(1168) Motacilla alba personata Gould.
THE MASKED WAGTAIL.
Motacilla alba personata, Fauna B. I. Birds, 2nd, ed, vol. iii. p. 259.
This race of the White Wagtail breeds from Turkestan to the West of Lake Baikal, South to Gilgit, Kashmir, Ladak and Afghanistan and the ranges on the North-West Frontier of India.
The definition of the breeding limits of this Wagtail is rather difficult to fix, but there is no doubt that the areas occupied by M. a personata and M. alboides overlap very widely and show that these two birds are specifically different.
The present bird breeds commonly on the North-West Frontier, where Whitehead took its nest at Bulta Kundi, in the Kurram Valley, while Fulton reported it as a common resident in Chitral between -8,000 and 12,000 feet. Whistler records it breeding at Kulu (Journ. Bomb. Nat, Hist. Soc. vol. xxix, p. 281) ; Fenton and Ward have taken its nests in Kashmir from 6,500 feet upwards, and Osmaston took one in Ladak, where the bird is rare, at 14,200 feet on the 2nd July. Finally, it probably breeds in and about Quetta at 6,000 feet.
* The birds breeding in the Kangra Valley first identified by Whistler as H. r. rufula and then by Ticehurst as T, r. scullii event tally proved to bo H. r. nepalensis, so the breeding recorded of this bird within our limits must be cancelled.
Whitehead says that it breeds freely from Thull, 2,250 feet upwards, but the lowest elevation at which I have any other record of its breeding is 4,500 feet at Kulu (Whistler, vide supra), while it seems rare below 6,000 feet, Whitehead’s own record of its breeding in the Kurram Valley was at 8,800 feet, and there were no eggs in his collection taken at lower levels.
Like most Wagtails of this group, the Masked Wagtails seem to prefer holes of some kind in which to place their nests, though these may be holes under stones in a river-bed or on hill-sides, or hollows among boulders, or roots on the banks of a stream, or a hole in an old wall, a heap of stones or a dead tree. Invariably, however, it is low down and never, even in trees, at any height from the ground. Fenton, who was one of the earliest collectors to find its neat in Kashmir, records rather a curious situation for it. He writes (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist, Soc. vol. xix, p, 992, 1910):— “I found a pair of these birds building close to my tents at Aroo, in the Liddar Valley, Kashmir, elevation 9,000 feet. After watching the birds carrying away bits of grass etc., I discovered the newly commenced neat in a Kalmanch (Viburnum fatans) bush about two feet above the ground, and 100 yards or so away from water. The bush was isolated, with open ground all round, and over and over again I saw the birds fly into it, while the building was in progress. The nest was a fairly deep cup built of grass-roots for a foundation, and thoroughly well padded inside with hair, wool and bits of cotton, etc., picked up round the camp.”
The nests are cup-shaped and, for a Wagtail’s nest, not very bulky, and are generally well and compactly built. For the body of the nest grass and roots form the principal materials, but these are more or less mixed with odd dead leaves, bits of wool, hair and other scraps, some picked up with the grass and roots, while others are evidently purposely collected. The lining seems to be always of wool and hair or one of these only, perhaps just as they may be handy.
In Central Asia the breeding season seems to be May and early June, and I have eggs taken as early as the 27th April in Turkestan, In Afghanistan Wardlaw-Ramsay found them “breeding throughout May and June.” Whitehead and Fenton and Ward took nests from the 29th May to the end of June, The latest record given for eggs is the 2nd July by Osmaston for the nest already referred to.
The number of eggs laid is five or six, sometimes four only, whilst the nest found by Whistler contained five young birds and two addled eggs. The eggs are quite typical of all the races of the White Wagtail, The ground is white, rarely very faintly washed with grey or, still more rarely, with brown or yellowish-grey. Most eggs are profusely, but finely, speckled all over with grey-brown, the spooks being so small that the general appearance of the eggs is a pale grey. Occasionally the freckles are definitely more brown and darker. I have seen no eggs with large blotches, but in a few the freckles are larger than usual and are most numerous at the bigger end. I have one clutch in which the markings are slightly yellowish and blotchy.
Forty-five eggs average 20.1 x 15.2 mm. : maxima 21.2 x 15.5 and 20.2 x 16.1 mm, ; minima 19.1 x 15.0 mm, and 19.3 x 14.1 mm.
Witherby gives the period of incubation of the eggs of the White Wagtail as twelve days, and says that both parents take part in the construction of the nest and in incubation. The same will probably be found to be the case with this subspecies.
1169. MotaclUa alba personata
(1168) Motacilla alba personata Gould.