How Little Grebe Bridge got its Name
There was a little Grebe who nobody ever saw. He lived near the Orara River in
the sedges that grow near the water and on the water itself. His feet were like
paddles and set far back on his fat little body so that he could swim fast, even
against the current. His tail was absurdly short and his neck absurdly long. His
wings were so reduced that flight was difficult but he could just manage to get
off the ground and skim along just above it. He had to take a waddling run to
get airborne and must have looked quite comical if anybody had ever seen him.
Only eight people
ever did: the first was the person driving the car that bowled Little Grebe over
as he tried to cross the road. Was he flying or running? I’m not sure but one
thing is for certain: The car didn’t actually hit him, because if it had, it
would have damaged him. Instead it is most likely that he got caught in the
slipstream and was bowled over by it. He landed on his back and then couldn’t
get turned back over.
Tess was the second
person. She was driving along to work, singing her heart out with the CD player.
She was just speeding up as she crossed the big Orara River Bridge and headed
towards the nameless second bridge.
Then she saw it… a
wriggling thing on the nameless second bridge in the lane of oncoming traffic.
She slowed down; the wriggling continued and the image coalesced into a bird,
but what a strange one. Half-webbed feet kicked the air. A fat little body with
a short tail lay beneath the kicking legs, refusing to turn over. The eyes on
the long pointy head at the end of the S-shaped neck glared in concentration as
Tess drove by, trying not to laugh.
She pulled over as
soon as she could. After the bridge ended, the road widened just enough to allow
her to pull off. There wasn’t a millimeter in it though, so she put her hazard
blinkers on and got out to jog back to the struggling bird, still upside down at
the far end of the nameless bridge. She had to wait for two cars to go by, one
in each direction, but they saw and slowed down and missed both Tess and the
When they were
safely by, Tess sprinted down the bridge. Ahead she could see a van coming up
over the Orara River towards her as she reached the bird. She could see blood
red on his neck and assumed he was injured. Suddenly he righted himself and set
off at a fast-paced waddle across the bridge, head stretched out to the end of
the long neck, little wings flapping.
Tess slowed and
took off her vest to use to catch him. She didn’t want him to reach the edge and
jump off into the long grass. She supposed she would have to go after him if he
did that, what with the blood on his neck and all but hoped she could head him
off. He certainly wasn’t acting badly hurt.
The van slowed as it approached the woman and the bird. Tess stood aside for it
to pass and could see a young man driving and an older man in the passenger
seat; father and son perhaps. The bird saw the van also, took a 90 degree turn
to the right and headed down the bridge back towards Tess’s car. The driver of
the van smiled at Tess as he went by and then slowly crept up on the running
When the driver got
next it, he stopped the van and curiously, the bird stopped too. Tess snuck up
behind her vest and in one swoop had the little critter bagged up. The men
smiled and said “well done, well caught”, and Tess saluted them back in
acknowledgement of their help. They drove off and left Tess carrying her
struggling package back to the car.
All the way she
wondered what the bird was and whether it was getting blood all over her new
fleecy vest. From bitter experience she knew to wait till she was in the car
with the door closed before she had a look. “No blood. That’s good, let’s find
the head. Oh, Wow.”
A slender beak with
a hook immerged, behind it a bright yellow oval of feathers, and behind that a
brighter yellow eye and further back, a streak of beautiful red feathers down
remember ever seeing anything like it before. This surprised her again because
she kept thinking she knew her birds, but it kept happening regularly that she
didn’t when she got up close and personal with some new feathered critter that
had come a’cropper with a motor vehicle. And here it was happening again. What
was it? She covered it back up and changed her plans for the morning.
She abandoned all
hope of a preschool swim and turned the car around back to Margie and Jimmy’s
place, a haven for hurt wildlife. She had to wake them up of course, as it was
still early and when Margie asked Tess what she had, Tess answered breathlessly:
“I don’t know… its got webbed feet and a long neck like a shag but its too small
and its face is so beautiful… look”
She pulled out the
little bird and Margie oohed and aaahed at its beautiful neck and head, and then
laughed at the fat absurd little body behind it. She didn’t know what it was
either, but dear, quiet Jimmy looked over her shoulder and said in a thick
“ it’s a Grebe”
which he pronounced grebb and Tess couldn’t figure it out at first. Then she got
it: “a grebe… it’s a Little Grebe… but wow, I have never seen one in breeding
plumage before. How awesome, let’s get some photos.”
