Rescue activity was steady during November with 35 sick or injured birds needing help.
The month was defined more by what I didn’t rescue; namely, very few fishing line entangled ibis. Only three in fact. That’s a record low and no doubt will come as welcome news to the Gold Coast’s many ibee. In sharp contrast our swans and cygnets got into more than their fair share of trouble with eleven birds needing help, and that’s only if I count whole families as one bird.
I’m pleased to report that things have slowed since the madness of August (51 rescues). This has enabled me to devote more time and energy to activities aimed at reducing fishing related injuries. It’s a longish list so please bear with me.
The first achievement was an article in the Bulletin published early in the month about a cygnet with fishing line coming from its mouth,. Rescue stories that feature cute young birds (feathered of course) are always great for raising awareness about these types of injuries. A few days later the Bully also published a letter I wrote highlighting the prevalence and risk of fishing line dropped carelessly on the ground at The Spit.
Afloat Magazine, which has a wide circulation among boaties, published my letter to the editor along with some good pictures showing damage to birds that had become entangled in fishing line. I’ve been assured that Volunteer Marine Rescue will also publish an article I sent them in the next issue of their mag showing fishing related injuries that affect pelicans. ABC Gold Coast FM asked for a rescue story, which I provided, but I don’t think it made it up onto their website. Disappointing, but things move so fast in media that you’ve just got to take what you get.
Facebook followers will be aware that WBR objected strongly to Council’s decision to fill in Black Swan Lake in Bundall after the Mayor and his buddies broke their election promises and put forward a motion to turn the lake into a car park. The reasons given by Councillor Baildon fall apart under the most basic scrutiny. The only conclusion I can draw is they have another agenda up their slippery sleaves. The pollution in Black Swan Lake comes from the Racecourse. But it isn’t just BSL that’s polluted. I’ve pulled more desperately sick birds out of Clear Island Lake, which abuts Black Swan Lake and is also right next to the Racecourse, than from any other waterway on the Gold Coast. The Turf Club needs to address their polluting, not fill in the lake, because that won’t solve the problem.
This will be a tough one to turn around because the parties involved have very wisely chosen the holiday period, when Council is on a break, to push ahead with their plans, thus preventing a quick motion to rescind. But it ain’t over ’till it’s over, so we’ll see. Thank you to everyone who answered the call to action and sent in emails expressing disapproval over the Council’s decision to destroy a valuable community asset and home to wildlife, right in the heart of Surfers.
Mid-way through the month I had the pleasure of a little house guest. He was presented to me by marina staff after they fished him out of the water, fully bedraggled. I named him Martin, believing he was one of the many Fairy Martins that swarm around Southport Yacht Club this time of the year. Then I discovered that Martin was a Welcome Swallow, also common around the club. My bird ID is crap, so that came as no surprise, but by then it was too late. The name Martin stuck.
My guess is that Martin had recently fledged, but for some reason he couldn’t fly. I took him to hospital where he was checked and x-rayed. Tests revealed no fractures and nothing obviously wrong. That was a big relief. He was given three days on medicam (combo anti-inflammatory and pain relief) in the hope that his problems were only muscular.
I might just be the world’s worst carer too because over the next few days poor Martin took no fewer than three more dips. I refused to cage him, which meant he had the run of the yacht, but that came at a price. Namely, the potential for escape, not to mention liberal dollops of bird poo throughout my boat. His most impressive escape took place one afternoon while my back was turned. He scurried across the aft deck; teetered on the gunwale and then executed a perfect swallow dive, with three quarter pike, headfirst into the drink. After a frantic search I finally spotted him 30 meters astern, caught in the tide, breast stroking his little heart out towards the nearest dock. Bloody lucky the bream didn’t get him. I raced around and fished him out. What a sorry sight he was, but after ten minutes under the heat gun he’d perked right up and was ready to reclaim his perch on the rope I’d strung full length down the cabin.
At last he was accepting food and proceeded to eat me out of house and home. He’d turn his nose up at crickets, but went berserk over lamb and scrambled eggs. After a couple of days it was clear that Martin’s flying ability was improving. Still not good, but no longer nose diving. This was promising.
Then one day I came home and he was gone. The yacht was completely sealed except for two open portholes right up forward. To get there required level flight for several meters then a sharp right, or left turn, followed by precision manoeuvring out through a 160mm diameter porthole. I spent two hours pulling the boat apart expecting to find him tucked into some cranny (on two earlier occasions I’d found him inside the printer). But this time Martin had vanished. The only possible explanation is that he’d flown out through one of those ports. Go Marty!
Before moving on here’s another little cutie. This is a genuine Fairy Martin (at right). I call him Dr. Evil. Now, before you condemn such a harsh name let me say that when it comes to attitude the Doctor punches well above his weight. He visits several times a day and perches on the outside safety rail, then peers in at me. If I wiggle my fingers out through the porthole he becomes apoplectic. But that’s nothing compared to stepping outside where a whole pack of them, led by the Doctor, converge like little Messerschmitts to make high speed passes that are far too close for comfort. I’ve warned Dr. Evil that if he doesn’t lift his game I’m gonna swat him.
OK, that’s it for the nice stuff. Now we have to address some of the pointy aspects of wildlife rescue.
Caller Angie was walking her dog along Robina Parkway when she came across two swans out of the water, one attacking the other. At first I dismissed her concerns as most likely being a territorial dispute; common among swan. Angie had already left the area and couldn’t provide better intel, but when I asked if she’d go back she willingly agreed. As a precaution I got straight into my car and drove in that general direction.
