December was crazy at WBR with 59 rescues and several releases.
Just before Xmas, amid all the activity, we held our AGM. Looking at the picture I know what you’re thinking. ‘Oh my God, I actually donate money to that lot’! 🙂 Well yeah, that is indeed the sad truth. But don’t let the party hats fool you. We are a tight, lean and efficient operation ensuring that more than 500 sick or injured birds received help during 2016.
It was a fun and productive meeting where all the required accounts and the audit were signed off and submitted.
That’s Paul Luxford from Gold Coast Business Websites (our secretary) at left, and Liz Meffan (our treasurer) in the centre.
I took several interesting and rather unusual calls in December. One concerned a pair of swans reportedly trapped in the backyard of a large, lake-side house. The caller lived in a nearby unit and had watched the swans pacing back and forth for two days. When I arrived I could see they were indeed trapped. Swans need at least 15 meters of take-off room to get airborne. The lake was literally only a meter away, on the other side of a chest high fence, but the yard was narrow and the birds were young and inexperienced. They had little hope of escape. Anyone’s guess as to how they got there. The house was a holiday rental and vacant at the time, so I jumped the fence and grabbed both birds. With one tucked under each arm I passed them carefully across to the caller who dropped them straight into the water. They chortled and dipped their heads and washed themselves; both looking much relieved.
Then there was the distraught girl who phoned to tell me that local crows had eaten her car’s windscreen wipers. I don’t want to sound mean but it was a struggle to keep the smile off my face. It wasn’t just her wipers; apparently they were eating all the wipers in the street. Very strange, however an event had occurred some months earlier that may explain this behaviour. A nearby tree where the local crows hang out had been struck by lightning. Ever since then the crows had turned feral. A pack of about half a dozen had made it their business to destroy any and all neighbourhood windscreen wipers. Being an extraordinarily intelligent bird it was beginning to look like they might have blamed the area’s residents for the lightning strike on their tree and were seeking a little ‘crow payback’. Who knows? I gave her the number for the Dept. of Environmental and Heritage Protection.
Despite the high number of rescues in December it was still another good month for the ‘tip chickens’, with only 4 ibis needing attention. That’s about a third of what I’d normally catch. On the downside, I missed catching all of these. For a specialist ‘fight capable’ rescue service that’s a depressing result, but it’s how things go sometimes. Believe it or not ibis are very intelligent and once they get to know you it can be a hell of a job to catch them.
One little fellow with a broken wing had used his claws and beak to climb atop a tree branch deep in shrubbery down a gully at Nerang. It was literally impossible to get to him, or to pursue him through the thick scrub. Another bird with fishing line entangled around his feet was super standoffish. My only hope was a drive-by. I cruised up quietly in the car, wound down the window, and blasted him. The shot was good and the net flew true and completely covered the bird, but somehow he slipped out from under. As he winged his way off into the sunset all his mates retreated to the topmost branch of a nearby tree and loudly trumpeted their disapproval at me. Another line tangled ibis was reported by a very concerned ten year old boy in Southport Parklands. Hugo had spent an hour on the phone trying to get help for the bird. Eventually he found Wild Bird Rescues. I arrived within 15 minutes. But as ‘bad’ luck would have it, just as I was pulling up, a walker allowed her dog to approach the bird and it took off, never to be seen again. Finally, the ultimate frustration occurred when I arrived at The Spit one morning at 5.30am to do my weekly clean-up of discarded fishing line. Just as I stepped out of the car I saw a nearby ibis walk through several meters of fishing line which looped around it’s ankle. I scrambled to get capture gear but I suspect the bird recognised me as ‘that evil bugger to be avoided at all cost’ and bolted. Rats! Two minutes earlier and I would have covered the ground where he was walking and picked up the offending fishing line. Just lousy luck. Hopefully those three entangled birds will be spotted and reported before their toes or feet are amputated by the line.
The picture above shows an ibis with a very serious entanglement of fishing line around its left foot. Always check any bird that is limping, or holding a foot up like this. If you spot one, keep the creature in sight and call WBR immediately.
A ‘letter to the editor’ and a ‘comment’ that I sent in by text were both published in the Bulletin newspaper voicing disapproval over ASF, a Chinese consortium, plans to smother The Spit in concrete. Quite apart from flouting the area’s 3 story height limit, the proposal, if approved, would open the floodgates allowing the high-rise sprawl of Surfers Paradise to move north onto this precious and fiercely defended area. The acres of bushland and open space are referred to by some as the Gold Coast’s ‘Central Park’. Once lost it’s gone forever. I suspect the forthcoming battle would have already been lost to the developer because greed seems to triumph over everything these days, however ASF is unlikely to provide a viable solution to the horrendous traffic problems that already exist and would only be compounded by their proposed development.
I also wrote a detailed letter with pictures to the corporate body that controls three townhouse developments surrounding the old water-ski park lake at the end of Lae Drive in Coombabah. I felt the residents should know that 4 out of the 5 cygnets, recently born to a local pair of swans on the lake, had endured a fishing related injury in the past few weeks. Four out of five little birds, innocently enjoying their life and bringing so much pleasure to people, all suffering from a life threatening injury caused by fishing line or rope. What a horrendous outcome that was! I hospitalised every injured cygnet and one has since died. Two are still recovering in Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. I think the residents will be shocked to learn about the bird’s fate and I’m confident it will result in action to bring about a ban on fishing in the lake. However this may not be easy because fishing is treated as an inviolate activity by the powers that be. Anyone attempting to have it restricted faces a monumental task, even on privately owned land. Hopefully the committee will have the resolve to see this through.
