Natalie – release. The final chapter!

After failing to release Natalie the first time, I called on a few swans to help me! Actually I called on another wildlife carer who had two swans in care. I needed some swans to show Natalie that she’s not ‘just like me’, but is rather, just like them! We always try to pair up animals of the same species so they identify with their own species rather than identifying with their carer. Pairing animals together helps them learn from each other – they learn the natural behaviors that carers can’t teach! However it depends when animals arrive into care and their stage of development and which carers has what! Since these two swans had recently come into care, I could match them with Natalie so she could learn. Natalie wasn’t too sure about these strange birds walking around her garden!

The meeting…..

Natalie looked at the ’strange creatures’ and went into hiding! Enny is a large male swan and Tenny is a smaller, possibly female swan.

Nope! Natalie wasn’t impressed with the funny looking animals in her garden!

Eventually though, curiosity took over and the distance between them reduced.

Enny approaching Natalie.

Little Tenny following Natalie.

Before too long – bonding! Although still a little distance….

Then even closer! Are Natalie’s maternal instinct taking over? Is that why she’s beginning to preen the younger Tenny?

Natalie, Tenny and Enny are now ready for release! Their own little flock! The three swans were placed in crates and taken to a large lake.

A few local Moorhens came to watch the action – as we opened the crates by the water. Then we waited… Animals are never chased out of crates – we sit and watch until they are ready. Enny raced out as soon as the crate opened. Tenny came out next and finally Natalie, who followed them into the water.

That’s how easy it should be…

Be free Natalie – with your friends. Enjoy your wild life!

❤️ Thanks for the memories. ❤️

Please do not feed wildlife – especially swans! Feeding swans (and other waterbirds) pollutes the water – their home. The food given by people is not the swan’s natural feed so it floats on the surface of the water which means that swans do not use their natural feed position (plunging their head under water) to eat. Feeding swans also makes them less vary of humans and I have seen the deliberate and horrific injuries inflicted on wildlife by some members of the public. So please, if you love our wildlife, watch them, marvel at their beauty, but please leave them to do what comes naturally to them. Thank you! xx

Natalie (the black swan) release. Part 1 !

Natalie is over four months old. At this stage of development, young swans are ready to leave their parents and go their own way. Natalie demonstrated all the necessary survival skills – seeking water if concerned (for safety), finding food and long run offs to practise her flying! The time came to release Natalie! Release is always an exciting time – a little stressful and a little sad. So many mixed emotions.

Since Natalie is so large and I needed to protect her wings, I decided that instead of placing her in a crate I would carry her securely – not something I’d attempt with a wild swan, but I knew Natalie would be less stressed with me holding her. So, in the car we went, seatbelts on and secure.

When we arrived at our release destination, it was just a short walk down to the water – a huge lake.

Releases are usually straight forward. The animal is placed on the ground, or the cage is open and the animal disappears off………without a backwards glance…..

Natalie, however, wasn’t very impressed with her new location.

Natalie did not like the cold water!

Natalie refused to swim in the water, hid between my legs then started to walk back to the car! Clearly this release wasn’t going to work so unfortunately I had to take Natalie home. Not the outcome I had anticipated! I decided that I needed the help of other swans, so I will locate a few swans in care and find a buddy for Natalie. That way they can learn from each other and ‘The release part 2’ will hopefully be more successful! Stay tuned for more!

Feel free to share a link to my blog but all images and videos are copyrighted. You can follow me on Instagram – wombats_and_wildlife_heljan09.

Natalie – the black swan!

Many cygnets (baby swans) come into care. This story is about Natalie ~ who was named after Natalie Portman, from the film The Black Swan!

Natalie was handed into a vet clinic by a member of the public. The member of the public told the vet that Natalie was found alone by the side of the road. Finding a cygnet alone, near a road is unusual since swans are dedicated and fierce protectors of their young. The vet contacted me and I took Natalie into care. Many people who find wildlife believe that they can raise the animals themselves. They don’t realize that it’s against the law in Canberra to keep wildlife for longer than 48 hours unless they are a registered wildlife carer. They also don’t understand that swans need specialized care to avoid problems such as imprinting, bumble foot and angel wing ~ conditions that can reduce the animal’s chance of release back into the wild.

