(262) Rimator malacoptilus Blyth.
THE LONG-BILLED WREN-BABBLER.
Rimator malacoptilus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 255.
The Long-billed Wren-Babbler is found in the Outer Himalayas from Sikkim to the extreme East of Assam and on the South of the Brahmapootra in the foot-hills from Cachar to Lakhimpur ; it occurs also in Manipur and the Lushai Hills but, apparently, not in the Chin Hills.
This Babbler breeds at considerable elevations and, so far, no one seems to have got the nest except myself. On the Barail Range it nests above 5,000 feet, or perhaps a little lower, on the highest ridges, whilst in the Khasia Hills we occasionally came across it on the 6,000-feet ridge and peaks above Shillong. It is one of the hardest birds to collect that I know of, for it has a perfect genius for keeping unseen, although its rather beautiful whistle may notify its exact whereabouts. It keeps entirely to forests and, even in these, it prefers the most broken country or steep ravines running down the sides of precipitous hills. In North Cachar I obtained casual glimpses of it occasionally when watching a nest but, even under these circumstances, it was difficult to get more than a glimpse, as it seems to have a facility for getting both on and off its nest without being spotted. It never fed or moved about within view when being waited for ; all one saw was something alive—it might have been bird, reptile or mammal—just for a second as it slipped into its nest. I never succeeded in getting a shot in this way, though it was easy enough to snare them on the nest. This is always placed on the ground, generally in among a mass of fallen leaves and other debris and often at the foot of some tree larger than the average of those round about it. Sometimes it was sheltered by a bush, bunch of Caladiums or other plants but, more often, it was concealed and protected by the fallen rubbish only. The nest is an ill-formed globe of all kinds of dark materials, leaves, grass, roots and fern- and bracken-fronds, rather loosely and clumsily put together and held in position by roots, weed- stems and fern-rachides. Although so badly built, it stands handling better than the nests of Napothera, as the materials them¬selves are not so rotten. The lining is of dry dead leaves only.
I think they are late breeders, most nests being taken in June, but I have either taken or had them found for me from the middle of May.
The eggs are, I think, unmistakable for those of any other birds, though there are some types of Alcippe eggs which are rather like them. The ground-colour is white, with generally the faintest tinge of lilac, and they are marked with primary blotches of deep red- brown or purple-brown and with short irregular lines and smears of the same. The secondary markings are of lilac-grey and are often more numerous than the primary markings and give a pronounced lilac tint to the eggs. In addition to all these there are often smears of pale lilac-red, intermediate between the primary and secondary blotches in depth of colour. The surface is fine and close but with very little gloss and the shell is strong. In shape they are moderately long true ovals.
The normal clutch is four, and I have one of five.
Thirty eggs average 21.2 x 15.5 mm. : maxima 22.6 x 15.6 and 21.2 x 16.1 mm. ; minima 20.2 x 15.0 and 21.1 x 15.0 mm.
262. Rimator malacoptilus
(262) Rimator malacoptilus Blyth.