SAVING
THE SWIFTIES

Picture of Story by Rob Blakers

Story by Rob Blakers

Rob Blakers has been photographing wild places in Tasmania, the Australian mainland and the USA for over thirty years.

Photo (Above): Swift Parrot in logging coupe SH050B in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Antoine Chretien.

In December 1982 I was arrested near the Franklin River, as part of the protest to protect it from being flooded for a dam. The Franklin and the surrounding wild country is now World Heritage, a core element of the Tasmanian Brand and a prime economic driver.

In the four decades since I have worked as a landscape and wildlife photographer to showcase Tasmania’s extraordinary wild places and wildlife.

On Tuesday June 27th I walked into the forest at logging coupe SH050B to protest against its current destruction by logging. This forest is vital habitat for the Critically Endangered Swift Parrot. The logging is a blatant repudiation of scientific understanding and advice

Photo: Critical Swift Parrot habitat, SH050B in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Rob Blakers. 

It is estimated that there are 750 Swift Parrots remaining in the wild. Their population is in steady decline and on the current trajectory they are likely to be extinct in the wild within 10 years.

For the last three summers I have photographed the Swift Parrot in southern Tasmania and in the Eastern Tiers, climbing trees to photograph them in the canopy and at the nest.

Photos (Left to right): Swift Parrots in logging coupe SH050B in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Rob Blakers

I first went to the forest at SH050B in late November 2022, with the Bob Brown Foundation. It was extraordinary. From then until early January there were consistent aggregations of Swift Parrots in numbers not seen anywhere else. This was by far the most important Swift Parrot site in Tasmania in the 2022/2023 summer.

Flocks of up to 30 birds were observed on several occasions, with 12 parrots photographed in a single tree on Christmas Eve. On many mornings and evenings their calls were the dominant sound of the forest. At least one nesting site was confirmed, but there were almost certainly more. Parrots were flocking and feeding in both the canopy and at ground level. This was prime Swift Parrot habitat and an extraordinary natural phenomenon.

Photo: Rare sighting of multiple birds in one tree within logging coupe SH050B in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Rob Blakers.

Dozens of visual and audio records of Swift Parrots from SH050B have been documented in Tasmania’s Natural Values Atlas (NVA), including recorded audio calls of juveniles. Beyond the formal records there were hundreds of sightings of individual birds and flocks.

In recognition of its high quality habitat coupe SH050B is within a Swift Parrot Important Breeding Area (SPIBA). Logging prescriptions in SPIBAs stipulate that areas where there are concentrations of large trees should not be logged. In December I participated in surveys with the Bob Brown Foundation to measure tree densities in the forest – running transects to record tree diameters. The number of large trees per hectare was well above the SPIBA protection threshold.

Photos: Logging coupe SH050B in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Photos by Ramji and Anna Brozek.

In May this year, working with Wild Island, Birdlife Tasmania, the Bob Brown Foundation, The Tree Projects and Outside the Box I produced a book – ‘Lathamus’, that documented Swift Parrots in the 2022/2023 summer breeding season. The primary focus of the book was two locations in the Eastern Tiers – logging coupes SH050B and SH069E. An exhibition of these photographs was held at Wild Island at Salamanca in May.

Two weeks ago logging began in this forest. I spent two full days last week urgently attempting to contact Forestry Tasmania. There was no response to my calls. This echoed the experience in December and January, when successive emails to Forestry Tasmania requesting information regarding logging plans for the Eastern Tiers went unanswered.

Photo: Swift Parrot habitat being bulldozed by Forestry Tasmania in June 2023. Ramji.

In the last week I have returned to this forest to document the damage. The southeast portion of the coupe, which was alive with Swift Parrots through the summer, has been logged. In spite of the protection that should have been afforded by its SPIBA designation, virtually all of the large trees here have been felled. The few older trees that remain are isolated and exposed to windthrow. Trees have been felled as close as 35 metres from the identified nest tree. The inadequacy of the protection is breathtaking – a blatant disregard for the habitat requirements of this Critically Endangered species.

Photos: Logging coupe SH050B in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Photos by Ramji and Anna Brozek.

The logging industry in Tasmania is exempt from the national environment laws that would otherwise protect essential breeding and foraging habitat of the Swift Parrot. Habitat disturbance is the key factor driving Swift Parrots towards extinction. The logging that is happening now at SH050B will render that forest untenable for Swift Parrots.

Swift Parrot expert Dr Matthew Webb has stated that “the continuation of logging of the Swift Parrot’s habitat (feeding and nesting) will lock the species into extinction. Without its habitat, all other threats the species faces become irrelevant.”

Beyond the direct impacts of logging, the main threat to Swift Parrots is predation by the introduced sugar glider. Swift Parrot researcher Dejan Stojanovic noted in 2022 that: “Sugar gliders seem to tolerate or even benefit from logging, and they occupy lots of the remaining habitat in disturbed forests. When the Swift Parrots turn up for their annual breeding season, those little pockets of habitat are full of their main nest predators. It’s like a perfect storm: logging destroys the available breeding habitat for Swift Parrots and pushes them into places where they’re more likely to interact with sugar gliders. As a result, they’re more likely to die. So there’s two threatening processes there which act in synergy… logging has this unexpected impact in terms of predation, in addition to the physical removal of habitat.

Photo: Rob Blakers stands in logging coupe SH050B in Tasmania’s Eastern Tiers. Anna Brozek.

In 2016 and again in 2020 Forestry Tasmania failed to gain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, on the basis of poor threatened species management – in particular the continued logging of Swift Parrot habitat, and for the logging of oldgrowth forests. The current logging at SH050B shows contempt for FSC standards by Forestry Tasmania and can be seen as the final nail in the coffin for Forestry Tasmania’s FSC certification quest.

Mirroring the climate crisis is the biodiversity crisis and the Swift Parrot is at the forefront of that. 40 years ago there would have been several thousand Swift Parrots. A 1989 estimate had their numbers at over 2600, but declining. Their fate now, and the fate of a cascade of other wildlife and ecosystems, depends on the maintenance of old trees and undisturbed native forests.

The logging at SH050B is a big lurch towards extinction for the Swift Parrot.

All Swift Parrot habitat should be immediately protected in secure reserves.

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