Henry Seebohm.

[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) online

. (page 5 of 23)
Online LibraryHenry Seebohm[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


or Black Thrush.

TURDUS ATRIGULARIS, Temm.

I did not meet with the Black-throated Thrush until the
6th of August, in lat. 63, when I shot two birds in first
plumage, which puzzled me. Two days later, in lat. 61J,
I secured a third young bird, and was fortunate enough to
obtain the adult female also. The chestnut colour of the
wing-lining and axillaries of the young of this species serve
to distinguish it from the young of T. pilaris and T. obscurus.
In the young of T. iliacus the chestnut of the wing-lining
and axillaries is much deeper in colour, and extends onto the
flanks, whilst it is scarcely perceptible on the under tail-
coverts.

RUTICILLA PIKENICURUS (Linn.).

My sole authority for including the Common Redstart
among the birds of the Yen-e-say 7 is a fine skin of a young
Redstart in first plumage, which I shot on the 3rd of August
in lat. 66. The plumage of this skin agrees exactly with
that of the young in first plumage of our bird ; and since it
was found by Harvie Brown and myself in the valley of the
Petchora in about the same latitude, I see no reason for sus-
pecting my Yen-e-say' bird to be the young of any other
allied species, though it has not hitherto been recorded from
so far east.



Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 7

CYANECULA SUECICA (Liiin.).

I found the Blue-throated Warbler very common in the
valley of the Yen-e-say'. It was amongst the earliest insect-
eating birds to arrive at our winter-quarters. I shot several
on the 5th of June. For a week or two they were very com-
mon ; but as the snow on the tundra melted they gradually
left us, only a few remaining to breed. I lost sight of the
Blue-throat in lat. 71.

NEMURA CYANURA (Pall.).

Curiously enough the first Warbler I shot on the Yen-
e-say' was the Blue-rum ped Warbler. It was, of course,
only an accidental straggler, who had strayed away from his
companions and reached the Arctic circle before his time.
It was the 21st of May, a bitterly cold day, no sunshine, a
sou'-west wind, but nevertheless a keen frost. I did not turn
out in the morning ; but in the afternoon I put on my snow-
shoes and had a round through the forest. There was hardly
a bird to be seen ; but as I was returning to the ship I caught
sight of a little bird flitting about from tree to tree, apparently
seeking insects on the trunks below the level of the surface
of the snow in the hollows round the stems, caused by the
heat of the sun absorbed by their dark surfaces. It gave me
a long chase, flying rapidly, but never rising higher than three
or four feet above the level of the snow. At last I got a
long shot at it. It was alive when I secured it ; and I re-
marked its brilliant, large, pale, blood-red eye. The legs
were brown, and the bill nearly black. I shot a second ex-
ample on the 14th of June ; it was busily engaged in search-
ing for insects, principally at the roots of trees. This was
all I saw of this bird. Both my birds are males, but not in
the fine metallic blue plumage which old birds attain. I was
probably at the extreme limit of this bird's northern range.

CALLIOPE CAMTCHATKENSIS (Grmel.).

I only met with this very handsome bird once within the
Arctic circle. This was on the 14th of June, whilst the ice
was still straggling down the river. Early in the morning,
before breakfast, Blue-throats were singing lustily. One bird



8 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

struck me as having a wonderfully fine song, richer and more
melodious than that of the Blue-throat, and scarcely inferior
to that of a Nightingale. I shot him to be quite sure that
he was only a Blue-throat, and was astonished to pick up a
fine male Ruby -throated Warbler. I did not meet with this
bird again until I reached Yen-e-saisk' on my return journey.
It was then the 16th of August, and I was exploring the reedy
swamps near the river. My attention was attracted to a bird
hidden among the Carices, which was uttering a very loud harsh
cry, like tic, tic, tic. After waiting some time I got a shot
at it in a tall bunch of rushes. I felt quite sure that the bird
was a large Acrocephalus, and was astonished to find a second
male Ruby-throat.

SAXICOLA (ENANTHE (Linn,).

The Wheatear arrived at our winter quarters on the 3rd
of June, and was common as far north as we went.

PRATINCOLA INDICA, Blyth.

The Indian form of the Stonechat, with pure white un-
spotted rump and nearly black axillaries, was rare. I noticed
it first on the llth of June on the Arctic circle, and after-
wards in lat. 67.

SYLVIA CURRUCA, Linn., subspecies affinis, Blyth.

