CD Review:
B
irds of Venezuela: photographs, sounds and distributions by Peter Boesman

Birds of Venezuela:
photographs, sounds and distributions
by Peter Boesman,
1999.
CD-ROM for Windows. Bird Songs International BV.

Available from Bird Songs International BV, Wierengastraat 42 - NL-9969 PD Westernieland - The Netherlands.
Fax: (+) 31-595-528629.
Email: info@birdsongs.com.
www.birdsongs.com/Venezuela/main.htm.

US$57.

Although the Venezuelan avifauna has been relatively well studied and was one of the first in Latin America to be covered by a field guide (Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps 1978), interest in the birds of this country seems to have dwindled in recent years if we are to judge by the output of articles and bird-related products. Whilst scientific publications, birding guides, cassette tapes, CDs and CD-ROMs have appeared for Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Perú and even Bolivia, with the exception of revisions of earlier works (Phelps & Meyer de Schauensee 1994; Goodwin 1997), next-to-nothing has been produced on the avifauna of Venezuela over the last two decades. Birds of Venezuela: photographs, sounds and distributions attempts to fill that gap.

Peter Boesman’s new CD-ROM, in the same series as Sjoerd Mayer’s Bird Sounds of Bolivia, makes available maps, photographs and sounds for 878 species, about two thirds of those occurring in the country. This is an important database, both for scientists in need of an identification tool and birders eager for recent information on on the world’s sixth richest avifauna. Here are 700 visual images, 1306 sound recordings totalling seven-and-a-half hours’ playing time and 878 distribution maps, most of which have been created by the author during the years he lived and worked in Venezuela. The treatment breaks down to include, for example, ten species of Tinamou, 24 nocturnal birds, 39 Ovenbirds, 18 Woodcreepers, 65 Antbirds and 122 Flycatchers. In terms of raw material, this is a very impressive product. It is worth refecting on the effort that went into producing this CD-ROM. The accumulation of such a large amount of raw information in the field is no mean feat - it requires time, skill, dedication and no small amount of financial investment. The author is to be congratulated on this mammoth task!

For most users, the sound recordings will probably be the most exciting feature of this production. The previously available compilations of bird sounds were Paul Schwartz’ three volume work Bird Songs from the Tropics (including Vibra El Llano) and Jean C. Roche’s LP Oiseaux du Venezuela. The sound recordings on this CD-ROM cover 674 species - over half of the country’s avifauna - many of which are not commercially available. These latter include Venezuelan specialities such as Northern Helmeted Curassow Pauxi pauxi, Rusty-flanked Crake Laterallus levraudi, Ochre-browed Thisteltail Schizoeaca coryi, White-throated Barbtail Margarornis tatei, Black-fronted Tyrannulet Phylloscartes nigrifrons, Chapman’s Bristle-Tyrant Phylloscartes chapmani, Golden-tufted Grackle Macroagelaius imthurni, Grey-throated Warbler Basileuterus cinereicollis, Grey-headed Warbler Basileuterus griseiceps and Grey-capped Hemispingus Hemispingus reyi. The voices of many of these species are not widely known and some were still unknown when The Birds of South America (Ridgely and Tudor 1989, 1994) was published. Other infrequently recorded species such as Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo Neomorphus rufipennis also appear.

The general quality of the sound recordings is good and the author has classified them using a scale of A to E. It is gratifying to see background sounds identified and to have associated data such as locality, date, time and degree of confidence in identification provided; all these should be standard on bird sound productions. Most of the cuts are also long enough to give an idea of the calling frequency or song variation; some - like the cuts of Band-tailed Penelope argyrotis and Crested Guan Penelope purpurascens at over 40 seconds - are perhaps a little too long and could have been replaced with further vocalisations for other species. To my ear, a particularly pleasing series of vocalisations is provided in the Mérida Tapaculo Scytalopus meridanus cuts which the author has collected from six different areas.

