(298) Schoeniparus dubius mandellii Godw.-Aust.
THE ASSAM TIT-BABBLER.
Schoeniparus dubius mandellii, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 284.
This is the best known of all the Tit-Babblers, being extremely common in the whole of Assam, South of the Brahmapootra and in the Chin Hills, where so many keen field-naturalists have worked. How far South in Arrakan it is found we do not yet know but, some¬where in the Pegu Yomas, it meets and grades into the preceding typical form. It seems possible, indeed probable, that the Irra¬waddy forms its Eastern boundary and true dubius may work some way North in the Pegu Yomas towards the habitat of genestieri, a third race of the same species.
The Tit-Babblers are to be found in almost any kind of jungle so long as it is thick enough, but they seem to prefer both thick and open evergreen forest with lots of undergrowth, especially bracken and brambles. It may also be frequently seen in Winter in pretty thick bamboo-jungle and in scrub and secondary growth but, during the breeding season, seems to desert these latter and to keep to the more humid forests. I have found it common between 3,000 and 6,000 feet, while it certainly ascends a good deal higher than this, as I saw them in the adjoining Naga Hills at least 2,000 feet higher. It may occasionally occur lower than 3,000 feet but I have not personally come across any instances.
In the Chin Hills Mackenzie says :—“ It is very common and can be seen on any fairly open bank, i.e., without big trees, but with thick undergrowth, especially grass.”
In Assam I found the favourite site for the nest was a bank or steeply sloping ground in forest, where it was built, quite con¬cealed from view, in among bracken or among bracken and grass mixed. The nest was always either actually on the ground or else placed on dead leaves and fallen rubbish, raising it a few inches above the wet earth. The side selected was often very wet and the bottom of the nest was more often than not soaked through, though the Teal lining was generally dry. The nest was not unlike a rather small, perhaps unusually neat, nest of a Pomato¬rhinus. Compared with the bird it was decidedly large, my measurements of a big series of nests averaging about 7 by 5 inches in outward length and breadth. The oval stands upright or nearly so, and the mouth is near the top, large and ill-made and roughly finished off. In some nests, indeed, the mouth occupies so much of the side of the top that the nest looks only semi-domed or a deep cup in shape. The materials consist of bamboo-leaves, grass, a few grass-stems and roots and, sometimes, a few dead leaves of trees. There always seems to be quite a good lining to this Tit-Babbler’s nest. First there are a good many coarse and fine fern-roots and then, on the top of these, there is a layer of deaddry leaves which keep dry however soaked the outer materials may be. Sometimes the nest is made entirely of bracken-leaves and fern-leaves outside, this being particularly the case when the nest is built among bracken. I have only seen one nest being built but, though both birds were noticed bringing material and both disappeared into the patch of bracken in which their nest was placed, I could not see if both birds took part in its construction. Male and female certainly take part in incubation, for we have repeatedly caught the two sexes sitting on the eggs.
Both in Assam and in the Chin Hills they breed throughout April, May and June, but their breeding season seems quite a well defined one, and I appear to have no records of eggs taken in other months.
Their eggs, as I have already said, bear a strong superficial likeness to those of the Blackcap and Garden-Warbler, and the general impression given by the egg is that of a yellow-brown one, smearingly blotched with darker brown. The ground-colour varies from the palest clay-white to a distinct deep clay-colour, sometimes with a faint tinge of brown. The primary markings consist of a few deep brown spots, one or two short irregular lines and, perhaps, a smeary blotch or two. Underneath there are numerous smears and smudges of brown, lighter in colour and often looking as if they had run. Under all these come numerous smudges, blurs and faint blotches of grey and neutral tint. There is not much variation. Some eggs are darker and more heavily blotched, others are paler and have fewer deep brown blotches and, in a very few, the brown has a slightly olive tinge. The only really exceptional clutch I have taken is one with a very pale cream-white ground, with a few large blotches of pale olive- brown at the larger end.
In shape the eggs are broad ovals, little compressed and blunt at the smaller end. The texture is fine and close, fairly stout, and there is little or no gloss.
Two hundred eggs average 20.8 x 15.6 mm. : maxima 22.0 x 16.0 and 19.5 x 16.1 mm. ; minima 19.4 x 15.3 and 19.9 x 14.4 mm.
The normal clutch is three or four, but Mackenzie, Hopwood and I have all occasionally taken five eggs in a nest.
298. Schoeniparus dubius mandellii
(298) Schoeniparus dubius mandellii Godw.-Aust.