(1183) Dendronanthus Indicus (Gmelin).
THE FOREST WAGTAIL.
Dendronanthus indicus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 276.
This curious species is said to breed in Eastern Siberia, and it has been found nesting in Eastern and Northern China and the Northern hills of Burma and Assam.
During the breeding season it is entirely a bird of deep evergreen forest at altitudes of 5,000 feet upwards, rarely descending to 4,000 feet. The only nests I have seen have been built by stream sides, in open glades or by forest tracks made by larger game and, when nesting, the birds haunt such places as far inside the forest as possible. They never seem to breed on the outskirts and it is only in the cold weather they leave the depths of it.
The only records of its nest having been found within our limits are my own finds in North Cachar. My first eggs were brought to me by Nagas together with one of the birds noosed on the nest and the nest itself. Both eggs and nests were, however, so utterly un-Wagtail like that I could not believe they were genuine although my Nagas never deceived me.
I visited the place where the nest was found, and was fortunate enough to find the pair to the noosed bird and shoot it, and later I found a nest myself exactly like that given me by the Nagas.
All the nests I have seen have been built on horizontal boughs of small trees, these branches being between 2 and 4 inches in diameter and between 4 and 10 feet from the ground. One was built on a sapling growing among boulders on the banks of the Laisung stream, a second on a small tree beside a well-used deer and bison track in high forest, and a third in a tall straggly bush growing at the side of a beautiful glade in the same place. In no case was the nest in any way concealed but, at the same time, it assimilated so well with its surroundings and was so small that it could only be detected with difficulty when the bird left it. A description of the one first found suffices for all, as they were all exactly alike except in the lining. The nest on the tree by the Laisung stream was built on a thin horizontal branch overhanging the boulders and the Laisung itself, here a tiny stream a few yards across. Overhead was a green canopy of branches which kept everything in deep shade, but below, near the stream, boulders and rocks covered the ground and undergrowth was scanty, con¬sisting principally of flowering Caladiums and Jasmins, Working through this I noticed a Wagtail-like bird flit down to the stream from a tree about 10 feet from me and, looking up, noticed what looked like a knob on the branch of the tree, of the same green colour and covered with the same lichen as the branch itself. A closer examination showed it to be a most beautiful little nest which looked as if made entirely of moss, coated and smoothed over with cobwebs. When pulled to pieces it proved to contain many tiny scraps of soft twigs, leaves, fine grass and roots, all most compactly matted together with shredded moss and cobwebs. Outside it was decorated with numerous scraps of lichen similar to that growing on the branch. The lining in this nest was of hair, possibly fungoid mycelae so like hair that I could not distinguish it. This was the only point in which the nest differed from those found later, which were lined with tiny bright red moss-roots or with serow and mithna-hair.
On first seeing the nest I thought it must be one of the Yellow bellied Fantail-Flycatchers’ and not that of the bird I had noticed. We accordingly retired, to sit down some yards away and watch, but, while our backs were still turned, the bird returned and settled on the nest. Putting her off we set nooses on the nest and again retired, and within five minutes the female was caught. So tiny was the nest in proportion to the bird that the four eggs it contained seemed far too large for it and, if the nest had surprised us greatly, the eggs did still more, for they were to all intents and purposes. Chaffinch’s of quite a common type.
In China La Touche took nests and eggs exactly like those de¬scribed above. Vaughan and Jones also obtained nests and eggs, and again the nests were said to be the same small neat cups built on horizontal boughs of small trees in heavy forest.
In North Cachar my nests were all taken in May, the earliest on the 7th of that month. In China, however, June seems to be the breeding month, and La Touche took one on the 2nd July. This one, now in my collection, measures externally 2.3/4 x 1.3/4 inches, with an egg-cavity 1.1/2 inch in diameter by nearly 1 inch deep. This nest may, however, have been slightly compressed in packing and travelling, and the dimensions are, I think, slightly smaller than, those of the nests found by me.
The full clutch of eggs numbers four and, as I have already said, these can be exactly matched by many eggs of Chaffinches, The ground in most is a grey with a distinct lilac tinge, while the marking consists of large, though few, primary blotches of purple-brown, with the edges looking as if they had run, and rather more numerous smaller secondary blotches of grey and neutral tint. One clutch taken by Commander Jones differs from all the others. The ground is a very pale grey and the spots, both primary and secondary, are much smaller and are more numerous, especially at the larger end, A single egg taken by Jones is of the same Chaffinch character as those taken by La Touche and myself.
In shape the eggs are broad ovals, the texture not very fine and the surface only very faintly glossed.
Thirteen eggs average 19.1 x 13.9 mm. : maxima 20.9 x 15.1 and 18.0 x 15.8 mm. ; minima 17.4 x 15.3 and 19.0 x 14.7 mm.
1183. Dendronanthus indicus
(1183) Dendronanthus Indicus (Gmelin).