It was quieter in October with a total of 37 rescues attended and several releases.
The first two weeks looked very different. I was headed for a record 60 plus rescues for the month, but before that could happen I closed shop and took a break to avoid going insane (make that ‘more’ insane). The sheer weight of calls had gotten to me. The problem was the number of people finding Wild Bird Rescues on the net but ignoring information on the home page describing the service I offer. They were calling about anything and everything. In the end I decided upon two strategies for self-preservation. The first was to have one day off every week. The second was to change my answering machine message so that callers are told exactly what I will and will not rescue. Unfortunately this means screening every call. I hate doing that but have no choice.
Taking one day off a week seemed like a good idea. For more than a decade I’ve offered my services 7 days a week, 6am-9pm. It isn’t so much the number of calls that overwhelm me, but rather the fact that I never really get to relax. The phone can and does ring at all hours and very often with enquiries that don’t relate to what I do.
Nor doesn’t it make any sense to run myself ragged cleaning up after the recreational fishing industry when they take no responsibility for repairing injuries to wildlife caused by their activities. Any free time I have is better spent campaigning for changes in law that will prevent fishing related injuries occurring in the first place.
My ‘Tuesday off’ plan started real well. Took the first call at 5.40am. It was for a 5 week old cygnet with fishing line coming from its mouth. It’s no fun taking a little bird away from its family but there’s hardly a choice when its survival is at stake.
I rushed ‘Lelu’ to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital hoping for a quick turnaround. The safe window for getting a cygnet back to its family is 24 hours. Any longer and the parents may reject or even kill the little one. To complicate matters adult swans will often accept a returned cygnet for the first hour or two before something triggers and they go on the attack. This means a rescuer must remain close by and monitor the
situation for the rest of the day. It also requires the rescuer to have a boat handy because a cygnet being pursued will not usually come ashore where it can be caught. As you can see it’s quite a production.
I dropped Lelu at hospital and elected to stay in the area for an hour awaiting the outcome. Dr Fumi went to work on her immediately. An x-ray revealed there was no hook, which was surprising. Foom removed a meter of balled up fishing line from her stomach. This can happen when a swan picks up line that is mistaken for weed. It swallows some and then keeps gulping trying to get the rest down. I rescued a sub adult some years back that had 50ft of fishing line winding through its intestines. That bird couldn’t be saved.
Endoscopy showed that Lelu had no bleeding. It was all looking good. I asked, ‘how long until she can go’. Fumi replied, ‘a further two hours to get over the anaesthetic and then she should be safe to release’. I bundled Lelu into my car and drove to Robina where I spent an hour searching for another swan reported the previous evening, also with fishing line coming from its mouth. No luck. My guess is the caller had seen weed which can look very much like line. An hour later and I was back at Lelu’s home lake in Coombabah awaiting a photographer from The Bulletin who wanted the story (Saturday’s Bulletin, Nov 5th). By now Lelu was well and truly awake. I quickly located her family and effected a smooth release. They accepted her without any drama. It was a good, quick turnaround and a satisfying outcome.
Lelu is centre in the pic at left.
Driving home to enjoy the rest of my ‘day off’ I passed Charis Seafood on the Labrador foreshore. It was 1.30pm, just in time for the lunchtime pelican feed. Whenever I come past I like to check the pelis. Sure enough, after 2 minutes of scanning the pack of 80 birds, I spotted a big bloke with a set of gang hooks buried in his face, just below the right eye. For some reason the pelis were wary this day but after a bit of jockeying I managed to grab the target bird by the snout and drag him from the pack. The hooking was relatively superficial, as far as hookings go, so I plonked him up onto Dr. Rowley’s operating table (the back of my car), unpacked my surgical equipment (rusty pliers) and removed three hooks plus a meter of fishing line. After dousing the wound in betadine he was good to go, no worse for wear.
So far my ‘day off’ had been a roaring success, at least for the birds, but I was knackered.
