce the amount of tackle allowed, and mandate that fishers stay with their gear at all times, it’s this next story involving a lovely big swan that I called Jeremy. On the plus side, this is the third story in the report where fishers have hooked a swan and called for help. That is an outstanding result. It’s more reported hookings coming from fishers than I’d normally receive in a whole year! ‘Good on’ those people.
The fisher who called early one morning said there was a swan out front that had something wrong. When quizzed about what ‘something wrong’ meant he volunteered that the bird was entangled in fishing line and was thrashing about. When quizzed further he admitted to hooking it. He’d gone down to the dock, set a fishing line with multiple hooks, then walked back up into his house leaving the line unattended and out of sight. Minutes later Jeremy was hooked and in big trouble.
As per my previous advice I told the fisher to keep the bird in sight, adding that I was getting straight into my car and would be there in 25 minutes.
Upon arrival the fisher said he’d lost sight of the bird, but thought it had swum with its partner to an adjacent golf course, nearly a kilometre away, before hauling out on the far bank. That turned out to be critical intel.
I wasted no time in seeking entry to a gated community to the south. This offered access to the golf course. I got through security, went around the lake, then headed along Saltwater Creek, adjacent to the course. After parking I traipsed across the nearest fairway close to where I believed the pair might have walked out of the water. No sign. Google maps showed Saltwater Creek and two small lakes 300m north of my position. I hadn’t seen any swans while passing Saltwater Creek. Could they have walked all the way to those little lakes? Possibly. Dodging golf balls and dozens of kangaroos I turned north.
The first lake was small and devoid of swans, so I walked to the second. No sign of the pair within the 200m stretch in front of me, but saw that the lake narrowed at the far end and dog-legged. I walked along until I rounded the bend. 100m meters ahead, standing on the opposite bank, was a pair of swans. Oh, happy days! It had been an hour since the hooking and I was a full kilometre as the crow flies from where it had taken place, on a completely different waterway. Could this be them? A quick look through binoculars showed blood on one bird’s neck.
I needed to get back to the car quick and collect capture gear, so ingratiated myself to group of lady golfers who offered a fast trip in their buggy. Back at the waterway the swans had moved. The female was quickly coaxed over to my side of the stream but the male was reluctant, which is typical when they’ve suffered a recent trauma.
(Above right, arrow points to fishing line strung between neck and body. At left, a hook and open wound).
Eventually I got him over and out of the water, then grabbed him
I discovered a deep hook in his neck and another in his side. Worse: because those two hooks were connected by line it meant that whenever he tried to turn his neck both hooks got pulled in deeper. The neck wound was nasty and not something I could deal with on the spot. First job was to cut the adjoining line and relieve pressure on the hooks.
This was a very strong pair and obviously devoted to each other. She cried and cried when I took him away, but it had to be done. With quick veterinary intervention his chances were good. I rushed him 30k’s south to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital where staff went straight to work knocking him out before removing the hooks and then sewing him up.
Delighted to say that ten days later Jeremy had made a full recovery and was good to go. I personally delivered him home. I didn’t know where his partner was but wanted to make sure that I put him in the best position to find her.
As I carried him to the lake on that rainy morning (upper left) he craned his neck, searching the waters and scanning the golf course on the far side.
He was looking for her.
Upon release Jeremy quickly strode to the lake then swam out into a heavy rain shower before lifting his head and calling loudly. He called for a full ten minutes before taking to the air and flying out of sight to the other end of the lake where she might be.
I have no doubt they are back together.
A big thank you to all who’ve written to QLD Fisheries asking that current laws be changed to stop horrific hookings and entanglements like Jeremy’s which occur weekly on the Gold Coast, primarily because fishers are allowed too much equipment; allowed to fish irresponsibly; and are not held accountable for the damage they cause.
The main areas of change we seek are ….
A reduction in the number of fishing lines that a fisher can use; down from 3 lines in salt water and a ridiculous 6 lines in fresh water, to a max of 2 lines per fisher in all waters, regardless of whether it be fresh or salt. Two lines each is more than enough for people to enjoy the ‘sport’. Adding that fishers in fresh water (who are currently allowed 6 fishing lines) be required to stay with their lines at all times and not be permitted to walk away (up to 50m), as current laws allow.
Also … that there be more education advising fishers not to drop unwanted line, hooks and other gear on the ground (littering) where those materials readily entangle or catch foraging birds.
Finally … that fishers DO NOT cast in amongst waterbird and that they be aware of their responsibility to immediately report any accidental hooking (Google a ‘wildlife rescue service’) rather than just cutting the line and letting a bird swim away thereby sentencing it to weeks or months of misery or death.
Results so far
In regards to better education, Dr. Elizabeth Woods, the Director-General, Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries (cricky that’s a mouthful) wrote back to me advising that …
‘I have asked Fisheries Queensland to consider including information on how fishers can minimise potential impacts on waterbirds from discarded fishing gear in communications material, including in social media posts and in future editions of the Boating and Fishing Guide’.
That’s a positive statement and a good result. Much more is needed, but it’s a start.
However, in regard to concerns raised about the excessive number of fishing lines allowed to fishers, esp. in fresh water (6 lines) and the fact that fishers in fresh can leave those lines unattended which results in so many preventable hookings, the DG of F had this to say …
‘I appreciate that reducing the number of lines may reduce the risk of entanglement; however, the best way to address the issue is through more responsible fishing practices by recreational fishers’.
She went on to add, most helpfully, that …
‘I also suggest you make contact with the editors of fishing magazines such as Queensland Fishing Monthly and Bush and Beach, to talk about ways to get the message out on how recreational fishers can minimise impacts on waterbirds.’
Apparently the DG of F believes that those of us who are breaking our arse rescuing birds injured by irresponsible fishers, aided and abetted by lax and outdated fishing laws, just aren’t doing enough.
Action is Needed
The old saying ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil’ is great advice when dealing with politicians and senior bureaucrats. We need to squeak about these issues more often and louder until it becomes a roar. If we don’t, nothing will change.
If you’ve received a reply from the DG of F which does not contain a plan for positive action (none have thus far) to mitigate hookings and bird deaths due to an excessive allowance of fishing gear, please write back and tell her that she’s not taking this matter seriously. Demand action. It’ll only take you a minute to do this . Please be a squeaky wheel. You’ll be in good company because plenty of us are doing just that.
If you’d like to read the return letter I sent her and the Minister pls email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you haven’t written at all then please take this opportunity to voice your opinion and demand that laws be changed to reduce the number of fishing lines that fishers can use in fresh water down from a ridiculous and unmanageable 6 fishing lines to a max of 2 fishing lines, and that fishers in fresh water be required to stay with their lines at all times. The number of fishing lines allowed in salt water be reduced from 3 down to 2.
In other words … a max of 2 fishing lines, per fisher, whether fishing in fresh or salt water, and fishers be required to remain with their lines at all times.
Send your email to the Director-General, Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Dr. Beth Woods, email@example.com . CC it to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Mark Furner, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please do this now, for Jeremy’s sake and all the other seriously injured birds that you’ve read about in this report.
Thank you for supporting Wild Bird Rescues. Special thanks to our patron Jim Downs and to Liz and Paul on the donations committee.
Until next time.
Pres. WBR Gold Coast