I camped out on the Domain at dusk last month to witness the amazing Dark Mofo light show spreading across the city – only to find the birds putting on a winter spectacle of their own.
Birds were definitely not on the agenda after I lingered outside the Aquatic Centre after a keep-fit swim to see the Articulated Intersect art installation from a vantage point high above the city. I was a little early, and with time to kill I watched the sun set behind Mt Wellington, the dark purple mountain set against a pink sky providing a spectacle of a different kind.
And then the birds arrived. I always see the beautiful eastern rosellas on the Domain and sometimes on my frequent visits to the swimming pool I feel guilty for not giving them more attention. On this occasion they could not be avoided.
They came in waves to the ornamental European silver birch trees which line the steps down to the pool from the elevated car park. Chattering merrily, they flew into the birches and immediately started to strip the pods of delicate and flaky seeds hanging from the bare branches. Then another surprise. They were joined by equally strong waves of musk lorikeets, the two species spread through the trees like Christmas decorations.
The scenario was serene and a little magical, befitting the Dark Mofo winter carnival down in the docks.
It took the bare, skeletal branches of deciduous trees to provide the eerie and mystical backdrop to an event that has its roots in the ancient cultures of Europe, when such mid-winter rituals marked the solstice that heralded an end of the days of darkness and the turning point to spring.
A little later in the city, I enjoyed the spectacle of the light show, the feast and log fires and considered it would not be the same without the ghostly plane trees, and elms and oaks framing the Salamanca and Parliament lawns.
But back to the birds. Eastern rosellas are largely confined to the drier areas of Hobart and Sandy Bay but musk lorikeets are more wide-ranging, travelling the suburbs in search of fruit and seeds on introduced trees. The two species are easily told apart. The eastern rosella is one of the most familiar birds of the Australian bush, mixing reds and whites on its head, and having a scalloped green and yellow back. From behind they can resemble giant budgerigars.
The musk lorikeet is considerably smaller, bright green with a red face mask. It is often confused with the swift parrot, which is longer and more streamlined in appearance and does not carry the mask. However, it has red plumage on its forehead and chin, and in the flight feathers.
In winter, any smallish, brightly coloured parrot will be a musk lorikeet because swift parrots migrate to the mainland and do not return until September.
The eastern rosella is closely related to the endemic green rosella, but there can be no confusion between the species simply because the green rosella is largely green and yellow in appearance, and is found in wetter habitat.
The eastern rosella is a bird of dry woodland and there is some concern that it might be decreasing because of conversion of such habitat to farmland, and the ravages drought has taken on gum trees in the drier areas of the state.
The Tasmanian sub-species of eastern rosella is considered the biggest, and brightest in Australia.
I watched the rosellas and lorikeets for a good 20 minutes until there was no trace of the sun and the installation lit up, sending beams of light across the sky.
Down on the docks the Winter Feast was about to start. The parrots had already enjoyed a feast of their own.