(273) Stachyris chrysaea chrysaea Blyth.
THE NEPAL GOLDEN-HEADED BABBLES.
Stachyris chrysoea chrysoea, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 265.
This pretty little Babbler breeds at all heights from 3,000 to 6,000 feet in the Outer Himalayas from Eastern Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan to Eastern Assam, both North and South of the Brahmapootra, through Manipur to the North Chin and Kachin Hills. Rothschild also records the species from Yunnan but, on the single specimen obtained, refrains from allocating it to any particular race.
When breeding, this tiny Babbler frequents bamboo-jungle and secondary growth as well as undergrowth in humid evergreen forest but I think the latter is at all times its favourite haunt. I found it very common in the higher valleys of the Barail Range between 3,000 and4,000feet, where the forest is always wet and green. Here along some of the streams there are strips of bamboo-jungle, only fifty to a hundred feet or so wide and, wherever there have been ricefields, deserted after a few years cultivation, there are areas of secondary growth, thin and scanty the first year or so but afterwards becoming very dense and matted. In any one of these three places one might find the nest of a Golden-headed Babbler. In bamboo-jungle the nest was sometimes placed at the foot of a clump or in among the bamboos a foot to two feet from the ground, where it was almost, or quite, buried in the fallen leaves. Occasionally it might be on the ground in the open, yet just as completely hidden in the masses of bamboo-spathes lying several inches deep in all directions. In scrub-jungle the nests were usually on the ground, well screened by sheltering bushes and weeds, though I have seen one or two built at the bottom of low bushes. In forest they are also nearly always placed on the ground under grass, bracken or a small bush and, practically invariably, on a bank sloping steeply enough to prevent the water saturating the nest.
The nest itself is normally domed, made outwardly of bamboo leaves or, seldom, of grass-leaves or strips of grass. The leaves are placed round and round to fit a tight little inner nest of fine roots, but sometimes this inner cup is wanting and the lining consists of a few roots and fine bits of leaves, whilst in some nests the eggs are laid directly on the bamboo-leaves and one wonders how the nest ever keeps together long enough to permit the birds to rear their young. Deep cup-shaped nests are not exceptional with this Babbler, but most of these are nests built in bamboo- clumps or in among fallen spathes and leaves which form a more or less waterproof canopy over the eggs.
The nests vary a good deal in size, this depending on the extent to which the surrounding twigs, leaves etc. compact the actual materials of the nest. Roughly speaking, they vary from 4 to 6 inches in height and from 3 to 4 in width, the inner cup being under 2 inches both in width and depth.
The breeding season in the Southern hills commences in early May and continues throughout June, while a good many nests, possibly second broods, may be found in July. I have taken fresh eggs from the 3rd May to the 23rd July in the North Cachar and Khasia Hills. In Lakhimpur, however, Coltart and I both found them breeding above Margherita in April. We also found them breeding here at 1,000 to 1,500 feet elevation, much lower than anywhere else within their range but, as I have already remarked, the avifauna of this end of Assam invariably represents birds occurring 1,000 to 2,000 feet higher elsewhere, owing, I presume, to the vicinity of the snow line.
The full clutch of eggs is four and they are pure white, very short broad ovals with a high gloss and a fine close texture, decidedly strong for so small an egg. Occasionally one finds a clutch with one or more of the eggs spotted lightly with reddish-brown, but such eggs are so rare as to be almost abnormal.
Seventy eggs average 15.4 x 12.2 mm. : maxima 17.1 x13.0 mm. ; minima 14.2 x 11.9 mm.
273. Stachyris chrysaea
(273) Stachyris chrysaea chrysaea Blyth.