(795) Acrocephalus stentoreus brunnescens (Jerdon).
THE INDIAN GREAT REED-WARBLER.
Acrocephalus stentoreus brunnescens, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 389.
This subspecies of the Great Reed-Warbler has a breeding range extending from Transcaspia, through Persia, to Kashmir, Garhwal and Sind.
I have seen no breeding birds from Sind but Ticehurst is quite definite that the birds which remain in Sind and the Mekran coast in Summer are of this race, though I had expected that they would prove to be amyoe.
The Ceylon breeding form, of which, thanks to Mr. W. E. Wait, I have been able to examine a series, seems to me intermediate between the two Indian forms—nearly as dark as amyoe but browner, and much darker than brunnescens.
This bird is extremely common in Kashmir, where very many collectors have obtained its nest. In Hume’s time both Brooks and Cock took many nests and, since then, Ward, Rattray, Davidson and all our recent workers in that beautiful Stats have taken others, and all agree in their descriptions of nests, sites and eggs, which I summarize as follows :—
In Kashmir this Reed-Warbler breeds between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, both on the larger lakes and, though less regularly, on the small ones, on which latter nests were taken by Whymper, Betham and others. Nearly every lake in Kashmir has a fringe of tall reeds about 6 to 8 feet high. In some places the reeds spread out to a great depth, in others they form just a narrow fringe 2 or 3 yards deep. Yearly they are cut down in parts, while elsewhere they merely rot away, to be succeeded by a fresh growth in the Spring. Building operations Of the Reed-Warblers commence when the reeds have attained a height of some 4 feet or so above the water, the birds generally selecting sites in the interior of the larger patches, though odd nests have been found in very narrow strips and small beds of reeds. The nests may be anything from 12 inches to 4 feet above the water, but they are more often under than over 2 feet, and are attached to three, four, or more stems of reeds. Ward sent me one beautiful nest attached to two stout reeds but photographs taken by Bates and Rattray show that in some cases half a dozen, or even more, reeds are made use of as supports. As a rule reeds are chosen as supports which are growing in water of some depth, a couple of feet or so, but occasionally in mud and slush hardly over one’s ankles. In some of the lakes, such as the Dal and others between Gandarbal and Srinaggar, the birds are extraordinarily numerous and Davidson says that in the Dal Lake on the evening of the 27th June and the mornings of the 22nd and 24th he found “at least 50 nests.” Ward, also, in one of his early letters to me, writes:—“One can get almost any number of these nests, the loud song of the male, if it can be called such, leading one to within a few yards of the nest, when it can easily be found, and in hunting for one others are generally come across. I have seen over a dozen in a morning in quite a small area. They have fancies for certain patches—I cannot say why—and half a dozen or more nests may be found in one reed-bed, whilst similar beds in similar depth of water are quite deserted.”
The nest is made of shreds of leaves of the reeds and some¬times of strips of the reed-bark, the material being well wound round the supporting reeds, the lining being merely soft shreds of the same material as that from which the nest is built.
In shape it is usually a deep cup, with an external diameter across the top of about 3.1/4 to 3.3/4 inches, while the depth may be anything outwardly from 4 to 6 inches, with an egg-cavity of 3 inches or less in width by 3 to 4.1/2 inches in depth. A deep nest is certainly required, or the high winds which so often sway the reeds about would soon roll the eggs out of it.
The birds breed from the last week in May to the end of June, though a few birds lay as early as the middle of May or as late as the first week of July.
The normal full clutch of eggs is four, but five and three are both sometimes found, and Davidson once saw six young in a nest.
The eggs are like small dull specimens of the common Great Reed-Warbler. The ground-colour varies from a very pale sea green to the same rather darker and brighter, or from a greyish- white to a distinctly pale brown. The markings are generally numerous over the whole egg and consist of specks and spots of blackish-brown, sometimes becoming small blotches, with secondary markings, similar in number and character, of lavender-grey. As a rule the smaller the primary markings the darker their colour. A few of the eggs with the brownish ground-colour are heavily blotched with dark brown all over, these brown eggs contrasting strongly with the brightest, least spotted, greenish eggs.
In shape the eggs are most often rather long, and sometimes pointed, ovals, but truly ovate eggs are not uncommon. The texture is coarse for the size of the egg and the surface nearly always, glossless.
Sixty eggs average 22.7 x 15.9 mm. : maxima 24.3 x 16.1 and 22.4 x 16.7 mm. ; minima 21.5 x 15.3 and 23.2 x 15.0 mm.
Before dismissing this bird’s nidification, Doig’s account of its breeding in Sind must be referred to, though it is by no means certain that the resident breeding bird and the migratory visitor are one and the same. He writes about its breeding in the Eastern Narra as follows :—“On the 4th August, while my man was poling along in a canoe in a large swamp on the look-out for eggs, he passed a small bunch of reeds, and in them spotted a nest with a bird in it. The nest contained three beautiful fresh eggs. A few days later I joined him and, on asking about these eggs, he described the bird, and said he had found several other nests of the same species, but all of them contained young ones newly fledged. I made him show me some of these nests, all of which were situated in clumps of reed, in the middle of the swamp, and in these same reeds I found and shot the young ones, which, though fledged, were not able to fly. These I sent, with one of the eggs, to Mr. Hume, who has identified them as belonging to this species.”
795. Aeroeephalus stentoreus brunnescens
(795) Acrocephalus stentoreus brunnescens (Jerdon).