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A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico
Guide to Mexico. Steve N. G.
Howell. 1999. 70 maps, 18 line
drawings by Sophie Webb. 365 pp. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
me, traveling in Mexico has always meant birdwatching. Sometimes it’s
birdwatching with visits to Mayan ruins; sometimes birdwatching with
snorkeling on the side; sometimes, I combine birdwatching with a few days or a
week in a colonial city. But the central theme is pretty constant it seems.
is a wonderful place for people interested in birding, whether for the casual
observer or the committed and passionate aficionado. There are
spectacular species to be seen, many found nowhere else on Earth. There also
some old friends: birds that breed near our homes in the U.S. but winter in
Mexico – not a bad plan, really. With over 1000 species of birds in Mexico,
the list is significantly longer than for the U.S. and Canada combined. And
what species they are! Parrots, toucans, tanagers – all so brilliantly
colored as to seem something out of fantasy book. The wrens, seldom seen but
almost invariably heard, seem to have their world headquarters in Mexico, with
some 30 species present. If you like a challenge, there are flycatchers and
sparrows to identify. For sheer drop-dead beauty, go for the Resplendent
Quetzal, found in the cloud-forests of Chiapas, with the same colors as the
Mexican flag and enough folkloric significance for anyone’s taste. Give a
listen to the nightingale-thrushes and you’ll understand the term
course, we could mention other, more practical, reasons why a birder or any
adventurous tourist would be attracted to Mexico: the good and inexpensive
hotels, the wealth and variety of the foods, and the warmth and generosity of
the Mexican people. Specifically for birders, we can add the existence of good
field guides, making the chore of identifying sightings easier, something that
cannot be taken for granted in all of Latin America
new resource, certain to increase the popularity of birding in Mexico, has
just become available.
A Bird-finding Guide to Mexico, by Steve N.
G. Howell, provides descriptions of five to ten sites for each of 14
regions” of the author’s own creation. There are simple and clear maps for
many of these sites, and all have at least written directions for access. Each
site has been chosen because it provides high quality general birding as well
as opportunities to see a number of species that are difficult or impossible
to find elsewhere. This latter feature is important for those who enjoy
“listing,” the attempt to see ever more species in a country, state,
backyard, or whatever.
are some 272 bird species and forms that the author considers of exceptional
interest, and these are printed in bold-faced type throughout the main text.
Moreover, two appendices help one to know where to look for a given species
that one may want to see. The appendix entry for Resplendent Quetzal, for
instance, reads “This spectacular bird is seen readily at El Triunfo (Site
12.9) and can also be found at Montebello (Site 12.7).”
author, Steve Howell, is uniquely qualified to write a book of this sort. He and
his wife, the painter, Sophie Webb, have spent almost two decades exploring
Mexico, and the depth of their knowledge of bird distribution borders on the
supernatural. Together, they wrote A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern
Central America (hereafter “Howell and Webb”), a weighty thing,
published in 1995 by Oxford University Press. Astonishingly, Oxford Press has
let it go temporarily out of print, and new copies for sale are quite scarce.
The present book is for the most part a well-organized and -presented compendium
of their travel notes, occasionally refined and updated by other birders who may
have visited the sites more recently. Not surprisingly, it will be most valuable
when used in conjunction with Howell & Webb for more detailed descriptions
and paintings of the birds.
wisely omits information on non-birding tourist attractions, restaurants, and
lodging, all well-covered in general tourist guides (and all subject to going
out-of-date). Instead he has provided details crucial to a birder not easily
available elsewhere. For example, I have shied away from the popular birding
destination of San Blas, Nayarit, because of the area's reputation for biting
insects. Although I suspected they might be seasonal or exaggerated, accurate
information has been hard to come by and I have never felt confident enough to
put a vacation at risk. Howell addresses the question head-on: biting insects
are a problem from July to November but not otherwise. Case closed. Yes, I'm
going – in February.
sites Howell has selected cover much of the country, and virtually all of the
spots tourists routinely visit, from Tijuana to Chiapas, Matamoros to Cozumel.
The one inexplicable oversight is the spectacular Veracruz River of Raptors,
discussed elsewhere in this issue.
sum, even the most seasoned birding tourist will find much of use in this book.
For anyone new to birding in Mexico, let’s just say it’s the book I always
wished I had had.
A more detailed version
of this review can be found in Birding vol. 32 (4), August 1999. Birding
is published by the American Birding Association, P. O. Box 6599, Colorado
Springs, Colorado 80934, phone 800-850-2473,
I thank the editors for permission to reprint some of the material I wrote for