Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nobody cares

It appears that the Gift of Space that the construction of the Trekforce Aviary gave to these poor, unfortunate yellow-heads has come back to, quite literally, bite me in the Azkaban. I am trying to elicit a little sympathy from my Facebook friends, but it appears they have none to spare, so I am appealing to my Blog friends. Not that sympathy will fix the problem, of course, but it makes me feel a little better and generally more loved.

I already knew that Norman had issues with me – hence his stable name ‘Norman Bates’ but I honestly believed that space would be the solution to his psychosis. What I didn’t bank on was that during confinement in adjacent solitary cells, Norman and Sombrero the Slayer had formed a Kray Twin-esque alliance, and after only a few days in the new aviary had rehearsed a rather efficient pincer movement accompanied by battle cries of ‘You’re an Animal (cue maniacal laughter) and ‘Asshole!’ (in perfect Spanish) as they launch themselves at a random body part with extraordinary and uncanny co-ordination.
Thankfully, I only have to attend to the little burgers on weekends and holidays which means I usually have five whole days to come up with new strategies. I have tried defending myself with towels, sticks and my personal favourite, the laundry basket, all of which work once – rather like the octopus with a crab in a glass jar - me, of course, being the crab.

In a rare moment of solitude and reflection, it occurred to me that an umbrella could be a scary implement and an effective means of defence. That also worked once, and overnight the Krays planned their strategy for going around and under the pesky brolly to get at the fleshy bits.  I tried switching umbrellas for one with more gaudy colours, twiddling it madly and singing at the top of my voice. Once was a charm for that particular innovation, too, before I got the old up-and-under. The worst is, I then find myself with two crazy yellow-heads trapped on the wrong side of my brolly, giant beaks snapping dangerously close to my face. I have to fling the brolly as far as I can and leg it, leaving the little darlings flying through the air on their crazy parrot-fairground ride, cackling hysterically, chewing and spitting bits of brolly as they go.

My original amateur psychoanalysis of Norman concluded that there must have been a female tormentor somewhere in his past and he now firmly believes that all women must die. My male workers walk in and out of the aviary as they please and last week I even had our friend Graham go in to test the theory and he too wandered around unscathed, emerging with a silly smug grin, which of course helped my mood no end.
Refusing to be outdone, I donned an over-sized shirt, Russian faux-fur hat, bandanna, sunglasses and leggings. Even I didn’t recognise me… but then, I am not a yellow-head with psychopathic super-powers and infrared vision.
I didn’t even get through the door.

I've now given up trying to enter the aviary. Norman and Sombrero slam against the wire of the door the second I appear and will not budge for anyone or anything.

I withdraw any previous declarations of yellow-head intelligence, since it is perfectly obvious to me that preventing the hand that feeds you from entering your dining room is pretty bloody stupid. Now, instead of beautifully presented meals, their trays are flung through a barely open door, occasionally landing upright, but mostly face-down in the mud.
More recently, my trusty helper, Jose has also been branded an asshole and the birds have not had fresh water for 4 days. I guess it’s time to construct some external feeding hatches like those in a maximum-security prison wing
All theories of racism, sexism, ageism and height-ism have been disproved. Norman and Sombrero are homicidal yellow-headed monsters and I am beginning to appreciate and understand the endangeredness of their species.
Roll on hatch day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Something Useful Gets Done

A quick email from Team Leader Mark, followed by an equally rapid site inspection to confirm our existence, saw Trekforce Expeditions piling onto Bird Rescue territory for a 5 day visit in which to “do something useful”.

Although I had compiled a mental list of such useful tasks, I didn’t actually reach the final decision until the day of their arrival. Seven eager faces smiled and nodded as I explained the Yellow Head’s precarious situation in Belize, and the Forestry Department’s sanction of a facility in which to hold and hopefully breed former captive birds. Seven wide-eyed, smiling faces remained fixed on mine as I explained that what we really needed was an aviary no less than 40’ wide by 60’ long by around 18’ high. Nobody moved. I guess they were waiting for the punch-line… or looking around for the cameras…
Armed with my very informative sketch (picture the illustration accompanying a 6 year-olds diary entry entitled ‘my house’) they trotted off into the bush to string up their hammocks and mull over their assignment during lunch.

As deaf, dumb and blind luck would have it, one of the Trekkers was a civil engineer. That qualification put Jeff in charge: I think we were all relived that someone was going to be.
Wobbling into day 2, we began to realise three niggly little details: 1) I had seriously underestimated the materials required, 2) the structure would be too weak to hold the weight of the wire, and 3) five days was about a quarter of the time we really needed to finish this project. There was a considerable amount of thinking-rum drunk that evening, I can tell you.

