This illustrated identification guide introduces each family of birds by a brief description that should help the novice birder determine to which group a bird belongs. Each species account includes a description, notes on distribution, habitat, distribution map, and a description of vocalization.
166 original colour plates depict more than 820 species.
"The appearance of this new, compact guide to the birds of Costa Rica should spur even more international birders to come to this avian paradise. I congratulate the author and artist on a job well done."
- Robert S. Ridgely
"This would certainly be a very useful identification guide for use in the field."
- BTO News (July/August 2007)
"A useful book [...] It fits into the pocket and [...] will be the natural choice for use in the field."
- Birding World (September 2007)
Birds of Costa Rica
by Keith Betton in UK
Costa Rica is a small country – being just a quarter of the size of the UK, yet it has a checklist of over 860 species. Add to that the fact that it is safe, with a good road network and quite a lot of its nationals understand basic English, and you're looking at a great birding destination. Ever since Helm published A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica in 1989 the stream of birders heading to Costa Rica has been steady. That guide by Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch was well-received and there was much praise for Dana Gardner's illustrations. The only problem was that despite being a softback, it was still too big and heavy for the average pocket. So this new small guide from Helm is a welcome arrival.
Whereas the old guide had a section of colour illustrations taking up 52 pages in the middle, this new one has 166 plates. In total 834 species are illustrated, so there are around five per plate facing a page of text and maps. The illustrations by Robert Dean are therefore bigger and the pages are less crowded. Dana Gardner's style was more typical of good field guides and benefited from deeper colour saturation, but the layout of this new book is a lot less confusing, so overall it is better for field use. The text is very brief with around 50 words to cover the main identification features and habitat preferences, and a big plus factor is the inclusion of colour distribution maps. Unfortunately these do not indicate whether a species is a resident or migrant, but this is a considerable advance on Stiles and Skutch which had no maps and gave range descriptions which required a good knowledge of the country. Some 55 rarely-occurring species do not have a map, but are fully illustrated.
Further space is saved by not covering 27 pelagic seabirds that you are very unlikely to see anyway. However I think it is a shame that space was not given to the three vulnerable endemics found on the small uninhabited Costa Rican island of Cocos which lies 500 km to the south. Few people get to see these species but it would have been good to show them, even if just to raise awareness of them with the authorities.
Costa Rica actually has very few endemics of its own, but ten percent of its species are restricted to Central America. The book is quick to identify these target species to help listers work out their priorities.
Keeping up with taxonomic thinking in the neotropics is a nightmare, and compared to other recent field guides in the region this one is very conservative in its approach. It would have been helpful if a section had identified the splits and lumps created since Stiles & Skutch was published. For example this book does not list Grey-tailed Mountain-gem. This species is in Sibley & Monroe, Clements and the latest IOC list, and was in Stiles & Skutch back in 1989. It is possible that the author has lumped it with Purple-throated Mountain-gem, but we just don't know as there is no reference to it anywhere. Similarly White-fronted Tyrannulet does not appear anywhere. Maybe that's been lumped with Rough-legged Tyrannulet, but again we are not told. Widely accepted splits that have not been included are Western Woodhaunter (from Striped Woodhaunter), Carmioli's Tanager (from Olive Tanager), and Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow (from Prevost's Ground-Sparrow). Split-hungry birders will be disappointed that other proposed new species remain firmly lumped here for the time being. These include Blue-throated Toucanet (part of Emerald Toucanet), Flammulated Atilla (with Bright-rumped Attila), Whistling Wren (with Southern Nightingale Wren), Canebrake Wren (with Plain Wren) and Northern Violaceous Trogon (with Violaceous Trogon). This is a useful book. It fits into the pocket and weighs a lot less than Stiles & Skutch and will be the natural choice for use in the field. However it does not replace the latter and birders heading to Costa may want to have the original volume in their hotel room for its wealth of information.
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Richard Garrigues has been birding since the age of sixteen, when a close encounter with a Black-and-white Warbler walking up a tree trunk just a few feet away from him in suburban New Jersey made a lasting impression. Since 1981, he has lived in Costa Rica, where for more than twenty years he has been leading birding and natural history tours. In April 2000, he published the first quarterly online Gone Birding Newsletter and has been keeping readers up-to-date on rare birdsightings, new distributional records, and other pertinent local birding news ever since. This new field identification guide to the birds of Costa Rica is a natural result of his birding and writing experience.