BASICS: softcover, 2010, 456pp; illustrates with quality artwork all 950+ species found in Panama except for about 30 of the extreme vagrants; male and female plumages are shown plus relevant immatures; most of the birds are not shown in flight; paragraph on each bird focuses on description and identification notes plus similar species; brief notes on habitat and vocalizations given; a 5-color range map is given for each bird
This book now easily moves into the top position as the best available book for birding in Panama. This is due to three things. One, this book illustrates nearly every bird known from the country. Two, a detailed range map accompanies each bird. And, three, this book is made in a true field guide format, being just a half-inch taller and quarter-inch wider than the National Geographic's popular field guide for North America.
Except for about 30 species with only a couple of records in Panama, all 950+ species are illustrated with quality artwork. These illustrations are done by the same illustrator responsible for the sister guide to Costa Rica. As a plus, the color reproduction in this Panama guide is much better with richer, bolder hues. The tanagers, warblers, and honeycreepers now look brilliant. Nearly all the birds are of a good size in the plate to help show color and feather patterns for better identification. Only the seed-finches seem to be on the small side, almost as if the plate was reduced just a tad too much before printing.
My only critique about the layout of the drawings is relatively few birds are shown in flight. The few groups flying are the non-passerines such as the swifts, parrots, nighthawks, larids, raptors, and pelagics. For the passerines, the only group shown in flight is the swallows. Another small knock with the plate strategy is only a single illustration is given for each of the passerines unless there are notable differences between the males and females or between the breeding and non-breeding plumages.
If you own the Costa Rica book you'll recognize many (or most) of the illustrator's plates. As one may expect, many are re-used in this Panama book. This can actually be a positive aspect since it maintains familiarity with the neighboring country's book. Another plus is many illustrations seems to have been retouched and improved. Of course, many new illustrations were made for birds not in the other book.
Displaying the layout of a true (or good) field guide, the plates are directly across from their respective text and range maps. The text for each bird is the standard paragraph of concise descriptions with identification tips. As a nice touch, some of the key ID points you should target have been bolded in the text to draw your attention to their importance. The descriptions do a good job and are geared more towards identifying the bird and not just describing the bird. This is reinforced by offering comparison notes against similar species. An additional 1-2 lines quickly make note of the bird's primary habitat and elevation ranges. The descriptions of vocalizations range from decent to good, often providing specific descriptions such as for this Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, "...series of sharp notes, initially accelerating rapidly and becoming louder, then continuing on the same pitch as tempo very gradually slows down; usually lasts 5 to 8 seconds, sometimes 15 seconds or more."
The range maps are another very welcome and distinguishing feature about this Panama field guide. Besides being the only book to provide these maps, the maps do a splendid job at showing details that correspond with the sporadic or habitat-limited ranges. If you look at the tanagers, each map is obviously tailored to show the very unique haunts of these birds. Some maps even zoom in to show the very range-restricted species found only at the border with Colombia. These maps use up to 5 different colors or patterns to represent breeding and non-breeding residents, breeding migrants, transients, and vagrants.
Your birding trip to Panama must include this book and not just because it is the only complete book in the game. The quality of the material makes it a necessary and enjoyable tool to be carried with you. If you can also bring Ridgely's good (but larger sized) book on Panama, you'll appreciate the additional material on descriptions and habits/behavior. However, Ridgely's book illustrates only about 80% of the country's birds. - (written by Jack at Avian Review / Avian Books, January 2011)
I've listed several related books below...
1) A Guide to the Birds of Panama by Ridgely
2) Field Book of Birds of the Panama Canal Zone) by Sturgis
3) Birds of the Republic of Panama, The: Volumes 1-4 by Wetmore
4) A Bird-finding Guide to Panama by Angehr
5) Where to Find Birds in Panama by Angehr
6) The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by Garrigues
7) Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide) by Henderson
8) A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles