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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The new Costa Rica bird guide - perfect for the field!, 5 Jun 2008
By 
Christopher J. Sharpe "Chris Sharpe" (Caracas, Venezuela) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
Written by the two foremost authorities on the subject, and long the standard field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica is now almost 20 years old and showing its age. For the past decade, there has been a clear need for a new edition of the book to incorporate recently recorded species, modernise taxonomy and bring distributional information up-to-date. And since most visiting birders take issue with weight, preferring to carry the excised plates alone (despite the relative strength of the text), any attempt to reduce the size of a new edition would have been welcomed.

Here we have not a new edition of Stiles & Skutch, but what the author prefers to call an alternative. The first feature most visitors will enjoy is the reduction in bulk. My old guide weighs about 1kg (2.2 lbs) and needs to be carried in a pack, whereas Garrigues & Dean is just shy of 600g (1.4 lbs) and will fit in a medium-sized coat pocket. Secondly, the plates face the text, so there is no need to flip between the two. Maps are provided along side the text, reducing the need for the detailed range descriptions that are often so confusing to the visitor. The text itself is more concise than the earlier guide and emphasises identification features - something that Stiles & Skutch did not do. As for the plates, they are a marked improvement on the old illustrations. They have clearly been painted with care and diligence and are much more useful in distinguishing similar species than the previous artwork - all credit to the artist! Boreal migrants, such as shorebirds, thrushes, swallows and warblers, are illustrated which means that one can for the first time just get by without a North American field guide - though given the difficulty in identifying these groups, it would be wiser to carry a North American guide too. And, of course, the guide is pretty well up-to-date on bird names, following AOU taxonomy.

Does the new guide supersede Stiles & Skutch? Not really, but perhaps that does not matter. This is now the guide that most birders will want to take in the field. Well organised, portable and with accurate illustrations, it is the guide that birding visitors and general travellers have been waiting for all these years. Nevertheless, for the moment at least, birders and naturalists will also want to have a copy of Stiles & Skutch, even if it stays back at the hotel - or even back home. The text of Stiles & Skutch contains so much diligently compiled and fascinating natural history information that it remains far from obsolete.

At a time when so many neotropical avifaunas are treated in two volume works - a "field guide" and a "species accounts" or "distribution" tome - one might view Birds of Costa Rica in the same light. Garrigues & Dean is the field guide, while Stiles & Skutch provides the non-essential detail. Both will be accompanying me on my next trip to Costa Rica in a month's time.

Chris Sharpe, 5 June 2008. ISBN: 0713683694
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The new Costa Rica bird guide - perfect for the field!, 5 Jun 2008
By 
Christopher J. Sharpe "Chris Sharpe" (Caracas, Venezuela) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Written by the two foremost authorities on the subject, and long the standard field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica is now almost 20 years old and showing its age. For the past decade, there has been a clear need for a new edition of the book to incorporate recently recorded species, modernise taxonomy and bring distributional information up-to-date. And since most visiting birders take issue with weight, preferring to carry the excised plates alone (despite the relative strength of the text), any attempt to reduce the size of a new edition would have been welcomed.

Here we have not a new edition of Stiles & Skutch, but what the author prefers to call an alternative. The first feature most visitors will enjoy is the reduction in bulk. My old guide weighs about 1kg (2.2 lbs) and needs to be carried in a pack, whereas Garrigues & Dean is just shy of 600g (1.4 lbs) and will fit in a medium-sized coat pocket. Secondly, the plates face the text, so there is no need to flip between the two. Maps are provided along side the text, reducing the need for the detailed range descriptions that are often so confusing to the visitor. The text itself is more concise than the earlier guide and emphasises identification features - something that Stiles & Skutch did not do. As for the plates, they are a marked improvement on the old illustrations. They have clearly been painted with care and diligence and are much more useful in distinguishing similar species than the previous artwork - all credit to the artist! Boreal migrants, such as shorebirds, thrushes, swallows and warblers, are illustrated which means that one can for the first time just get by without a North American field guide - though given the difficulty in identifying these groups, it would be wiser to carry a North American guide too. And, of course, the guide is pretty well up-to-date on bird names, following AOU taxonomy.

Does the new guide supersede Stiles & Skutch? Not really, but perhaps that does not matter. This is now the guide that most birders will want to take in the field. Well organised, portable and with accurate illustrations, it is the guide that birding visitors and general travellers have been waiting for all these years. Nevertheless, for the moment at least, birders and naturalists will also want to have a copy of Stiles & Skutch, even if it stays back at the hotel - or even back home. The text of Stiles & Skutch contains so much diligently compiled and fascinating natural history information that it remains far from obsolete.

