The closing month of 2018 saw WBR complete 31 rescues. This was up on previous months but still well below the annual monthly average. In fact around 30 rescues per month is where I want to be.
Swans took the biggest hit in December making up nearly half of all birds rescued (13). Problems ranged from fish hooks, dog bites, eel bites and of course general naughtiness.
Ain’t no ‘South Beach’
Miami Lake in Burleigh Waters is where I’ve rescued countless swans over the years. The injuries are nearly always caused by a fish hook or a fishing line entanglement. December was no exception. However, before I tell you the following stories it’s important to say that most of the time birds on Miami Lake lead a relatively safe and peaceful life.
That said, here goes …
For the past few years the dominant pair on Miami Lake has been Samson and Delilah (pic below). I’ve attended them and their many offspring countless times. Eight weeks ago Samson separated from Delilah and their latest brood of 6 brand new cygnets. Clearly something was wrong.
Samson was caught and taken to hospital where vets discovered an old fish hook wound. It was necrotic. Poor old fella endured several operations and spent a month in hospital, very nearly dying, before eventually pulling through. He was released back to his family. Sadly it didn’t last. A week later Samson went downhill again. This time he didn’t make it home.
This left Delilah in a pickle. With six young cygnets she was a sitting duck for hostile intruders wanting to take over their prime territory. Within days a new pair had moved in and began to flex their muscles. Delilah and her kids suffered repeated attacks. At one point she disappeared leaving the cygs to fend for themselves. Typically they cope by scattering in all directions, regrouping later when things calm down. Fortunately Delilah returned the next day but by then she and her family had been banished to another part of the lake, a kilometer from their home range. All this because their father, protector and dominant male had been slain by a fish hook.
Fast forward just one week. I was called to a swan which was acting strangely near the junction of Miami and Heron Lakes. The caller could see a lump in the bird’s neck (pic at left). When I got my hands on the creature I was shocked to feel how big and hard that lump was. Poor thing couldn’t swallow. The cause was a fish hook lodged in the bird’s throat. Her neck had become swollen and indurated resulting in a bolus of food getting stuck. She couldn’t be saved.
Fast forward another week. I took a call from RSPCA (yes, I’m helping them again) concerning a swan sitting on a lawn at Miami Lake. The report said the bird was having trouble walking. I immediately phoned the caller. No answer and no message service. Great! That makes things very hard. Without someone onsite I’m unable to give advice about how to keep an injured bird there which means typically fewer than a third of them will still be there when I get there. I was out on The Spit at the time but decided to risk the drive. When I arrived, thirty minutes later, the bird had flown. No surprise there. Fortunately a neighbor had seen it go and pointed to an area across the lake where she thought it might have landed. As I peered across the lake, trying to spot the creature, who should turn up but Delilah and her (now) 5 kids. She had fishing line protruding from her right wing. Delilah knows me and it’s fair to say that I’m not her favorite person. She views me as ‘trouble on legs’. Don’t know why but this time she let her guard down. I pounced. The hook in her wing wasn’t serious and was quickly removed, but it was still another bloody hook!
I put Delilah back in the water and she re-joined the groms, then I drove to the opposite side of Miami Lake and began scouting for the other bird. I soon located a lone swan half a k away. Just might be the one. I moved down the road, then through a park and onto the foreshore, then finally along the beach. By then the creature was only 80m away and coming towards me, attracted by food. When a bird is floating there’s no way to confirm a leg injury, so I coaxed him forward to where he could climb out of the water. He had a limp, but not too bad. Then I saw a tiny spike protruding from his left knee. Definitely the right bird.
Nim is his name (pic at right). He’s the sweetest creature and barely fought as I grabbed him; allowing me to lift him up and inspect that knee. The ‘spike’ turned out to be the shank of a fish hook poking a few millimeters out from the skin (pic at left). Very hard to see because the rest of the shank had been nipped off, I suspect by the fisher who’d hooked Nim and then allowed him to swim away with a life threating wound. I rushed him to hospital. X-rays showed the barb had lodged just 2mm short of the joint capsule. Dr. Andrew told me that if that barb had touched the capsule he might not have been able to save Nim.
