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The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds - A. O. Hume

The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds  (Volume 1) Second Edition 1889  -  by  Allan O. Hume

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187. Myiophoneus temmincki, (Vigors). The Himalayan Whistling Thrush

Myiophonus temminckii, (Vigors), Jerdon. B. Ind. i. p. 500: Hume. Rough Draft N. & E. no. 343.

The Himalayan Whistling-Thrush breeds throughout the Himalayas from Assam to Afghanistan, in shady ravines and wooded glens, as a rule, from an elevation of 2000 to 5000 feet, but, at times, especially far into the interior of the hills, up to even 10,000 feet. It lays during the last week of April, May, and June. The number of eggs varies from three to five.

The nest is almost invariably placed in the closest proximity to some mountain-stream, on the rocks and boulders of which the male so loves to warble; sometimes on a mossy bank; sometimes in some rocky crevice hidden amongst drooping maiden-hair; sometimes on some stream-encircled slab, exposed to view from all sides, and not unfrequently curtained in by the babbling waters of some little waterfall behind which it has been constructed. The nest is always admirably adapted to surrounding conditions. Safety is always sought either in inaccessibility or concealment. Built on a rock in the midst of a roaring torrent, not the smallest attempt at concealment is made; the nest lies open to the gaze of every living thing, and the materials are not even so chosen as to harmonize with the colour of the site. But if an easily accessible sloping mossy bank, ever bejewelled with the spray of some little cascade, be the spot selected, the nest is so worked into and coated with moss as to be absolutely invisible if looked at from below, and the place is usually so chosen that it cannot well be looked at, at all closely, from above.

Captain Unwin sent me an unusually beautiful specimen of the nest of this species, taken early in May in the Agrore Valley - a massive and perfect cup, with a cavity of 5 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep; the sides fully 2 inches thick; an almost solid mass of fine roots (the finest towards the interior) externally intermingled with moss, so as to form, to all appearance, an integral portion of the mossy bank on which it was placed. In the bottom of the nest were interwoven a number of dead leaves, and the whole interior was thinly lined with very fine grass-roots and moss. In this case the nest had been placed on a tiny natural platform and was a complete cup; but in another nest, also sent by Captain Unwin, the cup, having been placed on the slope of a bank, wanted (and this is the more common type) the inner one-third altogether, the place of which was supplied by the bank-moss in situ. In this case, although the cavity was only of the same size as that above described, the outer face of the nest was fully 6 inches high, and the wall of the nest between 3 and 3 inches thick. The former contained three much incubated, the latter four nearly fresh eggs.

A nest from Darjeeling which was taken on the 28th July, at an elevation of about 3500 feet, from under a rock which partly overhung a stream, and contained two fresh eggs, was composed in almost equal proportions of fine moss-roots and dead leaves with scarcely a trace of moss. In this case the nest was entirely concealed from view, and no necessity, therefore, existed for coating it externally with green moss to prevent its attracting attention.

Dr. Jerdon remarks: "I have had its nest and eggs brought me (at Darjeeling); the nest is a solid mass of moss, mixed with earth and roots, of large size, and placed (as I was informed) under an overhanging rock near a mountain-stream. The eggs were three in number, and dull green, thickly overlaid with reddish specks."

"In Kumaon," writes Mr. R. Thompson, "they breed from May to July, along all the smaller hill-streams, from 1500 up to about 4500 feet. In the cold season it descends quite to the plains - I mean the Sub-Himalayan plains. The nest is generally more or less circular, 5 or 6 inches in diameter, composed of moss and mud clinging to the roots of small aquatic plants or of the moss, and lined with fine roots and sometimes hair. A deep well-watered glen is usually chosen, and the nest is placed in some cleft or between the ledges of some rock, often immediately overhanging some deep gloomy pool."

"On the 16th June," observes Captain Hutton, writing from Mussoorie, "I took two nests of this bird, each containing three eggs, and also another nest, containing three nearly-fledged young ones. The nest bears a strong resemblance to that of the Geocichlae, but is much more solid, being composed of a thick bed of green moss externally, lined first with long black fibrous lichens and then with fine roots. Externally the nest is 3 inches deep, but within only 2 inches; the diameter about 4 inches, and the thickness of the outer or exposed side is 2 inches. The eggs are three in number, of a greenish-ashy colour, freckled with minute roseate specks, which become confluent and form a patch at the larger end. The elevation at which the nests were found was from 4000 to 4500 feet; but the bird is common, except during the breeding-season, at all elevations up to the snows, and in the winter it extends its range down into the Doon. In the breeding-season it is found chiefly in the glens, in the retired depths of which it constructs its nest; it never, like the Thrushes and Geocichlae, builds in trees or bushes, but selects some high, towering, and almost inacessible rock, forming the side of a deep glen, on the projecting ledges of which, or in the holes from which small boulders have fallen, it constructs its nest, and where, unless when assailed by man, it rears its young in safety, secure alike from the howling blast and the attack of wild animals. It is known to the natives by the name of 'Kaljet,' and to the Europeans as the 'Hill Blackbird.' The situation in which the nest is placed is quite unlike that of any other of our Hill-Thrushes with which I am acquainted. The bird itself is as often found in open rocky spots on the skirts of the forest as among the woods, loving to jump upon some stone or rocky pinnacle, from which it sends forth a sort of choking, chattering song, if such it can be called, or, with an up-jerk of the tail, hops away with a loud musical whistle, very much after the manner of the Blackbird (M. vulgaris)."

Sir E. C. Buck says: "I found a nest at Hatu, near Narkanda (in Himachal Pradesh), date 27th June, 1869, on an almost inaccessible crag overhanging a torrent. It contained three eggs, but two were broken by stones falling in climbing down to the nest. Nest not brought up; one egg secured and forwarded. I saw the bird well, and have no doubt as to its identity."

Writing from Dhurmsalla, Captain Cock informed me that he had obtained several nests in May in and about the neighboring streams, up to an elevation of some 5000 feet. From Murree, Colonel C. H. T. Marshall remarks: "Several nests found in June, near running streams, about 4000 feet up."

Dr. Stoliczka tells us that "it breeds at Chini and Sungnum at an elevation of between 9000 and 11,000 feet."

The eggs are typically of a very long oval shape, much pointed at one end, but more or less truncated varieties (if I may use the word) occur. They are the largest of our Indian Thrushes' eggs, and are larger than those of any European Thrush with which I am acquainted. Their coloration, too, is somewhat unique; a French grey, greyish-white, or pale-greenish ground, speckled or freckled with minute pink, pale purplish-pink, or pinkish-brown specks, in most cases thinly, in some instances pretty thickly, in some only towards the large end, in some pretty well all over. In the majority of the specimens there is, besides these minute specks, a cloudy, ill-defined, purplish-pink zone or cap at the large end. In some few there are also a few specks of bright yellowish brown. The eggs have scarcely any gloss.

In length, they vary from 124 to 155 inch, and in breadth from 095 to 11 inch, but the average of fifty eggs is 142 by about 10 inch.

188. Myiophoneus eugenii, Hume. The Burmese Whistling-Thrush

Myiophoneus eugenii, (Hume); Hume, cat. no. 343 bis.

Major C. T. Bingham contributes the following note to the 'Birds of British Burma' regarding the nidification of this species in Tenasserim: "On the 16th April I was crossing the Mehkhaneh stream, a feeder of the Meh-pa-leh, the largest tributary of the Thoungyeen river, near its source, where it is a mere mountain-torrent brawling over a bed of rocks strewed with great boulders. A small tree, drifted down by the last rains, had caught across two of these, and being jammed in by the force of the water, had half broken across, and now formed a sort of temporary V-shaped dam, against which pieces of wood, bark, leaves, and rubbish had collected, rising some six inches or so above the water, which found an exit below the broken tree. On this frail and tottering foundation was placed a round solid nest about 9 inches in diameter, made of green moss, and lined with fine black roots and fibres, in which lay four fresh eggs of a pale stone-colour, sparsely spotted, especially at the larger ends, with minute specks of reddish brown. Determined to find out to what bird they belonged, I sent my followers on and hid myself behind the trunk of a tree on the bank and watched, gun in hand. In about twenty minutes or so a pair of Myiophoneus eugenii came flitting up the stream and, alighting near the nest, sat for a time quietly. At last one hopped on the edge of the nest, and after a short inspection sat down over the eggs with a low chuckle. I then showed myself and, as the birds flew off, fired at the bird that had been on the nest, but unfortunately missed. I was satisfied, however, about the identity of the eggs and took them. In shape they are somewhat like those of Pitta, and measure 145 x 102, 150 x 102, 146 x 101, and 150 x 101."

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