Perdicula argoondah, Sykes.
Vernacular Names.—[Lowa (Hindustani, Mahrathi); Lawunka (Telegu); Sinkadeh (Tamil); Kemp-lowga (Canarese), Mysore.]
IT is difficult to indicate precisely the range of this species. Jerdon tells us that it does not occur north of the Nerbudda, but this is quite wrong, as it is the common, and often the only, species in many parts of the Punjab, Rajputana, the Central India Agency, and the North-Western Provinces.
The geographical range of this species is really, I believe, much the same as that of the last, but their stations, i.e., the localities they affect, being widely different, their distribution is generally complementary to each other.
Like the Jungle Bush-Quail, the present species extends neither westwards into Sind nor eastwards into the alluvium of Lower Bengal, nor, so far as we know, anywhere eastwards of the Ganges.
I do not know that it occurs in Ceylon; all the Cinghalese birds that I have seen belonged to the other species, but it occurs in the Peninsula on the eastern side down to the extreme south, and in all the drier eastern Madras districts, and even near Coimbatore; in the barer plains portions of Mysore; almost throughout the Deccan ; in many parts of the Nizam's Territory and Berar ; in Gwalior and many parts of the Central India Agency and Bundelkhand; near Bassein, Deesa, in the Panch Mahals, and in Cutch ; near Ajmere, Beaur, the Sambhar lake, the plains below Abu, Jodhpore, and many of the less desert portions of Rajputana; in Jhansi, Allahabad, Cawn- pore, Etawah, Agra, Fatehgarh, Meerut, and other plains portions of the North-western Provinces, and in Delhi, Gurgaon, and Lahore, and doubtless other districts of the Punjab.
It is of course a purely Indian species.
It IS in the nature of the localities it affects that fas in the case of the Jungle Bush-Quail) the key to its irregular distribution is to be found ; it avoids mountains, which it never ascends, forests and thick jungle, and eschews well-watered and richly-wooded or cultivated tracts; it loves dry, open, sandy or even rocky plains or low hillocks, sparsely studded with thin thorny bushes ; elevation is not of so much consequence to it as the openness and semi-waste character of the place. You will find it equally at home on the plains about Ajmere, at an elevation of 1,700 feet, and near sea level in the Carnatic. Dry, half-barren, sparsely-cultivated plains districts are its choice, and hence it follows that, although where localities such as it affects inosculate with those that the Jungle Bush-Quail prefers, you may shoot both species in the same stubble, yet, broadly speaking, as Captain Butler remarks, where you find the Rock Bush-Quail, there, as a rule, you do not find the other species.
As regards habits, notes and food, I have never detected any* difference between the two species, except that, perhaps, the packs or bevies into which both species collect are rather smaller in the case of the Rock Bush-Quail.
In Southern India the natives do appear to distinguish the two species. In Upper India I have always heard them both indiscriminately called "Lowa"—a name often equally applied to Turnix taigoor.
Colonel Sykes, who first discriminated (though somewhat doubtingly) this species, tells us that
" These birds do not frequent cultivated lands, but are found all over the Deccan on the general level of the country, amidst rocks and low bushes. They rise in coveys of from ten to twenty or more from under the feet with a startling suddenness and bustle, and the young sportsman is perplexed in selecting his bird. They are gregarious, and I infer polygamous, as I never saw. them solitary or in pairs. Flesh perfectly white.
" This is the species used for Quail fights -by the natives."
Jerdon again says :—
" It, frequents rocky hills with low scrub jungle, and especially barren, uncultivated plains, scantily covered with low bushes of Zizyphus or Carissa, and other thorny shrubs, out of which the bevy rises, ten or a dozen or twenty together, with a startling suddenness and bustle, dispersing more or less among the neighbouring bushes. The flesh of this Bush-Quail, as well as of the last, is perfectly white, and it makes a good pie. Plain roasted, they are not so good as the species of Coturnix, being dry and with little flavour.
"The Rock Bush-Quail is. much used for fighting among the Mussulmans of Southern India, as indeed the Jungle Bush-Quail is also, though not so common, nor so highly esteemed."
Mr. J. Davidson writes to me:—" The Rock Bush-Quail was common in the Sholapur district, nearly everywhere. Its favourite resorts were the stony hillocks with a few scrubby bushes, which are in most places scattered among the cultivated land there. It was, however, a very common thing to start a covey, or, in the rains, a pair from the strips of grass forming the boundary between two fields. I fully expected to find this species replaced by the Jungle Bush-Quail in the Panch Mahals, but all I shot there belonged to this species." And again, Captain Butler remarks :—"
" The Rock Bush-Quail is very common in the plains of Northern Guzerat and below Mount Abu, but does not ascend the hills. Unlike the last species, it frequents open, rocky, cultivated and uncultivated ground, with low bushes for it to take refuge in when disturbed. It begins to lay about the middle of August, at which time of year they are always found in pairs and lie very close. I have never met with it in thick jungles like the last species."
Although frequenting much more open ground, it is yet scarcely more often seen, unless specially watched for, than the Jungle Bush-Quail; and, sparse as is the cover it affects, it is still quite sufficient to conceal it, as a rule, until, on your almost treading on it, it rises, the whole party exploding (if I may use the word) simultaneously.
Like the last species, they sometimes do perch. Writing from Jhansi, Mr. F. R. Blewitt noted that:-
" Walking early one morning with a pointer in the garden, the latter suddenly pointed facing an orange tree. Curious to know the cause, I approached the tree- when, suddenly from a lower branch, four of the Bush-Quails flew away. Again the other morning my spaniels were beating some low grass, and flushed a Bush Quail, which flew and sat on the upper branch of a large neem tree. These are the only two instances in which I have seen this Quail perch on trees."
Neither species affords much sport in the ordinary way; but if you have good small dogs that will work in the dwarf jujube bushes, and are so clad about the nether extremities that you too can bustle about in these comfortably, then the Bush-Quail will, in many places, afford you as pretty shooting as a man can desire.
It is no use, of course, firing whole charges after mites of birds like these that always drop within thirty yards ; a drachm of powder and half an ounce of No. 10 or dust shot was what I always used. Their flight is extremely rapid, and they afford excellent practice. I remember once firing nearly fifty shots within an hour at Rock Bush-Quails. I decline to state how many I killed on that occasion. I had no dogs ; my beaters said I did not hit the birds. I said they were fools and could not find the birds when I shot them ; but on another occasion, with dogs, I actually bagged 22 1/2 brace between 3 P.M. and dusk.
As Jerdon says, they make a very good pie, if you proceed as follows :—
First get one to two pounds of the best beef-steak \ then take twelve of the Bush-Quail nicely plucked and cleaned ; cram a dessert spoonful of pate de foie gras inside each bird, and wrap each up in a thin slice of bacon; add a small tin of trufles, half a bottle of button mushrooms, six hard-boiled eggs, each cut in half, condiments, sauces, &c, selon le gout, and fill in with rich stock (a couple of hares boiled down with a shin bone do famously) ; then, if your cook makes good crust and the pie is baked slowly and properly, you will find, as Jerdon says, that Bush-Quail are very good in a pie.
The Rock Bush-Quail lays at any time from August to December, and again in March, and, for all I know, may lay at other times also; but I have myself taken nests in all the months mentioned. I think they have two broods in the year, but cannot be certain ; anyhow, March and September are the months in which I have found most eggs.
They always prefer semi-waste strips of land, covered with high grass and in the neighbourhood of cultivation, for nesting. The nest is slight, composed of grass loosely wound round into a circular shape, and is placed generally; but not always, in a depression, scratched for it by the birds, at the foot of some tuft of grass or under some thick bush.
Six or seven is the usual number of eggs laid. I have never seen, though I have heard of, more in a nest.
Writing from Jhansi, Mr. F. R. Blewitt says :—" The Bush-Quail, I do not know which, but I send you both birds and eggs" (and the birds were the Rock Bush-Quail), "breeds in August and September. The nest is merely an excavated cavity, of from five to six inches broad, at the base of a thick patch of grass and quite under it. A few pieces of grass are laid at the bottom of the nest. The female sits very close on the eggs, and I have stood a yard from the nest without her attempting to rise ; only when I have brought my hand near to her has she flown off. Six appears to be the regular number of eggs, though probably this may sometimes extend to seven or eight."
Mr. Davidson tells me that:—
" In both Sholapur and the Panch Mahals, this Quail bred in the latter part of the rains among longish grass, the general number of eggs, and the most I have taken, being six."
Captain Butler notes that he " found two nests, each containing five fresh eggs, on the 27th August 1875 near Deesa. The first was in the middle of a tussock of coarse grass about eight inches from the ground ; it consisted of a concave pad composed of short blades of dry grass. The second consisted of a hole scratched at the foot of a small tuft of grass on the bank of a nalla, and lined with short blades of dry grass.
" The eggs, in both instances, were broad ovals, much pointed at the small end, and in colour creamy white. The shell, as in the preceding species, is very strong, and occasionally blotched with lime. I found another nest under a tussock of grass near the same spot containing two fresh eggs on the 29th August 1875, somewhat elongated ovals and blunt at both ends, being the same width throughout. Other nests in the same neighbourhood as below:—
August 19th, 1876, a nest containing 4 fresh eggs.
August 19th, 1876, a nest containing 5 fresh eggs.
September 1st, 1876, a nest containing 5 fresh eggs.
September 3rd, 1876, a nest containing 4 fresh eggs.
September 3rd, 1876, a nest containing 5 fresh eggs.
September 4rd, 1876, a nest containing 5 fresh eggs.
November 27th, 1876, a nest containing 4 fresh eggs.
" All of the last-mentioned nests were in a grass preserve, and similar in every respect to the second nest described above."
Writing from Amraoti, in Berar, Mr. J. Aitken remarks :— " The Rock Bush-Quail is very abundant here ; coveys may be started wherever there is the slightest cover. They breed during November and December. I have found the nest repeatedly ; it is composed of grass and placed under a bush. Sometimes it contains as many as seven eggs ; they are large for the size of the bird, and might pass for diminutive eggs of the Grey Partridge. Even at this breeding season they seem to feed in company, and newly-hatched birds may frequently be seen running amongst half-a-dozen old ones. But the female continues to watch over her brood with the utmost solicitude, and i have had to swerve my horse to prevent his setting his foot on one as she crouched anxiously over a chick."
Typically the eggs are moderately broad ovals, a good deal pointed towards the small end ; but more or less elongated varieties occur, and here and there pretty perfect ovals, or even eggs pointed at both ends, are met with. The eggs are white, glossy, and spotless, tinged, but far less deeply than in the Grey Partridge, with excessively pale cafe au lait colour.
In length they vary from 0.95 to 1.12, and in breadth from 0.78 to 0.91 ; but the average of forty-one eggs is 0.84 by 1.02.
In this species I cannot discover any constant difference in size in the sexes. Although the difference is not much, still, collating all the measurements I have on record, this species seems to be a trifle, a mere trifle, larger than the Jungle Bush-Quail
Length, 6.7 to 7.25 ; expanse, 10.0 to 11.2 ; wing, 3.1 to 3.5 ; tail from vent, 1.5 to 1.9 ; tarsus, 0.75 to 1.0 ; bill from gape, 0.5to 0.67 ; weight, 2.25 ozs. to 3 ozs.
The legs and feet are dull red to bright orange red, in younger birds brownish fleshy, and every intermediate shade is observable; irides brown to light red ; bill, upper mandible, black, lower paler, often bluish grey at base; in younger birds the upper is dark horny brown, the lower pale fleshy,
The plate is a very pretty and artistic performance, but it is, from our point of view, eminently unsatisfactory. In the first place, the beautifully drawn figure on the right, the standing bird, is an old female of the Jungle Bush-Quail, and at any rate usefully supplements the plate of that species. note that the plate is wrongly named, and should stand as P. argoondah and not P. asiatica. The Central Quail in the fore-ground fairly represents an old female of the Rock Bush-Quail The figure to the left, squatted down, will also pass muster for a young female, but both old and young males (the old with his white, closely-barred breast, pale dull rufous chin and throat and no perceptible supercilium, the whole upper surface transversely barred) are placed at such a distance in the back ground that nothing can be made of them. It is simply hopeless getting illustrations done at home unless you are there yourself to supervise the artists.
For the benefit of those who use (as most men do now-a-days) breech-loaders,I may mention that cartridges for this kind of sport, and for collecting small birds generally, may be very easily prepared Put in the one drachm of powder and ram lightly down a thin wad, then fill in the cartridge with clean dry sawdust, tightly rammed in with a thick paper or thin cardboard wad. On this place the half ounce of No. 10 or dust shot. Put in the usual cardboard wad and close the cartridge in the ordinary manner. It will be exactly the same length and look exactly like an ordinary cartridge, but will always be distinguishable by its lightness. The force of the explosion is so much reduced, that you may reload after this fashion a good green case from 8 to 20 times according to climate. I scarcely use any thing but these cartridges now. Up to 30 or even 40 yards they will kill Snipe and Quail and all small birds as well as full cartridges. You may fire them from morning-
till night, and never feel it; whereas, all of us who are not exceptionally robust know that firing more than from 80 to 100 full charges brings on a headache. The report is so much educed in intensity that, unless they are quite close, firing at one bud does not frighten away others.