(232) Gampsorhynchus rufulus rutulus Blyth.
The Sikkim White-headed Shrike-Babbler,
Gampsorhynchus rufulus rufulus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 231.
This Shrike-Babbler is found in the outer hills of the Himalayas from Sikkim to Eastern Assam, East to the Chin Hills and South to Tenasserim.
I was many years in North Cachar before I succeeded in obtaining this bird’s nest, although the bird itself was very common. A nest with four young shown to me by a Naga was a large globular affair, as recorded in ‘The Ibis’ (1895, p. 53). Off this he had shot what he believed to be the two parent birds but evidently there was some mistake, for the next nest, which I found myself, was nothing like it. This I recorded also in the same journal (Ibis, 1906, p. 96) ;—“On the 9th of August, 1898, I took a nest of this bird, containing four eggs, in the Laisung Valley, North Cachar, at an elevation of some 4,000 ft. It was very flimsy and rough, made outwardly of dead leaves extremely carelessly fastened together with a few cobwebs, a scrap or two of moss and one twig. The thin lining was of fine grasses and the slender tendrils of a small convolvulus. Outwardly the nest was so untidy, with scraps sticking out in all directions, that it was not easy to measure but, roughly speaking, it was about 7" diameter one way and 5" the other, the depth being about 2.8". The measurements of the interior were about 2.5" by 2.8" by about 1.5" in depth. It was built in a small fork of a straggling bush standing in dense evergreen forest on the banks of the Laisung stream. It could be reached easily by hand, and no particular attempt had been made to hide it. The birds, both of whom seemed to be about the nest, slipped into the undergrowth when I approached, but the female soon returned and was shot.”
Two nests with eggs and birds, brought in by Nagas in 1904 to Dr. Coltart, appeared to have been of much the same description as the above but were too broken to prove much.
In 1907 and 1909 I took two more nests myself, though in each case they were first found by Khasias, who told me where to look for them. These again were of the same type as that found at Laisung shallow saucers of leaves, twigs, roots, moss and lichen pound together with one or two fine long roots and tendrils and well plastered with cobwebs. The scanty lining was in one case of black roots only, in the other of grass and roots. The 1907 nest was in a high straggly bush in forest, the 1909 one in bamboo- scrub fixed to a cluster of bamboo-twigs about five feet from the ground. In both cases a pair of Shrike-Babblers were about the nest but, as I was badly hidden, would not get on to it. In both instances, also, I was travelling and could not keep my “tonga” and ponies waiting so, unfortunately, was obliged to take the eggs without seeing the birds on the nest.
Two other similar nests have been brought in to me by natives, so I think we can consider the nidification of this bird solved.
For breeding purposes these Shrike-Babblers seem to leave their usual resorts of thin forest, bamboo-jungle and open country and move into deeper, wetter, evergreen forests, perhaps also, at a little higher level, 1,500 to 4,000 feet, instead of the foot-hills to 2,500 feet.
The eggs number three or four and are of two types. In one the ground-colour is a pale grey-green with blotches of dark brown and secondary markings of dull grey scattered freely over the whole surface and even more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere. In the second type the ground is a pale dull reddish, whilst the primary markings are of reddish-brown, the underlying marks being only visible with a rather powerful magnifying glass. The texture is rather coarse, not very close, and the eggs are fragile for their size. The surface is dull and glossless except in one clutch of three eggs of the brown type, in which there is a decided gloss. The shape is a broad blunt oval. Except in size the eggs can be exactly matched with those of Drymocataphus.
Twenty eggs average 23.9 x 17.6 mm. : maxima 25.0 x 17.8 and 24.0 x 18.3 mm. ; minima 21.6 x 17.3 and 22.1 x 16.8 mm.
The normal breeding season seems to be from the end of April through May, and it is noticable that the flocks break up in late March. The nest found by myself in August may have been a second brood or abnormal in time.
* For races of this species see notes by Ticehurst in his “Birds of Sind” (Ibis, 1922, p. 542). It would seem impossible that the Belgaum and Central Indian bird can be nearer to the Chinese form than it is to the Khandeish bird, but I accept Ticehurst’s distribution provisionally.
232. Gampsorhynchus rufulus rufulus
(232) Gampsorhynchus rufulus rutulus Blyth.