I hope you had a very Merry Xmas.
By the time you receive this report the new year will be on our doorstep. I prepared it late in the month so that I could include an overview of WBR’s activities in 2019.
In November WBR attended 34 sick, injured or orphaned birds. Anticipating 30 rescues for December will bring the total to 386 rescues for the year.
This might seem a lot but in fact is 20% less than last year. It was born of a need to reduce the number of call-outs, firstly to preserve my sanity (I was doing too much) and secondly to devote a lot more time toward pressuring government over important issues that urgently need to change.
Reducing the number of rescues simply means not taking as many calls that fall outside of my brief. Essentially WBR specialises in catching pelicans, swans and other big birds, plus other species only if they are fish hooked or entangled in fishing line or in some other material. On any given month there’ll be between 15 and 25 stricken Gold Coast birds that fall directly into this brief and are in urgent need of the fast, skilled help this service provides .
Those birds are my priority because it’s unlikely that anyone else will be able to catch them. To ensure longivity I’ve learned to only take on additional rescues up to a level that I can handle.
Cormorants are a case in point. Cormis can be extremely difficult to catch.
Poindexter was seen standing on a dock at Currumbin Estuary. The caller could see fishing line coming from his mouth. He was still able to fly, but was struggling.
Usually the quickest way to secure a bird that can fly, swim well, and swim just as well underwater, like a cormorant or darter, is to blow a net over it. But that isn’t always possible. Firstly, the creature has to be in a position where a net flying out of a gun can be expected to land cleanly over it. In other words, no surrounding obstructions. Secondly, the bird has to be in a position where you don’t risk killing too many people in the immediate area. OK, so I’m kidding, but consideration has to be given to ‘worst case scenario’. I don’t take unnecessary risks and thankfully have had no problems.
It was the weekend. Poindexter had obstructions all around and people were everywhere; nearby on land and passing close by in kayaks and on paddle boards. My only choice was to approach with a long handled capture net, then wait it out. The moment his attention waned, I’d move in and take the shot. Chances were slim, but it was the only game in town.
Twenty minutes later I got my chance. I stepped forward quickly, swung the net, and missed. Bugger. Poin went under, but something was wrong. He was struggling. This allowed me a precious second net shot, and I had him.
Of all the birds doing it tough in urban waterways, cormis probably suffer the most. They’re exposed to fishing lines cast out into the water; lost line snagged on the bottom; live fish baits, dead fish baits and soft plastic lures, all of which they’ll have a crack at. I remember one cormorant x-rayed in hospital and found to have 6 fish hooks in its gut. I arrived at hospital with another cormorant only to discover it had thrown up 3 soft plastic lures in my car (above right), one with a fish hook still through it. Plastic lures, broken off from fishing lines, litter the bottom of our waterways. When swallowed they block a bird’s gut causing a horrible death, all courtesy of Australia’s most popular sport.
I know this news is pretty depressing, but hey, what would a WBR Capture Report be without its fair share of tragedy. Sadly, it’s the nature of rescue work. I have to report the truth or you won’t know about it. If people don’t know then nothing will ever get done to fix these problems.
Poindexter didn’t make it. Head vet Mic Pyne, above left readying the hook disgorger, did his best to extract a large long-shank hook from deep in the gut (visible just above the cursor in the x-ray). But it was all too much. Cormorants stress easily and often die under anesthetic. The only plusses in this case being that we gave him a chance and secondly, he wasn’t out there suffering a slow and miserable death.
Amy from Broadwater Parklands management called about a baby currawong that had fishing line entangled around both feet. The chick was unable to walk or to even stand. It’d been handed in by picnickers.
By the time I arrived Amy had cut the line from the bird’s toes. Those toes didn’t look too bad but one leg was sticking straight out, ridged. I thought it was probably broken and knitted, although we could see very slight movement in the toes below which was a good sign.
I took the curry home pending a vet check the following Monday. I knew its chances were slim. Amy named him Colin.
He was the dearest little fellow. In fact he responded brilliantly to my Irish stew (at right), so much so that within one day his stiff leg began to move and he was able to wriggle those damaged toes. Given my level of culinary expertise, or lack thereof, this was truly amazing.
Dr. Kevin at Gold Coast Vet Surgery examined Colin and was optimistic. He confirmed the leg was not broken and was happy with the healing taking place in those damaged toes.
It was breeding season. Within a day Colin had a little friend. That’s him at left, peering into the camera, hoping there’s food inside.
I try to avoid rescuing baby birds, but what could I do. These two needed help and above all they were company for each other which in itself is a very healing thing.
Attempts were made to re-unite both youngsters with their respective parents.
Just before dusk, in the very heart of Surfers Paradise, I drove up onto a footpath then climbed onto the roof of my car to lash a bucket filled with nest material onto the truck of a pine. I placed that second little bloke into the bucket, but he wasn’t having any of it. Nor were his parents. He jumped out onto the nearest branch. They wouldn’t come down. It was only a matter of time before he’d end up on the road again. In 12 hours Schoolies was due to begin. I couldn’t leave him there, so it was back home to Colin; but not before I jumped off the roof of my car and broke my heel. OUCH! I knew I was in trouble the moment I hit the deck. Six weeks on I’m only just beginning to walk normally again.
Colin’s re-unite proved just as tricky and equally unsuccessful. We’d located his nest and parents. I scaled a long ladder and lashed his basket 6m up in the tree. I stuffed two ‘going away’ blueberries down his throat (curry’s love blueberries), then left him to it.
His parents knew he was there. They flew around all day, even coming to within a few meters of the basket. Initially Colin squawked his lungs out, but his parents didn’t want to know. As the hours went by he became quieter. I felt very sorry for him.
The only way he could have become entangled in fishing line was in the nest. It must have been brought back as nesting material by a parent. I suspect his leg had stiffened from being tangled in the nest and immobilized.
In-nest entanglement is common, and often fatal. In fact Colin had probably been caught in line for most of his short life. I suspect his parents could see his dilemma and the hopelessness of it, eventually pushing him out of the nest. It’s tough out there for baby birds. Then, just as it all looked hopeless, his luck changed and he was found by the picnickers.
We left Colin up in the tree for 5 hours. By then it was obvious his parents didn’t want him, so up I went again and brought him down. Half an hour later he was home with his little mate in a nest on the stern of my yacht. They didn’t need to be contained. They stayed in their nest or perched on the edge, happy little vegemites with only one thing on their mind … FOOD.
Then, disaster struck. A couple of days later Colin’s injured toes began to atrophy. Off we went back to Dr. Kevin who very kindly agreed to operate. The operation was a great success and Col emerged with just the one surviving toe on his right foot. It must have been sore but his mood was much brighter. Previous underlying infection might have been weighing him down.
Next day the other little bloke was delivered to a carer for his final couple of weeks in captivity before release. I don’t think Colin missed him at all. In his efforts to cuddle up he kept treading on Colin’s bandaged foot.
I held onto Colin pending more vet checks. A few days later the dressing came off and the results were excellent. He only has one functional toe on that right foot, but full use of all toes on the left. It’s a disability for sure, but he should be fine. Dr. K gave him the all clear, so next day it was off to join his little mate in care with other young currawongs, pending their release.
I do miss him, but I don’t miss the squawking or the poo, and now I get to eat all of my stew.
Après Xmas Presents
The big day might have passed, but it wasn’t that long ago, meaning there’s still time to give an après Xmas gift. I’ve found the ideal present, suitable for those you love, and those you hate.
Just check out these little beauties. Who wouldn’t be happy wearing a pair of these … feet up on the dash, kickin’ back, cruisin’ down the highway.
A gift like this has so many applications.
Guaranteed to impress on a first date. Good for shopping if you want to clear the aisles and have them all to yourself. Or, just scratching around in the garden. Love ’em!
We held the WBR AGM in November. Secretary Paul, treasurer Liz and myself (El Presidente for Life) met at a coffee shop to laugh and behave in a raucous fashion totally unbefitting of an AGM, before eventually getting down to business and pouring over the figures for the year.
All monies donated to WBR go into the Donations Account and are used exclusively to re-imburse expenses incurred while operating the service. Without this help from generous donors like yourself WBR could not operate. Everything is professionally recorded by our accountant who prepares an annual audit which the committee signs off on before submitting to the Dept. of Fair Trading; the issuer of our fund-raising license.
Please to say that we ended 2019 with money in the kitty. This means WBR will head into the new year fully operational. A big thank you to everyone who helped make this possible.
Another AGM, just down the road
Late in the arvo, a couple of k’s away in the carpark across from SeaWorld, another AGM was taking place.
The bush-stone curlews of Phillip Park had gathered to thrash out their differences.
They’re a far more raucous bunch than we are and not above yelling and screaming at each other in order to get their point across. We only do that sometimes.
