July was another busy month at WBR with a total of 55 rescues attended.
With so many rescues the only way I can remember which stories to include in the Capture Report is to make a running list. Otherwise it all becomes a bit of a blur.
Happily July wasn’t all hard work and mayhem. At left I’m enjoying coffee and cake with Sarah from the RSPCA. This is my idea of how a wildlife rescue service should be, but alas, rarely is. I talk on the phone to the RSPCA chicks all the time but we’re all busy so mostly we never get to meet up.
Sarah and I had earned our cake. She’d called me for advice regarding a magpie trapped in a gymnasium at Griffiths Uni School. It sounded like a tricky rescue so I arranged to meet her there. The bird had already been stuck in the gym for three days and the school had a very special event planned for that arvo.
When we arrived I spotted a big tray of cakes behind the receptionist. Leaning towards Sarah I whispered, ‘do you reckon we could get our hands on some of that cake?’. She asked how I planned to do that. Ha … never underestimate the resourcefulness of a bird catcher.
The gym ceiling was tall … real tall, like 8m+. That’s about the height of a third story balcony. To make matters worse they’d strung netting across the length and breadth of the gym, just below the ceiling. It was there to stop balls bouncing up and hitting the lights above. Guess where the bird was? That’s right … flying around in the 2m cavity between the netting and ceiling of the gym. There was no way to get at the magpie. I advised the maintenance guy that we might not be able to free it. However, after carefully weighing up the options there appeared to be one possibility. At either end of the gym, above each goal area, was a small 2mx2m gap in the netting. If we could force the bird into the vicinity of one of those gaps we might just coax it down with food. It was our only hope.
Sarah and I retreated to our cars and began rigging long poles (7m lengths). I grabbed my trusty bottle of Aldi Cocktail Franks ($2.85). They’re so full of preservatives and other crap they last forever. Great for catching and probably safe to eat as long as it’s a ‘one off’.
Back in the gym we poked our long poles up through the netting hoping to scare the bird along towards one of the gaps. You wouldn’t believe it but the maggie flew straight there and perched on a steel beam directly above. We held our breath. I reached for a snagger and carefully tossed it onto the floor below the gap. Happily there’s just no stopping a maggie that hasn’t eaten for 3 days. Down he came. A couple more accurate ‘snagger throws’ allowed us to waltz him over towards the nearest door … and out. A near impossible rescue all completed within 5 minutes. Sarah was impressed, but her reaction was nothing compared to the maintenance guy who was beside himself
with happiness. ‘That was fantastic’, he said. ‘I never thought you’d get that bird out. How can we ever repay you’?
Ah, the magic words I was waiting to hear. ‘Funny you should ask’, I said. Minutes later we had cake.
July was a dreadful month for the family of dear little crested pigeons that live in Doug Jennings Park at The Spit. Including the first couple of days of August I’ve found 6 of those birds, all losing toes (or feet) to entanglements of braid (non-stretch fishing line). So far I’ve caught 4. I’m onto the other two but unfortunately, after a couple of misses with the net gun, they’re also onto me. That makes it hard. The four I’ve caught so far have been disentangled and although there’s a digit missing here and there, all are OK.
This carnage which is perpetrated upon all birds that forage in fishing areas will continue as long as idiots keep dropping offcuts of fishing line on the ground (at right) instead of wrapping them up tightly and placing them in a bin.
Early in the month a call came in from Wildcare concerning a gull hanging by fishing line from powerlines over a small bridge in Tallebudgera. The call had taken a while to get to me, so by the time I arrived the poor gull had been hanging there for at least an hour that we knew of and possibly a great deal longer. It was suspended by a hook in the tip of its beak which was attached to line wrapped around the wires. The one positive was that the hook probably hadn’t done too much damaged compared to a hook in the gut which by now would have torn the poor thing’s insides out. When the caller last saw the bird it was still moving, however when I arrived there was no movement at all. I observed it closely through binoculars for almost half an hour and was sure it was dead.
Rescuers are not allowed near powerlines … for very good reason, so I called Energex to come and cut the body down. They’re great and always willing to help, however it can be frustrating because the operator will say, ‘we’ll be there as soon as possible’, but they never give an ETA. ‘Soon’ means ‘anytime’. I waited 30 minutes then thought ‘stuff this’ and headed off to another job 5k’s away. Three quarters of an hour later, on the way back, I decided to swing past the gull. Energex had just arrived. They were waiting for approval to act. Suddenly the gull moved. We couldn’t believe it. Now became a mad scramble to cut down a ‘live’ bird. (I had pics of this but accidently deleted them)
The creature must have had 100m of fishing line attached, all wrapped around the powerlines. I supplied the lads with equipment and advice but was not allowed to help. It’s always tricky working on a bird which is 6m above but the line got cut and the gull plummeted down … straight into Tallebudgera Creek … with a fast outflowing tide. Rats!
I raced along the bank of the creek until I came to a house where a guy had a stand-up paddle board. He threw the board into the water and I climbed on. So did his dog. He called out, ‘just chuck him in’ … so I did, then paddled off after the gull. Until now the creature had been in shock; partially disabled and unable to fly. But with me in hot pursuit it quickly regained strength and took off. Soon it was out of sight. This wasn’t the outcome I’d hoped for but at least we’d managed to get it down and the hook in its beak may not prove to be a fatal injury.
