March 28 2015
This time last week I was driving in the snow. Oddly enough I wasn’t in the Caribbean. I was in Connecticut on my way to the Featherfest, an annual event of the CT Parrot Society. There I gave a presentation about Echo and I was trying to drum up some votes, sort of like presidential candidates do, yeah, sort of…
The votes are really important. Echo is in the running for over $32,000 of funding but we have to get more votes than the other projects. All you have to do is go to the link below, select Echo’s project accept the terms and conditions and submit it AND you can cast a vote on every device you have: your fancy phone, your ipad, your computer. Don’t have an ipad, heck! Did you ever have a better excuse to go to the Apple store?
Please vote now:
So anyway, before driving in the snow I’d had a crazy parroty week. From the airport I’d jumped in a rental car and drove over to Ithaca. First though some background: Here on Bonaire the parrot car does most basic functions most of the time or at least it did until a week ago when it finally died. The indicators have been dependable, the headlights less so and the brakes have been somewhere in between. Back to Ithaca and I’m in a rental car with 20 buttons and switches on the steering wheel alone. There were another 30 in the driver’s area. There’s no wonder there are accidents, who has time to look at the road?! After half an hour the novelty of having my butt roasted wore off but it took me another half an hour to work out how to turn the heated seat off! I was feeling like a little boy from the country.
By 1am I rolled past deer and into Ithaca. Audrey, a dedicated and fun Echo volunteer who is studying up at Cornell had waited up. She’d also received an Echo T-shirt delivery that I would be hauling around with me and thankfully my down jacket that had been sent from England – thanks Dad!
In the morning I met up with Jamie Morrisey, a great avian vet from Cornell University. After seeing a picture of a broken parrot I’d bandaged in my Parrot Lover’s Cruise presentation Jamie had offered to give me some training. As we are getting quiet a few broken parrots it seemed like a good reason to visit. I also got to talk about general veterinary care of our birds too which was really useful.
On Tuesday I had another early start and the GPS led me back to the airport from there I plunged into a jam packed train of people wearing green. It was 10am on St Patrick’s day, we were heading to Manhattan and some of the kids had already had too much to drink!
At home my nearest neighbour is 2 miles away. I bet there are more people on some if not most city blocks in Manhattan than there are on Bonaire. It’s crazy!!! Echo supporters Stu and Nancy were my guides and councillors on this experience and they did a great job. Whenever I travel I’ve always got a big shopping list. I had three shops I “needed” to visit: B and H Photo, REI and Wholefoods. Some of it for Echo some of it for me, none of it available on our little island. I took so long we only made it to two.
Fine food and great wine played a big part of my trip, in Manhattan and everywhere else too. We don’t get so much choice on Bonaire so it was a real treat. No time for details though, another day had arrived after another short night and another set of travel arrangements and another bed awaited. Next up was my first presentation. This one with the Long Island Parrot Society. A large group of people had turned out, luckily they managed to understand real English and my presentation about the Caribbean Parrot crisis was well received, hoorah. I even got heckled by a few parrots, which everyone enjoyed. The members were generous in their support and enthusiasm for our work, which felt great. Thanks everyone!
Back to Manhattan, more shopping and then presentation two at Fauna. The audience was a smaller group but very attentive. This time I was talking more specifically about Echo and the amazing Yellow-shouldered Amazons. There were good questions and a great level of interest. More T-shirts were sold more donations were made, hoorah once more and thank you to Fauna and the Manhattan parrot folk.
I was deliciously wined and dined and made it to bed by midnight only to wake at 3am in a mild panic about all the stuff I had to pack. My brain does this at different moments so I simply got up and packed my two cases and a carry on bag. I got another hour or so of sleep before my next appointment. Aeri is a long time virtual volunteer. She is real. The virtual part just relates to her doing awesome design stuff and much more from Manhattan. We had planned to travel together but the forecast of snowstorms ruled it out for her so we met for all of 10 minutes before I headed back out to the airport to pick up another rental car. This time a 4x4 with a whole lot less buttons.
I traveled up to Connecticut and met another person who has played a key role in Echo pretty much since it began. Cornell Bialicki’s first donation way back when Echo was just fledging kept the organization afloat at a critical time. Since then Cornell has continued to generously support our work with the Yellow-shouldered Amazons, hoorah for Cornell!!!
Despite the threat of snow we ventured further north towards Foster Parrots. Cornell was keen for me to meet Marc and Karen and their team. We arrived to a huge spread of food including fresh berries of all colours. Such delights on Bonaire are exchanged only for body parts and I was ravenous. If it were not for my complete lack of conscience when it comes to sharing food I would probably have been embarrassed by myself.
There were an awful lot of parrots to meet and it was both great and sad to see how extensive the flock there was. After a nap (for me) and a coffee we had to tear ourselves away from the great conversations and get on the road again.
