Return to innocence: Bulbuls of South India

When I was a kid, people kept asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never had the fortitude to tell them that I just wanted to be an adult. Because I was excited about growing up. I thought that adults had it all figured out. The bread and butter, and the bells and whistles, of leading a healthy, wealthy, and happy life.

Into my 20s, I noticed that grown-ups had no clue about it. Except they had a set of archaic instructions to follow. It made their aspirations seem machinated and mundane. In the race for normality, they collected participation certificates in recognition of compliance to speed limits.

I wish they had set higher standards. Left us with information that mattered. For instance, if I had known there were about nine types of bulbuls in South India (22 across the country), I might not have taken this long to spot six of them.

Red-Whiskered / Red Vented Bulbul, Valparai

I first saw the Red-Whiskered Bulbul outside a lodge in Megamalai. It is a commoner in the greener parts of the city I live in. But I hadn’t known its name then. Or had the chance to cherish its cherubic face. Clad in an orange vest, the bulbul sported whiskers in colors of red, black, and white. With a crest that could pass for a Mohawk, it gargled sweet melodies.

We shared a minute of silence, as one of us breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.

I spotted the Red-Vented Bulbuls at the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary. I remember that they looked more fashionable than beautiful. They were dressed to dance. From their crimson trousers and double-shaded sweaters to their sexy Ushanka hat-like hairdos.

I was in the company of a mover and shaker in the fashion world for birds. Embarrassed, I tugged at the sleeve of my dull green T-shirt, and ran my fingers along the lining of my dirty jeans. Also, I was reminded that I had arms instead of wings.

Square-Tailed Bulbuls weren’t something I was prepared for. They just showed up during a visit to Munnar. They resembled Hill Mynahs that were decked up, in formal wear, for a funeral procession. Their head-gears rocked with the wind before remaining still – with the tenacity of a dream-catcher.

And their beaks must have been dipped in the squishy orange-pulp sections of a sunset. I had neither the courage nor the patience to think of a different explanation for its color.

A pair of Yellow-Browed Bulbuls borrowed a piece of me in Kodaikanal. They are yet to return it. Those gorgeous thieving bastards. There was poetry in the way nature hid them from my eyes. I had mistaken them for yellowing pears and well-aged leaves.

While I have little proof to offer, I believe they can make the morning sun blush, and then, bleed.

In Valparai, I found the Flame-Throated Bulbul. It had tamarind seeds for eyes and a thick slice of lemon in place of a plumage. To make matters a little more spectacular, it had a ruby for a chin. I was unable to photograph it the first time we had met. The bulbul was too quick. Too pretty for me to stay focused.

Two days later, it decided to show up and pose like only a Flame-Throated Bulbul could.

The White-Browed Bulbul was the most recent sighting for me. I saw one, about a year and a half ago, in Kumily. I noticed that evolution had been kind to its summer clothes. I fell head over talons with the bulbul’s olive gray breast and white-rimmed spectacles.

There was love lurking in those irises.

The Grey-Headed Bulbul, the Black-Crested Bulbul, and the Yellow-Throated Bulbul continue to elude me.

I hope to see them soon. And if I don’t, I will be put in the awkward position of doing something unbecoming of an adult.

You better show up, bulbuls. Or else I am going to tell my mommy.

Black-Hooded Oriole and Red-Whiskered Bulbul

The world
isn’t meant
to be wonderful.
It’s just
to be.

(Photographs – Kodaikanal, Megamalai, Munnar, Kumily, Valparai)

45 thoughts on “Return to innocence: Bulbuls of South India

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  1. I love how you say it’s easy to admire birds with bright colours, I’m with you on that. My preference is with the duller things, and sprinkling them with gold for people to recognise. Not to say the utter brilliance and beauty of the others is un-recognised. You know, you know ? ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha! Love the introduction and how you describe the birds. 🙂
    You know, whenever I see birds which I haven’t seen before – or rather, notice ones that I haven’t noticed before, I always take interest, wonder what kind they may be (though, not surprisingly, I never seem to know), and think of you. You’re just that kind of a unique blogger who can use words to enchant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sheth. Such a lovely thing to spill in my ears. If you get the chance, do take a photo or jot down mental notes. We can identify their names, and you can cherish their songs too!

      Thank you again for the kind words (smile).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have wanted to take photographs on numerous occasions but I only have a wide angle lens and most of the time, I notice the birds while riding on highways or when I’m in the car. But, I’ll keep that in mind for next time. 🙂 Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When my daughter was <5 and was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always said “a big girl”.
    Into my 40s, I notice that grown-ups have no clue, being one myself.
    Bulbuls are not blue? Hmm. In our school scout and guide club, the underage guides were called “bulbuls’ and wore a blue uniform. So, I had believed that bulbuls were blue birds. Education !


  4. When my daughter was about 5 and was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always said “a big girl”.
    Into my 40s, I notice that grown-ups have no clue, being one myself.
    Bulbuls are not blue? Hmm. In our school scout and guide club, the underage guides were called “bulbuls’ and wore a blue uniform. So, I had believed that bulbuls were blue birds. Education !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your daughter got it right! Being a big child is the best way to go, seems like it.

      I wrote this also because of how clueless I am sometimes, in my mid 30s.

      40s ah! Ok you’ve lost your right to call me a kiddo. Natamai theeyirpe maathi and all that!



  5. Gosh! I was just hoping that you post something today. Thanks! made my day.
    If life is not wonderful, then what is?
    You are surrounded by life’s splendor, what can be more beautiful than documenting nature the way you do.

    I follow Walt Disney on growing up:
    Growing old is mandatory,
    growing up is optional!

    Three thumbs up for your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Vivaran. Not to sound cheesy but I’ve come to eagerly expect your comments too. It’s nice to know that others can relate, makes the environment seem less alien.

      Growing up once sounded like fun. I think the economics of living takes all the good stuff away.

      Thank you again! (Smile)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful shots here! I love bird and flower photography, two of God’s most wonderful creations! Than you for stopping by my new site yesterday, I hope you enjoyed it!


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Whether it be birds, humans or mind you have a way with words and you totally take me off….. enjoyed both prose and verse here and those photographs – perfectly popping in the space left for readers to imagine and just ‘be’!
    “they collected participation certificates in recognition of compliance to speed limits” … the way you think and coin words – ‘m rather wordstruck!

    Liked by 1 person

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