Bird of the Year? Forget the ibis, here are the world’s best

There’s no shame in being a bird lover. At least, that’s what I tell myself, because I’m kind of into them. I don’t go full twitcher – I don’t tick species I’ve seen off a list, and I don’t even own a pair of binoculars. However, I do still get pretty excited about spotting birds.
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Clearly I’m not in the minority here either, given the amount of recent attention some of “best bird” competitions being held around the world have been getting. New Zealand just announced its national “Bird of the Year” for 2017 – the legendary kea – and the mighty white ibis is currently on its way to claiming a similar crown in Australia. People are into this stuff.

Travellers should be, too, because you don’t have to be a hardcore twitcher to appreciate the awesomeness of certain avian life. I’d happily go searching for any of these. Kea, New Zealand

What keas lack in size, they more than make up for in personality. These cute little fellas, the world’s only alpine parrots, are incessantly curious, and will approach any humans they see to find food or to just check out what’s going on. Their lack of a strong survival instinct makes them a lot of fun to interact with – and sadly, it also makes them an endangered species. Scarlet macaw, Peru

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

I haven’t opted for a lot of extravagant plumage on this list, because pretty colours are no match for personality, but the scarlet macaw is the exception. This huge parrot, found most often in Amazonia parts of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, is one beautiful beast, and a riot of colourful feathers: scarlet, blue, yellow, green and more. Seeing them in the wild is pretty cool. Watch out, too, for the lavishly billed toucan, which hangs out in the same areas. Atlantic puffin, North Atlantic

Photo: Shutterstock

Puffins have to be about the most adorable birds out there. They’re small, a little rotund, they have chubby cheeks, colourful beaks and oddly sad eyes. They’re also pretty fearless, so if you happen to stumble upon a colony of these little guys in, say, Iceland, or Canada, or even Ireland, you’re more than likely be able to approach for a closer look. And, of course, a photo. Blue-footed booby, Galapagos

Photo: Craig Platt

As with all of the wildlife in the Galapagos, you can get so close to a nesting blue-footed booby that you could almost take a turn sitting on its egg. But there’s more to the booby’s greatness than proximity. These guys are cool to look at on land, but they’re absolute weapons in the air: you’ll spot them hovering above the ocean at heights of up to 30 metres, and then diving in – hitting the water at 100km/h, plunging 25 metres deep – to snaffle a fish. Seriously impressive. Andean condor, South America

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

One of the most memorable experiences you can have in South America is gathering on the lip of Colca Canyon in Peru at dawn, waiting for the sun to warm the air far below, and then watching as huge Andean condors – as big as 3 metres from wingtip to wingtip – rise up out of the depths right in front of you. There’s no place you’ll get closer to these magnificent but high-flying beasts in the wild. Penguin, Antarctica

Photo: Craig Platt

If you don’t love penguins, we can’t be friends. Penguins are objectively the coolest. They’re often no bigger than a football, and about as aerodynamically sound, and yet they’re packed with personality. The slide around on their bellies, they waddle about in unwieldy, tuxedo-clad packs, they nibble on your trouser legs, and then they splash into the water and all of a sudden they make complete sense. Guinea fowl, southern Africa

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

I love guinea fowl, purely for the fact that they really don’t seem like they have any right to exist. They’re sort of portly and ungainly and can barely fly, and they live in a part of the world chock full of predators, and yet they just keep on keeping on. That and they tend to waddle around in large packs, which makes them look even cooler. Cassowary, Australia/PNG

Photo: Shutterstock

Australia, being the natural dwelling of anything senselessly dangerous, is obviously home to the cassowary, a bird that seems unnecessarily vicious. Cassowaries are generally plant eaters; however, like most vegetarians they’ll attack when threatened, which in the big birds’ case involves charging, kicking and slashing at people with sharp toes. Cassowaries are also beautiful, and sadly endangered. Yellow-billed hornbill, Southern Africa

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

You’ll always know when there are hornbills around in Southern Africa. They’re loud, for starters, making all sorts of noise. They’re also pretty keen to scavenge scraps from campers, which is why you’ll often see hornbills darted down from the trees to pick up biscuit crumbs or whatever has dropped onto the ground while you weren’t really paying attention. They’ll eyeball you for a second, peck the ground a few times, and off they go back into the treetops. HALL OF SHAMEMagpies, Australia

Photo: Howie Tien

Magpies, to me, seem unreasonably popular among a certain set of Australians. What’s to like? They’re vicious psychopaths. Yeah, I get that they have a nice song, but if Michael Buble dropped out of a tree and started trying to peck your ears off you wouldn’t like him so much, would you? Cuckoos, everywhere

Cuckoos are dead-set evil, the way they lay their eggs in another bird’s nest and then the cuckoo chick pushes all of the other eggs out to ensure its survival. They also have a pretty annoying call. Pigeons, everywhere

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

The infamous “rats with wings” are no doubt hanging around your nearest tourist attraction right now, pooping on everything. Canadian geese, North America

These fairly harmless looking migratory birds are actually unreasonably aggressive, and will often attack humans if they feel threatened. They’ll also chase you for food.