Fast forward another few days. This time it was one of Delilah’s kids in trouble. The little fellow could barely walk. There was blood. I arrived twenty minutes after receiving the call and despite Delilah’s spirited warnings to ‘stay away from that ratbag’ the cygnet didn’t listen (kids never listen) and swam towards me for food. The lacerations to her left knee were almost certainly caused by an eel. The bite didn’t look too bad, but her foot was dangling and so it was off to hospital. She’s only little so I called her Shnookums (Pic at rights shows the bite wound to her hock(knee)).
The final tally on Miami Lake for a period spanning just over one month in December was five major swan rescues, four of them due to fish hook injuries. Samson, the male swan in the dominant family on the lake died. So too the female found with the solid lump in her neck. Delilah, the mother with the hook in her wing is OK. The hospital managed to save Nim, the swan with the hook in his knee and he’s already been released. Delilah’s daughter Shnookums was eel bitten and has received stitches and medication. She’s still in hospital and is doing OK.
As for fishers on Miami Lake … In December they caused two swan deaths and untold suffering, not to mention a great deal of work for me and huge expense for veterinary services, mainly Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. No fisher called to report, or get help, for any bird they hooked.
Mayhem in Main Beach
No, I’m not talking about more injured swans. Rather, the Wild Bird Rescues Annual General Meeting which was held early in December. It’s always a raucous affair and not for the fainthearted.
Fortified with caffeine there’s no telling what secretary Luxford might do. The big risk is having him jump up on the table and rip off his shirt (still longing for the ‘good ol’ days’ in that all-male revue). Following that I usually have to qwell mutterings about absconding with the funds so we can all take a Caribbean cruise. I tell ya, it’s not easy being president.
Eventually we got down to business and secretary Lizzy and I made our reports for the financial year ending 30th June, 2018.
In a nutshell … during those 12 month WBR attended 538 rescues. Even better, the Donations Account ended the year firmly in the black. Then it was time to vote ourselves back into office before signing off on the accounts and auditor’s report which was kindly prepared (at a very significant discount) by chartered accountant Kevin Ridgway of Clear Island Waters.
The most difficult part of the meeting was getting everyone to don their party hats for a photo. Don’t know why but we were all uncharacteristically shy on the day. Might have been the stares from other patrons in the café disturbed by our exploding crackers.
Fav of the Month
Any successful rescue is a good rescue but my favourite in December was a little pee wee I called Tweety. She lives with her partner in the grounds around Peter’s Fish Market on SeaWorld Drive.
I’ve rescued several entangled pee wees at Peter’s over the years and so it was no surprise to see Tweety hopping around the carpark on one leg the afternoon I pulled in for fish and chips. Pee wees come and go like the wind meaning there was no time to muck around. I swung into the nearest parking spot, jumped out of the car, grabbed a net gun and food and then ran to where she was fossicking on a table top. Peter’s is usually packed with people (and ibis … Peter just loves ibis :-). Luckily on this arvo things were quiet. I aimed and fired. The net flew true, enveloping the bird. I sprinted forward but in those two seconds she somehow managed to squeeze through the netting and was gone. What a bugger! A quick and easy catch gone wrong.
I alerted Peter and Owen (the filleter) telling them to call as soon as they saw her again. I was sure she was a regular and so I expected to hear from them next day.
Over the following three days I must have pulled in to search that carpark at least 20 times. I saw her partner 3 times but there was no sign of Tweety. Nor did I get any calls from staff. She’d simply disappeared. It wasn’t looking good. Then I spotted a pee wee holding its leg up at SeaWorld Resort, a full kilometer north. That bird baled before I could turn the car around and I never saw it again.