For all the ibis lovers among you (no use denying it, I know who you are) here’s further proof of the intelligence of the Gold Coast’s favourite (cough) bird. Just look at this one at left. He’d just ordered coffee at a local beachfront café and was now busy selecting his preferred packet of sugar. Not many birds can read the label on a sugar packet you know.
A colourful addition to the Gold Coast Broadwater is the Turkey Boat. I’m really not sure what’s going on here but the owner has a flock of turkeys living under shade cloth on the upper deck. I live on a yacht and quite often take injured birds home to spend a night on the aft deck before going to hospital in the morning. However, my efforts pale into insignificance compared to this boat owners flock. Apparently this is legal, as long as the birds have sufficient food and water.
Someone told me they were ‘rescue birds’, in other words, they’d been saved from dire circumstances.
Not to be outdone we have our own honorary mascot at Southport Yacht Club. His name is Buddy (below). He patrols the walkways stopping every few meters to peer into the water looking for tasty bream. I help him out sometimes by throwing in a slice of bread in to burley up the fish. Buddy is ruthless and nails a bream every time. Swallows the poor thing whole, still wriggling. Wouldn’t that tickle?
I don’t have to rescue as many of the Broadwater pelis these days because Nathan, the regular feeder at the Charis Seafood’s lunchtime pelican feed, has turned out to be quite a good catcher. He can usually get his hands on any bird that comes in hooked when it fronts up for a free meal. In most cases the creature just requires simple de-hooking or disentanglement. Anything more serious and it’ll be boxed up in a cage that I supplied some years ago, which I then collect and take to hospital.
At left is Geoff from Volunteer Marine Rescue, Jacobs Well. The lads at VMR often help me by providing on-water transport out to injured birds in their local area and as far out as Jumpinpin Bar between North and South Stradbroke Island. This time they’d spotted a peli near their base with a hook in its bill. Geoff accompanied me down the beach where we caught the bird and quickly removed the hook.
Another pelican rescue took place at Silverbank Lake in Varsity. It was one of two local birds that regularly turn up for food. The peli was seen limping by Shirley, an elderly resident of the area (at right). A limpy bird is never good. Mostly this will be due to pain caused by a fish hook or a fishing line entanglement, or both. Each is a potentially life-threatening injury. That turned out to be the case with this bird. Poor thing had a tight wrap of braid around one leg, plus a hook and float that were dangling. Another few weeks and the braid would have severed the bird’s tendons, meaning game over.
I ran out of fish when trying to catch the bird but was able to coax it over using slices of bread. That should NEVER happen. Any self-respecting pelican would turn its nose up at bread, chicken, cheap sausage, dog meat or any other unnatural food. Sadly these local canal birds become terrible scavengers and will eat anything. Both creatures looked pale. I’m sure they were anaemic due because of their lousy diet, but what can you do. People throw them bread … they eat it.
Pelis often disgorge after being caught. It’s a natural reaction to stress. In the wild this helps to ‘lighten the load’ allowing them to get airborne and escape danger more quickly. However, during a rescue ‘lightening the load’ translates to ‘chucking up all over the rescuer’. It was green and putrid, no doubt due to the bird’s unnatural diet. I probably don’t smell too good at the best of times but after getting doused in peli spew even I couldn’t stand to be around myself. I washed and washed but the smell lingered. During lunch, two hours later, I almost passed out each time I lifted my hand to my mouth. I tell ya, I don’t know why I do this job.
On a positive note Shirley told me that she volunteers in the psychiatric ward at a local hospital; a job that I suspect is not for the faint hearted. She said the patients we thrilled by her story about the pelican rescue and loved seeing the pictures. It was a bright spot in their day.
My final story concerns those four little terrorists at right. They were having a whale of a time swimming around in a pond that I’d set up with the help of Robyn. She and her neighbour Roberta had plucked all four from the canal in front of their homes. Who needs parents when you’ve got your brothers and sisters and a bowl full of fresh lettuce, corn and peas to eat. Robyn had texted me a week earlier to say that 2 swans with 5 newborns had just turned up in their canal. But the call I received on this day was very different. Only four cygnets had turned up, but no parents. Not good. My guess is the kids had gotten lost. There’s been quite a lot of territorial argy bargy in the Broadbeach/Mermaid waterways of late. I suspect the parents had parked their cygnets then headed out to do battle with interloping swans. The fighting can be vicious and the little ones are at serious risk. If they’re found by an interloper they’ll be drowned. If the fighting goes on for too long they can easily become separated from their parents. Lucky this lot ended up at friendly households who knew to call Wild Bird Rescues.
Normally I’d go hunting for the parents by boat but we had no tag numbers and therefore no way to tell who was who in the zoo. I didn’t even know if the parents were still together. The best plan was to set the little one’s up in a nice tub for a few days and hope the parents showed up in the canal looking for them. The cygnets were in luxury. Each night they’d be taken inside to sleep in warm lamb’s wool on a hot water bottle. This is a far cry from the very harsh life that a young cygnet endures in the wild, especially in winter. Sadly, after three days, the parents hadn’t appeared and so I arranged for their transport up to Twinnies Pelican and Seabird Rescue in Beerwah, just north of Australia Zoo. There they’ll be raised until old enough to be released back into the wild. On the plus side it means all 4 will survive. In the wild, even with their parents, they’d be lucky if 2 made it through to maturity.
These have been just a few of the fifty five stories from July. Thank you to everyone who helps Wild Bird Rescues, allowing me to perform this valuable work. Special thanks as always goes to my regular donors and our patron Jim Downs and to Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee.
Rowley (Ibis Boy)
President, Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST