Things were brisk at Wild Bird Rescues during July with 43 rescues attended plus several releases. This was up considerably on June but equal to the usual annual monthly average.
Again ‘our favourite bird’ did quite well with only 4 needing to be caught. Ibis have had a pretty good run lately. In the past there’s been times when 10 ibis rescues per month was the norm. Not sure why the number has reduced but I believe it’s been aided by improvements at The Spit. The area used to be a hot bed of entanglement with fishing line laying everywhere. The regular pack of ibis was badly affected as were many others just passing through. It only takes a few minutes of foraging in an area littered with fishing line for a bird to get caught up. Some years ago I found myself with five entangled ibis in Doug Jennings Park, The Spit, all at the one time. That’s ridiculous! Fishers still drop far too much line there but things are a lot better than they used to be.
Our swans took an absolutely hammered during July. I caught 18 in all. Fortunately they weren’t all sick. Some were caught and relocated as a precaution which I’ll explain later in this report.
Case of Mistaken Identity
One ibis which warranted attention can be seen at right being securely held down by Ivy from Varsity Lakes. She keeps an eye on the swans at Riverwalk. This time she’d phoned all in a panic about a ‘crane’ with fishing line tangled around its feet. ‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘a crane. That’s interesting’. Not something I usually see. I was close so made a bee line for Ivy’s place. Upon arrival I drove up and down the street looking for said crane. Nowhere. Nada. While considering my next move a small ibis walked by, limping and stumbling. Some crane Ivy!
I suspect most people wouldn’t even want to touch an ibis, but not Ivy. She’s very elderly but jumped right in when I asked for help. The bird was quickly relieved of fishing line around its toes which would have taken them off. After that she was released.
Most people probably think that most injured birds need to go to hospital for treatment. Not so. It does vary from species to species but wherever possible I avoid taking anything to hospital, especially creatures suffering from fishing line entanglement. In nearly all cases an experienced rescuer can cut and remove the line (or the cotton or human hair). After dousing any wounds in dilute iodine the bird can then be released immediately.
You might ask … ‘but wouldn’t it be better if that bird went to hospital for a thorough vet check and professional treatment?’ Possibly, but there are many things to consider.
Firstly, our hospital and vet services are stretched to the limit. Load them up any further and the high level of care they offer could quickly go down the drain. For example, Currumbin Wildlife Hospital admits between 25 and 40 sick or injured native creatures every day, 7 days a week. 70% of those admissions are birds. This translates to around 120-180 birds every single week. It’s a massive load and so we need to keep the pressure off the hospital wherever possible to ensure that creatures which really do need intensive veterinary care can get it. Another factor is ‘stress on the bird’. They recover within minutes from the trauma of a catch, clean and release but are terrified when boxed; transported to hospital; held in captivity and handled, often for several days or even weeks. In many cases this is unavoidable. However birds that can be released immediately recover exceptionally well out in the wild where they enjoy stress free healing. Of the 70 or so ibis I catch every year the only ones I take to a vet or hospital are suffering from an irreparable injury and need euthanasia. Most often it’s a broken wing, leg or beak, nearly always caused by car strike. Bones are hollow and wing bones are very light and thin. They’re rarely repairable. Legs bones are a little easier to fix but the process is a nightmare for a bird which doesn’t understand that it’s supposed to sit still and keep weight off its leg during weeks of healing. Then there’s the cost.
It is different with say swans and pelicans. I encounter far more hooks rather than entanglements in those species. Superficial hooks can be removed on the spot but around 50% of hooked birds need surgical intervention. If infection has also set in a bird can spend anywhere from 5 -20 days in hospital before it’s ready for release.
In mid-July the rescue vehicle started running ‘rough’. Initial diagnosis pointed to nothing more than a faulty spark plug; $70 to replace all of them. Phew. A day later the diagnosis had changed to a blown head gasket and the price, like the head gasket, had blown out to between $2000 and $3000. Beaudy! Just what I needed. Add to that ‘time off the road’ meaning my ability to rescue birds would be directly proportional to the number of my unlucky friends with vehicles and who were willing to allow me to pollute their interiors with ‘sweet smelling’ ibis and mountains of swan poo.
Things were looking grim, but then crisis turned into opportunity. The specialist mechanic tasked with machining the head and refitting it declared that for similar money he could drop another engine into the vehicle. The ‘new’ engine would be a Japanese import where that country’s strict emission controls mean that car owners have to throw away their ‘donks’ at around 50,000 k’s. This replacement motor would also come with a 6 months warrantee. The decision was a no-brainer. I’d been considering trading up to a later model vehicle with much lower k’s anyway. That switch would cost around $10,000. The current car is still in great condition and so for the cost of a head and gasket the vehicle now has an engine which has done 100,000 less k’s and will hopefully provide good service for many years. So far it’s running beautifully.
Seriously on the Nose!
At the end of July we experienced a catastrophic die off of fish in Clear Island Lake, Bundall.
The lake borders the Gold Coast Turf Club and is adjacent to Black Swan Lake which the Turf Club, supported by most member of the GC Council, has been trying to fill in for a car park. Thus far they’ve been unsuccessful due to relentless opposition from protesters who’ve taken an ‘over my dead body’ approach to the Turf Club’s attempts.
Pic at right … mullet, gasping for breath on the surface. Dozens of pelis flew in for the feast.
On one Friday morning in July residents awoke to find that Clear Island Lake had turned a filthy grey/brown in colour and there were dead fish floating everywhere. The stench of sewage was overwhelming. I doubt that most residents even know there is a sewage treatment plant and a concrete manufacturing plant hidden among dense foliage on the opposite shore of the lake.
Myself and others thought the cause of the fish kill was obvious. Someone had pulled the wrong lever at the sewage treatment plant and allowed effluent into the lake. We assumed this had sucked all of the oxygen out of the water causing a horrendous stench and leaving countless fish dead or gasping for air on the surface. Council said otherwise claiming the fish deaths were due to a cold water ‘turnover’; a natural event and not uncommon. I met one very elderly lady who allowed me through her property to rescue a swan. After asking why all the fish were dying and hearing Council’s explanation she summed up most people’s opinion in one word … ‘bullshit’!
Believing the water was polluted with effluent and knowing the risk this posed to the abundant birdlife on and around the lake I took action on day 3, as soon as the first bird deaths were recorded (7 waterhen). Over the next 36 hours I caught and removed all swans from the lake except for two. Those two were a pair and had been long term residents and therefore were very likely to fly straight back to the lake regardless of where I put them. I admitted two other swans, both displaying potential symptoms of illness, to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. Several others I released on nearby West Lake, Robina where the water is clear, fresh and rich in natural food. They loved it.
Dead fish littered the lake as far as the eye could see. Even worse was having to watch countless schools of desperate fish, barely alive, swimming around gasping for air in the deoxygenated water. It was awful. Over the next 10 days the clean-up barge contracted by Council collected some 7 tons (my estimate) of dead fish. That is a huge amount of fish. Following each day’s clean-up, next morning the lake would be strewn with dead bodies. It was well over a week before the deaths began to subside. Luckily only a few birds had died; all on day three. The cause was unknown.
The BIG concern was the potential for an outbreak of botulism triggered by so many rotting fish carcasses which had sunk in the lake. It wouldn’t be the first time that Clear Island Lake had seen disaster. There’d been two significant outbreaks of botulism that I know of in the past 10 years where hundreds of birds died along with many lesser incidents where one or two swans or ducks had succumbed.
Ultimately it turned out that Council’s explanation for the fish kill was correct. A ‘turnover’ event can occur when a cold snap, in this case combined with a king tide, causes the water column to flip bringing muddy and anaerobic (deoxygenated) bottom water to the surface. Lack of oxygen in the surface water means the fish can’t breath and quickly suffocate. Council water tests revealed there was no fecal matter in the lake, meaning no sewage had been dumped. More significantly, water samples taken and independently tested by local resident and defender of Black Swan Lake, Rowena, also confirmed low fecal matter.
So what about that putrid smell of effluent? Turns out the bottom sediment which ended up on the surface due to the ‘turnover’ was rich in hydrogen sulphide, better known as rotten egg gas.
It will take a long time for Clear Island Lake to recover.
Two for the Price of One
On one pleasant afternoon I’d taken a drive to The Spit adjacent the Gold Coast Seaway. It’s a beautiful area. While there I always check the resident and transient birds including gulls, scrub turkeys, ibis, maggies plus the several families of crested pigeons that call the area home. The dear little cresty’s spend much of their time beetling around on the ground picking up grass seeds. Unfortunately their slim toes and short legs are prone to entanglement in anything that’s long and stringy. This includes hair, cotton and of course our old friend fishing line; most particularly short lengths of braid … the nastiest of the nasties. Light braid is super thin and very strong. Unlike nylon fishing line it doesn’t stretch at all. That’s the idea. Clearly many fishers don’t think twice about discarding short lengths of braid they’ve nipped off their line after attaching a lure. It’s laying everywhere at The Spit. Seven centimetres of the stuff (just under 3″ in the old measurement) is too short to be a threat to bigger birds like maggies, however that’s more than enough to devastate a little pigeon.
Pic at left. A cretsy. Freshly caught; not happy; both feet entangled in braid.
As soon as I arrived at The Seaway I saw one little bloke sitting down in the carpark. Things didn’t look right so I drove the car slowly towards the bird to cause it to stand and walk. Sure enough it was limping heavily. It took a while to manoeuvre the creature into position for a gun shot but once secured I cut away an entanglement which had already done significant damage to the poor things toes. Treated and released it’ll be a lot more comfortable now.
I got back into the car but had driven less than 100m before coming across another pigeon that looked to be in distress. Foraging with several others the bird was tripping and stumbling as it tried to walk on the grass. Rats! I scrambled to reload the same net into the gun; not easy in a windy carpark. Ten minutes later I was ready.
