June was busy at WBR with 45 birds needing attention, plus four major releases. Eleven swans and several ibis were among those rescued. People often ask me, ‘do you name all the birds you catch?’ (Fortunately, most are polite enough to not ask the more obvious question which is, ‘how does one man come up with so many cornball names?’)
I don’t name birds that I catch and release, only those I take to hospital. That’s because I usually have ongoing contact with hospital birds as well as arranging for their release. It’s kinda like having a pet, but one that you get to look after for a brief time and then let go, hopefully to never see with again under the same unfortunate circumstances. However, as you’ll read in this report, I often do see those birds again.
As for cornball names … well, cornballness is in the eye of the beholder. What I can say is that being silly and playful goes a long way towards mitigating the effects of dealing with some truly awful injuries.
Having clarified all that I’d like to introduce John Smith.
Poor John had swallowed a hook. He was very lucky the braid and swivel attached to that hook wrapped around his beak and didn’t go down his throat or we might not have found John until he was beyond help.
Lucky too that staff at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital were able to use their magic disgorger to remove the hook, right at the bottom of his neck, without needing to operate. It meant that John was a very quick turnaround and ready for release the next day. We do like that!
He was one of the cruisiest ibis I’ve ever handled. The capture and release hardly ruffling him at all (pun intended). At his release I did take the opportunity to remind John Smith about the importance of good skin care. I think it’s pretty clearly from the pic that he’s been neglecting his moisturizing regime.
During the month several people asked, ‘where do calls to WBR come from?’
All calls to RSPCA QLD and Currumbin Wildlife Hospital concerning flight capable birds get passed directly to me. That’s because WBR is the only specialist capture service for ‘flight capables’ on the Gold Coast. Unless I get those calls chances are the birds won’t caught. Calls are also passed on from Wildcare, local police, water police, Council and several other wildlife organisations. Having been established on the Gold Coast for more than a decade many locals know to call WBR immediately they sight a peli or swan, or indeed any ‘flight capable’ bird that’s in distress. Increasingly people are finding WBR on the net. We are top of the list when Googling words like BIRD RESCUE Gold Coast. In fact this month more than half of the 45 rescue calls came via the net, or from locals who already knew about this service.
Two darter had to be caught during June. Darter are one of my favourite birds. Often very difficult to catch darter are not only shy and elusive but they fly well and are capable of swimming underwater, holding their breath, for several minutes. Wish I could do that.
The first was Pinocchio. He was discovered standing in a low tree in someone’s backyard; not darter territory at all. Something was very wrong yet despite this Pinocchio was feisty and determined to take ‘no prisoners’, clearly evident in the pic at left. This augured well for his survival, but less well for my survival, darter being a very dangerous bird if handled incorrectly. They have a prehensile neck atopped with a small head tipped with a razor sharp, pointy beak which they use for spearing fish. Unless fully controlled that beak can just as easily spear an eye causing a fatal injury. Sadly Pinocchio didn’t make it. The hospital never discovered what was wrong. He died the night after admission from unknown causes.
The second darter was extremely lucky. We came across her quite by chance having just arrived at Oxenford Weir to scope out locations for a new Tackle Bin. I saw her swimming 150 meters offshore with what looked like a fish in her mouth. Delight quickly turned to horror when I realised the object was too big to be a fish. Binoculars revealed what looked like a rag stuck on her beak. Fabric is the darter’s Achilles heel. The fine serrations along the inside of their beak easily catch on any woven material floating in the water. Stocking is particularly bad but any form of cloth or mesh is problematic. Unless caught and freed this entanglement nearly always proves fatal as the poor bird struggles for days frantically trying to free itself before slowly starving to death.
In order to effect a catch we first had to wait until she came ashore to dry out on the opposite bank. Although only just across the waterway access to that bank required a drive of several k’s before traipsing on foot for another k across a vacant field to the area above the rocks where she’d hauled out. I climbed down the rocks and approached stealthily to within range before blowing a net over her. She dived underwater but appeared to be securely enmeshed. I carefully picked my way towards her across the slippery rocks. Then right at the last moment, as I lunged to grab her, she broke free of the netting and escaped. All I got was a handful of tail feathers. Cursing this misfortune I gathered in the net. Catching her again, after such a scare, was going to be bloody hard work and would likely take many hours, if not days, but it had to be done. Then to my astonishment I saw a child’s sock in the net. This had been caught on her beak. It too had become enmeshed in the capture netting and had torn away from the end of her beak as she struggled to get out of the net. Oh happy days! There is a God. Catch and release at its finest.
Speaking of God. I’ll have you know that I received many warnings prior to embarking on my mission to save ‘the Lord’s fowls’. People regaled me with stories about snapping parrots, vomiting pelicans, swan poo, rusty fish hooks and worst of all, ibis breath! Nobody said anything about serpents.
He looked all stripey and cute and so I thought he can’t be venomous, lying there in the sun alongside the same bin at The Spit that I’ve dropped discarded fishing line into a thousand times. A quick tap with a much too short stick confirmed that he was indeed alive, but seamed sluggish. Well, it was early morning, and it is winter; who wouldn’t be sluggish?
I took a quick pic and then let him be. Hours later I sent that pic to a local snake dude who informed me that it was indeed a brown snake. Oh, not happy days! This is the third brown I’ve encountered at The Spit. It’s a timely warning to exercise caution when pulling line and rubbish out of rocks, even in winter.
