Rescues got off to a brisk start in February then the cyclone turned up off the Goldie and everything came to a grinding halt for 5 days. That’s good of course. The less birds in trouble the better. In the end WBR completed a total of 27 rescues for the month.
Not a Childcare Worker
A couple of reports back I featured a story about two darter chicks (pic at right) which the caller thought had been abandoned. In an effort to help I intervened ultimately causing both chicks to jump from their nest and plummet 8m down into the river below. Fortunately they were sufficiently mature and both survived, but it was scary.
I don’t know what it is about me and baby birds but I’ve done it again.
This time I’d been called to a bush-stone curlew sitting atop its chick alongside a busy path near the Sheraton on SeaWorld Drive. The mother was only a couple of feet off the path and lying in an open garden bed. She was well camouflaged against the bark chips and leaf litter (see pic below) but still very exposed. Caller Dany was concerned.
This type of situation, which curlews get themselves into all the time, is not necessarily a problem. The birds are very comfortable around people and can often be found in the middle of busy shopping centres standing outside a shopfront window, staring at their own reflection in the glass. Most likely they believe they’re looking at another curlew. This can occupy them for hours while they remain largely oblivious to everyone walking by. However, precarious as this may seem, there is method in their choice of location. You see shopping centres, unlike residential neighbourhoods, rarely have cats or off-leash dogs, both of which pose a significant risk, not so much to curlew parents because they’re such good flyers, but rather to their chicks which are earthbound for the first several weeks of life. Another feature of shopping centre carparks is lights. Lots of bright lights. Curlews are night feeders and brightly lit carparks attract a smorgasbord of bugs.
I explained to Dany that she was fine but decided to check the chick, just in case. Big mistake. The mother let me approach and lift her gently. Curlews will usually allow this although I certainly don’t recommend it unless there is a need to interfere. A split second later she went berserk, leapt out of my hands and flew off. The tiny chick got swept aside and I almost trod on it! Could things have gotten any worse? Probably not!
I watched her fly fifty meters in the direction of an adjacent carpark. She landed but I couldn’t see where. On the plus side I was certain that she’d return. A few minutes later, to my great relief, she came running back. However, human traffic along the path had increased. The best I could do was shunt her towards a nearby garden bed, then I ran and grabbed the ‘grommet’ and placed him in the garden bed nearby. She spotted him immediately, but was not content to remain in that location.
(Pic at right shows mum slinking off with the two kids in tow)
Off she went. Thank goodness he got the message and stood up and ran after her as fast as his little legs would go. The pair headed along the now busy path and around the side of a building arriving at an unused grassy area. We followed to make sure they were OK but were quickly confronted by loud hissing coming from a nearby bush. Out stepped another curlew, wings spread in an aggressive presentation. This was dad and he too had a youngster. Dany and I backed off immediately to allow the family to re-unite. They were in a safe place at last … thank goodness!
Curlew chicks are the funniest little fellows you’ve ever seen. The bushy area from the Sheraton up to SeaWorld is quite well populated with curlews. There are few dogs and probably no cats but I wonder how the little ones fair given the high density of brown snakes in that area?
More Kid Troubles
This time it was a very young cygnet in Benowa. He’d been swimming around all morning at the end of a small canal looking lost and frightened. His mum hadn’t been seen since the previous afternoon.
(Above. Cygnet of similar age. Pic by WBR supporter Joy Rentch)
This little family of two was well known to locals. She’d hatched the one egg and raised him for the entire five days of his young life. Apparently dad had died (or disappeared) some months earlier. Now she too was gone and he was alone. He wouldn’t last long. Crows, gulls or most likely one of the many eels would size him up as a tasty morsel.
When I arrived he’d swum away from the shore and was 20m out in the middle of the canal. I tried to attract him over with bread (Note: I use bread as a ‘one off’ to catch waterbirds, but I never feed bread to birds). He began to swim over but as often happens the bread had attracted a school of aggressive bream. The fish were biting and snapping. He was frightened and swam away again. Rats! Might need a boat.