I first noticed the Lesser Whitethroat on the 8th of June,
and did not observe it further north than lat. 67. In ' Stray
Feathers/ iii. p. 372, Mr. Brooks endeavours to show that
the Indian bird differs from ours. Of the six differences
which he there points out I cannot detect any but the first.
There is no doubt that in the eastern bird the wing is generally
somewhat more rounded than in the western form; but whether
this is sufficient to entitle the two forms to specific rank I
feel considerable doubt. In ten skins from England, Norway,
Heligoland, Russia, Turkey, and Asia Minor, the second pri-
mary is decidedly longer than the sixth. In one skin from
India and one from the Yen-e-say' this is also the case. In
five skins from India and five skins from the Yen-e-say' the
second primary is shorter than the sixth, but longer than the
seventh ; and in one skin from Cawnpore and one from Be-



Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornitholoyy of Siberia. 9

loochistan the second primary is shorter than the seventh,
but longer than the eighth. More evidence must, I think,
be collected before we admit S. affinis even to be a satisfac-
tory subspecies.

PHYLLOSCOPUS BOREALIS (Blasius).

A fortnight after the arrival of Phylloscopus trochilus, P.
tristiSj and P. superciliosus I had given up P. borealis in
despair, when suddenly it arrived in great numbers, and be-
came the commonest of the four species. The song is almost
exactly like the trill of the Redpole, but not quite so rapid,
and a little more melodious. Its call-note is generally a single
monotonous dzit, but sometimes made into a double note by
dwelling on the first part, d 2, zit. It is less restless than
the other Willow- Warblers, by no means shy, and is easy to
shoot. When I left the Arctic circle it had probably not
commenced to breed ; but on the 6th of July I had the good
fortune to shoot a bird from its nest at Egaska, in lat. 67.
The eggs are larger than those of our Willow-Warbler' s, pure
white, and profusely spotted all over with very small and very
pale pink spots. They were five in number. The nest was
built on the ground in a wood thinly scattered with trees,
and was placed in a recess on the side of a tussock or little
mound of grass and other plants. It was semidomed, the
outside being composed of moss, and the inside of fine dry
grass. There was neither feather nor hair used in the con-
struction. I did not see this bird further north than lat. 69.

PHYLLOSCOPUS TROCHILUS (Linn.).

" Sylvia icterina, Vieill.", Eversm. (nee Vieill.), Add. ad
Pall. Zoogr. Rosso- As. fasc. iii. p. 14 (1842).

Phyllopneuste eversmani, Bp. Consp. Gen. Avium, p. 289
(1850).

It was with very great pleasure that I heard the familiar
song of this European bird on the 4th of June on the Arctic
circle, in the valley of the Yen-e-say', so much further east
than it has hitherto been recorded. I afterwards found it
common extending as far northwards as lat. 70. As this bird
has never been found in India, it would seem probable that



10 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithologg of Siberia.

the Yen-e-say' Willow- Warblers winter iu Persia, whence
Blanford records them.

In the St. -Petersburg Museum I had an opportunity of
examining the type of Eversmann's Sylvia icterina, which was
afterwards rechristened by Bonaparte Phyllopneuste evers-
manni. I found it to be a typical specimen of Phylloscopus
trochilus.

PHYLLOSCOPUS TRISTIS, Blyth.

The Siberian Chiffchaff arrived on the Arctic circle on the
4th of June, and was a common bird there until we left.
Even before the snow was melted in the forests its cheerful
chivit' -chivet' was constantly to be heard. When feeding it
is a most restless bird, seeming always to be in a hurry, as
if its object were to cover as much ground as possible. Later
on in the season it was much less difficult to shoot. Although
it arrives so early, it appears to be a late breeder. The first
nest I found was on the 2nd of July in lat. 67. We were
taking in ballast after our second narrow escape from ship-
wreck. I went on shore for a few hour's shooting. Along-
side the ship, on a grassy part of the river-bank, there were
three Ost'-yak chooms, with a herd of about fifty reindeer.
Fifty yards above this encampment the shore was very muddy,
and between the river and the forest was a long gently sloping
bank sprinkled over with willows. In these trees wisps of
dry grass were hanging, caught between the forks of the
branches, and left there after the high water had subsided.
In one of these, about two feet from the ground, a Siberian
Chiffchaff had built its nest, or rather it had appropriated one
of them for its nest. There was scarcely any attempt at
interlacing stalks. It was undoubtedly the most slovenly
and the most loosely constructed nest I remember to have
seen. It was scarcely more than a hole, about two and a half
inches in diameter, with one side a little higher than the other.
The entrance was somewhat smaller than the greatest size
inside, which was very globular and carefully lined with Caper-
calsie and Willow-Grouse feathers, plenty of which would
naturally be found so near to an Ost'-yak choom. I shot