On a lighter note, I named one of those cygnets Poohie Louie.
All swans are poo machines, but just how they manage to pack so much poo into one small body defies logic. Experienced rescuers know to turn any swan they’ve just caught in the direction of someone they don’t like, or at very least away from themselves. Being an experienced rescuer I always observe this valuable precaution, but Poohie still managed to crap all over my shorts and down my leg. Things went from bad to worse when he got my mobile phone. Let me tell you that an expensive iPhone 6, dripping in poo, is not a welcome sight. This bird was incorrigible. Sprinkler companies would do battle to patent the design of his bum. Next it was my car keys. Poo all over them. In the end the back of my car looked like the Merrimac Treatment Plant. This was not a place I relished spending the next 40 minutes sweltering in traffic on the way to hospital. But, it was an emergency, so what could I do?
Poohie, at left, required very expensive laparoscopic surgery to remove that fishing line trailing from his mouth, out from his gut. He survived and is doing well in hospital.
Another swan that I reluctantly took from his family was Rastas, a big resident male from Mermaid Waters. He’d been seen flapping and splashing about with suspected fishing line wrapped around a wing. When I got there Rastas looked fine. Probably just a flea. But I grabbed him as a precaution. There was no fishing line but he had the biggest lumps under his right foot that I’ve ever seen. This is normally associated with a condition called ‘bumble foot’ which can occur when any heavy bird spends too much time walking on hard ground. It looks like boils under the pad of the foot and is excruciating to walk on. As for hard ground being the cause; bumble foot seems to be quite random and shows up in some birds, hard ground or not.
The last thing I ever want to do is take a big male ‘defender of the family’ away from his partner and two cygnets, especially knowing that at best, bumble foot can take a month or even longer to treat. Sometimes it’s fatal. This was a catch 22, but in the end I admitted Rastas to hospital and hoped for the best. Fortunately the diagnosis was good. Dr. Fumi agreed the lumps were extraordinary, but an x-ray revealed none of the common complications like bone infection in the leg, and he was still walking well. Knowing his circumstances there was nothing to gain by holding him in hospital and so the next day I returned Rastas to his ‘home canal’ where he set off immediately to find his family.
At release Rastas looks longingly down the waterway hoping to spot his family
Early one morning I was sound asleep and enjoying the best dream … when the PHONE RANG. I practically leapt out of bed. It was 4.50am. Note to self … ‘murder that person’. It turned out to be Wildcare. Don’t those people ever sleep? They’d had a report about a seagull on the beach in Surfers Paradise with its wing stuck out sideways. Sideways? That sounded odd. I phoned the caller, Linneah, who was lovely and did everything right, which was much appreciated at that time of the morning. Firstly, she was still with the bird, and secondly she and her husband agreed to stay and keep an eye on the creature until I arrived. This is vitally important for a rescuer because even a bird that is partially disabled can easily scurry a good half k down the beach and become lost in the ten minutes it would take me to get there.
I did a quick ‘illegal park’ in front of Caville Av. then ran towards the couple guarding the gull. The bird’s wing looked trussed up. I managed to flick a net over it before taking a closer look at that wing. Surprise, surprise … it was our old friend fishing line, wrapped tightly around the right wing tip, pulling the wing down underneath the bird. From there the line headed up and looped twice around the gull’s neck before disappeared into its chest. In some ways this was a good outcome because an entanglement is usually a treatable injury. Beats the hell out of a broken wing which usually spells the bird’s demise. Linneah held the creature while I cut away the line from its wing and neck. That left one piece of fishing line sticking out of its chest. I felt around under the skin expecting to find an embedded hook but there was nothing. The gull couldn’t be released until that issue was resolved and so I dropped it at SeaWorld where Dr. Dave will examine the creature and no-doubt solve the mystery of the disappearing line.
The pink arrow points to where the tip of the bird’s right wing has been pulled down under its body and is lashed to its leg by fishing line. Pretty hard to fly with all that going on!
The truly irksome part about all these fishing related injuries is not just the suffering they cause, but also the cost. This is born by people like you and I who care about injured creatures and either do the rescues, or help to support rescue services like Wild Bird Rescues and highly organised hospital facilities like Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, SeaWorld, RSPCA and many local vets who give their time for free. The cost to rescue, repair and rehabilitate birds injured by fishing tackle is enormous, but the groups responsible for all this carnage; recreational fishers and the recreational fishing industry, contribute nothing. Nor, in my experience, can fishers be relied upon to report a bird they’ve just injured. Fishing is touted as ‘Australia’s most popular sport’ but I doubt it’s very popular among the tens of thousands of birds that get injured or killed every year.
Above right is just one of dozens of bundles of fishing line recently dropped on the ground at The Spit. This is a death trap for any bird unlucky enough to walk through and get it entangle around its feet. Please pick up any discarded fishing line you find and incinerate it, or wrap it into a tight ball before binning so that it can’t entangle birds when it gets to the tip.
Once again, thanks to all who support WBR. In this newsletter I’ve talked about 12 birds that received help in December. Another 47 also got the help they needed because of your generosity.
President, Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST