Ceriornis satyra, Linne.
Vernacular Names.—[Loongee, British Garkw&l and Kumaun ; Omo, (Bhutia) Moonal, (Perbuttia) Nepal ; Tirriakpho (Lepcha), Bup, (Bhotia), Nunal (Hindustani), Sikhim; Dafia (Bengali, apud Jerdon ) ].
Although always on hills near to or bordering on the snow, they are never seen amongst it (except perhaps in winter), and seem to shun it, as much as the Blood Pheasant delights in it. Even the Moonal will be seen high above the forest, well up on grassy slopes, fringed with and dotted about with patches of snow. But the Tragopan is essentially a forest bird, rarely if ever wandering up towards the snow or into the open, and •though frequenting perhaps rather their outskirts than their deeper recesses, it hardly ever voluntarily quits the shelter of the woods and their dense undergrowth.
Except by chance, when you may come upon a male sunning himself or preening his feathers on some projecting rock or bare trunk of a fallen tree, these birds are never to be seen, unless by aid of three or four good dogs, who will speedily
During a period of over 30 years that he has worked these hills, Mr. Wilson has known only one exception to this rule. Once one of his people shot a cock-bird of this species, a good deal further west, viz., in the Kattor Valley, three valleys west of the Alaknanda Valley.
Colonel Fisher's testimony is nearly to the same effect. He says :— "This bird occurs in all the northern pargannas of Kumaun, but only in the two north-eastern pargannas, Dasoli and Painkhunda, of Garhwal and not, I think, further west. rouse them up, or of a trained shikari, who will call them out by cleverly imitating their loud bleating cry.
If you ever catch a passing glimpse of them, it is but for a second ; they drop like stones from their perch and dart away with incredible swiftness, always running, never, so far as I have seen, rising, unless you accidentally almost walk on to them or have dogs with you.
With good dogs, it is easy enough at times to get them out of the ringal patches that they seem to affect so much ; they cannot run much in these, and as they fluster up to get clear of the bamboos, they present the easiest of shots. When well on the wing they go swift enough, generally down hill, dropping after a quarter of a mile, and then invariably making tracks on foot. It is useless to seek them where they lit, but a cast down the side of the hill, three or four hundred yards right or left of the line they took (and if there is only one gun you must guess from the look of the ground which way they are likely to have worked), will often put the dogs near enough to find them. The hens are never, I think, seen unless roused by the dogs, and while cocks get up single, three or four hens will be put up in the same place, I mean within a few yards of each other.
To judge from those I have examined, they feed much on insects, young green shoots of bamboos, and on some onion-like bulbs, but Mr. Hodgson notes that those he examined had fed on wild fruits, rhododendron seeds, and, in some cases, entirely on aromatic leaves, bastard cinnamon, daphne, &c.
When first roused, they do not take long flights ; if the dogs come upon them, as often happens before they have seen you, they will fly up straight into a tree, and call vociferously, craning down from some nearly horizontal branch at the yelping dogs ; but if they have become aware of the man, they dart off, threading their way through the wilderness of trunks, and are soon lost in the dim recesses of the forest.
If you succeed in rousing them a second time, or if you have fired at them on a previous day, or even if several shots have been recently fired in their immediate neighbourhood, and you put them up just at the outskirts of the forest, so that there is a clear field before them, they will go right away, across the valley, or right over a hill's brow with a power of wing not to have been anticipated from their usual, when first disturbed, short dodging flights.
At the end of April, and very likely earlier, the males are heard continually calling. When one is heard calling in any moderate-sized patch of jungle, you make for the nearest adjoining cover, and work your, way sufficiently near to the outside to get a view of the intervening space. Then you squat, and your man begins calling. Very soon he is answered, too often by some wretch of a bird behind you, who persists in feretting you out, gets scent of you, and goes off with a sudden series of alarm notes that frightens every other bird within a mile, you never having caught the smallest glimpse of it throughout. But if you are in luck, and all goes well, the right bird, and the right bird only answers, and answers nearer and nearer, till, just as your dusky comrade, forgetting, in his excitement, his wonted respect, pinches your leg, you see a head emerge for a second from the bases of the ringal stems opposite ; again and again the head comes out with more and more of the neck turned rapidly right and left, and then out darts the would-be combatant towards you ; the gun goes off, everything is hid for a moment in the smoke hanging on the damp morning air, and then— well there is no trace of the Tragopan ! I protest that this is an exact account of the only good chance I ever had at one of these birds on the calling " lay."
