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on May 13, 2007
For 95% of the traveler's going to Costa Rica, you'll want to take this book.

For readers interested in natural history, I think it's important to understand what this book is - and what Costa Rica needed. The new Garrigues and Dean field guide, The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide (henceforth the G&D field guide) will not be the new barometer for definitive field guides. Lucky for us, it doesn't need to be. The earlier Skutch and Stiles Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (henceforth the S&S field guide) is a great field guide in its own right, but has no need to be duplicated. On the plus side, the earlier S&S guide has buckets of information about behavior and ecology, and it is highly informative about general natural history as well as birds. The problem has been that for nearly a decade now, the S&S field guide was just too much for nearly every traveler. The limitations become greater with every passing year. It suffers from an extremely heavy weight (especially when wet), has no visual range maps, and has color plates that are small, sometimes dark, and sometimes poorly placed.

Costa Rica simply doesn't need a bird field guide to compete with the S&S guide (who wants to compete with Alexander Skutch!). It needed a guide to solve the aforementioned S&S problem - a lighter weight, better plates, and good range maps. This book, by Richard Garrigues (Author) and Robert Dean (illustrator), solves that problem. It's easy to call the book "excellent" because of the overall mission. It didn't have to be the best ever ... it had to be the most useful for travelers (and, yes, birders) going to Costa Rica. Clearly the authors knew exactly what they were out to accomplish.

The weight and the range maps of the new guide will become obvious right away to those who have walked and used the S&S field guide for so many years (I'm now in double-digit territory on the number of times I've been to Costa Rica). The color plates, however, are a comparison thing. One will have had to have had the S&S guide to appreciate the change - but it's there. So for these three challenges, mission accomplished. Done. Solved.

To get to the proper weight, the G&D field guide had the good sense to remove the ecology, habits, and behavior of all the birds. Adding that information would mostly just duplicate the S&S field guide anyway. The G&D guide concentrates on the physical characteristics needed for identification - just what most of us are looking for. I like the habits and ecology of the birds - but I don't need to lug that information into the field. That's the kind of information I'll look up later. The new G&D guide also eliminates some rather unnecessary pelagic birds and concentrates specifically on what most travelers need... the land birds.

The range maps, thankfully, are large enough to look at without squinting. I would have liked to have seen the maps break down the regional borders, but it's hard to quibble when you've never had a visual range map before. (for the record, I have not looked at the accuracy of the maps. Someone will need to chime in later on that one).

The plates were the biggest challenge. Dean has done an admirable job by making the plates bigger and cleaning up the rather flat, dark, images that occasionally plague the S&S guide. There are fewer images per page, and if anyone has tried to deal with the hummingbird plates on the S&S guide, you'll immediately appreciate the improvement. Finding the right text for the right species for that guide required some visual gymnastics. I also agree with the reviewer who said the images in the new G&D guide seem a little dim sometimes. They do. But after seeing images that were too dark for so many years, I don't feel any room to complain. I'm convinced it's not Dean's plates, but the printing itself. In North America we had a similar problem with the rufous and red colors in the Sibley field guides. Hey... it happens. Still, the detail of the plates is significantly better even if the color isn't as lively or as rich as it should be on some species.

In all, most everyone will likely end up with this as their primary bird field guide. That's really a shocking statement to make and I didn't expect to be making it. That's a real tribute to the author and illustrator. The S&S guide will still be in the suitcase of course, but thankfully I won't need to drag its fat, warped body around with me anymore. Researchers and students may opt for the older S&S guide because of the informative text, but most birders and passive visitors will want the lighter, more useful G&D guide. It's a great addition.
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on May 2, 2007
This is a great new field guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Although not as comprehensive as the venerable Stiles & Skutch, it packs over 820 species into a pocket-sized guide. The illustrations by Robert Dean are beautifully rendered and seem quite accurately done (experts on CR birds can chime in to confirm or refute this assertion). I also love that the illustrations are large in size, instead of the tiny pictures that are sometimes packed into neotropical field guides.

The layout of this guide is also different from most large-format Latin American field guides. Instead of a couple of dozen separate color plates in the center of the book like Stiles & Skutch, this new book has illustrations on every right-hand page (166 plates in all), with a short description of the bird on the facing (left) page. The descriptive info is brief, but often includes important field marks, habitat, and vocalizations. I also love the inclusion of range maps on the same page, a cool feature missing from most of the other Costa Rica field guides.

