(502) Oreicola ferrea ferrea.
The Western Dark-grey Bush-Chat.
Saxicola ferrea Gray, Cat. M. & B. Nepal, pp. 71, 153 (1846) (Nepal). Oreicola ferrea. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 66.
Vernacular names. Sarrak-chak-pho (Lepcha).
Description.— Adult male in winter. A narrow supercilium from the forehead to the nape white; lores, cheeks, ear-coverts and sides of neck black; whole upper plumage ashy-grey; the feathers of the head to lower back with broad black centres; some birds have rusty fringes to the feathers of these parts, some hardly any; tail brownish black, the feathers increasingly edged with white, the outer webs of the outermost pair being entirely white; wing-coverts and quills black, edged with grey, often, nearly white on the inner secondaries; inner coverts next the back pure white; chin, throat and generally a line behind the black sides of the neck white; remainder of lower parts ashy-white, darkest across the breast and on flanks.
Male in summer loses the grey edges to the feathers of the upper plumage, these parts becoming nearly black; the underpays become purer unite.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown; bill black; legs brown to blackish brown.
Measurements. Total length about 150 mm.; wing 66 to 09 mm.; tail 55 to 60 mm.; tarsus 20 mm.; culmen 11 mm.
Female. The whole upper plumage rufous or rufous ashy, with dark centres which become more prominent as the feathers become abraded in summer; upper tail-coverts dark bright chestnut; tail brown, broadly edged with chestnut, the outermost feathers paler; a pale grey supercilium; lores, sides of head, ear-coverts and sides of neck reddish brown, darkest in front of and under the eye; chin and throat almost white : remainder of lower plumage ashy rufous, darkest on the breast and brightest and more rufous on the posterior abdomen, vent and under tail-coverts.
Colours of soft parts and Measurements as in male.
The young bird is rufous-brown above, the feathers of the head and nape with fulvous central streaks; those of the neck with pale centres and blackish edges. On the underparts, the lower throat, breast and flanks are edged with dark brown or blackish. As soon as the wing and tail quills appear the male can be distinguished from the female, the former having these black and the latter brown, edged "in both sexes with the same colours as the adult birds.
Distribution. The Western Himalayas from Chitral and the borders of Afghanistan to Eastern Assam, North and South of the Brahmaputra.
Nidification. The Bark-grey Bush-Chat breeds throughout its range at all heights between 4,000 and 9,000 feet, perhaps even 1,000 feet higher than this. The nest is a fairly well-made cup of grass, roots, a few leaves and a little moss, lined with grass, fur or hair, sometimes with all three mixed, sometimes with fur or hair alone. They may be placed in almost any natural hollow in a bank, under a bush or thick tuft of grass, in among the roots of a tree, in a hole among the stones and boulders of a retaining wall or even on the ground in open grass-land in a slight depression. They breed from early April to early July and, according to Hume, generally have two broods which they rear in the same nest. The eggs number four or five. In colour the ground varies from a bluish white to a blue as deep as that of a Thrush's egg: the markings in some are very sparse consisting of an ill-defined ring or cap of faint reddish specks, in others these caps and rings are well and strongly defined and in yet others the whole surface is faintly freckled with reddish, generally in addition to a well-marked ring and the whole aspect of the egg is more reddish than blue. The texture is stout and fine but not highly glossed and the shape is a broad oval. One hundred eggs average 17.9 x 14.2 mm.: maxima 19.3 x 35.0 and 18.1x15.1 mm.; minima 16.1 x 13.2 and 18.0 x 13.1 mm.
Habits. There is little to note on this bird's habits which are quite typical of the sub-family. It is essentially a bird of open grass-hinds, not, as a rule, frequenting even open bush and scrub jungle. It is plentiful in winter in the elephant and ekra reeds on the borders of all the waterways in Assam and Eastern Bengal and in Behar may be found more often in cultivated country. In the non-breeding season it sometimes collects in considerable numbers but is not gregarious in the true sense of the word.