Alas ! " the merry days when we were young !" I was soaking wet, my legs were perfect porcupines of spear grass (we had crossed a low valley) and leeches innumerable were feasting on my miserable self, but I said, and thought, that it was splendid sport !
The horns, too, though erected when courting, are greatly diminished in size during the winter, and even during the breeding season are, except at moments of excitement, concealed amongst the crest feathers. They commence on the forehead opposite the anterior angle of the eye, and their bases extend backwards, as far as opposite the posterior angle, but despite this lengthened base, above which they are sub-cylindrical, they lie back closely against the occiput and back of the neck, and are completely hidden by the crest.
The whole orbital region is covered with a peculiar thick velvety skin, which is prolonged over the lower jaw, and below this spread and loosened into the gular flap. On the cheeks this skin is thinly clad with small soft plumes, on the jaws and chin thinly sprinkled with hair-like feathers, and on the throat quite naked.
Brilliant as is the plumage of the birds, its effect is greatly enhanced by the vivid blue of the horns and cheeks and blue and orange of the wattle, but these are only to be seen to their fullest advantage when the bird is courting. I have never witnessed their nuptial dances, but natives have told me of it, and it has been observed in captivity and carefully described by Mr. Bartlet, as seen by him in the Zoological Society's Gardens. He says :—" The males can only be seen to advantage in the early morning and in the evening, as they conceal themselves during the day ; the females, however, are less retiring in their habits. When the male is not excited, the horns lie concealed under two triangular patches of red feathers, their points meeting at the occiput; the large wattle is also concealed or displayed at the will of the bird. The male has three distinct modes of' showing off; if I may be allowed the expression. After walking about rather excitedly, he places himself in front of the •female, with the body slightly crouching upon the legs, and the tail bent downwards ; the head is then violently jerked downwards, and the horns and wattle become conspicuous. The wings have a flapping motion, and the bright red patch on them is fully displayed. The whole of the neck appears to be larger than usual during this action, as do also the horns, which, moreover, vibrate with every movement. This scene is concluded by "the bird suddenly drawing himself up to his full height, with his wings expanded and quivering, the horns erect, and the wattle fully displayed. The second mode consists of simply erecting all his feathers, and elevating one shoulder, thereby exposing a greater surface to view, without however showing his headdress. The third mode is by simply standing boldly erect on an elevated perch, giving the head one or two sudden shakes, and causing the horns and wattle to appear for a few moments."
In the cold weather they descend much lower, and are then much tamer, and, as Captain Beavan tells us, readily snared. Writing of Sikhim, he says :—
" The winter months, when the underwood is not so dense as at other seasons, are the only period of the year at which even the natives can get at them. The usual plan of capture is by making a hedge of bushes about three feet high, extending down the sides of a hill, like the sides of a triangle, with the base open. The sides are made to gradually converge until near the apex, where small gaps are left, in each of which a noose is placed. The birds are then slowly driven by men on foot walking in line from and parallel to the base of the triangle and towards its apex ; and the birds continuing to run instead of resorting to flight, dash through the openings and are caught in the nooses. A curious fact with regard to this mode of capture is, that the proportion of males to females is generally four or five of the former to one of the -latter."
