Published February 29, 2012, Wanganui Midweek.
Away With the Birds
By PAUL BROOKS
“It’s been a busy weekend,” says Dawne Morton, the brains, brawn and passion behind Bird Rescue Wanganui-Manawatu, as she proceeded to list the birds that had arrived at the Turakina sanctuary.
“A falcon, two moreporks, a long-tailed cuckoo, a baby kingfisher, a baby tui plus five white-faced heron chicks.
“A guy in Bulls chopped down a tree and found a nest with five baby herons in it.”
Dawne herself is still flying on one wing, as she was on my previous visit in December. Since then, doctors have discovered avian tuberculosis in her right arm, affecting both the radius and ulna and damaging other bones.
Fortunately, along with Melissa, her ever reliable after-school assistant, helping her out were Claudia and Annie, two American students from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. The girls were busy chopping up salmon for the baby herons – the fish provided free by New Zealand King Salmon. Anticipating feeding time, the herons were making noises like party blower whistles. “It’s incredible what they go through,” says Dawne, as the chicks gulped down something close to their own bodyweight in food. She explained how they had to be separated because they are so aggressive when feeding. They can inflict serious harm on each other in competition for the available food.
As well as the routine work at Bird Rescue, there were two other jobs to do – releasing a young falcon into an aviary and returning a little blue penguin to the beach.
My arrival seemed like a good time to weigh the heron chicks, one of which had been to Massey for short-term care before being returned to Dawne. The vets discovered worms plus a protozoan infection. It came back cured and is a little underweight but progressing well. It has put on 106 grams over the past week, which is good, says Dawne. The chicks were carefully placed in a bowl, using a towel to protect both bird and handler (they bite, but not hard).
The Earlham girls did the weighing honours, gently carrying each chick to the scales, placing them in a stainless steel bowl and letting me take a few pictures while they noted the weights. Both girls are from Minnesota. “As part of our study abroad programme,” says Annie, “we do internships – kind of service learning, experience … I’m a biology major and so is Claudia, so we’re interested in birds and wildlife and want to be really hands-on with it.”
The girls are part of a team of 17 students and two leaders in New Zealand until May, working and touring. Some are working at schools, some at the museum, some doing coast care at Castlecliff. Earlham sent students for similar placements last year.
According to the Earlham website: “At the beginning of the program, students will arrive in Whanganui on the North Island for an orientation period at the Quaker Settlement. Following the orientation period, students will be placed with homestay families in the town of Whanganui and begin to attend classes and internships.
“An extended excursion is planned to the South Island to experience a tramping component in Fiordland National Park, a visit to the wild West Coast where students will stay in an eco-lodge while learning about New Zealand’s struggle to generate `clean and green’ energy, and travel to Kaikoura _ a world-renowned marine reserve home to an incredible diversity of wildlife as well as a model for sustainable development. Finally, students will have a chance to spend time in Christchurch – learning about the challenges of rebuilding after the devastating 2010-11 earthquakes.”
Before leaving, I watched Dawne release the little falcon into one of the small, vacant aviaries. It’s not flying yet, but will be soon.
The little blue penguin was later released successfully at the beach and was last seen swimming to freedom.
PICTURES: PAUL BROOKS
ON PLACEMENT: American students Claudia (left) and Annie have been helping out at Bird Rescue.
RECOVERING: This young falcon is being nursed back to health by Dawne Morton.
SAVED: One of five baby white-faced herons undergoing rehabilitation.