June Highlights

June has brought heap loads of rescues for young waterbirds – not surprising at this time of year.  Here is a snapshot of some of June’s rescues.  A big thank you to Adam, Nicci and Paula for all your help this month.

 

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May Round Up

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Abandoned gosling
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Injured cygnet
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Another injured cygnet – dog attack
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Receiving treatment from vet at Swan Sanctuary
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Ready to join the others
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Gosling with leg injury
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Swan looks relaxed but not allowed on water by resident cob who’s protecting his family
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Straight release into nearby flock
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Off he goes

May has been incredibly busy – mostly dominated by duck and duckling rescues.  The ones I get calls for are usually in Central London.  Sadly the ones I hear about are probably only a small fraction of the ducks that are nesting in balconies and courtyards.  Many must perish.  Ducks are losing more and more of their natural habitat and therefore nesting in inappropriate places that are a long way from water.  When I drive around London and look at the continuous building programmes, erecting more and more blocks of flats, I am drawn to the balconies and the rather lovely flower displays which to me are just possible nesting sites!

For the first time ever I have had similar rescues but for geese and their goslings.  I went to flats in Kidbrooke where a lot of elderly and disabled people were living.  The communal gardens, on two different levels, both occupied Canada Geese with their newly hatched goslings.  The new parents had put both the gardens out of bounds. Neither the gardener nor the maintenance man would step out there as the geese tried to ‘attack them’ – their words not mine!  So the grass becoming overgrown and there was goose poo everywhere.  The one good thing was that goslings can’t run as fast as ducks and there was a pond within the complex.  Unfortunately the goslings didn’t hatch at the same time so it involved two trips before the residents could reclaim their gardens.

There were a flurry of goslings and cygnets with leg injuries and a couple of territorials where pairs of swans had unwelcome visitors!  It is always sad to take injured cygnets and goslings, that are only a few weeks old, although without intervention they would die.  They will not be able to be released until they are fully independent which could be another five months. However, they will go onto a sanctuary lake much sooner and they will learn to search for food themselves by pulling up pond weeds and vegetation from the lakes. However, they will still get fed a good supplement of swan pellets and grain.

 

May the Force Be with You……..London Emergency Services at Their Best!

Sometimes rescues can be made more difficult by the people you encounter.  Their expectations are often way too high and they forget that you are an unpaid volunteer with another job to pay the bills!  However, the majority of people I encounter are lovely but I had the misfortune of two jobs on the same day with, shall I say, challenging people!

Thank goodness, the next two rescues were the exact opposite with the emergency services being as helpful and kind as you could wish for.

I had a call to go to Croydon where a juvenile swan had flown out of a small pond and crashed landed on a balcony.  On the phone it sounded relatively straightforward but when I arrived I realised that it was clearly going to be a more complicated rescue.  There was no way I could access the balcony.  I hadn’t been told that the residents were away and I did not feel confident about borrowing a ladder to climb up to the balcony.  I would have to come down with one hand holding the swan – and let’s not forget I would be trespassing.  I had no choice but to call the Fire Brigade.  I sat in my car and waited and within 5 minutes I heard the welcome sound of their sirens.  I explained the situation and after a brief discussion they appointed their newest recruit, aka ‘Sparrow’, to rescue the swan.  Sparrow was told by the other fire fighters that it was just like catching a very large duck and was then sent him up the ladder to retrieve the swan.  I couldn’t see what was going on but heard a lot of hissing and flapping, from the swan, and a few expletives from Sparrow.  Eventually,  he emerged with a swan tucked under his arm and carefully defended down the ladder.

The swan only had superficial injuries but I did not feel he was fit for release so he went to the Swan Sanctuary for some R&R.

Only a few days later I received a call from the Swan Sanctuary to see if I could go to a collapsed swan in Woolwich.  It was a Saturday evening and it would take me anything up to 90 minutes.  I immediately asked ‘Is there really no-one else that can go?’ only to be told there wasn’t.  The swan was lying in a car park but very close to the water’s edge so if she had a burst of energy and/or chased by a dog she might go into the water and swim away.

It’s really stressful driving to somewhere when you know it’s a long journey.  The woman with the swan had to leave as she had been with her for three hours waiting for the RSPCA, who she had originally called.  However, a police officer had arrived and he said he could stay until anything more urgent arose.  He spoke to me on the phone and said that if he had to leave he promised to get a PCSO to stay with the swan until I arrived.

It certainly took the pressure off driving there and I managed to stay within the speed limit!  When I rang to tell the PCSO I had hit heavy traffic he told me not to worry.  He said he would stay until I got there even though his shift was coming to an end.

Strangely enough about five minutes before I arrived the RSPCA turned up more than four hours after their original call.  This is not a criticism of the individual staff but I never really understand why the staffing levels are so low when they are one of the wealthiest charities in the UK.  I was glad that they decided to leave me to pick up the swan and take it to the Swan Sanctuary which is, after all, where the swan will get specialist treatment.

 

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I took the swan home and made her comfortable in my shed. She may have not moved but there was nothing wrong with her appetite – she wouldn’t stop eating.  I transferred her to the sanctuary the following morning.  There was no apparent reason for her inability to stand but she remains at the sanctuary making progress, albeit slowly.

So thank you Police and Fire Fighters for your kindness and compassion.

Some Swans Need a Helping Hand

At the start of May I got an email, via the Swan Sanctuary, from Richmond Council.  A local resident had posted on Instagram about a swan nest that was covered in litter – as was the surrounding water.  It was on the Thames, tucked away by the house boats.  I went to do a recce and was saddened by what I saw.  Good breeding sites are at a premium and the less dominant swans end up in places that leave a lot to be desired.

The following day, I returned with waders, black sacks, a bale of straw and a willing friend. She had a miserable little nest made from twigs and rubbish which is why I brought the straw. It was only me that got in the water as we didn’t want to stress the pen on her nest.  I carefully cleared all the bags around her and pulled out lots of rubbish from the river.  She seemed quite relaxed about me working so close to her.  I didn’t want her to come off the nest so I just broke up the straw and left some on either side of the nest.  We left feeling satisfied that we had done a good job with minimum disruption – in fact in not much more than an hour we had transformed the swans’ home.

The icing on the cake was when another volunteer went back the following day and saw that the swans had made full use of the straw and used it to improve their existing nest.  I later found out that they had attempted to make a nest in 2018 but it had no substance and the eggs were washed away.  This year has been a success and at the time of typing this there are six healthy cygnets.  They are in close proximity to an established, dominant pair of breeding swans so I am crossing my fingers that my new family keep a healthy distance from their swan neighbours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2019

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Duckling Rescue – possible drop if ducklings fall
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Two ducklings were caught in the car park with mum
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The rest of the ducklings were well hidden in this window box
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Hidden in the window box
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Prior to release
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The best bit! Releasing the family
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Other injured birds
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Poorly gull with botulism
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Duck with fracture to wing
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Baby heron
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2018 cygnet being kept on land by cob
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Released into Kingston Flock

The duckling season has started. Most of the waterbird babies are hatching slightly earlier this year.  Usually I would get one or two duck and duckling rescues in April but at the time of writing this I have done seven and there’s been lots of orphaned ducklings brought to me as well.  They’re never easy and it’s hardly worth having a plan as it just doesn’t seem to work out.  Next is a summary of a typical but tricky rescue – copied from my post on Facebook.

Today brought my first duckling rescue of 2019. Duck and duckling rescues can be notoriously difficult and I had been to this rescue location last year. The concierge, who looks after these rather nice flats in Belgravia, had kept my number from last year. Mum was running round the car park with two newly hatched ducklings. Fortunately, they were quite easy to catch but that wasn’t the end. The staff there said there were other ducklings on one of the balconies. They also thought they might be on the roof!  So we started on the roof and worked our way down eight floors, searching every window box on each landing. Success came at the sixth floor. We found the window box where mum had made her nest. The window boxes were crammed with plants and ivy and it was like searching for a needle in a haystack. I found five ducklings and then there was silence so I hoped I had them all. I continued searching the window box very thoroughly and destroying plants in the process but nothing. I set off to my next rescue with the duck family on board. I was in Richmond when the concierge rang to say he had found another duckling in the window box. I phoned a friend who luckily was able to get the train (and a taxi) up to Sloane Square to collect it. She brought it to me in style in a taxi and after reuniting him with his mum and siblings we got another call to say there was another duckling running round the carpark. I had to collect my granddaughter from school so lovely Paula made a return trip to get the ninth duckling. It was so important to keep these single ducklings warm and she did brilliantly and was very inventive. I think she must have watched Blue Peter as a child!
I now have all of the ducklings and I will keep them a few days to feed up mum and help the little ones gain strength. An eventful but hugely satisfying rescue. Paula Redmond thank you for sharing photos.

It’s important to try and catch the mother and when I do it’s usually a straight release, into the nearest, safe pond.  Sometimes, if the ducklings are only a day old I keep the entire family in my shed and run, for another five days.  It creates a massive cleaning programme but I think it makes a big difference. Mum has built up a stronger bond with her babies and they have grown stronger while in care – with plenty of good, nutritious food.

