No. 64. Bulaca Newarensis.* HODGSON.
THE NEPAL BROWN WOOD OWL.
This species, so far as I yet know, lays in May. I have only seen one nest, which was in a deep, wooded, precipitous little valley or khud, at the back of Mahasoo (near Simla). Contrary to what might have been expected, it was placed on a shelf projecting from the face of a low precipice; immediately above it, projected a large point of rock, from which depended a perfect curtain of bushes, which reached the tops of the trees, growing at the foot of the precipice. The nest, the Paharees said, (I could not get up to it myself,) was composed of sticks, with a few feathers intermingled, it was completely hidden from sight by the bushes and rocks above and below, and contained on the 6th of June, three very young birds.
The female was fired at, but not obtained at the time ; weeks afterwards, her remains were found, hanging in the moss and ferns of a tree, some distance down the valley, utterly rotten and spoiled.
The male brought the young ones up, and on the 10th of October, I shot him and one of the young ones, then as nearly full grown as might be.
I very much doubt the distinctness of this and the last species. I give below in great detail, the measurements taken in the flesh of the old and the young males, above referred to. It will be seen that the dimensions very little exceed those given by Dr. Jerdon for Indranee, and fall far short of those which he gives for Newarensis. A Burmese skin, differed in none of its dimensions, by more than a mere fraction, from the skin of the old male above referred to.
Mr. Blyth holds a different opinion, and I reproduce his remarks further on ; but I nevertheless still hold, that the distinction of size is, to say the least, neither so constant, nor so material as has been asserted, and has by no means been so established as to render (if Dr. Jerdon's measurements of the southern race are reliable)* a specific separation of the northern and southern birds, certainly requisite. Dr. Jerdon gives the wing of the southern species at from 13 to 14 inches. The Burmese bird has them 14.8. My two Simla specimens have them 15.2 in the young and 15.5 in the old male. A fine Bussahir specimen has them 16.2, a peculiarly large Kumaon bird 16.7, and this is the largest in my museum. Dr. Stoliczka says, " An unusually large specimen of 21 inches in Length, with the wing of a little over 18 inches, and the tail of 10 1/2 inches, was shot at Kotegurh in February, 1866." But Yon Pelzeln, says of this same specimen, " The wing in this specimen measures 16". A specimen received from Baron Hugel and also from the Himalayahs, is decidedly smaller (wing 15") ; above it is much redder, and the wavy cross-markings underneath are narrower and paler."
I have no Sikhim or Nepal specimens. Can it be that a larger race inhabits those districts, while in Kumaon and westwards, the race is identical with that of Southern and Central India ? Certainly, the evidence before me, leads to the conclusion, that even if the Nepal and Neilgherry birds be distinct, the Burmese, Kumaon, Simlah and Kotegurh birds are intermediate between these two.
The following however are Mr. Blyth's views in regard to B. Newarensis.
" This species is figured by Gray and Mitchell, (Gen. Birds, pl. 14), with yellow irides, which is a mistake. The species of Bulaca, as of Syrnium, have dark* irides, while those of Ptynx (I suspect) have yellow irides. In the great series of Scops-Owls, there are two groups, one having dark, and the other yellow irides. To the former belong certain African species of considerable size, as the so-called Bubo lacteus, (Temm. P. C. 4), also B. poensis, Fraser (figured in incompletely mature plumage as B. fasciolatus, Temm., in P. Z. S. 1863, pl. 33), and another beautiful species, B. cinerascens, now, together with B. poensis, in the Zoological Gardens, which seem to differ only from Bulaca, (founded on the present species) in having tufts of peculiar and rather flimsy texture, which they have a peculiar mode of displaying, spreading them out laterally like the opening of a wing; and to this group of Scops-Owls also belongs the Ephialtes lettia, and its immediate congeners (as noticed in the sequel). A parallel series of yellow-eyed Scops-Owls comprises the so-called Bubo Africanus and species akin to it, as also the small European Scops-Owl with others allied to it. Professor Schlegel and also Mr. G. It. Gray, erroneously identify Bulaca Newarensis of Hodgson with B. indrani of Sykes (B. monticola, Jerdon), the Himalayan species being very much larger than the other, and differing more from it than Spilornis Cheela does from S. bacha As Dr. Jerdon remarks, the Himalayan bird must weigh fully double that from Southern India."
