Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Birds of Brazil: The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil

Birds of Brazil
The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil
by  Gwynne, John A., Robert S. Ridgely, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel
2010, 322pp, ISBN: 9780801476464
Basics:  softcover; illustrates nearly all 740+ species found in the Pantanal and Cerrado habitat zones of south-central Brazil; majority of species shown with only 1 illustration unless differences exist between the genders; artwork by several artists is of very good quality; paragraph of text focuses mostly on description, identification, and similar species; short notes given on voice, habitat, and distinctive behaviors; range map shows separate color for resident, austral vagrants, and boreal vagrants along with state borders and major rivers

Coming on the heels of several other Brazilian field guides (with a few more to come), this book is a very good resource to a popular birding area in Brazil.  Somewhat different from other field guides that typically focus on geo-political boundaries, this field guide concentrates on distinct, major habitat types:  The Pantanal and the Cerrado in south-central Brazil.

Nearly all 740+ species are illustrated by very good color plates.  Despite being done by several different artists, the artistry blends well together.  The proportions, colors, and field marks are to be commended.  The only two features that stand out for minor criticism is the somewhat diffused or muted colors on many plates.  I can't tell if this is due to the printing or to the artistic style.  Second, many of the birds are shown by only a single illustration.  However, the distinct male/female plumages are shown when any differences exist.  And, some birds such as parrots, hawks, swallows, nightjars, and shorebirds are shown in flight.

Nearly all illustrations for the passerines are taken directly from another South America book, which is the condensed "Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America: Passerines" by Ridgely/Tudor in 2009.  These same illustrations seem to have been enlarged by about 15% for this new book.  As a plus, some species not illustrated in the prior book are now shown in this newest book.  Examples include Fawn-breasted Wren, Cone-billed Tanager, Southern Antpipit, and Reiser's Tyrannulet.  Unfortunately, several birds are still represented by only text such as the Forbe's Blackbird, Chapada Siuriri, and the Olivaceous Elaenia.

In the format of a typical field guide, a paragraph of text is found directly across from the illustrated bird.  This material focuses mostly on describing the bird, pointing out key identification features, and comparing similar species.  I find this text to be very good as well as complete.  It easily exceeds the amount of identification material found in any other Brazilian field guide to date (e.g. books by Honkala, van Perlo, Sigrist, Souza, Develey). Additional, brief notes are provided to outline the bird's habitat, describe its vocalizations, and to give useful tips on distinctive behaviors.

A range map is provided for each of the illustrated species.  The map is decently sized at 3x3cm and uses three different colors to represent resident, austral wintering visitor, and boreal wintering visitors.  Some extra detail is also drawn in which are the state boundaries and major rivers.  This range map is a bit different, following the aim of the book which is to focus on the habitat and not political boundaries.  The perimeter of this large area covers several Brazilian states, each with its own boundary shown.  The range of the bird is shown only within the boundaries of the Pantanal and Cerrado habitats.  Unfortunately, it does not show where the bird's range may extend into the surrounding regions.

A nice touch with this book is putting in an indication of the bird being endemic.  Next to each  Brazilian endemic, you will see a small Brazilian flag.  And, if the bird is a near-endemic, meaning it's found primarily in Brazil, only half of the flag is shown by the bird's name.  This tiny touch can be very useful for anyone who may be unfamiliar with the region's birds.

Attesting to the conservation background of the book's publisher, the first 29 pages provide a nice introduction to these popular birding habitats and to their conservation concerns.  In addition to giving a good overview for each of 10 different habitat types, quality color pictures offer a nice sample of each area.

Also noted in the introduction are plans for this book to be the first of five books, each representing specific habitat regions of Brazil.  After looking through this field guide, I am very eager to see and purchase those future books.  Once those five are done, I believe this series will be the benchmark for Brazilian birding books.  This book is easily the one that would be most favored and recommended for use in the field when in this region of Brazil.  No other Brazilian guide exceeds the artwork found in this book nor comes close to matching its identification text.

If you go birding in the Pantanal or the Cerrado, it would be a mistake to not use this book.  No other book would really be needed unless you simply like to have additional illustrations on hand. – (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, February 2011)

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