When I am looking after a mum and ducklings it’s quite handy if I pick up a lone duckling, as if they are a similar size I can sneak them in with the family, without mum being aware she has an extra one or two!

Besides, duckling rescues the rest has been a mixture. One of the last of the 2018 cygnets got chased off – this was on the day that the new cygnets hatched.  I’ve also had an assortment of injured gulls, coots and ducks and a lovely baby heron that fell out of his nest.

It’s got off to a busy start and I expect it to continue in the same way in May.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.   I hope you found it of interest.

 

The Tale of One Feisty Coot

In my last post,

I briefly mentioned this rescue in my last post but on reflection decided to cover it more in depth.  Although coots are small, their behaviour is very much like that of swans.  It’s only in recent years I have noticed just how many similarities there are.  They are fiercely territorial and the males seem to partake in territorial fighting especially during the mating season.  Rescuers get numerous calls to coots, with injured legs, that are very lame.  The majority of them are best left.  However, I had a call from a volunteer rescuer from a pigeon charity.  She was very concerned about a coot with a bad leg that was being kept out of the water.  It was a fair distance from where I live but I said that if she could catch it, call me and I would collect it.  This woman had not caught a coot before but managed to get this one which made me think it was one of a few that actually need intervention.

The coot’s leg looked like it was sprained and he was worryingly thin.  There was no real treatment just rest and feeding up.  I decided to keep him rather than pass on to the Swan Sanctuary.  Fortunately, he was not stressed and he ate whatever was put in front of him – although sweetcorn was his favourite.  However, after 7 days he became stressed at being confined.  He had a large shed and run but was pacing up and down and losing interest in food.  He was far from perfect but needed to be released.

I firmly believe that any bird should be released back to where it was picked up from – although I realise this isn’t always possible.  However, this coot would hopefully hold his own if he knew his territory but if he went anywhere else he had no chance as the resident coot population would not accept him.  They will always target the weak and injured.  He had gained lots of weight so I set off early one morning to release him.  Unfortunately for me this was a 50+ mile round trip as he came from Bluewater Shopping Centre but it made it all worthwhile to see him successfully released.  It was an expensive trip though as it would have been rude not to do some shopping while I was there!

The volunteer, who rescued him, has been back there and was able to report that he’s doing well.

Sometimes there is no perfect answer and you have to take a bit of a gamble – I’m glad this one paid off.

 

 

March 2019 – part 2 – not just swans!

Egyptians are quite unique in so far as they seem to produce goslings at any time of the year – quite literally from January to December – although the optimum time would be May to August.  Each year, I see a few sites where Egyptian goslings appear in January.  Sadly,  I know the goslings will almost certainly perish as the weather is too cold.  I always get calls by concerned members of the public who ask for them to be collected and taken to the Swan Sanctuary.  However much I explain why I cannot remove the tiny goslings from their parents I know people are unhappy about it.  And, of course, when they die, I have an irate person telling me they could have been saved if only I had rescued them!  Not only is it illegal to remove wildlife under these circumstances it would cause huge stress to the parents.  I was a teenage mum and I liken it to someone taking my daughter away and saying ‘you might love your baby but I am older and more experienced and I can look after her better than you can!’

I have personal experience of a lady removing goslings from Mitcham Common.  There was nothing I could do but she came back to me a month later and realised what she had done was wrong. I was fuming inside but managed to hide my annoyance to get the surviving ones back from her.

The sad thing was, this lady had fed the Egyptian parents for years.  They would happily feed from her hand as they trusted her.  Once she stole their babies the trust was broken and a year later they were still keeping their distance from her.

On a brighter note, despite all the odds, the Egyptian goslings, born in January, at Barnes, have thrived.  There are still nine and they’ve gone from strength to strength.

My November blog was named woodcock month as it’s the only month I get calls about woodcock – until 2019.  In November, the woodcock that come into my care have usually flown a couple thousand miles to reach the UK for a milder winter.  However, for the first time I have had a few in March  – obviously getting into trouble before their long flight home.  We have some very strong winds which I attribute to the woodcock getting blown off course. It was a privilege to release these shy little birds at night and get an insight into their nocturnal behaviour.

I’ve also had a collection of small water birds, some need to go to the Swan Sanctuary but often they don’t as meds isn’t needed and company not essential – in some cases.

I currently have a coot that really wasn’t coping after sustaining a leg injury which was probably sustained by fighting.  He just needs some rest and is doing very well. He was very thin when I got him but has eaten non stop since arriving which is excellent.  His favourite food is sweet corn.  Also two herring gulls, one good to go today the other will be with me for a couple of weeks as he has botulism.