I waited. The cygnet was slowly making his way towards the opposite bank. I jumped in my car and drove around to the other side of the canal then knocked on the most likely door. The owners were welcoming and allowed me through. I ran to the foreshore. He was close. This time I was careful to limit the amount bread so as not to attract the bream. In he came and I netted him.
With the little bloke now in custody there were two choices. The first was to put him into care immediately. This is always a LAST resort but with no mum and no way of finding her it might be the only solution. The second option was to hold him at the canal for longer. The chances of her turning up were becoming slimmer by the hour but my gut said wait. I discussed this with the homeowners and they were keen. We set him up in a warm spot in a cardboard box with a big dish of water and lots of finely diced lettuce and fresh corn. He was happy. Now it was a waiting game. She needed to return within the next few hours otherwise he’d be on his way to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital for a check-up before going on to a carer.
I headed home but stopped down the road at the local shops to buy a smoothie. It was a very hot day. I sat there enjoying my smoothie (next best thing to cake) when right at the final ‘slurp’ my phone rang.
‘She’s back’, they said. ‘She’s swimming into the canal and coming our way!’ Best news ever!
I told them to hold the little bloke and that I’d be there in five. The reunion would probably go well, but you can’t be sure. Who knows why she’d abandoned him in the first place? She might still reject him. I needed to be there just in case.
(Pic at right. ‘Hey mum, it’s me’)
(Pic at left. ‘Excuse me mum but I think you’re hogging the corn’.)
Up she came onto the bank and waddled towards her old nest. The caller (who’d previously only ever fed swans bread) had taken down a tasty bowl of lettuce and corn in fresh water. The mother tucked in like she’d never seen food before. Then we produced the cygnet. He was placed on the ground 3m from her (pic at right). At first she recoiled and hissed. Then came the moment of truth. She realised who it was as he ran over to her. They were back together. It was a good outcome.
Another Happy Story
I have to be careful here. Three happy stories in a row is almost too much for a Wild Bird Rescues report! You’ll get spoiled. Mind you this story didn’t start out too well, but it did end well.
It was 5.30pm when the report came in from a fisher saying a hooked swan was swimming around in front of them. After some quizzing I established that he was the one who’d hooked the bird.
Hey, I’m always complaining that too many fishers hook birds only to let them swim away with a life threatening injury and NEVER call to get them help. That’s a fact, so this report was a rare and very welcome exception. Hallelujah.
It would take me 30 minutes to get there. The family had agreed to wait and keep an eye on the bird. We were already losing the light. I threw the inflatable kayak into my car and rushed to the scene. By the time I arrived night was falling. In the meantime other swans had turned up and the fisher couldn’t tell me who was who in the zoo.
The birds were now 200m offshore and swimming away.
This presented three problems. If the entangling line and hooks were below water level on the stricken bird then I wouldn’t be able to identify it. Problem two was that even if I could identify the bird it isn’t possible to catch a swan from a kayak. I’d have to drive the bird ashore and attempt to catch it there, in the dark. Problem three was a doosie. There was a very good chance I’d get eaten. Paddling an inflatable around at night on a lake full of bull sharks with only a 2mm thick piece of hyperlon separating my bum from their mouths was not an exciting proposition.
It was all too hard. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my nearly seven decades on this planet it’s … if it’s too hard don’t attempt it. I resolved to set out and look for the bird first thing in the morning.
I arrived back in Clear Island Waters early. I didn’t take a boat and it’s a very big lake with multiple nooks and crannies where swans can hole up. I drove around to different locations gaining access to the water through vacant blocks, parks and people’s homes. At one point I ended up at John Paul Langbrooke’s home. I asked if I could have access to his foreshore, then added, ‘haven’t I seen you somewhere before?’ He explained that he was a politician. The penny dropped.
I was able to checked 18 swans over the next couple of hours. None were injured. This wasn’t good, but it could mean the bird was no longer hooked and had thrown the entangling line. I gave up, resolving to wait and hope that I’d get a call from one of the residents around the lake. If the bird was still injured that shouldn’t take long.
