Rescue numbers lifted again in September with WBR attending 43 sick, injured or orphaned birds.
To kick things off, I’ll ask you, what would a WBR Capture Report be without an ibis story to whet your appetite?
OK, so all you ibis lovers can stop cheering now, and the rest you stop groaning. They’re an Aussie icon. We’re so lucky to have them. Just like vegemite, although I’m pretty sure vegemite was bought out by a multinational. Just because there were no buyers for ibis doesn’t mean anything! They are a wonderful bird.
So too thinks Mina who moved into a little cottage a year ago in a tourist park in Carrara. She’d been feeding the ibis but got told off. Didn’t stop her though, especially when she saw this big fella come in with a terrible limp. It was the same old story (is it ever any different?), bloody discarded fishing line.
I took a quick look at his leg through binocs and thought, ‘oh no, this isn’t good’. Terribly swollen and becoming dark. Might be too late for that foot. Several tight wraps of fishing line clearly visible.
I know the pic at right is probably not what you were hoping to see while eating breakfast, but imagine how painful that would be. The poor birds suffer terribly and it goes on for weeks, or even months until amputation occurs, or they get lucky and I catch them and remove the line. Happy to say that I catch most of them.
I caught Mina’s bird just in the nick of time before that tight wrap of fishing line (the top wrap) which you can see just above the ankle, causing the deep indent, took off his foot. As you know the loss of a foot is nearly always a death sentence for an ibis. They’re just too heavy to hop around and forage successfully on only one leg.
I roped Mina into helping. She said she was a little hard of hearing. I said that’s OK, I’ll shout. Poor bird must have wondered what all the yelling was about but in the end it was for his benefit, and great benefit it was.
At left, Mina gives the ‘savage beast’ a quick pat before we let him go. He only flew a few meters then stopped and looked back at us, his previously incapacitated right foot already resting on the ground and doing what it’s supposed to do. Mina was very relieved.
Any entanglement is a BAD thing, but on the plus side it’s an injury that I can usually treat on the spot with little fuss and at no cost to our already overloaded vets and hospitals, all of which do a marvelous job.
It was good news too for Horatio, a crow I caught at The Spit. As you can see Horatio is not in good shape with that awful lead-head jig stuck in his mouth. In fact he was quite depressed.
LH jigs have a hook on the end. The shaft is designed so that a molded piece of soft plastic can be slid over it, resembling the fishers ‘bait of choice’, usually a fish or a prawn. Horatio must have grabbed the plastic thinking it was food, either that or it was deliberately cast at him.
I needed to move Horatio into a different position so that I could catch him. Normally I do this by manipulating the target bird with food, but of course Horatio couldn’t eat. That made things difficult.
Years of experience means I can often complete a rescue quickly in one visit, thus saving much time and expense and reducing the suffering of the bird. But the circumstances here were tricky, meaning this rescue might quickly go pear shaped. In the worst instance Horatio could take to the air and never been seen again. That’s to be avoided at all cost, and is the reason I come down so hard on inexperienced rescuers who accept calls and go out with no training and often nothing more than a towel to attempt to catch a flight-capable bird like Horatio. No hope at all. They just lose the bird and wreck its chances of getting help.
At last Horatio moved into a better position and I blew a net over him. Then I notice that for the first time ever one of the 4 weights that fires out of the gun, dragging the net with it, was gone. This is NOT something you want to have happen. I’m always super careful to make sure I have either clear space for at least 200m immediately behind the target bird, or dense bush. A weight that comes free can sail off into the blue yonder and do serious damage. No problems this time, thank goodness, with dense bushes behind.
After a week in Currumbin Wildlife Hospital H was looking so much better. Photo, upper left.
I picked him up from the hospital and did the release myself. Crows are incredibly intelligent and also very social. As soon as H got airborne he was joined by a zillion of his mates who all set up an enormous racket in one big welcome home party.
You Never Know what the Day will Bring
In this case it was an email that brought it … one from Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate.
A week earlier I’d sent the Mayor and all Councilors a copy of the June Capture Report. WBR is just one of heaps of volunteer organizations, most of which do amazing work, here on the Goldie. So, every couple of years I send out one of my monthly reports to let councilors and staff know about WBR. I never ask for anything, it’s just a way of presenting the work being done by this rescue service, assuming of course that they even read the report.
The Mayor was the only one who wrote back saying, in part , ‘Thank you for your recent email bringing me up to speed on your remarkable dedication to sick and injured birdlife. I want to offer you my sincere best wishes for doing such a wonderful job over so many years. I think your commitment is terrific’.
I damn near fell over, but my shock was quickly followed by appreciation for his kind words. Let’s be clear, the Mayor has not been one of my favorite people due to his dismal environmental record, and so his words of appreciation for a wildlife rescue service came as a bit of a shock. Maybe there is hope for the human race after all!
It gets better. Two weeks later his chief of staff invited me to come in and meet the Mayor to chat about Wild Bird Rescues. OKaaayyy.
Tom Tate is a straight shooter so there was no foreplay. He began with, ‘right, what do you want’? I hadn’t actually gone in there expecting anything but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having a wish list … a bloody long one in fact, in the hope that he might offer help. Wanting maximum benefit I’d narrowed my list down to 2 key items which I thought were achievable.
Gotta say, the Mayor came through with flying colours.
The first thing I told him about was WBR’s campaign to have the number of fishing lines that each recreational fisher is allowed, reduced to a maximum of 2 and that all fishers be required to remain with their lines at all times. This in contrast to the current allowances of 3 fishing lines in tidal (salt) waters like the GC Broadwater, and an obscene 6 lines in non-tidal (fresh) water like the Robina Lakes and Clear Island Waters, all hot beds for hookings and entanglements. Worse, because fresh water fishers are permitted to be 50m away from their 6 fishing line and out of sight. WBR is called to catch 250+ birds every year suffering directly from a fishing related injury meaning those fishing allowances are completely unacceptable.
The Mayor jumped in and said, ‘right, I’m up for that, let’s make the Gold Coast the first place in QLD where the number of fishing lines each person can use is sensible’. Mayor Tate said he’d write to Minister Furner immediately and make it very clear this is what we expect.
The second item on my list is an interesting one. Very recently, inspired by all the osprey action you’ve seen on WBR Facebook, I’ve become more involved with their nesting arrangements. This led me to ask the Mayor for a 5m height extension to a new osprey tower which was installed last year on the north side of the Currumbin Estuary. The tower was erected after Gold Coast Waterways Authority dismantled the navigation beacon which sat on the end of the rock groyne at the Currumbin Estuary mouth for decades, complete with active osprey nest.
GCWA went ahead and pulled down the old beacon because it was rusting. Fair enough, but what wasn’t fair was their destruction of the osprey nest which they tried to say had been inactive for 3 years. Sadly, they got caught out in a lie when pics were produced by a local surfer and school teacher showing what everybody knew: that the nest was only ever temporarily unoccupied for a few months outside of each breeding season. In other words it was a fully active nest. I’d add that it was also much loved and so where the ospreys.
Heat was applied to the GCWA by my friend Judy and her mates from Palm Beach who fought like demons for 12 months, including taking legal advice and threatening to report GCWA to the ombudsman. Eventually GCWA agreed to put up a new osprey tower. Don’t quote me but I believe the cost was $80,000. A glorified lamppost with a metal basket on top … for $80K, seriously? Pretty sure the Eiffel Tower cost less than that.
In the 12 months since it’s been up no ospreys have occupied the basket. A few have alighted there briefly but that’s all. At 11.5m we think it’s too low, for two reasons. One, because any teen with a strong arm could pelt a rock up into the nesting basket. Secondly, ospreys prefer a high platform when their nest is located away from the water, especially in this case where the tower is surrounded by 4m high bushes giving their mortal enemies, the ‘black and whites’, a place to hang out.
I advised the Mayor that the restricted height of 11.5m which was dictated to GCWA by GC Council Planning Dept. was not going to work. He asked what I wanted. I answered, ‘another 5m’. He said, ‘no probs, you got it’.
In addition, the Mayor has offered to support WBR by posting info about this service on the Council FB page. He also asked if WBR needed any financial help. I thanked him but said no; that WBR has never taken any Government or Council money because I believe this is a community rescue service and is funded generously by the community. That’s the way I want it to remain … no strings attached.
You see that photograph at right?
What you’re looking at is the first time in 20 years of operation that Gold Coast pelicans have been able to come ashore, under protection, at the lunchtime pelican feed on the Labrador foreshore.
I’ve fought a bitter battle with DES (Dept. of Environment and Sciences) for the past 10 months to make them force the operator to take protective measures for the pelicans which had previously been on the receiving end of some pretty awful behaviour. This was being dished out by ignorant and unruly elements of the public. People would chase and harass the birds, throw sand or even rocks, and feed them hot chips. Cruelty was especially evident during hot, sunny weekends where the number of locals and tourists visiting the feed could exceed 300.
The harassment was very hard to watch and even harder knowing the operator, who I’d had many discussions with trying to get them to act, didn’t care enough to do anything about it unless ordered to by DES, the issuer of their permit. So, I had no choice but to raise a complaint with DES last November. What followed was nearly a year of back and forth emails where I fielded some of the most inane bullshit I’ve ever read in my entire life and ended up having to threaten DES with the ombudsman and a report to the RSPCA over neglecting their duty of care towards pelicans which they are paid handsomely to care for.
Now at last, each day at 1pm the operator erects 2 temporary rope barriers to hold the public back and has assigned an extra person, in addition to the one who throws fish frames to the peli’s, to be present before and during the feed to function as crowd control. Why it took 10 months to drag DES kicking and screaming into a position where they finally took some authority and acted, is anyone’s guess. Sadly, this is often how it goes when dealing with Gov. Dept.’s who are supposed to do the right thing by wildlife but are often the last to act.
Despite my frustrations I’m happy that reasonable protection is finally in place and I’m delighted for the pelicans.
Here are the stats for September covering hooked or entangled birds that I rescued.
There were 5 swans, 2 magpies, 5 pelicans, 1 tern, 2 crested pigeons, 3 ibis, 1 gull, 2 pee wees, 2 ospreys and 1 crow. A total of 24 birds out of the 43 rescued. That’s the result from just one rescuer, in one month on the Gold Coast. Imagine what’s going on around Australia.
At left is a pied oyster catcher. Beautiful birds with a lovely benign expression, oyster catchers aren’t common, but nor are they threatened. Because they forage across reefs among rocks exposed by low tide they often fall victim to lost fishing line. If they become entangled and are not caught and freed the line quickly cuts off a foot (or feet) as has happened to this little fellow.
The good news is that he’s OK. It’s surprising for such a heavy bird, but oyster catchers get around reasonably well on the stump of an amputated foot. In fact I know of this one in Labrador, another near Pac Fair which I saw again just the other day and another that has lived for years with its partner inside SeaWorld. That pair has raised several chicks.
Do you remember the story of Edie Wobbles, the white faced heron from Runaway Bay that two years ago snapped nearly 2cm off his bottom beak?
Over the next 12 months he was cared for, in the wild, by two families who made sure that Eddie was only given fish when he visited. His broken beak may have been the result of weakening caused by an improper diet that lacked calcium. The bones found in fresh whole fish, fed to Eddie a couple times a day would ensure a rich supply of Ca.
Seemed to do the trick because remarkably Eddie’s lower beak grew back and now looks perfectly normal.
But this story isn’t about Eddie Wobbles, it’s about Missy Wobbles, his girlfriend.
She and Eddie visit caller Mike’s house each day for some free tucker. This is not really something wildlife people like to see but of course it’d been necessary when Eddie needed help healing his beak. I figure that as long as birds are given very little, the occasional free treat isn’t detrimental.
One day recently Missy flew in with her legs entangled and hobbled.
Mike holds Missy, her feet still strung together by black twine of some sort.
Mike called WBR immediately and I arrived within 10 minutes. Five minutes after that Missy was wrapped up in a towel, much to her horror, but also to her benefit. The fibrous material around her feet was quickly cut away. Fortunately it hadn’t the chance to do any damage because it’d only been on for a day. Missy was released immediately, no harm done. She was lucky.
Trouble on Legs
I don’t think it’s right that a bloke should have to defend his breakfast against terrorists, but sometimes it’s just what you gotta do. Probably why the restaurant provides you with a knife.
I could go on with many more stories and accompanying pics from September, but I think this is enough for one report.
Remarkable achievements culminated in September, particularly the protection of the pelicans which had been a goal of mine for many years. Also, the Mayor’s help with our fishing line campaign and particularly with getting the height restriction lifted on the Currumbin osprey tower. Without his high-level intervention that height issue could have easily become another two year battle which we may not have even won.
Thank you for supporting Wild Bird Rescues. Your help makes all of the rescues I do possible. Special thanks to our patron Jim Downs and to Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee.
Until next month.
Pres. WBR Gold Coast