I don’t have any
film in the camera” Margie admitted, but Tess just gave her the bird and went
out for her fancy, dancy new digital camera. The backgrounds were too dark but
she managed to get a good face shot or two and one that had the funny half
webbed feet in it. Then she left the bird with Margie and went off to work.
Little Grebe was
confused. He had thought he knew what he was doing with his day: he was heading
downriver in search of a female Grebe to court. He had on his best feathers and
was looking for love. Then suddenly he was bowled over by something that came
out of nowhere, knocked him off his feet and left him upside down in a strange
new world. He struggled to right himself but couldn’t.
Then Life took a
second strange turn as he struggled frantically but without success to get up. A
giant monster came out of nowhere and tried to grab him.. Little Grebe got a
shot of adrenalin with the new feat, flipped himself over and started running. A
huge moving wall that suddenly appeared beside him, the monster’s hands suddenly
picked him up and something warm and fleecy covered him up and held him
understood none of it, but his will to live was strong and in fact he had
survived his encounter with the car with remarkable good luck and no damage
done, except for the addlepated confusion in his brain. Nothing made sense any
more. The darkness helped but when the monster pulled the vest back and he saw
her, he began to struggle. It was useless, so at last he just stopped and
stared. The monster was incredibly ugly but she didn’t eat him. Instead, she
covered him back up and began to drive.
occasionally just to test his prison, but he couldn’t move his body, so he took
comfort from the warmth and darkness and settled down to ride out the confusion.
It all felt somehow nest-like and he retreated into being a nestling, waiting to
be uncovered again.
When she got him to
Margie’s place, Tess uncovered him several times in order to examine him, and he
bit her once as she felt his neck, wings, body and feet for injuries. There were
none and Little Grebe was getting mad. He resented being felt all over and
wanted to go home. He struggled as Tess put him in a specially prepared
nest-in-a-box covered by a dark blue towel. Margie put Little Grebe in the
laundry for peace and quiet and Little Grebe, after a few futile attempts to
escape, settled down and slept for the day.
Margie checked on
him several times that day and Little Grebe let her know each time that he was
not happy and wanted to go free. But Margie talked softly to the little bird and
gave him drops of magic water to make him feel better and then left him to rest
again in the comforting warmth and darkness of the nest-in-a-box.
The next morning,
Tess came back and she took Margie and Little Grebe in her car back to where he
had come a’cropper on the newly named Little Grebe Bridge in the country by the
Orara River. They drove over that bridge and the third bridge and then Tess
turned right off the road and drove down the side track that they use when they
are doing bridge repairs. A third of the way along she had to park as they had
it blocked off with a five strand barbed wire fence.
The two old
wildlife nuts went for a stroll with their precious cargo in the portable nest-inna-box.
Little Grebe sat fuming and stewing in the moving box. Occasionally he struggled
and tried to fly out and away. But it was futile so mostly he tried to keep his
balance as the box was handed over the fence and carried the 300 or so meters
they went to find a safe spot for the release.
Tess set it up so
she could get some release pictures and then Margie reached in and pulled Little
Grebe out into the sunlight. He blinked and struggled and then settled as
Margie’s hands prevented flight. He looked around as she knelt on the ground and
held him, while Tess snapped or so more shots of Little Grebe in his beautiful
nuptial colours. “I think he was out looking for a mate when he got hit … they
think it’s spring already. Now slowly take your hands away…he may not notice at
first that he is free.”
And sure enough,
when Margie let go and moved her hands away, Little Grebe continued to sit
there, blinking in the dappled sunlight of the little clearing where Margie had
set him. Tess took some more shots and then moved, when her knees started
aching. That brought Little Grebe alive and in a blur of feathers, neck
stretched out, little feet paddling furiously, he moved forward into the shelter
of thick grass.
