(535) Rhyacornis fuliginosa fuliginosa (Vigors).
THE HIMALAYAN PLUMBEOUS REDSTART.
Rhyacornis fuliginosa fuliginosa, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 81.
This little Redstart has a very wide range. It occurs both in Afghanistan and Baluchistan and thence right through the Himalayas, in the whole of the higher hills of Burma, to Tenasserim. Thence again it extends East throughout Siam and the Indo¬-Chinese countries to Central and South China and Hainan, being replaced in Formosa by It. fuliginosa affinis.
In Assam it breeds freely between 3,500 and 6,000 feet but, in the Himalayas, it breeds from about 4,000 feet up to 13,000 and even 14,000 feet. Stoliczka “found it breeding near Losar, in the Spiti Valley, at an elevation of 13,000 feet,” but Macdonald sent me birds, nests and eggs from Tibet taken at least a 1,000 feet higher still.
The nests I have personally taken have nearly all been built in crevices in rocks, in between stones or roots of trees on the banks of streams, or in holes in the banks themselves. It does not matter whether the bank is a sloping moss- and weed-covered one, or just a perpendicular earth-cliff, any hole will do for the purpose. One or two I have taken from low down in natural hollows in trees alongside streams and, very rarely, I have taken them from rocks and banks at a distance from the stream itself. In Shillong a very favourite and very beautiful position for the nests was on a high rocky slope overlooking the Umiam stream at an elevation of about 4,800 feet. Here they were always placed in hollows in, or between, stones, while they were absolutely hidden by a blazing glory of Azaleas and Rhododendrons.
Brooks took two nests near Mussoorie “in the crest on the top of the small steep bank formed by the excavation for the road on the hill-side above the river. The top edge of the excavation was 7 or 8 feet above the footpath, and the nests were placed in small shallow holes or cavities and were overhung by tufts of grass.”
They never seem to be placed far inside holes and, in most cases, the outside wall of the nest is flash with the entrance or even projects beyond it. Occasionally it is not placed in a hole and Whymper records (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xvii, p. 236, 1906) a very unusual position :—“It may be news to some readers that the Plumbeous Redstart sometimes builds in trees. Up the Liddar Valley in Kashmir this summer, on two occasions, I saw them building and afterwards secured the eggs ten or twelve feet up, the nest being placed like a Flycatcher’s against the trunk of a fairly large tree near the water’s edge. At one camp there was a bird sitting on a nest placed on a ledge of rock, as they ordinarily are, and within twenty yards there was another pair building fully fifteen feet up the trunk of a large tree.”
The nest itself varies considerably. In four cases out of five it is a very neat, compact, well-made cup of moss, green and fresh, with a certain number of dead leaves in the base and lower walls and a good number of fine roots welded in with the moss. The walls are stout but very well finished off internally, though externally they may more or less fit into the hole in which they are built. The lining is of fine roots, rachides or, less often, of wool or hair. Unusual linings have been found, such as “pure white goat’s-hair” (Cock), “silky vegetable fibre, some white and some red” (Gammie), or bright red Convolvulus tendrils (by myself).
The other type of nest, though made principally of moss, may have all sorts of untidy materials added, such as fine weed-stems, tiny roots, and grasses ‘which hang about in all directions outside the nest. The contrast between the two types is well shown by the two nests in the plate.,
The majority of eggs are laid in May and June but I have taken nests all through April and July in the Assam Hills. Rattray also found them breeding as early as April near Murree, and Coltart took nests during this month in Lakhimpur.
The full complement of eggs in a clutch is four or five, the latter number being often laid, whilst occasionally three only may be incubated.
The ground-colour is usually a very pale dull grey-green, sometimes rather brighter and almost a sea-green. In some clutches the ground is almost white and in others a pale grey stone colour, varying from this to a rather warm buff. The markings range from tiny specks of pale reddish, scattered fairly thickly over the whole surface, to rich red-brown blotches, generally more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere and often forming ill-defined or well-defined rings or caps. In a few eggs the blotches are more umber-brown than red-brown and, in these, the secondary markings of inky grey are more numerous and give a purple tinge to the egg.
Taken as a series the eggs of this Redstart remind one very much of those of the Black-backed and Brown-backed Indian Robins.
In shape they are broad ovals and the texture is neither very fine nor very close, whilst the surface is glossless.
One hundred eggs average 18.7 x 14.5 mm. : maxima 20.2 x 14.9 and 20.0 x 15.5 mm. ; minima 17.2 x 14.1 and 19.0 x 13.5 mm.
The female alone incubates, so far as I am aware, but both birds take an equal share in the construction of the nest.
They apparently have no territory during the breeding season, the nests often being built within a few yards of one another, whilst two pairs may be seen feeding quite amicably on the same stretch of river even when they are occupied in obtaining food for their young. Their nuptial display consists of a fluttering flight with distended plumage, very like that of males of the Wheatears.
535. Rhyaeornis fuliginosa fuliginosa
(535) Rhyacornis fuliginosa fuliginosa (Vigors).