Rescues were fewer in August with WBR attending 25 sick or injured birds. This lower number was mainly due to me taking a much needed break in the latter part of the month. Even so, there was plenty of action on several fronts.
Two urgent swan rescues took place in the Runaway Bay canals. This area is a maze of man-made waterways, very poorly designed as far as wildlife is concerned, with high walls and almost nowhere other than structures like pontoons for birds to climb out of the water. There’s also a lack of natural food for swans and other herbivorous birds. Still, there remains plenty of bird life which the locals enjoy.
Unfortunately some residents have been leaving fishing lines unattended. It only takes one line to put all waterbirds in the area at high risk. Canals like these are hard for a rescuer too because tracking down an injured creature which is panicking and weaving frantically through a tight system of waterways can be a real challenge.
I’d already caught one swan in the Runaway Bay canals the previous month. She was a bit skinny and being bullied by her parents which wanted her gone. A couple of weeks in hospital and she was fine.
Shortly after that the first of two hooked swans had been heard flapping and thrashing about before being spotted wrapped in line, one hook in her mouth, another in her wing and a third hook dangling off line attached to a large fishing float that was trailing behind. Not good, but at least the float made her easier to spot. Luckily there was sufficient entanglement to prevent her from getting airborne. I managed to net the bird from a boat, took her home, then to hospital first thing the next morning. She made a full recovery.
The second hooked swan took me 3 days to catch (at left). He’d swallowed a hook and was very distressed. Barely eating he wouldn’t stay at a residence long enough for me to get there for the rescue. Several times I got a brief look as he swam away, only to have him turn a corner and be lost to view.
Finally, he lingered at one waterside property long enough for me to blow a net over him, then watch in frustration as he shook the net and swam away. Oh, for goodness sake!
Seconds later my saviour came into view. It was a kayaker. I called him over and asked him to slowly paddle out and around the swan and try to gently guide the bird back into range for a second shot. This isn’t normally possible. An injured bird won’t allow you to push it in a desired direction, especially when it’s already spooked. Luckily the kayaker did everything I asked and we experienced some real luck (for a change!).
The swan swam back into range and the second net shot fully engulfed him. I don’t remember ever being given the chance of two net shots at the same swan. Just doesn’t happen.
What saved this bird was a swivel attached to the line. Caught in the corner of his mouth that swivel had preventing him from swallowing the line (visible in the pic above). Had it gone down his throat I’d have had no way to identify the bird from other swans and he might have died a slow and unhappy death.
In hospital an x-ray revealed the hook had lodged in the swan’s oesophagus very close to his heart (hook visible left of the cursor). Removing that hook required a delicate 4 hour operation. It was touch and go but I’m happy to say that he came through.
Again, this hooking was almost certainly caused by an unattended fishing line. The cost to catch the bird; the delicate operation to remove the hook, followed by time in care while he healed was HUGE. Guess who didn’t pay for any of it? That’s right, the irresponsible person who left a fishing line and baited hook trailing in the water. Of course, you know who did pay for it. Yep, WBR donors like you, myself and the hospital. Something very wrong with that scenario.
This is why WBR has been working so hard to lower the ridiculous number of fishing lines that a person can set (6 in fresh water) and put an end to the practice of casting out lines and then walking away from them.
The Sundale Bridge Ospreys
Those who follow the WBR Facebook page will have witnessed the good outcomes and also the dramas that have engulfed the pair of ospreys living atop their tower adjacent to the Sundale Bridge in Southport.
The male osprey’s right rear talon had become entangled in fishing line mid- June. This coincided with the female laying two eggs. These were the first eggs she’d laid in three years.
(Fishing line is visible trailing from the right rear talon)
I didn’t become aware of the male’s plight until much later, in early August. By going back through pictures taken by a Chinese visitor we discovered the bird had flown up to the nest some 6 weeks earlier trailing meters of dangerous light-weight fishing line.
By the time I found out the line had reduced to several strands that were firmly wrapped around his rear talon. With the female spending most of her time on the eggs he was the main provider. As you know, entanglement is dangerous and particularly so for an osprey. Many species can lose a toe or two and not be badly affected, but if just one of an osprey’s talons becomes disabled its catch rate of fish will drop and it can quickly starve. Lovin’ them apples!
