(848) Sylvia althaea Hume.
THE KASHMIR LESSER WHITETHROAT.
Sylvia althoea, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 450.
Hume’s Lesser Whitethroat, as this bird has hitherto been called, is found from Transcaspia to Baluchistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Ladak and the Garhwal Hills. It breeds also in Turkestan and East Persia.
Its lowest limit of nesting is probably something over 5,000 feet, the lowest actual elevation from which I have received eggs being 5,500 feet, at which height Osmaston took a nest on the 29th May on Pari Mahal, near Srinagar. The highest record I have is 11,000 feet, at which the same ornithologist obtained a nest at Marsalong, in the Indus Valley.
This Whitethroat seems to prefer open hill-sides, covered with scattered scrub, grass and rocks, sometimes nesting in among small patches of bushes in very bare hills.
Davidson, under the name of affinis, which at the time he wrote was supposed to be the common breeding species of Kashmir, remarks (Ibis, 1898, p. 16) :—“This bird we found in great abundance on the bare hills round Srinugger in the end of April, and among the scrub-jungles along the Sind River, as far as Kulan (6,800 ft.), four or five miles further up than Gund. It was breeding from the end of April to the end of May in low scrub, generally along the nullahs. The nests were neat cups of grass and roots, lined with horsehair, and generally contained four eggs of the usual White- throat type.
“On our return to Srinugger at the end of June the hills had got very much burnt up, and we were surprised to find the bird again breeding ; but, instead of being among the scrub, the nests were on the outer branches of pine-trees, fifteen arid twenty feet from the ground. We found four or five nests in this situation in the Tukht-i-Suliman, all with fresh eggs, and the; birds at that time seemed to be restricted to the small scattered pine-woods.” Osmaston, who obtained a really marvellous series of this little Whitethroat’s eggs in Kashmir, Garhwal, Ladak etc., found them always breeding in low bushes and, with the one exception of a nest taken “at 4.1/2 feet from the ground, all were built in bushes under 3 feet from the ground and most at about 2 feet.”
Wilhams also found it breeding freely near Quetta in Sage-bushes, wild Roses and brambles, all quite close to the ground. Here they were sometimes to be found in very barren country, scattered bushes sufficing as sites for a nest.
As a rule the nest is a flimsy but rather deep cup made of fine grasses and grass-blades and lined with finer grasses. This is rarely placed in a fork, but is suspended, or semi-suspended, between twigs or between sprays of brambles. About Quetta Wilhams found that the nests were nearly always made of the dry dead leaves of a bulbous plant, supplemented with grass and lined with fine grass or with coarse hair. Often spiders’ webs and spiders’ egg-bags are used to strengthen the structure outwardly.
The whole of the notes recorded in Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs’ under the name of Sylvia affinis should really apply to the present species, with the exception, perhaps, of those from Afghanistan recorded by Wardlaw-Ramsay. It has, however, been unnecessary to quote from this work, as the bird and its breeding are now so well known and so frequently described.
The breeding season in Kashmir and Garhwal is April, May and June, and about Quetta from the last few days of April to the first week in June. Some birds, as described by Davidson, have two broods, but such does not seem to be regularly the case, and even the nests found by Davidson in June may have been those of late breeding birds and not second nests.
Generally speaking the full clutch is four or five eggs and I have seen one of six, but in Quetta four is the maximum and three the normal full clutch.
Most eggs have a white ground but in a few it is a pale dull creamy. The primary markings consists of small spots and blotches of light brown and dark brown, with secondary blotches of lavender or pale washed-out sienna. In some eggs the marks are well defined, dark, and mostly contained in a ring at the larger end and scanty elsewhere. In other eggs the blotches are ill-defined and paler, the secondary and primary markings looking as if running into one another ; in these eggs also the markings are often more numerous and scattered more freely over the whole surface, though they are never really heavily blotched. I have one set scantily marked with pale sienna only ; another, with a creamy ground, has quite bold blotching of dark brown with underlying blotches of dark grey.
The average of one hundred eggs is 17.6 x 13.2 mm. : maxima 15.1 x 12.8 and 20.0 x 14.1 mm. ; minima 15.4 x 12.0 mm. (Quetta).
In shape the eggs are nearly all fairly broad ovals, distinctly compressed towards the small end ; a few are rather long ovals and a few others very broad and pointed.
848. Sylvia althaea
(848) Sylvia althaea Hume.