Overall, this book does not have the comprehensive scope of Stiles & Skutch, but it delivers what it promises -- a pocket-sized (well, 7.5" x 5" x 1"), beautifully illustrated field guide focusing on field identification. I have three bird field guides for CR, and already this one is my favorite.
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on May 11, 2007
I got my copy today of this new FG to the Birds of Costa Rica. As I also own the older book by Stiles and Skutch, the first impression was how small this new field guide is, compared to the older one. Very unusual for a FG of a tropical country. The old book weighs in at 895 grams, whereas Garrigues & Dean is a mere 557 grams. A considerable difference for any traveller. It is clear that this comes at a price: There is VERY little text for each species. Not as little as in the ill-reputed Birds of Peru (Clements & Shany), though. The book's text is patterned more along the lines of Birds of Argentina & Uruguay (Narosky & Yzurieta) which I had come to appreciate very much on a trip a bit more than a year ago. Key characteristics are printed in bold face for a very fast orientation. There is some information on habitats, elevation, frequency and size. In some cases, voices are mentioned as well. Most welcome are the decent, i.e. not too small range maps. The general arrangement for each species follows well proven lines: text and range maps are facing the plates. There are usually four to six species per page. In general, there are two or three illustrations per species, often male and female and/or a flight picture. The plates, to me, look a bit inconsistent. Mostly, that is due to some faded looks of some of the plates (e.g. many, but not all of the hummingbirds, ovenbirds, and antbirds). This is why I give this book only 4 stars. I do not know whether this is due to the originals or whether these are printing problems. E.g. in my book, the Emerald Toucanet on the cover is considerably darker than the same species on page 153. If I recall it correctly, the cover is closer to the true bird. But it is too long since I have seen it in nature. Overall, I can't judge the accuracy of both text and range maps as well as the plates. I'm sure we will get some info on this in due time from others. Personally, there are species where I prefer the pictures in the older field guide. But overall, I think this book will be the one any birder visiting the country will now want to take along.
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on December 12, 2007
WOW!!! What a great new field guide. If you're a birder and planning to go to Costa Rica, then this book is for you. I've been a frequent traveller to both Central and South America and have purchased numerous field guides to the birds of those regions. This guide establishes a new standard which I would like to see emulated by future guides. It is compact, beautifully illustrated, and arranged in a logical and easy-to-use format. No longer is it necessary to remove and laminate the plates from the larger Costa Rica guides because Robert Dean has managed to put all the birds of CR in your pocket- literally. This book should really be called the "Dean Guide" because, let's face it, a lot of us buy a field guide primarily for the illustrations. Dean has done an incredible job of creating great illustrations without the need to cram them all together in a limited number of plates. Instead of having to sort through 20+ species of hummingbirds or tanagers on a single plate, Dean has expertly illustrated an average of 5 species per plate. The "Dean Guide" also remedies another complaint I find with most neotropical field guides- he illustrates ALL of the birds. Take warblers for example- instead of illustrating only resident warblers, he illustrates all of the migrants one might expect to see as well. No more having to sort through multiple field guides to identify similar species. I love the placement of the range maps and Garrigues' concise and to-the-point descriptive text. The Birds of Costa Rica establishes a new benchmark for neotropical guides.
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on June 5, 2008
Written by the two foremost authorities on the subject, and long the standard field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (Comstock) 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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on March 24, 2009
We already had the Stiles & Skutch field guide, but like many other birders, didn't enjoy carrying it in the field. The task that Garrigues and Dean took on was to create a guide for birders, not ornithologists. They made several design decisions that, after use, I came to appreciate: First, they did not include a lot of descriptive information that isn't needed to identify the bird. Most birders want to ID the bird; some will research it further, but that can be done back home in the comfort of the home library or computer office. Second, they chose not to include the pelagic birds - a great choice, because they are covered so well elsewhere, and not many people I know travel to Costa Rica to bird in the open ocean. Third, they put ALL the information for a given species in one spot - illustration, description, and range map. This has been the downfall of many a guide, usually because of printing costs for color plates; apparently the market is now strong enough to allow printing every page in color.

Finally, the book is laid out well, with big family tages at the top, open space around the illustrations, and very high quality artwork. It is a delight to use. If you are going to Costa Rica, buy it! In fact, buy it even if you're not, to see what a well-designed field guide should look like.
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on March 2, 2012
Despite Costa Rica being a birder destination there are only two books, The Birds of Costa Rica 2007 and A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica 1989 with the latter being much bulkier than the former which makes the former better received.

During our visit we hired the services of numerous guides; we also visited with many more. Consensus was....The plates in this book are inferior to that in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica 1989.
One guide stated that he was so disappointed in this this book that he contacted the authors. He relayed that the authors' response was that they were less concerned with the plates and more concerned with the location and identifying information opposite the plates.

I found the criticisms related to the plates to be accurate, there is no need to identify all of the inaccuracies we found, or discuss them more in depth as it would serve no purpose being that this is the only game in town.

I am surprised that Cornell would lend their name to what is clearly not the best effort and only an adequate tool.

So, what do you do? Bring a North American book with you. I found Peterson Field Guides Warblers to be extremely helpful, and if there are more than one in your party pick up A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica 1989 and share the duties of carrying it.