To my mind neither of Dr. Jerdon's descriptions, i.. e., neither that of Indranee nor Newarense, sufficiently accurately represent our Simla bird, and I have therefore given in the footnote, a detailed description taken from a fresh specimen (the old male) killed near Mahasoo, but I should note that some birds have the whole of the upper parts a paler and more decidedly rufous brown, than in the specimen described, and the feathers of the centre of the forehead, crown, and occiput, absolutely uncolorous with those of the nape, upper back and central scapulars, instead of contrasting with them by their deep chocolate-like tinge. The feathers of the tarsus and base of the foot are very thick and full. So that the lower portion of the tarsus appears fully one and three quarter inches deep, measured from front to back. The arrangement of the toes is somewhat remarkable, almost scansorial, if I may use the term. When the fresh foot is pulled out, so that the sole is flat and without crease, the mid and hind toes are in one straight line, and the two lateral toes are also in one straight line. The inner and mid toe subtend between them an angle of only 60 degrees, and similarly the outer and hind toe subtend only the same angle, while the outer and middle toe subtend an angle of 120°, as do the hind and inner toe. The soles are very flat, with scarcely any pads and with nearly an inch square of surface, beyond the corners of which the soles of the toes project. In colour they are fleshy white, thickly set with conspicuous, but soft papillae. It should be remarked, that the hind toe is not absolutely on a level with the three anterior toes, but has its origin a little higher up.
I have shot a good many of this species, at one time or another. I have always found great difficulty in getting them to fly. They are always in well-wooded localities, but so far as my experience goes, affect small precipices, on the sides of wooded hills.
Mr. Thompson sent me the following note, in regard to the large Kumaon specimen already referred to - :" During the past winter, I got a specimen of this bird, which I shall send you. It was being mobbed by a gang of Crows at Huldwanee at the foot of the hills, and some boys killed it with pellets from their bows."
A specimen which I secured on Nagteeba (north of Landour and across the Uglas), was set upon, when we did succeed in making it fly by a pair of Faloons, who knocked it down, one of them inflicting a severe wound on the back. As far as I can remember, the Falcons were " Atriceps ;" at the time, (I had not then distinguished the species,) I considered them to be Perigrinator. Of the geographical distribution I have nothing to add to what I said under B. Indranee.
* BULACA NEWARENSIS.
DIMENSIONS (of Males.) Old. Young.
Length 21.5 21.5
Expanse 52.5 51.6
Weight 2 lb. 1 oz. 1 lb. 12 3/4 oz
Wing 15.5 15.2
Which primary longest... 5th 5th
Amount by which other primaries fall short of 1st 4.5 1st 4.7
longest, 2nd 2.3 2nd 2.2
Tail of how many feathers 12. 12.
Length of tail from vent, 9.5 9.5
By how much longest tail feathers exceed shortest, 1. 0.8
Tarsus (densely feathered), . 3. 2.8
Foot, greatest Length 4.5 4.4
Foot, greatest width 5. 4.8
Mid Toe, 2. 2.
Hind Toe .9 .9
Its claw, along curve, 1.1 1.0
Inner Toe 1.8 1.6
Its claw, along curve, 1.55 1.3
Bill, straight from base, . 1.75 1.65
Bill, along curve 1.75 1.9
Bill, from gape, 1.9 1.8
Bill, width at gape 1.45 1.37
Bill, height at front 1.00 .9
Length of cere which is indistinct, .83 .75
Distance by which the closed wings fall short of end of tail, 1.5 0.7
Distance by which lower tail coverts fall short of ditto, 3.9 5.0
DESCRIPTION, - :Legs and feet densely feathered to the last joints of the toes, which last joints, are pale plumbeous; claws dusky lead colour. Irides deep brown. Bill. - :Greenish horny white, bluish towards base; cere, which is ill-defined, plumbeous. Bare eyelids and eye shel£ very pale, fleshy plumbeous.
