(878) Acanthopneuste magnirostris Blyth.
THE LARGE-BILLED WILLOW-WARBLER.
Acanthopneuste magnirostris, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 476.
The Large-billed Willow-Warbler breeds practically all over Kash¬mir and Ladak in suitable localities between 8,000 and 12,000 feet and extends through Tibet to Kansu. Whitehead met with it in the Kurram and Khagan Valleys and says that it nests in small numbers between 7,000 and 8,000 feet on the lower slopes of Safed Koh.
In Kashmir its nest has been taken near Sonamurg at about 8,000 ; in many other places in South Kashmir from that elevation up to 12,000 feet. In Garhwal Whymper took nests up to 11,000 feet, and in the Murree Hills Rattray says that it breeds from 8,000 to 12,000 feet.
Although so common a bird over a very large area, its nest was not discovered until 1899, when Capt. Kenneth Buchanan took one at Changla Gali, about 10 miles from Murree, on the 15th of July. He writes (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xii, p. 777, 1900) :— “The female was shot off the nest, which was a large, loosely-made domed structure of moss and maidenhair-fern stems, lined with fine grass. It was situated under an overhanging bank, on the side of a steep wooded hill, supported by the projecting, root of a tree. The nest contained four fresh pure white eggs.”
Later Rattray took many nests round about Murree and sent me fine series of its eggs. I summarize his notes sent with them as follows — “This Warbler is a late breeder ; it is possible a few birds may lay in the last week of May but I have seen none such and most birds do not lay until after the middle of June. They may be found nesting all through July and well into August, on the 10th of which month I have taken fresh eggs, while Wilson has taken them as late as the 7th September. Perhaps some birds have two broods. Their nest is domed and most often it is made of grass with just a few oddments, such as dry moss, roots, fern stems, fungoid rachides etc. mixed with it. Sometimes, however, it is made almost entirely of moss, which may be either dry and yellow or almost fresh and green. When thus made there seems to be always some grass on the inside of the dome to help to hold the moss together. The hning always consists of grass and hair in varying quantity, one of the two materials occasionally being wanting altogether. Feathers are never used as hning, though I have seen an odd one or two rarely incorporated in the body of the nest.
“The bird frequents woods and very well wooded open country and, when the woods are very dense and thick, it selects the more open spaces where there is some light and sun. I think best of all it likes thin mixed forest of Deodars and other trees where the ground is broken up and rugged with lots of stony banks, a certain amount of undergrowth and yet plenty of space and light. The nest is nearly always on the ground and is always well hidden ; the places in which I have found most of my nests have been in holes in among the roots of trees, and as the birds choose quite small holes it is often a business to examine the nest after it has been found, entailing much digging and cutting away of the roots. Some¬times the nest is in a natural hollow in a bank, under the overhanging crest or under a boulder and, rarely, in Murree, it is built in natural hollows in trees, dead or alive. The eggs, of course, are pure white and number four or five, occasionally only three.”
Whymper took one nest from a hole in a dead tree 8 feet from the ground. This was in Garhwal, and here, as in Kashmir, holes in trees appear often to be used as nesting sites, the birds building complete domed nests even when they are placed well inside these hollows.
The bird is said to be secretive, and Rattray says they want a good deal of watching before one can track them home to their nests and, though the male is always near about it singing, as he imagines very beautifully, he does not give away the site by over anxiety and fussiness. He seems never to do any of the work of incubation.
The eggs, as stated by Rattray, are four or five in number and pure white, of the same rather fragile brittle texture common to the eggs of the genus. The surface is smooth and sometimes there is a distinct sheen but never the hard gloss one gets on Phylloacopi eggs.
Fifty eggs average 18.2 x 13.2 mm. : maxima 20.0 x 13.9 mm. ; minima 15.1 x 12.2 mm. The latter measurements are almost abnormally small and the next smallest are 16.0 x 13.0 and 17.0 x 12.7 mm.
878. Acanthopneuste magnirostris
(878) Acanthopneuste magnirostris Blyth.