(286) Alcippe nipalensis nipalensis (Hodgs.).
THE NEPAL WHITE-EYED QUAKER-BABBLER.
Alcippe nepalensis nepalensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 275.
This little Babbler is found throughout the Outer Himalayas from Nepal and Sikkim to Eastern Assam, both North and South of the Brahmapootra. It extends to Manipur and to the North Chin and Kachin Hills, as well as to Arrakan but, on the Lower Chindwin in the East, seems to be replaced by A. n fratercula. In Sikkim Stevens found it common from the plains up to 6,000 feet, taking many nests in the Rangbong Valley at about 5,500 feet, whilst Osmaston obtained nests up to 6,500 feet near Darjiling. In the South Assam Hills we found it breeding in great numbers from 1,500 to 3,000 feet, above which level it was rare, though it was found on the Barail Range throughout the breeding season at nearly 7,000 feet. At Margherita we took its nest at heights between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, whilst it also appeared to be common on the Patkoi Range at much greater heights.
The White-eyed Quaker-Babblers seem not to mind much what kind of country they breed in, and it is one of the few birds in the Khasia Hills which enter the Pine-woods and breed there. In these woods they keep much to the ravines, where there is always a certain amount of small tree-growth other than Pines, in addition to a sufficiency of low shrubs, bushes and brambles to ensure cover, which is otherwise very scanty under Pine-trees. I have taken its nest in bamboo-jungle, in open scrub and bush-cover near forest, abandoned cultivation and in forest of all kinds, provided there is thick undergrowth. In Darjiling Osmaston took nests in the thick undergrowth of both light and dense ever¬green forest, whilst at Rangbong Stevens found them in well shrub-covered ravines in forest. Gammie and Mandelli also took numerous nests about Darjiling and the former writes :— “I have only found this Babbler breeding in May at elevations about 5,000 feet, but it doubtless breeds also at much lower eleva¬tions, probably down to 2,000 feet.” In Margherita Coltart took them both in open scrub mixed with small trees and in bamboo- jungle.
Personally I think I have taken nests in every kind of country except open grass-lands or in the beautiful park-like lands of long grass with scattered Oak forest very common in the North of North Cachar. The nests are cup-shaped and are generally fairly well made and put together, being made of various materials, of which bamboo-leaves and broad grass-leaves nearly always form a part. With these are mixed roots, leaves, fern and bracken- fronds, whilst often a few plant-stems, long fine tendrils or similar materials are used to bind the other items together. In addition I have seen cobwebs used to assist in the binding. The lining is always of fine roots, generally of moss or fern, but I have seen the tiny hanging bamboo-roots used and also what looked like rhizomorph of a fungus.
Hume gives a similar description of nests sent him by Mandelli and Gammie:—“The interior and, in fact, the main body of the nests appear to be in all cases chiefly composed of fine black hair¬like roots, with which, in some cases, especially about the upper margin, a little fine grass is intermingled. The cavities are generally much about the same size, say 2 inches in diameter by 1-25 in depth ; but the size of the nest on the whole varies very much. The nest is always coated exteriorly with dry leaves of trees and ferns, broad blades of grass and the like, fixed together sometimes by mere pressure, but generally here and there held together by fine fibrous roots, and this coating varies so much that one nest before me measures 5.5 in external diameter, and another barely 4, the external covering of fern-leaves, flags and dry and dead leaves being very abundant in the former, while in the other the covering consists entirely of broad blades of grass very neatly laid together.”
The nests are generally situated in small bushes at heights between 18 inches and 4 feet from the ground but sometimes much higher, and I have myself found nests at 6, 7 and 8 feet from the ground in thin straggling bushes in very unconcealed positions. I have also often taken them from bamboo-clumps, built on the longer twigs springing from the lower part of the bamboo or on branches 4 or 5 feet from the ground. Generally the nest is built in between upright twigs, to which it is firmly attached by some of the nesting materials being wound, round the supports. Occasionally, however, the nest is pendent or semi-pendent,, being built in a horizontal fork of a branch or in a bamboo-branch. Such a nest as this is described by Hodgson, who found it in a low bush about 1.1/2 feet from the ground in a small horizontal fork, the materials of the nest being wound round the forks and suspending the nest, which had nothing to rest on underneath.
The nesting season commences early in April, Hodgson taking a nest with three eggs on the 1st of that month. It continues throughout May and June, whilst Hume and Osmaston both record eggs taken in July, the latter finding a nest with three eggs on the 17th of that month.
The eggs number three or four but I have found two incubated and have also taken five eggs in a clutch and, perhaps, one in forty nests may number as many as this.
The eggs vary more than do those of almost any other bird and it is quite impossible to give any general description, but the following details of the colouring of the most definite types give an idea of what kinds of eggs may be expected so long as it is remembered that every intermediate form may also crop up:—
1. Ground white to pink with minute specks of lilac or purply pink covering the whole surface but generally denser and coalescing to form a ring or cap at the larger end. Variations of this have the markings light red, brick-red or purple-red.
2. The same but with larger blotches or spots, sparser and sometimes much more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere.
3. Ground cream to pale pink with large blotches and smears of reddish or brick-red, with others again, underlying, of lavender or grey. The boldest marked of these eggs are extremely handsome.
4. White, with lilac-purple blotches, nearly all confined to the larger end.
5. White, with lilac-purple blotches and broad smears freely distributed all over and only slightly more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere.
6. White, with small spots and blotches of purplish-black at the larger end and scanty elsewhere. Often with a few lines twisted about with the spots.
In shape the eggs are broad oval, slightly compressed towards the smaller end ; a few are rather long, obtuse ovals, and still fewer rather pointed ovals. The texture is close and rather fine but with very little gloss.
Two hundred eggs average 18.4 x 14.0 mm.: maxima 19.7 x 14.3 and 18.6 x 15.0 mm. ; minima 17.0 x 13.7 and 18.2 x 13.2 mm.
The birds are not very close sitters and leave the nest generally before one gets close, but the better concealed the nest the closer they allow one to get to it. We have frequently trapped both male and female on the nest, so both take part in incubation but, probably, the male only sits morning and evening when the hen is feeding. Five birds caught between about 11 A.M. and 4 P.M. were all females. I am not sure how much the male does in nest- building but I have seen him bringing materials to the female.
Incubation probably takes eleven to twelve days. Eggs laid on or before the 23rd May were all hatched on the 4th June, two nestlings already dried, the third still wet.
286. Alcippe nipalensis nipalensis
(286) Alcippe nipalensis nipalensis (Hodgs.).