After last month’s high rescue numbers (53) February was quiet with only 32 birds needing help. Great for the birds and of course it meant less pressure on me.
The weather probably played a part in this because we experienced so many very hot, oppressive days and torrential rain, all par for
the course during a Gold Coast summer. This tends to slow everything down, especially fishing activities.
(A huge front approaches Southport Yacht Club, Main Beach)
Following an outrageous 25 swan rescues in January the number dropped to an acceptable 5 rescues in Feb.
But … and there’s always a BUT, the Gold Coast’s ‘favourite bird’ did get a bit of a hammering with seven ibee needing to be caught. Five were seriously entangled, contributing to a total of 17 hooked or entangled birds caught during the month.
This meant fishing relate injuries accounted for around half of all birds needing to be rescued. Most of those birds were ‘flight capable’ meaning that catching them was often difficult and time consuming. Of the five ibis in serious trouble I’m delighted to report that all were caught and freed before the line had time to amputate toes or limbs.
Of course so many ibis rescues meant that I was able to gather a veritable photo album of snaps, all of which I’ll present to you now. It’s inspired me to produce a bumper ibis issue!
‘Oh no Rowley, please don’t do that’, I hear you say.
Well OK, but only because I’m in a good mood. Here are some stories and a few of the best pics.
One of the strangest ‘entanglements’ involved the little bloke at left called in by Fiona and her family near Kurrawa Surf Club. The creature had stepped on a piece of moulded plastic and one of its toes had become wedged into the moulding. It didn’t appear to doing the bird any harm
but obviously the moulding needed to come off. Hard to know whether in time the creature might have freed itself but luckily we didn’t need to guess because he was a quick catch and the offending item was removed in seconds.
Double Entanglements are the Worst
Three ibis were very seriously entangled; all suffering with fishing line around both feet, joined in the middle and hobbling them. With any hobble there’s the added risk of line catching on a branch and trapping the bird high in a tree where it probably won’t be found.
The first of those ibis was called in by Paul (below) head groundskeeper at the Botanic Gardens in Ashmore. He’d heard about it from a visitor who said the ibis was having trouble walking. Paul located the creature quickly and confirming it was stumbling. Only when I told him to look closely for fishing line did he see the entanglement.
The bird wouldn’t let me anywhere near so I changed tactics and approached from a different angle hoping for a net shot. That didn’t help much and seconds later it took to the air. Bugger. Fortunately it only flew 100 meters across the lake, landing on the other side of the Gardens. After a short hunt we found it holed up in a thicket. Three of us kept it surrounded and locked inside the thicket to prevent it from becoming airborne. I managed to get a net over it. Close inspection revealed why it had only flown a short distance. An unseen wrap of fishing line attached to one foot extended up and over its neck then back down to the other foot. The line was pulling the bird’s head down making flight difficult. Although distressing for the bird this probably saved its life because when they take off in fright they usually keep going.
The creature was quickly freed of a nasty double entanglement and released immediately.
(Red arrow points to fishing line above the ankle. That, you don’t want to see. Over time it would tighten and cut the bird’s foot off)
I’d barely left the Botanic Gardens when the RSPCA called about another ibis, this time on Macintosh Island in Surfers, supposedly with netting around its feet. The caller said it was stumbling and could only fly very short distances. Hmmm?
In this game you learn to take every report with a grain of salt. ‘The story’ and ‘the reality’ can be very different.
I called Mark (at right), head groundskeeper, and asked him to try to locate the bird, adding that I’d be there very soon. Upon arrival it was nowhere to be found. We set off in search. At the far end of the park, well away from its reported location, I saw an ibis holding up one leg and looking ‘not quite right’. Wings were intact and in situ so there was no reason to believe it couldn’t fly. This called for a cautious approach. Nor was there any sign of netting around its feet however the view through binoculars revealed tell-tale wisps of fishing line.
Being a ‘park bird’ and therefore quite humanised it turned out to be a quick catch. Mark and I had the line off in a jiffy, then we sent him on his way.
A few days later I came across the third double entangled ibis at The Spit. Most people wouldn’t have noticed the injury but I have radar for entanglements so this bird’s dilemma was soon confirmed through binoculars.
I’ve noticed a change in ibis behaviour over the years. The birds had always been happy to stand around on one leg with a foot tucked up under their body inside their feathers. When a foot was hanging just below the feathers, where it was visible, it was often due to pain caused by fishing line. This made spotting a potentially entangled ibis easier. Now that’s all changed. For some reason the little blighters are happy to let an uninjured foot dangle below their feathers. Harder to tell if a bird is in trouble. These subtle changes are important because just like brain surgeons we ibis catchers need to keep abreast of all new developments.
The bird wouldn’t allow me anywhere near. This was shaping up to be a tricky catch. Only one technique would suffice …. a ‘drive-by’. Ibis will often shun a human who tries to approach yet be quite trusting of a car. Evil thoughts kicked in. Ha … BIG surprise awaiting you mate! I took out the net gun. The set up required for catching ibis is a complicated arrangement with lots of bits and pieces and a full size fishing reel with tether line attached under the gun. One has to balance this prickly rig on one’s lap while carefully driving the car over to the bird. ‘Carefully’ being the operative word because if the bloody thing goes off while resting on your lap … well, that doesn’t even bear thinking about.