Mr. II . Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 11

the bird from the nest, which contained three eggs. My next
nest of this bird was taken on the 14th of July, and contained
four eggs. It was placed in the branches of an alder-bush,
about four feet from the ground, and within twenty yards of
the water's edge. It was rather more carefully constructed
than the one I previously found, and composed of dry grass,
semidomed, and lined with Willow- Grouse feathers. The
third nest I took on the island of Mah'-la Brek'-off-sky,
about lat. 70^. This nest was similar in construction to the
others, but was placed in the rank herbage within a few inches
of the ground. The eggs in this and a fourth nest which I took
the same day (July 15th), were somewhat incubated. The
Siberian Chiffchaff lays a bold round egg, large for the size
of the bird, pure white, spotted with dark purple-red, almost
black. Sometimes the spots are of considerable size. I have
no hesitation in saying that the eggs which Harvie-Brown
and I brought from the Petchora, which we supposed to be
eggs of this bird, were only unusually small varieties of those
of the common Willow -War bier.

I did not meet with the Siberian Chiffchaff further north
than 70^; but on the return journey I continually met with
it as far south as Yen-e-saisk'. On these occasions it was
carefully tending its newly fledged young. Its plaintive mono-
syllabic call-note was then often heard ; but it appeared to
have dropped the chivit' chivet.'

PHYLLOSCOPUS FUSCATUS, Blyth.

On my return journey I spent a few days in the middle of
August at Yen-e-saisk', devoting some time to the explora-
tion of the banks of the Yen-e-say'. The country was almost
flat, and for miles I wandered across an extent of meadow-
land which had recently been cut for hay. This meadow-
land is intersected with numerous half-dried- up river-beds
running parallel to the Yen-e-say'. These river-beds are
full of tall Carices and various water-plants, and are almost
concealed by willow trees. Occasionally the water is open.
One of the commonest birds in these swamps was Phyllo-
scopus fuscatus ; what we saw were mostly young birds not
fully fledged.



12 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

PHYLLOSCOPUS SUPERCILIOSUS (Gmel.).

On the 4th of June, while the ill-fated ' Thames ' was in
the agonies of its first shipwreck, I was delighted to have my
attention called away by the note of this interesting bird,
which I recognized at once as the same which I had heard*
in Gaetke's garden on Heligoland the year before. It is
very fairly represented by the word weest. The bird soon
became very common, frequenting almost exclusively the
pine-forests on the banks of the Koo-ray'-i-ka and the Yen-
e-say'. It was not particularly shy ; and on more than one
occasion I watched it for some time at a distance of only a
few feet. On one occasion only I heard it make any attempt
at a song; this was on the 21st of June. The bird was
perched upon the extreme summit of a spruce, and stood
shivering its wings, uttering a few plaintive notes, most of
them poor and feeble variations on its call-note. On the
26th of June I was fortunate enough to find its nest. Curi-
ously enough I was this time also in company with a Heligo-
lander, Mr. Boiling, the ship-builder of Yen-e-saisk'. Late
in the evening we were strolling through the forest between
the Koo-ray'-i-ka and the Yen-e-say'. As we were walking
along a little bird started up near us, and began most per-
sistently to utter the well-known cry of the Yellow-browed
Warbler. As it kept flying around us from tree to tree, we
naturally came to the conclusion that it had a nest near.
We searched for some time unsuccessfully, and then retired
to a short distance, and sat down upon a tree-trunk to watch.
The bird was very uneasy, but continually came back to a
birch tree, from which it frequently made short flights to-
wards the ground, as if it was anxious to return to its nest,
but dare not whilst we were in sight. This went on for about
half an hour, when we came to the conclusion that the nest
must be at the foot of the birch tree, and commenced a second
search. In less than five minutes I found the nest, with six
eggs. It was built in a slight tuft of grass, moss, and bil-
berries, semidomed, exactly like the nests of our Willow-
Warblers. It was composed of dry grass and moss, and lined
with reindeer-hair. The eggs were very similar in colour to



Mr. H. Scebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 13

those of our Willow-Warbler, but more spotted than usual,
and smaller in size. I did not meet with this bird further
north than lat. 70, nor did I see it on the return voyage.

ACROCEPHALUS SCHCENOB^ENUS (Linn.).

It is rather remarkable that the Sedge- Warbler should
have hitherto been overlooked in Siberia. It arrived on the
Arctic circle on the 15th of June, and soon became very
abundant ; but I did not observe it further north than lat. 67.

ACROCEPHALUS DUMETORUM, Blyth.

I did not meet with this bird until the 8th of August,
on my return journey, in lat. 62, where it was evidently
breeding.

Lo^USTELLA CERTIIIOLA (Pall.).

As I passed through Yen-e-saisk' on my return journey,
towards the end of August, I found this rare Grasshopper-
Warbler breeding in the swampy thickets near the banks of
the river. The young in first plumage from this locality will
be described and figured in Dresser's ' Birds of Europe/

I found it very shy and skulking in its habits. The young
birds, some only half fledged, were still in broods ; and occa-
sionally I got a shot at one which left the sedges and ventured
into the willows. They were calling anxiously to each other,
the note being a harsh tic, tic, tic.

Authentic skins of this bird in first plumage, now for the
first time obtained, are very interesting. They prove that
the various skins to be fouud in collections labelled L. ocho-
tensis by Dyboffsky, from Lake Baical, are simply the young
of L. certhiola. The general colour of the under parts of the
young in first plumage is buffish yellow, darkest on the breast
and flanks, and inclining to chestnut on the under tail-coverts.
In first winter plumage this yellow tinge is retained ; but it is
lost in the spring moult, the general colour of the underparts
being then buffish white, darkest on the breast, flanks, and
under tail-coverts. A third state of plumage is that of the
adult after the autumn moult, in which the buff" of the under-
parts almost approaches chestnut. In this state (gradually
becoming duller by abrasion as the winter wears on) it is the



14 Mr, H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

L. rubescens of Blyth. Jerdon seems to have been acquainted
with all three states of plumage. The young and adult in
summer plumage he describes under the name of L. certhiola
(Pall.); but doubtful of the identity of the Siberian and Indian
birds, he proposes the name of L. temporalis for the latter,
in case they should afterwards be found to be distinct. The
autumn plumage of the adult he describes as L. rubescens,
Blyth, but alludes to that ornithologist's opinion that it might
be identical with Pallas' s bird. Salvadori's Calamodyta dories
is L. certhiola in winter plumage from Borneo. When I was
in Paris 1'abbe David told me that the type of Locustella
minor, David et Oustalet, was lost ; but he assured me, what
I was already prepared to assert, that it is a bad species, and
the name must sink into a synonym of L. certhiola. Full
references to all these synonyms will appear in Dresser's
' Birds of Europe/

LOCUSTELLA OCHOTENSIS, Midd.

Sylvia (Locustella) ochotensis, Midd. Sib. Eeis. ii. p. 185
(1851). Young in first plumage.

Sylvia (Locustella) certhiola, Midd. Sib. Reis. ii. p. 184
(1851, nee Pall.). Adult.

Locustella japonica, Cassin, Proc. Ac. Sc. Phil. 1858, p. 194.
Young.

Locustella subcerthiola, Swinhoe, Ibis, 1874, p. 154. Adult.

Arundinax blakistoni, Swinhoe, Ibis, 1876, p. 332. Young
in first winter plumage.

The synonymy of L. ochotensis and L. certhiola have
hitherto been in such hopeless confusion that I am glad to
have an opportunity of putting them in something like order.
When I was in St. Petersburg the curator of the Museum,
with the politeness so characteristic of the Russians, gave me
every facility for inspecting types and other interesting skins
in the collection. I found that all the skins collected by Mid-
dendorff near the shores of the Sea of Ochotsk, labelled re-
spectively L. certhiola and L. ochotensis, belonged to one
species, the former being adult birds, and the latter young in
first plumage. The difference between them lay solely in the



Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 15

general colour of the underparts. This was huffish white in
the adult birds, and huffish yellow in the young, precisely
the difference which I had found only a few weeks before
between the adult and young of the very closely allied L.
certhiola. None of MiddendorfFs birds, however, were the
true L. certhiola of Pallas. The name L. ochotensis, Midd.,
therefore stands for this species, with L. certhiola, Pall, apud
Midd., as a synonym. Besides MiddendorfFs type I found a
fine series of skins of this bird collected by Wosnessensky in
Kamtchatka and the Kurile Islands. This bird differs from
L. certhiola in having the upper parts plain, like L. luscini-
oides, instead of spotted, like L. navia. Young birds have,
however, traces of obscure spots on the head and back. In
this state it was described by Cassin as L.japonica from Japan.
The young in first winter plumage was described by Swinhoe
as Arundinax blakistoni, from the same locality. One of
Wosnessensky's skins from Kamtchatka came into Swinhoe's
possession, and was described by him as L. subcerthiola. It
is that of an adult bird, and agrees exactly with a skin in my
collection collected by Wosnessensky on Urup island, one of
the Kurile Islands, between Kamtchatka and Japan. In the
British Museum is a skin from Labuan, in Borneo, where this
species winters.

