With only 23 rescues attended in June things were quiet, at least on the rescue front.
In fact everywhere was quiet. The RSPCA wasn’t too busy and Currumbin Wildlife Hospital had days when they sent volies home and permanent staff were left twiddling their thumbs. This was great of course because it meant fewer injured creatures, but the peace never lasts. In fact they have a rule at the hospital. When things are quiet, which is rare, nobody is allowed to mention it for fear of jinxing. The moment someone says, ‘wow, isn’t it quiet’, all hell breaks loose.
Let me apologise in advance for all the complaining I do in this report. It’s just seems that everywhere you look our human race is hell bent on destroying the planet, our home and by association, ourselves. Added to this are unavoidable stories of tragedy which flow from every busy wildlife rescue service and …. I bet you can hardly wait to read on 🙂 .
More Commitment Needed
Thumbs down this month goes to the Gold Coast Waterways Authority. I’d asked them to collect some ‘beached flotsam’ which had washed up on Curlew Island after a houseboat sank. At first they said no, then they said yes, then they said, ‘it’s not our responsibility’, then eventually they sent out a boat crew to pick up the 4 items; two pieces of plywood decking, a large plastic drum and a rusty old fuel tank. Nothing big.
The crew removed one item only and left the rest behind claiming they ‘weren’t equipped to remove the other items’. This meant I had to start again, making calls to a different Gov Dept. (GC Council apparently), in the hope they would dispatch a boat and crew to pick up what the GCWA left on the island.
Frustration took hold and so I decided to collect the two sections of ply decking myself and transport them to the other end of the island (pic at left). Then I piled those pieces on top of the rusty old fuel tank so that everything was in the one place.
As for the GCWA saying, ‘they weren’t equipped’ for the job. You’d have to wonder, if a crusty pensioner in a tiny dinghy managed to move all of that stuff in 15 minutes, why a crew of younger men in a million dollar tax payer funded vessel, couldn’t.
Now let’s see if GC Council comes to the party and collects the rest.
There was some method in my madness in choosing to move that decking. It meant that a rubbish collection crew wouldn’t have to traipse past the central nook on the island where the rare beach-stone curlews have been stationed. The pair (at right) have been regular visitors for at least the past month. Any disturbance would force them into the air and away from the island. I wanted to avoid that at all cost. So far this pair have given every indication that if left undisturbed they might nest again. That would be wonderful. It’s been 5 years since they last nested there.
Sadly, beach walkers with off-leash dogs will likely to put an end to that dream.
Although situated a mere 300m off the Labrador foreshore few people visit Curlew Island during the chilly days of winter. Even so, the curlews are super shy so if just one person approaches within 50m, they get antsy. If that person is accompanied by an off-leash dog, it’s over. The birds disappear, usually for days and sometimes for much longer. No hope of nesting.
People are not at fault here. You can hardly blame someone for walking their dog, off-leash, on a lovely island beach, given they’re perfectly within their rights to do so. Most are totally oblivious of the disruption they cause.
Pic at left. You don’t have to be an indigenous tracker to recognise those prints
At fault is QLD Parks and Wildlife. Despite being fully briefed more than 10 years ago and updated regularly about the presence of critically endangered birds on the island, the Dept has sat on its collective bum and done nothing to protect them. These are the only two beach-stone curlews that I know of between Tweed Heads (NSW) and Bribie Island (QLD), 200k’s to the north.
The lack of any positive action would be bad enough if only the beach-stone curlews were affected, but they’re just one small part of a very big story.
A Precious Place
Curlew Island is the only sandbar in the Gold Coast Broadwater that remains above water on even the highest tide. As such it offers all-weather refuge for migrating birds. At low tide, many acres of flats are exposed, especially on the south side of the island. Those flats are an expansive feeding area.
Pic at right. Whimbrels, along with their larger cousins the Eastern curlews, resting on the sand flats of Curlew Is. The mayhem of the Gold Coast Broadwater can be seen all around them
Some of the migrating birds are at serious risk while one species, the Eastern curlew, is listed worldwide as being critically endangered.
Most arrive back at Curlew Island in August/September of each year having completed a round trip of nearly 20,000 kilometres to their northern nesting grounds in Siberia. During that epic journey the birds lose almost half of their body weight. They descend onto the flats of Curlew Island, exhausted and starving. Instead of finding sanctuary which they desperately need they’re set upon by off-leash dogs. It only takes one dog to scatter the entire flock, driving the exhausted creatures back into the air. They have few other suitable places to go .
Pic at left. Running flat out this little fellow could cover the entire length of the island and back in less than one minute, scattering every bird along the route
There are countless places where people can walk and exercise off-leash dogs without causing mass disruption. Sadly the birds of Curlew Island are invaded at least once on most days during winter and several times, or more, every day during the critical summer months. Authorities know about this and do nothing.
Australia’s Shameful Record
Three weeks ago the ABC’s 4 Corners aired a program entitled ‘Extinction Nation’. I hope you saw it. If not it’s available online. They declared that Australia has lost more species than any other country in the world. That’s how bloody hopeless our authorities have been at protecting wildlife.
Pic at right is of Cyril, an Eastern curlew that I saw daily during weeks of relentless hunting for a fishing line entangled beach-stone curlew. Cyril was ‘almost’ tame (for the species), but wouldn’t allow me to approach closer than 80m. That’s how shy they are.
The last third of the 4 Corners program featured Eastern curlews that bivewack on the Toondah Wetlands, just south of Brisbane. The area is fully protected, falling under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty designed to protect and preserve sensitive wetlands and their resources. In other words it’s among the most ‘protected of the protected’. Yet despite this the ABC revealed that our government is actually considering resuming part of the Toondah Wetlands at the request of a billionaire developer and allowing him to build 3600 apartments, a hotel, convention centre and a marina. The developer has donated many thousands of dollars to the government. The ABC interviewed the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley who claimed that such donations have no influence on policy. She may as well have saved her breath because everyone knows that’s bullshit.
For now it looks like Australia is set to retain the title of ‘Extinction Nation’ for some time to come.
People have been working for years trying to get some protection for Curlew Island and the adjacent feeding grounds which are the lifeblood of the migrators and the beach-stone curlews. However, they’re too few. In this world it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. We’ll have to make a lot more noise to have any hope of motivating this unmotivated government.
Pic at left features Whiskers, a recently fledged beach-stone curlew I’d caught two weeks earlier and removed a life threatening entanglement of light weight fishing line from his feet. BSC’s appear to be one of the few bird species to eat soldier crabs which abound on the Curlew Island Flats
Soon I’ll be asking for your help to protect the precious birds of Curlew Island and the heritage they represent for our children.
To Act or Not to Act?
I posed this question in the May report, saying that in some cases an injured bird is better left and allowed to get on rather than catching it and taking it to a vet. Of course this might not be an acceptable solution in an ideal world, but we don’t inhabit one of those.
This month I’m pleased to bring you a wonderful example of recovery, right from my own backyard.
The little bloke (at right) lives on the docks at Southport Yacht Club, where I live. Three months ago he turned up with a dreadfully broken leg. Dunno how it happened but it was awful. The fracture wasn’t compound but the bone had clearly snapped and the ends had slipped across and past each. ‘Ouch’, doesn’t even begin to describe it. The gull couldn’t weight bear at all on that leg. He just hopped everywhere and soldiered on.
I’ve said before that birds are tough … real tough. Only when a creature’s suffering is clearly intolerable, with no hope of recovery, should we move to euthenase.
So, what to do with the gull?
I decided to follow my own advice, dodgy though it sometimes is, and let the gull be. A trip to hospital would only mean ‘heaven’, if you get my drift.
Now, three months on and the bird’s leg (at left) looks like a new one, albeit with a few odd angles. The break has healed completely and he scurries around the docks without the slightest sign of a limp. Not even a skerrick. What a remarkable recovery its been. So nice to see.
Pelis in the Wars
Another story in the May report featured a pelican that had lost a foot, I suspect to shark bite. I left that bird too, hoping it would manage. It could feed and fly perfectly well and I saw no evidence that it was suffering unbearably. Again, the only alternative if caught would be a trip to ‘heaven’. I don’t think the bird would fancy that option. I wish I could provide an update on its progress but I haven’t heard anything. So, fingers crossed.
In June another damaged peli came to my attention, having lost more than a third of its top beak. Thank goodness it wasn’t the bottom beak. That would have proved hopeless; the bottom beak and pouch being indispensable for scooping up fish. But a full length top beak? … not quite so necessary.
My concerns for this creature were two fold. Firstly, that the raggedy end where the beak had broken off might become infected, or might already be infected. Secondly, that the creature’s ability to preen would be compromised. If it couldn’t preen and oil its feathers it would lose waterproofing. That would spell its demise.
The pelican was first reported swimming in a Helensvale canal. I arrived 25 minutes later but it was super standoffish and uncatchable.
Ten days on and a call came in from a cleaner at the Broadwater Tourist Park, adjacent Loader’s Creek, Southport. She claimed that a week earlier she’d seen a pelican choking on something, and that part of that ‘something’ had been poking out of its mouth. Now the bird had returned to the park and was still choking.
The likelihood of this being the same bird was remote indeed. I quizzed her relentlessly but she stuck to her guns, so I drove straight there. Sure enough, one of the half dozen pelicans present had a sizable lump in its throat and was shaking its head and spluttering. Again, slim chance it was the same bird she’d seen a week earlier, but it was displaying the same symptoms (pic at right).
It’s not unusual for a pelican to bite off more than it can chew. Their appetite is far bigger than their throat and although a pelican is capable of swallowing quite large fish, when they try to swallow a big, bony fish frame, they often come unstuck. If it lodges in their throat they look, for all intents and purposes, like they are choking. But they’re not. In all my years I have never seen a pelican die from this and I’ve seen hundreds in that condition. My theory is they shake and quiver to regurge stomach acid until the bones of the fish frame break down sufficiently for the bird to swallow. Usually this takes two to three hours, assuming they don’t cough up the frame and disgorge it beforehand.
I decided to wait and watch the bird before making any attempt to catch it. Lucky I did. Minutes later it was set upon by two other pelicans intent on stealing whatever it was carrying in its throat (pic above left). The attack caused the pelican to disgorge. It threw up the gnarliest fish frame you’ve ever seen, all spikey bones and horribleness.
The other birds pounced, but neither managed to secure and swallow the frame before it sunk into the depths (pic at right)
It was then I noticed that our little friend with the broken top beak was one of the two ‘robber’ birds. (‘Broken beak’ in pic at right)
It took a while to lure him to the beach. My intention was catch him and inspect that broken end of the beak with a view to having it trimmed in hospital and rounded off.
I blasted a wildly inaccurate net shot that missed by a mile. Rats! That would make catching him very difficult in the future. However, one positive did come from this. He appeared to be having some success preening.
No doubt many of you have attended the feeding of pelicans which takes place every lunchtime at 1.30pm on the beach outside Charis Seafoods in Labrador (Gold Coast). Some might also remember that one of my objectives this year is to secure supervision for pelicans at the feed, thus protecting them from harassment and cruelty, mostly perpetrated by uninformed tourists, children and local teens.
Some days the crowds at the feed are well behaved and the pelicans are relaxed. However school holidays, especially in summer, can be a nightmare for the birds.
OS tourists have no idea. They’re seen daily throwing hot chips to the pelicans, then they’ll stand by while their kids pick up handfuls of sand and throw it in the pelicans’ face. Local kids chase the birds. I’ve even stopped teens from throwing rocks at pelicans standing just meters in front of them. On busy days adults and children block the path of pelicans attempting the return journey down the beach with a fish frame, heading for the safety of the water. In fact, during summer school holidays it’s become something of a sport for teens to lay in wait at the water’s edge and force pelicans to fly across them to safety.
Thankfully, over a decade where I’ve attended the feed countless times, I’ve never seen a bird get injured. Another plus is that Charis staff can often catch injured pelicans that approach close to the feeder. That’s a big positive, however my concern has always been for injured birds that stand back and are therefore uncatchable by staff. Reporting has always been lax despite me constantly bring this to the attention of management. Nearly all of the reports I’ve received about injured birds at the feed have come from members of the public, not from staff. It shouldn’t be that way.
In discussions with the owners of Charis Seafoods I’ve suggested that two ‘supervisors’ be stationed on the beach during the half hour prior to the feed and remain until its over. That would take care of 90% of the bad behaviour immediately. But they’re not willing to provide this, I suspect because of the cost and because DES (Dept of Environment and Science), who are the licensing authority, don’t require them to.
Pic at right. Pelicans at the ‘feed’ compete for a piece of fish
Last November I wrote the first of three letters to DES highlighting problems at the feed and calling for urgent action. The Dept’s initial response was positive, saying they hoped to have supervision in place by Xmas. That was seven months ago. Nothing has been done. Now they ignore my letters; they’ve refused to meet with me, or discuss options and apparently are formulating all plans in ‘secret’. Great!