More luck: 1) On finishing my sums I realised the fundraiser we had in May brought in almost enough money to cover all the additional materials required. 2) Tito, who is a genius, turned up the very next day, giggled a bit at my choice of supports and then put his team of scaffold-scaling welders to apply cross beams and uprights to fix the damage. 3) The Trekkers held a board meeting and decided to forgo their scheduled R&R and stay on the project until it was finished. I vaguely remember we had some celebratory rum that night too.

Whilst Tito’s team got on with the strengthening work, the Trekkers made a nest in the garage and began the most tedious job in the world - clipping the rolls of wire together. With Radio 1 live-streaming and a barrage of British dialects singing along, I felt a tiny bit homesick -until I remembered how cold it was in the UK and then I was cured.
As days passed, tedium gave way to excitement as we realised this challenge may actually reach completion before the Trekkers had to leave.

With much cheering and fanfare, the final roll of wire was clipped together, hauled into place and secured to the frame. I think there was also a little bit of rum, beer, wine and Chinese food consumend that night… but don't quote me.
On the morning of Trekforce’s departure, a few finishing touches were required, and then confident that the enclosure was sealed – in fact, confident that this was the best aviary I have ever had built – I went about catching Norman, Sombrero and their happy band of psychopaths.It wasn't pretty so the less said about that, the better.

Cameras poised we waited to see how the birds would react to all this space. The result was better than I could have imagined: the cacophony of laughter, calls and swooping flight had every eye tearing up – especially mine. These bird had never known such freedom. My only regret is forgetting to video the event.

The Trekforce Team hurriedly planted the obligatory tree, posed for the obligatory photos, and with much hugging, crying and waving, departed Belize Bird Rescue, leaving behind a happy corner of yellow-head paradise.

Thank you Trekforce Belize 2011: Risky, Emily, Lauren, Jeff, Diamond, Gratton, Mark and my trusty volunteers, Kevin, Hayley and Sarah. You are all amazing!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

About time too

Blogging is a bit like that phone call to your mad Auntie. You know you should do it, but you keep putting it off until it’s way past the time when a simple apology will do. I’m just going to pretend I tried to blog a hundred times, but the power went out, or the internet went down, or there was a bird emergency…

Through no fault of my own, I have ended up with volunteers. Ordinarily the very mention would cause an outbreak of hives, but surprisingly enough they are rather helpful and quite pleasant to have around. What they think of me really doesn’t matter: as I have to constantly remind them, they are doing it for the birds. In my grudging, half-complimentary way I would like to say a public thank you to Amanda for her knowledge and practical administering amongst my indecisive ditherings, and Hayley who didn’t even like birds when she got here and only came for a holiday to visit my daughter. Thanks ladies – lovely job.

So, what have we been up to? Well, we now have 5 yellow-heads, all of them totally bonkers and I am pretty sure they are all different sexes (yes, of course there are 5 sexes of yellow-head). We released 6 red lored and 2 white-fronts in May, but even so we still have 43 birds in total, which is quite ridiculous. Thankfully, 16 of them are on the downhill slope to release. Another six are living in the house with us, for pity's sake, and three of those are cockatoos. Don't ask. And no, it's not funny. We’ve had broken things that, thanks to Isabelle-The-Vet, we've managed to fix, and some that sadly, we haven’t. We’ve had baby parrots and older parrots and some things that weren’t even parrots at all. The highlight of that category has to be Arnold, a baby armadillo who’s mother had become someone’s lunch and who in turn was destined to be an Early Learning toy for some bored children. Arnold came from Maya Center, a village adjoining Cockscombe Basin which is next on my list for a stern lecture on Wildlife in the Wild. Since his arrival at less than a week old, Arnold has stuffed himself on a mix of dairy, eggs and cat food and has doubled in size in a month. Even so, he still fits in the palm of one hand.

In May we had a 'Night Out For The Birds' fundraiser. A huge thanks to everyone who came, helped out, donated and supported and particularly to the British High Commission who donated so much including the fabulous venue. Final count was just short of $6000bz which got our broken aviaries up and running and should give us enough to make a good start on the yellowhead aviary.

Excitement this week as we tested out our new soft-release site. We decided that Bibi & Daphne would be first to go – not that they are good release candidates or even appropriate release candidates, but because they are so bad at being captives. Bibi is the red lored who had an argument with our neighbours’ sling-shot at the expense of his eye and Daphne is his inappropriate white-fronted girlfriend. Since they spend most of their day tying to escape, we figured they would be happier hanging out in the bush, miles from any humans with murderous intent. The owners of the property are fully aware that these are ‘parrots’ and that they will ‘make noise’ so I have high hopes for this relationship. It seems that researchers have observed parrots with eye issues doing very nicely in the wild, and since Bibi will be fed, watered and sheltered if he chooses, then this is the best option for a shot at a wild existence. I just hope the babies get Daphne’s brains.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Iguana Fest

I have tracked my path to my nest site: the location good, the soil moist, the river clear and swift-flowing. My excavations are almost complete. The eggs weigh heavy; it is time.