The chairman (that’s him top left) took his position on the podium; traditionally the lid of a large drain, before bringing the meeting to order.
Things went alright for a while, but soon descended into utter chaos when that old chestnut, the last item on the agenda, finally came up. BUG NAPPING FROM YOUR MATES.
For years the curlews have tried to enforce a voluntary code of conduct which says, ‘it’s just ‘not on’ to rush up to your mate and steal the succulent bug that he/she has just caught, right out of their mouth’. That ain’t cricket, but it goes on all the time. Doesn’t matter how many meetings this lot have, or how many times they discuss it, they never agree.
The meeting quickly disintegrated with a dozen participants turning their back on the chairman and storming off in a show of defiance. The clear message being, ‘watch out for your own bug, ’cause others will be’!
Wins, Losses and Stalemates
I devoted countless hours this year trying to draw the government’s attention to several areas which adversely affect wildlife and desperately need to change. Many of you helped by writing letters to departments or ministers.
Our Fishing Line Campaign
We’ve been writing to Minister Furner and the Director General of Fisheries, Dr. Beth Woods, asking QLD Fisheries to reduce the number of fishing lines allowed to be used by recreational fishers to 2 lines each which they must remain with at all times. This down from the ridiculous 6 lines allowed to be used by fishers in fresh water who are permitted to be 50m away and completely out of sight of their lines for minutes, hours, days or even weeks. Unattended fishing lines result in hooking after hooking of waterbirds, especially swans. Yet these irresponsible fishing practices continue, condoned and even promoted, by QLD Fisheries.
Nearly twelve months on and our efforts, including all of the evidence we’ve presented, appears to have fallen on deaf ears. But it hasn’t. Bureaucrats are typically slow to act, even when solutions are so simple and barely inconvenient anyone. We just have to keep at it. My last letter was to the Premier. I told her that we were not being listened to by her Minister. I added that unless positive action was taken our campaign would shift focus in 2020 to ensure that a Minister who cares about wildlife is sitting in government after the October election. We might only be a small voice in a big sea of voters but I don’t think the position of the current Labor Government is so secure this time around that they can afford to ignore even the small voices.
Head vet Dr. Michael Pyne from Currumbin Wildlife Hospital is on board. So is GC Mayor Tom Tate. Most recently Michael Beatty, community liaison officer for RSPCA, has joined the campaign.
The pic above shows two unattended fishing lines streaming out into the water right alongside pelicans and gulls.
Charis Seafood’s Lunchtime Pelican Feeding
In October I was delighted to report that pelicans coming ashore at the 1.30pm daily pelican feeding on the Labrador foreshore where at last protected from harassment by the public. First time in 20 years. Ha! Famous last words.
I’d brought the plight of the pelicans to the attention of DES (Dept. of Environment and Science) in November, 2018. I’ve had to hassle them for this entire year, listening to one implausible excuse after another, until finally they appeared to have acted and compelled the licensee, Charis Seafood’s, to provide supervision for pelicans waiting to be fed.
DES didn’t have the courtesy to tell me they’d enacted new rules for the operator, but upon visiting, which I do regularly, I saw that Charis staff were now on duty 30 minutes before the ‘feed’ and were setting up rope barriers to create an area where pelis could stand, unmolested, as they waited for the ‘feed’ to begin.
But, within weeks, nobody was supervising the pelicans. Staff would saunter down the beach a few minutes before the feed; set up the ropes, thow fish frames to the birds, then leave. A sign has been affixed to the wall saying … ‘Don’t Feed the Pelicans’. It’s in English. The majority of visitors are Chinese, few of which I suspect read English and are the most likely to throw hot chips to the birds. DES won’t tell me what the operator is now required to do. They claim ‘it’s all secret’ and they are ‘not allowed to discuss matters while negotiations are continuing’.
The truth is that DES hide behind this claim. They do it to hide their inaction and incompetence. Any department worth its salt would have had this fully sorted inside a month, easy. Yet 13 months down the track DES say they are still in negotiations. In the meantime 100+ pelicans will be subjected to some pretty awful treatment during the summer school holidays.
In frustration I wrote to Minister Leeanne Enoch, the final paragraphs reading …
We have now entered the summer period when pelicans coming ashore at the ‘feed’ face the most serious threats. It’s clear the only way to ensure DES management takes action is to keep constant pressure on them. I will not sit back and watch pelicans being exposed to ongoing mistreatment, but instead will use every lawful means to ensure that DES does its job and earns the money tax payers are giving them. To that end ….
1) I have initiated a complaint through DES internal affairs, siting dereliction of duty and a culture of secrecy, leaving pelicans open to abuse and depriving the public of necessary information that would otherwise allow people to report any failures by the operator.
2) The QLD Ombudsman is awaiting the outcome of that complaint and has told me they will investigate DES further if I’m not satisfied with the answers I receive.
3) I have lodged a complaint with RSPCA animal welfare inspectorate asking them to investigate DES’s lack of protection for pelicans which the Dept. permits to be lured ashore by unnatural feeding practices, leaving them vulnerable to acts of cruelty by the public.
4) I am about to make an application under FOI so that the ‘secret’ dealings of DES are revealed in order to discover what they’ve been doing, or more likely what they haven’t been doing, in regard to these matters.
If that isn’t enough to get immediate supervision and protection for the pelicans, especially in the hour leading up to the ‘feed’, I will hand all of this information over to the press. The public has a right to know who is looking after our vulnerable wildlife and who isn’t.
I’m very disappointed to have not moved forward this year with plans to seek protection for the precious and endangered migratory birds that roost on the sandflats surrounding Curlew Island, 300m east of the Labrador foreshore.
Some species that bivouac and feed on the flats land here after completing an epic return journey from Siberia and beyond. Upon arrival they’re exhausted and starving, but due to a lack of government action they remain completely vulnerable to people and dogs which are allowed to roam freely across their feeding grounds. How this can be happening at a time when our world is so clearly falling apart, beggars belief, but the fact is it’s happening in so many other areas too.
One species, the Eastern curlew (below), is listed as critically endangered. The others are all ‘threatened’ or ‘vulnerable’, most especially the beach-stone curlews, 3 of which come and go from Curlew Island. These are the only 3 beach-stone curlews known to exist in the entire Gold Coast region. They’d nest again on the island in a heartbeat but their habitat enjoys not the slightest bit of protection.
Fortunately other people are following through and attempting to have Curlew Island and its surrounding banks listed under RAMSAR. This would confer a reasonable level of protection. I’d have put in a detailed submission too, except it would be reviewed by … you guessed it … DES. The idea of handing so much valuable work to that bunch of ‘no-hopers’, where it would be passed around as though it was radioactive, before being dropped into a bottom draw never to see the light of day again, means it’s simply not worth the effort. Very sad, but hopefully those with less on their plate will follow through and have success.
The New Currumbin Osprey Tower
Three months ago I had a very successful meeting with Mayor Tate where he agreed to add 5m to the height of the newly installed osprey tower adjacent the Currumbin Estuary in south Palm Beach. He also agreed to add additional structures onto the nesting platform to make it more ‘osprey attractive’. And, he agree to give us two new osprey towers.
The mayor was sincere, but we’ve run into problems, not the least being that his Chief of Staff was recently stood down while charges of ‘something’, not sure what, are investigated. This means a new ‘acting’ COS is up to his neck trying to figure out what the other guy was working on, plus handle all the new stuff being generated daily. These unforeseen circumstances are unlikely to produce any speedy resolutions for us.
Judy Martin was the driving force behind getting the replacement osprey tower built in Palm Beach 12 months ago after GC Waterways Authority pulled down an active nest atop an old beacon on the end of Currumbin Rock Wall. I’ve since been negotiating with the Mayor to overturn the height restriction placed on that tower by Council planning Dept. It needs that 5m added to take it from 11.5m high, up to a workable 16.5m. My friend, architect Paul Robinson, has very kindly donated his time to produce excellent CAD drawings for new perches to be built and attached to the existing nest; all this in an attempt to make a tower which is too low, functional and appealing to ospreys. Our work continues.
That’s a Wrap
Well, it’s all over for another year. The only thing left is to thank you heartily for your support. I can put in the time but can’t meet the cost of running Wild Bird Rescues on my own. WBR is super economical compared to paid rescue services, but it still costs money. Without your help all of the rescues, the photos and videos, the FB posts, these Capture Reports and the hours of work done behind the scenes chasing up the government, would not be possible, meaning a great many birds would suffer. We don’t want that.
Special thanks go to Paul and Liz on the Donations Committee for their help throughout the year, and to our retiring patron Jim Downs who’s done so much for WBR over the past five years.
Happy New Year from Me.
Until next time.
Lowly Poultry Slave and President
Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST