Cherry-throated Tanager - Discovery, Disappearance, and Rediscovery

Discovery, Disappearance, and Rediscovery

The bird was described in 1870 from a single specimen, an adult male shot by naturalist Jean de Roure and sent by Carl Euler to describer Jean Cabanis, who gave it its scientific name honoring the collector. At the time its discovery, the bird was neither known to the veteran collector de Roure, nor to anyone else Euler asked about it. The type specimen was deposited in the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde where it still resides (specimen MNHB 20326), luckily surviving the destruction of much of the MNHB collection in World War II.

There is some dispute about the type locality; Euler gives "Muriahié" (Muriaé) at the northern bank of the Paraíba do Sul, Minas Gerais (Cabanis 1870), but Pacheco (1999) argued for Macaé de Cima ("Macahé" in the late 19th century) near Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state as this was where de Roure's other bird specimens were collected. In addition, neither altitude nor habitat around Muriaé seem to agree with what is known about the species' ecology. This requires final confirmation though, as some patches of forest at the correct altitude seem to remain around Pico do Itajuru between Muriaé and Rosário de Limeira (Venturini et al. 2005), and it is possible that the bird once occurred in the lowlands and now is restricted to higher regions simply because only there suitable habitat still exists. Based on Pacheco's arguments, the Macaé de Cima area was searched, and habitat was found to be ample in Parque Estadual dos Três Picos, though no evidence of birds was found (Venturini et al. 2005). In any case, all but one recent records have come from Espírito Santo state.

The bird essentially remained known only from this single specimen for more than 100 years. Emilia Snethlage around 1926 mentions a probable pair in the Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro and indeed, "Nemosia rourii" appears in an 1876 collection catalog (Bauer et al. 2000). So it seems that two more birds were shot between 1870 and 1876 by de Rourer, or by an undetermined collector at an unknown date before 1876, possibly even before 1870. In 1940 however these could not be located anymore (Schneider fide Pacheco & Bauer 1995). Helmut Sick on August 8, 1941 observed a group of 8 near Itarana, but no further action was taken; Sick, later to become one of the foremost experts on Neotropical ornithology, had only arrived in Brazil two years earlier, and knew little if anything about N. rourei (which was not usually mentioned in the ornithological literature). It was not until his examination of the type specimen in 1976 that he realized what he had seen 35 years earlier (Sick 1979).

On October 5, 1995, a bird matching the species' description was observed in a mixed-species feeding flock at Augusto Ruschi Biological Reserve (formerly Nova Lombardia B.R.), where the species was already hypothesized to be present given the suitable habitat (Scott 1997).

Another possible sighting on July 17, 1994, was at Fazenda Pedra Bonita, north of Pirapetinga in Minas Gerais, but the possibility of a confusion with a Paroaria cardinal-tanager cannot be excluded, as the bird sketched by the observers in the field had too little dark on the head. In any case, no such bird was again encountered there during several later searches, and the area seems to be too low-lying, only some 150–230 m ASL.(Venturini et al. 2005)

The theory that Cherry-throated Tanagers are hybrids between Hooded and Rufous-headed Tanagers (Sibley 1996) was discussed by Scott (1997) who tentatively rejected it, but some even were convinced that the type specimen is an artifact composed from skins of other species (Silveira fide Bauer et al. 2000). The field data gathered since then supports the validity of the species, which was definitely rediscovered on February 22, 1998 at the Fazenda Pindobas IV, a privately-owned tract of woodland NW of Conceição do Castelo (Bauer et al. 1998, Pacheco 1998).

On September 12, 2003, the species' presence was also confirmed in Caetés Forest, some 20 km (12 mi) N of Vargem Alta. It has been observed with some regularity at both that locality and Fazenda Pindobas IV, though it is always elusive and usually unpredictable in its movements (but see below). Once encountered, birds can be attracted for identification by taped calls of the species. The presence of a population in the larger tracts of habitat at the Augusto Ruschi Biological Reserve - the only known habitat under protection at present - is strongly suspected. A number of other forests where populations may occur have been identified around Itarana (Barra Encoberta, Alto Jatibocas, Alto Santa Maria, Alto Santa Joana), Santa Maria de Jetibá (Plantojo, Simão, Sabino, Cristal, Garrafão and near the Rio Bonito dam), Domingos Martins (Chapéu and Paraju), Brejetuba and Muniz Freire, and at the Rio Fundo near Marechal Floriano; there are some indications that the species is present in at least 3 of these localities, while one of those near Santa Maria de Jetibá, was destroyed in 2004 by illegal logging.(Venturini et al. 2005)

Despite several searches, the Cherry-throated Tanager was not found in suitable habitat outside Espírito Santo state (Venturini et al. 2005).

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