Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Birdwatching in Colombia

Birdwatching in Colombia
by Beckers, Jurgen and Pablo Florez
2014, 274 pp, ISBN: 9789090277851

BASICS: softcover; a highly informative and detailed summary giving instructions on how to find and what to see at 127 birding locations in Colombia;  85 maps show routes and landmarks to find each site; an account for each site outlines information on lodging, transportation, costs, contact information, directions, and target species; shows 164 small to medium-sized color photographs of birds and 70 more of habitats; arranged into 12 chapters that focus on a specific eco-zone in the country

REVIEW: This is a very welcome book for a bird-rich country with relatively little published for the traveling birder.  If you are thinking about a birding trip to Colombia, you will absolutely want a copy of this book to prepare for your visit and, to use while venturing around the country.  This is not a field or identification guide.  Instead, it is a location guide on where to go birding, how to get there, and what to expect in terms of both birds and accommodations.

A total of 127 specific sites are each reviewed in 1-3 pages.  This information is often very rich in detail and will be useful to help you select which sites you want to visit and how to arrange that visit in advance.  Besides providing a short list of target birds expected for the site, a fair amount of logistical information is given.  This includes recommendations about transportation to the area; key details on the costs and types of lodging; contact information such as phone numbers and addresses to arrange lodging; restaurants or local eating establishments; and, comfort levels of the facilities and grounds.

The information offered for finding birds at each site is often very detailed, especially when used with the adjoining map.  As an example for Rio Blanco: "…even better birding is to be found above the lodge.  After climbing about 150 metres, you reach the ridge 'B'.  The flat walk to the left 'D' takes you through secondary scrub with bamboo".  These directions from first-hand experience will help make a birder's searching a little bit easier and more efficient.
One nice, handy touch is the inclusion of 12 different icons that show the various amenities or conditions at the birding site.  These small icons immediately inform the reader if birding at a specific site is possible mainly along the road; or, if walking trails are available; if rubber boots are essential; the presence of cell phone reception; electricity or showers at the lodge, etc.  One other small touch is a 4-star scaling of each site.  These stars help one determine the "worthiness" of visiting a site.  This worthiness is based on the number of species or specialties to the difficulty of reaching that site.  A 4-star rating means "top site (many key species)" while a 1-star rating means "interesting site if more time available".

Each site is accompanied by 1-4 nice photographs that show both birds and the habitat of the surrounding area.  Of the 240 total photos in the book, 164 show birds (8% of the country's total), 70 show habitat, and 6 are of other animals or people.

The sites are organized into 12 distinct chapters, each representing an eco-region within Colombia.  A map printed inside the back cover shows how these regions are situated in the country.  Each chapter begins with a short summary of the associated endemic birds plus notes on other specialties found in that region.  A few other comments are made on the region's culture, its people, or on how to get to that area.
The 29-page introduction in this book is well worth reading for three reasons.  One, is a 15-page section that gives an update to the myriad of taxonomic changes for Colombia's birds.  This covers splits, lumps, name changes, and important subspecies.  This book presents the most up-to-date listing of changes in the country, other than private postings one might find with multiple internet searches.  Two, there is a simple map showing the travel times by bus between cities.  This will be very important for managing the flow of your trip.  Three, helpful information offers tips and advice on accommodations, safety, health, resources to bring with you, and general logistics. 

You will definitely be better off with this book if you go birding in Colombia, especially if you are the independent birder not part of a guided tour.  As a caveat, you should keep in mind information in this book can and will change over time; ergo, make note of what year you plan on going to Colombia versus when this book was written, which was 2013.  -- (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, April 2014)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species
by Fogden, Michael; Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson
2014, 400pp, ISBN: 9780062280640
Basics: hardcover; attractive photo collection for 262 (78%) of the world's 338 species of hummingbirds with brief summaries for the other 76 not shown; of the 262 species shown most (75%) are by only the male and 12% by only the female; text for each bird covers a general description with notes about favorite flowers, the nest and eggs, and about the bird's status and conservation concerns; not a field or identification guide but a small-sized artwork

REVIEW: The focal point of this attractive book (8 x 6 x 1.3 inches) is the set of life-sized photographs for this diverse family of birds. However, it must be noted only 262 (78%) of the 338 known species of hummingbirds are shown. This conflicts a bit with the book's sub-title stating "Every Species". The other 76 (22%) of the species are mentioned at the back of the book with the same material and range maps given for the illustrated birds. These non-illustrated hummingbirds are typically the rarer or lesser known species, even including the extinct Brace's Hummingbird. However, some of these missing birds have been well photographed such as the Plain-capped Starthroat and Green Mango.

The photographs do a nice job of showing the birds in a variety of positions: Flying, feeding, perching, or nesting. The color and clarity of the photos makes the book enjoyable to examine. However, some of the photographs tend to show a slightly muted or washed coloration to the birds. The color reproductions may not be perfect but, they do represent the bird well enough. A slightly different tact was taken with the photographs. Each bird has been digitally cut out of its background and placed onto a white page. I suspect this was done to help fit the bird, the map, and all the text onto the same page for easier reading; and, perhaps for a slightly different aesthetic approach.
These photographs, while showing the birds nicely, do not lend themselves to be fully useful for field use or identification. This is because most (75%) of the species are only of the male; and, 12% show only the female such as the Lucifer Hummingbird and Bahama Woodstar. A total of 33 (13%) of the photographed species show both male and female. As an odd note, the Green-bellied Hummingbird is represented by only a juvenile. Yes, these photos can be helpful to get a good impression of the what the bird looks like but only from the one angle shown in the photograph. An additional 26 photographs (with background included) are shown in the introductory pages.
It should be kept in mind this book is not designed to be a field or identification guide. Instead, it is a nice reference, or even artwork, to visually examine most of the world's hummingbirds and, to read about their natural history.

The material provided for each of the 338 species is contained within a single paragraph. A couple of sentences provide a general description of the bird and, sometimes, a few words on differentiating that bird from a similar species. A few more sentences comment on the various subspecies and their physical differences. The remainder of the bird's account gives the reader an overview of its life history such as distribution, favorite flowers, description of nests, and brief notes on status or conservation concerns.

The beginning of the book offers an informative 19-page introduction. A few pages cover each of these topics: Evolution and taxonomy, color and iridescence, flight, feeding, courtship and nesting, molt, and, migration.

Lastly, each of the 338 species is accompanied by a range map supplied by BirdLife International. The range is denoted by using three colors: Red for resident, year-round birds; green for breeding, summer ranges; and, blue for where the species is found during the winter. The maps are useful for assessing the general range of the bird; however, their small size (3x2 cm) in combination with showing a large geographic area make many of the range maps difficult to examine. The Magenta-throated Woodstar's limited range in the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama is barely visible in a small map that shows a large area from Massachusetts all the way south to Bolivia. The faintest sliver of red ink makes the range map incorrectly appear to show the bird as being found along the Pacific coast.

If you have an appreciation of hummingbirds, you will want a copy of this book. It is nice to see life-sized photos of the birds and to have so many species together in one relatively compact book. Just keep in mind this book is a general summary or overview of the birds; that not all birds are shown; and, the book is more of a beginning resource to help learn what hummingbirds exist and not as a field or identification guide.-- (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, April 2014)