May was busy at WBR with 52 rescues attended.
Sadly it was our swans which took the brunt of the hurt with 12 needing help. The Gold Coast’s ‘favourite bird’ came a close second with 11 ibis getting themselves into trouble. Then there was all the beak-entangled darter … a total of 4 needing to be caught in May bringing the total to 5 caught over a one month period. All were saved.
Ah, ibee, ibee everywhere. On the plus side I was able to help all of the ibis except for two. One little fellow had a broken wing and another lost his entire lower beak. Neither could be saved. As for the rest, entanglements were the main problem, as always. Ibisssesss big feet seem purpose-built to catch on any fishing line they walk across. Once entangled the line tightens and begins the very slow and painful process of amputating the affected digits or limbs. The loss of one toe is no big deal for an ibis, however any wrap of line around or above the ankle is a death sentence because, in time, it will take off the bird’s entire foot. They simply can’t forage effectively using only one foot.
How a 10 Minute Job becomes 10 Days
I caught the little girl at right in the Broadwater Tourist Park. She was scavenging happily with a pack of about 10 ibis. Typically injured birds get bullied and relegated to the back of the pack. This can make them tricky to catch, but not always. A skilled catcher can and needs to capitalise on any situation.
I used food to attract her to the snare. Coming from the back she siezed the oportunity and was the first to rush in, as predicted. Things looked good. Another second and I would have had her, but then another little rat bag (I use that term with great affection) spotted the tucker, ran over and tripped the snare. End of story.
Nine times out of ten, when ibis see something foreign moving near them like a snare line suddenly springing to life, it’ll be game over. They’re just too smart to be fooled again. If you’re lucky you might get a second shot, but never a third. Lousy luck in this case meant that a ten minute easy catch turned into ten days of work. I had to pull out all stops to secure what was now a very wary creature.
In the end it took a ‘drive-by’ in one of the park’s golf carts, piloted by groundsman Derek (at right), to secure her.
First we warned all surrounding campers. They huddled inside their vans peering out windows until I made the shot. The net flew true and she was quickly cleared of the fishing line. I stuffed a couple of cocktail franks down her throat then she was off, much more comfortable and lucky to have retained all toes.
The ibis at left was spotted early one morning at Southport Yacht Club where I live. That was handy. I like it when they come to me! Unfortunately my buddy Greg, who first saw the bird, didn’t have any phone credit and so it was a full 10 minutes before I was told. By then the ibis had bailed.
Embarrassing though it is … I know all the regular ibis haunts and hang-outs. In fact I probably know more ibis than I know people and definitely more hangouts than addresses where my friends live. Not sure how my life descended into such a tragic state but there you have it. Anyway, the search was now on for this bird.
It was late on the second day while I was checking Doug Jennings Park at The Spit when the call came in from Main Beach Tourist Park, right behind the yacht club. They’d seen an ibis in the park struggling to walk. It had green fishing line hobbling both feet. I knew it was my bird.
Attempting an ibis rescue after 5pm is dodgy. That’s when the birds begin to think about flying home to roost for the night, which might be 10 or even 20k’s away. It’s always touch and go whether they’ll hang around long enough for a rescuer to arrive.
Ibis don’t talk to each other much except when they grumble over hot chips, but when one lets out a loud bellow you can be sure it’s ibee for … ‘Me voy como un calcetín sucio’. (I’m off like a dirty sock). Well, I’m pretty sure that’s what Spanish ibis say, but fortunately our little friend was neither Spanish nor in any hurry to leave. She was quickly caught and relieved of the green fishing line; again with all toes intact.
Cheaper by the Dozen
Towards the end of the month a woman called from the foreshore at Paradise Point. She’d spotted an ibis that was struggling to walk; fishing line around it’s toes. The bird had probably been there all day but nobody else had called to get it help. That I find really disappointing.
When I received the call it was 4.45pm, too late to get to Paradise Point with any reasonable hope the bird would still be there. I explained that ibis are creatures of habit and favour the same grazing areas (grazing for chips and snaggers in this case) and that I’d check the area in the morning.
Next day spotter Lyle was free and close by so he agreed to look for the bird. He quickly located the creature. We caught it and removed several tight wraps of line from its toes. Over the next couple of hours we located another two line-entangled ibis in the same area. By days end we’d caught three birds and relieved them all of destructive fishing line. It was a good result.
Above. Lyle tries his hand at cutting braid from an ibis’s toes
Don’t you hate the way so many news reports focus on trivial stuff like the size of Kim Kardashian’s arse. Surely it’d be better if newspapers channelled their considerable resources into something useful like tracking down Kim Jong Un’s barber and making sure the dude never gives another haircut.
But, every now and then a really valuable news story does emerge. This time it appeared in the Sunday Mail which asked the question … Who will win .. Bush turkey or Ibis? Of course such a question doesn’t even need to be asked. The answer is obvious, or so I thought. Delving deeper into the article I was horrified to read that some people were actually voting for the turkeys. In fact they were well ahead. Bloody Philistines! As much as I like bush turkeys all I can say is … it ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings. I have full confidence that ‘our favourite bird’ can pull ahead with a last minute surge in voting and take the crown.
This is Pumpernickel. Looks pretty satisfied with himself, don’t you think? So he should be. You see that empty bowl? Two minutes earlier it was full of whitebait … the cormorant equivalent of chocolate gateau (something I know plenty about). He’s just eaten the lot and is now so bloated and content that he’s not even slightly concerned about my presence.