I’m pleased to say strategy number two is proving more effective. My answering machine message now reflects clearly what is written on the webpage, namely that I attend rescues for sick or injured pelicans and swans, plus any species of bird that is fish hooked or fishing line entangled. The number of calls has dropped. What a relief. In fact this has been so successful I’ve given away the idea of having a day off. I’m happy to catch 7 days a week as long as I’m not having to field dozens of calls about other injuries. RSPCA and Wildcare have voiles who can attend those rescues. Both services know that in addition to what I say I’ll do they can also call me for any complicated situations.
Please note: I’m still happy to take calls that are ‘left of field’ from anyone I know, especially from WBR donors.
I rescued two darter (upper right) during the month, both with material of some kind caught on their beak. Regular readers know that beak entanglement is a death sentence for a darter. The birds cannot release rag, stocking or fishing line if it becomes caught in the serrations on their beak, preventing them from eating. They slowly starve. One of those darter survived; sadly the other didn’t.
I pulled off an epic rescue (read … highly stressful, but ultimately successful) of a little cormorant in Biggera Waters. The bird had been spotted hanging from a tree out over the water, 10 meters up. To give you some perspective that’s approaching the height of a four story balcony. No prize for guessing what it was caught on. The caller was three sheets to the wind when I arrived and began by offering me a beer. I thought, ‘this is going to be interesting’. Minutes later I was standing in cold water up to my thighs craning my neck to get a look at the bird. The cormi was in a wretched state, strung up by several meters of line snaking its way through the branches. Blood was visible and the bird appeared to have a broken wing. Crap! I was going to need that beer after all.
I went to my car and retrieved the new 35ft extendable graphite pole bought with donations. Bloody expensive ($420) but proving to be worth every cent. I lashed a razor sharp knife to the end, then extended all 35ft of pole up to the bird and set about sawing away at the almost uncut able braid. What couldn’t be avoided was the probability the bird would come plummeting down into the river and then swim off. Catch 22. That’s exactly what happened. The creature dropped quickly, regained its senses and was off. What followed was a 90 minute pursuit in a boat that I’d managed to purloin from nearby residents. The bird was unable to fly but was able to dive and hold its breath underwater, as cormorants do, for 2 or 3 minutes at a time. I couldn’t push this any further or the bird would die from exhaustion and stress.
Before leaving I checked one last time and found that he’d swum over to a dilapidated jetty. Braid trailing from a wing had become entangled in the rungs of an old ladder leading up the jetty. Oh yeah, there is a God! I rushed over and cut the bird free for the second time, but not before he was securely in the net.
He was kinda cute and all black so I named him Lester. Lester Le Noir to be precise. They have the most beautiful aqua coloured eyes … just gotta stay well away from the pointy end.
Lester was battered, bruised and bloody but against all odds his wing wasn’t broken. This meant he still had a chance. Two girls on the foreshore had watched the action and asked if they could help. I asked if they had a hair drier. Minutes later, in a garage down the street, we blasted Lester with warm air to dry him off and raise his body temp. Under normal circumstances I would have fed and released him immediately. But the abrasions on his wing, caused by braid as he struggled upside down, needed veterinary attention, so it was off to hospital. Bloody fishing line!! What a mongrel material it is.
I could share a dozen other interesting rescue stories from October but I’ll end with one about a mother Pacific black duck and her brood of nine, one day old ducklings. I came across this family quite by chance swimming among the boat pens at Southport Yacht Club where I live. It was Sunday; it was busy as hell and blowing 30 knots. For a minute I debated leaving them and letting the family get on, but couldn’t do it. They had no hope really, so I caught the lot (easier said than done) and drove them to a pretty little lake just behind Churn Park. It’s lovely to see a mother duck looking more relaxed with all her little tackers, completely oblivious to their previous perilous circumstances, happily following her to safety.
Thank you to all supporters of Wild Bird Rescues. Please remember this service relies on your donations to help meet costs. Without help it will come to a grinding holt. That would be a real tragedy. Costs are ongoing for me. Every day there are new expenses. I’ve just begun another donations drive on Facebook so if you can assist and would like to get the ball rolling please visit www.wildbirdrescues.com.au/donations.
Regular monthly credit card donations are most welcome. As little as $10 per month (the price of two cups of coffee), really adds up and helps enormously. Too much coffee isn’t good for you so giving to WBR could actually prolong your life. That would be a win for all (he he).
Just look at that face at right. What would happen if there was no help for her?