Natalie was a little fluff ball! She ate instinctively and would seek me out as a source of love and warmth. The bond formed with waterfowl is a different kind of bond. They need love and warmth but are generally less tactile then marsupials. Natalie considered me to be mum, she would respond to my voice, come to me for warmth but she never liked to be touched or held.

Natalie grew very quickly. She lived inside in a special enclosure with a heat source to keep her warm, especially after swimming. If Natalie was living in the wild, she would have the large body of her parents to keep her warm, as both male and female swans care for the cygnets. Since Natalie was in care, I needed to create similar conditions for her to grow. After a few weeks, Natalie was able to enjoy some time outdoors in the sunshine.


Natalie continued to thrive! Fresh food, a water source, sunshine, love and warmth ~ her development was delightful to be part of. Over a couple of weeks she changed from a fluff ball to light grey.

Once Natalie was big enough, she was able to leave the comfort of the indoors and spend more time outside in a safe and supervised space. I would carry her food, so Natalie learnt to navigate the steps on her own.

Each night, however, Natalie came back inside where it was warm. Navigating the stairs back inside was a little more challenging!

Sometimes swimming even presented a challenge!

Before I knew it, my grey swan was turning black! Natalie continued to grow and change! She no longer required a heat source and moved permanently outside.

Natalie even helped with babysitting when two wombat joeys came to stay while their carer went away!

After three months in care, Natalie was a swan! No longer a fluff ball – but a beautiful juvenile swan!

We even practised our take off for flying! Encouraging Natalie to flap her wings helps her develop wing strength and the coordination she needs for take off! Swans require a long run to enable lift off from land or water since they have such large bodies. All this practise helps prepares Natalie for life in the wild.

Natalie and I enjoyed a swim after our flight test! I love the way she ’talks’ to me!

After months in care, Natalie can locate food, seek water for protection and is becoming strong enough to fly. The day will soon come that she is ready to be released!

Please do not feed wildlife – especially swans! Feeding swans (and other waterbirds) pollutes the water – their home. The food given by people floats on the surface of the water which means that swans do not use their natural feed position, plunging their head under water, to eat. Feeding swans also makes them less vary of humans and I have seen the deliberate and horrific injuries inflicted on wildlife by some members of the public. So please, if you love our wildlife, watch them, marvel at their beauty, but please leave them in peace to do what comes naturally to them. Animals do so much better without us in their way.

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Crimson and Eastern Rosellas

Most people I meet love wildlife. They are fascinated by stories of cute wombat and possum joeys. But as soon as I talk about birds, people are turned off. Birds in care are lovely! Especially our Crimson (my favorite) and Eastern rosellas. Rosellas are native to Australia. They nest in hollows in trees and are found visiting most Australian gardens. They are really delightful birds.

Crimson rosellas

Each year dozens and dozens of baby rosellas come into care. Discovered after storms, ‘fallen’ from nests, attacked by predators or bird napped. Sometimes the birds arrive in care in groups, others arrive individually, however I keep them together, like a flock. This ensures that they live as they would in the wild and learn from each other. Their first stage of development takes place in a ’nest’ or hollow as they would in the wild. They are syringe fed a special formula – I make the syringe ’fly in’ and feed them and then fly off again! Just like making the spoon an airplane when feeding a baby! The rosellas dance when they’ve had enough and I watch their crop (a pre-stomach) fill to make sure they receive enough to eat.

A hollow
Demonstrating feeding.

Once the babies have their all of their feathers they move into my aviary. This is when they fledge – develop the wing muscles to help them fly. The aviary is set up with branches and swings that move so the birds learn that things in the wild move and change. They still rely on me during this time for feeding but they begin to explore other food like flowering natives and fruits. Feeding time is not easy! With marsupials I can bond and play with them to help them develop. With birds I have to stay removed to avoid imprinting – there’s minimal human contact and I only enter the aviary to feed the birds. However, avoiding them is not an easy task once they can fly! Feeding time can be chaos!