On the other hand, one or two recordings of common, vocal species are of surprisingly poor quality when better recordings are available, for example Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus and Troupial Icterus icterus. There are no vocalisations for several easily recorded species, like Mérida Wren Cistothorus meridae (a species not featured on the CD-ROM), Xenopsaris Xenopsaris albinucha and White-bearded Flycatcher Phelpsia inornata, whilst redundant cuts are included for others - for example two very similar cuts of White-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus cayennensis from the same place. Where recordings of Venezuelan birds are not available, the author has made recourse to vocalisations from elsewhere within the species’ range, but this has been kept to a minimum and where this occurs it is clearly advertised in the accompanying notes. One cannot help but feel that collaboration with a good sound archive like the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Library of Natural Sounds would have significantly improved the overall quality of recordings and increased the number of species covered - perhaps this will be possible in future editions. Nevertheless, we are provided on one CD-ROM with a very good selection of Venezuelan bird sounds, many of which were not previously available, and the number of species covered compares very favourably with the CDs and tapes covering other Latin American avifaunas.

Each species appearing on the CD-ROM receives a distribution map. This is a handy tool, particularly as mapped data on Venezuelan birds is difficult to come by, the principal publicly available information (Ridgely & Tudor 1989, 1994) covering only passerines and at a continental scale. The maps are rather crude and give the impression that they have been compiled largely from written range data provided by Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps (1978) rather than from specimen records, but they suffice to give an idea of the broad distribution of each species. There are one or two errors: for example Slate-throated Whitestart Myioborus miniatus is shown for the Paria Peninsula, where it is actually replaced by the Paria Whitestart M. pariae. A nice feature is the facility to show the localities at which photographs and recordings were made on the distribution maps by double-clicking on the locality name.

Photographs portray over half the species and some species are provided with images taken from two or three different angles. Some of the portraits are excellent, such as the Wire-tailed Manakin Pipra filicauda and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant Lophotriccus pileatus, whilst others are not so good. Overall the photographic quality is uneven with a significant number of shots in the hand. However, there are pleasing photographs of some rarely encountered species, such as Rusty-flanked Crake Laterallus levraudi and White-tailed Sabrewing Campylopterus ensipennis. As with the sound recordings, most of the photographs were taken in Venezuela, notable exceptions being the seabirds, shorebirds and New World warblers.

As for presentation and ease of manipulation, users will see at the outset this is not a seamlessly engineered product like the CD-ROMs available for North America or Europe. Here the layout is a little more rough-and-ready, the nuts and bolts are more apparent and it takes a little patience to navigate around the information. In short, do not expect too much beyond the raw data. One attractive feature, though, is a command which allows the user to view photographs or listen to recordings at random and without subtitles, thus providing a test of the users visual and aural identification skills.

All in all this is a useful contribution to Venezuelan ornithology, particularly welcome given the paucity of easily accessible information. Anyone contemplating a visit to the country will surely want a copy of this CD-ROM, both to prepare for the coming trip and to use back at base camp to check up on unfamiliar vocalisations. This will also be a valuable tool for all students of Neotropical birds.

Of course, this production is not without scope for improvement but as the author himself points out, this is only a first cut, produced in the hope that others will be stimulated to take an interest in the birds of Venezuela and to collaborate with their findings in future editions. May his wish be fulfilled

References

1. Goodwin, M.L. 1997. Birding in Venezuela. Sociedad Conservacionista Audubon de Venezuela. Caracas, Venezuela. 281 pp.
2. Meyer de Schauensee, R. & W.H. Phelps, Jr. 1978. A Guide to the Birds of Venezuela. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey, USA. 424 pp.
3. Phelps, W.H., Jr. and R. Meyer de Schauensee. 1994. Una Guía de las Aves de Venezuela. Ex Libris, Caracas, Venezuela. 498 pp.
4. Ridgely, R.S. and G. Tudor. 1989. The Birds of South America. Volume 1: The Oscine Passerines. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, USA. 516 pp.
5. Ridgely, R.S. and G. Tudor. 1994. The Birds of South America. Volume 2: The Suboscine Passerines. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, USA. 814 pp.

Reprinted with kind permission from Cotinga 13: 91-92 (http://www.neotropicalbirdclub.org/cotinga/13.html)

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