(502) Rhodophila ferrea ferrea (Gray).
THE WESTERN DARK GREY BUSH-CHAT.
Oreicola ferrea ferrea, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 36.
Rhodophila ferrea ferrea, ibid. vol. viii, p. 620.
This Chat breeds throughout the Himalayas, from the Afghan Frontier to Eastern Assam, between 4,000 and 8,000 feet, and is, apparently, most common between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. It extends some distance into the Himalayas and has been found nesting in Kashmir. Hume says that they are found “South of the first snowy ranges and, in some cases, where these are broken through by large rivers, up the valleys of these latter, far beyond these ranges.” In Sikkim it has been recorded up to 9,000 feet by Blanford.
The Dark Grey Bush-Chat frequents cultivated areas, open hill-sides covered with grass, flowers or bushes, and are, perhaps, especially fond of hill-sides plentifully supplied with these and having, in addition, numerous boulders, stones or outcrops of rock. Many birds build in the banks of unfrequented roads, sometimes even in those which are frequented. No summary of the situations in which their nests may be found can be better than that of Hume. He writes :— “The nest is placed on the ground, sometimes under some large overhanging stone or stout earthen clod ; inside, or more or less concealed by, a tuft of grass or weeds ; sometimes in a little depression in the hill-side under some thick bush, often under some great bulging root of a forest tree and, occasionally, but rarely, in some hole in the loose stone walls that in the hills protect and support our roads. It is a tolerably neat cup-shaped structure, sometimes shght and loosely put together, sometimes comparatively massive and compact, composed chiefly of moderately coarse grass, fine twigs or moss, and lined either with finer grass-stems, fine roots, horsehair or soft fur ; sometimes a great deal of vegetable fibre and even a little lichen is incorporated in the sides and towards the bottom of the nest. Externally they vary in size from 3.5 to 4.5 in. in diameter, and from 2 to 3 inches in height. The cavity is about 2.5 in. in diameter and rarely much more than 1.1 in depth ; very often it is barely an inch.”
Round about Simla Dodsworth took many nests for me, and in a letter sent with them writes:—“ Oreicola ferrea is extremely common in these hills between 5,000 and 8,000 feet. They lay from four to five eggs, sometimes only three but, in these cases, it is generally a second laying. The nests are made of grass, roots, leaves, etc., often well lined with fur or hair. Sometimes they are very slightly and clumsily built, sometimes they are quite compact, well-made cups. As regards sites, they are generally in these hills placed in holes or hollows in banks, under a boulder, a large root of a tree or in an actual hole in the bank. At other times they are placed on the ground among the roots of grass or bushes, which screens them from bad weather and from sight. They lay from the middle of April to the end of June.”
Jones took a few nests later than this in the Koti State, and I have eggs taken by him up to 5th July. Marshall and Cook took them still later in Koloo and the Valley of the Sutlej, recording that they “took numerous nests between the first of May and end of July.”
Rattray and others took nests around Murree chiefly in May and June at about 5,000 to 7,000 feet, and at Mussoorie P. Mackinnon and Hutton obtained them at 6,000 and 7,000 feet in the same months. In Sikkim it is a common bird and breeds at elevations above this, for St. J. Hickley sent me eggs from Gnatong, but normally it breeds at about 5,000 fect, at which height Gammie and Muller took a great many nests, while Osmaston also obtained some, and it is interesting to note that the latter found them breeding “in very open forest, in sloping banks.”
As will be seen from the above notes, the principal time of breeding is from the end of April to the middle of June, but that many birds breed earlier and some much later. Most birds have two broods, and it is quite probable, as Hume suggests, that some have three broods in the year. I do not think the male ever incubates and, though Hodgson sent one nest and eggs to Hume with the male bird, he does not say it was caught on the nest. As a rule the cock sits on the top of some bush not far from the nest and notifies the hen when it is time for her to leave it.
The eggs number four or five, very rarely six, and are in appearance just like those of the Common Indian Bush-Chat, but of course larger and, perhaps, as a series, rather more marked with reddish. A few clutches have a pale buffy ground-colour, the red freckles being mainly confined to a well-marked zone round the larger end. Among unusual clutches one of five has the ground-colour a uniform pale dull blue-green without any markings ; another clutch of four has the ground pale clay, very faintly freckled with pale reddish, rather more numerous in an indistinct ring at the big end ; yet another clutch looks an almost uniform dark olive-green.
The texture is fairly fine and close, the shell stout in proportion to the size of the egg and sometimes with a faint gloss, rarely at all pronounced.
One hundred eggs average 17.9 x 14.2 mm. : maxima 19.3 x 15.0 and 18.1 x 15.1 mm. ; minima 16.1 x 13.2 and 18.0 x 13.1 mm.
502. Rhodophila ferrea ferrea
(502) Rhodophila ferrea ferrea (Gray).