A couple of old friends needed help during June.
The first was Karla. She used to be partner to Karl, a dear old fellow that I first caught 8 years ago. Karl passed away recently and Karla hooked up with a swan that I called Karlos (well, it had to be Karlos!) If I had a buck for every time I’ve caught Karla, Karl, Karlos or one of their offspring, I’d probably be lounging in a bar in Havana right now, sipping a mojito.
Karla had gotten herself hooked (again). It wasn’t a bad hooking and was easily removed but the several feet of trailing fishing line could have done real damage had it wrapped around a wing or leg and nobody notice it. She was quickly caught and freed and the pair sent on their way. This injury was almost certainly the result of Karla swimming through an unattended fishing line; the bane of all water birds and not the first time it’s happened to her, previously with tragic consequences for her offspring.
Next was Graham (at right). I first rescued Graham about 6 years ago after he’d been dog attacked in Pizzy Park. At the time we’d had a rash of attacks, most caused by just one idiot who continued to walk her three dogs, off-leash, near the nesting birds. Later, after erecting temporary fencing to protect the swans, someone spotted her lifting up the fence to give her dogs access, exposing the swans to further attack. You simply wouldn’t credit the stupidity of some people.
Anyway, the tendons holding Graham’s right wing were badly damaged, as evident in the pic above. It was a life threatening injury. But the hospital did a great job of patching him up and Graham was very lucky to survive. He stayed in Pizzy park for another twelve months before disappearing, only to turn up several k’s away in the Botanic Gardens, Ashmore where he’s lived with his new partner for the past 5 years. I often get calls about Graham because his wing is still a bit ‘draggy’, but he’s fine and he’s a big, powerful bird.
The other day Graham went for a stroll on one of the Botanic Garden’s walkways and got stuck. From what I could gather he spent hours there unable to figure out that he had to walk to the end in order to get back down to the water. Didn’t help that his partner (whose name escapes me) was sitting in the lake calling to him. By the time I got there Graham was frantic and not impressed with my efforts to push him to the end of the walkway. In fact I had to hold a net between us to stop him swatting me. Swans are usually pretty docile and easily intimidated but they are capable of delivering an impressive strike using the bony, leading edge of the wing. This can easily break bones. The strike is so fast you don’t see it coming, but you do feel it … believe me (serpents, swans, ibis breath … I need another job.) Minutes later I’d pushed Graham along to the end where he stumbled head first into the lake much to the relief of his partner.
I had to drag Hamish (at right) from the mosh pit at Charris Seafoods on the Labrador foreshore. He and about 80 mates were partaking of free lunch during the peli feed. Heavy line protuding from Hamish’s mouth put an end to his feasting. No prize for guessing what was on the end of the line. I held his mouth open hoping to spot the hook, but no luck. So, it was off to hospital.
Turns out he’d swallow a nasty set of gang hooks. Typically gangs are a set of three or four fairly large, long-shank hooks joined nose to tail in a line and designed to secure a whole fish bait. One of these setups was now deep in Hamish’s tummy.
Dr Fumi performed major surgery on Hamish to remove the tackle. Happy to report that 10 days later he was good to go. I released Hamish yesterday none the worse for wear.
It had been some time since I’d visited Curlew Island, the small vegetated sand spit, recently officially named, and located in the heart of the Gold Coast Broadwater. On this trip I was accompanied by Kellie Lindsay who works for the Boomerang Alliance studying microplastics and pushing for the introduction of a much needed container deposit scheme for plastic bottles.
In an hour collected 4 large bags full of trash, mostly plastic and styrofoam, plus several other pieces of debris, all blown in during the recent heavy weather. We didn’t get all of the rubbish, but we got most of it. The island always looks so much better after a clean-up. Most of the migratory waders have left for the winter and won’t return until later in the year, so the place was fairly quiet.
In other news, moves are afoot to purchase ten Fishing Tackle Debris Bins. This project has long been on my radar. If approved the bins will be installed at key fishing sites around the Gold Coast in an effort to curb the obscene amount of discarded tackle that causes so many bird entanglements.
About 200 Tackle Bins, similar to the ‘mock up’ pictured at left, are already in use. Most in Victoria with 40+ in WA and 30+ in NSW. Gold Coast next.
Hopefully we can also get permission to build and install extra signage advising fishers that dropping unwanted line on the ground is not just an illegal act, but one that has far reaching and largely unrecognised consequences. Discarded line is a huge threat to foraging birds, entangling and maiming countless innocent creatures every year. The signage should dovetail nicely with the new bins, increasing the effectiveness of each.
In conclusion. We’re at the end of the financial year and I’m happy to say that Wild Bird Rescues donors came through with contributions that almost covered the annual running costs. That’s a wonderful thing. For so many years I not only caught all of the birds, but I paid for it all too. That couldn’t go on.
Some donors were extraordinarily generous. Others gave amounts they could ill afford, but they gave anyway. Together it all added up to a wonderful result. Thank you everyone. Special thanks to Jim Downs who single handedly meets almost half of WBR running costs every year. Thanks too to Liz, treasurer of the donations committee, who brings 20 years of wildlife experience to the table, and Paul, our secretary, who built the WBR website and maintains it free of charge. www.goldcoastbusinesswebsites.com.au
This year your contributions saw nearly 500 sick or injured birds get the help they needed. You also ensured that WBR will be here for the birds again in the coming year while continuing to pursue valuable conservation initiatives.
With much appreciation.