The office for Dejan Stojanovic is perched about 20 metres up a blue gum. It’s not an office at all really, more a clamp attached to a strong rope. All the same, it’s where he goes about his daily, nine-to-five business.
Sometimes, he can even be heard on his mobile phone up there in the canopy. Discussing this and that, the everyday detail of a unique occupation, that of saving the swift parrot from extinction.
Dr Stojanovic, and researchers like him, are the unsung heroes of the conservation movement. A day spent in the bush with them reveals the term “hero” and “heroine” is not misplaced in this context, merely a journalist’s cliché to give a story added bite.
I’m standing at the base of a towering gum, watching Dr Stojanovic at work, and I am in awe.
It’s peak swift parrot breeding time and I have met Dr Stojanovic on the Bruny Island ferry leaving Kettering, as part of his daily commute to spend a day with has beloved parrots.
We drive to a secluded woodland in north Bruny to inspect a cluster of next boxes Dr Stojanovic and his assistant, Fernanda Alves, have erected among blue gums which have just come into flower.
A quick scan from the ground reveals boxes in use by swift parrots and, worse, those stolen by starlings. Then the really hard graft begins. Before I know it Dr Stojanovic attaches a rope by way of a sling shot to the highest part of the tree, and then scales it to gain access to the nest.
“Six chicks”, he’s shouting down to the ground, “that’s an amazing number”.
Soon he is abseiling down the rope, with the chicks in a bag and these are then weighed, measured and relieved of a blood sample for DNA testing. The DNA samples will later be used to determine if there is inbreeding among the parrot population and whether the chicks are fathered by the same male, although the “promiscuity” found among females of some other avian species has not been found.
All the while the anxious parents have been fluttering around, and calling out, and once the chicks are returned the parents enter the nest to check on them. No harm done.
As Dr Stojanovic checks more nests for swift parrot young, his assistant scales other trees where starlings are in residence. Their nests are destroyed
Some of the initial 300 nest boxes erected on Bruny as part of a crowd-funding program are the first ever to be used by swift parrots and it raises hopes that one of the reasons for parrot decline – a shortage of nesting hollows – might be overcome.
Another major achievement in parrot conservation has seen not only the parrots using nest boxes for the first time but the creation of artificial nest sites.
Late last year a group of volunteer arborists from the Victoria Tree Industry Organisation visited Bruny bringing their chainsaws with them, to climb trees and carve out hollows. There is some irony in the fact that chainsaws, the traditional enemy of the parrot, are now helping to aid their survival
Another threat to the swift parrot population is predation by sugar gliders. In recent years it has been revealed that sugar gliders – introduced to Tasmania from the mainland in Victorian times – kill and eat up to 80 per cent of chicks where parrot and glider territories overlap. Thankfully, sugar gliders are absent from Bruny Island.
The swift parrot program is complicated by the fact swift parrots do not return to the same areas each year to breed. Breeding is determined by the sporadic flowering of blue gums. So all the conservation work on Bruny might not ultimately save the parrot, listed as critically endangered with numbers falling to below 1000 pairs.
As Dr Stojanovic admits, the nest box program is merely “a Band-Aid solution to buy the parrot time”.