(840) Hippolais rama (Sykes).
THE QUETTA TREE-WARBLER*.
Hippolais rama, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 442.
Within our limits this little Warbler breeds in Sind, Multan, Feroze¬pore and in very great numbers round about Quetta. Outside our limits it breeds from Transcaspia to South Mongolia, South to Afghanistan and Baluchistan and East to Turkestan and Persia.
The only correct reference to this bird’s breeding in Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs’ is that of Doig, who found them nesting on the Eastern Narra in Sind, where, later, Bell also took many nests and eggs. Doig’s and Bell’s accounts of the nest supplement one another, and I therefore give both. The former writes Nests and Eggs,’ p. 256) :—“Locally they are very numerous and I collected upwards of 90 to 100 eggs in one field about eight acres in size. They build in stunted Tamarisk bushes, or rather in bushes of this kind which were originally cut down to admit of cultivation being carried on, and which afterwards had again sprouted. These bushes are very dense and in their centre is situated the nest, composed of sedge with a hning of fine grass, mixed sometimes with a little soft grass- seed.”
*It is difficult to suggest a distinctive trivial name for this little Warbler. I therefore give it a name which refers to one of its principal breeding haunts in India.
Bell’s notes, as summarized by Ticehurst (Ibis, 1922, p. 556), are as follows : —“The nests are mostly situated in tamarisks, pollarded or not, 6 inches to 7 feet from the ground, though twice he found nests in grass clumps in a 'khan’ grass-field. When in tamarisk, the nest is usually well hidden in the thick, or ‘camouflaged,’ if exposed, by a litter of twigs round it, and is made of tamarisk twigs and fibre, often woven in silky threads, lined with feathers or hair and fine grass and grass-down ; one nest was entirely composed of grass-down, another of grass-fibre. The whole nest forms a slightly built, deep cup ; the cup is 30-40 mm. deep, internal diameter about 50 mm., external about 80 mm.”
Harington Bulkley sent both Barnes and myself eggs taken “near Karachi,” but no exact details were given.
Round Quetta Betham found this bird breeding in extraordinary numbers and from time to time has sent me the following interesting account of its nesting :—“This bird is a very common breeding species in and round Quetta in Spring, nesting principally in the thick rose hedges which surround the Lucerne fields but, also, some¬times, in single thick bushes while, occasionally also, I have taken a nest in a thick tuft of grass by a hedge-side. They seem to like breeding in colonies. For instance, on the 14th May, 1905, I found 14 nests in a thick bushy rose-fence round one field and on the same date the following year 31 nests in the same field. I did not by any means take all the nests I saw and I cannot say how many there were but, at a guess, I should put the number at three or four times as many as those I took. In another field, on the 22nd May, I found between 20 and 30 in a small space of a few yards. In other fields surrounded by similar fences there night not be a single nest. The nests are deep, compact cups built of twigs, grass, roots and fibre, sometimes one material predominating, sometimes another. The materials are quite well put together but it is not a very tidy little nest. The lining is of wool and hair, occasionally of feathers, or with a few feathers mixed in with the wool. The hning is com¬pactly welded and very soft. As a rule the nests are well inside the hedges and quite concealed until the branches are pulled apart, when the nest can usually be spotted, sometimes with the hen still on it, for she sits very close and is loth to leave her nest when disturbed, especially if incubation has started. Most nests are placed between 2 and 4 feet from the ground, some [even flower but very few higher. Some nests are lined with nothing but vegetable down, but this is not often the case, though down is frequently used to mix with other materials. The birds do not desert easily, and nests we examined and left were not deserted, even though we took the eggs out to examine them. The number of eggs laid is four or five and the range of variation in colour, and still more in character of marking, was so great that we had to examine each nest carefully for fear we should let slip some new type. I also obtained one nest of this bird with three fresh eggs at Ferozepur on the 9th April, 1917. The shikaris there did not know the bird.”
Williams also took numerous nests round Quetta and his observa¬tions agree with those of Betham. They both found the birds laying all through May and June into early July, but the majority of eggs were laid in May.
In Multan Lindsay Smith found them breeding on the banks of the Chenab near Multan "in the clumps of grass of which the native pens are made. This grass is cut every year at a height of 2' 6" or so from the ground and the nests are situated in the middle of these, 18" or so from the ground. The nest is cup-shaped, with a rather long conical foundation, to give it stability, I suppose, amongst the grass-stems, as it does not appear to be attached to the grass in any way. The nests in Quetta, I noticed, were not nearly so elongated as the type built in grass in Multan” (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxiii, p. 367, 1914).
Although this Warbler seems to be so adaptable in its site for the nest—tamarisks in Sind, grass in Multan and Ferozepore, and roses in Quetta—the last-mentioned seems to be the favourite, for both
A. J. Currie and F. Petherick found them breeding in “incredible numbers” in Persia in Rose-bushes, and here, more than once, two nests were found in one bush.
As already noted, May is the chief breeding month in India, running through June and tailing off in July. In Persia they breed from early April to the end of July.
The eggs vary in wonderful degree but more in character and style of marking than in colour. The ground varies from pure white, which is very rare, to a warm puce-grey, which is also exceptional. Most eggs are a very pale grey-white, some faintly tinged with dull pink, cream or buff. Of the markings it is easier, perhaps, to describe some of the types, remembering always that every intermediate link occurs between these types —
1. Ground pale grey, freely marked with small spots of black, with still most numerous underlying spots and sometimes twisted lines of pale grey. In most eggs of this type the markings are scanty, in a few only rather dense.
2. Similar, but with a dark grey ground.
3. Pale buffy grey, profusely marked at the larger end with innumerable minute specks of grey, coalescing to form caps at the end but sparse elsewhere. In this type there are sometimes a few odd specks of black.
4. Like tiny Cirl-Buntings’ eggs ; white, with lines, scrawls and spots of black with secondary marks of pale lavender.
5. Like tiny Corn-Buntings’ eggs ; the ground dull pink, creamy or pale buff, with lines, large blotches and scrolls of purple-black, black and pale lilac and pinkish-grey.
6. Something like (5), but with the scrolls of red-brown and the underlying marks of reddish-grey.
7. Any of the above ground-colours, clouded with purple or lilac-grey, over which are superimposed a few primary markings of black or deep red-brown.
In types (5) and (6) some eggs have the markings fairly numerous, always more so at the large end than elsewhere, and in the nature of rather large blotches intermixed with the scrolls but, in a few clutches, the marks consist only of long scrolls intertwisted and confined to a ring round the larger end.
A few eggs might be mistaken for those of Hippolais pallida pallida or H. p. eloeica but I have not seen any of the deep rose tint of H. languida. The prevailing impression of a series is that of tiny grey eggs, with many specimens just miniatures of Cirl-, Corn-, or Yellow Buntings.
Two hundred eggs average 15.8 x 12.3 mm. : maxima 18.0 x 13.2 and 15.6 x 13.3 mm. ; minima 14.4 x 12.1 and 15.0 x 12.0 mm.
In shape the eggs are nearly always broad, blunt ovals, a few are rather long ovals, and fewer still are somewhat pointed at the small end. The texture is very fine and close but the eggs have no gloss and they are fairly strong for their size.
I have no records as to incubation or in regard to the building of the nest.
840. Hippolais rama
(840) Hippolais rama (Sykes).