Biblis obsoleta

Cotyle rupestris (non Scop.), Rupp. Syst. Uebers, p. 22 (1845) ; Vierth. Naum. 1855, p. 471 ; Hengl. Syst. Uebers, p. 17 ; E. C. Taylor, Ibis, 1859, p. 47 ; Adams, Ibis, 1864, p. 14 ; Hartm. J. f. O. 1864, p. 387 ; E. C. Taylor, Ibis, 1867, p. 57.
Cotyle obsoleta, Cab. Mus. Hein. Th. i. p. 50 (1850) ; Heugl. Orn. N.O.-Afr. i. p. 163 (1869) ; Sharpe, P. Z. S. 1870, p. 301 ; Shelley, Ibis, 1871, p. 136 ; id. B. Egypt, p. 123 (1872) ; Blanf. Ibis, 1873, p. 214 ; Dresser, B. Eur. iii. p. 521, pl. 165 (1875).
Cotyle cahirica, A. E. Brehm, J. f. O. 1853, p. 452, et Extrah. p. 96 ; Blasius, Ibis, 1861, p. 295.
Cotyle cachirica, C. L. Brehm, Naum. 1855, p. 271.
Cotyle palustris (nee Steph.), Tristr. Ibis, 1867, p. 363 ; Wyatt, Ibis, 1870, pp. 2, 9, 12.
Cotyle paludicola (nec V.), Tristr. Ibis, 1869, p. 436.
Cotile obsoleta, Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 74, no. 876 (1869) ; Hume, Str. E. 1876, p. 40 ; Sharpe, Cat. Birds in Brit. Mus. x. p. 111 (1885) ; Yerbury, Ibis, 1886, p. 14.
Ptionoprogne pallida, Hume, Str. F. 1873, pp. 1, 417 ; Blanf. Ibis, 1873, p. 214.
Cotyle (Ptyonoprogne) obsoleta, Blanf. East. Pers. ii. p. 217 (1876).
Ptyonoprogne obsoleta, Hume, Str. F. 1879, p. 84 ; Butler, Cat. B. Siad &c. p. 13 (1879).
C. minor, pallida ; Tectricibus albo maculatis, duabus mediis et extimis cxceptis ; suvcaudalibus saturate brunneis ; subtus pallide isabellina, abdomine saturatiore brunneo ; gula baud maculata.
Hab. in Africa septentrionali-orientali, in Arabia et in Palaestina et per terras littorales Oceanae : Indica usque ad provinciam Sindianam.
Adult. Above very pale greyish brown, dark on the head and nape ; wing-coverts and quills darker brown, with light edgings to the feathers ; rump and tipper tail-coverts very pale greyish brown ; tail-feathers light greyish brown, with a white spot on the inner web of all the feathers except the two middle and the outer ones ; chiu whitish, unspotted ; throat and breast white, with a very faint fulvous tinge ; tinder tail-coverts darker greyish brown, with faint edgings of pale brown ; axillaries pale brown ; under wing-coverts a little darker brown, with rufescent margins: “bill black ; legs brown ; iris dark brown” (G. E. Shelley). Total length 5 inches, culmen 0.35, wing 4.5, tail 2.1, tarsus 0.4.
Of a pair of specimens from Palestine the measurements are given in the ‘Catalogue of Birds ’ as follows :—
Total length in. Wing in. Tail. In. Tarsus. In.
a. Male ad. Mt. Quarantania (H. B. Tristram) 4.8 4.55 2 0.35
b. Female ad. Engedi (H. B. Tristram) 4.9 4.55 2.15 0.4
These dimensions may be compared with those given by Mr. Hume of his series from Sind (l. c.) as follows :—“The sexes do not differ in size, though individuals differ in each sex con¬siderably. The males (seven of each sex were preserved) varied in length from 5.35 to 5.6 inches ; expanse 12.25 to 13 inches ; wing 4.4 to 4.7 inches. In the females, the length varied from 5.25 to 5.5 inches ; expanse 12.3 inches ; wing 4.5 to 4.75 inches. In both sexes the tail measures about 1.8 inch from vent. The wings, when closed, exceed the tail by a little more than 0.5 inch, and the weight was a trifle over 0.5 oz. The bill was black and the legs and feet horny brown.” A good deal of difference is noticeable in the colour of the underparts in a series of this Martin, some specimens being rufescent and darker below. These are probably in fresher plumage, as the feathers apparently bleach a good deal with the sun and exposure. Mr. Dresser believes these to be younger birds. They do not show any pale edgings to the feathers, such as usual in a Cotite, and we think it probable that they are merely individuals whose plumage has not got bleached.
Hab. North-eastern Africa, Arabia, Palestine, and the shores of the Indian Ocean as far as Sind.
This is a smaller species than C. rupestris, with which it has often been confounded. Besides the lesser dimensions, it may also be distinguished by its very pale colour and uniform throat, the latter being spotted in C. rupestris.
Von Heuglin states that it is a resident in Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia, occurring as well on the Arabian coast and in the mountains of Sinai. He writes :—“ It lives among the bare rocky walls and old graveyards, both near the sea and high up near the region of snow. In Semien we shot it at a height of between 11,000 and 12,000 feet above the sea-level. Its flight resembles that of an arrow and is generally straight, though sometimes whirling and uneven, at times low down over the desert, and at other times so high in the air as to disappear from sight altogether. The pale colour of this active and restless bird, amid the glaring sunlight, which is sometimes truly dazzling, makes it appear to vanish suddenly, as if dissolving in mist. The breeding-season is at the beginning of the year. The nest is small and constructed of sand and clay cemented with saliva. We found them breeding in ravines, stone-quarries, catacombs, sepulchral monuments, and isolated buildings in the desert.”
