Monday, 12 November 2018

Book review: Birds of Nicaragua: a field guide

Birds of Nicaragua: a field guide

Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux, David C. Hille & Robert Dean
Comstock (A Zona Tropical Publication) | 2018
480 pp. | 14 x 21.7 cm | 1332 colour illustrations, 9 colour photographs, 810 maps
Softback | £32 / $39.95 | ISBN: 9781501701580

Just finished my review of the handy new guide to the birds of Nicaragua, to be published in Neotropical Birding 24...

Thanks to Cornell University Press for providing a review copy.

Published review below, PDF here.

Nicaragua has long been in the shadow of its neighbour, Costa Rica, partly due to decades of political instability fuelled by proxy war. During the last century, grouped with El Salvador and Honduras, it was often overlooked by travellers and birders, or given a wide berth. It still slips under the world-listers’ radar simply because it has no endemic species. This is a terrible shame since the country has so much to offer, arguably more than any other in the region. It holds the largest continuous block of tropical forest north of Amazonia, habitats that are better preserved than those in neighbouring countries, a respectable 750+ species of bird (vs 925 for Costa Rica) and is the Central American country where exciting new discoveries can most realistically be expected. Without a doubt, the lack of a modern field guide has not helped the country promote its avian riches. Now that has been remedied, first by a pioneering 2014 bilingual guide (Martínez-Sánchez et al. 2014; on which Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux was a co-author), and now by this Zona Tropical offering.
     The guide covers 763 species, with full accounts accorded to every species that is known to have occurred, including vagrants such as Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva, Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata and Tawny-collared Nightjar Antrostomus salvini. An appendix provides shorter text and thumbnail illustrations of 43 species that are likely to be found in future, or whose claim to form part of the avifauna rests on a single sight record, thus helping future-proof the book to some extent. Some sight records have apparently been rejected on available evidence, as with a March 2014 sight record of Sinaloa Martin Progne sinaloae, although for this species whose winter range is unknown (quite possibly Amazonia), it would seem at least plausible that it might migrate through Nicaragua. Taxonomy follows the American Ornithological Society; differences with the increasingly popular Clements and International Ornithological Congress lists – much favoured by eBirders and world-listers respectively – are not mentioned, but neither are they difficult to determine.
     All information pertinent to a species is provided on a single page spread, making the guide quick to use in the field. The book itself is slightly larger (about 2 cm taller) than Zona Tropical’s popular Costa Rica predecessor (Garrigues & Dean 2007), which puts it on the borderline of what might be called a ‘pocket guide’, but it is otherwise fairly similar in style and layout, all wrapped in the identical type of standard soft cover.
     Text is concise, albeit a little longer than that of its Costa Rican counterpart, and clearly emphasises characters for field identification. Care has been taken to describe distribution, status and seasonality in sufficient detail for critical use. Descriptions of voice are always idiosyncratic, and in some cases I am not sure my ears are quite attuned to those of the authors. For example, I have trouble matching the description of a “rhythmic 4-phrase song” for Pale-vented Pigeon Patagioenas cayennensis with the classic ‘Santa Cruz’ mnemonic that my brain ascribes.
     The 2014 Nicaragua guide lacked maps, relying instead on range descriptions. This Zona Tropical guide breaks new ground, with large, colour-coded maps that permit the instant narrowing-down of possibilities. Despite their size, the maps are rather broad-brush, doubtless reflecting the resolution of the information the authors had at their disposal, especially the paucity of museum collections made in Nicaragua; their source is not specified beyond “years of field research”.
     Robert Dean’s plates originally appeared in Garrigues and Dean (2007), but there are many new illustrations depicting females, birds in flight, tail patterns and so on. All boreal migrants are illustrated, cutting down on the need to carry a North America field guide. As users of previous guides featuring Dean’s work will know, the paintings are well-suited to the purpose of practical identification, showing diagnostic field marks.
     Zona Tropical publications have made a niche for themselves with a series of well-produced field guides to Central American biota, and this latest addition will occupy a prominent place in their portfolio. I very much hope that birders will be persuaded to visit Nicaragua, and tour companies will eventually welcome it into the suite of orthodox tour destinations. With the appearance of this handy guide, crafted with love as well as expertise, there should be no excuse.
Christopher J. Sharpe 

REFERENCES
Garrigues, R. & Dean, R. (2007) The birds of Costa Rica: a field guide. Miami FL, USA: Zona Tropical.
Martínez-Sánchez, J., Chavarría-Duriaux, L. & Muñoz, F. J. (2014) A guide to the birds of Nicaragua/Nicaragua – una guía de aves. Magdeburg, Germany: Verlags KG Wolf.

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