(716) Lanius schach tephronotus* (Vigors).
THE NORTHERN GREY-BACKED SHRIKE.
Lanius tephronotus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 297.
The present subspecies of Grey-backed Shrike is found at high elevations from Gilgit, through Northern Kashmir and Ladak, the greater part of Tibet and Yunnan into Western China. South it occurs again at 8,000 and 9,000 feet upwards in the Garhwal Hills, where Whymper found it breeding freely.
* Apparently this Shrike must be treated as a race of the Chinese Grey-tacked Shrike (Lanius schach), and I now accordingly give it a trinomial.
This is certainly the highest breeding Shrike of all those which nest within our limits. Ludlow (Ibis, 1928, p. 58) says :—“The bird arrives at Gyantse during the first week in May and departs about the middle of October, a few remaining until the end of the month. It also occurs in the Chambi Valley, and I have seen it in Sikkim in Winter. Eggs are laid in June and July. The nest is generally situated in willows or thorny ‘Hippophoe’ bushes, and is an untidy structure of grass and wool. It is a very easy nest to find, as the parent birds nearly always betray its where¬abouts by the harsh cries they utter. Clutches seem to vary from three to five. The bird will nest at any altitude so long as it can find a small tree or fair-sized bush, and I have taken eggs as high as 15,000 feet. Walton obtained this bird at Khamba Jong and Lhasa, and Wollaston found it in the Arun Valley.”
Captain R. Steen, in sending some eggs of this species to Dresser in 1905, adds the following note :—“The nest was constructed of sticks, roots and wool, and lined with fine grass-roots ; it was placed in the top of a young sapling, but this Shrike also builds in low bushes five or six feet from the ground.”
Since Dresser received his eggs from Steen I have been fortunate enough to obtain a magnificent series from him and his many successors in Gyantse, the following being a summary of the many interesting notes sent me from time to time with the eggs.
This Shrike breeds in great abundance throughout the plateau plain of Gyantse and over the greater part of Tibet between 12,000 and 15,000 feet and, possibly, a great deal higher than this wherever there are small trees or even low thorny bushes in which they can place their nests. They build in almost any position. They perhaps prefer small saplings, young trees and the taller bushes, in which they can build at heights between 5 to 25 feet from the ground. Willows seem to be favourite trees for nesting purposes, the nest being wedged in among the young shoots springing from the pollarded crown. Sometimes, however, the nests are placed in low, thorny bushes and, more than once, it has been taken from positions within a couple of feet, or less, from the ground. Some¬times the tree or bush in which it is built is in scrub-jungle or in the spinneys round about Gyantse ; sometimes it is in one of a row of pollard Willows alongside a stream or irrigation canal, while often it is in a solitary small tree or exceptionally high bush growing conspicuously in a stretch of the stunted thorn-bushes so plentiful on the Gyantse Plain.
The nest is a bulky, but stoutly built, deep cup, anything from 5 to 7 inches across and rather more in depth, while the egg-cavity, roughly, averages about 3.1/2 inches in diameter by about the same, or a little less, in depth. In the nests sent me the two materials in¬variably used are twigs and grass, the former often very thorny. These two items are, however, used in varying proportions, some¬times half and half and at other times practically entirely one or the other. Nearly all nests have a good deal of sheep’s wool or goats’ hair matted in with the other material, and all sorts of oddments are also employed from time to time, such as roots, leaves, lichen, hair and even scraps of rag when the nest is built near a village. Some nests are fairly neat but others have the outer materials rather loose and sticking out in all directions. The lining is nearly always of rather fine grass, neatly and firmly wound and finished off. Rarely wool is also used in the lining.
The breeding season in Tibet is principally from the middle of May to the end of June but I have had eggs sent me taken from the 3rd May to the 14th August, and it is possible that, even at these elevations, this Shrike sometimes raises two broods.
The number of eggs laid varies from four to six, several clutches of the latter number having been sent to me.
The eggs, as a series, vary from those of erythronotus in being much more profusely marked over the whole surface and in having the zone at the larger end less well defined. Individual clutches can be matched by eggs from either of the other races, but bright, clearly spotted eggs are rare. In the great majority the ground is a pale grey-green or grey-stone colour, while the markings are grey, grey- brown, or brown, with numerous secondary marks of lavender and grey.
I have only seen one egg of the red type from Tibet, but Whymper obtained a red clutch at Harsil, in Garhwal, 9,000 feet. Here, it should be noted, all the nests were built in thorny bushes.
In texture and shape the eggs resemble those of the other races and I have seen none showing any gloss.
Two hundred eggs average 24.0 x 18.7 mm. : maxima 27.3 x 19.3 mm. ; minima 22.0 x 18.5 and 26.0 x 17.1 mm.
716. Lanius sehaeh tephronotus
(716) Lanius schach tephronotus* (Vigors).