I stopped the car and began seeding the area with my trusty Aldi cocktail snags. Over he came, along with another ibis and half the Gold Coast’s population of seagulls. After much swearing and some strategic positioning of the snags I managed to isolate my target ibis before quickly swinging the gun out of the window and letting him have it. It was a cracking shot. The net landed squarely over the bird. He trumpeted then peeled off 20 meters of tether line in a futile attempt at escape. Seconds later he was up on Dr. Rowley’s operating table having those nasty wraps of line cut away from his feet. Luckily little damage had been done.
(‘Nice to finally meet you Rowley. I’ve heard so much about you. Got any cake?’ Note: entanglement around upper foot)
These were three quick and very good results. The suffering all birds endure when fishing line wreaks havoc on their limbs is awful. When I first came to the Goldie thirteen years ago you couldn’t find a mature ibis that still had all of its toes. Every ibis had lost toes, amputated by fishing line. Who knows how many had lost feet and died. Now, very few die and very few lose toes or feet.
Sworded Love Triangle
Another seriously entangled bird which featured on WBR Facebook was Princess the curlew from the pair that have lived near the corner of Aida Bell Way and GC Hyw, Southport for many years. Princess was in a wretched state when found. She was prostrate; barely able to stand and of course unable to walk and therefore unable to feed. Who knows how long she’d lain there?
There was considerable urgency for a quick turn-around. I wanted to get her out of hospital and back to her long term partner fearing that he might move on. However a week had flown by (sorry) before the vets made the decision to amputate the worst of her fishing line entangled toes. Then it was another 10 days before the stitches could be removed and the wound pronounced healed.
Meanwhile her partner had remained in the area. Yet after only two days the little ratbag took up with some ‘floosy’. At first we’d hoped the interloper might be the pair’s recently departed young returning to provide dad with emotional support during his hour of need (OK, I am kidding about the ’emotional support’). But all hopes were dashed the afternoon I took Princess home. It was immediately obvious that she was no longer wanted. A scuffle quickly broke out and the new pair chased Princess all around her home territory.
(Princess at right)
This was very sad to watch. We’d hoped the interloper would be the one rejected. I’ve seen this happen in other species, especially swans, when a long term partner has been hospitalised then returned home. Mind you, one never knows. This is wildlife we’re dealing with and so literally anything is possible.
By the next morning Princess was nowhere to be found. It seems she’d gotten the message and moved on. When traumatic events like this occur to humans there’s usually much wailing, gnashing of teeth and heartache before the rejected partner rushes off to sign up for ‘Married at First Sight’. Not so with curlews. I suspect Princess has already joined a new colony and is doing just fine.
Breakfast … the most important meal of the day
Pigeons! Don’t get me started on pigeons. So many tasty cups of coffee and eagerly anticipated breakfasts have been destroyed in recent times by feral pigeons wandering into my chosen café with an entanglement of hair cutting off their toes. Frankly I’m at my wits end. It’d be easier for a bloke to just stay home and pour himself a bowl of cereal.
The problem is that I can’t resist helping them. It’s distressing to see knowing there’s not a damn thing the poor things can do to help themselves. They suffer terribly when lengths of discarded hair (or cotton) wrap around their tiny feet. It quickly tightens, cutting into their soft toes and leaving them toeless and maimed.
One morning, halfway through a hot breakfast, I had no less than three hair-entangled pigeons fly in and land at my feet. What … do I have a sign on my head that says, ‘gather ye before me all who are sick’ … and ‘never mind that I’m eating?’ What could I do? With stifled resentment I abandoned breakfast then headed to the car for a net. It gets worse. Do you think they all stay in one place awaiting my return? Oh no, that’d be far too easy. Instead they spread to the far corners of the Mall requiring me to mount a search and hunt them down. The next half hour is usually spent weaving my way through startled tourists in the heart of Surfers, net in one hand, handfuls of sliced bread in the other while mothers cast furtive glances in my direction and whisper to their children (who are fascinated) … ‘stay away from Crazy Pigeon Man’. It’s downright humiliating.
On the plus side I am able to help nearly all that I catch, although recently one little bloke was just too far gone: his right foot grossly deformed by hair buried too deep to access under the swollen skin (I’ll spare you the picture). I had to let him go. Of course the thought did crossed my mind about whether it would be better to bump him off. But I’m not in the business of killing unless convinced a bird is having a truly miserable life with no hope of relief. To my amazement I saw that pigeon again only a few days ago. He was hobbling around, still struggling but doing better than expected.