Normally, when I accept a rescue I just go straight in and do what needs to be done. But I was quite freaked out by the prospect of catching this bird. Due to the location it could easily turn into a very public event … not something I enjoy. And, there was the possibility that I might injure the creature during the catch. If he had to be hospitalised for more than a few days because of an injury I’d caused, or injury caused by the entanglement, it’d be game over for the eggs. The female would not be able to keep those eggs warm and catch the fish she’d need to survive. It was a lot to take in.
For the record I’ve only caused the death of two birds in 15 years of catching and some 6000 rescues. Clearly, based on that statistic there wasn’t much to be worried about, but a raptor on the wing is difficult to catch, so I was worried.
As it turned out I couldn’t catch the little rascal anyway. Came very close but close doesn’t count in this game. In the end I abandoned further attempts because it was clear from many photos and hours of observation that he was coping pretty well. I could see the line around his talon was troubling him but it hadn’t stopped him from catching and carrying fish in the affected right foot. Added to this was a gut feeling that catching this bird wasn’t necessary. This did give me some peace of mind.
Then, three weeks after the eggs hatched and while I was snapping photos came the horrible discovery of a dead chick dangling by fishing line a meter and a half below the platform (at left).
I suspect the line had been accidently transported back to the nest by a parent in grasses used for lining. I reckon the little fellow got wrapped up in it and died in the nest before being ejected.
I first alerted Cr. Dawn Critchlow. She’s been helpful in the past and it was her suburb. Discussions then ensued between Broadwater Parklands Management and GC Council. Parklands Management drew the short straw over who would pay for the cherry picker and I drew the short straw for who would go up and cut down the body. Complaining that mine was the only straw in the last draw did me no good at all. Up I went and after a good deal of hacking and slashing managed to cut the little bird’s body down just two days before the Gold Coast Show was due to kick off, 100 meters from the osprey tower.
As of today little Oscar, the surviving chick, appears to be doing very well. By the time you read this he’ll be visible much of the time to people on the ground and those crossing the bridge in cars. In about 2 weeks he’ll be standing out on the platform ready to yell the osprey equivalent of ‘Geronimo’ (I’m keen to hear exactly what that sounds like) before taking his first leap into thin air and hopefully remaining airborne long enough to enjoy his first flight. It’ll be an exciting moment that I hope to witness.
I haven’t ruled out another attempt to catch the male but not until Oscar is well and truly self-sufficient.
Gotta Love the Press
A lot of people see the osprey’s when they walk through the Parklands or while driving across the bridge. I really wanted to share the bird’s story to a wider audience and use it to highlight problems related to lost or carelessly discarded tackle. I held off posting on FB to give the Bulletin (local GC newspaper) first crack along with several spectacular photographs.
I had every reason to believe they’d give this ‘local interest’ story great coverage. But one thing I’ve learned after years of dealing with news organisations is that you can never rely on anything until you see it in print. Even then, you’re lucky if they get your name right.
I so disappointed to open the Saturday edition and see just a few lines about the birds and no pictures. Galling when the paper devotes an entire page every day to fishing stories yet little or nothing concerning responsible fishing practices.
Not to be defeated I immediately contacted a couple of boating mags. Turns out that editor Peter, from Afloat Magazine, a popular free mag widely distributed throughout QLD and NSW, is a WBR Facebook follower. He was very keen to hear about the ospreys. On his advice I’ve written a lovely story with lots of great pics which I hope will feature in their next edition.
Afloat has always been environmentally conscious and so are many of its readers, so I’m glad they’re picking it up.
Thought I’d say a few words about nets guns. There’s a good deal of misunderstanding around the use and effectiveness of these as a capture tool.
Get ready to enter the minefield.
Firstly, being an ‘old school’ catcher, the last thing I reach for is my net gun, preferring to use the long handled capture net or a leg snare over a net gun every time. The few of us who specialise in catching ‘flight capable’ birds along this 300k’s of coastline, stretching from Tweed to the Sunshine Coast, do the same.
Net guns are noisy and potentially dangerous and while they can lead to a quick catch they also take ages to reload. That said, there are times when a net gun is the only tool to get the job done.