Angie’s next report confirmed the attacking swan had left but the other bird was still up on the grass, barely able to stand. Not good in a dog off-leash area.
I arrived within twenty minutes and approached the bird, grabbing her by the neck. Then I hoisted her up to check her legs and feet. I was dumbstruck. Never before have I seen such terrible swelling. Peeking out from under each of the tags circling her legs was the culprit. Wisps of light-weight fishing line. Those tags were covering tight wraps of line that had cut deeply into the poor thing’s legs. She was in terrible distress. I asked Angie to quickly give her a name. She chose Black Betty, from that song by Spiderbait. You know, ‘Oh Black Betty, bam a lam’. For me it was ‘bam a lam’ off to hospital with Betty, ASAP.
With such severe swelling I felt that she had little hope, but of course we were going to try. The vets at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital did all they could and Betty was kept on the strongest opioid pain relief. This relieved much of her pain. She did improve over the next two weeks but eventually her badly damaged right leg began to swell again and she was unable to weight bear. It was no life. Nothing more could be done and so Betty was put to sleep. At least now she’s at peace.
I catch hundreds of hooked and entangled birds every year. Fortunately it’s most uncommon for a Gold Coast swan to die that way on my watch. So many Gold Coasters care about our birds that nearly all are spotted and called in long before the damage becomes irreparable. It’s a bitter pill indeed when a creature escapes notice and has to endure terrible suffering for many months, only to end up losing its life to fishing line. What can you say about that?
It was a much better outcome for this white-faced heron who goes by the name Mr. Wobbles, or Eddy, or any one of half a dozen other alias’s depending upon which Runaway Bay home he’s visiting for a meal.
Recently Eddy Wobbles snapped 20mm off his lower beak. It was not re-attachable. This a life-threatening problem because a heron needs a pointy beak to catch the small fish, frogs, lizards and worms it lives on. But because Mr. Wobbles already has his dining arrangements well in hand the vets at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital agreed to release him, once the tip of his beak had healed, knowing that he would be wined, dined and closely monitored by everyone who loves his visits.
Heron and other waterbirds like pelicans that live in residential canals have regular contact with humans and can end up eating a diet that is far from natural. This can lead to all sorts of problems including mineral deficiencies and weak bones. We don’t know how he snapped his beak but householders Deb (pictured above) and Mike, each of whom are regulars on Eddie Wobbles’ dinner circuit, are going to great lengths to ensure that he now gets plenty of fresh, whole fish. The bones in whole fish and indeed any whole prey deliver
calcium and other essential minerals that ‘live prey feeders’ must have.
Another little fellow that made it back into the air in November, against all odds, was this gull (below). The caller phoned me at 8pm saying that a seagull was stuck in an overflow area of his lap pool. I asked, ‘can you reach in and get him out?’ ‘No way’, was the reply. ‘OK, I’m just down the road. I’ll be there in ten’.
The gull was young but ‘flight capable’ and it’s mum was hovering above, frantic. For some reason the bird couldn’t get airborne out of that very narrow pond where it had been struggling all day. It was right on the point of drowning. Things didn’t look good. I pulled the creature from the water knowing that it needed heat fast. The caller was bald. So am I, therefore I wasn’t optimistic when I asked if he owned a hair drier. ‘Sure’, he said, ‘just bought one yesterday for the mother-in-law. Fifty bucks.’
Beaudy, go get it and meet me in the garage, quick.
I blew hot air onto the gull for 20 minutes. He must have thought he was in a rotisserie. He was majorly waterlogged but slowly dried out and began to look better; but not much better. Later, at home, I tried giving him food but he wouldn’t eat, although I did manage to stuff some very wet lamb down his throat knowing that dehydration would be a major factor. Still very ill and unable to stand I tucked the bird into bed and waited to see what the morning would bring.
Very early next morning I could hear thumping in the capture box out on the aft deck. That sounded promising. I lifted the towel and gingerly peered in. Couldn’t believe my eyes. Our little friend was full of beans and jumping around banging his head on the roof of the box. Ouch! Amazing what a good blow dry can do for your moral. At 6am I took him back to the callers house and released him. He flew well and appeared to be none the worse for wear. Tough little buggers.
These have been just a few of the thirty five stories from November. Happily most had a good outcome.
Thank you to those people who made a donation during the month, especially those who set up a monthly schedule. I also want to thank our patron Jim Downs who voluntarily increased his monthly contribution, up from ‘a lot’, to ‘even more’. Thanks also Pam and Ray Isen who have been extraordinarily generous. To everyone else who donated, you know who you are and I say you’re the best! It’s your support that keeps Wild Bird Rescues out there catching and saving lives.
With Christmas upon us please remember that your dollars can make a huge difference to the welfare of birds and animals that are raised for meat, milk and eggs. The cheapest products are only cheap because innocent creatures are forced to endure dreadful suffering to save us a buck. By Googling ‘certified organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ you can quickly find produce that is not only much better for you and your family but ensures infinitely kinder treatment for creatures that give their life for us. Please make a special effort to shop responsibly for turkey, chicken and ham this Christmas.
Here’s wishing you all the best over the festive season and a very Merry Christmas from me, and from Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee.
El Presidente for Life
Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST
PS. I’ll be available for rescues throughout the Christmas period, including Christmas day.