A ‘MISTAKE OF EAGLES’
Shelter operators are sometimes stumped by the descriptions of birds or animals they receive over the phone and find it impossible to offer an identification. Similarly, when a patient arrives it can often be far removed from what has been expected and prepared for. Owls are mostly frogmouths, baby snakes are often legless lizards, baby rabbits are wombats and pinkie possums turn out to be rats! One of my most memorable was the day I received a call for a baby wedge-tailed eagle and what a bugger that was, Garry and I had just returned from transporting a juvenile Grey Goshawk and a Black Falcon to Healesville to Richard Naisbitt, Keeper-of-the-Mews, who shortly after became my mentor on anything raptorial as well as a very good friend to Garry and I. Another raptor, particularly a chick was not in my immediate plans.
Arrangements were made for the caller to bring the chick to me. About half an hour later I noticed a car driving through the second gate in our driveway – this is not on, no-one drives through that gate – I charged outside and signalled the driver to reverse back through the gate then pointed out the rather obvious sign attached to the gate to the person who had opened the gate. She then reached into the car and lifted out a feathered magpie chick sitting quietly in its nest. After her first few words I became a bit confused and asked “are you the people with the baby eagle?” Yes was the reply. I was then compelled to ask what seemed to me to be the obvious, if they knew the bird in the nest was a magpie. The response to this was the person holding the bird hit the driver on her shoulder and yelled “I told you it wasn’t an eagle” to which the driver replied, “but there’s lots of eagles nesting in that tree, they’re there all the time” [the tree was, apparently, a cypress in the front yard of their home] and with that she lifted the ‘tinny’ resting between her legs and took a long drink. I took the bird, the passenger climbed back into the car and the driver reversed down the drive and off they went leaving me more than a little in awe of how the driver had safely negotiated her way through the 2 gates going forward then managed to also reverse back to the road, but oh so thankful she had!! Mostly we try to reunite magpie young with their parents but I thought in this instance it possibly wasn’t in the best interests of the bird so settled it, still in the nest, in a suitable cage and it was eventually released with others.
The goshawk I mentioned needed flight and hunting practice prior to release [I had received him for care some time earlier as a few day old fluff ball]. The falcon had been in care for a number of weeks after being found on the ground, luckily for it the finder brought her to us immediately. She had a break to the radius, the smaller of the 2 bones that connect to bones at the wrist at one end and the elbow at the other [the same as our lower arm], hopes for her survival were not great but the radius was secured in place using those plastic fasteners used for securing garbage bags and our fingers were firmly crossed. With lots of care and good food she was finally ready to go but, being one of our rare raptor species, I wanted Richard to work with her prior to release.
What a magnificent bird the female falcon was. One of our more rare species and as angry a bird as we have ever cared for. Her food [her natural diet of other birds and mammals – dead of course] was thrown to her each morning and once or twice a week any remnants were cleaned up using a long handled plastic rake that I poked through the door, she would constantly attack the rake as it was being pushed backwards and forwards gathering the bones and feathers she left. I often commented to Garry that if he came home one day and couldn’t find me he should first look in the aviary where we kept the falcon, if my boots were in there then I hadn’t moved quickly enough and she’d dragged me through the door and had me for breakfast. I reckon 15 minutes would have been all she would have needed to reduce me to boots and bones.
I have special memories of taking those birds to Healesville, first, the weather – it was freezing; second, the trip – we got to the Macedon Ranges where the fog descended like a solid wall and within minutes we came to an abrupt halt behind a long line of stationary cars, it took a while before we found out there had been an accident. We were held up for almost 2 hours. Every 10 minutes or so I leapt out of our car – a large Toyota Hi-ace van – ran to the back door, opened it and threw myself into the back to check the birds – the people in the car behind must have thought I was crazy; and, third, after being stuck for so long in the fog panicking about the birds, I began to doubt my identification skills and wonder what Richard would think of my identification talents, as at one time I’d called him and said I thought the young Goshawk was actually a female Sparrowhawk as it was so tiny, then later called him again to say no, it’s just a very small male Goshawk.
On arrival Richard met us, gave the birds a quick look through the doors of their cages – he said he thought the ‘goshawk’ was a female sparrowhawk! Damn! He told us to go for a quick coffee while the vets checked the birds then come back to the surgery which we did. To my great joy he said the bird was a male Goshawk, but it was incredibly petite and made the comment that the Black Falcon was the first one taken to Healesville correctly identified, all others had been dark phase Brown Falcons and that was what he had been expecting. He was also pleased that only natural food had been given to both birds as he said most arrived in poor condition having been fed mince or chicken fillets. We were given a tour of the mews, visiting all raptors in care and I was privileged to be given permission to hold a fluffy rare Grass Owl chick that was being hand raised. A very long but immensely rewarding day.
And then there are the correct identifications that we have a little trouble believing :
Earlier this year I received a call from the WRIN phone operator to say she had received a call for a crocodile. It was on the footpath outside a particular building. The location had been given to the rescuer and he was on the way. My suggestion to the surprised operator was that it was probably a lizard.” Well, just goes to prove not all people have difficulty identifying wildlife. The rescuer called in, from a distance he was sure it was a crocodile, yes, it was definitely a crocodile. Our rescuer, apparently, approached the small specimen with care, picked it up and placed it in a box, it had a leg injury – the leg was hanging off – he also mentioned there was sawdust trickling from the ‘wound!’ I saw it later on and it sure looked real. In fact it was a mounted specimen.
This funny episode got the phone operator telling me about the call she had on New Years Eve regarding an elephant in a dam, she said she played along with the caller saying she would send a rescuer but some heavy equipment would be required to lift the elephant out of the water. I suggested perhaps it should be investigated – tongue in cheek – as some years ago I received a call about an elephant in one of our local forests, it had been seen in a garden, the caller said it had damaged a couple of fences and left several serves of fertilizer. Being summer there were a number of logical explanations to the sighting – too much sun; too much liquid refreshment, etc. There was eventually a logical answer and many apologies made to the caller whose garden had been visited. Seems there had been a circus in Dunolly, a few kms north of our place and Jenny the elephant had decided a jaunt through our local forests would be something of a change so she spent several days wondering through our bush. I’m still amazed that it took several days to refind her after the reports from all the people whose gardens she had visited. trampled and fertilized. It’s not as if a full grown elephant could hide behind a tree, at least not the trees in central Victoria, most are smaller than SEC poles! But goes to show we should never disregard calls.