Fruitful bird-watching trips in the city

A Common Flameback Woodpecker which the writer saw at Taman Rimba Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.

As a greenhorn in birding, my interest to learn more about the avian species is kept piqued by my good friend Dr Samuel Ong (Sam), a keen, knowledgeable and enthusiastic birder who keeps sending me pictures of birds that he photographs regularly.

On March 30, Sam sent me a picture of a Lineated Barbet in flight. It was beautiful! Sam went on to tell me that the picture, as well as others, were taken at Taman Rimba Kiara (in KL), where the Barbet’s nest in a tree trunk was being monitored by birders, as the female made periodic visits to feed its newly hatched chick.

I was excited, as my reading informed me that there are 122 species of Barbets in the world and that 11 of these are found in Malaysia. This would be the second of the species I would learn about, as about a year ago Sam had helped me identify the Coppersmith Barbet. Several of these birds have made nests near my home.

Barbets excavate holes in trees with their stout beaks to build nests to lay their eggs and hatch their chicks. They feed on fruits, seeds and flowers and bring these to feed their chicks, providing birders with opportunities to photograph them.

Barbet chick peering out from a tree trunk at Taman Rimba Kiara.Barbet chick peering out from a tree trunk at Taman Rimba Kiara.

Some of the chicks die after hatching and the adult birds would carry these out in their beaks, to dispose of the carcass and keep the nest clean – I had an opportunity to photograph and document this.

Following Sam’s directions, on Sunday, April 4, I went to Taman Rimba Kiara. By chance, I met another birder friend, Dr Simon Yap, a cardiothoracic surgeon. Simon kindly pointed out the Barbet’s nest up in a tree trunk.

A few minutes later, the adult bird flew in to feed its chick. It had bright green plumage, a light brown head and a pale straw-coloured stout beak – it was certainly less pretty than its cousin the Coppersmith Barbet.

During this visit, I had little time to spend and so only managed to get a photograph of the rump of the bird as it exited its nest. I was also self-conscious as there were several serious birders about, wearing camouflage, with sophisticated cameras and high-powered lenses. I, on the other hand, was wearing bright clothes (which could potentially frighten birds away) and was armed with a cheap camera.

Subsequently, I made two more visits. During my visit on April 9, I had more time on my hands. I was thus able to observe the adult bird making several visits at intervals of 15 to 30 minutes.

I took photographs of the bird carrying berries in its mouth to feed its chick. Each time, it would fly and sit at the entrance to the nest and then enter the nest head first. I assumed that the nest was narrow, because after a short while it would exit the nest by backing out, tail first, and fly off quickly.

Lineated Barbet with a cherry in its beak. Photos: Dr Kannan PasamanickamLineated Barbet with a cherry in its beak. Photos: Dr Kannan Pasamanickam

During one of its visits, I managed to take a photograph of the bird carrying out a dead chick to dispose of the carcass. As compared to my first visit, the living chick had obviously grown bigger as it kept popping its head out of the nest for a look around, every time the mother bird left after a feeding session.

My third visit was on Sunday, April 11, which proved to be the most fruitful, so far. I managed to take many pictures of the Barbet and its chick. I had brought along a camera with better resolution and managed to take a clear picture of the adult bird flying off after a feeding session. The chick had also grown bigger and stuck more of its head out of the nest to look around.

The birders who were observing mentioned that it was preparing to take its maiden flight out of its nest and that they were all eagerly and patiently waiting to photograph this.

As I was waiting and watching, several people including children who were out for their Sunday morning walk stopped by to ask what I was doing. I had great pleasure and satisfaction in telling them what little I knew about Barbets, pointing out the nest to them and showing them the photographs I had already taken of the adult bird and its chick. They were all thrilled, some of them more so, especially as they got to see the adult bird fly in to feed, as we were talking.

There was another bonus waiting for me this particular Sunday – just as I was packing up to leave, a beautiful woodpecker flew in to the trees nearby. It had brilliant yellow plumage, flew from one tree to another, sat on the tree trunk and pecked away.

The two other birders who were about and I ran from one spot to another and took several pictures of the bird, which Sam later identified as the Common Flameback Woodpecker. This was the first woodpecker I had seen in the wild. My reading tells me that there are 220 species of woodpeckers in the world and 26 of these exist in Malaysia. The one I had seen was one of the most common – it was a female as identified by the markings on its head.

It was certainly one of my most fruitful and joyful Sundays!

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