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The new Costa Rica bird guide - perfect for the field!,
This review is from: The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide (Zona Tropical Publications) (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: 080147373X
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