On the journey back to Cornell’s we met the snow and conditions quickly worsened. At one moment a pick up in the oncoming traffic spun towards us and slammed into the central reservation as we drew alongside. I like to drive and don’t get much opportunity to travel here so I was actually enjoying the challenge and it was great to have Cornell as a top co-driver. Of course we made it home in one piece and later Cornell played ‘let it snow’ on his incredible theatre organ.
It was Friday and my first wedding anniversary. My beautiful wife Sarah wasn’t at all bothered but I realised we had a unique opportunity. I called her up on skype and Cornell played ‘here comes the bride’. We got married in our back garden so we hadn’t had the music last year and Sarah was touched. Hoorah again for Cornell!
Saturday was the Featherfest and we arrived without trouble despite seven inches of snow in the night. Echo T-shirts sold like hotcakes and before I’d had chance to look around it was time to present. This time the presentation visited all the incredible places and parrots I’ve had the good fortune to work with. The Featherfest was a great event and despite my plans to get on the road quickly after the presentation I ended up being one of the last to leave. Hoorah for the Connecticut Parrot Society.
I’d had yet more stuff sent to Cornell’s so there was another epic session of repacking to be done at the airport hotel before my early flight. On the plane I slept and not long after I got home I had a long siesta. It had been a crazy week! Thanks to everyone who made it possible and to everyone who supported Echo.
If you’d like to get an organic cotton Echo T-shirt or a bag or mug please check out:
Help parrots with just a few clicks and a VOTE: http://www.outdoorconservation.eu/project-voting-category.cfm?catid=1
January 22 2015
Working in conservation has allowed me to climb trees and watch wild parrots in Mauritius, Brazil and Bonaire among others. During the 20 years since I first went to Mauritius, oh heck was that really 20 years! I have had so many great experiences with my work. But at the end of last year I found myself somewhere I never expected to be: on a Cruise Ship!
I was pleasantly surprised and I found the Parrot Lovers Cruise to be very enjoyable. Living off the grid in a relatively remote house can be draining at times, especially as we have only four electrical outlets that work, spring fed water pipes that block monthly and the house is, by the way, actually falling down. So it didn’t take long to adapt to the incredible service that was provided on the ship. It felt like a real indulgence to just have working lights in the bedroom.
The first port on the trip was Roatan, which is nice ,but really it only delayed our arrival at The Belieze Bird Rescue which I was looking forward to most. My first pet parrot had been a White-fronted Amazon and it was a delight for me to see rehabilitated and release White-fronts in Nikki’s garden. The next stop was Xcarlet where free flying macaws wowed everyone.
The group were a fun and interested bunch that it was a pleasure to swap dinner tables each night and talk to other parrot enthusiasts. The combination of their passion for parrots and the other speaker’s presentations really inspired me to improve the care of our parrots on Bonaire.
We’ve successfully released over 50 Yellow-shouldered Amazons on Bonaire but we’ve also slowly accumulated a bunch of birds that have collided with cars and were brought to us with broken wings. We do our best with the resources we have but fixing broken wings well is not easy. Other birds like Sally and Weeble, an illegally captured pet parrot that was confiscated by the police and brought to us, are just not suitable for release. So they are stuck with us, we’ve done ok by them but to be honest I’ve wanted to improve our care of them for a while now.
Positive reinforcement training is something I used daily with my pet dogs but we’ve never applied it to the captive flock of birds at Echo. Cassie Malina’s in depth presentation on the subject got me thinking about how we could apply it to make the birds lives more interesting but also to enable us to care for the birds better, like for example getting them to step onto weighing scales for a periodic weigh in.
James Morrisey gave a very entertaining presentation about veterinary care – I know! Who would have thought that possible? For me this big picture review of how we care for captive birds and how all aspects of their care relates to the health and wellbeing was really refreshing.
Hearing these two great talks was really motivating and I decided we had to do more for the parrots in our care. We’ve got two aviaries and several large cages and depending who arrives, who they get along with others and whether we need to carefully monitor their weight – as we do in the case of fat ex pets we’re generally full or overloaded. This of course is not good for the birds in our care. On top of that some of the birds at Echo have paired up and we need to give them some private space. This of course may lead to parrot chicks and that’s really cool because those could be released into the wild. That would allow the rescued birds to contribute to the recovery of the wild population too.
This is the situation for Sally and Weeble. They are ex-pets (it’s like ex-pats only they right now they don’t have a great big retirement home). They have been fatties and would love to chomp on everyone else’s food including sunflower seeds all day so they can’t go in the big aviary and we feed them (generously donated) pellets from Hagen along with fruits etc. The smaller aviary has a few misfits in there and so Sally and Weeble have ended up in cages side by side. If somehow Dear Reader you missed the news, Sally and Weeble are in love.
This is a tragedy!!!
The good news is you can make life better for Sally and Weeble and the other parrots at Echo -
Please donate today and help Sally and Weeble get a room!
September 18 2014
Loosing Luella was disappointing but not a complete surprise. She weighed half of what a healthy wild Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot would weigh. Not only was she tired and struggling to recover, she also had a broken leg and the combination was just too much for her emaciated little body.
Imagine what your ideal weight would be, be honest, and then half it. It’s shocking! I’m cycling quite a bit and generally pretty fit I could add some muscle and loose a bit of fat but I’m not far off and I weigh in at 72kgs (159lbs). Half of that is 36kg (80lbs) it’s inconceivable.
Anyway Luella was the first chick that has come to us that we haven’t got to release. It saddened me and the team and it was also disappointing. I’d personally taken responsibility for Luella as I tend to do when new arrivals first come in. I believe I did my best but in truth we at Echo don’t have much in terms of equipment or expertise. There isn’t any on the island in truth but we do what we can to help the injured birds. I laughed inwardly when someone on facebook wrote how we should feed her apples and take her to a rescue center or our state’s avian specialist vet. It’s hard for some to appreciate that things don’t work like that here. Until recently you couldn’t be sure the stores here would have apples, never mind an avian specialist veterinarian!
So we were already having a bit of a low moment when we heard news of a ringed bird that had found dead by the side of the road. Frank, who’d let us know was kind enough to pick up the bird and save it for us. It wasn’t just ringed, this road killed parrot had a radio collar on it. One of six we are tracking this year. I couldn’t remember who it was by the rings. Lily did though. She’s been tracking the fledglings and she knew straight away that it was Buzz. For it to be any of them was bad, but Buzz: He fledged from a nest that was practically in my garden, he was my favorite, I’d known him since he was an egg and he was going “to infinity and beyond”. It was horrible. It was the reality of the situation here. Parrots are getting hit by cars quite often.
The next day another parrot was delivered in a box. This time though the bird was alive. Having not been able to reach us on the phone, because we live in an isolated location and have rubbish reception, Paulo had generously driven out to bring the bird to us. This one’s another fledgling who’d bounced off a car. There’s another broken wing and another broken leg, for her and a growing feeling of helplessness for me. But she’s got that Amazon charm by the bucket load. Fluffed up feathers and a cuteness that makes you melt balanced by a fearsome side that rips slices of apple apart faster than a garden shredder could.
After Luella I’m determined to give this sweet girl a better chance. She’s not skin and bones so I think she has better chances. She’s taken to the hand rearing formula better that Luella did and she’s eating for herself a bit. I’m on track with administering what pain relief we have and she’s seems to be doing well. Let’s hope she continues to do so… I searched for the names of female warriors to get a name for this young lady. Camilla was associated with Amazons and could run down horses. Our young lady will have to be a warrior to prevail and although it's unlikely even with perfectly healed legs she'll ever run all that well but we can hope her leg repairs. That's her in the picture and of course I’ll let you know how she's doing.
July 10 2014
Living in a hotspot for wild parrots is amazing. I see parrots daily from my office and I can hear them pretty much all the time. There are always parrots in the area and if a bird of prey passes over the parrots, parakeets and other birds go “mental”! As a result I also get to see Crested Caracaras regularly and Peregrine and Merlin Falcons in the winter months too. Falcons, you have to admit, are pretty cool.
I’ve got a feeding table in the garden too. Bird tables work best when one puts food out at the same time each day, religiously. That doesn’t quite work for me with so many other interesting things going on but nether the less the parrots pop in and visit most days, when there’s food. It was pretty thrilling to creep up to within a few meters of wild parrots and I even pulled out my SLR camera to get some pictures through my now fungus filled lens (the other side of living in the tropics).
I’ve even got a parrot in the house right now too. Typically there was a lot going on when we received the call that someone had found a parrot. There’s never a good moment to receive a broken parrot. He’s sat in a hospital cage out of sight but in my office and I hear him moving around and feeding from time to time.
You can imagine it’s hard to get any work done with all these parroty distractions. And I haven’t even mentioned the Grove-billed Ani that’s sneaking through the grass as I write or the rampant White-tipped doves bow-cooing and “at it” beneath my window, or the endemic Yellow Oriole with his golden feathers and lovely whistle. (You really should check out the Ani and the Oriole they are gorgeous but don’t bother with, the dove!)
Yet, unfathomably, the challenge of ever getting any work done is even greater than that. I’m not talking about the little flies that have just appeared who will spend their short lives desperately trying to climb into my eyes or the afternoon sun that beats down and threatens to warp my nice desk. I mean the parrot chicks!!!
Within a mile of my house there are many, though still not nearly enough, parrot nests. Deep inside these delightful cliff and tree cavities there are pink, prickly pin feather filled or cute green baby parrots going about their business and growing. Their business also includes rather a lot of eating, digesting and popping too. It’s just amazing how every time I sneak out of the office and run to the hills for a distraction they’ve grown. In two short months white eggs turn into green fledglings. The transformation is simply incredible and it’s a small wonder I get any work done when I could be out there cooing over them!