February was a short month and I took some days off during the first week, yet WBR still attended 37 rescues.
Among the birds rescued was this little bloke, reported running around a Surfers Paradise restaurant with a kebab skewer sticking out the side of his neck. Probably not what the diners were hoping for. That encumbrance didn’t deter our little friend though, who was having a whale of a time terrorising the clientele using nothing more than his presence.
I got there quickly and had the bird in custody a few minutes later. The waitress and I dashed through the kitchen and down into the car park where I redied the tailgate of my car for delicate surgery. Well, maybe not too delicate … I held the skewer between two fingers and pulled it out. Fortunately it was pointy end up. The ibis had probably swallowed a kebab, then tried to regurgitate the skewer, forcing the sharp end out through the side of its neck. Judging by the bird’s healthy appearance and feisty attitude I doubted any more damage than the tiny hole in its neck. I’ve said many times that ibis are as tough as an old boot, which probably explains why the chef didn’t try to snatch him off me as I ran through the kitchen.
I released the bird immediately, confident that it will mend more quickly in its natural environment, although like many local ibis I suspect this bird’s ‘natural environment’ bears little resemblance to wooded bushland and is more likely the table tops of local restaurants.
The hook you can see above this pelican’s eye could have been real bad … real with a capital ‘R’. Luckily only the point of the hook had entered the bird’s flesh, not the barb, so I was able to pluck it out easily. How it lodged there without being pulled in deeper is anyone’s guess. Had the meter of fishing line trailing from the hook, complete with ball sinker hanging off the end, caught on anything while the peli was flying around the outcome doesn’t bear thinking about.
Nathan from Charis Seafoods had grabbed the bird during the lunchtime pelican feed. Once we’d removed the hook I took the creature from him and released it out of sight of the other 90 pelis that were lining up for free fish frames. If they see one of their mates being released they all bale. Didn’t want that to happen because I suspected there was another hooked bird in the pack.
Nathan continued the feed while I tried to blend behind the Chinese tourists standing on the sidelines. The pelis know the Chinese are no threat and will pass close to them. I must look more oriental than I thought because seconds later a big, fat one (peli, not a tourist) came waddling past with several wraps of fishing line visible around it’s left wing. The tourists were glued to the action and probably and probably not expecting an assault from the rear. They got a bit of a shock when I ploughed through, then reached in and grabbed the pelican by the snout.
So far things were looking good, but then my heart sunk. Couldn’t see any fishing line. Don’t tell me ‘wrong bird Rowley’ has struck again. This would be the third ‘wrong bird’ I’d caught in the past two weeks. It’s easy to do … all that snapping, grumbling and fish breath. But this time the only thing ‘wrong’ was my eyesight. Nathan came down and confirmed that I’d nabbed the right creature and we set about cutting the tackle off its wing. Two pelis rescued during one feed. Not bad.
It was caller Juanita’s sharp eyes that spotted a clear plastic ring encircling this duck’s neck and mouth. The poor thing was quite depleted but still led me on an uncomfortable pursuit through heavy scrub as I tried to manoeuvre it into position for a catch. I didn’t push I too hard, fearing the bird would take to the air and be lost. Eventually the duck moved into an open area of the creek bed where I was able to blow a net over it.
It’s awful to see how destructive one piece of plastic detritus floating in the water can be to an innocent bird, especially knowing there isn’t a damn thing the luckless creature can do about it. Plastic like that persists in the environment for years, if not decades. Yet all it took was one snip with side cutters and this duck’s problems were over. As a precaution I admitted it to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. The bird checked out fine and was released the next day, no doubt feeling much more comfortable and happy to resume its normal life.
Many locals were disappointed to see the navigation beacon on the northern side of Currumbin Creek being dismantled. Apparently the steel structure was severely rusted and was now a risk to the public. This meant the osprey nest, which had perched on the railings for the twelve years I’ve lived on the Coast, came down too. It was sad to see the whole nest just lying there on the rocks. Such an ignominious end. It wasn’t just the fact that osprey had been raising their kids there for years, but also the loss felt by local people who’d so enjoyed the spectacle of those majestic birds living and breeding in their midst.
The Gold Coast Waterways Authority was only doing its job of course, and another osprey tower is in place (although never used by osprey) a little further up the estuary. Still, I think consideration could have been given to erecting another nesting structure alongside the original site, before the old platform was removed.
The principal capture method used by ‘flight capable’ bird catchers is the leg snare. Everyone imagines that a net gun is the ideal tool but that’s not the case. Net guns are hard to use. They take time to master and can be temperamental; not to mention dangerous. Nothing worse than pursuing your injured ibis into a crowded day care facility and then blazing away with your net gun. Just kidding about that last scenario, but I’m sure you see the dilemma. The leg snare is cheap, quick and very safe. Sure, it also takes time to master, but it works really well.
In order to manipulate a bird into a snare you have to use food. You can’t herd a bird; they won’t let you and will take to the air immediately. So I’d like to tell you about my preferred ‘bait’ for manipulating meat eating birds; mostly crows, ibis, gulls, maggies and pee wees. It’s Aldi’s cocktail sausages. At $2.89 they’re a real bargain, although I do feel a tad self-conscious standing in the checkout line waiting to pay for my stash of snags; other shoppers probably thinking, ‘that poor boy, look, all he’s got for dinner is eight jars of those dreadful sausages’. Ha. Little do they know that entangled birds everywhere will be quaking in their boots when they learn about this purchase. It isn’t easy to find a source of meat that can be carried around and remain fresh in a hot car. Preserved snaggers allow a rescuer to be prepared and effect a catch at short notice. They work brilliantly but God knows what they’re preserved in. I try not to think about that, or to spill any of the juice on my hand in case it dissolves the flesh.
The ibis pictured fell victim to one of those tasty Aldi snags. I’d been after the little rascal for nearly three weeks. Some ibis are very easy to catch, like our little friend featured at the beginning of this report. Others are difficult. Then there’s a few that are downright bloody impossible and spawn evil thoughts of ‘neck wringing’ in a rescuer’s mind. Catching those birds often calls for a ‘drive by’. The idea is to seed the area with food, then drive away and wait awhile. A couple of minutes later, when your quarry is busy ‘tucking in’, you swing by in the car and blast him from the window. It can be a tad hair raising, but it’s very effective and quite legal, as far as I know, because the gun is gas powered and not classed as a firearm.
The ibis’s foot had become entangled after it walked through a length of fishing line carelessly dropped on the ground by a fisher. The bird was holding its foot up; a sure sign of pain. At first the creature was standoffish but eventually it came limping in, unable to resist those tasty snags, only realising its mistake when the snare line tightened around its leg. Fortunately the entanglement of braid (light weight, non-stretch fishing line and very damaging) hadn’t yet caused any real harm. But the tight wrap visible around the bird’s ankle was fully life threatening. In time the line would have cut the creature’s foot right off. I removed the tackle, then released the bird. It flew away, none the worse for wear, but unlikely to ever forget the unmistakable flavour of an Aldi cocktail snagger.
These were just five out of thirty seven stories during February.
Capture Reports are a great way for me to show how your generous help saves lives. They’re also a way to bring some fun and humour to subject matter that can otherwise be bleak. Reports are sent to each donor for twelve months. Thank you to everyone, especially Jim Downs and those supporters who make regular, or monthly contributions. These are what keep Wild Bird Rescues on the road and made it possible to help more than five hundred sick or injured birds during 2016. Thanks also to Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee.
Chief Poultry Slave, WBR Gold Coast