Feeding time is not easy!
Much more orderly!

Once all of the rosellas are flying and eating the natives, I stop syringe feeding them and I withdraw human contact – sneaking into the aviary only to clean and replace branches and natives. This is the pre-release stage! After a couple of weeks observing their weight and consumption of natives the aviary door is opened!! This is a soft release! Native flowers and branches are placed outside the aviary and the birds can come and go as they choose. They have food if necessary, shelter if necessary and the skills they need to survive. Sort of like letting the kids live in a granny flat on the premises for a while! Eventually though, the birds disperse into the wild and join larger flocks.

That’s the plan, that’s the training and the process! However, sometimes despite my best efforts, the ‘kids’ hang around!

It can be a little off having your rosellas watching you through the window!

Knocking on the window ”mum, mum, mum, mum!”
Mum! Come and feed us!

I was either very entertaining to watch or they just viewed me as a meal ticket! Two fat lazy birds hung around my window, my door and when I walked outside they’d fly down to say hello!

A bird landing on your head might seem cute but their behavior needed to stop! Although the birds were living in the wild, they still viewed me as approachable. Yes I was mum, but birds in the wild don’t stay with their parents – they fly away for a reason! Also it’s unsafe for birds to approach humans – I couldn’t risk the birds flying to, and landing on, anyone else. So every time I went outside for the next couple of days I’d clap my hands loudly. Finally they got the message!

All of the birds in my care were successfully released into the wild – the last two birds just needed a gentle reminder that it was time to go! I occasionally see rosellas in my garden but they fly away if I get too close. I hear them singing in the trees. It’s nice to know that I helped them survive, to find their way and to live their best life in the wild where they belong. ❤️

If you see birds in your garden, enjoy them. Please leave out some fresh water and plant natives to help our beautiful wildlife. Never feed wildlife, especially birds as the wrong food can be dangerous, feeding stations can spread disease and it makes birds think that they can trust and rely on humans!

Remember, in the ACT it’s against the law to have any wildlife in your care for longer than 48 hours unless you are a registered wildlife carer – check with your local area for their laws.

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You can follow me on instagram wombats_and_wildlife_heljan09.

❤️ Fly free! ❤️

When things go wrong – wombat runaway!

This is the story of Merlin, a wombat escapee!

Merlin was due for release (weighing around 23 kilos) but instead of waiting for a suitable release site, he burrowed out of his enclosure, out of the garden and escaped around Mt Ainslie, one of the reserves in Canberra. Although technically ‘in the wild’, escaping into the suburbs is not the outcome wildlife carers work so hard to achieve! The suburb and surrounding reserve are busy – populated with dogs, cars and people! Since there are no burrows (or other wombats) he could even be burrowing under someone’s house. So naturally we called in help from the local news team to alert the public.

WIN news,Canberra 22 December 2021.

Filming the story took place at the home of one of our carers. The news crew filmed a wombat currently in care with another carer to show people what a wombat looks like and the approximate size. (Seriously, some Australians have never seen a live wombat!) The behind the scenes photos show how fascinated Merindah the wombat was with all of the attention! Merindah loved the camera! She clearly didn’t understand that this story wasn’t actually about her! What a womdiva (wombat diva)!

So back to Merlin the escapee…. The media assistance was a huge help. Several people called our wildlife hotline to report evidence that ’something’ had attempted to dig under their fence. This evidence provided a search area. Several carers walked the area looking for signs (poo, diggings etc) of Merlin. Then a couple of weeks later a member of the public phoned to report that she had discovered Merlin in her yard, happily munching the grass. Her house was approximately five kilometers from where he’d escaped! Merlin’s carer attended with a crate and called Merlin who recognized her instantly. As I mentioned elsewhere in my blog, carers and wombat joeys form a strong bond. Wombats live inside their mother’s pouch for seven – ten months, then follow their mum everywhere for another ten months! As carers we need to handle our joeys, bottle feed our joeys and encourage play experiences that enable the joeys to learn, so we also form a strong bond! Merlin approached his carer and sat at her feet happily munching the sweet potato that she provided – clearly oblivious to the stress and worry his escape had caused! Merlin’s short experience of ‘life on the run’ had been relatively successful (for him!) he looked fat and content. But he couldn’t remain in the suburbs. Canberra is known as the bush capital – but we don’t have (or need) wombats wondering around the suburbs.

