I first learned of the Red-Whiskered Bulbul while searching for cool-looking birds on YouTube. My task at the time was to create GIF sets of pretty birds to share on the because birds Tumblr. I came across this Bulbul and was enticed by its striking plumage and cute red cheeks.
My original GIF set was published, then one of my followers cleverly captioned the GIFs and allowed me to repost them. The “where are my fucks?” bird got an overwhelming response from Tumblr. I was talking about these GIFs to one of my birding friends and he informed me that these birds can actually be seen right here in LA! He said they are an invasive species but can be found living in large numbers at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
I did a bit of my own research and verified this story by checking eBird reports for the area. Sure enough, the bulbul is regularly seen there. After a few weeks of anticipation, the planned day had finally arrived and we made our way to the gardens. Upon arriving, we learned—much to our dismay—that there is an admission fee of $23! Luckily, being students meant that we got in for a discounted rate of $13. Yay, lack of research about the garden itself!
There is a lot to see at the gardens: hundreds of roses, bonsai trees, themed gardens, and a giant greenhouse. I hadn’t even made it out of the parking lot before screaming, “THERE IT IS! A BULBUL!”, focusing my binoculars at the top of a distant, tall tree, I realized it was an Acorn Woodpecker (how dare it be the same colors as the bulbul).
We stopped by the greenhouse first and saw many amazing plants inside. There are several huge rooms, each with their own climate and tropical vegetation. Plants with 15-foot leaves were inside, along with a host of carnivorous plants and many fantastical organisms that my non-plant enthusiast self cannot begin to fully appreciate. The humidity got to us, so we gladly rushed back outside into the dry heat.
We continued along and found ourselves at the Japanese Gardens. Our pace was slow and my neck tired from the constant upward and sweeping gaze as I kept an eye out for the day’s prize: the Red-Whiskered Bulbul.
The gardens are breathtaking; there is water, lily pads, and koi everywhere. Ornate Japanese pavilions were interconnected by bridges giving you limitless angles to take everything in.
Not long after being there, something caught my eye: movement in the trees. My eyes darted up and I grabbed my binoculars to confirm my excited suspicions. There they were, my special birds, the Red-Whiskered Bulbuls. I grabbed my camera and snapped photos like crazy. The birds were a bit further away than I would have liked but I was still very happy.
When the birds could no longer be seen, we stopped at a cart ran by volunteer high school students, letting visitors participate in origami, tea smelling, and calligraphy. Tom, Brian and I wandered around to other parts of the gardens to see the cacti, trees, and bonsai. While walking along the perimeter of the property, I heard a bunch of birds singing. I stopped and observed for a few minutes until I pinpointed the source. Ah hah! We encountered another group of Bulbuls, this time much closer and with better lighting.
Tom and I took turns snapping photos with my camera, and he (bittersweetly) got the best photo of the day.