Open Access
Fabian M. Jaksić
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A Guide to the Birds and Mammals of Coastal Patagonia.—Graham Harris. 1998. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. xviii + 231 pp., 33 color plates, 30 figures, 251 distribution maps. ISBN 0-691-05831-8. Cloth, $65.00.—This interesting book is a hybrid in several ways. Its hard cover and size render it rather awkward as a field guide, but it is a nice addition to a personal bookshelf. Its scope encompassing birds and mammals renders it “half interesting” to pure ornithologists or to pure mammalogists. Contents include descriptions, status, and ranges of terrestrial and marine birds and mammals, all elements useful for bird watchers and whale watchers. The book provides insightful comments on habitat and behavior, areas of much interest to ecologists. Its concentration on the coastal strip of Patagonia provides a detailed picture of that specific meeting of sea and land but consequently fails at setting a proper biogeographic context. In addition, its small print throughout is an insult to the tired eyes of bird watchers and reviewers alike. Although I read the entire book, I will comment only on the part specific to birds.

The presentation of birds follows that of Meyer de Schauensee, with some updates in nomenclature (and a few misspellings). Each species account contains a serviceable description, a welcome section on typical behaviors (illustrated when deemed necessary), a useful summary of abundance and resident status, a depiction of the distributional range (complemented by rather small maps), and sometimes a note about cues that enable one to distinguish some species from other very similar ones. Each account has a referral to a color plate, with rather competent drawing and coloring.

First, there are very few typographical errors. An embarrassing one is the misspelling of wing “converts” (coverts) in the plate for Wilson's Storm-Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus). The Description section of each species account is helpful and easy to understand. Providing measurements of birds in both inches and centimeters was a very good idea. There are a few inconsistencies when judging size, such as when two birds are of the same size but one is labeled “small” and the other “very small.” The Behavior section is a treasure chest of keen natural history observations. I found it useful not only for the basic information provided, but also in the complementary description of some peculiar habits of each bird. The Status and Habitat section is informative but with a few misleading exceptions, such as the statement that the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) “needs trees for perching.” The Range section is generally accurate, except for some species such as the Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus), which is depicted as ranging into the southwestern United States without mention of the southeastern United States. The Similar Species section is useful but sparse, thus giving the impression that there should not be much fear of confusing bird species in coastal Patagonia.

I have some praises and complaints with respect to the color plates. I like very much the idea of presenting several positions of the bird in focus (e.g. in flight, standing) and showing, of course, any differences between males and females, adults and subadults, as well as different color morphs if they exist. On the negative side, Darwin's Tinamou (Nothura darwinii) and Elegant Crested-Tinamou (Eudromia elegans) are both said to have very short legs, but the drawings show a noticeably longer-legged aspect for the latter. No mention is made of the fact that the only Podilymbus species in the area differs from the rather similar Podiceps species by the former having black eyes and latter red ones. The same applies to the difference between red-eyed adult Black-crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) and yellow-eyed juveniles, and to red-eyed male Rosy-billed Pochards (Netta peposaca) and black-eyed females. The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) is said to have a yellow bill, but in the drawing the bill is pink. Similarly, we are told that the Silver Teal (Anas versicolor) has a black beak with an orange base, but in the drawing the base is yellow. Only the male Green-backed Firecrown (Sephanoides sephanoides) is shown, and not the crown-dimorphic female. And only the male Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana) is shown. What does the female look like? We are also told that the male Ringed Kingfisher (Ceryle torquata) has a rufous breast and belly and that the female has a gray breast, but in the plate the breast color is red. The White-crested Tyrannulet (Serpophaga subcristata) is said to be pale gray below but is depicted as bright yellow. The captions for Black-chinned Siskin (Carduelis barbata) and for Grassland Yellow-finch (Sicalis luteola) seem to be transposed with respect to the drawings, at least for the males. In a different vein, a couple of plates are so overcrowded with species that it is difficult to figure out the birds' markings (particularly plate 11, and to some extent, plate 17).

The book ends with an Appendix of accidental records and sightings, and another with recommended reading, the last of which I found most wanting and very idiosyncratic in the number and type of references cited. A Glossary of terms follows, which I also think should have been more thoroughly chosen. A Bibliography comes next, which I found to be deficient and very biased. Without any headers, 251 maps follow, packed at six per page, describing in dark and light gray the ranges of the species discussed in the main text. Unfortunately, one has to go back to page 6 to find the key for the dark and light shading (breeding and nonbreeding range, respectively). I take issue with some of the ranges reported, particularly with those of Circus buffoni, Thripophaga modesta, and Agelaius thilius on the western edges of their ranges. Finally, a serviceable index presents English, Latin, and Spanish order and species names of birds.

I am somewhat puzzled as to the intended readership for this book. It is midway between a field guide and an annotated account of birds and mammals of a non-biogeographical region. Having personal long-term interests on everything that has to do with Patagonia, I will stock this book with others dealing with that region. However, I am reluctant to recommend it as a pocket field guide to the birds of coastal Patagonia. It won't fit in any pocket, but it may provide a wonderful filling-in of details back in your tent or guest room once you know what birds you have seen. If you are intent on knowing Patagonia and its critters, I think this is a good book for a personal library. If you are a great fan of Patagonia for traveling or researching, I recommend that you purchase it.


Fabian M. Jaksić "A GUIDE TO THE BIRDS AND MAMMALS OF COASTAL PATAGONIA," The Auk 117(1), 276-277, (1 January 2000).[0276:R]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 January 2000
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