He stopped there
and went into camouflage mode, not moving a muscle. His mostly grey and brown
body melted into the colours of the bush. The two women chatted and waited there
for a while, savouring the moment of a successful release. Margie looked away
and when she looked back she couldn’t see Little Grebe any more, even though he
was still there.
At last the two
ladies walked back to the car and drove away. For them the second bridge would
forever after be known as Little Grebe Bridge, in honour of their encounter with
this secretive bird.
Little Grebe was
left to pick up his life where he had left it off 24 hours earlier. What a
strange day it had been, but now he was back in his element. He sat for hours,
watching everything around him, checking for dangers, until he felt confident
enough to begin making his way back to his river.
He had places to
go, things to do and every present in the back of his mind was the need to find
a mate and build a nest and raise some more Little Grebes to live their secret
lives on the banks of the beautiful Orara River near Little Grebe Bridge.
The old house rises story upon story. Pillars to first floor, 1st
floor to second up in to the dusty attic.
people have come and gone and come and gone. One hundred years ago an aboriginal
tribe camped on the bare, brown earth where a house now stands. High in the old
fig tree a python watched them light their fires tell their stories. But they
left and never returned.
White men came, chopped the trees down around the fig tree. Python watched.
house was built, story by story. The wood was fresh and smelled of the forest.
One day the remaining tree was felled and that night the python left her dying
home and crawled up into the house story by story. She went until she found a
nook beneath the roof. She crawled in and fell asleep. The new owners of the
land and the house moved in. They named the new house after an old castle far
away. They brought with them furniture and memories from the old lands. They
brought animals and plants too, planted and growing around the house so that
little remained of what once had been.
*Mice from the fields moved in to the house as mice usually want to do. Each
night the python came out, catching a mouse here and there feeding and sleeping
and slipping back into the rust in the roof. No one saw her come and go. No one
knew she was there.*
Patient she was, lying quietly through cold winter months, hunting during summer
growing slowly or not at all in the slow-motion way of reptiles.
Years passed – the first family grew up and grew old. Then a second then a
third. A town grew up around the farmhouse, creeping closer and closer. Sons
went away to wars never to return. Daughters married and had children who came
to play on the verandahs and the rooms below but seldom did anyone venture to
the attic and no one ever saw the dirty hidden corner where the snake still
seasons came and went, the people came and went, mice flourished and prospered
feeding the snake, who remained always silent, but always there. She had no need
to leave, all her needs were met in the generations of tiny furred mice and by
instinct or by some other knowledge she never let herself be seen by man.
house aged as the snake grew ever larger five feet, six feet, seven feet long.
The people moved out the house stood derelict and abandoned. The town moved
around the house and deep within the snake remained living her life at the same
slow pace, filled by the mice that flourished in the old, almost empty house.
Developers came to look at the house – its old they said and a dreadful eyesore
– let’s tear it down and make room for the future. No said the old folk its part
of our heritage lets fix it up, restore it keep it, make it like it was. But the
snake slept on, deep in her refuge, the past forgotten, the future unimagined.
Builders came and chopped and changed. They pulled down walls, put up new ones,
sanded and painted, refreshed and restored. Story by story from the ground to
the rooftops but they never found her refuge – they never saw the old, old snake
deep within her rooftop cranny.
They come and go below now students and teachers, in the restored old house and
they never see her – the house’s first resident still there in the recess at the
top of the house. She comes out at night to catch a mouse. She sleeps for months
at a time as she grows older and slower. Eventually she will die but her bones
will remain until the old house is finally pulled down then perhaps they will
find her at last and lay her to rest with her house.
Wubin thought he knew everything. He could climb,
glide, hunt and find food. He knew every branch, leaf and hollow of his tree and
the surrounding forest. He knew which animals were harmless and which were
enemies to be avoided. He thought he knew it all – but he was wrong.
Wubin was racing across a tiny branch high in his
gum tree. He saw a tasty looking grasshopper clinging to a leaf in a nearby
tree. Wubin leaped for it, spreading his furry flaps to catch the breeze.