Video – curtesy Elena Bunk -used with thanks.

Merlin was enticed into a create for the trip back home. Merlin remained in care for a two week period to ensure he was healthy.

Video – curtesy Elena Bunk- used with thanks.

After making sure Merlin was healthy with no resulting injuries from his escape, he was successfully released into the wild. A suitable bush site had been found with a beautiful creek and empty burrows – away from homes and cars!

A huge thank you to Merlin’s carer for sharing his story with me! Our carers do an amazing job, dedicated and so generous with their time. In this case, Merlin’s carer experienced a rollercoaster ride of emotions and the grief of saying goodbye twice! But for now the memory of Merlin is etched on her heart (and the heart of many of us) as the wombat who couldn’t wait – the wombat escapee!

Merlin – released. Photo curtesy of Elena Bunk, used with thanks.

Live your best life now Merlin – in the real wild, where you belong! ❤️

Merlin as a baby! Image curtesy Elena Bunk. Used with thanks.

All images are owned and copyrighted by me. Any images used belonging to others are acknowledged, used with permission and remain their property and cannot be shared.

Flashback fun!

One month ago today, Elsie and Barney were released safely into the wild! With four possums in care and the arrival of two cygnets, I remain busy – plus I still teach in a primary school every day. However each day I look outside at the wombat enclosure (where my pet rabbit now runs free) and I’m reminded of Elsie and Barney. I still miss them every day! However I have a little more freedom – freedom from worrying about them during rainy nights, freedom from collecting bags of grass, freedom from having to shop for kilos of sweet potatoes! I’m happy knowing they are where they belong – living their best life in the wild – safe, happy, free!

To celebrate one month on, I decided to make a movie! Enjoy!

Made using Imovie.

Wildlife continues to arrive in care – they don’t stop needing help. So on we go – but the memories of E and B, will always bring me a smile.

Please share a link to my blog but all images and videos are copyright. 🐾🐾

Elsie and Barney – released!

The big day finally arrived! Well the big day arrived two months ago, but it ended up being postponed due to border closures because of the pandemic. So Elsie and Barney were more than ready for life in the wild! Our morning started with a cuddle from Elsie – did she know her big day had finally arrived?

Then the travel crates were positioned inside their enclosure. I put some sweet potato and my fluffy dressing gown that Elsie grew up with, in the crate so she went in happily!

Elsie in!

Barney wasn’t as thrilled to see a big crate so he took a little more convincing. It’s not a simple matter of just picking them up – both Elsie and Barney are heavy and they bite!

Angry Barney.
Barney in!

Finally when both Elsie and Barney were in their crates we were ready to set off on our travels!

Barney ready to go.
Elsie isn’t happy!

A hug from another carer helping with the release – she’s checking in with me before we finally drive away … this is what support looks like. Working with wildlife is partly a team effort and this release couldn’t have work so well with out Laura and Evan!

Photo credit Evan Croker

For safety, two cars were taken with Elsie and Barney separated in different cars. The only thing worse than a wombat escaping from a crate while traveling would be two wombats escaping!! So it’s easier and safer to transport them separately!

A release isn’t just a matter of driving to the bush and dumping wombats! Researching the area and site visits have to be undertaken to locate empty burrows, ensure there’s a water source, an abundance of feed and that the site is away from humans and roads. Luckily the perfect place was found, two hours drive from Canberra, with nearly 600 acres of beautiful land with creeks and dams. The property owner has several of our wombats on his property. He has positioned cameras so we can monitor each burrow. This is a supported release – back into the wild but within a safe area. After a long drive we finally arrived and unloaded Barney.

Barney out.

Then Elsie!

Elsie out.
We had a bit of a crowd!

Elsie was happy to follow me but Barney seemed a little overwhelmed! He stopped to smell everything and wee on everything to leave his scent – there’s a new boy in town!

