April 27, 2018

Swift parrots lose a favourite tree

While swift parrots have been darting through the great ironbark forests in their wintering grounds in Victoria and southern New South Wales this autumn one of their favourite trees in Tasmania has fallen victim to the chain saw.

Letter writers to the Mercury have lamented the loss of a giant blue gum in the grounds of the Anglesea Barracks in Hobart.

Although there appears to be nothing untoward or underhand in the destruction of this towering tree – it had succumbed to old age and was considered dangerous to passers-by at its location at the junction of Molle and Davey Streets –  it certainly has left a gaping hole in the sylvan fabric of the city.

The Anglesea Barracks is noted for several blue gums which were growing when the military base was first established in the early 1800s but as far as I can establish the tree in question was not on Hobart’s significant tree register, like some of the others.

Nonetheless, it was a fine specimen of Eucalyptus globulus and in spring I always made a point of visiting it when it was in flower, in the hope of seeing swift parrots feeding in its white blooms.

It had not always been a happy hunting ground for this critically-endangered species, however.  One year I found a dead swift parrot on Molle St, the bird presumably falling victim to traffic when it was in swift but low flight.

Swift parrots tend to congregate in our cities and suburbs in spring – when not just eucalypts but introduced exotic trees are in flower – before heading out to the remaining blue gum forests along the east and south-east coast. At this time swift parrots are especially vulnerable to hitting cars or windows in suburban areas.

I’ve never forgotten an account of swift parrot carnage, when a bird researcher told me of at least 10 swift parrots being killed by a truck as they darted across Rosny Hill Rd on the eastern shore, travelling from the golf course bordering the highway to blue gums on Rosny Hill.

The swift parrots’ very existence is tied to the glue gum which provides both food and nesting sites but the saga of the blue gum on Davey St has also revealed that the people of Hobart love their blue gums as much as the swift parrots do.  The felling of the tree has attracted many posts on Twitter, one from biologist and author Tim Low who mentioned this particular tree in his best-selling book, Where Song Began.

My primary interest might be in birds but comments in both the Mercury and Twitter about the lost tree in have struck a chord as powerfully as the parrot’s twittering song in spring.

As one reader wrote, describing the felling of another tree near her home in the vicinity of the barracks: “I remember the absence of the sound of the leaves– this I realised was the most upsetting part. Living a few houses away I could hear the space it left in the air – an uncomfortable silence.

“A city without large trees is a strange place to live in.”

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