Suddenly he was caught by a Willy Willy. It spun him around, carrying him away
from the ground far below.
Wubin lay stunned and confused. He had never been
on the ground before. He staggered up and began crawling towards the nearest
tree, intent on climbing back to the world he knew. A dark shape appeared beside
him. An evil eye glared at him and a powerful beak lunged. Wubin jumped and ran.
Once, twice, the beak pecked at him and missed. Wubin scampered faster but on
the third strike his luck ran out. He felt the beak sink into his loose fur on
his neck and hoist him up. He struggled but it held tight.
An even larger shape, a monster, loomed before
him. Unfamiliar sounds thundered in Wubin’s ear. “Drop it you stupid chook! Drop
Something struck the beaked one. Wubin fell to
the ground. A large hand scooped him up. Wubin curled into a ball and shut his
eyes. The word had suddenly became an unpredictable and unknown place.
Kim opened her hand to look at the mouse. It had
a funny feather-like tail and strange flaps of fur between its tiny paws.
“I don’t think you are a mouse at all. She said.
But what are you? And what should I do with you? Poor baby!”
Kim carried Wubin into her house and put him in a
shoebox with an old sock. Then she called the local wildlife rescuer, Tess.
Wubin opened his eyes. It was dark in the shoebox, which was a comfort. Wubin
crawled around till he found the sock. He clung to it as he had once clung to
his mother – It felt softly reassuring, as she had been. Exhausted by his
trials, he fell asleep.
Tess hung up the phone and sighed. It sounded
like Kim was bringing her a Feather-tailed Glider. They were such slippery
little characters. She had been given a female to look after only a week ago and
it had escaped in her bedroom. Tess searched for hours but could not find her in
Finally in desperation Tess had opened her
balcony doors and left them open for three nights in order to give the glider a
chance to get out. This time Tess was determined to be more careful.
Kim opened up the door and handed Tess the
shoebox. “I saw one of my chickens attacking something. I thought it was a baby
mouse so I rescued it, but it’s not a mouse.” Tess peeked in the box. “It’s a
Feather Glider, but I don’t think it’s a baby.”
Kim was amazed, “But it’s only as big as my
thumb!” she said.
“That’s true, but they are very small. I’ll keep
him a few days to make sure he’s all right. Then I’ll bring him back to your
place. That way he can rejoin his friends and relatives.”
Kim was relieved. She hadn’t known what to do
with the little animal, so she was happy to leave it in Tess’s care. After Kim
drove off, Tess took the box to her bathroom. She shut the door tight before she
opened the box. “At least if you escape in here, I can find you again!”
She picked Wubin up and gently examined him,
confirmed that he was a male and that he had no obvious wounds or broken bones.
Wubin uncurled in Tess’s hand and looked at her curiously. He sniffed her hand.
It smelled strange to him. She was very big but she spoke softly and didn’t hurt
Tess offered Wubin a drink of special animal milk
in an eyedropper. He sniffed at it, then curled up in a ball, hiding his face in
his fur. “I guess that means you don’t want it. If you were a baby, then you
would. Wait a minute and I’ll get you something else.” Tess slipped Wubin back
in the box and went to the kitchen to get some honey water.
‘It will do,’ she thought, ‘I shall call him
Wubin!’ Tess offered Wubin the honey water and he lapped it up. It had been
hours since his ordeal began and he was very thirsty. After she fed him, Tess
slipped him into a cotton bag she used when banding birds. It had a drawstring
at the top that she pulled tight and then knotted back against itself to prevent
Wubin from escaping. In the bottom of the bag she put the sock that the female
glider had been in before her escape.
Wubin smelled the smell of the female glider it
reassured him that another glider had been here before him. Wubin rested for
several hours in the safety of the bag and began to explore. After a few minutes
he knew the extent of the bag and where the entrance was. He pushed his nose
through the knotted string and slowly stretched the opening until it was wide
enough that he could wriggle through.