Potential purchasers need to be aware that a CO2 powered net gun only has an effective range of about 9m (despite oft exaggerated claims like 20m range). Secondly, they are very hard to master. It takes at least 50 shots to become even moderately proficient at hitting a target bird and to reliably reload expended nets. The only way to maintain proficiency is to use the tool very regularly (ie weekly). If not the rate of success will be so low that it won’t be worth the expense or the effort.
Before purchasing my gun Michael Dickinson, a highly experienced wildlife rescuer and feral animal control specialist said, ‘hey Rowley, before you buy one, borrow mine. I just can’t work the damn thing’. He was right. After the first 10 practice shots I was ready to chuck it in too. But I knew that if I could master the tool it would be very valuable, so I persisted. 50 shots later I was feeling better about the gun and now years on it’s turned out to be a lifesaver for many, many injured birds.
Net guns are costly, at least a good one is.
A low cost Chinese model is available from a Melbourne supplier for about $1000. That model is so ineffective for bird capture that I’m the only person I know who uses it and only because I’ve made major modifications that turned it into a useful tool. I know several other groups who purchased the same model and all have given up on it. The problem is the design. It only fires 4 weights which deploy the net. One weight on each corner doesn’t cause the net to spread fully and so the actual capture area is small and confined to the central part of the net. With lots and lots of practice the gun is OK for catching pigeons, maggies etc. at close range, but that’s about it. I don’t recommend anybody buy it.
A far superior gun is the Super Talon. This model fires 8 weights attached to the net. These spread the net in a much wider pattern providing a far bigger capture area; probably twice the area of nets shot from the Chinese gun. That makes all the difference.
For the past 2 years Super Talons have been available from a Melbourne agent … ACES Animal Care. The gun looks almost identical to the Chinese gun and in many ways it is, except for the number of weights it shoots (8 opposed to 4) and the price.
The basic Talon package costs $3000. Then there’s add-ons like $200 freight (to QLD), plus $450 to swap out the hopelessly small nets (50mm x 50mm) that come standard, and change to a variety of larger net sizes … plus, and here’s the good part … $503 for each replacement net. Yep, you read that right. Wreck a net and it will cost you $503 to replace it every time.
So, if you want to buy a Super Talon Net Gun equipped with a useful range of nets, plus a couple of spares, you’ll get little change out of an exorbitant $5000. In my opinion that gun is only worth about a thousand bucks, but there you have it. On the plus side, once mastered, it is a very effective capture tool.
I used to buy Chinese guns and spares from a Korean supplier. Sadly, he died. Then the Australian agent stopped selling me spares. I think he hoped that by not supplying spares it would force me to buy a whole new net gun each time ($1000). Nice!
After a long search I’ve found a Chinese supplier who sells me gun parts and sells me replacement nets for $25 each. That’ll give you an idea of the true, non-inflated value of gun nets. Typically I get about 30 uses out of each net, but a newbie might cut up a net every few shots, trying to disentangle a bird. Imagine that at $503 a pop. Probably send you broke.
I accept that people are in business to make money but I won’t support any company who misrepresents a product or its effectiveness, or those who charge exorbitant prices to volunteer groups, most of which are manned by good people doing their best to help wildlife.
If you’re reading this and are part of a group interested in buying a net gun you might be thinking, ‘so, what the bloody hell do we do?’
My advice is to buy the basic Super Talon from ACES ($3200 includes del) and then call me for info about where to purchase economical replacement nets and CO2 cartridges. After you take delivery of the gun, assign 1 or 2 people only to be dedicated users. Give them 50 CO2 cartridges and set them loose to blaze away at a bucket, or some other static target, placed on the ground 8-9 m from where they are standing. This is the effective range of the gun. Only when they can hit that bucket with 5 out of 5 shots and no net tangles, will they be ready to tackle wild birds.
It will come as no surprise to WBR donors that pelicans practice yoga. I’d do it too because I think yoga is brilliant but I’m just too lazy. That’s strange because pelicans are a lot lazier than I am, so I’m not really sure what motivates them. But it’s an undeniable fact that pelicans do yoga regularly, as the following pictures show.
