(234) Chrysomma sinensis sinensis Gmelin.
THE CHINESE YELLOW-EYED BABBLER.
Pyctorhis sinensis sinensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 233.
Chrysomma sinensis sinensis, ibid. vol. viii, p. 602.
Ticehurst’s distribution for this race of Yellow-eyed Babbler is “China (Canton) ; S. and W. Yunnan, Siam, S. Shan States, Burma, Assam, Bengal ; to this race I am inclined to assign birds from the Central Provinces and Madras and Belgaum District ; where exactly this bird meets the next in the Bombay Presidency is not clear, but birds from Khandeish northwards belong to the next race.”
Ticehurst nowhere mentions the other localities in Southern India where this bird is common, such as Nilgiris, Deccan etc., but as birds from these districts seem to be the same as others from Belgaum we may retain them with the typical form sinensis.
The Chinese Yellow-eyed Babbler breeds in the plains and in the hills alike. In the Nilgiris Hume says it breeds up to 5,000 feet, but in Assam I did not obtain it, breeding, much over 2,500. On the other hand, Mackenzie and Hopwood, who took many nests in Tenasserim, found it breeding on the Taok Plateau up to 4,000 feet and at Maymyio, in Upper Burma, up to 3,500 feet.
This bird in Southern India seems to be a frequenter of gardens, the surroundings of villages, scrub-jungle and patches of grass in cultivated areas. It also sometimes nests on weeds in sugarcane fields, some of the pea-crops etc. but, apparently, never in tree-jungle or bamboo-clumps. In Burma and Assam, however, although they may sometimes be found breeding in scrub and grass surroundings of villages, their true homes are in the vast stretches of sun-grass and elephant-grass which stretch mile on mile, with no forest and no trees to break the monotony, whilst the few bushes and shrubs growing in them keep their heads below the waving tops of the grass itself.
Nearly all my nests were taken when out after Buffalo and Gour. Ploughing one’s way through matted grass, anything from three to seven feet high, one would get a glimpse of a small red-brown bird with a white waistcoat flitting hastily away, its tail jerking over its head and its wings purring softly, and then one knew that a Yellow-eyed Babbler had left its nest. Generally there was a small bush or tall stout weed in which the nest was placed, though occasionally it was built fastened to two or three strong stems of grass. The Babbler, however, kept so much to the scattered bushes and weeds for nesting purposes that I always inspected those close to my track, sometimes successfully, though I had seen no bird.
In Behar Inglis found them breeding in Indigo-fields but he never got the nests in Mango or any other big trees.
The nest, whether built in grass, small bushes, or stunted trees, is always the same, a very neat, beautifully built structure, shaped like a blunt inverted cone. The materials consist of long strips of grass or reed-blades, bark from the stems of dead reeds, as well as long thin strips of a fibrous material, all intricately and compactly intertwined round and round, nearly always including the supporting twigs or grass-stems, finished off and plastered over with spiders’ webs. Often a material is used which looks like scraps of rice- paper, probably a grass-bark, though I could never trace whence it was obtained, whilst very fine fungoid rhizomorph is also some¬times used in small quantities. The lining is nearly always of the finest grass-stems, less often of very fine roots, whilst once Hume records hair being used for the purpose. In size the nests do not vary much, though the point of the cone, hanging downwards, may be more or less prolonged. The nest proper is as near as possible 4 inches across the top, with an internal cavity of about 2.1/2 to 3 inches in width and about 2 to 2.1/2 inches in depth. The cone may be prolonged and so make the total outer depth of the nest as much as 7 inches, or it may be short and reduce this to 5 inches, whilst in some cases the nest is just a hemisphere about 4 inches deep.
Everywhere, I think, the real breeding season begins after the break of the rains, about the second week in June, and continues to July and August and, occasionally, into September. I have, however, once or twice seen eggs as early as April.
Three to five eggs are laid but, with this race, the most usual number is four, and they certainly rank among the most beautiful and varied of eggs. As the variations go through the same types in the different races the descriptions given below suffice for one and all and need not be repeated :—
1. Ground very pale to warm pink, the whole surface covered with innumerable small spots and specks of pinkish-red, more numerous and often coalescing at the larger end. Secondary spots of lavender only discernible with a glass.
2. The same but with deep red spots.
3. Pale pink ground mottled with reddish, the blotches larger and looking as if they had run, interlaced with a few lines and scriggles of darker red-brown. These eggs may be matched with many of those of Alcippe.
4. White ground with fine bold blotches of blackish-purple, generally numerous at the larger end and sparse elsewhere. A few deep inky grey marks underlying the others.
5. Pale salmon ground with similar bold markings, but of deep blood-red.
6. Pale pink, more or less covered all over with pale smudgy blotches of darker pink.
7. White with a few scattered specks, sometimes pink, sometimes deep red and in others blackish-red.
Intermediates between these types constantly occur, but most eggs may be definitely allocated to one or the other of the seven.
In shape the eggs are broad blunt ovals, the texture is fine, close and hard, the shell stout for so small an egg and the surface highly glossed.
One hundred eggs average 17.9 x 14.9 mm. : maxima 20.3 x 16.5 and 20.1 x 16.6 mm. ; minima 16.0 x 13.5 mm.
234. Chrysomma sinensis sinensis
(234) Chrysomma sinensis sinensis Gmelin.