My tail is caught, I am hauled from my tunnel. There is strength; too strong for my writhing and flipping. My bite fails to connect, my thrashings ineffective.

Then, the pain is excruciating. My being centres on the blinding flash of agony in my claws. My limbs are drawn behind, shoulders burning. The pain returns ten-fold, a pin-like digging to my back. Just as I know it can go on no longer, the agony doubles, my hind claws scream, my shoulders burn, the prickling to the back once more. I am immobile. Every twitch causes fire throughout my body. My eggs! The urge to expel is overwhelming, but I am unable to push them from my body. I feel a tightness around my midsection, a band preventing breath or contraction. My mind dims, unable to comprehend what is happening.

I wake. Try to move. The agony returns, the tightness remains, my eggs press hard in my belly. There is now pressure from above; a weight on top not there before. There are human noises around me – a signal to danger, but I cannot run, cannot move, my limbs secured. I hear noises of my own kind; soft sounds of constricted agony. I twist my head as much as the pressure and pain will allow and there I see the awfulness of what is. I now understand the pain, the agony, the burning, the pressure, the futility of hope. Piles of bodies – my own kind, females, heavy with eggs, stacked like logs on the cement floor. Their limbs secured behind, the claws snapped from their feet, ligaments stretched to the limit and tied into knots – unbreakable bonds of their own flesh and sinew. A final insult - the useless claw dug into the leathery skin of the back as if agonies inflicted were insufficient. The bellies of the captives bulge with eggs that strain for escape against cords and bindings. Eyes wide with pain and despair, I know as I gaze upon these eyes it is as if I gaze at my own reflection in the clear pools of the river eddies.

Those eyes I watch blaze with hurt as her body moves, a blade flashes, the binding around the abdomen severs, eggs expelled in a flush of relief. Relief turns to agony, the final glint of a blade at her neck. I see blood, fear, pain and finally acceptance of death.

I watch purpose for life crushed as eggs are consumed; I watch hope for life diminish and fail in the eyes of my neighbour; I see disregard for sense in the face of my captor; I see futility in my own life and despair at its end.

And then I feel no more.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Those Ants Again

Alarms sounded early this morning as waves of red solider ants attacked at Rock Farm.

At first light, the stealth attack went largely unnoticed: reconnaissance units were spotted around known food sources, but nothing unusual to cause alarm. Shortly after dawn, the attack began: and the wave of assault was overwhelming, reaching unprecedented levels before counter-measures could be employed. Food bowls throughout the region were rapidly overwhelmed.

Realising the full scale of the invasion, the coalition of Pump-Action Spray Bottle and cypermethrin were enlisted to combat the intense attacks. Lacking trained personnel and multiple-pump re-enforcements, the officers were unable to execute the proven ‘pincer movement’ resorting instead to the shock-and-awe wave of watering-can attack on the infiltrators. The initial Red Army attack was concentrated on the training facility, but it rapidly became clear that the focus of the invasion was on the First Airborne Flock in their final stages of flight conditioning in Aviary One. Eye witnesses report that it was ‘lucky’ that the trainees were skilled in flight-mode, as ground troops would have been unable to escape the viciousness of the attack.

A few moments into the battle, alarms calls were sounded from the perimeter. Preliminary reconnaissance reported that intense waves of incursion fighters had taken over strategic ration points around the outlying medical and quarantine facilities. Once again lacking trained support personnel, the coalition were forced to refuel and enter enemy territory without back-up. The Vice-Presidential feet suffered sustained attacks, and one or two Muscovy ground troops were caught in the cross-fire.

Sources close to the Presidential Staff admit that this attack had been expected for some time now: in the absence of President Jerry the sporadic preventative measures of covering fire had been abandoned in favour of a softly-softly approach. Vice-President Nikki admits that the Red Army is beyond negotiation, and reprisals must be swift and effective. This evening she was heard to comment that no black mound will go un-punished from now on.

Experts blame the latest wave of attacks on the recent heavy rains: “The Red Army rely on underground food stores” explained Morito Fushiyamo, head of the Fire Ant Research Team. “After heavy rains such as these, food becomes waterlogged and rapidly mildews, forcing the troops to turn to alternate food sources”

It is not clear whether the recent attack on Rock Farm was coordinated to take advantage of the readily available food source, or was an opportunist raid as it had become widely known that President Jerry was out of the country on a fact-finding mission.

Feathered locals grudgingly admitted that they were ‘happy’ that Vice President Nikki was in charge of operations as President Jerry was considered to be ‘over-zealous’ with his attack strategy, although many liked the ‘harmonious state’ that existed when the two of them were in power together.

But there is a sinister side to these red invaders. The recent trend in Fire-Ant-Eating amongst young geckos have resulted in a spate of deaths, causing consternation amongst Gecko Parents. Dried Fire-Ants have become a delicacy at Gecko Parties and some young geckos have died painful deaths as a result of ovedosing on fire-ants. The Ministry of Gecko Health has launched a national campaign entitled 'Don't Do Bugs' in an effort to prevent young geckos from attempting 'ant-sucking'. Grafic posters depicting the death throes of geckos are on display at known ant-suck venues in the hope that the teenage lizards will steer clear of the sport.

Finally, Rock Farm have issued an ultimatum to The Termite King, explaining that reprisals will be ‘swift and severe’ if they kill any more of the lime trees on the property.

Back to the studio.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Somewhat Embarrassing

That Black & White Hawk Eagle from the previous post is actually a juvenile grey-headed kite.
Hey - I'm a parrot girl - could happen to anyone. The only difference seems to be that our boy has shorts on and the genuine hawk-eagle has long pants.

Anyhow, it's still uncommon, sling-shots are still Satan's Underwear, it's still a beautiful bird and it means that someone somewhere is having nesting success.

Thanks Ryan of BRRI for the correction and I've added some gratuitous bird shots for your viewing pleasure.

Incidentally - this is what he actually grows up into:

And this is what we thought it was:

Now, do you blame us???

View the release here

Monday, January 3, 2011

Busy Month

I have shiny new wire on two of the three aviaries: Happy New Year to me. The first occupant was yet another toucan, this one was found wandering around Belmopan by the cable guy, who decided it would look great in a cage. Luckily for the bird, the cable guy was working on the home of a Humane Society member at the time, who assured him that toucan-capturing was a hanging offence. The nameless toucan got a quick vet check-up, good food, a place to leap around and practice flying and was released without fanfare on site on New Year’s Day. He hopped out of his cage, onto the ladder of the flight aviary, on to a support beam and then flew off into the bush.

We never did find out why he was walking: maybe he was a late fledgling that needed some flight training, or had been clipped by a car and bruised, or just fancied Christmas in the country for a change.

Jerry got a black and white hawk eagle for Christmas. He was another sling-shot victim ($2.50 in A&R - we should club together, buy the lot and burn them on the PM’s desk)
Thanks to a sympathetic local who convinced the idiot with the sling-shot not to ‘finish off’ the bird with his boot, this magnificent bird is rested, his bruises are healed, he flies just fine, thank you very much, and is more than ready to go back home. There is tremendous interest in this creature as it’s very rare in Belize. In an unamusing show of Mother Nature’s irony, one of its faves for lunch is the equally rare orange breasted falcon.

For the last month we’ve been nursing a sick cockatoo. After a lot of trial and error and help from vets, we have found a treatment that seems to be doing the trick and on Dec 29th we celebrated her first proper poop in 32 days: we really are very sad people. Amazingly, the weight gain and return to normal behaviour happened within minutes of that monumental poop. She’s going up 5g a day and screams like a B-movie actress, which is entertaining for about 5 minutes or so.

Poor Bibi who was another sling-shot victim back in August, eventually had to have his eye removed. His undoing was that he chose to roost near a building that is occupied by (comments have been removed by moderator). Whoever shot him was trying to recapture him, and even got the scissors to his feathers. I sincerely hope Bibi managed to remove some fingers before he escaped and found his way home. This particular ‘person’ is also attributed with stealing 4 recently donated bags of expensive parrot chow. Nice fellow.

Anyway, after this horrible incident I finally realised that my on-site releases are not going to work consistently enough to continue risking birds, much as it’s great for data gathering. Some friends have a 300 acre property that backs onto a protected area on the Coastal Highway, and they are now moved in and almost ready to receive the first batch of releases. Their Christmas present to BBR will be 50% of the funding for the pre-release cage. Bless you guys! That said, I did break under the pressure and released the white-fronts on site. They were going nuts with the wild birds passing over so regularly and were so ready to leave home. One pair scarpered over the hills and far away with the wild bunch, and the remaining 4 are back and forth periodically for a sunflower-seed fix. Good news all round there.

The final new arrival of the season: a cute red lored baby who flew right into a friend’s dining room during supper time. It’s obviously a lucky escapee: she had a leg injury which appears to be improving daily, she’s in bad condition with stress bars and malnourishment apparent in the feathers and she thinks that the horrible noise that red-loreds make when they’re frightened or in pain is acceptable speech. She’s had me running to her quarantine cage three or four times a day to see what monster has her in its clutches, at which point she’ll laugh at me. The things people do to parrots…