With only 32 rescues in September it looks like a quiet month, especially compared to the last 3 months, but in fact it was busy. I was out of action for the first week, then on light duties for another few days, however with the kind help of Mary (aka The Blue Bird of Happiness) from Tweed Heads, who travelled to the Goldie and caught two badly hooked birds, and Hammy from Pelican and Seabird Rescues Brisbane, who caught one, we had the area covered. I worry when I take even one day off. Being away for any longer is stressful, however I’m confident that we dealt with all serious hookings during the month.
Both women are very experienced and capable catchers. The three of us attend hooked and entangled birds across an area that stretches from Cabarita Beach in Northern NSW, to Redcliff north of Brisbane, meaning that birds living along that entire 200 kilometres of coastline have an experienced ‘flight capable’ catcher available 7 days a week. I doubt there’s another area in Australia that enjoys such effective coverage. (at left … a jabiru I caught some years ago in Merimac)
Typically a ‘flight capable’ bird will be hooked or entangled in fishing line or some other material. Often it’s both. These are injuries that usually don’t prevent a bird from taking to the air should a member of the public or a rescuer approach. Some ‘flight capables’ are suffering from different injuries, like an ibis which has been flying around the Gold Coast with a slushy cup over its neck. Proof, if any was needed, that junk food is not good for man or beast. The creature was first spotted in Miami; then in Bundall, and more recently at Peter’s Fish Market in Main Beach. I’ve yet to catch up with it but when I do he’ll be getting a stern lecture about good diet and be directed to the nearest picnic table for more ‘ibis appropriate’ food.
Only a catcher with skill and the right equipment has any hope of securing a ‘flight capable’ bird. When people with good intent approach those birds they invariably take to the air and fly away, sometimes never to be seen again. Repeated, failed capture attempts cause a bird to become super wary making it very difficult to catch, even for an experienced rescuer.
The best advice is to never approach an injured bird if it looks like it might be capable of flight. How will you know? Easy. If it’s wings are up against its body, where they ought to be, and the wings look normal; assume the bird can fly. If so stay well back and keep dogs and people well away. Keep the bird in sight and call a local rescue service immediately, or Google ‘Bird Rescue’ in your area. Hopefully someone can attend quickly.
An easy number to remember for ALL wildlife and domestic animals in need is 1-300-ANIMAL. That’s the RSPCA. Their phone service is often slow because they’re overloaded with calls, so expect a wait, but the operators are good and will direct you to someone who can help. Speed is everything when trying to secure a flight capable bird which could take to the air at any moment and be miles away in minutes. A rescuer has to move fast and get there while the caller can still see the bird. One of the reasons WBR enjoys such a high rate of success is because I’m available 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and drop everything and go the moment a call for a critically injured bird comes in. Most are caught. Sometimes a rescue takes 10 minutes; other times 10 days (or longer). It all averages out in the end.
OK, now for an update on my favourite subject of late. No, not ibis but rather ..… tea and cake! I was very pleasantly surprised following last month’s Capture Report when WBR donors responded with great kindness and generousity to my gripe about people who call this service frequently, but never contribute. Sincere thanks to everyone who helped. Donations received so far puts us on track to cover operational expenses for the second year running. ‘What the heck does that have to do with tea and cake’, you might ask. Well, it means that I can afford to buy my own occasionally because my meagre resources are not all being used to run this rescue service. What luxury! Of course I still have radar for a tasty, free beverage and scone when I sense one on the horizon!
I’ve just tallied up this year’s numbers which so far show that I’ve attended 91 swans. Dunno about you but I reckon that’s a LOT, especially as there’s probably only 300 swans in the entire Gold Coast region. During the month I admitted several adults and cygnets to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital with fish hooks embedded in a joint … either the jaw, knee (hock) or ankle. Injuries like that are fully life-threatening and incredibly painful; think the human equivalent of driving an ice pick 3cm into your knee. Not nice. In fact there wasn’t a day in the whole month when I didn’t have at least 1 swan, and at times as many as 4, in hospital receiving treatment. The really distressing fact is that none of those critically injured birds was called in by the fishers who hooked them. Those losers just cut the birds free and go home, or go on fishing. Fortunately all but one of those swans survived.
Probably the luckiest was Jeff (pic above with Dr. Andrew and Nurse Niki), a young male that I pulled by the scruff of the neck from a pack of 20 on West Lake, Robina A passer-by had noticed Jeff swimming with a leg out of the water. That’s not unusual because swans will swim around all day with one leg up on their back. Luckily the caller also spotted the glint of a metal fishing lure on Jeff’s leg. That changed the game completely. Upon arrival at hospital I carried Jeff directly through to the examination table, not wanting to risk handing him to one of the girls while razor sharp hooks were flailing wildly as he kicked and struggled. The lure itself was a colourful, winged contraption of some complexity … no doubt quite expensive (ha … lost that one loser!). Nurse Niki commented on how pretty it was (at right). I said, ‘Nik, you’re a very sick woman’. She responded by telling me, ‘we have to look for all positives in these situations’. Couldn’t really argue with that.
Surgery to remove the ‘trebles’ embedded deep in Jeff’s knee and shin went well. A good result was anticipated and full recovery was expected to take 5 days. However, after 2 days Jeff wouldn’t put his foot down. A week on and he was still on one leg despite heavy doses of pain killers. Not good at all. Another week went by and still no progress. This was serious and we began to doubt that Jeff would recover. Then, out of the blue, he started to walk. Thank God! Personally I think it was all a bluff. Not only was he enjoying the good food in hospital but he’d taken a real shine to Millie, another recovering swan. Whatever the reason, we were delighted. Jeff went home last week.
Warning … things get a bit bleak from here on.