If you hire a guide you can almost bet they will have The Birds of Costa Rica 2007 so you can purchase the older book and combined you will have the best information.
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on May 3, 2010
I am a North American birder with no tropical bird experience previous to my April, 2010 trip. Just returned and used this book in the field at La Selva OTS, Savegre Lodge, and Pacific lowlands areas near Jaco. Easy to carry and stood up to sweating, rain, bug spray, and lots of torturous bending and folding. I found the colors to be a little faded or less intense than the amazing birds all around us. I recommend taking the heavier, encyclopedic Stiles and Skutch book in your suitcase for background reading at your lodgings. I was with a small Audubon group and a local guide, so I did not have to rely on the Garrigues/Dean book for i.d. My guide, Noel Urena of Tropical Tours was a contributor to the book. However it was still handy to have for reference, study of each day's targeted birds, and as my checklist and notes.
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on July 24, 2007
We recently returned from Costa Rica. After receiving Garrigues' new book, I left the Stiles & Skutch at home. The only Stiles I saw there were broken into only the center plate section, it is just too inconvenient to carry that volume.

This is a great field guide: 6-9 illustrations on the right side with descriptions, habitat, calls, scientific name and range map on the left side. Updated comments include where and how common a species is --and which time of the year it occurs there.

You can find all the information about one species without flipping from page to page.

Colors are generally quite good, you could quibble a bit about shading but printing is always that way. And a few more of the birds could be depicted in flight.

Perched birds are drawn to the same scale on a given page.

The book is cargo pocket size, a little too large for regular jeans, and not too heavy. I think the pages are less waterproof than Sibley and I did slip a plastic jacket cover over the outside because of the cloud and rain forest precipitation.

This is what a field guide should be today. It rates 4 or 5 stars.

I'd love them to do the same thing with the area north of this: Mexico-Guatemala-Honduras.
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on November 28, 2009
Basics: softcover, 163 color plates show all 820+ species of Costa Rica, short paragraph focuses on identification; range map for each bird

This is the smallest of the three books to cover all the Costa Rican birds. This smaller size makes it a true field guide. Fortunately, its size does not sacrifice the necessary contents to identify all of the country's birds. As equally important, the size of the illustrations have not been sacrificed. These are equal to, if not larger, than the illustrations found in the two other bigger books.

All 820+ species of birds, including migrants and vagrants, are illustrated quite well. The text describing the birds may seem to be a bit scant at first, but the authors do a good job at relaying the salient points necessary for identification. Nearly all of the short paragraph is dedicated to the description of the bird. While most of the birds have their vocalizations notes, these descriptions can often be too brief. There is almost no mention of habitat or behavior; thus, truly making it a focused identification guide. For birders who may want additional natural history or behavioral information on the birds, the Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles/Skutch would make an excellent companion to this guide.

The range maps are 2 x 2cm and do a decent job at depicting the ranges of the birds despite the map's necessary small size. The ranges are shown with a single color which represents the birds' breeding and/or wintering grounds. These simple maps do not note any geographic points (e.g., city, park, mountain ranges), so it might be helpful to become acquainted with a map of Costa Rica to get a feel for the terrain of the country to help discern where the mountain ranges are located.

Many of the species are illustrated with multiple drawings. This occurs where there is notable plumage variations between genders, ages, or subspecies. As for the artistry itself, I am pleased. I consider the artwork to be better than the Birds of Panama book by Ridgely/Gwynne and a tiny bit better than Stiles/Skutch. Key identification points are illustrated quite well. The only negative aspect to me is the sharpness -- or lack of -- with the brightness or intensity of the colors. Most of the birds, especially the hummingbirds, seem to be faintly washed out; or, slightly "overexposed". It seems the grays, blacks, and rufous colors suffer the most. I suspect this is an artifact of the printing and not the original art work.

This is a great book to take to Costa Rica. If you can manage to take the larger Stiles/Skutch book as well, you'll have everything you need for the country. If you take only one book and identification is your primary purpose, take this smaller book. Again, I consider the illustrations to be a touch better than the Stiles book; and, there are a greater variety of plumages depicted here. I have the same comments about the Birds of Panama Book by Ridgely. Although the Panama book covers all Costa Rican birds, the plates are not as good and the book is certainly bulkier. However, I must admit the text is better, which is also true for Stiles. - (written by Jack at Avian Review / Avian Books, August 2008)

I've listed several related books below...
1) A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles/Skutch
2) A Guide to the Birds of Panama by Ridgely/Gwynne
3) Photographic Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Fogden
4) Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by Henderson
5) Aves De Costa Rica by Skutch
6) Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica by Henderson
7) Hummingbirds of Costa Rica by Fogden
8) An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Soto
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