This arrogance is hard to fathom. I suspect staff at DES barely know one end of a pelican from the other, so how they expect to arrive at a plan which ensures good outcomes for the birds, while vigorously ignoring input from experienced people who are well familiar with the broad range of problems occurring at the feed, is anyone’s guess.
By the way DES is the same bunch which has failed to protect the endangered birds on Curlew Island. ‘Extinction Nation’ rolls on.
I’m fed up with trying to influence an operator who does only the bare minimum required by their license. And, I find it very hard to watch as pelicans are abused because of non-existent regulations. Worse given that for years, late or non-reporting of injured pelicans has caused me so much extra work. In fact recently there was three instances of late, or non-reporting, over a two week period, including our friend with the broken beak. If staff told me about injured birds they’d been unable to catch, while they were still at the feed, there’s a very good chance I could get there in time for the rescue. However, if a report comes in late I have to launch a boat and spend hours or even days trying to track that bird down on the expanse of the Broadwater.
Last month I pulled the pin. I won’t be assisting again until the inadequacies inherent in the current system, where birds attracted into harms way by unnatural feeding practices, are addressed.
How will this decision play out for the pelicans? Obviously, that was my chief concern. I’d much rather be helping, as I’ve done for so many years, but under present circumstances my absence will likely make little difference. If I can’t rely on the operator to report injured pelicans quickly then nothing has really changed. I’ll still hear about most uncatchable birds from members of the public and I’ll continue to launch my boat and catch them.
The BIG difference however has been to my peace of mind; not feeling constantly frustrated and hamstrung by people who have very different values to mine in respect of wildlife, not to mention the inept Gov Dept. which is in charge.
As DES is no longer answering my letters I’ve sent a very firm communication to The Hon. Leeanne Enoch, Minister in charge of DES, asking her to intervene. We’ll see how that goes before I take further action.
The good news is that Grill’d finally sent Wild Bird Rescues the promised donation of $300 as winner of their February ‘Local Matters’ competition. Thank you Grill’d.
I was a tad disappointed having to hassle them for the money, however something really good did occur during my last visit to the Grill’d, Surfers Paradise store.
I’d approached a lovely member of staff named Lily to ask about the donation. She was most apologetic and promised to do all she could. As I was leaving the restaurant I noticed a heavily entangled pigeon sporting an awful limp. Running back inside I shouted, ‘Lily, Lily, quick I need a crust of bread’. Lily was quick to oblige.
Packin’ bait I headed back out towards my quarry who by now was flat out terrorising foreign diners as she scurried between their legs, mopping up all droppings (burger droppings, that is).
I positioned myself for the catch, adrenalin already kicking in. There was fire in my eyes as I carefully seeded the area with crumbs. The pigeon spotted the crumbs and turned towards me, anticipation written all over her beak. As she ran in I bent down, lined her up and snatched at the speed of a pit viper.
Ha, got ya, you little rascal.
Don’t know why but catching and helping that innocent little pigeon meant a great deal to me; as much as any rescue of a bigger bird might.
Her feet were so hopelessly entangled in painful wraps of human hair that she looked like she was wearing Ugg boots (at right). It took nearly 30 minutes to cut away the hair, after which I proudly marched her back down the Caville Av. mall and into Grill’d where she was presented to our joint benefactor Lily. Amid much ceremony and well-wishing she was released in the restaurant, quickly scurrying off to prey upon more customers, this time in much greater comfort.
Ah, life has become sweet again for one little bird.
We Hates them My Precious
It should be the epitaph of all eels … ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’.
They’ve been up to their old tricks again, this time grabbing the poor little bloke at right from amid his family, directly in front of the caller. The eel was seen dragging the cygnet underwater before thankfully releasing him. This bird was super lucky to escape but not before losing several millimetres from his top beak. Nassttty! Must have hurt like hell. Blood dripping everywhere, but he put on a brave face.
After capture and inspection I toyed with the idea of releasing the little bloke immediately, without treatment. The upsides being … 1, I was sure the bleeding would stop and … 2, hopefully he’d recover and would do so in the company of his family. In time the tip would heal.