Luckily the bird was still foraging 50m out in the park. I sidled up and quickly won the families trust by offering some tucker before blasting the luckless little fellow with a net. I have to remind myself that the initial shock the bird experiences is well worth it because ultimately it will mean relief from pain and bring an end to the maiming. Turns out this pigeon (above) was hobbled by braid. It’s nasty stuff to cut. Even with special braid scissors one really struggles to get through it. Eventually I had all the line off. Like the previous pigeon this bird also lost a toe. Once treated he was allowed to fly away, still sore but much more comfortable.
Pic at right. The first pigeon; middle toe already dead from a tight wrap of human hair and cotton. Luckily his other toes were saved.
Snakes on a Plane
You’ve heard of that movie, right? Well here’s a slightly different take on the theme.
I’d just rescued several ducklings from the top of a high-rise hotel. Two staff accompanied me as we waited for the lift down. I was clutching my long net and a capture box. The lift arrived. It was tiny. Two tradies were already inside. The three of us piled in. Very cosy. The lift door closed. I was wedged up against the workmen both of whom were eyeing the capture box. Clearly they were wondering what was inside. I couldn’t resist.
‘Might wanna keep still lads. Got a coupla brown snakes in the box’.
You could have cut the air with a knife. They both turned pale.
OK, on reflection it wasn’t a very clever thing to say but I fessed up immediately explaining that the box was full of cute little ducklings only.
They took it pretty well, considering, although neither had fully regained colour by the time we got to the ground floor.
Rastas (the Terrible)
Remember Rastas from the last report? For several weeks he’d been terrorising residents on a Carrara canal. All attempts to move him had failed. Rastas would simply fly home and be up to mischief again in minutes.
Pic at left. Rastas arriving at hospital. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth
I’d already caught him four times. Finally, after two weeks of incarceration in Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, we got permission to relocate Rastas to a big lake system (a dam actually) north of Brisbane. Michael in the ambo ran him up there and let him loose.
Looks like this strategy might have worked because I haven’t had any calls from frantic residents on his old Carrara canal. Hopefully Rasty has settled in and made new friends on his new home.
I’d hate to find this bloke in my soup.
It’s a pike eel. One of two varieties which inhabit most, if not all, Gold Coast waterways. They’re so abundant because the darn things can access new rivers and lakes by slithering across land for long distances in wet weather.
Pike eels wreak havoc among small and baby waterbirds.
Unpleasant as they are eels are part of nature and we’d probably have an uncontrolled explosion of waterbird numbers if not for their presence. At least we know this one has eaten his last meal.
Always be Kind to Chickens
I’m pretty sure young Neva’s impressive ‘do’ is called a B52. Named after the 70’s pop group the B52’s where both girls sported towering beehive hairdos.
Neva was on a boat with her mum and dad at Horizon Shores Marina when they spotted a swan in a group of four with a hook in its leg and a long length of fishing line trailing. Horizon Shores is well north of the Goldie. Even if I left immediately (which I did) there was no guarantee they’d be able to keep the injured bird around for the 40 minutes it would take me to get there.
Luckily the girls succeeded and the young swan was still swimming off the stern of their boat when I pulled in. It was quite tame and would likely be an easy ‘hand grab’.
However, to get to it I had to climb into a dinghy tied off the stern. I piled in and positioned myself alongside the outboard. The dinghy had very low freeboard to start with. Adding my weight to the weight of the outboard caused the transom to hover perilously close to water level.
I had to reach even father out to grab the swan. He turned out to be feisty, putting up quite a fight. The stern of the boat went under. Gallons of water poured in. I damn near went down with the ship only just managing to drag the creature aboard before leaping forward to stem the flood.
I tell ya, the things a bloke does for injured poultry!
The hook was lodged in the bird’s right hock (knee); a very bad place indeed (pic above right).
Fortunately it wasn’t too deep and came out after a bit of a tug. Yet, even a superficial hook in a hock can mean big trouble. The quickest way to check for unseen damage would be to ‘walk’ the bird. Normally that’s difficult. You can’t just let a creature go to see if it can walk because it will run off or take to the air.
I surveyed the aft cockpit of the boat. With waist high combing all around there was no way the swan could get out or get airborne from such a tight place. Perfect. I put him down and let him go. He strutted around and crapped everywhere but we were pleased to see that he had no limp at all. A good result. I opened the aft cockpit door to let him out. Despite having clear access to the water he wouldn’t leave. After several minutes of pushing and prodding while he hissed and swatted at me I’d had enough and so picked him up and threw him over the side. Off he went with everything intact except his dignity. It was a good outcome for what could have easily been a very serious injury.
These have been just a few of many stories from July. Thank you for supporting Wild Bird Rescues. Your help is invaluable and I couldn’t continue without it. Special thanks to Jim Downs, our patron and Liz and Paul who give their time on the Donations Committee.
If there is a learning to be taken from this report I’d say it’s … ‘Zài jìnrù diàntī qián zǒng shì jiǎnchá rènhé xiāngzi’ … which of course is Mandarin for … ‘always check the contents of any boxes before entering an elevator’.
Until next time
President. Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST
Need I say more ……………