At a time when so many neotropical avifaunas are treated in two volume works - a "field guide" and a "species accounts" or "distribution" tome - one might view Birds of Costa Rica in the same light. Garrigues & Dean is the field guide, while Stiles & Skutch provides the non-essential detail. Both will be accompanying me on my next trip to Costa Rica in a month's time.

Chris Sharpe, 5 June 2008. ISBN: 080147373X
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birds of Coasta Rica, 6 Aug 2009
This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential guide for a visit to Costa Rica, 10 April 2009
By 
HUGH KENDAL-WARD (Berkshire, U.K.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
Having just visited Costa Rica, I wish I had bought the book before my visit. Fortunately we had a guide to point out the birds, but bought this book so I could annotate my photographs. The guide had the previous version and one of our party had the newer version, and the guide would often referred to the latter version because the pictures were more clear and set out in better order, though had less information that its predecessor. So I would rate the updated version the better of the two.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for bird enthusiasts, 8 Jan 2012
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This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
This book contains clear detailed coloured drawings of 820 species. It's easy to use - there's a heading at the top of each page naming the family of the bird you want to identify. For example, if you see a bird and think it's probably a hummingbird, it's easy to flick through and find the hummingbirds.The book is small enough to carry in a rucksack, or even a large pocket. The details of the birds usually have a map beside them, so you know what you're likely to be seeing.This book is an invaluable friend to have if you love birds and you're going to Costa Rica.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Birds of Costa Rica, 1 Jan 2012
By 
Dag Saunders (Telford, Shropshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
Really first class book, thoroughlt recommended - just what you need with good pictoral representations and good detailed descriptions, locations, seasonal variations etc. The same book was priced considerably higher in the tourist shops in Costa Rica.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birds of Costa Rica reviewed in Costa Rica., 21 Feb 2012
As a birder living and birding in Costa Rica, I have all the field guides available. This book is all you need packed into a "standard" size and weight. Illustrations are very good and the text is accurate. Location maps are in some cases suspect but that can be overlooked as the country is very small and birds do have wings. If you visit CR for any amount of birding this is a must have.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top quality Field Guide, 16 April 2014
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This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
I actually bought this book from Amazon a couple of years or so ago.
With a trip to Costa Rica imminent and as a serious "hobbyist" birder, I wanted a guide that would be similar to my trusty Collins Bird Guide to serve me on my first venture to exotic birding climes!
A quick "Look Inside" suggested that this might be an appropriate choice.
Now, two trips to Costa Rica later, I can say I made absolutely the right choice and it has served me well.
I have given the book 5 stars, because it suited my requirements perfectly, and if you are a non-professional, it probably will yours.
It's about the same size as the Collins Bird Guide, and so is manageable when you are out on your birding travels fitting into a good sized pocket.
There are generally about 6 species descriptions to a page placed opposite illustrations showing, more often than not, male and female where sufficiently distinct. Juveniles, colour morphs and occasional sub-species are shown again where these can be identified in the field.
The illustrations themselves I found to be generally excellent and very useful in the field.
But a couple of compromises have been made that very serious birders might consider a shortcoming.
The guide does not cover most pelagics - Gulls particularly are omitted - but near-shore species such as Brown Pelican and Magnificent Frigatebird are included. This was a deliberate attempt to reduce the size of the book.
The maps are also simply distribution maps and make no attempt to represent seasonality. For most species that you find in a country barely 9 degrees from the equator, this is of no great concern, but seasonal migrants from both north and south are indicated only in the text.
The text itself is concise and stripped down to the bare minimum, but there is enough there to aid identification where the illustrations were not in themselves sufficient.
All in all, I found this to be an extremely good book and for somewhere short of 20 quid, you are really getting value for money.
Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential, 17 Mar 2014
By 
Stuart Vine (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
If you're birding in Costa Rica, this is the book to carry around with you. The combination of pictures, short text descriptions and range maps on the same page make this much easier to use in the field than Stiles and Skutch. It weighs a lot less too! Personally I'd buy both and use Stiles and Skutch as a reference book, either back home or in your hotel/lodge.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent field guide, 15 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) (Paperback)
Excellent field guide, easy to use, clear descriptions, good illustrations and useful maps. This is a must for anyone travelling to Costa Rica intent on bird watching
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Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides)
Birds of Costa Rica (Helm Field Guides) by Richard Garrigues (Paperback - 21 May 2007)
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