I have always appreciated both the field skills and published works of Bill Clark, so when I was made aware that a new work Raptors of Mexico and Central America had gone to press, I anxiously awaited its publication, and was delighted when asked to review it.
Having travelled through Central America on several occasions I am well aware of the difficulty of identifying raptors not seen on a regular basis, especially birds in flight. This volume really makes the job easier, providing a wealth of information to help the itinerant birder and resident ornithologist alike.
The colour plates by John Schmitt are nothing less than superb and truly capture the jizz of the birds depicted. I can well imagine the discussions that might have taken place between Clark and Schmitt as they refined and perfected these illustrations. Often pictures in a field guide are flat and lifeless; in this case they portray the vitality and fluidity of the birds.
Instead of following a pedantic taxonomic structure, birds with similar features, lifestyles and habitats are shown together, making for ready comparison of species that could easily be confused one with the other. In the pages shown above all of the Peregrine Falcon subspecies found in the area are illustrated with explanatory notes for each one. To compress this into a single page, without losing any clarity is a tour de force and one of the features that makes the book so enjoyable.
That most variable of raptors, the Red-tailed Hawk, is similarly depicted in all its colour variants, with adult and juvenile plumages illustrated..
But not only are there superlative illustrations, photographs accompany the detailed text for each species covered.
And the text really is comprehensive with the following coverage for each species: Identification Summary; Taxonomy and Geographic Variation; Similar Species; Status and Distribution; Habitat; Behaviour; Moult, Description; Unusual Plumages; Hybrids; Etymology; References. The combination of the illustrations, the photographs and the text provide a complete picture - and all in a book portable enough to be taken into the field.
The range maps are nicely done and there is a section dedicated to helpful facts for raptor field identification.The glossary is very detailed indeed and covers all the terminology associated with raptors.
In the interests of balanced coverage I tried to find shortcomings, but without success. This is a work that comes as close to perfection as you can get. It combines the expertise of one of the world's leading raptor experts and an artist sans pareil.
At US$39.95 or £32.95 it is very reasonably priced and merits a place on every birdophile's shelf - but don't just leave it there, take it with you in the field to make your task of identifying raptors so much easier.
This is a work you will cherish for years to come.