(243) Pellorneum ruflceps mandellii Blanf.
THE ASSAM SPOTTED BABBLER.
Pellorneum ruficeps mandellii, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 240.
The Assam Spotted Babbler is found from Nepal and Sikkim to the extreme East of Assam, both North and South of the Brahma¬pootra River. The Manipur birds are intermediate between minor and mandellii but may be placed with the latter. It may also occur in the extreme North of the Chin and Kachin Hills. Harington, whom I followed in the ‘Fauna,’ states that it re-occurs in the Bhamo District and Shan States, although divided from the Assam birds by the intervening minor. These Bhamo birds are not very typical subochraceum, yet, I now think, are nearer to that form than to mandellii, as we should naturally expect from their geographical position. The Assam Spotted Babbler breeds in the Himalayas to a considerable height, its nest having been taken at 6,000 feet by Osmaston and at 4,000 feet by Mandelli. Stevens, however, says “mainly confined to the Terai of the foot-hills but occurring in the Teesta Valley up to 3,800' (Shaw).” In Assam, North of the Brahmapootra, it is found all over the plains and in the hills up to 3,000 feet and possibly higher, but in the Surrma Valley its haunts are between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, though
I have taken its nest at 5,000 feet, and it certainly breeds right down to the foot-hill though not in the plains.
Both at the bringing season and at other times its favourite haunts are very thin open forest, bamboo-jungle, thin scrub and grass mixed, or cultivation which has been recently abandoned and which has only just begun to revert to nature. Of all these, however, it prefers a glade in open forest or an open space in bamboo- jungle, where here and there a few thin wisps of grass or a straggling bush alone show above the ground, the whole of which is covered with a dense mass of fallen leaves and twigs. Here it makes its nesting-site, not using the tufts of grass or the bushes as semi¬protection for its nest, but placing it among the fallen leaves, where it looks like nothing more than an extra little mass of the debris which surrounds it. Often it is completely hidden, and the first one knows of its presence is the appearance from among the dead leaves of a little lark-like bird which slopes along for a yard or two and then disappears with the same mysterious suddenness as that with which it has appeared. A little search will disclose a very poor attempt at a nest. Just a little ball of leaves or grass with a mock lining of a few roots, and that is all there is to it. It suffices, however, for its purpose, and though it falls to pieces when one attempts to pick it up, the surrounding leaves keep the nest in shape, while, marvellous to relate, it seems quite water¬proof, the uppermost leaves being placed so cleverly across one another that any but the heaviest rain falls off it and trickles away into the rubbish round about it. Sometimes the nest is semi¬domed and, in some hundreds of nests, I have seen a few which were merely deep cups placed slanting on their sides. In these cases, however, the nests were placed in bamboo-jungle and in piles of debris so dense that this furnished a sufficient dome to keep off rains, wind and light. Rarely the nests have better linings of roots, grass and thin yellow tendrils of little yellow Convolvuli, forming a cup within the bundle of bamboo-leaves constituting the real nest.
These birds seem very fond of making their nests alongside Gour, Buffalo or Elephant tracks, and must live in constant terror of some animal stepping a few inches aside and smashing up home and occupants. Most of my nests have been found by me when after big game, the birds leaving their nests only when my feet were within a few inches of them.
The nests are difficult to measure but are somewhere between six and eight inches in their longer diameter and between four and six in their shorter. They are oval in shape and generally placed slanting to the ground but, sometimes, quite upright.
The regular breeding season is April and May but I have taken eggs late in March and early in July, the latest being on the 27th of that month.
They lay three or four eggs and, exceptionally, five, which do not vary very greatly. The ground is white, generally pure but sometimes tinged with buff or, more rarely, with greyish-green, and they are marked with red-brown, brown, purplish-brown or blackish-brown. These markings generally consist of specks and very small blotches scattered profusely over the whole surface of the eggs but, in most instances, more numerous at the larger end, where the blotches are also sometimes rather bigger. In some eggs the markings form indefinite rings or caps at this end and, in a few eggs only, they are sparse elsewhere. Occasionally one finds a clutch with all the blotches larger and less numerous, considerably enhancing their appearance. In most eggs the secondary, or underlying, blotches of grey or lavender are numerous and, in a few, show up enough to influence the general tint of the egg. Many eggs of the redder type are extraordinarily like Bulbul’s eggs but the texture is coarser, not so close, and the surface glossless or nearly so. They are fragile eggs in comparison with their size.
Two hundred eggs average 22.4 x 16.3 mm. : maxima 24.9 x 16.1 and 21.7 x 18.8 mm. ; minima 20.5 x16.1 and 20.6 x 15.3 mm.
243. Pellorneum ruficeps mandellii
(243) Pellorneum ruflceps mandellii Blanf.