(503) Rhodophila ferrea haringtoni Hartert.
THE EASTERN DARK GREY BUSH-CHAT.
Oreicola ferrea haringtoni, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 38.
Rhodophila ferrea haringtoni, ibid. vol. viii, p. 620.
This form of Bush-Chat takes the place of the last bird in the Chin Hills and all Northern Burma to Yunnan and the Western Chinese Hills, breeding in large numbers from 4,000 to 7,000 feet and probably a great deal higher.
The Eastern Dark Grey Bush-Chat breeds both in comparatively open land and in scrub and bush-jungle. In the Bhamo Hills it selects sites on bracken and grass-covered hill-sides, with patches of forest, bamboo-jungle and cultivation dotted here and there over its whole extent. I have no record of it ever having been found breeding in tree-forest but Wickham says (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxxiii, p. 817, 1929) : “It certainly does not confine itself to open grass-lands like the subspecies ferrea is stated to do. In habits it appears very different to O. jerdoni, which enjoys open country. O. f. haringtoni likes the jungle, although its nesting-site is generally an open bank.”
Its eggs were taken by Styan and others in China as long ago as 1897. La Touche (‘Handbook Birds of E. China,’ p. 155, 1930) sums up its breeding in China as follows:—“The Grey Bush-Chat is one of the commonest birds in the hilly districts of South China. It breeds very abundantly at Kuatun in N.W. Fokhien, where I took many nests. These were all placed in holes in the ground, or in stone walls or earth-banks, generally near bamboo-plantations or woods. Breeding takes place in April and May. The nest, like many ‘hole nests,’ is made in two parts, one being a very neat cup of grass and fine roots, the sides being higher than the front and back, lined with fine grass-stems, coir and pigs’ bristles, and the other a rough mass or irregularly shaped cup, containing the inner part and filling up the cavity. Unlike the eggs of the Indian bird, those of the Chinese bird are generally a plain turquoise or ‘Hedge-Sparrow’ blue but some clutches are faintly speckled with pale red.”
The first person to take the nest and eggs within our limits was K. Macdonald, and Harington, quoting his notes, records “several nests in April on Mt. Victoria. Of fifteen eggs taken not one was spotted or marked in any way.” Then Harington records his own taking of the nests in the Bhamo Hills (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xix, p. 299, 1909):—“I found two nests with eggs in April at Sinlum. One found about 6 p.m. on the 18th April had four fresh eggs, the nest being placed on the top of a road- cutting about 7 feet from the ground.”
Mackenzie and Hopwood found this bird to be very common in the Chin Hills and took many nests at Heinsin, about 5,000 fect, Haka, about 5,000 feet, Haingyan, 6,000 feet, Mt. Victoria, 5000 to 7,000 feet, and other places in the district between 3,000 and 6,000 feet. From Mackenzie’s notes I gather the following details :—“The birds are not confined to the open hill-sides, though they possibly frequent these more than other places. Even to these, however, the word open can only apply in a modified sense, for though here and there on these hill-sides there may be patches of short grass, especially after the early spring jungle-fires, the greater part of them is covered with bracken, long grass, raspberry and blackberry vines and bushes, interspersed with stretches of forest or bamboo jungle. We found a very favourite site to be a bank or road-side cutting running round the contour of one of these hills, and many of our nests were found by flushing the hen bird off the nest as we walked along these rough jungle tracks. In some cases the nests were placed on the ground or in shallow holes among the roots of thick grass or under bushes ; some were built in actual holes in the bank or under a stone or fallen tree, but they were always well screened from view. Another favourite site was wedged in among the roots of some fair-sized tree growing on a bank.
“On the other hand we found a few nests placed in banks in light forest in mixed scrub and bamboo jungle.
“The nests were rather massive affairs, cup-shaped, of course, internally but, externally, just fitting into the depression, hole or hollow in which they were built. Outwardly they were composed almost entirely of grass and moss well interwoven, forming a deep cup with thick walls and bottoms. Mixed with the moss and grass there might be a varying proportion of scraps of bracken, roots, fibrous material of various kinds and other jungle oddments. As a rule the nests were lined with fine grass, often of a yellow tint, mixed more or less with bark-fibres etc. and often with a considerable amount of hair. In one nest the lining was, in fact, almost entirely of goat's hair. We took eggs throughout April and May, but undoubtedly the great majority were laid, during the former month. The full complement of eggs laid was five, but we also took four fairly often and sometimes only three.”
Sometimes this Chat breeds actually in the plains, as a nest with four eggs was taken by Mr. J. J. Rorie for Hopwood in the plains of the Ruby Mines district. Cook also took nests at very low levels below Kalaw in the Shan States.
Unlike our Indian birds, this race seems to be a very regular breeder, commencing to lay in the last few days in March and continuing to lay up to the end of May, while I have no records for June. This would seem to imply that they do not have two broods in the year.
Curiously enough, the eggs of this race, though the two races from India and Burma are so very closely alike, are very different from those of their Western cousin. The ground-colour is the same grey-blue-green as that to be seen in the best and brightest coloured eggs of R. f. ferrea but, whilst the eggs of that bird are freckled with reddish, those of this bird are normally either im¬maculate or so nearly so as to give the impression of being spotless. A few eggs may be faintly freckled with pale red and I have one clutch of Mackenzie’s which is well marked with pale reddish caps, composed of innumerable reddish freckles. I have seen no eggs with either a clay-coloured or buflish ground and, as a series, they are exceptionally constant.
In shape and texture they do not differ from the eggs of the preceding bird, though they average rather larger.
Fifty eggs average 18.4 x 14.4 mm. : maxima 19.8 x 14.5 and 19.1 x 15.0 mm. ; minima 16.5 x 14.0 mm.
The hen bird alone incubates, neither Mackenzie nor Hopwood having ever flushed the cock off the nest.
503. Rhodophila ferrea haringtoni
(503) Rhodophila ferrea haringtoni Hartert.