It was not such a good outcome for Missy Moo (at left), a sweet little swan from Burleigh Lake. She was the second badly hooked/entangled swan I’d caught on the lake in less than a week. School hols usually mean that hookings ramp up. The first of those birds only took 30 seconds to secure. I was assisted by Paul and Fiona Byres and their children Soma and Kali. You might remember it was Fiona who collected that giant ball of fishing line; some 10k’s+, along with hundreds of hooks, lures and sinkers from Tallebudgerra Creek. The family are long-time supporters of WBR.
We disentangled the cygnet and released it immediately.
Missy Moo’s capture was an entirely different story. It took 4 hours to get my hands on her. She was in so much distress from a hook in the knee that she’d abandoned her long term partner and their 4 mature kids and swum away to isolate herself. It was very sad to see. After hours of stealthy pursuit, which took me through several residences, I eventually located her by the lake shore. Then it was a 50m slide on my belly using thin rushes for cover before I finally got off a quick net shot. Even then she escaped the net but luckily a swivel attached to fishing line trailing behind her snagged in the netting. I’d love a buck for every time that’s happened allowing me to secure a bird that might otherwise have taken many more hours, or even days to catch.
I rushed Moo to hospital. Dr. Fumie put her straight up on the table, then knocked her out and extracted the painful hook. The injury wasn’t too bad and all was looking good, but sadly within days of admission she developed aspergillosis (mold in the lungs). A bad case is always fatal. Mold also poses a very significant risk to staff. In the end Missy Moo had to be put to sleep. It’s not uncommon for aspergillosis to develop in a bird held in long term care, but Moo was coughing within days of admission leading us to conclude that she was probably sick before entering hospital. No doubt the pain, stress and debilitation caused by the hook in her knee enhanced the illness. It was a lousy outcome. But at least by catching her she’d been given a chance rather than dying out there alone and in pain.
Sadly the cygnets (baby swans) got hammered by eels during September. There may not have been any more attacks than usual but more were injured. Rarely are those injuries reparable. It would be much kinder if the bloody things just dragged the birds under and ate them.
Young Matilda, the 4 week old cygnet from Black Swan Lake in Bundall, was among the casualties. She’d survived an eel attack just 2 weeks early and was doing quite well (pic at right). Then she got hit again. This time it was bad. I put her to sleep on the spot. The next day her patents left the lake. Probably felt there was no reason to stay and wanted to escape the rapidly dropping water levels caused by a long dry spell.
Bit of a rugged report, eh? Please remember that WBR is an emergency rescue service. Things can get pretty crook, but I promise you we save a hell of a lot more critically injured birds than we lose.
On a happier note I finally got my hands on Peg Leg Peta. Initially I’d named her Peg Leg Pete but then realised she was probably female. Twelve months ago, as a 2 week old cygnet, Peta had fallen victim to an eel. Damn thing tore her left leg right off. It’s very rare for a bird to survive such a devastating injury. I had trouble catcher her at the time, but was amazed to discover that she appeared to be doing quite well so decided to wait and see how things played out. Ted from Robina was keeping an eye on Peta. Time went on. Over the course of the year I got several reports about a one legged swan in West Lake.
A week ago I dropped by West Lake in search of a hooked swan. Couldn’t find that bird but did discover a fishing line entangled pelican which I caught and relieved of a dangerous wing entanglement. Then Peta turned up. She was a quick catch and I was delighted to see the stump of her leg (at right) has completely healed. She’s only little but managing quite well. A very lucky girl.
Another surprise was in store when I attended the Botanic Gardens following a report about a swan with a draggy right wing. I assumed the bird was Graham, the resident male who 8 years early I’d caught at Pizza Park (at left), 4 k’s away in Mermaid Waters. At the time Graham had been attacked by a dog and badly bitten. His wing hung to the ground and we didn’t think he’d survive, but head vet Mic Pyne sewed him up and Graham pulled through, albeit with a slightly droopy right wing. Twelve months later he flew from Pizza Park and took up residence in the Botanic Gardens. I thought this most recent report probably concened him. It sounded bad; the wing was literally hanging on the ground.
Turned out it wasn’t Graham at all. He and his partner must have moved on because a new pair of swans was in residence. The male clearly had wing issues. I caught him and quickly discovered double angel wing (at right). For those unfamiliar with the condition, angel wing is a deformity of the joints on one or both wings, caused in part by the parents being fed bread (or grains). This discovery was good in one respect … a broken wing being irreparable, but not so good because angel wing means the creature will never fly. Still, he can have a life and he and his partner certainly have picked a beautiful little waterway to reside. I’m bracing myself for weekly, panicked calls from concerned MOP’s (he’s got a broken wing!!). Those calls will go on for the rest of the bird’s life, or the rest of mine, whichever comes first.
So far this Capture Report has been mostly about swans. The many ibis lovers among you must be hanging out to know how ‘our favourite birds’ faired during September. Well, finally some GOOD news. I only attended 2 ibis during the entire month and didn’t catch either (both flew before I arrived). No ibis captures during a whole month is a WBR first! May it continue. I have a theory about this but need another month to test it. Stay tuned. Other species attended included darter, ducks, crested pigeons, pelicans and water hens.
A monthly Capture Reports is automatically sent to all donors for a period of 12 months. They’re a way to show my appreciation for your help and to keep you informed about how your assistance is saving wildlife. Some of the donations received during September were very substantial indeed. Many thanks to all who contributed. Those monies combined puts WBR in a good position. Special thanks to our patron Jim Downs and Paul and Liz on the Donations Committee, and to everyone who helped.
‘Till next month.
President, Chief Cage Washer and Winged Avenger
WBR Gold Coast