The lockdown that is imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic changed my daily life completely, and it was frustrating to think that the last weeks of my time in Sri Lanka – we will move to Europe in the summer – was spent at home rather than with my friends or exploring parts of the country I haven’t been to. Luckily, we could at least walk around along the small streets in our neighborhood, which was a huge relief to being inside most of the time.
During one of my morning walks, I was happy to see two Crimson-fronted Barbets in a tree top. Although they call regularly, seeing this species is really hard as they are always well hidden in the canopy of tall trees. Moreover, their diminutive size and stunning colors make them one of the country’s most attractive birds in my opinion. On closer inspection I found that both had fruit in their bills, suggesting they had a nest nearby. Surprisingly, they flew to a breeding cavity about three metres off the ground in a tree that was right next to a road. I was delighted to see a hungry chick poking out of the cavity, eager to obtain its meal as one of the parents alighted on the branch.
I returned the following two mornings to watch and photograph the pair feeding their chick. I haven’t seen many photos of this species at the nest so it was a very lucky opportunity for me, especially given in a time when one last expects to see special birds.
The adults came to the tree in approximately 20 minute intervals, but I could not distinguish between male and female so I do not know if they always took turns feeding the chick. While waiting for the parents to return, I could hear them call frequently in the large trees in the neighborhood, and they often perched on a tree close to the one with the cavity and called for a short while after feeding. Feeding the chick lasted only about a second, so it was very hard to photograph them with my manual focus lens.
The first day when I saw the chick, I noticed that it was already pretty old and the following morning, it poked its head far out of the cavity for long periods and scanned its surroundings inquisitively. I expected it to leave the nest soon, and while waiting for the parents to return to the nest on the third morning, the chick suddenly jumped out of the cavity and flew to a nearby branch. Although it struggled to land on branches, I was surprised at how well it could fly and despite not having the adult plumage coloration, it appeared to be nearly fully grown.
While watching the barbets, I also recorded all possible kingfishers (Stork-billed, White-throated, Common and Pied Kingfishers), Oriental Darter, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Shikra, Red-backed Flameback and Ashy and Plain Prinias, while Brown-headed Barbets were also breeding close to their Crimson-fronted cousins. I saw the pair of latter regularly the following days, but the juvenile was nowhere to be seen. Given that it was pretty much fully-grown, I can imagine that this species’s young are not accompanied by their parents after leaving the nest. This find was a highlight during the lockdown period, especially since I did not expect to find anything out of the ordinary in my neighborhood, but it just shows that if you look closely enough, you can find special birds anywhere.