I’d caught Pumpernickel late on the previous afternoon after a nasty hook had been spotted in his leg. He’s a canal bird from Runaway Bay and is far too humanised for his own good. Apparently he regularly approaches fishers for handouts. It’s never a matter of ‘if’ such a bird will get hooked, but rather ‘when’. Luckily Pumpernickel is just minutes away from being admissed to hospital. The vets should have that hook out in a jiffy. His admission will be accompanied by clear instructions not to hand feed him or do anything that could humanise him further.
A cormorant’s chances of survival are greatly improved if it stays as wild as possible, avoiding people.
This little chap at right is a juvenile white-bellied sea eagle. They’re great big fluff balls, albeit with some pointy bits to make things interesting. Despite their fearsome appearance sea eagles rarely bite.
Fledged youngsters retain their mottled brown plumage for some time before turning snow white.
I suspect this little guy had either been kicked out of the nest too early, or become separated from his parents. Either circumstance is bad news. They need lots of time with their parents in order to perfect their hunting technique. Without parental training most will starve.
This bird was found inside a shipping container being used for storage. I suspect he was starving before he even entered the open door of the container. It’d been 3 days since the owners had entered and so it’s quite possible he’d been inside, without food or water, the whole time. When I arrived he was weak and emaciated.
The hospital did all they could, administering lifesaving fluids and fish slurry on arrival. However his bloods where so low the situation was pretty hopeless. He died overnight. It’s probably the kindest thing. Had he survived we would have been obliged to release him back into the wild. I would have returned him to the Jacobs Well area and let him go at my mate’s landscaping plant where piles of offal are greedily set upon by the many whistling kites and sea eagles that turn up for the free tucker. But even a guaranteed food source wouldn’t ensure his survival at that young age. In fact it’s possible he’d be predated upon by another raptor.
‘Isn’t there somewhere he could have gone to be cared for’, I hear you ask? The answers is ‘rarely’. As I’ve explained before such placings are very few and far between … about as likely as winning the lottery. Damn shame ’cause they’re beautiful birds.
Another case of starvation involved this little pelican at left. She was tiny. Unfortunately I got to her too late and she couldn’t be saved either.
That gaping hole in her pouch would have prevented her from swallowing many of the fish she caught. Those fish would just slide out through the hole rather than go down her throat.
No prize for guessing the mostly likely cause of the hole. Fish hooks rip pelican’s pouches all the time. Or more accurately … a fisher will hook a peli then rip the bird’s pouch as he pulls on the line in an effort to retrieve his hook or lure.
That hole could have easily been stitched up, but she’d gone without food for too long. Lousy outcome, but at least we gave her a chance rather than have her die out there alone.
Callers Glen and Barb’s sharp eyes spotted this entangled swamp hen on the shores of Lake Hugh Muntz, in Mermaid Waters. Seconds after seeing this bird they noticed it’s parter had a hook in the jaw.
The hooked bird was a quick catch but escaped from my hands as I tried to slide it into the transport box. That was super disappointing because, as you know, once a bird has been caught and lost it can be very tricky to catch again. Luckily the creature’s entangled partner was not so wary. I managed to secure her a few days later and cut off all that dangerous fishing line which threatened to remove her foot.
I’m still after the hooked swamp hen that escaped. RSPCA officer Dani and I have checked several times but it looks like the bird might have moved. On the plus side it was encouraging to see the hook hadn’t caused any obvious swelling or infection. He may just get lucky and the hook rot and dissolve without further intervention. In the meantime we’ll keep looking.
Elderly caller Carol phoned me about a young swan which had wandered into her yard. She could see red wire poking out of its jaw. Carol was right. Close inspection revealed the remnants of the shank of a thin, red fish hook protruding from the side of bird’s mouth with the barb still buried deep in the poor thing’s jaw. Life threatening injury that one.
My best guess is that someone had hooked the young bird then pulled her in and nipped off the shank of the hook … without removing the barb!! Honestly, the mind boggles.
Look closely at where the swans bill meets its face. A couple of millimetres above the tip of Carol’s little finger you can just see a short piece of (black) wire. That’s the shank of the fish hook.
The hospital managed to surgically remove the hook and now she’s safe, thanks to Carol’s sharp eyes. I’d love to be able to present a bill for capture, transport, surgery, convalescence and release to the person who hooked her. That would be a game changer.
Darter … don’t talk to me about Darter
Oh my God. Usually I’m called to catch four or five beak-entangled darter a year … not four in just one month (May)! In fact I caught a total of 5 over a 4 week period.
Each bird was relieved of an encumbrance which was preventing it from eating. This would have quickly led to starvation. With 48 other rescues during May those 4 darter, which can be very difficult and time consuming to catch, really added to the load. Two of the darter took a few hours each to catch. Two others took a couple of days each. The final bird, at Oxenford Weir (at right), took 8 days to catch.
Fortunately I had spotter Lyle to share the load on two of those rescues, especially the 8 dayer which proved to be very tricky after I fluffed two easy net shots.
Pic at right. Kids, please don’t try this at home. Holding a darter with its beak unrestrained is a great way to lose an eye.
As the old saying goes, all’s well that ends well and it did end very well for each of those lovely creatures. It’s rescues like these where your support as a donor is sooooo valuable. I can say with certainty that not one of those darter would have been saved had it not been for Wild Bird Rescues and people like you who support this service and keep it alive.
This is the final report for the ’17-’18 financial year which ends in June. Big thanks to Liz and Paul who give their time on the Donations Committee, and to Jim Downs our wonderful patron. A special thanks to ALL donors for your kind and generous support.
Until next time …
Friend of the Fowls
President, Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST