(2030) Heliopais personata.
THE MASKED FINFOOT.
Podica personata Grey, P. Z. S., 1848, p. 90 (Malacca). Heliopais personata. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 182.
Vernacular names. Ye Balon (Burma).
Description. - Male. Fore-crown running back in a line over the ear-coverts, face, chin, throat and fore-neck velvety-black; the forehead and the rest of the head black surrounded, except on the crown, by a narrow line of white ; posterior crown and hind-neck steel-grey, the crown with metallic reflections; sides of the neck, interscapulars and upper back light olive-brown, each feather with a metallic green edge; lower back, wings and tail light brown grading from the olive-brown; the upper tail-coverts rather paler brown; tail narrowly tipped with whitish ; breast and abdomen white; flanks brown, barred with white next the abdomen; under tail-coverts barred brown and white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown; eyelids pea-green ; bill bright chrome-yellow shaded with brown on the centre; legs and feet pea-green, the edges of the web yellow; in Summer the horn is highly developed, erectile and bright yellow in colour; in Winter it shrivels up and disappears.
Measurements. Total length about 600 mm.; wing, 248 to 253 mm., 232 to 241 mm.; tail 98 to 124 mm.; tarsus 46 to 51 mm.; culmen, 52 to 56 mm., 41 to 50 mm.
Female. The white line on the forehead broader; chin, throat and fore-neck white, surrounded by black, which is edged white as in the male: the black frontal band is less broad.
Colours of soft parts as in the male but much duller, whilst the iris is yellow; there is no horn.
Young birds are like the female but have no black on the crown, whilst that surrounding the throat is mottled with white.
Distribution. Eastern Assam, Bengal, North and East of the Bay of Bengal, Burma and Malay States to Sumatra.
Nidification. Dr. Gregerson took the first recorded nest of this bird in Assam on the 24th July but the young had hatched with the exception of one infertile pigmy egg. In 1920 and subsequent years Messrs. Smith and Marlow obtained numerous nests in the flooded country of the Tharrawaddy District of Burma during the months of July and August. These latter nests were made of sticks and twigs lined with leaves and were rather massive structures of about 15" in diameter by 6" to a foot in depth, the egg cavity being about 8" across and 2" deep. They were all placed on tangled branches of trees or shrubs, in one case only a few inches above the water, in other cases as much as nine feet and, in every case, the sites selected were in flooded forest. The country where they nest is of the wildest character but the birds, which are very numerous, seem often to breed in the vicinity of the few villages which are dotted about in the jungles on the higher ground. They sit very close and would allow Mr. Marlow to get within a few inches before leaving the nest. The eggs number five to seven and are sui generis, though distinctly Ralline in character. In shape they are very spherical, though more oval specimens may be seen occasionally. The ground-colour is a very pale cream, in one or two clutches faintly tinged with pink. The primary markings consist of fairly large reddish-brown blotches very sparsely scattered over the whole surface, sometimes rather more numerous at the larger end. Under these are secondary markings of lavender-grey distributed like the others, sometimes more numerous, sometimes less.
Habits. The haunts of this bird both in Assam and Burma are the wildest and most inhospitable imaginable, being in the vast swamps and flooded forest areas where no one, European or native, ever goes except under compulsion. In these areas they are tame and confiding but in the Autumn, when they follow the streams out of their swamps into the open, they are very shy and alert. As a rule when seen they at once seek safety by swimming ashore and disappearing at a great pace into the densest jungle they can find. If they are fine runners, they are equally fine swimmers and divers. When undisturbed they swim high out of the water but when frightened submerge all but the head and neck. They rise like a Coot, skittering along the top of the water and hanging their legs down but, once on the wing, they fly fast and well, more like a Duck than a Coot. Their diet is omnivorous and in great part consists of small fish, freshwater shrimps and mollusca. The call is described by Smith and Marlow as sounding like water bubbling out of a bottle.