1) Not an easy pose this one (at left). My friend Clare tells me it’s called ‘Camel Pose’.
Kids, please don’t try Camel Pose at home as there is significant risk of ejecting one’s tonsils directly out through the mouth.
2) Just as tricky is ‘Aeroplane Pose’ at right.
Here an advanced student checks the technique of a newbie.
Technique is everything to pelicans.
3) At left we have ‘Tree Pose’ which I’m told is very difficult to master.
The big risk here is getting your foot caught in your ear and remaining trapped in the pose for hours.
Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it but try telling that to a pelican!
4) Finally, dedicated though these birds are you always get the odd slacker.
At right, at the request of the instructor, I’ve had to remove this recalcitrant pupil from class and literally hold it in ‘Pencil Pose’ to instil correct technique.
I ask you, who’d be a yoga teacher?
Who calls Wild Bird Rescues?
I did a quick check to see where most calls to WBR are coming from.
By far the majority of calls come from people who already know about this service or who found it on the net. These account for a whopping 75% of all calls.
Following that an equal number come from Currumbin Wildlife Hospital and the RSPCA with around 10% of calls being passed on by each. Wildcare passes on about 5% of the calls attended by WBR.
Once a month I’ll get a call from a source more left of field like Tweed Valley Wildlife Carers (just south of the border) or from one of the Brisbane rescue outfits.
Snake Catchers Beware, there’s new kid on the block
At right is Bruce Springsteen. No, I’m not kidding, that’s his name.
Bruce is a wildlife rescuer ‘in training’. He hopes to specialise in reptiles. That’s a snake he’s carrying. It’s both a training tool and his ‘security’ snake, all combined in the one handy toy. Bruce never leaves home without it.
Some months ago, while walking with his mate and accompanied by his mother through Main Beach, Bruce accidently dropped his snake down a drain. It was a catastrophe. There was no ‘Dancing in the Dark’, just pandemonium in the streets. Rescuers sprang from everywhere … OK, so maybe they were just concerned locals, but they were VERY concerned.
Men flexed their muscle; drain lids were lifted. Mission complete, snake back in mouth, peace restored. Pheww.
I’ll let you know when Bruce gets his snake catchers ticket. He’s a handy size for getting into those tight and twisty places where reptiles hang out, like under beds. I also suspect he’ll be less expensive than your ‘bigger’ snake catcher. Probably do an eastern brown for half can of My Dog and a pat on the head.
In the meantime, if you happen to be in Tedder Av. around 7am most mornings keep an eye out for Bruce Springsteen. My advice is that if value your fingers don’t touch the snake. Did learn that the hard way.
Damn Thing Dropped Out of the Sky
Fisher Dave was alone in his 14ft tinny a couple of k’s off the Gold Coast Seaway and had just cast out when a big gannet plummeted out of the sky and took his hook. ‘Jeez, I never even saw it coming’, said Dave. The poor bird copped a hook through its jaw as it fought to get away. Dave cut the line (never do that) but luckily the bird had become sufficiently entangled to not be able to get airborne.
Dave was horrified by what had happened and determined to get help. He followed along in his boat behind the struggling bird while frantically dialling for assistance.
One of his calls went to SeaWorld who called me.
It was late in the afternoon; maybe only 90 minutes of light left. I was going to need a boat. 2k’s offshore is too far to go in my small inflatable. It’s doable, but not safe and anyway it’d take too long. I needed something BIG.
Over the next 15 minutes I spoke to six marine rescue services … seven if you count my mate in his boat in the pen next to mine who said he couldn’t help. None of those services had a boat available, mainly because it was late and they had no skipper. Great. Time was running out. WTF was I going to do?
In the end I made the only decision possible. I called Dave, who by now had been following the stricken bird for an hour since making his first call.
I said, ‘Dave, you gotta leave the bird and come in and get me … and for Christs sake take some really good bearings because when we get back out there that gannet will be hard to find’.
I needn’t have worried. Dave turned out to be a lot smarter than me. Before leaving he pinged the bird’s location on his GPS. Fifteen minutes later I jumped aboard from the dive platform in the Seaway and we headed back out. Five minutes after arriving we located the bird.