Some of Colonel Tickell's reminiscences of this species are well worth reproduction. He says :—
"In 1842, when I was at Darjeeling, the Crimson Tragopan was to be met with between Pacheem and the Sungphul Mountain, along the road from Kutshing to the Sanitarium ; and a clever snap shot might bag one or two in the early part of the winter, during a foggy mizzly morning. It was necessary to proceed rapidly and noiselessly along the road, peeping .warily down each watercourse that crosses the path, and shoots into the valley below. These gullies are shut in with the dense
jungle that clothes the sides of the hills; but here and there a rock stands out, leaving a small open space, and on this occasionally, at such an hour, and if no one else had haply passed that way, a Pheasant might be seen standing proudly upright, or snatching a hasty breakfast ere the growing day sent him to the valley below. If the birds were within shot (but, indeed, in such thick cover, to be within sight was to be within shot), the sportsman either then and there potted him, or, if in a more chivalrous mood, started him on the wing, and took him • as he rose to clear the jungle. Sometimes the bird, especially if a hen, would, on catching sight of the sportsman, run into cover.
u As before said, a snap pot, when the bird is first sighted on the ground, or a snap shot, as he rises through the bushes, is the sportsman's only chance. When a fine cock-bird shoots into the air, his inexpressibly rich plumage in clear relief against the snowy white mist of the valley far below is a splendid sight indeed! The aim should be quick, and the charge heavy— of No. 1 or 2— for if not killed at once, search for a wounded bird is almost always profitless toil ; and if it be only winged, pursuit is as vain as if it were missed altogether. Alas ! if missed, the unlucky wight sees the kaleidoscopic vision shoot like a ruby meteor down the dizzy depth below, across the misty valley to settle in the woods of some far distant hill— Eheu, nunquam revisura !"
The Crimson Tragopan breeds high up, at elevations of from 9,000 to 12,000 feet, in the forests that lie below the snow, or in dense patches of the hill bamboo ; but I have never found the eggs myself, and my account is based on the statement of natives, from whom I received the only eggs I possess, which latter were taken in Kumaun in May.
The eggs are much like large hens' eggs, perhaps rather more elongated and more compressed towards the small end. The shell is only moderately stout, and the surface is conspicuously pitted over with pores. In colour they are nearly white, having only a faint cafe au lait colour, and they are here and there very slightly freckled with a pale dull lilac. One egg is somewhat darker and entirely wants these markings. They have very little gloss. In length they vary from 2.54 to 2.62, and in breadth from 1.8 to 1.84,
numerous males, measured in the flesh, varied as follows :—
Length, 26.5 to 28.5 ; expanse, 32.0 to 34.75 ; wing, 10.0 to 1o.6; tail from vent, 1o.o to 11.5 ; tarsus, 3.25 to 3.75 ; bill from gape, 1.44 to 1.52. Weight (adults) 3lbs. 8ozs. to 4lbs. 10 ozs.
In an adult male killed in May, the bill was blackish brown, paler at the tip ; the irides deep brown; the legs and toes pale fleshy; the claws brownish horny grey ; the upper throat and orbits fine purplish blue; the gular wattle orange or salmon coloured, laterally with narrow transverse blue bars ; the horns bright lazuline blue ; 3.15 inches in length. (In February they would have been perhaps 1.25.) The spur 0.3 in length and greyish brown. In other males, I have noted the legs as fleshy grey, more or less tinted with crimson, the tint varying very much in intensity. An immature bird had the legs almost pure white. In some males the spurs are much longer, sharp and somewhat curved.
Females, measured :— Length, 21.5 to 23.75 ; expanse, 28.5 to 30.0; wing, 8.5 to 9.0 ; tail from vent, 8 to 10; tarsus, 3.0 to 3.25 ; bill from gape, 1.25 to 1.45. Weight, 2lbs. 4 0zs. to 2lbs. 10 ozs. The legs brownish grey, more or less fleshy ; the bill dusky horny ; the irides brown ; the legs of the females have often a purplish tinge, and generally exhibit obsolete tubercles for spurs.
THE PLATE only greatly errs in the colouration of the orbital region, and in showing no salmon colour on the wattle, which would be conspicuously visible, with the flap half distended as shown. But the tender grace of the delicate grey shading on the flanks of the male, the marvellous blending of colours on the wing, and the depth and richness of the tints of the female's plumage, which is a perfect poem without words, are all lost in the harsh staring chromo.