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Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica (Corrie Herring Hooks) Paperback – May 1, 2002
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About the Author
Carrol L. Henderson has headed the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources since 1977. He is an award-winning wildlife conservationist who has helped bring back eastern bluebirds, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, river otters, and trumpeter swans; an avid wildlife photographer whose images have appeared in the New York Times, Audubon, Birder's World, and Wild Bird; an experienced birding tour leader to Latin America, Kenya, Tanzania, and New Zealand; and the author of many magazine articles and several books. In 2016, the Garden Club of America awarded Henderson the Frances K. Hutchinson Medal, which is given to figures of national importance for distinguished service to conservation. In 2012, he received the Gary T. Myers Bird Conservation Award from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, recognizing him as the top bird conservationist in North America.
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This is an attractive, informative, and useful natural history guide for several animal types in Costa Rica. In contrast to the book's title, I would not call this a field guide. Its thickness and weight make it somewhat cumbersome to be carried in the field. Instead, this may be better suited as a tool for at-home reference before or after the outdoor excursion; or, carried in the car or backpack.
The 400 good color photographs cover the following six sections:
Birds = 259 photos of 189 species (of the 880+ found in the country)
Mammals = 46 photos of 31 species (out of 228)
Butterflies/Moths = 30 photos of 24 species (out of nearly 10,000)
Amphibians = 10 photos of 10 species (out of 175)
Reptiles = 34 photos of 25 species (out of 220)
Other insects, spiders, and crabs = 20 photos of 15 species (out of many thousands)
The selection of photos is nice, as is the quality and larger size of each one. Nearly every photo shows sharp color, is well lit with clarity and focus, and shows an unobscured view of the subject. The photos are the highlight of this book, which is what attracted me to buying it. It's nice to see many of Costa Rica's birds shown in a quality photo.
As noted in the breakdown of photographs list above, just over half of the book focuses on the birds, which are perhaps the more prominent or easily seen fauna in Costa Rica (other than the plant life). Within the birds, a slight bias goes towards showing more of the larger birds or non-passerines. Some great photos are provided for the 9 species of parrots, 18 raptors, and 22 shore and wading birds. On the smaller side, 18 species of hummingbirds are shown.
A smaller proportion of mammals is covered, which is analogous to what one typically sees in the wild since most of the mammals are either nocturnal or hidden by the foliage during the day. Four species of monkeys are photographed as are both the Three-toed and the Two-toed Sloths. Also, less likely to be seen, are four species of cats.
The text supplied for each species covers about a page of material dedicated to providing an overview of the natural history and, to a lesser extent, to describing the animal. Feeding behaviors, group interactions, habitat preferences, and other interesting nature trivia provide a brief but nice review of the animal's background. As an example, an interesting tidbit discusses the chemical composition of a forest yam that curtails the reproductive abilities of the peccaries.
A 2x2-inch map of Costa Rica is provided for each species. These maps do not show the range of the animal. Instead, dots represent a distinct sighting by the author and the associated nature tours. I like how the map is drawn with the five major biological zones that represent a distinct eco-region. The maps are relatively large and may be even too large since some species are shown by only a few dots. This takes up a good chunk of the page.
The introductory 36 pages of this book offer a good account of Costa Rica in general. Discussed are its history, nature preservation and conservation, nature tourism, biogeography, bird migration, endemic species, and the many habitat types. Reading this section before visiting Costa Rica will help give nice insight into the country.
I like all the information provided in this book as well as its well-rounded coverage. My only minor critique is the bulkier size of the book which is not due to the many species covered but in part to the organization of the text, photos, and maps. I suspect the book could have been 25% smaller (or the same size with 25% more species) by using a different font size and/or line spacing, a smaller map, and consolidation of the demographic information used to introduce each species.
As noted above, the book is not a complete field guide to any single group of animals, which is pointed out by the author. Instead, the book provides a sampling of what you may see while hiking around various areas of Costa Rica. Although there are certainly more complete field guides available for just the birds or the reptiles or the mammals (see list below), this book offers the nature generalist a very nice representation of the country's wildlife. It's a great book to read before, during, and after your visit.
I've listed several related books below...
The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guideby Garrigues
Mariposas De Costa Rica / Butterflies and Moths of Costa Rica by Chacon/Montero
The Mammals of Costa Rica: A Natural History and Field Guide by Wainwright
The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica by Savage
Amphibians and Reptiles of La Selva, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean Slope by Guyer/Donnelly
A Field Guide to Plants of Costa Rica by Gargiullo et al.
Tropical Plants of Costa Rica: A Guide to Native and Exotic Flora by Zuchowski
The mammal section is acceptable, but not organized well for a field guide. It would be difficult to use in the field.
The only improvement to my pocketable field guide is a little bit of field info (not a whole lot - my book "The Birds of Costa Rica" is far better at supplying field info and since this volume covers mostly birds, I would recommend picking it up instead) and some real photos of the animals and some different color morphs for the reptiles. The photography in the book is even a bit lacking. The cover photo is a bit blurry and many of the inside shots are not great, but at least they are photos.
Overall, not impressed.
I was so pleasantly surprised by how well written this book was that I felt writing a review was in order.
As an amateur naturalist, I found this book quite useful and would highly recommend it for anyone who plans on traveling to Costa Rica and is interested in nature (birds, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and mammals). Read it before you go and after you get back.