PLUMAGE. - :The centre of the forehead, crown, and occiput, deep blackish brown, with, in some lights, a marked purple gloss. Bristly feathers in front, and immediately above the anterior angle of the eye, black shafted, and with most of the webs black, but some of them greyish white. Point of the forehead and a broad line on each side, from the forehead, over the eye, very loosely webbed; black at the base, the terminal two-thirds greyish white, more or less distinctly rayed with pale, yellowish brown bars, the bars being most distinct on the inner, least so on the outer feathers. This quasi supercilium extends backwards, nearly as far as the posterior angle of the eye; from thence, there is a narrow, ill-defined, dusky, brown band, running behind the posterior angle of the eye and under the eye towards the lores, where it is lost in the dark loral bristles, and dividing the eye as it were from the cheeks and ear coverts, the feathers of which are a very pale yellowish brown, indistinctly banded with rays of a darker brown, the feathers having the webs very much separated. The feathers of the chin and the band of ruff feathers running from the chin, below the light cheek and ear feathers, above described, and upwards, behind the ear coverts, and above the eye, to near the crown - : a sort of chocolate brown, a shade darker than even the feathers of the crown. There is an enormous bare patch above and partly behind the eye, hidden in life by the downward projecting feathers of the sides of the crown. Below the chin, the centre of the throat is pure white. Front and sides of the neck, the whole lower surface of the body, wing-lining, lower tail coverts, tibial and tarsal plumes and feathers of foot, buffy or fulvous white, every feather closely and conspicuously banded with very numerous, narrow, brown bars; these bars are rather closer on the upper portion of the breast; wider apart and larger on the lower tail coverts; much closer and somewhat less distinct on tibia, tarsus and foot, and somewhat less distinct on the lower coverts of the secondaries, where also the ground colour is somewhat more rufous. The larger, lower coverts of the first six or eight primaries are more or less broadly tipped with dark brown, above which the barrings are somewhat obsolete. There is a purplish brown tinge, on the feathers at the base of the neck, in front, forming a sort of ill-defined, pectoral gorget, most conspicuous at the sides of the neck. The banded, fulvous white feathers of the rest of the sides of the neck, extend partially backwards, so as nearly to meet behind, and form a sort of ill-defined, imperfect collar. Feathers of the side of the head, behind the ruff feathers, and above the imperfect collar, nape, upper back, central scapulars and lesser wing coverts, a rich, deep, slightly rufous brown, many of the feathers more or less clouded with the deep chocolate brown of the top of the head, and exhibiting in some lights a purple gloss. Longer and exterior scapulars, and some feathers of the centre back, more or less distinctly barred with white or fulvous white on one or both webs; the bars on some feathers, especially on the outer scapulars, being very sharply cut and distinctly marked, while on others, they are freckled irregulars bands. I note that this barring is greatly concealed by the overhanging feathers of the upper back and centre scapulars. The greater and median coverts of the secondaries are a somewhat lighter shade of rufous brown, most of them narrowly tipped with white or fulvous white, and indistinctly freckled or barred with the same colour. The winglet, and greater coverts of the earlier primaries a rich deep velvet brown, with a most peculiarly soft and glossy texture, and in some lights a rich purple gloss. The greater coverts of the later primaries are intermediate in colour and markings between these and the greater coverts of the secondaries. The quills are brown, deeper and purpler on the earlier primaries, and growing lighter and more fulvous towards the later secondaries; all but the first 2 primaries, are distinctly and broadly barred, on both webs, with pale fulvous. The 2nd to the 6th primaries are distinctly emarginate on the outer webs, and the barrings are dull and inconspicuous, and the margins serrated below the emarginations. All the quills are narrowly tipped with rather dull white. The tertiaries are narrowly banded more conspicuously than the greater secondary coverts, less so than the exterior scapulars. The lower back and upper tail coverts are the same dark brown as the central scapulars, faintly and narrowly banded with yellowish white. The tail feathers are also of much the same shade of brown, somewhat deeper on the exterior webs of the lateral feathers; all are conspicuously though not broadly tipped with white, and all have numerous, imperfect bars on both webs, which on the central feathers, the external webs, and terminal one fourth of internal webs of lateral feathers, are somewhat narrow, and pale fulvous in colour, and on the basal three-fourths of the inner webs of the lateral feathers are very broad and nearly pure white. On the inner surface of the wing, the inner webs of the first 6 primaries are conspicuously notched, the seventh exhibiting a trace of the same. The first primary is barless, but on the inner web, above the notching, there is a buffy freckling. All the other primaries, above the notching, in those that have notches, and all the rest of the quills, except the terminal, one fourth, are buffy, with broad, irregular, rather pale, brown bands, more or less freckled with dark brown. The terminal portion of all the quills except the first two, are dark brown, with transverse, fulvous, or buffy bands, more indistinct and wider apart on the third and other earlier primaries, and closer, and more conspicuous, on the later secondaries. The second primary shows very faint traces of similar barrings. The lower surface of the tail is buffy brown, darker towards the tip, somewhat closely and conspicuously barred with yellowish white. Upper portion of the last joint of the toes are pale plumbeous, with 3 or 4 large but soft membraneous scutae. The claws are very sharp and the inner margin of the central claw is dilated and knife-like. The bill curves almost from the base, the cere is ill-defined and blends almost insensibly with the corneous portion of the bill, and there is a conspicuous notch near the tip of the lower mandible. The ear aperture is enormous. I may add to the dimensions above given, that the third primary is 1.1 shorter than the fifth, and the fourth 6 shorter than the same.
* It is only just to Dr. Jerdon to say, that nothing can, as a rule, he more reliable and accurate, than his own descriptions and figures. But a vast number of his descriptions and dimensions, are taken almost if not quite verbatim from other writers in the Asiatic Society's Journal, &c., who were by no means so careful as himself, and as (his work being a manual) he did not think it necessary to note quotations of this kind, he often gets credit for errors for which he is really not responsible.
* Vide my description of the Simla Bird.
Our old Simla male weighed 2 lbs. 1 oz. it is to be hoped that some ornithologist in Southern India will weigh some fine male Neilgherry Bird.