Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cotingas and Manakins - A book Review

I was very lucky this Christmas to get a couple of really good books. One of which was Cotingas and Manakins by Guy Kirwan and Graeme Green (Helm Identification Guide Series 2011). Illustrated by Eustace Barnes.

This is a mammoth Helm Guide and follows on from some really strong books that I love such as Sylvia Warblers and Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. I've just started to work through the book - at 640+ pages crammed with data it will take a while. I've been lucky enough to have seen several species in the book through plenty of time spent in Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago such as the impressive Long-tailed Manakin, Snowy Cotinga and Bare-necked Umbrellabird, the mythical Sharpbill, Grey-headed Piprities and Thrushlike Shiffornis to name a few...

The front cover featuring amazing artwork of Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock by Eustace Barnes.

The New World tropics possess the richest avifauna on Earth, with more than 4000 recorded species, many of which are endemic. Two groups found exclusively in this region are the Cotingas and the Manakins. Few other families of birds have such widespread appeal; they are much sought-after by birdwatchers for their colourful displays, unusual plumages and, in some cases, great rarity. For scientists, their natural history and behaviour provide fascinating case studies that yield important data in the quest to understand evolutionary biology, while, for taxonomists, elucidating their relationships has proved at times fascinatingly elusive, with many novel and unusual developments.

Two decades ago the species covered in this book were generally considered to comprise two families, but ongoing molecular work has revealed much about the relationships of these birds. One new family has been erected (the Tityridae) and another more widely recognised (Oxyruncidae). These and other resuls spawned principally by genetic research mean that this diverse assemblage of species is now considered to belong to at least five different families.

This book represents the definitive work on these jewels of the Neotropics, looking in detail at more than l30 species. These range from some of the rarest and most enigmatic birds in the world to some of the best-studied of all tropical species; many are breathtakingly colourful and ornate, but some are dowdy and difficult to see. The authors have lent heavily on the published literature, but have also included many personal, previously unpublished data, based on both field and museum studies. The texts are supported by 34 colour plates by Eustace Barnes, who has also observed many of the species in the field, as well as by detailed distribution maps and approximately 400 stunning photographs that cover all but a tiny handful of species. Some samples pages of the book are shown below.

After a few days of flicking through this books it has done three things:

1) Reminded me of some of the awesome birds I've seen;
2) Reminded me why I love and want to go back to the Neotropics again. Soon! and,
3) Reminded me of some of the awesome birds I've not seen yet... I want Araripe Manakin and some Cock-of-the-Rock action!

This is an excellent read and certainly well worth getting a copy if you have any interest in this group of birds or in Neotropical birding. I'm glad I've got a couple more days off work as I'm struggling to put it down!

Plate 15: Sharpbill, Scaled Fruiteater and Elegant Mourner.

Plate 28: Capuchinbird and Crimson Fruitcrow.

Orange-bellied Manakin text and map page.

Orange-bellied Manakin photo page.

Banded Cotinga photo page.

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