(675) Alseonax latirostris poonensis Sykes.
THE INDIAN BROWN FLYCATCHER.
Alseonax latirostris poonensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 249.
In the first edition of the ‘Fauna’ Sykes’s poonensis was treated merely as a synonym of latirostris, which, in turn, was believed to be a breeding bird of high Northern latitudes only. Later the differences between the two races were admitted and, finally, it was ascertained to breed in India as well as in a huge area in Northern Asia, extending from Japan to the Himalayas and to many places in the plains of India. The nests and eggs have been taken by Davidson, in Mhow, and the adjacent ghats by Messrs. B. Shelley, F. E. Kemp and General Betham, and in Dagshai by Capt. R. A. Skinner. It breeds freely in Japan but, curiously enough, has never been known to breed in China, where La Touche says it is purely a migrant. One would have thought that some difference in plumage must exist between our Indian sedentary bird and the wide-ranging migrants from Japan, but I can detect very little, though Japanese birds may average darker. On the other hand, the Japanese form averages smaller than the Indian, although the measurements overlap.
The first record of its breeding in India is that of Lieut. B. A. G. Shelley (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. ix, p. 223, 1894). In this he writes :—“I am forwarding to you today a nest and four eggs of the Brown Flycatcher (Alseonax latirostris). These eggs I obtained near here on the ghauts. The first nests were taken by Sergt. Kemp and myself on the 17th ult. (June), on which occasion the eggs were perfectly fresh ; the last were taken on the 30th, when fresh and hard-set eggs and young birds were met with. With one exception all the nests have been found on the dwarf teak trees, which grow so plentifully on the ghauts. They are, as a rule, built on thick, bare, horizontal branches, at some little distance from the trunk and, on an average, 18 feet from the ground. The bird seems to prefer the more secluded nullahs to breed in, generally selecting for this purpose a tree close to the bank. The nest, as you will see, is rather a large one for so small a bird.”
Later, Betham took several nests of this Flycatcher on the Same ghats (ibid. vol. xix, p. 988, 1909), but again omits to describe them. He took nests on the 20th and 27th June and 11th July.
Fortunately the nest is described by Davidsoni (ibid. vol. xi, p. 668, 1898), who took one near Birchia, in Kanara. He describes how, after noticing a bird fly past which he identified as a Brown Flycatcher, he eventually “saw it light on a lump on the branch, and, returning, saw there was a nest. The nest was a large solid one composed of green moss and lichen and lined with a few fibres and some feathers, mostly orioles. It was about 15 feet from the ground and in the middle of a horizontal branch.”
Kemp sent me some eggs with notes describing the nests as “large, rather untidy cups of moss and lichen, lined with roots and fibres and a few feathers, placed on horizontal boughs of small trees in nullahs in forest. The nest was placed either next the trunk or a short distance from it.”
Nests taken by Skinner in Dagshai were similar to those described.
Betham notes, in epistola :—“I took many nests at Simrole, about 10 miles from Mhow, in June and July. The birds breed on biggish trees about 30 feet or so from the ground. The nests, which are more or less wedged into stoutish forks or built on hori¬zontal boughs, are compact, cup-shaped structures, composed of soft material, snug and warm. They are made of moss, moss-roots and lichen and lined with roots and feathers.”
All the eggs recorded have been found between the 16th May and 21st June, the earliest being taken by Kemp and the latest by Betham.
The full clutch of eggs is undoubtedly four in India, although five and six are laid in Japan.
They are typical little Cyornis eggs and only differ from those of C. rubeculoides in size and in being, as a series, much more an olive- grey than olive-brown. The stipplings also are much more minute and, unless examined with a strong magnifying glass, the eggs appear to be quite unicoloured. They vary very little but the brown tinge is more decided in some than in others. I have seen no eggs in which the freckles form a definite ring or cap, but in a very few eggs there is a hazy, darker appearance at the larger end.
The difference in size between Indian eggs and those of the Japanese bird is very striking. Forty Indian eggs average 17.4 x 13.1 mm., while thirty Japanese only average 15.9 x 12.9 mm. The maxima for Indian eggs is 19.2 x 14.0 mm. ; minima 16.0 x 12.6 mm. Japanese birds’ eggs ran as small as 15.0 x 12.4 and 16.0 x 12.0 mm.
675. Alseonax latirostris poonensis
(675) Alseonax latirostris poonensis Sykes.