All that night Wubin explored his prison, looking
for a way out so he could find a way back to his family and friends. He ran up
and down the shower curtain. He jumped to the sink and ran around the taps. He
inspected the drain but the holes on the strainer were too small. (No way out
there. He climbed up the wall to the window. Outside he could smell the gum
trees but the holes in the screen were too small. He could not escape.) As the
sun began to rise, he gave up. He found a box full of odds and ends. He crawled
in and fell asleep.
When Tess came in the morning, she knew the
instant she picked up the bag that it was empty. She looked everywhere but could
not find Wubin. She started over, covering every millimetre of the bathroom.
(She looked in the folds of the shower curtain and under the sink. She unfolded
every towel and wash cloth.) At last she found him in the box, curled up between
the eyeliner and the face cream.
“I should have called you Houdini, I think.” She
gathered him up and returned him to his bag. “This will never do, I’ll have to
find some way to keep you safe until I can take you back to Kim’s place.”
Tess went outside to her walk-in aviary. It was
empty at the moment because she only used it for housing injured or orphaned
animals. She inspected it carefully, some of the wire needed replacing but she
thought she could make it escape-proof.
Tess worked all day. She mucked out the old straw
bedding, replaced the wire mesh and put up shade cloth. She nailed up a shelf
and put a small hollow log on it. She cut two saplings and wired them on either
side of the shelf. She caught grasshoppers and released them into the cage. She
filled a bird feeder with honey water and strapped it to the side of the log.
Finally she prepared a glider-sized dinner on a plate, half a grape, slivers of
pawpaw and banana plus a small cicada that had drowned in the dog dish.
At last she stood back, hot and sweaty, and
surveyed the cage. “This will hold you, Wubin, Houdini or not!” she thought with
a sense of satisfaction.
In the cool of the evening, she brought Wubin to
his new home. She opened the bag and placed it in the log. Sometime after dark,
Wubin came out. He stretched, yawned and preened his silken fur. Then he began
to explore. He sniffed the scent of the honey water, followed it and had a long
drink. He inspected the food on the plate but none of it appealed to him. He
scampered up a sapling and explored it. When he found a grasshopper, he pounced,
killed it and then devoured it. Then he started looking for a way back home.
He ran up one tree and down the other. He ran in
one end of the log and out the other. He ran all around the wire walls of the
cage, looking for holes. He races across the floor, up the brace and onto the
shelf. He climbed back down and finally, at the very back of the cage, he found
it. A small hole, a rust hold in the solid wall; a hole no bigger than a human
Wubin wriggled and wriggled and squeezed through
the hole. At last he was free. He ran across the grass to the nearest tree. He
scampered up the trunk till he found a clump of leaves in which to hide. Then he
looked around. The tree was not familiar to him. He sniffed the air and
chittered softly in the language of gliders but there was no hint of glider
smell in the air and none of his family answered him. Wubin was alone.
For the rest of the night Wubin searched for
family, friends or just a familiar tree, but all was strange to him. Finally he
found a tiny glider-sized hidey-hole. He checked for predators then he crawled
in and fell asleep for the day.
For the next three nights Wubin wandered through
the unfamiliar forest. There was plenty of food but danger abounded. He was
chased by a very big goanna. A kookaburra swooped over him and almost caught
him. He heard the sound of a hungry cat growling in the night. But worst of all
was the loneliness.
Wubin could cope with predators if only he had a
friend. Each morning as he curled up alone in a new hole, he yearned for the
company of his own kind. He missed his family desperately.
Still he kept searching. He never gave up. His
brain was too small for existential despair. His courage was too great to give
A week passed. Wubin moved further and further
away from the cage, up the hill, deeper into the forest. Each night he explored
another tree and another, finding new hiding places, new escape routes, new food
sources. Then one night he came across a smell that caused his heart to race. It
was the smell of the female glider that had been on the sock in the bird bag.
The smell was a few days old. Wubin had a goal
now though. He followed the smell. Each time he leaped to a new tree he checked
for the smell of the female glider. When he found it he continued, when he did
not he back tracked.
Night after night he tracked her. By the third
night he knew he was getting close. Her trails were everywhere. She had to be
close. He checked for signs of predators then chittered. There was an answer in
the next tree.