(Pic at right shows a large hook still buried deep in the poor thing’s neck and line around her body. She was very distressed. Dunno how but they still manage to smile)
I heard nothing for two days, then while talking to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Louis mentioned that a young bloke had admitted a hooked swan the day before. ‘Where was the bird from’, I asked? ‘Clear Island Waters’ said Louie. Ha! Good news indeed. ‘How bad’, I asked. ‘Bad’, said Louie, ‘but we think she’ll make it.’
I called the donor, mainly to thank him. Turns out he’d been visiting a house on the opposite side of the lake from where she was hooked the night before. The bird had swum in with several other swans and he noticed that she was struggling and had hooks in her neck with fishing line attached. I congratulated him because it’s no small thing to tackle a fully grown swan without any previous experience. Even better that he’d managed to get her to hospital.
She was operated on that day then spent the next ten days recovering before being released back at Clear Island Waters. One very lucky girl I’d say.
The Good Run Comes to an End
Sadly it didn’t turn out well for another young female swan I caught in Southlake, Robina. She’d been spotted by caller Hailey who said the bird was holding its leg up. That means little because they’ll hold a leg up and swim around like that all day long. I quizzed Hailey further. She was certain she’d seen a glint of fishing line adding that the bird didn’t follow its partner out of the water for food. That final detail clinched it.
I rushed to the park. If I had a buck for every hooked swan that I’ve pulled out of that one small park over the years I wouldn’t be here. Instead I’d be scoffing chocolate gateaux on some private balcony overlooking the ocean in St Tropez. But I’m not. It’s cruel world.
The bird was a difficult catch. This is where experience comes in. About one third of swans are fairly easy to grab by hand. Another third are tricky, but with patience and skill they are grabable. The final third are a different matter altogether. This bird was one of those. Clearly she was distressed and in pain because she wouldn’t approach the shore, remaining some 10m out. I tried this and that, moving her around with food before eventually getting her into position for a net gun shot.
Anyone who claims that net guns are easy to use has never used one. I tether the net in the gun to heavy line laying at my feet, the idea being that when the net flies out, hopefully over the bird, the creature can’t swim away with the net.
(Pic above shows a bloody awful injury to her knee area. The complexity of the rig indicates that the fisher was experienced … just not a nice person)
Only one other bird, a duck, was also at risk of being netted, so I squeezed the trigger. Nothing. Oh shit. The trigger mechanism was jammed. I applied a LOT more pressure and the damn thing finally went off but by then my aim had been affected. I was very lucky to hit her.
Turns out that she had two hooks in her leg, either side of the knee. The hooks were joined by line and each was being pulled into her leg by the other. There was only a sliver of line showing. Hailey had done a great job spotting it.
(Pic at right. Hailey supports the injured swan while I prepare the transport box)
The swan was lame. I’d got her too late. If only someone had seen and reported her two weeks earlier she would have been OK. Of course that ‘someone’ should have been the ‘genius’ who hooked her then let her swim off with a life threatening injury, but as you know, few demonstrate that level of decency.
I don’t have a problem with fishing. I accept that birds can get hooked even when great care is taken. That’s OK. Accidents happen. What I don’t accept is the deliberate act of animal cruelty inherent in knowingly hooking a bird and not calling to get that bird help. Nor do I accept the lame excuse … ‘I didn’t know who to call’. Tell me, who these days doesn’t carry a smart phone? And, who is unable to Google ‘BIRD RESCUE’ in their area? The result will instantly provide several rescue services with Wild Bird Rescues (on the Gold Coast) near or at the top of the list.
She’d didn’t make it. The hospital worked on her for days but movement couldn’t be restored to her lame foot. They can’t release a swan if it’s unable to walk. At least she’s not out there suffering.
WBR got some good press during the month with an article and pics covering the issue of hooked and entangled birds and the lack of reporting by the fisher’s who’d injured them. (I’m not too sure about the headline). This was followed up the next day by a ‘Letter to the Editor’ from Sally Spain which re-enforced the points I’d made and also took a swipe at the destruction of Black Swan Lake. I was happy with all that.
Journo Amanda did a very good job reporting the facts accurately. She’d done similar good work a week earlier when she featured Currumbin Wildlife Hospital in an excellent two page spread in the Bulletin. If you’ve ever had anything written about you in the paper you’ll know how gratifying it is to find a journo who is reliable and gets the facts right. Thank you Amanda.