Captain Shelley, in his ‘Birds of Egypt,’ observes :—“This species of Crag-Swallow is very plentifully distributed throughout Egypt and Nubia, where it is a resident. It only frequents the rocky districts, and is therefore of rare occurrence in the Delta, although at Cairo and the Pyramids it is abundant. It may be easily recognized by the paleness of the colouring of its back. It begins to breed about the middle of February, placing its nest under the shelter of an overhanging rock, or attaching it to the ceiling of some of the less-frequented passages of the ruined temples, or even occasionally in the native dwellings. The eggs of this species are white, spotted with rufous brown, and are very like those of Hirundo rustica.” Mr. E. Cavendish Taylor found a nest on the 25th of January in the grottoes of Beni-Hassan, containing two eggs nearly ready to hatch. This is an earlier date than that given by Capt. Shelley.
The British Museum contains specimens collected hy Sir Samuel Baker up the Nile, and by Mr. Francis Galton at the Fifth Cataract. The late Marquis Antinori did not meet with the species actually in Shoa, but he procured specimens at Zeila, in the Gulf of Aden. At Aden itself, Mr. Wyatt noticed it flying over the “Tanks;” and Major Yerbury, in his essay on the birds of that locality, says :—“A Crag-Martin is with us all the year round and breeds in the caves.” He sent a specimen to the British Museum.
Mr. Wyatt often saw the species when on the Sinai survey. It was common on the lowlands in the winter ; and towards the end of February, when spring in the desert may be said to commence, it ascended the mountains, where it was seen hawking for flies over the “retem ” bushes, which are in full blossom at that time of the year. In April he met with it in Wady Ithm, along the highlands of Edom, between Akabah and Petra.
Canon Tristram found it in Palestine, where it is “entirely confined to the Bead Sea basin, in which it is sedentary. Round the sea itself it is the only species, but at the north end it mingles with C. rupestris, and they both breed in the same eaves in Jebel Quarantania. It is essentially a desert species, as C. rupestris is a mountain one. In habits it differs from its congener, sweeping the desert plains rather than soaring over the mountain cliffs.”
Turning eastwards, we next find the species at Fao, in the Persian Gulf, whence Mr. W. D. Cumming has sent specimens to the British Museum.
Mr. Blanford obtained this Martin at Pasin and Gwadar on the Mekran coast ; and the Hume collection also contains specimens from the Mekran coast, from Khoce Batt and Gwadar, collected in January and February. Mr. W. T. Blanford found it common throughout Baluchistan ; but he never saw it on the Persian highlands, where, he says, it appeared to be entirely replaced by C. rupestris.
The birds from Sind were named C. pallida by Mr. Hume, but Mr. Blanford, having compared his specimens from Sind and Baluchistan with others from North-eastern Africa, established their identity. Mr. Hume was, however, the first to publish the occurrence of this species in Sind. He “found it very common along the Gaj, the Nurrinai, and other small streams that issue from the bare stony hills that divide Sind from Khelat.” He met with it again, with the Common Swift, off the headland of Minora, at the mouth of the Kurrachce harbour, and in similar localities along the Mekran coast. Colonel E. A. Butler, whose beautiful specimens from Kurrachee are in the Hume collection, records it as “ a cold-weather visitant to Sind, where it is not un¬common along the coast. It is also met with in Cutch.”
The Hume collection also contains a male obtained by Sir Oliver St. John near Kandahar, on the 3rd of May, 1880.
Mr. Blanford observes:—“C. obsoleta is far from being so thorough a Crag-.Martin as C. rupestris. I have often met with it about hills, but, I think, more frequently still in the neighbourhood of the broad stream-beds, usually dry, which intersect the desert plains of Baluchistan, but. which, from containing more vegetation than the surrounding country, afford a larger quantity of insect food to Swallows and Martins. C. obsoleta was very common in December and January along the sea-shore. I did not see much of it in its breeding-haunts, though the birds at Kalagan and Talk in March were in pairs, hunting about particular spots, as if building nests, and the males which I dissected had enlarged testes. They doubtless breed on rocks like their allies.”
The specimen described is an Egyptian one in the British Museum. The bird figured is also from Egypt, and is in Captain Shelley’s collection.

A Monograph Of The Hirundinidae Or Family Of Swallows.
Sharpe, Richard Bowdler, and Claude Wilmott Wyatt. A Monograph of the Hirundinidae: Or Family of Swallows. Vol. 1. 1894.
Title in Book: 
Biblis obsoleta
Spp Author: 
Book Author: 
Richard Bowdler
Page No: 
Common name: 
Pale Rock Martin
Pale Crag Martin
Ptyonoprogne obsoleta
Vol. 1

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