The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Friday, April 30, 2004

Book Review
Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica
Ro Wauer, April 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica, by Carrol L. Henderson, is a good reference for anyone planning on visiting this marvelous country in Central America. The book is filled with color photographs of wildlife and scenery and numerous maps. The diversity of wildlife photographs range from butterflies to mammals, most of which are first class images taken by photographer Steve Adams. Nearly 300 species are illustrated. And the 275 full-color shots of the country's great scenery and maps provide good insight into the biogeography of the country.

Henderson's Costa Rica book is most valuable as a pre-trip reference on the country and the key wildlife viewing sites. It includes excellent background on Costa Rican research, conservation, environmental education, and nature tourism. And it also provides the reader with a good perspective on Costa Rica's major biological zones. These include tropical dry forest, southern Pacific lowlands, central plateau (central valley), Caribbean lowlands, highlands, and coastal beaches and mangrove lagoons. This 559-page book, published by the University of Texas Press, sells for $39.95 paperback (ISBN 0-292-73459-X) or $95.00 library edition (ISBN 0-292-73128-0).

Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica is less a field guide than a grand picture book. Nearly two inches thick, it is not a book I would want to take into the field. And the abundant illustrations are of the more common species only, including several that are commonplace in the United States. To be most useful as a field guide would require illustrations of Costa Rica's more unique species, those that are not already illustrated in numerous other guide books. For instance, of 16 butterflies that are illustrated, only five are not also illustrated in various other butterfly field guides. Of 183 bird species illustrated (of a grand total of 878 possible species), only a few of Costa Rica's specialties are included. Instead, species also common in the United States, such as the brown pelican, turkey and black vultures, white ibis, roseate spoonbill, black-bellied whistling-duck, green heron, broad-winged hawk, acorn woodpecker, great-tailed grackle, and Baltimore oriole, are included. Only a handful of the specialty birds are illustrated. These include great shots of king vulture, double-toothed kite, white hawk, sunbittern, spectacled owl, purple-throated mountain-gem (hummingbird), bicolored antbird, spot-crowned euphonia, and speckled and silver-throated tanagers for example.

The selection of 32 mammals, of a possible total of 228 species, also contains a number of species that seldom are illustrated in books. Examples include prehensile-tailed porcupine, sac-wing and tent-making bats, red-backed squirrel monkey, tamandua or collared anteater, paca, tayra, kinkajou, and Baird's tapir. But also included are white-tailed deer, armadillo, collared peccary (javelina), and humpback whale.

Additional highpoints in this Costa Rica book include an excellent glossary of terms, good literature cited listing following each section, a section that briefly describes 52 wildlife-viewing sites (this may be one of the more worthwhile sections), and a good index. The author, Carrol Henderson, is a professional wildlife biologist living in Minnesota. He has made over 25 trips to Costa Rica since 1969, and has led over 35 birding and wildlife tours there and throughout Latin America. The value of this book is providing much worthwhile information for anyone planning a wildlife trip to Costa Rica.


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