LOCUSTELLA FAscioLATA (Gray).

Acrocephalusfasciolatus, Gray, P. Z. S. 1860, p. 349.

Acrocephalus insularis, Wallace, Ibis, 1862, p. 350.

Calamoherpefumigata, Swinhoe, P. Z. S. 1863, pp. 91, 293.

Calamoherpe subflavescens, Elliot, P. Z. S. 1870, p. 243.

It may at first sight appear a somewhat bold step to take
to unite two species hitherto considered so distinct as A. fas-
ciolatus and A. insularis, and a still bolder one, after having
married the two species, to send them to spend their honey-
moon in the genus Locustella. The fact is that they agree
in every particular, except in the colour of the underparts.
The difference of colour, however, is exactly what we have
just found to be the difference between young and adult plu-
mage in two species of the genus Locustella. I have already



16 Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia.

given my reasons in the last number of ' The Ibis ' for placing
this species in that genus. In the Museum at St. Petersburg
are two very beautiful skins of adult birds of this species from
the Ussuri river. Young birds have been obtained by Dy-
boffsky in Daouria, and have been described by Elliot as C.
subflavescens from the same locality. Swinhoe described the
adult passing through China on migration, as C.fumigata,
and also recorded it from Japan. Wallace described A.
insular is from Gilolo and Morty; and Gray described his A.
fasciolatus from skins collected by Wallace in Batchian, Gi-
lolo, and Morty. I think I may fairly claim that all the
known facts of the geographical distribution of these two
birds are in favour of my theory that they are young and
adult of one species.

ACCENTOR MONTANELLUS (Pall.).

I first noticed this bird on the 19th of June, a quiet skulk-
ing bird, rarely seen on the wing, and principally frequenting
the willows near the banks of the Yen-e-say'. Four days
afterwards I had a long chase on the Koo-ray'-i-ka side of
the river after a bird whose song I had frequently heard before.
It was a short unpretentious song, something like that of our
Hedge-Sparrow. The bird was generally on the top of a high
tree, where it sang its short song, and went onto another tree.
At last I succeeded in shooting it from the top of a pine, and
was astonished to find it the Mountain- Accentor. I did not
meet with it again until I reached lat. 70J, where I found it
breeding in the island of Mah'-laBrek'-off-sky. Here it was
skulking among the willows, like a Grasshopper- Warbler.
The nest was within a foot of the ground ; but I was so worried
with mosquitoes that I neglected to note the materials of
which it was composed. The eggs are blue, like those of our
Hedge-Sparrow. I did not meet with it further north.

HIRUNDO RUSTICA, Linn.

On the IGth of May a solitary Barn-Swallow appeared. I
did not see another until we were within a hundred miles of
Yen-e-saisk' on the return journey. At that town they were
common enough.



Mr. H. Seebohm on the Ornithology of Siberia. 17

CHELIDON LAGOPODA (Pall.).

In the ' Proceedings ' of the Zoological Society, 1862, p. 320,
Swinhoe described a Martin which differs from ours in having
the upper tail-coverts white to the tips of the feathers, and
the axillaries and wing-lining dark brown. He gave it the
name of C. whitelyi; but in ' The Ibis/ 1874, p. 152, he pointed
out that it is identical with the Hirundo lagopoda of Pallas.
This bird was the only Chelidon which I obtained on the Yen-
e-say'. Several pairs arrived on the Arctic circle on the llth of
June, and were soon busy hawking for flies and examining their
old nests. In the village of Koo-ray'-i-ka, opposite the mouth
of the river of that name, they swarmed in thousands. The
nest exactly resembles that of our House-Martin; but the birds
seemed to be very capricious in selecting a house where they
might trust their young. One house in particular seemed to
be the favourite ; and here the eaves were crowded with rows
of nests, in some places three or four deep. The eggs are, if
any thing, larger than those of our bird, but also pure white.
I observed this bird up to lat. 69, where a few pairs were
breeding. I could not perceive any difference in the habits
or notes of these birds and those of our own species. On the
return journey I noticed a colony, doubtless of these birds,
which had built their nests against the limestone cliffs of the
Kah'-nin Pass, as our bird frequently does in the limestone
districts of Yorkshire, the Parnassus, &c. As I passed through
Yen-e-saisk' in the middle of August, the House-Martins
were swarming on the church-towers, preparing for departure
on their autumn migration.

When these Swallows began to make preparations for breed-
ing, the ' Thames ' was riding at anchor in the Koo-ray'-i-ka.
Some scores of these birds evidently took a great fancy to


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHenry Seebohm[Ornithological papers] (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 23)