(800) Acrocephalus agricola hokrae Whistler.
THE KASHMIR PADDY-FIELD WARBLER.
Acrocephalus agricola, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 394 (part.).
This little Warbler apparently breeds only in the lakes of Kashmir, where it is exceedingly common.
Brooks first recorded the breeding of this Reed-Warbler in Kashmir, but it is doubtful to what race or species the note applies. The des¬cription apphes well to haringtoni or concinens but not to hokroe. I have, however, two other records of a Reed-Warbler nesting in rose-bushes in Kashmir, and it is quite possible that there are two species or subspecies breeding in that country. Brooks’s description is as follows :—“Near Shupyion (Cashmere) I found a finished nest of the truly aquatic Warbler in a rose-bush which was inter¬grown with rank nettles. This was in the roadside, where there was a shallow stream of beautifully clear water. On either side of the road were vast tracts of paddy swamp, in which the natives were busily engaged in planting the young rice-plants. The nest strongly resembled that of Curruca garrula. The male, with his throat puffed out, was singing on the bush a loud, vigorous, pretty song like a Lesser Whitethroat’s, but more varied. I shot the strange songster, on which the female flew from the nest.” Hume describes the nest which Brooks sent to him as “a deep, almost purse-like cup, very loosely and carelessly put together, of moderately fine grass, in amongst which a quantity of wool has been inter¬mingled.”
Since Hume’s time many collectors have taken numerous nests of this Warbler but, with the exceptions noted, all have been quite typical Reed-Warblers’ nests built in reeds in swamps. The little birds do not seem to mind whether the swamp is large or small and nests may be taken in practically any of the lakes near Srinagar, from the smallest to the largest, whilst occasionally they may be found in reed-beds in overgrown irrigation ditches and meadows.
Rattray writes as follows concerning several nests taken by him about Sambal:—
"These five nests, with others, were taken on the lakes between Sambal and Gandarbal. They are beautifully made deep cradles of fine grasses woven round two or more stems of a weed or rush, about 18" above the ground or water, lined with finer grasses. Sometimes the nests are attached to two reed-stems only, but more often four, five or six stems or reeds are brought into use, the materials being wound well round the supports and then incorporated in the nest again. The weeds to which the nests are attached grow on the large floating islands of decayed vegetation. These islands form very dangerous walking places, as they are not strong, and. often break up after a storm. The nests are seldom in thick growth of weeds, but on the outskirts, and they are never built in colonies. The birds are very noisy when one approaches the nest.”
In another letter Rattray adds : “Nearly every nest had some moss and wool interwoven with the grass or rush-leaves which formed the principal material.”
This mixing of moss and wool with the grass seems very general, as Osmaston notes that in almost every nest taken by him in Kashmir some moss was found and, just as invariably, some vegetable or animal wool and down was employed to assist in “compacting” the nest. Many nests were found by Osmaston in long rank grass, often very low down, a few inches off the ground only.
Nests taken by Davidson in some instances varied a little from the above descriptions. He writes (Ibis, 1898, p. 15) : —“On the 22nd June they were evidently only beginning to build, as fully half the nests we found did not contain eggs. We, however, in three or four hours’ wading, obtained seven nests with eggs ; these were solid cups, built in various water-plants (in one case equisetum), and from one to three feet above the surface of the water ; they were composed of rough grass, with outwardly some reed fibre and catkins intermixed, and invariably lined with fine grass, and in two cases with one or two feathers.”
Another of my correspondents remarks :—“I do not think these nests are hard to find, as the small Reed-Warbler, whichever it may be, seems to have a fondness for the tufts of reeds with many broad leaves, quite different to the mass of reeds growing all round. If one of the birds was seen about I found several nests by wading straight up to the clump of these broad-leafed reeds nearest to which, he was singing, and there, sure enough, would be the nest.”
The cock bird does not incubate, but keeps a sharp look-out for intruders, alternately singing his not very melodious little song from the highest reeds near his nest and then dropping to feed among their lower halves.
Their breeding season is June and, probably, nine out of every ten nests found with eggs will be in the latter half of that month. I have, however, had eggs sent me taken on the 28th May, whilst Osmaston, in 1924, took nests in August, the latest on the 16th of that month, in Sumbal.
The eggs number three or four and are typical of the Reed-Warbler group. The ground-colour varies from an almost pure white, which is rare, to a very pale green ; the primary markings consist of blotches mixed with smaller spots and specks of light to very dark, almost blackish-brown ; the secondary, or underlying, marks are of inky grey, sometimes rather numerous, sometimes almost obsolete. Both kinds of markings are most numerous at the larger end, where occasionally they form ill-defined rings or caps. No eggs are sufficiently marked to obscure the ground-colour. One clutch of four eggs taken by Rattray are almost pure white, a few faint grey marks showing on one egg.
In shape the eggs are short, broad ovals, the texture much finer than in the eggs of the stentoreus group, but still without any gloss.
Sixty eggs average 16.9 x 13.0 mm. : maxima 39.0 x 12.7 and 17.0 x 14.1 mm. ; minima 14.4 x 12.2 and 17.0 x 12.1 mm.
Both birds assist in the construction of the nest, the male building as well as bringing materials to the nest.
800. Acroeephalus agricola hokrae
(800) Acrocephalus agricola hokrae Whistler.