The property owner showed us where the empty burrow was located – in an area called Fairy pond gully – such a beautiful new home for Elsie and Barney. Elsie loved it immediately! In fact she loved it so much that she claimed it first and didn’t really want to share it with Barney!

Mum! I don’t want to share with Barney!
Barney is inside.

Barney even tried leaving a wee to establish some rights to the burrow – much to Elsie’s horror.

But Elsie was determined to keep her burrow to herself! She stood in the entrance growling so Barney started digging his own burrow right outside her door!

I sat for a very long time to ensure that both Elsie and Barney were happy and not stressed. I took a bag of their poo with me which was emptied out and placed around their burrow – this is like a welcome sign for wombats to make them feel at home! Seriously! It means their smell now marks their territory and sends a message to others as well. Finally both Elsie and Barney settled in.

When everything was peaceful it was time to go. The final goodbye….

Goodbye.

In my last post, I wrote about the heartache that release time can bring for me especially after nearly two years with Elsie! So how do I feel now? To be honest, I feel better than I thought I would. How could I not be happy to have both wombats settled into such a beautiful area? I am relieved, this is what I work so hard to achieve. That’s not to say that when I look outside tomorrow morning at an empty wombat enclosure that I won’t feel a little sad (!) but I know that Elsie and Barney can now have the life they were meant to lead.

Elsie – from 120 grams to a happy 22 kilos !

Barney – from 600 grams to 20 kilos!

My job is done – I can relax now! Live your best life Elsie and Barney – you are home! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Bonding to …… goodbye !

For those readers new to my blog – welcome! Other readers will know the story of Elsie and Barney. But let me re-cap – Elsie arrived weighing just 120 grams – so tiny! She is the tiniest wombat joey I have ever had the privilege to worked with.

Elsie

Barney joined Elsie months later weighing 600 grams. By the time Barney arrived in care, Elsie had overcome her struggles, survived wombat herpes, beaten a vitamin deficiency, recovered from a severe skin reaction to the sun and was a similar weight to the newly arrived Barney. Their full story can be found in my earlier posts.

Barney

Now, nearly two years on – it’s time for Elsie and Barney to be released into the wild. This time, the time to say goodbye is full of … excitement and happiness, a little trepidation and considerable heartbreak. Yes, I’m glad they survived to this stage, but no one knows the sadness a carer feels when release time comes. The Instagram photos, this blog, even the stories I tell, don’t do justice to the journey I have had caring for Elsie and Barney. I’ll tell you a secret…. I don’t really like getting up around the clock, I am terrible without sleep, I also never attend functions and cancel on people all the time ”because the animals need feeding”, I hate collecting grass and picking up poo – but it’s all part of what I do.

The end of Elsie and Barney’s time in care also represents the end of exhaustion – where I can finally stop and fall in an emotional heap. The initial worry that Elsie wouldn’t survive since she was so small, cleaning out her tiny nostrils so she could breath, using creams on her skin, giving vitamin B orally and just stressing over every change, every milestone and that every weight increase was enough ~ was exhausting! Once Elsie and Barney moved outside I worried about them being outdoors! Now I worry that they are so big, so wild, that they’ll escape their enclosure and drown in my pool! Every morning, my day starts by looking out of my back window at their enclosure to ensure it’s undamaged then at the pool to make sure Elsie and Barney haven’t managed to get out and drown in the pool! That sort of negative start to the day can be exhausting. All this sounds terrible but it’s not! There are so many joys, so many memories!

Elsie!

What will stay with me are the quiet times – the laughs, the cuddles and the joy that I wish I could articulate and the moments that go unseen because the camera wasn’t on. Caring for these animals is a privilege but that’s nothing to the love and joy they bring me. They make me a better person, they give me a unique sense of purpose, they remind me to be patient, to give up control because I can’t control what happens, and they give me an abundance of love. Sharing your life with an animal that would be enclosed in a secret world of a pouch, that has never opened its eyes before until it sees you, is an amazing experience. I thank Elsie and Barney for the joy they have given me.

Goodbye film using Imovie.

