The ibis sense the management team’s approach and start a loud unking and aaaarrpping chorus. Their nesting roost smells like a chook shed but the smell’s not enough to be overpowering.
Vertical dashes of ibis shit streak the tight meshed branches below the nests in the canal front cottonwood trees opposite the Isle of Capri across the highway from busy Surfer’s Paradise.
Looking through the branches into the early afternoon sunlight, half a dozen bin-lid-size nests are visible.
The peeps of unfledged young with faces like honey eating kids in pillow fights are almost drowned out by the adults’ unking.
Some Isle of Capri residents have complained to council about the nests. The Ibis Management Coordination Group (IMCG) run by Ecosure have sent out a team to check on it but a quick inspection tells them there’s nothing they can do with this small ibis roost.
The IMCG keeps ibis Gold Coast numbers in a manageable range (1500-2500), otherwise the ibis colonies grow too quickly to keep pace with. One of the IMCG tactics is to intervene in the ibis’s quick turn over of clutches by constantly scattering their nests.
At the Isle of Capri nesting roost, if the eggs hadn’t already hatched IMCG could disrupt the nests and eggs with a long pole, but as the eggs have hatched and the chicks are peeping hungrily it wouldn’t be humane to tip the little white fluffy nestlings out.
This nesting roost is also next to a fruit bat colony, which is another reason IMCG’s team can’t interfere with this roost.
One of the team, Cameron, says the female fruitbats are pregnant and any kind of stress would make them abort their babies on the spot. It’s gruesome to imagine that the pregnant females can just dump the tiny bat foetuses inside them if they’re stress levels get too high.
It wouldn’t be a good thing to find one on your windscreen in the morning.
We go to another nesting roost close by. Some homeless people have left their gear lying around in the park and a few ibis have built nests in the cottonwoods since Cameron and his co-worker Michael were here last.
Michael joins the sections of a long pole together and quickly gets to work poking up at a nest from underneath. The mother and father ibis who share nesting duties fly around like gangly geeky flibbetygibbets as he dislodges the nest from the high branch and pushes off every stick.
Ibis will lay eggs on as few as three or four interlocking sticks so it’s important to be thorough.
Cameron says if there is ample food ibis can have a maximum of three clutches in a season, one after another, so the nesting roosts can quickly spread in size and the nests can get really big if left for a while.
Like a chook shed, the ibis will nest close together side by side, above or underneath other nests and the faeces that falls through the colony top to bottom has a strong ammonium smell, which is one of the negatives in an urban centre like Surfers.
An important tactic is to disrupt the nesting early in June before the first chicks are hatched, because if the team waits till July management gets complicated because of chicks and then it becomes a “game of catch up”.
“You’ll have chicks in every nest and there’s nothing you can do,” Michael says.
Gold Coast City Council spends about $90,000 a year on managing ibis numbers, Ecosure environmental scientist Jess Baglin says.
She says disrupting the breeding is one of the humane measures used by Ecosure, but the most important way to manage Australian White Ibis (AWI) is by restricting their access to anthropogenic food sources like dumps and bins.
It’s something that the Gold Coast team has been successful at, evidenced by the population index kept at a low 1403 for 2013/14.
“The intention of the program is to manage negative impacts of urban AWI while ensuring a sustainable population of this native species,” Ms Baglin says.
“Regular and robust monitoring is critical to ensure that the species is not placed at risk due to management activities.”
The National Ibis Census in October is one of IMCG’s key monitoring activities.
Ibis are intelligent and tough and make themselves unpopular on the Gold Coast, but spare them some sympathy as urban centres provide the only refuge until conditions in rural areas improve.
It’s dire out west for wet land birds. Because of drought, AWI numbers in rural areas have severely dropped. There are more ibis on the Gold Coast than there are surviving in the whole of rural Eastern Australia.
“The abundance of AWI in the eastern Australian survey [the survey of Eastern Australia’s rural areas] has declined dramatically from a peak of 24,406 (1986) to a nadir of 448 (2002) and since this time averaged 1,470 (2003-2012). The 2013 count of 532 is the lowest recorded count since 2002, and is the second lowest since counts started in 1983.”
These birds are survivors and as Cameron says ibis will travel long distances for a feed.
Some of the Gold Coast Ibis will have weekend degustations at tips at Rochedale or Browns Plains, fly up and stay overnight. It’s a GC lifestyle thing.