A week went by. Every day with an entanglement is a day too long for a little bird.
Then almost 10 days after the original sighting, just as I was finishing a coffee in Tedder Av., Owen called to say, ‘the pee wee is here. Get your arse over quick!’ I bolted for the car arriving within 5 minutes …. one minute too late. ‘O’ was standing in the carpark looking upwards. That’s never good.
She was on a branch 5 meters up in a tree. The question was … could I get her down? I began by throwing crumbs onto the top of a large table situated below the tree. She could see the crumbs but was in no hurry. It became a tense waiting game. Either she’d fly away, or drop down to investigate the food. It took a full 10 minutes of burleying before she finally spread her wings and glided down onto the table. BANG. It was over. The net ended up draped on a vine behind the table with her firmly wrapped up in the middle.
The entanglement of thread around her toes and foot was nasty. It took me a while to cut it out of her lame foot. Then I saw the tiniest movement in her toes. It meant the thread hadn’t severed tendons, meaning there was hope.
The rescue had taken place on a Sunday. I didn’t want to admit her to hospital and so chose to wait and ask Dr. Kevin at Gold Coast Vet Surgery in Surfers/Broadbeach to have a look, hoping we might get her home quickly. Tweety wasn’t too happy about spending 24 hours in one of my capture boxes but a dozen fresh meal worms helped to sweetened the deal. As the hours went by I watched her make a remarkable recovery. By nightfall she appeared to have full use of that previously lame foot and all toes (pic at right shows her using the far foot which 6 hours earlier she couldn’t put down).
She was first cab off the rank in the GC Vet Surgery next morning. Dr.K said there was no infection and pronounced her good to go. Fifteen minutes later Peter, Owen and myself presided over Tweety’s release as she flew up into the nearest tree, squawking her head off.
It was the last day of 2018. The new year was going to start well for one little pee wee.
The Healing Power of Chocolate
OK, I can accept that not everyone gets my obsession with cake … but chocolate … Ha! … chocolate is something that everyone understands, right? So, allow me to present indisputable evidence of its wondrous healing powers.
I was helping my mate Mic turn his yacht around in the marina. Just as the boat was pulling out from the dock two fairy marten chicks dropped from the boombag and landed on deck. I yelled to the crew, threatening to murder anyone who trod on the chicks before we could flip the boat. As she came around I saw two more chicks further down the deck. OMG! Obviously the parents had nested in the boombag. A very common practice. Mic rarely takes the boat out so they were reasonably safe … just not on this day.
I scooped up the four and placed them in a hand towel which I tucked into a soft hat, then positioned the hat on deck. The parents quickly found them. I hoped the parents would feed them for the next 5 days, which was all they needed. I left Mic with instructions to monitor the situation closely. He watched the parents come down several times, but reported that later in the arvo they disappeared. I checked the chicks again and found them cold. The parents had been coming down alright but they hadn’t been sitting on the young birds. My mistake. It was a hot day and the little ones were snuggled together but that still wasn’t enough warmth. Another few hours and all would have perished (pic at right … ‘Dat dem my kids down dere’)
They needed heat quickly.
I rushed them to my yacht then filled two containers with very warm water and placed the tiny birds in a towel wedged in between. They needed to be ‘cooked up’, fast! Several minutes later, warmth restored, all but one had responded well and were looking good. The last bird was the runt of the litter. It was coming good, but a little slower than the others.
I’m convinced that heat alone was NOT the reason for this miraculous recovery. Oh no-sir-ee. By now the keen observer will have noticed the water containers used had each previously held chocolate almonds or chocolate sultanas. It’s clear to me the former contents had imparted ‘chocolate healing vibrations’ into the water which transferred into those little birds. If hospitals were to adopt this practice, wrapping sick people in chocolate containers (after they’d been fed the contents) recovery rates would skyrocket. Add a slice of cake and disease might be a thing of the past.
In order to ensure their survival (as if chocolate weren’t enough) I drove to Nerang at 9pm that evening and met ‘small bird carer extraordinaire’ Josh in the carpark of Pet Barn. Looking every bit like a drug dealer I quickly handed over the merchandise. Next day Josh called to say the chicks had enjoyed several meals of crickets and were doing well.
Oh Yes, there is a God
The most hair raising ‘non-rescue’ in December involved two chicks of advanced age standing next to their nest on a branch, 7m up and out over a creek in Coombaba (pic at right). From the report they sounded like osprey chicks. The caller said their mother, which had raised them alone, had not been seen for at least a week. Normally she could be seen coming and going all day before snuggling up to the chicks at night.
The caller’s home was on the opposite side of the creek about 70m from the nest tree. I arrived and immediately identified them as darter chicks. That was a plus because abandoned osprey chicks are doomed. Who knows where their mother was but being a sole parent she could have easily fallen foul of fishing line or a hook. It’s possible too that she was utterly exhausted after weeks of keeping food up to two voracious chicks.
Darters fledge at about 5-6 weeks, although apparently they can swim at 4 weeks. These two birds were about 4 weeks old … still all white and fluffy with immature wings. I wanted a closer look.
It was quite a process getting through the gated community on the opposite side of the creek, then a 2k drive around to the nature reserve before tromping across hundreds of meters of bush to the nest tree (pic at left, chicks circled). If in fact the chicks had not eaten for 10 days they’d be in trouble. I planned to catch them, although just how I wasn’t sure.
I located their tree. The chicks were high on a branch which stretched 4m out over the water. I approached close to the base of the tree. They saw me and looked nervous but I was so far away that I would never have dreamed of what happened next. One bird tried to turn on the branch, fell, bounced off a branch below then plummeted head-first into the creek. Its sibling took one look, yelled Geronimo (well, that’s what I think I heard) and plummeted 7m downwards, head first, in after him.
My view was obscured by scrub and so I scrambled down onto the creek foreshore fully expecting to see the two swimming for shore. Nothing. Not even a ripple. I scanned the waters. Not a sign. Five minutes later I phoned the caller to say …’I think they’ve drowned’.
Darter are great fliers and expert underwater hunters, (pic of mature darter below) capable of holding their breath for several minutes. But these were chicks; hungry ones at that, although they did look rather plump. I stood there in shock and disbelief, searching the surface of the water for what seemed like ages. That’s when I saw it … a skinny little head appeared above the surface, 40m out in the steam. Seconds later it disappeared and was replaced by another skinny little head just 10 meters in front, close to the bank. Those beady eyes took one look at me then quickly retreated below the surface. Darter in the water are like ghosts.
I couldn’t believe it. Both were alive and clearly capable of swimming and diving, but could they catch their own fish??
There was nothing more to do so I headed home, feeling just a tad nauseous. It gets worse. Two hours later the caller phoned to say she’d just seen the mother darter land in the tree and was standing alongside the nest.
Talk about rotten bloody timing!
Next morning at slack tide I launched the kayak determined to rescue the chicks, if they needed to be rescued and if I could find them. A lot of ‘ifs’ there. I paddled up stream in the direction of the nest tree. Along the way I discovered two more darter nests and plenty of fishing line including a couple unattended fishing rods with line streaming out into the creek … a death trap for any bird unlucky enough to run into them.
While paddling I carefully scanned the shoreline hoping to spot a bedraggled chick, or better still two, washed up but alive on the bank. To be honest I didn’t hold out much hope. Then in my peripheral vision I caught sight of something rocketing down from the heavens like a Scud missile. It hit the water 8m ahead of the kayak. I saw just enough to know it was a darter … not just any darter, but a darter chick, and a fat one at that. Looking up to my right I could see that the branch it had launched from was a full 8 meters above water level and extended out from the heavily sloping truck of a casuarina. Had the chick climbed up that sloping trunk? Looks like it.