A big thank you also to the readers of my blog and the thousands of Instagram followers who have followed the journey of Elsie and Barney almost from day one! I have had the opportunity to share Elsie and Barney with so many lovely people both in Australia and overseas. People have asked many questions and have taken the time to reach out and communicate! It’s not about generating ’likes’ or followers but rather educating others about these wonderful creatures. Maybe more people will slow down on the roads, stop to check pouches of run over animals or donate to animal charities. The many people that have reached out to me via Instagram along this journey, remind me that there is more kindness and good in the world than horror. I am forever thankful and a little overwhelmed by your kindness and support! I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

Cuddle time!

I’ll be blogging about other animals in care soon. But the story of Elsie and Barney is coming to an end. The memories however, will remain. ❤️

A kiss goodbye.

October 22 – Wombat Day!

Yes, there’s actually a day these delightful creatures are celebrated – October 22nd!

It started around 2005 and ever since then Oct 22 is known as Wombat Day in Australia. Some call it World wombat day, but I doubt half the world even knows about wombats (despite my blog!) let alone celebrates them! The day isn’t a holiday and even many Australians don’t know about it, but for wildlife carers – it’s a very exciting day! Aprons go on, wombat shaped cookies are baked and we spend most of the day playing with and talking about our wombats! Makes me wonder if every day isn’t wombat day since I spend most days talking about wombats!

New clothing line…..Holes by Elsie!
Nom nom nom – sweet potato!

Naturally to celebrate such an exciting day, I just had to make a new movie! Enjoy!

Film made using Imovie.

Release for Elsie and Barney is now only a few sleeps away. The stress is building! I’ll be blogging more soon!

Please share a link to my blog but all images and videos are copyrighted. 🐾🐾

Are wombats vicious?

Are wombats vicious or dangerous? This is one question I am asked the most! Like any of us, wombats will protect themselves, their young and their territory. A wombat’s first response is to run for the safety of their burrow! Once they are at the entrance of their burrow they will use their large body to block the entrance to avoid predators following them in. Alternatively, the wombat will poke out their butt (under all that fur, their butt has a cartilage plate) and then they will try to crush the predator’s head between their cartilage covered butt and the roof of the burrow. Sorry I don’t have an image of that!

Image of Elsie courtesy of Evan Croker photographer

But wombats also use a series of vocalizations to scare us away. Remember wombats are primarily nocturnal (although you might see them out and about on overcast days). So, if you heard the noise in the video below when you were in the bush, in the dark, would you hang around to find out what animal was making this noise or would you run! I suggest you run!

Turn the sound up!

So what about wombats in care? Those cute little bundles of love with thousands of Instagram followers? How do we ever release ”tame’ wombats that have been in care for so long? Surely they never become aggressive?

The animals in my care are never ’tame’ – they are loved but never tamed. The animals go through a series of stages of development – just like children. Once wombats are ’semi adults’ they move to outdoor enclosures and we slowly withdraw the hands on love (but not the care) as they naturally begin to develop the instincts they need to survive in the wild. Elsie is ready for release! Wow is she ready! So is Barney but he’s a month younger and for some reason hasn’t yet become as aggressive and as vocal as Elsie. I now wonder how much longer it will be before Elsie (or Barney) actually turn on me! The question is would she turn on me? I don’t really want to find out!

Elsie just grumbling at me! Would she turn on me?

The images below have appeared elsewhere in my blog – the result of ‘play’ between myself and another semi adult wombat who was previously in my care. She adored me but also used me as a means to practice defending herself as she would in the wild.

I now only observe Elsie and Barney ! I ensure that their enclosure is clean and safe, that they have an abundance of food and water but other than that – it’s strictly hands off! Neither Elsie or Barney come when they are called by their name – I am now just someone they used to know!!! So sad for me – but their behaviors now tell me they are ready for the wild – they can survive without me! From initial feeds every two hours to now – where I sneak in their enclosure in the day to tidy up and replace their water, then I RUN if I hear them get up! So many hours and hours of love and care have paid off.

Time for release.. they are ready!

Elsie

I’ll be blogging more soon. Feel free to share a link to my blog but all images and videos are copyrighted. Thanks. 🐾🐾