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Feb 14, 2017

New species of bird announced

Photo by Craig Belsford
Himalayan Forest Thrush
Zoothera salimalii
A new species of bird was discovered in 2016 in northeastern India and adjacent parts of China by a team of scientists from Sweden, China, the U.S., India and Russia. The bird, described in an early 2016 issue of Avian Research, has been named Himalayan Forest Thrush (Zoothera salimalii).   The discovery process for the Himalayan Forest Thrush began in 2009 when it was realized that what was considered a single species, the Plain-backed Thrush (Zoothera mollissima), was in fact two different species in northeastern India, said Pamela Rasmussen, of Michigan State University.   She was part of a team led by Per Alstrom of Uppsala University in Sweden.   
What first caught scientist's attention was the Plain-backed Thrush in the coniferous and mixed forest had a rather musical song, whereas individuals found in the same area - on bare rocky ground above the treeline - had a much harsher, scratchier, unmusical song.   "It was and exciting moment when the penny dropped, and we realized that the two different song types from Plain-backed Thrushes that we first heard in northeast India in 2009, and which were associated with different habitats at different elevations, were given by two different species," Alstrom said.
Along with keen field observations, the scientists did a lot of sleuthing with museum specimens.   Investigations involving collections in several countries revealed consistent differences in plumage and structure between birds that could be assigned to either of these two species.   It was confirmed that the species breeding in the forests of the eastern Himalayas had no name.
"At first we had no idea how or whether they differed morphologically.   We were stunned to finds the specimens in museums for over 150 years from the same parts of the Himalayas could readily be divided into two groups based on measurements and plumage," Rasmussen said.
This story underlines how elaborate it can be identifying a new avian species in the old world, while in South America, birders can spot new species outright.   Maddening on the one hand perhaps, serendipitous on the other.

Photo by Per Alstom
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