Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book review: Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, commonly known as the ABC Islands, are part of  the Lesser Antilles in a small chain known as the Leeward Antilles.  Discovered (purportedly) in 1499, they became the property of the Spanish empire. In 1634, the Dutch West India Company, after a spat with Spain, took control of the islands. After the company was dissolved, they became the property of the Netherlands.
In 1986, Aruba withdrew from Netherlands rule and became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2010, Curacao gained similar status while Bonaire became a special municipality of the Netherlands proper.  Interestingly enough, Bonaire is the only one of the islands to use US currency. The other two have their own currency.

Bonaire is known for scuba diving, as is Curacao, and snorkeling in the crystal clear, caribbean water and the elaborate reef sheltering the island.  The birding on the islands doesn't compare in numbers to some other popular destinations, but over 200 species have been recorded on the islands, including a number of endemics.  

The new Princeton Field Guide: Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire does a nice job of covering ever single species ever recorded on the islands. In fact, it does so nice of a job, that even species that have been recorded only once are included.  This is ok in that it gives you a good idea of what species are likely to show up, but is slightly too much at the same time in that it can be somewhat confusing unless you read every text.

Due to the Islands' proximity to the South American mainland, many familiar species can be found there.  Species familiar to anyone who has visited central or south america, but also a few select species commonly found in the US.  This mix of species makes the ABC islands a nice starting point for anyone who will later be hopping the channel to Venezuela or Brazil.

If you open the front of the book, there is a small section detailing the history (both geologic and cultural) and biology of the islands. It is quite an interesting read and one I would recommend should you choose to purchase this book.

There are, of course, the usual mistakes here and there, as is to be expected in a first edition printing, but I'm sure they will be corrected in the next edition.

Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Mr Restall's handiwork. Not only is it, well, different (to put it lightly), but also, in many instances, inaccurate.  I do realize that there are island subspecies of certain species that may be different, but unfortunately, these are not the only species to have been unusually depicted.
Given the quality of artwork normally seen in a Princeton Press publication, Mr Restall's work isn't quite up to par, but is sufficient for the purpose it serves.

Listed at $28, the book is slightly on the pricy side, but still worth the investment should you wish to travel to the ABC Islands. It is simply a must-have since it is, to my knowledge, the only thoroughly complete field guide to the ABC Islands.

The Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire can be purchased here at the Princeton store:

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