(614) Myophonus coeruleus temminckii Vigors.
THE HIMALAYAN WHISTLING-THRUSH.
Myiophoneus temminckii temminckii, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 180.
Myophonus coeruleus temminckii, ibid. vol. viii, p. 625.
This Whistling-Thrush breeds from the North-East Frontier throughout the Himalayas to the extreme East and South of Assam, the Eastern Bengal hill-tracts, Chin Hills, Arrakan Hills and the western Kachin Hills. Between the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin the birds are intermediate between the Himalayan and Burmese races, some individuals approaching the one, some the other.
This Thrush breeds from the foot-hills commonly up to some 6,000 feet throughout its range. Above this height it is less common, though still breeding freely up to 8,000 feet and even 10,000 in Kash¬mir and 12,000 in Tibet. Although I have taken or seen in situ an enormous number of this bird’s nests, I do not think I can improve on Hume’s description of its nesting-sites. He writes (‘Nests and Eggs,’ 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 120):—“The nest is almost invariably placed in the closest proximity to some mountain-stream, on the rocks and boulders of which the male so loves to warble ; sometimes on a mossy bank ; sometimes in some rocky crevice hidden amongst drooping maidenhair ; sometimes on some stream-encircled slab, exposed to view from all sides, and not unfrequently curtained in by the babbling waters of some little waterfall, behind which it has been constructed. The nest is always admirably adapted to surrounding conditions. Safety is always sought, either in inaccessibility or concealment. Built on a rock in the midst of a roaring torrent, not the smallest attempt at concealment is made the nest lies open to the gaze of every living thing, and the materials are not even so chosen as to harmonize with the colour of the site. But if an easily accessible sloping mossy bank, ever bejewelled with the spray of some little cascade, be the spot selected, the nest is so worked into and coated with moss as to be absolutely invisible if looked at from below, and the place is usually so chosen that it cannot well be looked at, at all closely, from above.”
Among the various sites chosen, in addition to those mentioned by Hume, are hollows among roots of trees on banks of streams ; occasionally a hole low down in a large dead stump ; ledges on steep banks or rocks overlooking water and, often, in among the debris collected in the branches of a tree fallen into the water. A very exceptional site was one noted by Rattray, which was a hole about 10 feet up in a tree in forest, nearly half a mile from any stream or water. This was near Mussoorie. A very favourite situation is actually under a waterfall, even when this necessitates the parent birds dashing through the water to visit the nest. Sometimes it may be under a mere trickle of water finding its way along some forest ravine, but I once saw a nest under the Elephant Falls in Shillong over which a roaring mass of water some thirty feet wide fell continuously, though leaving gaps at the side through which the birds could enter. Damp and wet seem to be no deterrent and many nests—I think I could say most that I have seen—have been built in places where they were more or less soaked with spray all the time. Apparently in the Western Himalayas the birds sometimes breed on streams where they run through more or less open spaces but, in Assam, they kept closely to deep forest and to the smaller streams not more than a hundred feet or so across. The only exception to this was on the Umiam stream in the Khasia Hills, where I have seen several nests in the banks where the stream ran through the golf-links and race-course. In these cases the nests were always most beautifully hidden.
All the nests I have seen in Assam were of the same construction and agree well with those taken by Unwin, Jerdon, Thompson and Hutton in the North-West and Kashmir. In shape they are very massive cups, though when placed in holes and crevices they may conform, so far as is needed, to the situation in which they are built. When on ledges of rocks or banks they are generally truly cup-shaped, measuring externally anything between 8 and 10 inches across by 4 to 6 or even 8 inches deep, whilst the internal cup would average about 4.1/2 inches in diameter by 3 inches or even more in depth. The great depth may in some cases protect the eggs from too great a soaking by the spray and even slightly shelter the sitting bird. The material used is, without exception, wet green moss, with or without the muddy roots attached, to form the whole of the outer part of the walls ; moss on the outside, the roots pointing to and worked into the inner part. The lining is of fern-, moss- or other roots or, very rarely, fine grass or fibre. The nests are very compact, very strongly put together and very heavy, weighing three or four pounds. Odd scraps of grass, a few dead leaves, or a casual small twig may be mixed with the moss and moss-roots but these are, I think, picked up more by accident than design, and I have never seen a nest made of roots and twigs without moss such as the Southern bird so often makes.
The breeding season over the whole of its area is very long, from late April to August, and, undoubtedly, many birds have two broods in the year. Occasionally they may bring up two broods in the same nest but, as a rule, they make a new nest close by, and it is a common thing to find the nests within a few inches, or even on the top, of one another. They return to the same site for nesting purposes year after year and I have seen four nests within a few feet of one another on a long ledge of rock beside a waterfall.
A full clutch of eggs varies from three to five, though the latter is exceptional, especially in the North-West, where three seems more frequent than four. The eggs only differ from those of the preceding bird in being much less blotched. The very great majority of eggs look unicoloured unless carefully examined, when the faint red freckling may be seen. The ground varies from pale stone- green, pale olive-grey or pale creamy buff to warm buff. Of unusual eggs I have one clutch of three of which one egg is pale stone, spotted like a Rail’s egg with dark red, the second is rather bright buff and appears unicoloured, whilst the third is deeper buff, quite handsomely blotched with reddish-brown. In shape and texture the eggs agree with those of the Southern Whistling-Thrush.
Two hundred eggs average 35.8 x 24.8 mm. : maxima 40.3 x 26.0 and 35.1 x 27.1 mm. ; minima 31.5 x 22.9 mm.
Both sexes incubate and I have seen both sexes bringing material to the nest and, I think, both took part in the actual building ; unfortunately the nest was under a waterfall, and I could not see exactly what the birds were doing.
614. Myophonus eceruleus temminckii
(614) Myophonus coeruleus temminckii Vigors.