At that point I stopped searching the bank of the creek and shifted my gaze towards the heavens. The nest tree was just ahead. Sure enough, there on a branch a good 7m above water level and looking all brownish from the dirty water was the second darter chick. It gets better. A further 9m on, in the nest tree, I found their mum. She was watching over both birds.
‘Relief’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.
From believing that my intervention had probably caused the death of two young birds belonging to one of my favourite species, to now see both in apparent good health and coping, was quite a revelation.
(Pic at left … a darter chick attempting to surgically remove it’s mother’s tonsils …… or maybe it’s feeding)
More good came from this ‘non-rescue’. Arriving back in Main Beach I drove to Fisheries. My understanding was that fishers were still permitted to set then walk away from their gear, but I wanted to report the two rods set in the creek anyway. With so many darter chicks in the area, plus lots of other water birds, those lines were an absolute menace. In the past Fisheries have helped by knocking on the door and politely asking a fisher to be respectful of wildlife and please pull in their lines. Imagine my delight when the officer said … ‘no, that’s all changed’. Fishers in tidal (salt) water must now REMAIN WITH THEIR LINES AT ALL TIMES. Leaving them unattended is an offence. Fisheries officers went out to the creek the next day.
Significant Achievements in 2018
For the past few years the two standouts on my ‘to do’ list have been to firstly … get supervision and protection for the many pelicans which turn up each day at Charis Seafoods lunchtime pelican feed in Labrador. Secondly … to see a change in law that would make it illegal for fishers to set a line(s) and walk away leaving them unattended. In November I took action on the first issue and now QLD Parks and Wildlife are working on plans to introduce supervisors at the pelican feed.
My second goal however was floundering. I’m not the world’s most patient man when it comes to dealing/negotiating with burocracies and so when advised that changes to the Fisheries Act would probably take a number of years I felt utterly disheartened. And so it was a wonderful surprise to discover that QLD Fisheries had gone ahead and changed the law anyway. I’d like to think the several letters and graphic pictures sent by Wild Bird Rescues to the Ministers, the Director of Fisheries and the Depts. Rec Fish Officer helped to bring about those changes. Either way I’m delighted with the achievements of 2018. (pic at right shows two unattended fishing lines streaming out into the water just meters from resting pelicans and gulls)
There’s still more work to do.
The new laws say … Fishers in tidal waters (salt) can set up to 3 lines and must remain with them at all times, however fishers in non-tidal waters (fresh) are permitted to set up to 6 lines and be up to 50m away at any time. Why?? How the hell is someone supposed to control 6 fishing lines from 50m away? In a world of plummeting fish stock and rapidly growing interest in preserving what little wildlife we have left, allowing fishers to set so many lines and then walk away, putting wildlife at huge risk, is simply ridiculous. In my view fishers in both salt and fresh water should be restricted to a maximum of two lines each and be required to remain with those lines at all times. This is more than reasonable and I will be pursuing that goal in 2019.
If you see a fishing line(s) cast out into the water with nobody in attendance don’t hesitate to call the Fishwatch Hotline … 1-800-017-116. Your name will remain confidential and Dept. officers will investigate and warn the fisher, or charge them if they persist. It only takes one fishing line, left out regularly, to cause the kind of destruction I talked about earlier on Miami Lake.
Not an Oversight
Now, before you send hate mail let me state for the record that I am fully aware there’s been no mention of the ‘I’ word anywhere in this report. Not once. I know that ibis lovers among you (don’t pretend you’re not) will be incensed by the omission of stories about ‘our favourite bird’ but there’s only so much a bloke can fit into one report. I promise next month will be a bumper ibis issue! Now that’s something to really look forward to. 🙂
These have been just a few of many stories from December. Thank you to everyone who supports Wild Bird Rescues. Thanks to Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee and to our patron Jim Downs.
I wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year.
Until next time
Pres. WBR Gold Coast