It’s rare for a pigeon to experience such severe pain that it can’t weight-bear on an entangled foot but that was the case with the next bird (pic upper right, having been smuggled out in a Starbuck’s bag). He’d flown into the café where I was seated. The poor thing couldn’t walk and so began hopping around the tables. I thought, ‘here we go again’. I hastily scoffed the last of my croissant, grateful that I’d been able to eat most of it, then prepared to grab and brown-bag him out of the place. At just the right moment I sauntered over; dropped some crumbs on the ground, then struck like a praying mantis. He never saw it coming. I quickly bagged him up and was preparing to leave when I thought, by way of an explanation for my actions, I’d better show the injury to a girl sitting nearby who’d witnessed the catch. Big mistake. You’d think I’d just presented her with a bag full of funnel webs. I forget that some people don’t like birds. Poor thing almost had a nervous breakdown. I hurriedly proffered my sincere apologies then fled.
After working for half an hour to remove deeply embedded hair the results don’t look like much (pic at left, upper foot) but in few days he’ll be a lot more comfortable. Nothing more could be done.
Lots of work, little result
The only peli I attended during Feb was called in by Fiona and Kali, this time at Charis Seafoods in Labrador. He was part of the pack of 60 birds awaiting the lunchtime (1.30pm) pelican feed. The peli had a large soft plastic lure embedded in his right shoulder. It wasn’t possible to tell whether the hook was lodged harmlessly in feathers or deeper in flesh.
I grabbed some fish and attempted an approach but he wouldn’t allow me anywhere near. Next morning I scrounged half a bucket of fish frames then headed out by boat to search the sandbanks of the Broadwater. There was a very good chance I’d find him and the offshore location would provide far more capture options than the crowded tourist event the day before. I searched for hours but with no luck, eventually abandoning the search and heading home. Just as I pulled into the dock the RSPCA called to say they’d received a report about a peli with a lure in its right shoulder swimming around Oxenford Weir. That’s 30 k’s away. Guess who? The caller had left the weir but agree to return and confirm the bird’s presence. I jumped in my car and headed off on the 35 minute drive. Moments before arriving at the weir I touched base with the caller who said the peli had just taken to the air and was nearly out of sight. Beaudy!
He was back at the weir the next day but flew off again before I could get there. Never did catch that bird but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Can only hope it’s OK.
Burning Down the House
Speaking of RSPCA, I’m reminded of a call I took last year from Louise, one of the Brisbane ambo officers. She’d been unable to catch a magpie flying around inside a very upmarket dress shop in Broadbeach. I said I’d come over and help.
We entered the shop and staff pointed out the maggie perched high above us on partitioning. You probably think a bird trapped in a shop is easy to net, but that would be wishful thinking indeed. As soon you lift a net anywhere near a trapped bird (or any bird) it simply flies to another area of the building. Wouldn’t matter if you had twenty people with nets. A bird on the wing is far too quick and agile for that method of capture. However, there is an easier method. In the same way that I can be attracted by a nice piece of cake, so too can a hungry maggie be attracted by mince, or in this case more of my Aldi cocktail franks. Simply irresistible.
Taking care not to damage the many expensive garments on open display I spent some time positioning the net where I’d have the best chance of flicking it over the bird. This also offered the least chance of wrecking the merchandise. Eventually I got set up and proceeded to throw pieces of sausage in an area where the bird could see it. Down he came, but landed a little too far away. I had to move the net around a rack of designer tops and lift it over my head in order to get the shot. Things were looking good until I felt the net catch on something above me. I tugged but it wouldn’t come free. I tugged harder. It still would budge so I looked up. Horror engulfed me. The bloody net was wrapped around one of those fragile glass fire sprinklers attached to the ceiling. I was only one tug away from wiping out a third of the store! Oh well, I guess that’s why they have insurance. I very carefully disentangled the net before taking another swipe at the bird. This time I got him. He was quickly ejected. My thoughts turned to Valium.
February saw the Turf Club begin filling in Black Swan Lake in Bundall.
The GC Council and the Turf Club had ignored all protests and went ahead with the planned destruction. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an environmental issue where such a large percentage of the public was clearly in favour of preserving the lake. Most were concerned and repulsed by what appeared to be obvious favouritism shown by key members of the GC Council towards their mates in the Turf Club. Later it was revealed by the Bulletin that the GC Council had agreed to lease the parcel of land created by filling in the lake back to the Turf Club for $1 per year. Apparently that land is valued at well in excess of $10,000,000.
Thankfully the CCC is now investigating several councillors over the issue of Black Swan Lake and other decisions.
What goes around comes around so hopefully this lot will get their come-uppence at the next election, all except for councillors Bob LaCastra and Daphne McDonald who voted to preserve the Lake, and most especially Cr. Peter Young who campaigned very hard to save it. Please remember those three names and support them at the next election (which unfortunately is still quite a way off). Most others on Council are people the GC can do without.
Protester Tam Hogan and others dedicated to saving Black Swan Lake are seeking donations to fund an injunction to stop the works. A little help from a lot of people will add up. The group has already raised about half the monies needed. I’ve donated, so I hope you will too. Click on the link.
Thank you for supporting Wild Bird Rescues. Your help allows me to maintain a vigil, 7 days a week, to ensure that sick and injured birds get help. I couldn’t possibly meet expenses like communications, travel and equipment without your generous help. My sincere thanks go to all supporters and our patron Jim Downs and Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee.
Until next time.
Ibis Boy out.