The downsides being … 1, without treatment he’d suffer pain, and … 2, there was the possibility of infection; a very unhappy prospect. 3, he could never be returned to his family. Too long apart would mean they’d reject him. He’d have to be raised in captivity, possibly without the company of other swans.
After much consideration I went for the latter option and rushed him to hospital. His name is Pepe.
As luck, or misfortune, would have it the next day supporter Michelle from Broadbeach rescued another tiny cygnet around Pepe’s age after she discovered it struggling and unable to keep up with its parents and 4 siblings. That bird was destined for CWH too, meaning that he and Pepe would be valuable companions for each other. This companionship is very important for the mental health of young cygnets which may have to endure days in the stark environment of a veterinary hospital.
Michelle named the little bird Mintie.
Pic at left. Mintie and family in better times
Sadly little Mintie only lasted two days before passing away. Clearly he was weak and had no hope in the wild. But he was company for Pepe during their brief time in hospital together and that was a big help. Pepe is now in care. It’ll be 18 weeks before he fledges and can be released. The missing tip on his beak shouldn’t impair his ability to feed and I expect he’ll go on to have a good life.
I’ll keep an eye out for Pepe. He’ll be easily identifiable because of that short top beak. Given that I rescue about a quarter of the entire Gold Coast population of swans (100+) every year there’s a good chance our paths will cross.
By now some of you will be experiencing rising levels of anxiety and thinking, ‘he must be nearing the end of the Report but hasn’t mentioned our “favourite bird”; not once!’
I know, I know .. and I also know how difficult an ibis addiction can be, so this one’s for you ibee lovers.
The photo at right shows caller Scott brandishing his wife’s hair drier as we dried off an ibis that had fallen into the Coomera River. Well, he didn’t actually ‘fall’ in, more accurately he flew there, then dropped out of the sky tangled in a capture net which I’d shot over him. I was quick to leap in after the bird but not before he went under, just for a second.
Bedraggled and no doubt feeling very sorry for himself we quickly cut away the nasty fishing line entanglement around his legs; the reason for catching the bird in the first place, and rushed him to Scott’s house for a toasty 10 minutes under the drier.
Scott had sworn me to secrecy, unsure about how his wife would react to the news that we were downstairs drying off an ibis with her hair drier. Mum was the word.
In the past I’ve described the smell of ibis as a none-too-delicate blend of stinky sox and chook pen. Standing in the jet draft of hot air from that drier gave me cause to rethink the formula. To the blend of sox and chook pen I felt the need to add just a smidge of lumberjack’s armpit. Yep, that’s about right.
The bird was fine … I, on the other hand, was lucky to survive.
A Bone to Pick with God
See the beautiful scarlet ibis at right? Pretty sure that photo was taken in heaven. Word is heaven is full of ibis, as one might expect. In fact that bird is almost certainly one of the Lord’s flock, all pink and clean and sweet smelling.
I don’t mind telling you I’ve struggled ever since coming across that picture. I just can’t fathom how any loving deity would keep all the good ibis for Himself and send us all the crappy ones.
I’ll be having a word to God about this when I get up there and striving for a more equitable distribution of the species.
By now I hope that Director-General, Dr. Beth Woods is wishing she’d just gone ahead and changed those fishing rules we’ve been complaining about. But alas, she hasn’t and is apparently determined to tough it out and leave dysfunctional laws in place which allow fishers in fresh water to set an unmanageable 6 fishing lines and walk up to 50m away and right out of sight, meaning they have no hope of controlling their lines and avoiding unwanted hookings of innocent waterbirds.
I will continue to write to Dr. Woods every month, sending her suitably horrific pictures of the injured waterbirds I’m having to catch every week, the result of outdated laws which unfairly favour ‘fisher’s rights’ while sacrificing wildlife.
I trust that you will write to her too and demand to know what she’s going to do about it. If we don’t squeak LOUDLY, nothing will change. If you need my help formulating a letter, just ask email@example.com
Please email the Director-General, Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Dr. Beth Woods firstname.lastname@example.org. CC it to The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Mark Furner email@example.com and also to recreational fisheries officer Tony Ham firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you’ve enjoyed this report and also found some inspiration. I hope too this motivates you into action.
As always, thank you for helping Wild Bird Rescues. Special thanks to our patron Jim Downs and to Liz and Paul for giving their valuable time on the Donation’s Committee.
Until next month
Pres. WBR Gold Coast