(498) Saxicola leucura* (Blyth).
THE WHITE-TAILED BUSH-CHAT.
Saxicola torquata leucura, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 31.
I can find nothing on record about the breeding haunts of this Chat except T. R. Bell’s interesting notes, quoted by Ticehurst in his articles on the “Birds of Sind” (Ibis, 1922, p. 629), and one note by Harington (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xviii, p. 686, 1908), but it undoubtedly breeds along the whole of the foot-hills of the Himalayas from North Assam to the Garhwal and Kuman Terai, whilst it was also found by A. J. Currie breeding in the grass¬lands near swamps near Mooltan. In the extreme West it is very common, though very local, in Sind, but its breeding depends greatly on the rainfall and the growth of vegetation. Whistler also shot male specimens of this species at Ferozepur on the 6th and 17th April on the banks of the River Sutlej, where they were probably breeding. In Assam Stevens found it breeding and took a certain number of nests in the vast tracts of thatching-grass which run for many miles on end at the foot of the hills, broken here and there by swamps and by the various mountain-streams. Here they built in the sun-grass, anything from three to five feet high, rather than in the longer elephant-grass and reeds which grow actually in the swamps. About Garhwal and Kuman Whymper writes:— “I never saw them in our parts except in the Terais and Bhabers, so that 1,500 or, at the outside, 2,000 feet is their limit, though doubtless, if there were swampy ground and heavy grass, I can imagine them following it up hill considerably higher. Their nests axe very well concealed, and a favourite site is a tangled mass of grass brought down by floods and stranded ; and I have seen a nest fully two feet inside one of these masses. The only way I could find nests was to go about until a female joined a male and then watch the former back on to her nest, a very difficult job in the long grass they frequented, and only really to be carried out with any success from the back of elephants. I have found but one nest which was not very well concealed, and that was in among the roots of thatching-grass on a sloping bank. I never saw these nests far from water, though this might be the stagnant water of a swamp or the bright and sparkling torrent of a hill-stream. The nests are, so far as I can see, indistinguishable from those of P. maura but, though the hens may look alike, the cock-birds are very easily distinguishable.”
* I have already shown (antea, p. 19) that this Chat cannot be retained as a subspecies of torquata.
Ticehurst writes :—“Mr. Bell says that at the end of April 1904 he had seen several pairs in the Keti Shah Forest near Sukkur, and on revisiting the place at the end of March 1906 he again found many pairs. They affect the inundated land only, that is to say, open ground in the immediate vicinity of backwaters of the Indus on which later vetches are grown and on which tussocks of grass and low tamarisks flourish. In such a place on the 28th March he saw a pair and marked the female to the nest, which was situated under a little heap of dead tamarisk leaves, left after clearing the field for sowing. The nest was placed in a depression and made of dead tamarisk leaves lined with a few dead grasses and three or four Black Partridge feathers, and measured 4.1/4 in external, 2.1/4 in internal diameter and 1.3/4 inches deep.” Other similar nests were found with three or fewer young or eggs, and in 1905, on the 14th March, he found another with three fresh eggs in a field of vetches.
Stevens took a series of nests of a Chat which he at first believed to be those of this bird, but further experience showed him that those he took in the higher mountains of Sikkim and Nepal were all the Common Indian Bush-Chat, and of the others he writes:— “In the light of subsequent information there can be little doubt the majority of the birds remain in the plains throughout the whole year and they breed at the plains level much earlier than was suspected before their breeding grounds are submerged with the rise in the rivers and before the S.W. Monsoon has exerted its full force. A series from Dansiri Mukh on the Brahmapootra obtained on 14.2.11 are undoubtedly breeding birds, and my remarks anent the advanced condition of the sexual organs bears out this deduction ; while specimens obtained at Hessamara on the Subansiri, where I obtained Chat’s eggs, were in April in well-worn breeding plumage.”
Nests and eggs of a Chat taken in April and May 1909 were sent to me by Stevens, some marked Saxicola leucura and others marked Saxicola torquata subsp. These are all undoubtedly leucura.
Stevens, in conversation, recently told me that the nests of these birds were typical Bush-Chats’ nests and were built on the ground hidden right under the dense mat of broken grass all round the roots and were most difficult to find unless the birds got up at one’s feet. The nests found, he had come to the conclusion, must have been second nests, as the birds were obviously breeding in February and March.
In the Kuman Terai Whymper found nests from the 17th March to the 10th May, while Harington obtained a nest with three hard-set eggs at Pakokku on the 20th February in the plains. This, he says, was placed in a mass of debris on a sandbank in the lower Chindwin River.
In all well-identified nests three were found to form the full com¬plement of eggs laid, whilst in one nest taken by Whymper there were only two.
In appearance the eggs are like those of the Common Bush-Chat but are rather redder eggs on an average, the markings being a little more definite. One clutch of three taken by Whymper is a very pale blue, dusted all over with light red, whilst another clutch is pale blue unmarked with any red at all. The eggs taken by Harington were similar to these last.
Twenty-four eggs average 18.0 x 14.0 mm. : maxima 19.1 x 14.1 and 16.8 x 14.6 mm. ; minima 16.4 x 14.4 and 17.5 x 13.6 mm.
498. Saxicola Iftucuia
(498) Saxicola leucura* (Blyth).