(484) Larvivora brunnea brunnea* Hodgs.
THE INDIAN BLUE CHAT.
Larvivora brunnea, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 14.
This Blue Chat breeds in the Himalayas from Kashmir and Garhwal to Sikkim and Bhutan. A form of Blue Chat breeds also freely in the Chin Hills, where many nests were seen by Livesey, who has obtained skins for me which I cannot distinguish from the typical Himalayan bird. It has been reported as breeding in the Nilgiris, though without any proof, while Davison’s supposed nest of this bird was probably that of the Rufous-bellied Short-wing. Darling’s eggs were also “wrong ’uns” and, as Mandelli’s eggs are not described, we must ignore his note also. Stevens does not say how high it breeds in Sikkim but notes that “Larvivora brunnea breeds sparingly at all elevations from 5,000 feet upwards.” In Murree Rattray, Buchanan and others took its nest between 5,500 and 8,000 feet ; in Garhwal Whymper and Osmaston found many from 7,000 feet to above 11,000 feet, “but only in the well- wooded portions,” whilst in Kashmir it would appear to breed between 5,500 and 9,000 feet and possibly still higher.
The birds keep closely to deep forest and thick jungle of various kinds and during the breeding season the hen bird is exceptionally shy and secretive, though the cock bird shows himself far more in the Summer than in the Winter, singing constantly on some prominent perch not far from the nest. The nest is placed on the ground, generally on a bank and very often beside some jungle-path running through forest, or in some natural hollow or ditch. They are almost invariably very well concealed, frequently hidden in between the roots of a bush or in a recess well hidden by surrounding ferns, bracken or other cover. Most, nests are made chiefly of dead leaves, moss and a few roots but Osmaston also found dry weeds, weed- stems, and lichen used in their construction. The lining is nearly always of hair but often with a few feathers added.
* Stresemann has separated the race from Szetschwan under the name of L. b. dendrobiastes, so our bird must now come under a trinomial as above.
About 1896-8 a good many observers came across the nest of this Chat, and of these Osmaston was probably the first. He writes (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xi, p. 71, 1897) :—“ This is a very common bird throughout the Tons Valley, at elevations of from 8,000 to 11,000 feet. I found two nests.
“The nests were built on a bank by a frequented footpath at about 8,000 feet elevation, and were exactly similar, both in position and construction, to those of the English Robin, but the eggs were of a uniform pale blue. There were four eggs in each nest.”
In the same year (1896) Davidson found its nest in Kashmir (Ibis, 1897, p. 10). On the 11th June he found a nest which he describes as “almost on the bare ground between the fallen tree and a bare branch, and was a very large and loose mass of dead and decayed leaves, lined with a very few horse-hairs. On the 14th we found another nest of a similar description, with four eggs pretty hard set. It was in a hole on the ground in thick forest.”
Davidson found the hen bird very shy. Bell, who was with Davidson, found the nests and once waited an hour and again two hours for the hen bird to return, without result. Davidson then took his place, and in half an hour the hen returned and perched on a bare stump some sixty yards away. Twice he went up to the nest and put the hen off without getting a shot, but was eventually successful in shooting it.
Magrath found this Chat very common on the hills about Thandiani and also obtained nests which he says are “built of moss and leaves, and lined with hair and a few feathers, is usually placed in a crevice in a rock or under a stone in a gully and near thick cover, and is, as a rule, wonderfully well concealed.”
Magrath also notes that during the breeding season the male bird “throws off his secretive habits to a great extent, and is to be seen displaying his beauty to advantage, perched on a bush or branch of a tree.”
The chief breeding month is June, but many birds breed in the last week of May in the lower mountains, whilst Whymper took one on the 1st July in Kashmir and Bates found one with three fresh eggs on the 17th of that month,
The full clutch is nearly always four but, occasionally, only three eggs are laid, and Whymper once took a clutch of five on the 10th June in Garhwal.
The colour is a beautiful pale blue, quite unspotted and exactly the same in tint as that of the eggs of our English Hedge-Sparrow. They are extraordinarily constant in depth of colour, and among the twenty or so clutches I have seen there have been no variations at all, but of course fresh eggs are rather brighter than hard-set ones, or those which have been kept for some time.
Fifty eggs average 20.0 x 14.6 mm. : maxima 21.6 x 15.2 and 20.0 x 16.0 mm. ; minima 18.4 x 14.1 and 18.9 x 14.0 mm.
In shape the eggs are true ovals, occasionally rather more obtuse at the smaller end. The texture is very fine and close and, though the surface has no gloss, it is very smooth and silky.
484. Larvivora brunnea brunnea
(484) Larvivora brunnea brunnea* Hodgs.