Scarily the QLD Recreational Boating and Fishing Guide, at 104 pages long, contains not a single word (that I could find) about the need for responsible fishing practices around wildlife, or how to avoid hooking birds, or what to do if a fisher hooks a bird. That has to change.
My recent letter to QLD Fisheries seeks changes to fishing legislation in two key areas and asks for more education.
Firstly … that the maximum number of fishing lines allowed to be set by a fisher, which currently stands at six lines allowable in fresh water and three lines allowable in salt water, be reduced to a maximum of two lines per fisher whether in fresh or salt water. Two lines is more than enough to enjoy the sport.
Secondly … that fishers in fresh water be required to remain with their lines at all times, as is already required of those fishing in salt water. (Currently the regs allow fishers in fresh waters to set up to six fishing lines and be 50m away from those lines. However, fishers in salt are required to remain with their lines at all times)
If the number of fishing lines allowed to be set by ALL fishers, whether fishing in fresh (non-tidal) or salt (tidal) water was reduced to a maximum of two, with ALL fishers having to remain with their lines at all times, we could be assured of a significant reduction in bird hookings and/or entanglements.
Education … More education is desperately needed to advise fishers how to avoid injuring wildlife and who to call if a creature does get injured. The following 3 points are relevant.
A) The Dept. to begin a program of education advising fishers not to fish if birds are perched or swimming in the immediate area. (If birds are present all lines should be pulled in).
B) The Dept. to advise fishers of their obligation to report any hooking or entanglement immediately. (There can be no excuse for failing to do this. Lack of reporting, while allowing a bird to swim off with a potentially life threatening injury, is an act of animal cruelty).
C) The next edition of QLD Recreational Boating and Fishing Guide, plus the Pocket Handbook, to include a comprehensive section showing fishers how to avoid injuring wildlife while providing rescue service phone numbers if a bird (or animal) sustains a fishing related injury. The guide also needs to address the issue of discarded fishing line and other tackle, highlighting the need to dispose of unwanted line (and rubbish like bait bags) responsibly to prevent line from entangling foraging birds on land.
How you can Help
I need your help to get these changes implemented. If I’m the only one who writes in then I’ll just be a voice in the wilderness. You have to back me or we’ll lose the opportunity and the carnage that you see in every WBR Capture Report will continue.
Below are the relevant pages copied from the Guide which show that fishers in fresh (non-tidal waters) (P71) can set 6 lines and are allowed to be 50m away from them, while fishers in salt (tidal waters) (P80) can set 3 lines but must remain with those lines at all times.
As stated earlier I’d like the regulations changed so that fishers in both fresh and salt water are permitted a maximum of 2 lines each and be required to remain with their lines at all times.
This is very little to ask and it would ensure far fewer unwanted hookings of wildlife while helping to preserve fish stocks, yet not diminish the enjoyment for fishers.
There also needs to be more education so that fishers understand they must take care around wildlife and have a responsibility to immediately seek help for a hooked or entangled bird. The issue of littering also needs to be addressed. Fishers need to be aware that discarding unwanted fishing line on the ground leads to the entanglement of foraging birds, causing much suffering and death.
Please support this initiative. You know what to ask for. There are pages of info and pics at www.wildbirdrescues.com.au and pics available in these Capture Reports and from the WBR Facebook page, all of which you are welcome to include in your correspondence to the relevant people. You can just cut and paste from this Report if you like, but writing in your own words is always better. And remember, please keep your message respectful.
Write or email the Director-General, Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Dr. Beth Woods, firstname.lastname@example.org . Also send a copy to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Mark Furner, email@example.com
Please do it now.
Email me if you’d like a copy of the letter I sent to QLD Fisheries and to The Minister firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to all supporters of Wild Bird Rescues.
At this time I’m holding enough donations to cover immediate costs and for the near future. If the coffers start to run dry I’ll ask you for help but for now we’re in good shape and so are the birds we help.
Special thanks to Liz and Paul who give their time on the Donations Committee and of course to our patron Jim Downs for his kind support.
Until next time
Pres. Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST U