(836) Megalurus palustris palustris * Horsf.
THE JAVAN STRIATED MARSH-WARBLER.
Megalurus palustris, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 435.
Now that Bangs has separated the Indo-Chinese birds from the Javan race, the latter has a curious distribution, being found from Java to Tenasserim and thence through Burma to the Chin and Kachin Hills into Bengal, Behar, Orissa, Central India and West to Hoshangabad.
Nunn was the first person to take the nest, with a single egg, of this species, on the 4th May, 1868, in Hoshangabad, in the Bhopal State. Later Oates found nests in Pegu during this month ; Cripps found them breeding in April and May in Dibrugarh, where Coltart and I also took many nests in the same months and, again, Cockburn took a nest at Sadiya in the same district and month.
The birds breed in patches of grass, reeds or mixed grass, bushes and weeds but, so far as I know, do not nest in the unending areas of grass-land so common in Assam, Burma and certain other parts of India. We found that for nesting purposes they preferred scrub and grass round villages, beside roads or, sometimes, large, untidy gardens. Above all else they loved deserted gardens and groves in which Pine-apples grew, more or less hidden among a wild growth of grass, weeds and brambles ; certainly more than half the nests Coltart and I found were in the last-mentioned kind of place. The first nest I ever found was when waiting for a train in one of the stations on the Dibru-Sadiya Railway. Strolling up and down the station, my attention was attracted by the loud, rather harsh song of a bird, in appearance much like a Babbler, which kept on rising from some bushes close to the railway-track, and uttering his song as he soared slowly down from a height of some 60 to 100 feet. Thinking there might be a nest, I went to investigate and, sure enough, on kicking a matted patch of grass, nettles and brambles round a Pine-apple clump, out went the female. Pulling the weeds apart, I found the nest almost on the ground, fixed in between the stalks of a number of Canna-plants and an outer leaf of a Pine-apple. The nest was inside a garden and alongside a path used by dozens of people every few minutes and within ten yards of the passing trains. Other nests I found wedged in between the leaves of Pine-apple clumps, especially where these, were covered more or less by jungle debris.
* Bangs having separated the Indo-Chinese bird as M. p. andrewsi (Bull. Amer. Mus. xliv, p. 392, 1921), our bird must bear a trinomial.
Other nests are placed in dense clumps of grass, quite low down and always well concealed. They are, however, easy to find, as the cock bird makes himself so conspicuous by song and soaring that he cannot be overlooked and, as he always sings near the nest, one has only to go round and kick each likely tuft until the hen leaves and shows where the nest is.
She sits very close and commences to incubate directly the first egg is laid but, if found with an incomplete clutch, the eggs may be left with safety, as she will not desert unless the nest has been very carelessly handled.
The nest is always the same—a rough domed ball of coarse grasses, sometimes mixed with the blades of rushes and elephant-grass, or with a few bamboo-leaves. The lining was always of finer grasses, principally grass-stems. The nests are very untidy and loosely constructed, so that it is often impossible to pull them out whole, the more so in that the outer ends of the nesting materials were often entangled in the surrounding grass and reeds. These are never incorporated in the walls of the nest, the globe just resting in among them or in between the spiky leaves of the Pine-apple clumps.
The nest is rather big in proportion to the bird and averages nearly 8 inches vertically and 6 or 7 across. Sometimes, however, nests wedged into Pine-apple plants are not more than 6 inches either way. The egg-cavity measures, roughly, 4 inches high and the same broad.
In Assam all our nests with eggs were taken in April and May, though a few second nests were taken in June. In Burma, also, April seems the usual month for eggs, though Osmaston took one nest with four eggs in June.
In the Philippines this species breeds first in April and then again in July ; in these islands it nests in grass by road-sides or in half-eaten trodden patches of grass round villages. It is also very fond, of building in the grass on the banks dividing the rice-fields.
In India the normal clutch of eggs is four, rarely three only, but in the Philippines two or three only are laid.
In most eggs the ground-colour is a pale dull pink or lilac-pink. The markings consist of very numerous specks of blackish-brown and purple-brown, with equally numerous secondary freckles of lilac-grey. These markings are numerous everywhere but not sufficiently so to obscure the ground. Some eggs are more red or red-brown in tint, but a purply tinge is undoubtedly the prevailing impression of a series. I have one handsome clutch taken by Osmaston in Maymyio which has a white ground rather boldly, though sparsely, blotched and spotted with blackish-brown and inky grey, while another clutch taken in the same district by Hopwood is similar but has fewer and more smudgy markings, and also a few irregular lines and clouds.
It is interesting to note that the eggs of the race named by Bangs, are much darker and more definitely purple-tinted than those of the typical form.
In shape the eggs vary from broad to long ovals, the smaller end being something slightly compressed and pointed. The texture is rather coarse and there is seldom any gloss on the surface.
Forty Indian and Burmese eggs average 22.7 x 16.7 mm., while forty-two Siamese eggs average only 22.4 x 16.5 mm. : maxima 24.6 x 17.5 mm. ; minima 20.2 x 16.8 and 22.5 x 16.0 mm.
836. Megalurus palustris palustris
(836) Megalurus palustris palustris * Horsf.