What do you think are the world’s best birds? Would you travel somewhere just for the avian life?

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Program gives defendants with cognitive impairments a second chance

An experimental program that identifies and provides a pathway out of the criminal justice system to defendants with a cognitive impairment is being rolled out at Penrith and Gosford local courts.
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For the next year, a psychologist or psychiatrist will screen defendants charged with low-level offences to identify those with a cognitive impairment, under a program being trialled by the Department of Justice and NSW Health.

Those deemed to have a cognitive impairment will be partnered with support workers, who will determine the defendant’s needs and connect them with National Disability Insurance Scheme services to help address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour.

Clinicians will also provide magistrates with a report to help them decide whether to direct the defendant into treatment or support services as an alternative to a criminal sanction.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program aimed to rehabilitate defendants through early intervention to help “prevent their further contact with the criminal justice system”.

The national president of the Nepean Hawkesbury Law Society, Roderick Storie, said the program would help defendants overcome the financial barriers to qualify for section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990, which he says allows a person to “effectively not be dealt with by the criminal justice system if they have a program wherein they can be treated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist”.

“But to get in that system, the person has either got to get a psychiatrist or psychologist and people with those problems usually don’t have the resources. Just recently, my client was dealt with under section 32 and it has cost him a great deal of money getting the reports together that he really couldn’t afford,” Mr Storie told the Herald.

“So you can treat people with cognitive difficulties with kindness, not punishment, which is a good thing; treating the cause, not the problem.”

The Attorney-General launched the pilot program at Penrith Court on Monday, alongside Minister for Mental Health Tanya Davies and Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres.

Ms Davies said the program would not only help those in the criminal justice system, but benefit the wider community.

“Supporting people with cognitive issues when they enter the criminal justice system can increase their quality of life, reduce their risk of committing further crime, and create safer communities,” Ms Davies said.

Mr Storie agreed, saying the program “is designed to get people off the wave of crime because, for many people, once you start riding the wave it gets bigger and you can end up riding it for the rest of your life”.

“It will allow people, particularly younger people and first offenders, who have cognitive disadvantage, to be streamed away from the criminal system without conviction that can marr the rest of their life.”

The pilot will run at Penrith and Gosford local courts for a year, after which time the program will be evaluated to determine whether it should be expanded to other locations.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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‘Suddenly I had a bill for $5000’: Christmas holiday hire car warning

This is a story about hire car company Europcar and some very, very unhappy customers.
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These customers allege they have been charged for damage they did not cause, sometimes without warning, and even speculate that the rental car outfit may be collecting money for repairs from multiple customers.

Europcar Australia has, in fact, already lost a case brought by an individual consumer it held responsible for damage she did not commit and been fined by the Federal Court for the same, along with other transgressions such as misleading people about the maximum possible repairs charge.

That last action, brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about unfair terms in its contract to 2013, cost the company $100,000 and saw it amend its rental agreements.

But Fairfax Media has learned of many more complaints against Europcar more recently – and exclusively spoken to six complainants about their experiences.

It’s also likely this is the tip of the iceberg. Of the 754 reviews on consumer ratings site productreview南京夜网419论坛, 648 rate the company “terrible” and another 51 “bad”. Only 55 judge it to be “OK” or better.

Perhaps tellingly, 220 reviews mention the word “damage”.

While there are no records on particular companies, a spokesman for NSW Fair Trading says: “[Hire car company] complaints generally relate to unsatisfactory performance of the service, charges above the quoted price [including repairs], and consumers seeking refunds for unauthorised charges [also including repairs].”

Fair Trading agreed to analyse these complaints for Fairfax Media and found 28 per cent (292 of 1052 over three years) refer to vehicle damage, including where customers acknowledge they caused the damage but dispute the cost claimed for the repair.

However, Darling Point medical professionals Dr Peter and Tammy Keller deny they did any damage, yet “suddenly we had an invoice for close to $5000.”

The Kellers hired a Europcar van for just one day, June 25, to move some patient beds to a new practice. Fairfax Media has seen pictures time stamped just minutes after their card was debited for the hire, showing extensive damage on pick up.

Yet they have been fighting with Europcar for four months over the $990 excess – they had bought the rental company’s liability waiver cover to cap it at this level – and a potential default listing on their credit file.

“We managed to cancel our card in time, yet a week after cancellation, Europcar managed to take the excess money out manually??? It is the bank after all the proof we had, who refunded the money,” Tammy Keller says.

But Europcar disputes the Kellers’ version of events and says an employee witnessed them causing additional damage by hitting a pole.

A spokesman says: “Europcar has fully investigated Mr Keller’s complaint and rejects the claim that the damage was pre-existing.”

“All customer complaints are fully investigated and in this case we are confident the correct decision has been made.”

The Kellers, on the other hand, feel they have been played. “If Europcar gets away with even just half [of what they charge], they are still laughing all the way,” Keller says.

Europcar, via a debt collection agency, is now threatening to add legal fees to the Kellers’ not insignificant bill. Existing damage

But it does not seem to make a difference if the bill is smaller. Eliza Rozeboom, also from Sydney, hired a car in Tasmania in June but found herself out of pocket $233 in August. Like the Kellers, she said the vehicle already had extensive damage.

“It wasn’t until almost one month later that Europcar emailed me to advise me that damage had been done to the car,” Rozeboom says.

“I was shocked, because when I handed the car back I did a thorough check and did not see any damage whatsoever. In the initial email they sent me they did not indicate what the damage was.”

Eventually Rozeboom discovered it was for a 0.5-millimetre windscreen chip and, also like the Kellers, tried to stop the $231 debit by cancelling her credit card, but Europcar was able to take the money regardless.

Now, though, a debt collection agency has “started harassing me via text message, email and telephone” for an amount that has escalated to $258. So for an unpaid $27.

Rozeboom is not the only customer to report mismatched invoices for repair and debits either – some suggesting overcharging for repairs.

Melbourne’s Mark Fermor went to the Gold Coast for a day in August. A month later he received a demand for $182 to pay for a missing aerial and was promptly debited $302.

“The two values also make no sense. This is a $25 aerial with a [quoted] cost of replacement of $182 which is crazy, yet they charge $302?” he says.

Meanwhile, in investigating the reason for $283 in repair charges a month after a July trip to Hobart [it was for what looked like a car door ding], full-time student Jordyn Woolley was somehow sent a quote from the panel beater for repairs. He alleges he called that firm weeks later and an employee said the car had still not been repaired.

To Fairfax Europcar said: “Most vehicles are repaired to ensure vehicles are of high quality for future customers.”

“Minor repairs may not be repaired until a later time, but if following repair the actual cost is below the original assessed estimate the difference is refunded to the customer.”

The bills get far bigger than Woolley’s though. The Gold Coast’s Beryl Reilly wrote on her pre-inspection form that the opportunity to inspect the vehicle had been denied because of poor light, rain and “your representative at the counter not allowing us to sight the vehicle”, on arrival at Auckland International Airport in April. But soon afterwards Reilly was charged $1400 for “pre-existing chips mainly”.

Luckily, she bought standalone rental insurance from another company, which covered the cost in full.

Less fortunate was Laurien Kennedy, who hired from Brisbane Airport in November and bought no insurance of any kind. She was billed $4180 for massive hail damage when she claims there was no storm, and the car was undercover for 24 of the 27 hours she had it. Europcar is not responding to her requests for weather evidence.

“No one from Europcar did a vehicle inspection on pick up or drop off, even when I asked them if they would like to do a check on return,” she says. Other hire car companies

Europcar is not the only hire firm to face such accusations. At the same time as it lost the Federal Court case, Hertz agreed to refund a reported $395,000 to customers where there were falsified damages or repair discounts not passed on.

Hertz, however, has a slightly better average rating than Europcar’s 1.34 stars (out of five) on productreview南京夜网: 1.54 (from 513 reviews). Budget (1.6 stars from 315 reviews), Thrifty (1.64 stars from 481 reviews) and Avis (1.82 stars from 278 reviews) score a smidgen higher again.

Far better though are Apex Car Rentals and East Coast Car Rentals with 3.39 and 4.63 stars respectively, the latter out of thousands of reviews.

And app-driven options GoGet (3.18 stars) and Car Next Door (4.46) are highly rated too. Before driving away in a hire car alwaysBuy domestic travel insurance, standalone excess reduction insurance or check carefully if credit card insurance covers you. Fairfax Media found no evidence of different treatment when you have these insurances versus the car rental company’s own excess reduction, which is far more expensive.Inspect thoroughly, preferably in the presence of a sales assistant, before you leave the hire car yard. Note all pre-existing damage, no matter how minor, on documentation.Photograph everything, making sure there are time stamps. Do it again at the end. If possible, get the sales assistant in the photos too.Victoria’s Consumer Action Law Centre says people should be willing to challenge contract terms they think are unfair. On vehicle return, the ACCC suggests asking for a written statement saying the car was undamaged.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a commentator and educator who presents her Smart Money Start, fun financial literacy incursion, in high schools around Australia. Follow Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon Money. ???

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Donations taken from church

PARISHIONERS at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church at East Maitland are pleading with a thief whotook three large bags full of toys and books to show some Christmas compassion.
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SHOCKED: East Maitland Presbyterian church parishioners Alison Rae, Lynette Begg, Judy Haigh and at front, Elizabeth Donovan. Picture: Sage Swinton

Parishioner Judy Haigh had four bags full of donations ready to give to the Salvation Army in her car before the Sunday service, but three of them were too heavy for her to bring inside the church.

She popped them near the front fence for one of the male parishioners to bring inside.

But in the five minute gap between the Ms Haigh sitting the bags against the fence and the male parishioner going out to get them, the bags disappeared.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Ms Haigh said. “It was just dreadful, I started to cry.”

Ms Haigh said bags that people had donated for the church op shop had been left outsidebefore, sometimes for the duration of the church service.

“We’ve never had anything happen like this before,” she said. “Who would steal from outside a church?

Parishioners unsuccessfully scoured the surrounding streets in the hope the thief had discarded the bags when they were revealed to contain only books and toys.

Ms Haigh urged anyone involved toreturn the items for the sake of those in need this Christmas.

“Will you please think of Christmas and the children who are going to do without?” She said.

The church is still taking donations for the Salvation Army, and urge people to donate what they can.

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Homes rented with fake IDs before they were turned into cannabis growhouses

An alleged multimillion-dollar hydroponic cannabis growing syndicate was using false identities to rent more than a dozen properties in a bid to continue growing their crops undetected, police say.
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Heavily-armed police conducted dawn raids on at least 16 properties across Sydney’s west and north-west on Tuesday morning after a three-month investigation into the alleged syndicate.

At least four properties at Carlingford, including one next to a school, and other homes in Greystanes, Smithfield, Eastwood, Parramatta, Beecroft, Concord West, Dundas Valley, Eastwood, North Epping, Dulwich Hill, Rydalmere and Bankstown were also targeted by Strike Force Kilkee.

The strike force, run by the Drug and Firearms Squad, was set up in September to investigate the alleged syndicate.

Two men, a 26-year-old Dulwich Hill man and a 24-year-old Bankstown man, have been arrested and will be charged with cultivating commercial cannabis by enhanced means.

Police will allege more than 2200 cannabis plants, with a street value in excess of $11 million, were seized.

At the Dulwich Hill address, police also allegedly seized just under $70,000 in cash.

“The syndicate has been operating for quite some time and they are operating on three levels: the syndicate heads, the middle management and then you have got the crop sitters who provide cultivation and nourishment to the crops and security to the premises,” Drug and Firearms Squad commander Detective Superintendent Peter McErlain said.

Most of the properties were rented using false identities before the syndicate would take over.

“In this investigation, it appears the group has been working somewhat like a franchise: renting homes and then bringing in a group of people to modify the premises, installing electrical bypasses, and supplying the hydroponic equipment and seedlings,” Superintendent McErlain said.

“As we’ve seen from previous investigations, the groups will often then recruit or coerce vulnerable or debt-ridden members of the community to cultivate the plants.

“We have now seized a significant amount of their product, and taken a chunk from their profits, and we intend to locate them and put them before the courts.”

Superintendent McErlain said the greatest concern for police were the suburban locations of the “hydro houses”.

“It is disturbing to find these set-ups in quiet residential areas, near parks, community areas, shopping centres, and even schools,” he said.

“We know criminal syndicates choose these types of locations because they believe the houses look relatively normal from the outside and, if they’re not noticed, they will have significantly higher profits.

“What is not considered by these groups is the significant risk of harm these places pose to the community.

“The insides of the houses were modified for the sophisticated hydroponic set-ups and fitted with extremely dangerous – and illegal – electrical bypasses.

“A surge in power or illegal rewiring carried out to bypass the meter can quite easily cause a fire or electrocution, which poses a great risk to their unsuspecting neighbours.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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