Wubin ran to the top of his tree and launched himself towards the sound. He
landed with a thump and looked around. Coming toward him was a beautiful female
glider. Her eyes glittered with excitement. She too had been searching for a
They met cautiously, touching noses, sniffing on
another. Then the female turned and scampered away. Wubin followed. All that
night they played hide and seek in the treetops. In the morning they curled up
together in a hole, just the right size for two tiny gliders. His odyssey was
Wubin was home.
Case of the Marbled Frogmouth back
It all began in
Nymboida. A frogmouth was hunting one night and tried to fly through a chicken
wire fence. He got hung up and was found the next day by the owner of the chook
pen. The Froggie must have hit the fence hard because he was partly paralyzed
and had a broken leg. WIRES took the call and Margie picked up the bird, who was
a nice red color and who was tentatively identified by the finder as a Marbled
Now this would be
an historical rescue if the bird were indeed a Marbled Frogmouth. It is a
rainforest species found mainly in Papua New Guinea. In Australia, it has been
found a few times in Far North Queensland, a few times in Southern Queensland
and twice it has been reported in the Clarence Valley: Once in the 1860’s from
Susan Island and one more confirmed sighting in 1912. It was not picked up at
all in the Clarence Valley during the three Bird Atlas Survey of the 1990’s.
The bird was
reported to the Threatened Species Coordinator, just in case. Margie debated
what to do next because it was obviously badly hurt. Tess heard about the bird
through the WIRES grapevine and contacted Margie, who brought the bird out to
examined it and confirmed a broken leg and loss of wing control, but otherwise
alert and aware. They tried to identify it and decided it could possibly be a
Marbled Frogmouth because it had black and white barred tufts over its eyes and
a long, slightly forked tail plus the reddish coloration. He was large though
and his chest markings were more like a Tawny than a Marbled. The ID was a
tentative maybe, but his size indicated he was an adult male.
whether he was a rare Marbled or a common old rufous variety of the Tawny
Frogmouth, their first duty was care and comfort. They changed his bedding, made
him comfortable and then Margie left him in Tess’s hospital facility. That night
she consulted with a local bird expert about treatment and identification. He
agreed that Tess was doing the right things treatment-wise and thought it might
be a Marbled. so he suggested she take him to the local professional
Ornithologist for the identification.
By the next day the
bird was eating well and sitting up on his cloth hospital perch. Tess decided to
call him Marney. He improved for another day and then took a downward turn,
tossing back up the food she gave him. So the next morning she delivered him to
the local avian vet, who took x-rays, diagnosed some paralysis, and treated him
with cortisone to bring down the spinal swelling.
She took him by
Greg, the ornithologist on the way home. Greg took one look and pronounced:
Tess played devil’s
advocate and made him convince her over a half hour that Marnie is a rufous
morph of the Tawny species and not the smaller Marbled Frogmouth. He is too big,
his breast markings are wrong and his tail is not the narrow, longer than body
forked tail. His tufts aren’t long enough either.
So it’s not an
historical rescue, just a successful one. Marney has recovered from the
paralysis and is able to use his healing broken leg. He has graduated from the
hospital facility to the recuperation aviary and should be ready to go home
again in a week or so. He is a beautiful bird with a marvelous Frogmouth
personality: stern, serious, confident and proud. It’s been a pleasure to help
him live and to give him a second chance. You may not be a Marbled Frogmouth,
Marney, but you are special to Tess.
The Case of the Purple Boxer Shorts back
The phone rang at
six in the morning. Tess jumped up, thinking her mother had fallen or had a
heart attack, but no, it was a friend from up the road. “Sorry to wake you up
but my son found an echidna by the road just past the three bridges. It was hit
but alive. He marked it with a pair of purple boxer shorts. Can you rescue it?”
“No worries” Tess
said. “Thanks for the call.” She hung up and started calculating when she could
get on the road. Realistically it would be an hour before she could get to the
echidna. Pick up the phone and ring Margie in Coutts. Get the answering machine
and leave a message: “Sorry to ring so early but there is a hurt echidna on the
road a kilometer or so from your place. Can you rescue it?”
A few minutes
later, Margie rang back. Yes, she could rescue it. “It’s just past the three
bridges as you head towards town. It is marked by a pair of purple underpants.
Call me when you get it and we can decide what to do next.”
Off the phone, Tess
got dressed, had a quick wash and comb job, wolfed down some brekky and then
phone rang. “Margie here. We found the echidna. It’s a good thing he was marked
by the purple shorts or we wouldn’t have seen him! He was digging himself in and
it took an effort to get him but he is here. There is a lot of blood, poor
“Ok, I am on my
way. We can check him out and then I can get him to the vet before work.” Tess
picked up her cat carry cage and set out, thinking she would find a small
echidna at Margie’s house. No way! He was the biggest, fattest echidna she had
ever seen. By this time he was curled up tight and although there was a lot of
blood about, he was too strong to uncurl and too big to fit into the carry cage.
So Tess commandeered Margie’s washing basket and headed off to the vet.
Tess left him there
with our Vet medicine book and the Mammal book with the echidna chapters marked.
Margie had called ahead to alert them. Luckily two of the vet nurses are now
training to be WIRES volunteers as well and they were all happy to take care of
the echidna. Tess was not hopeful though, thinking that there must be serious
injuries with so much blood.
through a busy morning at work and then made a hurried phone call to the vet:
“How is the echidna?” she asked, fully expecting to hear that he had died on the
operating table. “All stitched up and ready to go home!” Wow!
After school Tess
met the vet surgeon, Anna, who had sewn him up, fixed his nose and given him
oxygen to help his breathing, corticosteroids to help his stressed adrenals (a
big problem with monotremes apparently) and of course, antibiotics. The stitches
were dissolvable but she would like to see him back in ten days and could I give
him two shots each over two days to beef up his immune system.
She handed me the needles, neatly labeled: “ for Prickles”. “I named him” she
said with a smile. “And a perfect name too” Tess commented, having several sore
fingers from trying to unroll him. Even the toweling hadn’t protected me. “How
much does he weigh?” I asked. Five kilos was the answer. So much for Margie’s
‘poor little thing!’
Tess took him home
and he rested quietly in her hospital room for several days, except for his
shots. There was no need for heating because his body temperature wass only 31
C. He had a bed of shredded newpaper and towels and a dark quiet box to rest in.
Then after a week,
he decided he had had enough and it was time to go home. Out of the box and
around the bathroom, lodging himself behind the throne. No sleep for Tess with
the scraping and thumping so the next night he went in the downstairs bathroom.
When she looked in the morning it looked like a tornado had been through it. The
rolls of toilet paper were ripped to shreds and there were towels everywhere.
Obviously he did not think the accommodation was suitable.
Tess spent the day
rearranging the lizard enclosure to accommodate an echidna and learning how to
dig up termite nests (it’s easy if they are small enough). She put him in and an
hour later came back for a look. For a moment Tess thought he had escaped and
then she saw a few spines just poking out of the sand and moving gently with his
breathing so she left him.
That night he went
through that enclosure like a bulldozer. Every rock was upside down, the sand
from the bottom was on the top, the termite nest was ripped to shreds. The poor
hibernating lizard was lying on his back looking quite dead. Tess was horrified.
She held the lizard against her stomach to warm him up and gently blew in his
nostrils. Much to her relief he came back to life I decided . Tess decided that
Prickles was well enough to go home!
Tess met in the
forest where he came from with two other carers for the release ceremony. He was
burrowed into his box so carefully they turned it upside down so he would fall
into Tess’s well-gloved arms. She put him with his nose facing into a nice dead
log. He sat there for a minute and then started burrowing. Little puffs of dirt
moved around him and slowly he disappeared into the forest floor.
By the time they
left, only a handful of prickles were visible. That afternoon, on the way home
from work, Tess stopped to visit him. He was still there, almost completely
buried under his log. That night he left, to continue his interrupted search for
a mate. May his long life continue and may he make many many puggles to carry on