The gannet was partially disabled by the wraps of line and exhausted. That made it easy to net.
I’d avoided asking Dave to try netting it earlier. After seeing the size of its beak I’m pretty sure that he’d avoid asking whether he should try. Gannets can be bit of a handful and not one for the alone and inexperienced.
We lifted the bird aboard. I had Dave hold the creature securely while I nipped off the barb and backed the shank of the hook out of its jaw. Then we spent another 15 minutes disentangling the line.
Sans the hook and line the gannet was looking much better. I thought I’d risk dropping it back over the side. Big mistake.
Without the entanglement the bird was far more mobile but was still too weak to get airborne. Second time around I had to net it from the bow of the boat while travelling at nearly 15 knots. Tricky, but I got him.
Back in the Broadwater wave action meant the only place we could land was nearly a kilometre from my car. Turned out to be quite a struggle carrying a large snappy bird, a long net and a bucket full of equipment. I got there in the end, then dropped the gannet off at SeaWorld. Dr. Dave fed him up and staff released him a couple of days later.
It’s always good to be able to tell a positive story about a keen fisher who was just as keen to get help for wildlife he’d accidently injured and was willing to go the extra yards to make sure it happened. Good onya Dave.
How I love talking about Fisheries QLD.
Pleased to report that I’ve just recruited a couple of real heavyweights who’ve come on board with our campaign to see the maximum number of lines allowed for each recreational fisher capped at two and that fishers must remain with their lines at all times. I’ve always maintained that two lines is more than enough for anyone to enjoy the sport and by staying with them it greatly reduces the likelihood of unwanted hookings or entanglements of waterbirds.
At my request Dr. Michael Pyne, head vet at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, has sent a submission to Fisheries QLD in support of our proposal.
I’ve also asked Surfers Paradise Liberal MP, John-Paul Langbroek, to support the proposal. He’s requested more information from the QLD Minister for Fisheries, Mark Furner and upon receipt I’m confident that JP will also advocate for the changes we’re seeking.
I sent the next of my monthly letters, chock full of suitably distressing pictures, to the Director-General of Fisheries, Dr. Beth Woods. The letter was pretty strong. Don’t want her forgetting about me, or forgetting about the many of you who’ve also sent in submissions. Thanks for doing that.
DES (Dept. of Environment and Sciences)
For the first time in 9 months, despite many letters I’ve written complaining that nothing was being done about supervision for pelicans coming ashore at the Charis Seafood’s’ lunchtime feeding, DES finally had an investigating officer call me. This didn’t come easy. In fact they only relented and agreed to speak to me after I threatened to dob them in to the QLD Ombudsman citing the Dept.’s. complete failure in its duty of care towards those pelicans.
Pelicans struggle to get ashore at ‘the feed’. A woman with a camera can be seen lying on the beach blocking their path. Kids a little further along are throwing sand at them. And this was a good day. Trust me, you don’t want to see a bad one!
I’ll talk more about DES next month but suffice to say that my dealings with them have felt like walking in glue. They appear to be 95% focused on preventing outsiders (like me) from witnessing their inaction and only 5% focussed on helping the pelicans.
This promises to be a bumpy ride, so stay tuned.
WBR is in reasonable shape financially but I could still use some help to ensure that we don’t slide backwards.
A great deal of time and effort goes into producing regular Facebook posts with pictures and interesting Capture Reports to demonstrate my appreciation for donors like you and to show how your support is making such a big difference for wildlife. Your donations ensure that this service can provide fast, efficient and effective help 15 hours a day, 7 days a week (notwithstanding the occasional hol). I don’t know of another small outfit that is so active in rescuing while also advocating for policy changes to secure much better outcomes for our birdlife.
I can only do this with your continued support. In appreciation all donors receive 12 issues of the monthly Capture Reports. If you haven’t made a donation for a while please consider making one. www.wildbirdrescues.com.au/donations
For this month only donors will also receive one of these, so don’t delay because supplies are limited, or at least they were until I came across this lot. Now that I have ‘spares’ if don’t make a donation I’ll send you two.
Special thanks go to Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee and to our patron Jim Downs for his ongoing support.
Until next month.
‘El Presidente for Life’
Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST